Puerto Rico - "It's an Experience" (part 2 - finish reading here)

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Apparently my blog software doesn't like long entries; it wouldn't allow me to enter any more text, so I had to break this entry into two parts. Sorry about that.

To read Part One of the entry, click here.

To view the picture album (200+ photos), click here.

...or continue reading Part Two by clicking the link below.

Day three of our Puerto Rican adventure started with some rain, which actually felt really good, especially while on my run. I had been running every morning, but even when hitting the road before 8:00am each day, things were still quite balmy. The cool-ish rain felt great, and it was cool to run along the beaches and downtown Luquillo areas in the light-but-steady tropical rain.

Amy V and Whitney arrived by 10:00am and we made the short (10 minute) drive from the condo to El Yunque. Despite the sprinkles, our goal was to arrive at the national park, hike the trails to the large waterfall, swim in the waterfall, and then hike back to the car.

As we made our way up to Colorado Point (a primary trailhead/picnic/parking area near the top of the mountain on which the rainforest is situated), we stopped to check out an observation tower - the views were magnificent, and the rain was starting to subside:



There was a sign on the tower that indicated it was positioned approximately 1,500 feet above sea-level. The sign didn't share just how sharp and windy of a climb it was for our poor Ford Taurus; I think we covered 1,500 feet of elevation in less than a mile - it was definitely a steep drive. Here's the tower:


We got back into the car and made our way to Colorado Point, where Amy V quickly pointed us to the proper trail. She had been to the park before and knew exactly which trail to take so that we could visit the waterfall. The park has an impressive set of trails, as shown on this map:


We hit the trails, which were awesome, because they provided sure-footing on the steep descent. I can't imagine trying to navigate my way through the rainforest without the help of those trails; the trails were narrow and steep, which made it easy to miss out on incredible views (because you were busy watching your step):


We hiked our way down the trail for about 30-35 minutes, and before long, we could really hear the sound of the waterfall. Here we are, just above the waterfall "drop-off" point.


We hiked down a bit farther and around the corner, and there we were - at the base of the waterfall. There were people swimming in the water, and the park had thoughtfully built a "staging" area for swimmers that included a shallow entry point. Here's Amy and me in front of the waterfall (there was a bridge just in front of it):


As badly as I had wanted to swim in the waterfall (you could swim behind it, too), the water was simply too cold. I can handle some cold water, but this water had to be 45-50F maximum, and when combined with balmy air temperatures, it felt shockingly cold. So, I didn't go for a swim... Jed and Jamie ventured out to the waterfall to get a better picture; here they are, making their way out to one of the vantage points:


And here's the photo they took of Amy and me (and Amy V and Whitney) as we stood on the bridge watching them from afar:


We enjoyed the waterfall for a while and then made the hike back up the mountain to our car. By the time we reached the car, everyone was tired and hungry, so we set about trying to find some lunch - it was about 1:30pm.

After discussing things for a bit, we decided to head back to Fajardo; we had read that there was a great sandwich shop in Fajardo that was supposed to have fantastic Tripleta sandwiches. The problem? You guessed it... no address listed for the sandwich shop. The only details we had were that it was on "Union" street. Jed's GPS was able to get us to Union street, so we hopped into the car and headed that way.

Upon arriving at Union street, we quickly realized that Union street was: (a) a very long street; basically a "main drag", and (b) a very "authentic" street - not many tourists were wandering around the area. In fact, it was downright sketchy. There's nothing like being a lost tourist while wandering around a seedy part of town. Include a stroller, a 3-year old, a pregnant person, and two pasty-white dudes with baseball hats, and you've got an invitation for some unwanted attention.

After walking rather hurriedly up and down a few blocks, we stopped a mattress delivery truck driver and asked for directions to the sandwich shop. He wouldn't tell us; instead, a skinny dude with no shirt came sprinting out of a house and told us to go "around the corner" and into another house. Ok, yeah, that sounds legitimate.

We went around the corner and things went from bad to worse - the street looked like something out of a gang/horror movie. We decided to turn around and go back to the car; well, most of us did. Jed and Jamie decided to walk the street a bit more. Amy, Amy V, Whitney and I went back to the corner, near where our car was parked, where we were approached by a very slow talking, drunken looking, large man and given a life lesson about how the apocalypse, Egypt, Israel, Chicago, and Jews were all related.

