Saturday 6 Apr, Puerto Rico day 2: Road trip to San Juan via Puerto Del Ray and Fajardo.
Cool and fresh this morning after all the rain last night. And we wake up full of energy, ready to start the adventure in Puerto Rico.
Same as yesterday, our first thoughts are “outboard”. And taking advantage of the WiFi in the marina we research on google for outboard dealers, brands, weight, etc. And finish still with no firm action plan on this front.
We pick up a compact rental car from the nearby Target office and on we go. First, towards Marina Del Ray, to check out the place in case we would rather dock there and to visit the West Marine and outboards dealers.
The drive out of the Palma Del Mar complex reveals an extensive development, very green, golf courses, and all in very good condition. Trees and palms seem to be healthy and we imagine this area wasn’t badly affected by the 2017 hurricanes.
Out of the complex we take the highway, and the drive is very pleasant. Green mountains call us to go and hike them, but no time for that today.
As we pass through the local areas we note all the houses have their windows and doors heavily secured with ironwork. Some with decorative bars, others just plain prison looking. We certainly could not live in a place that demanded such security.
Today we vow to eat only local food, and not in expensive restaurants. And we start with breakfast in a roadside bakery. $8 for 2 heavily filled bagels and 2 cakes. Now that’s cheap!
Marina Del Ray is our first objective. It’s supposed to be the largest marina in the Caribbean. As we approach, it is all fenced off with barbed wire on top, looking more like a military unit than a marina. We drive in after we have to give our names to a security guard. The marina is absolutely packed with motor boats and some masts visible from the outer pontoons. Lots of golf carts running about, clearly a very busy place. What a contrast to Yacht Club Marina where there are hardly any boats and is extremely quiet. Secretly, we are glad we gave them our business, Del Ray don’t seem to need it.
We find the Suzuki dealer but it’s closed. Same as most of the other shops. So after a walk along some of the pontoons, looking at the outboards on the dinghies in case we decide to change the brand, we are ready to move on.
Next objective, Fajardo. Not necessarily to visit, but to pay a visit to the police station. Vieques police told us that the report for the theft of the outboard will be with the Fajardo Police. And since they failed to email us the report we now need to drive there to pick it up ourselves. Makes sense, doesn’t it?! We do find the police station, but a lady shoos us off telling us to return on Monday. How very useful.
Driving through and out of the town we can’t stop comment how again all the houses and businesses are bared off. What a weird feeling. The only other country where I saw something similar was Nigeria.
Next stop is West Marine to see their outboard selection. But we discover that unique to Puerto Rico, only the individual outboard dealers are allowed to sell, not retail outlets like West Marine. Hmmm… this, like a few other aspects here, smell a bit of mafia. So to conclude, one can’t buy an outboard motor on a weekend in Puerto Rico. Fine, we give up till Monday then!
As we approach San Juan it’s clearly a huge sprawling city. With the help of Google we manage to get to the old town, the original Spanish town, strategically built on an island. They settled San Juan in the 1500’s. England briefly took it about one hundred years later, then the Dutch briefly, then back to the Spanish. In all that time, this Old San Juan became a heavily fortified walled city, just like so many in Europe.
Spain finally granted the island independence in 1895, only to be invaded by the USA in the 1898 US-Spanish war. Hmmm must look that up to see what was that all about. It’s been under USA ever since, but retained a distinctively core Spanish culture.
After a bit of queuing we manage to find a space in an underground parking then set off on foot to see the town.
And oh what a wonderful old town it is. With the architecture and general ambiance, we feel we could be in any historic town in Spain. The buildings are all pretty well renovated to original state and all painted different colours. The narrow streets are all cobblestones and quite a variety of shops, restaurants and bars. And looots of tourists.
We comment that Spain clearly made big investments in the islands they controlled, compared to the French and British islands where the main town infrastructure could not even be compared to a town like San Juan. Or maybe the economics of these larger islands (clearly Spain preferred to keep the larger islands only) were much better than the small windward islands. Whatever the reason, San Juan was, and still is, an impressive city.
We walk several streets to take it all in, but it is so very hot that we have to visit few arty shops just to cool off in their aircon. When the heat is gone we can finally seat for our late lunch (junk food) at a small Taco Cafe. Then walk some more to settle our food, which we have to say is sitting pretty heavily in our stomachs!
As night settles in, the place becomes even livelier, with notes of Latino music from all corners. Most bars have a basic and unpretentious look, like they have been in the same place for hundreds of years. All very quaint. We stop for drinks in La Factoria, which is rated as one of the hot spots in town, and we enjoy a round of well made cocktails. A very interesting looking place, with another smaller bar hiding behind a door, some sort of speak easy bar.
We try to hang out late into the evening to enjoy more of the night life, but we finally relent to tiredness and by 9pm we are driving back. Not a short drive. It takes over one hour before we are back on Cloudy Bay where we fall straight into bed.
Oooph, we had forgotten how tiring it is to be a true tourist again!