I love when guests from out-of-town come to visit. It’s a great opportunity to show off things and places that are unique to our state and region. This past week, Dharma’s dad and brother paid us a visit. Some of the places we took our guests included the Dexter Cider Mill, the Nichols Arboretum, Joe Louis Arena for a Detroit Red Wings hockey game, and El Barzon for dinner.
Additionally, we visited the Cadieux Cafe in Detroit for a few games of feather bowling. Yes, you heard that right, feather bowling. Once a speakeasy, the bar is most famous for being the only place in the U.S. where you can still play feather bowling. This game, which originated in Flanders, Belgium, is similar to bocce ball and horseshoes. In short, it’s big fun (yes, there’s even a league!). In addition to feather bowling, the Cadieux Cafe has fantastic mussels (so I’m told) and a decent selection of Belgian beers. Here are some pictures from our trip.
Situated on a sandbar off the southern coast of Jamaica, Floyd’s Pelican Bar is simply paradise. We visited Delroy “Floyd” Forbes’ bar back in 2005 while staying at Jake’s Island Outpost in Treasure Beach. It was our honeymoon and we were in pursuit of adventure. So, we hooked up with a local fisherman for a tour of the Black River. The fisherman introduced us to Floyd’s, which is located nearby in the Parottee Bay. We sipped cold Red Stripes, ate amazing fresh caught fish from the Caribbean, and sat back and watched the dolphins pass us by. I’d love to go back…
Yesterday was about as perfect as it gets. Highlights included a visit to the Ayala Crafts Workshop, a hike in El Yunque National Forest, a refreshing swim at Luquillo Beach and dinner at the neighboring rustic kiosks, and a nighttime kayak trip to see the bioluminescent bay near Fajardo.
Our first stop was at the Ayala Crafts Workshop in Loiza to check out the folk art of Raul Ayala. Ayala is a member of the musical group Los Hermanos Ayala and a master artisan of vejigantes.
Vejigante masks and costumes are worn by people dressed as vejigantes, or people who represent 11th-century Spanish Moors, in Puerto Rico during the time of Carnival, as well as during the festival, or carnival, of St. James in July. Vejigante masks date to the 1700s Spanish traditions, and represent a spiritual battle between the Apostle James and Spanish Muslims.
After purchasing a couple of Ayala’s beautiful masks, we made our way further down the coast to El Yunque. EL Yunque is a designated UNESCO Biosphere and the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system! Imagine a place that gets 100 billion gallons of rainwater a year! We enjoyed a great hike while taking in the lush vegetation and the many beautiful waterfalls along the modernized trails.
Afterward we headed to the beautiful Loquillo Beach to cool off and freshen up with a swim in the ocean. Because we arrived late in the day, we didn’t get too much time to relax in the water. However, by this point we had worked up a pretty mean appetite and we were looking forward to eating at the renowned rustic kiosks next to the beach. I’m not sure how many food kiosks there were, but it seemed like the line of eateries stretched out at least a quarter of a mile. There was so much amazing, traditional Puerto Rican food to choose from. This stop was definitely a highlight of the trip for me!
To end the night we headed further out to Farajo for a kayak tour of the bioluminescent bay. The luminescence is caused by micro-organisms (dinoflagellates) that glow whenever the water is disturbed, leaving a trail of neon color. Because there was a moon, the bay was not nearly as illuminated as one would have hoped. But still, the two hours navigating the kayaks under a star filled sky was amazing.
All in all, this was the perfect last full day on the island. Our flight back to the States departs tomorrow afternoon, so we have limited time for much else.
Yesterday started off rather normal and ended on a weird note. Highlights for the day included an outstanding Puerto Rican breakfast at La Bombonera, a relaxing walk along the Paseo de la Princesa and the western coast of Old San Juan, and our Thanksgiving dinner at Marmalade.
La Bombonera was the perfect place to start the day. We enjoyed the restaurant’s renowned mallorcas and cafe con leche. Mallorcas are the perfect sweet and savory breakfast. A mallorca is “a buttery bread grilled and sprinkled with powdered sugar, which can be eaten with any combination of ham, egg, and cheese.” The restaurant is unpretentious and it feels very much like a Chicago diner. It certainly lived up to the hype, and no stop to Old San Juan would be complete without a visit to La Bombonera for a mallorca.
In the afternoon I enjoyed enjoyed a leisurely walk along the Paseo de la Princesa and the western wall of the city. The walk was amazingly scenic and relaxing. We saw some amazing historic architecture and the original gate to the city. Given that it was a holiday, that weren’t too many other people out and about. If time permits, I’d like to go for another walk along this route. It would be a great place to catch a sunset over the bay.
The night ended on a weird note. We had reservations for a Thanksgiving dinner at the highly acclaimed restaurant, Marmalade. The place was booked solid, as it was one of only a handful of restaurants open for the holiday. While the food was outstanding, the three-course meal took over three hours and our server was a bit inept. After asking our server to speak with the house manager, we were told there wasn’t one. However, we were told the executive chef/owner would try to speak with us when he had a moment. We weren’t actually expecting to speak with him, given all that was going on in the restaurant. So, we were surprised when he emerged from the kitchen and spoke with us regarding our meal. To make for a good experience, our meal was comped and we were given a free bottle of champagne. Peter Schintler, owner and chef, is a real class act. A big thanks to him for making a bad evening turn good. Good customer service goes a long way.
As a side note, the cast of True Blood was in the house last night. Apparently some of the cast are shooting a film in Old San Juan. Stephen Moyer, the main actor, bummed a light off me outside the restaurant. Talk about a surreal evening.
Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan when traveling. Yesterday was one of those days. After spending a couple of hours hunting down the only available rental car in San Juan, we departed the Old City for a trip to a coffee plantation in Ponce. Well, at least that was the plan. After a 1.5 hour drive, we arrived at Hacinda Buena Vista with high hopes for the tour of the farm. Little did we know that Hacienda Buena Vista was a historic plantation, not a working coffee farm! I know this sounds bad given my occupation and all, but we just weren’t enjoying the government-run historic site. We wanted to visit an actual working plantation. We had tried calling several other coffee plantations for tours, but it was to no avail. This home roasting coffee lover was incredibly disappointed, as were the rest in our group. We quickly reached a consensus and decided to leave the tour and pursue other options.
Southern Puerto Rico is said to have amazing beaches. Since we were in Ponce, we thought we’d try visiting one. Let’s just say the beach we found via our guidebook was not very impressive (it was surrounded by an industrial park, and this is where we saw our first horse running wild down an urban street!). In short, we decided not to visit this beach. While I would have loved to visit the rest of the city of Ponce, the others in our group were very much determined to visit a beach. So, we drove another hour west to Boqueron to catch the setting sun over this more tranquil and scenic beach. Again, that was the plan. We were first greeted by rain and, when we arrived at the deserted beach (it was Thanksgiving eve), our bodies were quickly consumed by mosquitoes. Needless to say, our stop at the beach was short and there was no sunset to be seen. By this point it was too late to visit the neighboring wildlife refuge and most restaurants we already closed for the holiday. We decided it was best to make the three-hour drive back to San Juan to find dinner.
Now, you are probably thinking what a waste of time! Yes, the day included many loses. However, we still managed to have a good time and the long, scenic drive gave us the opportunity to at least see much of the island. Up until this point I had never seen so many horses and chickens running wild in both rural and semi-urban areas. I guess Puerto Rico is way ahead of us with free-range animals!
Tomorrow, Thanksgiving, should be a relaxing day. We will continue our culinary tour of the city and take in some leisurely walking tours of San Juan. We wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!
A horse relaxing near the street in southern Puerto Rico.
Today we paid a visit to Casa Bacardi, home to the world’s most popular rum. Several years back we started a habit of visiting distilleries and breweries when we travel. Up until this point, we’ve had great luck with our experiences. Generally the visits are educational, fun, and include good times tasting good beverages. Sadly, Casa Bacardi was a bit of a letdown. It was a somewhat educational experience, but we were really annoyed that we could not tour the actual distillery. Instead, our docent led the tour group through a replica distillery. Speaking to this, I’m not quite sure why we couldn’t take pictures of the “fake” exhibits. In any case, I found the experience to be highly annoying. It felt like the entire tour was one disgusting marketing campaign. Our visits to Appelton in Jamaica and Woodford Reserve in Kentucky were much different, and for the better. On the plus side, we did get to try a couple of rum drinks for free. I also got a good deal on a bottle of 8 year old rum. As a side note, until today I wasn’t aware that Bacardi also owns Grey Goose vodka and Bombay Sapphire gin.
Today we continued our culinary escapade of San Juan. We grabbed lunch at Tio Danny’s (see my Yelp review) upon returning from Casa Bacardi. This was the first time I had fish tacos made with red snapper! These rank among the best fish tacos I have ever eaten. For dinner we ate Aureola (see my Yelp review), which is just a few blocks from our hotel. This place was a real shocker! We were tired, hungry and not very picky at this point in the evening. The menu appeared to be so-so. However, the food was right on! I really enjoyed the ceviche salad. Dharma had the same dish, and she too thought it was delectable. I have a feeling we’ll be trying to make ceviche salad when we get home.
Tomorrow we are heading to the center of the island to explore coffee plantations and then we are driving south to Ponce. It will be our first day braving the roads with a rental car.
When we arrived at The Gallery Inn on Saturday, Dharma was the first to notice the many pictures of Barack and Michelle Obama visiting the hotel. When we asked the clerk about the pictures, all she told us was that the first family visited during the primary election campaign. Yesterday we befriended the maintenance man and he filled us in on the details. It turns out the Obamas rented out all twenty-two rooms during their visit, the place was crawling with Secret Service and the couple stayed two nights in the same room as my parents!
Yesterday, the main highlight was spending a few hours exploring the historic Castillo de San Felipe Del Morro. This fortress was built by Spain over 400 years ago to protect San Juan from seaborne invaders. The sheer size of the fortress is really overwhelming. I’m familiar with the many forts along the Great Lakes, but those are a couple hundred years more modern and much different in design.
Castillo de San Felipe del Morro was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It was also the the set location for the 1997 film, Amistad.
After a few hours at El Morro, we relaxed with some piragua and kite flying outside the fort. Afterward we headed back downtown to buy some hats and aloe (I may be a child of the Mediterranean, but I still managed to get sunburned!).
Similar to Jamaica and New Orleans, Puerto Rican food is amazing! It seems hard to find a bad meal (not that we’re looking!). I enjoyed bistec encebollado for lunch at El Patio (see my Yelp review). Unlike South American encebollado, this popular Puerto Rican dish is essentially steak and fried onions. If you ever have a chance to try the Puerto Rican bistec encebollado, I recommend enjoying it with a mixed fruit frappe!
For dinner we ate tapas on the patio at Toro Salao (see my Yelp review). Nothing quite beats a busy day in the sun like a good dinner outside, under moonlight. “Special” sangria certainly helps to keep the spirits high too!
I’m looking forward to more good food and adventures tomorrow!