Ten minutes passed, and neither Jed nor Jamie had returned, so I got nervous. I jogged down to the desolate street, where the skinny dude stopped me and asked in a rather demanding tone why I hadn't gone to the house. I told him I was on my way, and picked-up the pace a bit. I didn't see Jed or Jamie; I poked my head into several alleys, vacant shops, and questionable shops... no sign of them. I ran around another street, and managed to find Jed and Jamie - they were strolling along, looking for the sandwich shop.

Since we struck out on the sandwich shop, we decided to head back toward a more familiar part of Fajardo and grab lunch at a chicken shop. Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived we discovered that everything at the shop was... anyone? anyone? Yep, deep fried! PR'd again.

Desperately hungry but not hungry enough for deep fried food, we left Fajardo and managed to find this oasis along PR-3:


Mexican food! Nothing sounded better to us than a burrito, some chips and salsa, and maybe a soft taco or two. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, we had just escaped death, and so long as this restaurant could muster-up some semi-decent chow, we were sure to be happy. We were promptly seated and immediately ordered double waters, sodas, beers, and food.

We also ordered a plate of nachos, with the hope/thought that they would be similar to the nachos that we're all familiar with here in the mainland: a basket of tortilla chips and a bowl of liquid, spicy cheese sauce on the side. Instead, we received a paper plate with a thin layer of chips covered in a solid mass of microwave-melted shredded cheese. Just like the kind of "nachos" you made at home as a kid... We were not thrilled:


But, as hungry as we were, the "nachos" weren't all bad. Thankfully, for the main course, I went with the chicken soft tacos, no cheese, which looked and tasted great:


Nourished (correction: "fed"), we headed back to the condo and bid Amy V and Whitney farewell. They drove back to San Juan and we showered and relaxed for a bit at the condo. Jed and Jamie were tired; Amy and I decided to take a walk down to the small surf shop/restaurant and grab a late night bite.

The surf shop was about a mile from the condo, so we strolled the streets of Luquillo and snapped a few pictures along the way. This was someone's house:


And this was one of the many "friendly" dogs we encountered along the street that we later referred affectionately to as "Snarling Dog Way":


We eventually landed at Boardriders, where we had a great view of the ocean from the outside bar seats:


Boardriders was a cool little place - part surf shop, part restaurant, part bar. It was busy, but not overly crowded. It had both indoor and outdoor seating, a nice selection of drinks, and a great selection of food, with emphasis on burgers and seafood dishes.

Despite actively avoiding deep fried foods, we decided to try the mozzarella sticks. For some reason, they sounded good... and they were:


We ate the perfectly prepared sticks, finished our drinks, and then walked back to the condo for an early night. As we were leaving, I snapped a quick picture of Boardriders - I had a feeling we'd be back again.


Day Four (Saturday), started with a trip back to San Juan so that we could visit the Bacardi Factory. And, believe it or not, the factory had an address, so we quickly located it and arrived without any adventure or drama. Here's the entry way to the factory:


We were pleased to learn that the tour was free and that it included two free Bacardi beverages from their bar area.


The tours run every thirty minutes, and alternate between spanish and english guided tours. We had just missed the spanish tour, so that meant we had 30 minutes to wait before the english tour would start. The wait was no big deal - the bar area was wonderful (the plant is located right on the ocean), and it felt great to sit back, relax, and enjoy the atmosphere. Here's what the bar area and gift shop (the red building) looked like:


Our tour kicked-off, and we were taken to a visitor center by way of a trolley. Here's we are on the trolley, en route to the factory:


Inside the tour, we weren't allowed to take many pictures, but truth be told, there wasn't much to take pictures of. I have some extra pictures in the gallery if you're interested. The tour lasted about an hour and included an introductory movie, a description and overview of how rum is made, a tour through a reproduction of the original Bacardi offices and factory, and a mock demonstration of how to make some of Bacardi's signature drinks.

When the tour was complete, we took the trolley back to the bar where we sampled a few of the Bacardi drinks. After relaxing for a bit under the Bacardi Bar's awesome scalloped shade cover, we decided to head back to San Juan for a stroll through the cruise ship area, as we heard there were supposed to be some food carts in that area.

Alas, while there were some food carts, nothing really struck our fancy. At least there was a gorgeous water fountain in the area:


We wandered around for a bit, looking for a good restaurant, and eventually stopped to ask for help from two off-duty cab drivers. They pointed us toward Raices, which was supposed to be an incredible food experience. We had heard of it before, so we decided to give it a try. We arrived at around 2:00pm and endured a short wait - the place was pretty busy, which we took as a good sign.


