Puerto Rico and beyond!

This international travel blog starts in Puerto Rico join us as we make our way about the Western Caribbean! 

We started our adventure by heading out from Salt Lake City to JFK in New York and then hopping a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico's attractions range from the adventurous…like the underground caves ofRio Camuy … to the historic, like the 500-year old walls of the El Morro Fort. And there are plenty of options between the two extremes. Beach lovers must visit the western beaches of Rincón for sunbathing and surfing; snorkelers are bound to enjoy Vieques' bioluminescent Mosquito Bay.  If you're the kind of traveler who enjoys the after dark scene you'll discover a varied but vibrant nightlife in San Juan.

Our stay of two days here was spent at the Caribe Hilton Condado.  It's a nice hotel with good amenities and an awesome pool area right near all the Condado area nightlife and restaurants. It was real easy to not leave the hotel area but I suggest you absolutely do….at least for part of the day and go exploring….then come back and flop down and have a mojito poolside.

We enjoyed heading into Old San Juan to wander around the shops and see the historical sites. Outlet shoppers should come to Old San Juan prepared to let go of a few dollars. The city's Calle del Cristo is a haven of restaurants, art galleries and boutiques. In addition to popular stores, those walking the cobblestone street can discover local crafts and artisan shops. If you're looking to skip shopping altogether, Calle del Cristo is still a worthwhile spot to get a feel for the beauty of Old San Juan. Trees, cobblestones, shops, restaurants, small squares, people, traffic, birds, locals playing guitar and serenading in Spanish all adds to the vibe of this small town.

We did visit the El Morro Fort while we were here. El Morro juts out of San Juan harbor beckoning to cruise ships just as it used to deter sea attacks. The structure is a hulking six-story fortress built between 1539 and 1589, withstanding the two World Wars and several other scrimmages. Now, El Fuerto San Felipe del Morro is Puerto Rico's go-to tourist attraction, both for its extensive history and its outstanding vistas of the Atlantic Ocean. You can also walk though the fortress' depths, which include a maze of tunnels, barracks and prison cells.

You'll enjoy exploring more if you wear comfortable walking shoes, as the site is quite big and there are lots of stairs to navigate. Bring water and allow yourself at least three hours to explore this fort and learn about its history.

One thing I was a bit put off by, there seems to be a dispute between the cab drivers and Uber drivers and soon to come Lyft drivers. If you are an Uber user, like I am be aware you may have to endure some dirty looks and find agreeable pick up spots. However with the news of Puerto Rico financial troubles the drivers may find that cooperation will make for a better living for all of them very quickly. It’s not a big issue but one that can effect your getting around.

OK the FOOD is amazing! Although Puerto Rican cooking is somewhat similar to Spanish, Cuban and Mexican cuisine, it is a unique tasty blend of Spanish, African, Taíno, and American influences, using such indigenous seasonings and ingredients as coriander, papaya, cacao, nispero, apio, plantains, and yampee. Locals call their cuisine "cocina criolla". When Ponce de León arrived with Columbus in 1493, the Spanish added beef, pork, rice, wheat, and olive oil to the island's foodstuffs. Soon after, the Spanish began planting sugarcane and importing slaves from Africa, who brought with them okra and taro (known in Puerto Rico as yautia). The mingling of flavors and ingredients passed from generation to generation among the different ethnic groups that settled on the island, resulting in the exotic blend of today's Puerto Rican cuisine.

 

Lunch and dinner generally begin with sizzling-hot appetizers such as bacalaitos, crunchy cod fritters; surullitos, sweet plump cornmeal fingers; and empanadillas, crescent-shaped turnovers filled with lobster, crab, conch, or beef.

 

Carne frita con cebella

Carne frita con cebella

Typical main dishes include fried beefsteak with onions (carne frita con cebolla), veal (ternera) a la parmesana, and roast leg of pork, fresh ham, lamb, or veal, a la criolla. These roasted meats are cooked in the Créole style, flavored with adobo.

Puerto Ricans also like such dishes as breaded calves brains (sesos empanados), calves kidney (riñones guisados), and stuffed beef tongue (lengua rellena). I didn’t get a chance to try any of these…if I had the chance I would just to say I did!

