Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I don't know what was worse, the pork taste in my mouth or the fact that the waiter was claiming we were delusional. This is clearly a place in which the customer is not always right.
It caused us to recall yesterday's ride to the airport in Vieques. Our American innkeeper was driving us, talking about life on the island. He mentioned the island's new W resort. When they first opened, in hopes of giving back to the community, they hired 60 percent of their staff from the island. Well, that didn't turn out too well so they expanded, pulling that 60 percent from the larger Puerto Rico area. That didn't work either, so they now recruit internationally. Turns out the Puerto Ricans aren't so great with the customer service, something we could have told them.
Thankfully, the night ended well. Back at our favorite bar, The Patio, I was able to order my favorite Puerto Rican snack, fried cheese balls. Warm, gooey cheese encased in a hard fried shell. It worked wonders eliminating the bad taste of pork and poor service.
Monday, December 27, 2010
The bio bay itself was memorable for its remarkable beauty, the tour was also memorable...It all started when our group had assembled for the tour and the operators realized that they had too many participants than spots in their van. As they explained, their other van had broken down as had one for another bio bay tour operator. "Does anyone here have a car?" they asked. We were the only respondents and were immediately assigned to transport ourselves and a lovely Indian couple from Minnesota.
As the rest of the tour participants, 15 or so, piled into the wreckage of their functional vehicle, we were pleased to have our own ride. Their van had limited seats, no side doors and the back door was latched with a piece of wood from the outside. The more than 15 passengers were crammed in like refugees.
Once on the road, we followed that van, driven by our trusty guide Samir (who kept asking us: "are you ready for adventure?"). We quickly turned off the main paved road onto a dirt path. The road--or perhaps we should call it adventure trail--was uneven, full of gut-wrenching turns, massive puddles, and mini ravines. We were relieved that the rental agency had not assigned us a Dodge Neon and wondered why the tour operators had not asked if we had an off-road vehicle. Michael, meanwhile, was loving this chance to return to his boy scout adventure days.
Once at our destination, Samir handed out our life vests and paddles, at which point he realized there were not enough paddles for all participants. I was left without a paddle. Thankfully, Michael agreed to paddle me around. At this point, our fellow participants are joking that we not only had to transport ourselves but also were paddleless, suggesting that our bio bay tour was more like a bio fail.
But we all ended up in our kayaks, were able to paddle around in the crazy illuminated waters, and even swim--until that unfortunate moment where that one girl was stung by a jellyfish.
Ready for adventure we are!
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Making a u-turn across four lanes of highway traffic
Backing out of a parking lot into a five-way intersection across three lanes, then stopping
Driving with the hazards permanently on for no reason
Driving 30 in a 55, in the left lane, while everyone tries to pass on the right at 60, except for the guy doing 45, whose left turn signal is jammed and whose radio is tuned to Reggaeton at maximum volume
Driving on the wrong side (narrowly avoided a head-on)
Appropriating the technique commonly referred to as a Polish road block--all lead cars in each lane drive at exactly the same speed, preventing anyone from passing and creating a moving barrier
Not driving at all; it's common practice to simply stop in the middle of the street--not in one lane, in the middle--to chat with one's friends
Parking anywhere you damn well please: in the street, on the lawn, in the driveway
Of course, the population can't be held to entire account. Consider the state of the infrastructure:
We have six different maps; all show the island and indicate that it has roads. After that, the similarity ends. Even for the major thoroughfares, there is significant disagreement.
Speed limits are posted in mph; distances are given in km. I shit you not.
Rentals charge by the gallon; stations pump by the liter.
Lanes are marked only on the biggest highways.
Many roads feature sinkholes. They are always unmarked and noticeably not recent.
There is always a dog in the way.
However, if one is able to achieve a transcendental driving state, a special case of relativity comes into play: one does not transverse the island; one simply enters a vehicle and allows the island to transverse you.
We spent the 23rd recovering at a beach resort in Combate--Karen and possibly Jonathan have contracted what I got--before driving to Ponce yesterday. Nice city--good size, quaint center, great art museum. Though we ate at what might have been the only restaurant open on Xmas eve, it was one of the best meals we've had.
Not unlike the one MD and I shared this morning. Off 52, near Guavate, lays what's known as the highway of pork. Dozens of lechoneras, each roasting multiple whole pigs on spits, hack into the beasts with machetes and serve it up in gut-busting quantities. Besides the pig, there's chicken, blood sausage, rice, plantains and macaroni salad. We split a plate (it was only 10:30) and it was still too much. But the best part was the skin: after roasting on a spit for 10-12 hours, the fat hardens into a crispy, toffee-like wafer that's crunchy and salty and porky and good. Bourdain had it right: this does not suck.
Karen was grossed out and waited in the car.
But the locals were stocking up for tonight, Puerto Rican mothers and grandmothers walking out with pounds of the stuff for tonight's feast. Lechoneras: the Honey Baked Hams of Puerto Rico. But better.
Merry Xmas, and enjoy whatever's hitting your table tonight.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Mad Dog: Medalla Light (there is no regular).
K-ron: Tostones. Are they hockey pucks? Could they be more oil-saturated? Could they lack more flavor? Could they be more ubiquitous?