We sat at the bar for a bit, and before we knew it, our table was ready. The drinkware was authentic and interesting:


Amy and I decided to split an order of Churasco Mofongo; we couldn't find a single non-deep-fried item on the menu, so we figured it would be best to split one of those artery bombs. In hindsight, their Mofongo was actually quite good - it wasn't terribly greasy, and the Churasco (marinated steak) was actually grilled, so it wasn't all bad:


Jed went with the Pork Kan-Kan, which was literally a cross-section cut from a pig and deep fried... it had everything: skin, bacon, pork chop, ribs - all in a single "cut." I'm embarrassed to admit that it was actually really good.


Having met our deep-fried food quota for the day, we made the 25-mile drive back to Luquillo, where we came to the realization that no matter where we drove, we always saw at least 3-4 ambulances along the way. And it dawned on us that with as bad as everyone drives in Puerto Rico that the ambulances are simply out cruising the highways, waiting for a wreck to happen. We even saw ambulances parked - waiting - for wrecks to happen during rush hour times...

So, Jed pulled out a classic comedy bit where someone mixed the song "Black Betty" from Ram Jam with a mispronunciation of the word "ambulance" as "bambulance" from a viral video and proceeded to have us all in stitches. As luck would have it, we spied this bambulance just as we were laughing:


Back at the condo, we took a quick shower and relaxed for a bit. I think a few folks may have taken a nap; others read; I enjoyed sitting on the porch and taking it easy.

We also took time to research some food options; Jed and Jamie had watched an episode of Man Vs Food, where the host had visited San Juan and raved about a Tripleta sandwich from a food truck. We were craving the sandwich, but couldn't find the truck anywhere. There was nothing reliable online, and in our previous visits to San Juan, we never saw any hint of a food truck anywhere.

And then, purely by luck, we found a Twitter page for the truck. We all looked at one another - it was about 8:00pm, we were tired, we were semi-hungry, and we were facing a drive into San Juan. Oh, and as usual, there were no directions, and the address was a bit sketchy...

So, we hit the road. Back to San Juan. Oh, the irony.

We arrived in downtown San Juan, parked the car, and went to the address as shown on the Twitter page. And? No truck. No sign of a truck. Nothing. PR'd again.

Determined to find that @#&*@&# truck at all costs, we stopped-in to a rental car office that was still open and asked about the El Churry truck. The attendant claimed he had never heard of it. So we asked about Tripleta sandwiches, and he claimed he never heard of a "tree-play-ta" sandwich (that's the correct Spanish pronunciation for the word, and was exactly how I was saying it).

Jed made some small talk with the guy, and we asked one last time about the truck and the "tree-play-ta" sandwich. The guy said, "Oh, you looking for try-play-ta sandwich from El Churrrrrrrrry truck? I know where that is - my brother was the original business partner."

Seriously? Give me a break. But, the guy gave us directions and we b-lined it for the truck's correct location. When we arrived, we all lit-up and cheered loudly.


The El Churry truck is only open Wednesday through Saturday, from about 6:00pm until about 2:00am. We arrived at around 9:30pm, and there was only a short line. Menu options are fairly limited - there's the Tripleta sandwich, a Tripleta wrap, and a burger. Everything is $6 and includes a soda. Here's Jed, standing in line:


We ordered two of the Tripleta Mixto sandwiches, which include: chicken, churasco, pork, lettuce, tomato, and fries, all on a thin roll that's then wrapped tightly. There's a mayo/ketchup sauce that's available as an option; Amy and I passed on it, Jed and Jamie ordered it. Here's a shot of the Tripleta that Amy and I split:


So, was it worth the drive and the hassle? Absolutely. We all agreed that we could've easily eaten several more of those sandwiches. The bread was unbelievable, the chicken was super tender, the beef was wonderful, and the whole combination was divine.


We drove back to Luquillo, content, happy, and with another PR-win in our pockets. Here we are in the car, heading back to the condo:


We woke-up on Sunday, Day 5, extremely early and drove to Fajardo with the hope of getting tickets for a ferry ride to a small island just east of Puerto Rico called Culebra. Culebra is supposed to have some of the finest beaches in the world and serves as the favored beach playground to countless celebrities. Unfortunately, it's first-come, first-served for tickets on the ferry, and we missed out.

