We’re home from Puerto Rico after a lovely 10-day stay at a fancy resort hotel. This isn’t the first time Jen and I have stayed at a hotel (we traveled to Curacao before Finley was born) but we’re very rusty on how these things generally work. Some thoughts from the trip:
The flight was cheap because the hotel underwrote it to get us to the hotel; Frontier Airlines, while not the top-shelf carrier available, was remarkably clean and punctual, even if they did charge us extra for everything. Baggage and seating were tacked on to the ticket, but it was a direct flight and we didn’t have to cattle-call to get three seats together. The seats were relatively comfortable, and there was plenty of legroom.
Our hotel, the Wyndham Rio Mar, was beautiful. Our room stunk of mildew no matter what setting we had the A/C on, and it seemed to get worse as the week went by. That being said, there were seven restaurants available to us onsite, including two outdoor bars, a huge set of pools, a palm-fronted beach, and most importantly, drink service everywhere on the premises. All in all, not a bad place to stay. Our half was the Wyndham half, and the other side was part of the Margaritaville chain. We did some light investigation and it looked like that side was in better shape than ours was. As would be expected, food and drinks were roughly double what they would be in the outside world, so our final room bill was, shall we say, large.
The hotel concierge is there to help you find things to do, but also to put a hard sell on the not-a-timeshare timeshare presentation to get you to buy into the Jimmy Buffet Empire; we listened politely to the pitch from our sweaty concierge, took his maps, and noped the fuck out of there. I avoided him for the rest of the trip. Sorry, Enrique.
On the first day at the beach, I was out in the surf with Finn having a good time floating in the warm Caribbean water. A rogue breaker hit me from behind while my attention was elsewhere, and I lost my brown Ray-Bans to the gods of the ocean. I had them for over ten years, and they served me well; I’d lost them several times but they always seemed to turn up. I did go to the lost and found twice to see if they’d washed up on shore and were turned in, but had no luck.
The hotel was three miles away from the El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. After consulting with the concierge, we rented a car and drove up the road to check it out. After stopping to check out several of the sites along the way, we parked our little rental and hiked a mile and a half through the forest along a 650 foot elevation increase to reach the Britton Tower, which, on a good day, offers a view of the water on both sides of the island. While we were there the clouds blew in underneath us and we were treated to a gentle, cooling rainshower. But the air was clear and crisp, and the scenery beautiful. It was worth the pain in my calves and thighs. I should note for the record that I am woefully out of shape.
The Ford Focus we were rented was an interesting comparison to the Explorer I got a month ago; the Focus felt agricultural and buzzy compared to the smooth and powerful SUV. I had no problem with the transmission in the Explorer but it felt like the Focus was constantly hunting for a gear to be in, and I was constantly jamming my foot to the floor to get it to move. Visibility sucked behind my right shoulder; I never felt safe trying to change lanes. It got us where we wanted to go, but I wouldn’t ever recommend one.
Old San Juan was about an hour away using the no-toll route, and it was beautiful. Both times we got there in the afternoon and had to pause for food before we could explore; we were advised to park down by the water where the cruise ships come in, and we instinctively walked up the hill away from the touristy shops to find good places to eat. On our first night we chose an out of the way restaurant and lucked into some of the most delicious food on the trip, as well as the best margarita of Jen’s life. The second night we found a louder place advertising honest Puerto Rican food, and we all chose excellent meals. The city is absolutely beautiful, especially at night; I should have brought a set of Pantone books down to try and capture some of the colors used to paint the villas. If we’d planned better we would have spent a full day there exploring the fort and more of the city, but I think we did really well with the time we had.
Jen had asked some of the employees at the hotel where they would go if they wanted to eat real food, and we got a good lead on a restaurant in a local town, so we made a beeline for that on the last morning we had the car. We found the place off the square of a pretty little coastal town called Luquillo and sat down for some of the most amazing food we’d had on the whole trip. Tostones (twice-fried plantains) are absolutely delicious. The trifongo at this restaurant, served with a fried strip of the local fish, was out of this world.
Everybody we met was amazing. Frankie the cab driver was engaged by the bellhop to pick us up at 1:30PM for our 4:30 flight out of San Juan, but the bellhop got the time wrong. Our room phone rang at 1:45AM for reasons my tired brain couldn’t comprehend, but I woke enough to put it together and realized he’d texted my silenced phone. I sent back a profuse apology and he waved it off, telling us he’d see us at 1:30PM. The car ride out to the airport was friendly and fun, and he told us not to worry about the hassle, but I doubled his fee for his trouble. Everyone asked us how we liked Puerto Rico and we honestly told them we loved it.
I’m acutely conscious of my inability to speak a second language. Somehow, in some way, I’ve got to start learning Spanish without looking like the dad in Barbie. You know, with all the free time I’ve got.