It’s infinitely true, what people say. Well, some of it. But when you’re told that for your travels, a journal is an indispensable companion, the people are speaking the truth. And for all that, a journal is useless if you forget one thing: to write in it.
As my SEA travels fall further back into the irretrievable past, it is a struggle to remember the details, the nuisances of every day life while anchored in Dominican Republic, or docked at the marina in Jamaica. While traveling, your brain is in such overload mode, with new information, sights, sounds and smells all around you, it is easy to forget the name of that one restaurant or person.
And then when you’re back to real life, sitting at your office desk, you regret not writing more. You regret not making that effort, at the end of everyday, to write down every experience while it’s still fresh in your mind.
I meant to sum up every stop along my trip, with details on where we stayed and ate, yet as I began the following post on Puerto Rico, our first stop on the way to meet the ship, I struggled to remember the details. What was the name of that one corner shop where Sarah and I ate deep-fried goods and empanadas? Did we really eat empanadas, or were they some other deep-fried delicacies? I remember it had a somewhat out-of-context name like “Fast Mart” or something that sounded like you could get your car washed there too.
Here goes my best attempt at recapturing our stay in San Juan, Puerto Rico…
Early on, I remember being surprised at how cheap the flights were from Boson to San Juan. I was even more surprised that it was American Airlines who had the cheapest flight. I usually end up having to pay more for flights with them, just to get the miles.
We were meeting the ship in St. Croix, but all flights seemed to connect through Puerto Rico, so, ever the explorer, I said why not stop there for a few days? It was very worth it: the history, the architecture, the beaches…
As is always the case, our budget was limited, so I looked around online for hotels that were cheap and clean. I must have spent days worth of hours scanning hotel reviews sites and reading conflicting reviews on different hotels. Also, finding a hotel room for three people is harder than you might think. I would specifically search for a room for 3 people, yet the result rooms/prices didn’t include that third adult. It was very frustrating. I ended up booking through booking.com, which assured me that the price they quoted me included ALL fees and taxes. Guest what, it didn’t. And when you get to your destination, it’s hard to argue about it, even if you show the email you got. I get the impression that it is these booking websites that fudge the numbers and outright lie to customers.
So, needless to say, I don’t recommend booking anything through them.
The hotel, Sandy Beach Hotel (I don’t think they have a website), on the other hand was nice, quaint, and right by Condado Beach. It had a lovely Spanish-type courtyard in the middle of the building, from which you could hear the surf breaking on the beach. It had A/C, a TV which we didn’t really watch, and it was clean and comfortable. The one downside: the water pressure was pretty appalling. Keep in mind that Condado Beach is a very touristic area, so most restaurants and bars (and even the CVS) will be overpriced.
Di really liked the decor at Sandy Beach Hotel. Spanish soldier’s lamp, not plugged in.
On our second day there, as we waited at the bus stop, we were lucky enough to share a ride to Old San Juan with a lovely family. Our first stop was Castillo San Cristobal. We walked around the dungeons, the courtyards, and stared at the beautiful waters surrounding everything. I’m a history enthusiast, particularly this time period. So I found it incredible to be walking on the same structure from which sailors and soldier defended the entire Caribbean region, San Juan being such a crucial geographical location for seafaring trade.
Inside Castillo San Cristobal
A drawing of a ship possibly made by a Spanish Captain held in the dungeons of Castillo San Cristobal. The captain was subsequently hung for mutiny. Or because graffiti was not taken lightly.
Spanish Soldiers’ kits hanging in their locker room at Castillo San Cristobal.
Then we walked around Old San Juan, as in a dream, surrounded by the absolutely amazing Spanish architecture. I’d poke my head into the different buildings and see most of them had these courtyards typical to the colonial time period. Oh, to live in such a building and city full of so much history. We ate at a little restaurant, and the waiter (a tour guide on the side) tried to persuade us into booking a tour with him to hidden little beaches outside the city. Since we only had very little time in Puerto Rico, using an entire afternoon for that instead of continuing to explore San Juan didn’t seem like a good trade off. Also, walking is free, tours are not.
Sarah Dixon takes one of the seven photos she snapped during the whole trip.
A ton of walking occurred. And finally we ended up at El Morro. Again, another incredible, huge fort. I believe the difference between the two forts was the San Cristobal was more to defend the city from land-attacks, whereas El Morro really focused on destroying enemy ships as they approached the island.
On the left, where the canons would be positioned and aimed at enemy ships. On the right, the intricate, multi-level Morro fortress is an impressive architectural feat.
Narrow tunnels led to the different lookout turrets.
On our last evening there, we were enjoying the beach when it started getting dark. Di and I infiltrated the Marriott’s pool, which opened up into the beach, to do some more swimming. A little harmless expeditions into enemy territories, even if those happen to just be a hotel’s pool that we’re not staying at.
A few tips to pass along:
- If you can help it, don’t ride the bus. Routes do not run very often, so you might wait at a stop for 40 minutes or more, and of course when it gets there, it’s crowded and uncomfortable.
- Traffic is pretty bad, particularly around Old San Juan, so keep that in mind if you decided to take the Trolley that circulates the area.
- Cab fare from the airport to your hotel is determined by what ‘zone’ your hotel is in, plus how many bags you have. It’s pretty organized, you stand in the taxi line and wait your turn. That said, on your way back to the airport, you can definitely negotiate a better price.
I find that often enough, I go traveling places and say to myself, “why am I not living here?” And when I think of returning I think in terms of just living there for a while. Maybe I will return to San Juan, find myself a little apartment in Old San Juan, get a job as a tour guide and drink Maracuya juice while experiencing the living history all around the island.
For now, back to reality means back to work at an office desk job, because dreaming doesn’t pay the bills.
At least, not yet.