All was not lost; we scored tickets to another small island called Vieques. While not as "exclusive" as Culebra, it's slightly larger and unlike Culebra, has a few small restaurants/bars - Culebra is primarily a "bring your own food and drink" destination. Here we are, waiting in line to get onto the ferry:


And after an hour on the ferry, we arrived on the island. A short $20 cab ride later and we were on the beach, which was absolutely postcard perfect:


We scored a great spot on the beach, set-up shop, went for a swim (the water was once again crystal clear and the beach super soft), grabbed a beverage, and read some books. I had to take a picture of our table, complete with three very important items: sunscreen, Medalla Light, and "Gasolina."


Gasolina was Jed's beverage of choice while relaxing. It's basically an adult version of the Capri Sun; a soft foil package, filled with rum punch, with a built-in straw. Simply tear off the top, wait for the straw to pop-out and enjoy. I never tried it, but am told it was delicious. I love that it's named "Gasolina" (gasoline) and it's supposed to be "refreshing."

I did a bunch of swimming in the wonderful waters, and also tried my hand at a run on the beach. Who wouldn't want to run along this beach??


(More photos of the beach are available in the gallery.

Running on the beach sounds great, and it looks great (especially in super-slow motion and with a Baywatch caption), but in reality, it's quite hard. The sand gives way under your feet so you lose a lot of momentum. And the sand is often hot and coarse, which results in blisters and chewed-up feet... which is exactly what I ended-up with. After just 30 short minutes, my feet were completely hashed. I decided to relax and enjoy the rest of my time on the beach.

Amy wandered the shoreline for a bit and discovered a pool of sea urchins - spiny little creatures that are considered to be a bit of a delicacy. She snapped a few pictures of them "relaxing" in this "pool" (a group of rocks near the shore had formed little pools of water that were isolated from the rest of the bay) - they're the black ball-like things:


Vieques is known not only for its beaches, but for its wild horses, and apparently the horses like the beach. We saw several, including this fun little guy:


We eventually made our way to a restaurant on the next beach over from ours, and were shocked to discover that our server was from Milwaukee. What are the odds? She had moved to Vieques a few years ago after falling in love with the island while on vacation. We enjoyed some great drinks, some great food (grilled fish, grilled chicken, and a Cuban sandwich), and some excellent views of the ocean. Here are the photos:





With the sun setting, we grabbed a taxi back into town, and then took the ferry back to Puerto Rico. I snapped a bunch of pictures from a small town in Vieques - you can find them in the gallery.

Here are a few sneak peeks of what's in the gallery:



For dinner that evening, we went back to Boardriders and enjoyed an awesome evening that included live music, fresh shrimp tacos, fresh mahi mahi, and really outstanding service. We also discovered that one of the owners is from Milwaukee as well; I assume the other is from Richmond:


Again, there are more photos available in the gallery - just browse through and you'll find them.

We spent our final day back at the beach in Luquillo, relaxing, swimming, and reading. The weather was superb and there were only a handful of people at the beach. It was absolutely divine:



For dinner that evening, we made our way back to La Estacion - I had the fish, Jed had some slow-smoked, literally-fall-off-the-bone-and-melt-in-your-mouth ribs, Jamie had the shrimp and mahi Mofongo, and Amy had the pulled smoked pork Mofongo. La Estacion was absolutely superb, once again - everything was unreal. Here's the fish:


Here's Amy's pulled-pork Mofongo:


Jamie's Shrimp-and-Mahi Mofongo:


And Jed's ribs with potato salad:


What a way to end the trip - a perfect day at the beach, followed by a perfect meal at an awesome restaurant with my friends. Here we are, at our table:


The next morning, we woke-up early, checked-out of the condo, and dropped-off Amy at the airport. She had an 11:00am flight; ours didn't leave until 3:00pm. Here's Amy and me at the airport:


After dropping Amy off, Jed, Jamie and I went back to San Juan for some breakfast and to pick-up a few souvenirs. We returned the rental car, sat in the airport for a few hours, then suffered through the 5-hour return flight to Chicago. We picked-up Jed's car and promptly had a proper meal - a Chicago Italian Beef sandwich:


I arrived back to the apartment late that evening and didn't bother unpacking. I simply dropped my suitcase, backpack, and clothing and hit the hay. I guess that's how you can tell if you've had a good vacation - when you feel like you need a vacation to recover from your vacation. :-)

To Jed, Jamie, and Amy - thanks so much for joining me in Puerto Rico. Despite the "challenges" of the area, it was really enjoyable, and I loved spending time with all of you - you're great people, for certain. Thanks a million to Susy for the condo rental, and thanks to Puerto Rico for the "experience." Not sure how soon we'll be back, but I'm definitely glad we went. Cheers.

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This page contains a single entry by Steve published on April 17, 2011 4:03 PM.

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