Published: February 23rd 2012February 23rd 2012
View from Fuerte San Cristobal
El Condado, where we're staying, is waaaay in the distance.
Yesterday morning started rather leisurely - it is vacation after all! I brewed coffee in the room, we made a rough plan for the day, and eventually moseyed on downstairs to ask a few questions at reception. 1) What are our options besides walking an hour to Old San Juan? 2) How do we get to the Bacardí rum factory and 3) Can we make a reservation at Pikayo, the hotel's famed restaurant?
As it turned out, buses ran just up the street to Old San Juan for only $.75! The catch? There's no schedule! Thankfully one came within 20 minutes, and we much preferred the modern bus to sweating to death walking or a $15 cab ride. Once in town it was too late for breakfast and almost early enough to justify lunch, so since we hadn't eaten we decided on lunch up at La Fonda el Jibarito, a homey spot on Calle San Sebastián. I liked that the waitress, in Spanish, was just like "ok this is what we more or less have..." and gave us no menus. She ended up being less than stellar, but I still pretended we were in la cocina de mamá. I got
Scandalous glass shower
Perfect for blackmail pics!
oven-baked pork with onions and rice with gandules, a typical Puerto Rican bean. Chris had a half-roast chicken with different rice and beans. My pork was delicious, with just enough crispy skin while still being tender and lean. His chicken was likewise legit. Success, and for under $25 total.
Next it was over to the other major fort in San Juan, the Fuerte de San Cristóbal. Its construction began in 1634 in response to a Dutch attack and was constructed to defend San Juan from the east. The fort itself was smaller than El Morro, but offered more explanation of San Juan's various battles and changes over the years, which we liked. Apparently a firing from this fort marked Spain/Puerto Rico's entry into the Spanish-American War. Heading down from the fort we decided to hit up some shops.
There wasn't too much of interest, but we did want some kind of art to take home if possible. We saw some we liked, but went back and forth, and I ended up doing much more damage at a little foodie shop with Banana Ketchup and three types of hot sauces. Some of you can look forward to a forthcoming
Streets of Old San Juan
Beautiful houses with bright colors and balconies.
Caribbean dinner ;-)
Moving on we hit up the island's only microbrewery, the Old Harbor Brewery, housed in the former New York Federal Bank building. I enjoyed cerveza Coquí, a light lager named after the island's signature little frogs, while Chris had the Old Harbor pale Ale. Very tasty!
Since we had just boarded the booze train, we chose to continue and head across the water via $.50 ferry to the Bacardí rum factory. The trip was quick, and once we got to the other side we ignored the taxi guys and started walking. I consulted a schoolboy on the distance, and he said the factory was somewhat lejito and to catch a guagua (bus). What ended up happening was that a random van full of what may have been a family picked us up for $1. I'll take it!
Soon we were at the factory, a large palm-tree lined complex with the bat logo all over the place. As we'd learn, Señor Bacardí's wife chose the emblem after seeing a family of fruit bats roosting in their first distillery,and bats back in Catalonia were signs of good luck. That's right, the Bacardí company was started by
Lunch at El Jibarito
Oven roasted pork with onions and rice with gandules
Catalans, making me like it 500x more! We started with 2 free drinks each, being able to choose from any Bacardi rum and mixer at a nice outdoor bar. I went with two of the new rums, "Torched Cherry", self-explanatory, and "Rock Coconut", which is made with rock melon and coconut water. We compared it side-by-side with regular coconut and it's much better. At $12.75 for a bigass bottle, we bought one to take back.
The tour itself took us through a number of rooms including a replica of the first distillery, a small theatre where we learned about the rum's history, and a replica of the VIP lounge in I think Cuba (where the rum was first made) where we "learned" to made Cuba Libres, mojitos, and daiquiris. All in all it was a nice experience, and considering it was entirely free we had no complaints.
Back across the bay we waited forever for a bus to Condado and made it by 6:30 to change for our 7:00 reservation at Pikayo. Chris described the upscale restaurant atmosphere as a mix between Mistral and Stella in Boston, which I think paints a good picture. We started out with
mariachi mojitos, in which rum is replaced with tequila and mint with cilantro - very nice! We enjoyed bread with a sesame butter, then thinly sliced Portuguese octopus with shallot escabeche and jamón serrano. So good! For my main dish I got the beef tenderloin "Bistec encebollado", thinkly sliced tenderloin covered in a delicious gravy with sautéd onions. They were served with Pikayo fries, which were extremely thin shoe-string fried potatoes. Chris had the Alaskan king salmon with red onion compote and mustard beurre blanc. Everything was great and it wasn't as horribly expensive as we'd anticipated.
After dinner we met up with two guys from New York and New Jersey at the hotel bar (thanks, social media, for bringing us together!). With them we made plans to hit up a bar in Santurce called "Circo". Not knowing what time stuff gets hopping here, we played it safe and left around 10 in a cab driven by a cute Puerto Rican grandma. Down a sketchy side street in Santurce, an "up-and-coming" area, Circo was all lit up and we headed inside Peter getting checked by a metal-detecting wand. Aaaaaand it was dead! As we then found out from the
Kind of sketchy looking, but fun!
bartender, a recent University of Ohio Grad, the place was open til 5, sometimes 6 or 7, so we were a bit early. Oh well! We chatted, ordered good drinks (though apparently coconut rum with soda is for weirdos, as I'd find out) and met a nice guy from PR who hung out with us for the night. He asked if I was from Spain - 1 point for me!
By 1 we were done and headed back to the Conrad for a late-night dip in the hot tub and pool before calling it a night!