Exploring Old San Juan

My phone hadn’t updated the time so when I woke up on Monday morning at 9:30, it was actually 10:30. Julian had gone for a walk. Glen had gotten up and then come back to bed, and Bec and Alastair had gone in search of food. The continental breakfast at the hotel isn’t all that appetizing (though there is sustenance there if you really need it). Julian returned after we messaged him (he’d gone to buy a new singlet with the words Puerto Rico on it) and then the three of us went down the road, stopping into a place called Punk where I could get some food.

We then returned to the hotel as Bec and Alastair had come back, and once the group was together again we set off for Old San Juan. The second we stepped outside the gate of the hotel, a taxi rocked up and for $15 whisked us away to Old San Juan and the Fort of San Cristobal. The taxi driver also is a tour operator (or else deals on behalf of those who are) and while Julian had managed to book us a spot on a rainforest tour for the 31st, we had been unable to find any spaces for a tour of the bioluminescent bay. The taxi driver — Alfredo — told us what he offered and we said we’d think about it and get back to him.

He dropped us at the fort of San Cristobal, the largest European Fort in North America, which the Spanish build to defend Puerto Rico from the other European powers. It’s a monolithic structure with sturdy walls, nice lines and symmetry and rest views across the ocean. We explored the tunnels then the battlements, Glen taking some fun photos of the rest of us. The heat inside the fort must have been unbearable for the soldiers in their uniforms; the best spot being on top of the fort where you could get a bit of breeze.

While looking over the edge of one of the walls, we saw two iguanas mating. That was a treat.

From this fort, we walked along the walls of Old San Juan to the El Morro Fort at the other end. Our ticket to one provides entry to the other, and also gives re-entry to both for a period of seven days. The second fort is smaller and we spent less time there.

The weather was excellent. It wasn’t too humid, and at some points along the way, we had a cool breeze to dry the sweat. Definitely not minding the weather here.

We then walked through a bit of Old San Juan in search of some lunch (a late lunch really). This is about the time that we decided that every time we saw a cat, and there are many running around Old San Juan, we’d punch Alastair in the arm. He was not a fan of this game; the rest of us were. We later amended the game rules that it would last until the sunset on the third day. Again he wasn’t a fan.

Our first choice for food, as recommended by Lonely Planet, was closed but it wasn’t long til we found somewhere else. We got a table, order some local specialities and some frozen mango drinks, and then sat and waited. I think we waited about an hour at least for the food to come. There was one waiter and probably one chef. The place wasn’t big but perhaps the kitchen wasn’t big either. Anyway, it wasn’t that big a deal. We waited, food eventually came, and we ate it.

One of the dishes was a mashed up plantain mixed with chicken (or pork) and served with rice. I had chicken and garlic with fried plantains (like chips) and Alastair had pulled pork. We ate local food, it’s done now.

It was about this time that I got a migraine. I was worried at first because it started with half of my vision going in my right eye. I thought I’d burst an aneurism. Then the headache started and came on powerfully, and we later connected the two. It didn’t help it go away, but it did stop me from worrying that I might drop dead at any moment.

We walked through a bit more of Old San Juan, checking out the pigeon square and an old shrine to St John. Julian also booked the bioluminescent bay tour for the following night, which was a welcome turn of events for all of us. We walked along streets that were rapidly filling with people, and I quickly ran out of energy and wanted to go home. I wasn’t the only one. We found a taxi rank and then headed back to the hotel.

Old San Juan wasn’t as old as I expected. The forts of course are old but the houses are newer. The cobbled streets are nice. There was probably a fire (or more than one) at some point necessitating the rebuilding of the city. What is nice is the different coloured paint used on the buildings, where one will be blue while another will be green. It reminded me of a Spanish version of St John’s.

Back at the hotel I napped and woke a few hours later with my headache mostly gone. We regrouped and set off for another recommended restaurant nearby…which was also closed. Monday is not a good day if you want to get some food apparently. We walked back towards the hotel then down the street before settling on a gastropub and ordering food and drinks.

I had a prawn rice, Glen some mahi mahi, while Bec, Alastair and Julian had giant paellas. I thought the food was pretty good though the bill came out a lot pricier than we expected. Still, what can you do when you have limited choices? We then went for ice creams at Ben and Jerry’s, and walked home as the rain started to come down. We were back by 10:30 and in bed by 11:30. The next few nights won’t be so early.

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