For Christmas, Cass surprised the boys with a trip to Puerto Rico. It was a present for me too, although not, I suppose, technically an actual surprise as she told me about it way in advance. We had never been on a family beach vacation before. The boys being gone for the summer and having sports during spring break have made it difficult. Cass picked a week where they boys had a couple of days off of school and scheduled the whole thing.
Everyone was excited. When I was growing up we used to go to Florida for a couple of weeks every summer and those trips are very much at the forefront of my great family memories. I was enthusiastic about making some of those memories for the boys.
A week before we left a blizzard slammed into the East Coast and we got four feet of snow. Everything was shut down for four or five days but thankfully it all was cleared up in time for us to make it to the airport. Our flight path took us right over the Bermuda Triangle. This greatly concerned T2 who spent the first part of the trip with his eyes glued to the seat back monitor map and who announced our arrival in the cursed zone to everyone on the plane. We survived.
We landed in Puerto Rico, rented a car and drove into Old San Juan. Cass had used Airbnb to find us places to stay and we ended up with a cool two room apartment right in the middle of the historic district. The bathroom had a bidet which, once explained, horrified the boys. We had a beautiful courtyard right outside our door and, I admit I was pleased to see, an air conditioning unit in the bed room. Cause the bedroom…it gets HOT in there, people. If you know what I mean. Because we were in the tropics.
Anyway, Old San Juan is fantastic. It’s like if you took the French Quarter in New Orleans, made it not filthy, took out most of the skeevy parts and changed all the writing to Spanish. When I described the place to my mother, she helpfully pointed out that it sounded a lot more like St. Augustine than Bourbon Street. I think she is right. It felt like a European city with great weather.
A few observations about Puerto Rico. I know the country as a whole is having some financial difficulties at the moment. We drove around a good deal and did see some rough spots. That said, it was nothing as bad as I’ve seen in the handful of other Caribbean islands I’ve been to. The people were all extremely nice and helpful. It was very pretty. We could use US dollars, which was a big help. Actually, the whole island was a little bipolar that way. Everyone primarily spoke Spanish but also spoke English. The prices for everything were in US dollars except, weirdly, for the signs for gas at the gas stations. The mile markers on the side of the highway were actually kilometer markers but the signs that told you how far you were from the next exit or town were in miles. Most menus were in Spanish but with English translations.
Old San Juan is a walled city. Originally situated where it is because, if you were taking a boat over from Europe, the tides and winds pretty much forced you right into the harbor, there are two giant and ancient forts looking out over the water. We spent the afternoon wandering around, checking out the sights. There were feral cats everywhere. We stopped at watched another tourist pet a beautiful grey one.
“And now she has fleas,” said T2.
Old San Juan itself isn’t huge and we covered most of it. At one of the forts the boys each had a funny encounter.
T1, the only one of our family who looked like a native, was walking a bit in front of us. I saw two girls noticing him and as he passed them, they spoke to him.
“What has that? I asked him, later.
“They said ‘hola’,” he explained. “Then I said ‘hola.” Then I was totally out of things I could say in Spanish.”
T1 takes French in school. This came in handy a little later when he was getting checked out by, I kid you not, an all-girls high school class on a school trip from France.
T2 was captivated by a dog out for a walk with its owner. The dog had been shaved in a manner that made it look like it had a mane.
“Is that a lion, or a dog?” he asked me. The lady walking the dog overheard.
“It’s a mini-lion,” she said. “We have them in the jungles here.”
“I think you are teasing me,” said T2 to the lady. “But then again, I’ve never been here before and it’s not totally crazy that you might have lions in the rain forests.”
The lady laughed, explained she was teasing him and then gave us the name of three good places to have breakfast the next morning. She was actually an American and representative of something that would happen time and time again on our trip. A handful of times we were stopped and spoken to by older American ladies who had moved to Puerto Rico fifteen plus years ago and never returned to the states. It got to be something of a joke. I told Cass that when I died she would have to take the insurance money and move down here. She agreed.
Everything in Old San Juan is brilliantly colored. The buildings are painted green and yellow and pink. Even the cobblestones of the pre-car streets and alleys are blue. The boys, not normally effusive in their praise of anything, commented on how beautiful the city was.
The next day we drove an hour and a half west, mostly on highways, to the Isabela region where Cass had again used Airbnb (who isn’t paying me for the plug) to book us into the Fusion Villa. Cass had put a lot of work into the trip and was really worried about everything being great. Old San Juan had been a hit and I was hoping, for her sake, that the beach place was equally as great.
It was better.
We had most of the top floor of a very nice, very new building. There was a bathroom, a kitchen, a family room (with pull out beds) and a main bedroom (again with an air conditioner). Our balcony ran the length of the apartment and looked out over the jungle and the ocean. A very short walk through said jungle led us to our private beach. It was all greenery and flowers.
It was awesome.
Here is a video of the walk from our back yard to what we dubbed ‘Aylor Beach.’.
As you might have noticed, there was a brief cameo apparent from an iguana. Iguanas were everywhere. I would be sitting out on the balcony, look across at a tree and see a giant lizard staring at me. I’d be walking to the car and startle one- this actually went both ways- that had passed out by the bumper. At any given time you could look down into the yard and see three or four of them, some damned near Godzilla sized, stalking around. They were cool.
Five minutes to the east down the beach was Jobos Beach. It had a collection of restaurants and was where the local surfers hung out. Twenty minutes in the other direction was Shacks beach, which has a gigantic coral reef about twenty feet off the shore. The first day we walked down to both of them and messed around at Aylor. T2, usually timid in new situations, took to the beach immediately. He ran in and out of the water, jumping and yelling and waving for everyone else to come and look at whatever he had found. T1 played it cooler but upon spying a beautiful girl in a rather small red bikini out surfing decided that he needed surf lessons.
We had dinner down at Jobos. As far as I can tell, Puerto Rican cuisine and, perhaps the entire Puerto Rican economy is based around empanadas and mofongo. Empanadas are baked or fried pastries stuffed with fish, octopus, beef or whatever. Mofongo is plantains smashed up like mashed potatoes. After my first bite of mofongo I wasn’t very impressed. Four bites in I was hooked and now want to eat it with everything.
We were all exhausted by the end of the day and sporting sunburns at the edges of our clothing.
The salt air made me feel 11 again.
NEXT TIME: UNDERWATER ADVENTURES! CASS WANTS TO DO SOMETHING AND THE REST OF US DON’T ONLY TO DISCOVER, AFTER BEING FORCED TO DO IT, THAT SHE IS ACTUALLY RIGHT!
(That’s right, this is a two part ACASP. Exciting!)