Puerto Rico 2008

So in the middle of February I joined friends Quique and Michelle Mora, and Sam Hall to make my first foray into the Caribbean.  This is my 11th year living in the USA and I had not made it to the Caribbean in all that time, so when Q&M mentioned they were going down to Puerto Rico, I jumped at the chance.  It helped that Quique was born there, and the lure of having a 'local' show you around is always a big plus.  I love getting away from the tourist traps and living life (or trying to anyway) as is done locally.  To me that is the best way of getting the fullest appreciation.  

Now it didn't hurt that Q&M are an absolute ball of fun, individually and collectively, and just to ensure it all tipped right over the edge, Sam came too.  His partner, Mark, had to stay in JAX to perform a 6 week run in the Steven Sondheim musical 'Company'.  Feb is usually the bleakest month in JAX so 85F days/72 nights in Puerto Rico made it a lay down misere.  

  Puerto Rico consists of several islands, the capital of the eponymous island being San Juan, first settled by the Spanish in 1492.  So you can imagine the age of the place, with Spanish spoken everywhere.  It was thus very refreshing to see Quique's studio underneath his parent's house.  They only have 18' ceilings, so there was juuust enough room.  His work is anything but old and typifies much of the old city, modern interpretations utilizing the historical backdrop.  We stopped by one night to meet his delightful parents before dinner, and ended up drinking much of their cellar and eating most of Mrs Mora's unbelievable plantain lasagna.  I am still negotiating for the recipie, it is a dish not to be missed.  

  The original Castillo San Felipe del Morro is seen here, in very good nick.  I don't know if it has been restored but it is pretty solid.  Interestingly, the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was the first Governor of Puerto Rico, and is also a historical figure in St Augustine, near me here.  I guess he got around in his day.

  My first arty shot attempt (that wasn't a lamppost) during our introduction to the city.  I don't recall if that was also our first introduction to Ron del Barrilito or extended Puerto Rican lunches, or the rioja, or maybe the order was the other way around, ........ or maybe...........  The main point being that you can't separate the Caribbean from rum, and Barrilito is supposed to be the closest to the way they made it in the 19th century.  Any rate, it is pretty damn good.  And that from a confirmed Bundaberg Rum drinker.

  Along the outside of the Castillo.  Are they lampposts I see...??  Every time I saw one I felt as excited as a dog with a full bladder.

  Inside the Castillo.

  Eureka, we found our new residence!  Now I have contracted this disease from Russell Ferrier (and he from his mother I am sure), that when you are in a place you really like, you start browsing the real estate windows for price comparisons etc.  We didn't have to, #64 was it.  Or probably would have been if we had a cool $1m or so.  

  Walking around these streets is like doing a Stairmaster session at the gym, the benefit of doing it here being the quenching Barrilito waiting at the end.  The house colours are very pastel, not all I would have to say, and with some sections of the city that are not well kept.  But in general most attractive.

  Ta ta da!  Arty shot #2.  Only problem was how to get me into it.  Oh well, I will just have to be famous another day.  (Now you can see Sam's lips.  This is a rehearsed technique advised to us by a Puerta Ricana friend summarised as 'bite and blow'.  It is intended to give you that supermodel look just before the camera takes the shot.  It worked, see?!)

  Ok language lesson here.  San Juan in English is..... St John.  Correct.  And here he is balancing what was the become a full moon that night.  He was on top of an old convent, now a hotel called, yep - El Convento.  Quique told us about his childhood playing in and around the hotel.  He knew every nook and cranny.  Or was that crook and granny.....

  We drove down to Ponce one day, the second city of Puerto Rico.  Lunched at a typical porcetta on the way (they roast some 20 pigs a day) and visited the quite amazing Art Museum there.  It is said to have the Caribbean's largest and most valuable art collection.  Certainly there were works stretching from 14th century medieval Europe up to more recent times.    The website doesn't show the picture 'Roman Charity' by Nicolas Regnier.  But you will find it here.  Love it!

  The Plaza de Armas (Arms) here has several interesting features.  It is close to Mr and Mrs Mora's house, it has this kiosk (left) that serves traditional cafe con leche, and a bench at the other end of the plaza that catches the early morning breezes coming straight up the street from the harbour.  You wouldn't have been dead for quids.  Oh, and get the LAMPPOST.  

  To emphasise the neo modernist tendencies found everywhere, we stayed at this cutting edge resort on the island of Vieques (20 min flight from San Juan), Hix Island House.  Our digs were the bottom level here, and as you can see it is pretty cool.  Outdoor shower, we did start by locking the open gates but stopped that after a while as you realised it did little good, and it was so secluded there were probably very few drop in visitors anyway.  The entire resort is run on solar power and batteries, newly baked bread and fresh fruits are brought to the 'rooms' every day, fresh Puerto Rican coffee beans were topped up, you get the idea.  I started each day with a 90 min yoga class in a purpose built covered but outdoor yoga pavilion nestled in between the trees.  Heaven on earth.

The owner and architect, John Hix invited us up to his house on the top of the estate for cocktails one evening.  You could see the ocean from the top and catch the tepid breezes.  It was a most relaxing evening.

  And here are the four culprits toasting you all with an excellent Rioja, Pintias 2004 (new name for Vega Sicilia) as I recall (prompted by Quique).  You can see all the interior, tables etc are polished concrete.  John wanted the resort to be earthquake proof (Puerto Rico has had one), and easily constructed and cleaned.  As well as uber trendy.  

  This is the definition of relaxed, relaxed, relaxed.  Quique had just poured a Barrilito for me, and in order not to insult his Puerto Rican sensibilities him, I drank it.  I'm quite sensitive to etiquette like that.

  One of my favourite pastimes in old San Juan was sticking my nose through locked iron gates.  You are rewarded with scenes like this.  Many houses have the typical Spanish open central courtyard, and this one looked lovely.  Fortunately they didn't have a big black rotweiller.

  And there are LOTS of wonderfully interesting doors which make lovely photos.  They sell posters of them, but the city is so small you can find them all easily.  But they don't sell posters of doors with cats!  This little guy was disturbed (only momentarily however) in his mid afternoon slumber by some nosy photographer.  Mora of the doors here.

  If you look closely at Quique's art, you can see his iconic signature on his paintings.  It can also be done in sunblock lotion as Michelle can attest.  

These of cousre are only some of the pictures and the experiences we had.  I am definitely going back, that is 110% sure.  Maybe I'm feeling a little bit local, I asked a Puerto Rico guy at a bar one night which beach was best to visit.  He told me to avoid such and such beach, 'all the tourists go there and you don't want that' he said.

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