Miguel: Answering machines. They don't exist. Need to make a dinner reservation, rent a car, or call the hotel? Better hope there's a live person 'cuz you ain't leaving a message.
MD: AC. It is never cold enough outside to not crank the AC and put on a sweater.
K: How many puertoricanos does it take to make a latte at Starbucks? Apparently no less than four, and not in less than nine minutes.
M: Asks waitress who works across from market, "Is the market closed on Sunday?" "Apparently."
MD: Many cultures are known for their sauces: salsa verde, nuoc mam, chimichurri; but the secret is out in PR: a ketchup and mayo mixture grace every table. Depending on the level of refrigeration (or AC) it comes in blanco, reposado and anejo.
K: Renting a car takes three days, ten people, 18 phone calls and memory reconstruction therapy.
M: Guide book says museum is open Sunday. Guard at museum says that it's closed Sunday, but open tomorrow. Upon return, it is still closed.
And that's the end of round one! All our contestants are still in the game, so let's move on to round two!
MD: The only three redeeming aspects of the Bacardi tour are the drink ticket, the other drink ticket, and that it's 10:00 in the morning. Oh--151, which can be used to clean vinyl records and remove nail polish, undergoes a charcoal filtration process to ensure easy drinkability.
K: Cave tour crowd control: get a ticket so you can queue for admission, which entitles you to wait in line for entry, after which you stand around waiting for the tram. Total queueing time: 2:00. Total cave time: 0:45.
M: Cuba Libre. It's a drink. If you ask for a Cuba Li-brA, every one acts like they don't know what you're talking about. If you order a Cuba Lib-ra, out it comes. Keep in mind this is only in the context of a bar, not a political debate.
MD: The local Chinese restaurant is called Han-Cream.
M: We are in possession of three guidebooks. Not a single one could be considered accurate.
And that's it for round two! Drinks are on K-ron. Final question for all our contestants: what's the single most permanently retarded thing about Puerto Rico?
Unfortunately, that's all the time we have today. Join us next time for PR: Permanently Retarded: Driving Edition!
Thanks again to our sponsor--Bacardi!
Thursday, December 23, 2010
After picking up the rental car (finally), and setting up Miguel comfortably in the back seat to sleep off his cold/flu, Jonathan and I were off. First stop: the Bacardi factory tour. Now, I've been on a fair amount of brewery/distillery tours in my lifetime, but this rates the worst. They don't let you in the factory, but instead tour you through a barely functional interpretive display. The best part was the fact that they forced us to board a ridiculous kiddie-tram to take the 1/2 block distance to the center. Other highlights included the poorly produced and barely informative video that was punctuated by the worst Bacardi commercials imaginable (featuring all the subliminal imagery we learned about in junior high plus butts, butts, and more butts, along with a weird scene in which a scantily clad bimbette was shaving a guy with a razor that we are still confused about). At least we got cocktails at the end.
Thus fortified, we began our journey into the forest. More on the Puerto Rican conception of driving to come, suffice it to say that we were very afraid.
Once arriving at our remote and rustic retreat, Miguel continued his napping while Jthan and I hiked and yogad. This was the view from our cabin.
The car rental experience didn't help. Our plan was to pick up in San Juan and drop in Fajardo, once we'd circumnavigated the island. For whatever reason, such reservations can't be accomplished online. Also, you can't pick up before 1:00. And there's no official drop in Fajardo, even though that's where everyone's trying to get to for the ferries to the islands, and they won't let you take rental cars on the ferries. This was the first indicator that we'd soon be writing a post entitled "PR: Permanently Retarded." Look for it subsequently.
But we got it done. We even convinced them to let us leave the car on the lot and pick us up at the hotel the next morning (you don't want to drive or park in Old San Juan). Of course, the manager who had agreed to this--in person, 16 hours prior--completely forgot and it took ten minutes on the phone the next morning to jog her memory and convince her to pick us up.
Once we were in possession of the car, I knocked myself out on NyQuil in the back seat and turned driving and navigation over to team Kienzle. Which I'll leave to them to describe.
(BTW, the photo is taken from the San Critobal fortress looking west toward the big old one at the mouth of the bay.)
Monday, December 20, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Mad Dog's been camping on Culebra the past week, eating local deer and deep fried pork chops. He'll be keeping the backseat warm on our drive around the island.
Which commences Tuesday with stops at the Bacardi factory and the Aricebo radio telescope. Stay tuned.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
It's much nicer here--80 with what Karen describes as "the kind of humidity that's good for your skin and hair." I guess I only get half the benefit.
Walked the old town after checking in; currently sipping rum drinks and plotting tomorrow before we head to dinner.
We're four hours ahead of our west coast readers for those keeping track.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Met up with my friend Trac at Fette Sau in Williamsburg for the meat extravaganza--you place your order by weight. Here's a sampling of brisket, sausage, ribs, belly, butt, pulled pork and burnt ends beans. There was something green, but I ignored that. It all comes on one parchment-lined tray.
They also sell beer by the gallon and offer the most extensive bourbon collection in New York. And they were playing Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison album, the most metal record ever. Not to be missed.