Arroz con Pollo

Arroz con Pollo

Puerto Ricans adore chicken, which they flower various spices and seasoning. Arroz con pollo (chicken with rice) is the most popular chicken dish on the island, and it was brought long ago to the U.S mainland. Other favorite preparations include chicken in sherry (pollo al jerez), pollo agridulce (sweet and sour chicken), and pollitos asados a la parrilla (broiled chickens).

 

Mojo Isleño

Mojo Isleño

A popular fried fish with Puerto Rican sauce (mojo isleño). The sauce is made with olives and olive oil, onions, pimientos, capers, tomato sauce, vinegar, and a flavoring of garlic and bay leaves. Fresh fish is often grilled, and perhaps flavored with garlic and an overlay of freshly squeezed lime juice -a very tasty dinner indeed. Caribbean lobster is usually the most expensive item on any menu, followed by shrimp. Puerto Ricans often cook shrimp in beer (camarones en cerveza). Another delectable shellfish dish is boiled crab (jueyes hervidos).

Jueyes Hervidos

Jueyes Hervidos

Camarones en Cerveza

Camarones en Cerveza

Flan

Flan

And last but not least desserts…Desserts usually include some form offlan (custard) or perhaps nisperos de batata (sweet-potato balls with coconut, cloves and cinnamon). Equally traditional would be a portion of guava jelly with queso blanco (white cheese). Chefs take the bountiful harvest of Puerto Rican fruits and create any number of desserts, including orange layer cake, banana cupcakes, and guava cake. The most delicious dessert may be a freshly prepared fruit cocktail. The pumpkin, which grows in abundance on Puerto Rico, is used not only to flavor soups and as a side vegetable, but also to make the succulent base of a traditional Puerto Rican cake. Similarly, the sweet potato is used both as a side vegetable and in making a regional sweet-potato cake.

Nisperos de Batata

Nisperos de Batata

Coconut is probably the most common dessert ingredient. Many delectable desserts are made with its milk (leche de coco), including coconut flan, coconut cream desserts, crunchy coconut squares, coconut with meringue, and candied coconut rice. Another classic preparation is coconut bread pudding (boudin de pasas con coco).  Polvo de amor ("love powder") is prepared with grated coconut meat after the milk has been extracted. The coconut is mixed with a lot of sugar and placed in a kettle to cook rapidly, then served crisp and golden brown.

I did some research into Puerto Rican traditional medicines and found “Alcoholado” to be very interesting. The basic concept of Alcoholado is that it is a rubbing alcohol that has been infused with natural plants and other essential oils, primarily bay rum, eucalyptus, piper marginatum, pathchouli (see my blog Nov. 28, 2016), ginger, limpia stoechadifolia, yellow sage, sweet scent, peppermint, and camphor.

It has a very strong smell to it, of which one thinks is very pleasant or very overpowering.  We love it though!  It has a wide-ranging list of uses, primarily as a rubbing alcohol for the use in massages to relieve symptoms associated with poor blood circulation, fever, arthritis, headache, muscular pain, fungus, insect bites, rheumatism, respiratory problems and neuralgia. It is a natural expectorant for congestion and eliminates mucus – perfect to combat colds, flus, bronchitis, and asthma. It is applied as a rubbing alcohol on the skin in the affected region.

Amazingly enough the air quality in Puerto Rico can be a risk. Exposure to air pollutants from large ships includes nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter and can cause respiratory illnesses, such as lung disease, asthma, and heart disease. The Port of San Juan in Puerto Rico moves approximately 11 million metric tons of goods on nearly 3,800 vessel trips annually. It is also a major destination for over one million cruise ship passengers. It was reported in the States News Service (December 7, 2010) that because of the pollution caused by cruise lines and container vessels there is a proposal for these vessels in “emission control areas” to use much cleaner fuel or install better pollution control technology. So even though the air appears to be clear I would suggest VentMask for your hotel vent registers.

Next week we hop on over to Barbados and work our way down the island chain back to Puerto Rico……check back and get the low down on Barbados!

Guy Rawson-VentMaskTeam Member