“You know, you may not be born in Puerto Rico, but Puerto Rico is definitely born in you.”-Rosie Perez
I headed down to Puerto Rico for Spring break 2015 with my boyfriend, his two children, his babysitter Marta, and my son, Rowan. We brought Marta along to help with our wild boys and to allow us to enjoy some of Puerto Rico’s famous night life. We stayed at San Juan’s Ritz Carlton, and explored the city which is rich in culture, art, music, dance, religion and history. The food was heavenly, the people were engaging and the streets were historic and lovely. Puerto Rican people are proud, and they have every right to be, a must see for a family vacation trip.
With one missed flight out of JFK from Delta (they refused to let us board 15 minutes before the plane was to take off, but don’t let me started on that) we arrived at the beautiful Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Juan. We were graciously welcomed with a mimosa, and our luggage was taken up to our rooms. We jumped in our bathing suits and headed down to the silky soft sand, out looking the vast Atlantic. We drank coconut water out of freshly sliced coconuts, and had our towels changed by the workers who paid attention to every detail. I drank lavender mists, and dipped dried plantains into the freshest ceviche any island ever presented to me. The Ritz’s mantra is “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” The luxury hotel stands true to that credo. The resort boasts a casino, a Tiffany’s and a sweet little shop named Little Switzerland where I found a gorgeous silver dragon necklace handmade in Bali. They had the most delightful, helpful and pleasant staff I have met in a long time. From handing out cotton candy and toy squirt guns to our children, to finding me razors, dropping of Tylenol and making restaurant reservations in the trendiest and most delectable restaurants. It is the perfect family hotel if you’re looking to relax, be pampered and completely spoiled. The gym, spa, tennis courts, pools and Jacuzzis, were luxurious without being ostentatious.
I was so surprised by the mouthwatering and palatable cuisine in Puerto Rico, my inside fat kid was raving. If I rant on, please forgive me, but this was one of the most pleasurable and delicious dining experiences I’ve ever had, so bear with me. The first night we dined at Carli’s fine bistro and Piano bar located in Old San Juan. Which is owned by a former member of the Beach Boys, pianist and composer Carli Munoz. We listened to the piano while the children dined on steak (in a sweet mushroom sauce) and vegetables while I ate the best (I kid you not) homemade lobster ravioli in a champagne sauce, I’ve ever had in my life. We drank Malbec and raspberry lemon drop martinis, and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. It is warm, charming, and located in a historic art deco part of town.
The next night we ate at the Picayo restaurant inside The Candado Plaza Hilton. The tuna tar tar with jalapeno and caviar, and famous chocolate and cheese soufflés makes it a must see. Fine dining and a bit snobby servers. That’s when I really know when I’m in a fancy or high end restaurant… when the waiter snubs me. A sight outside pulled at my heartstrings.. there was a blind homeless man, without eyes.. he was holding a sign that read, “It’s a beautiful day, and I can’t see it.” It seems, even in heaven you will have homeless.
The last night we ate at Marmalade. My absolute favorite cuisine of the trip. Located on an alley with cobble stone streets. The hostess was a slender, tanned and beautiful. She had a short bob, black rimmed glasses and a golden Star of David around her neck. Now keep in mind this is Easter weekend, and Puerto Ricans are devout and deeply religious Roman Catholics. All of the bars closed early, the casinos shut down, the people were fasting out of respect for their savior. You may very well go to hell for eating a hot dog in this town. How beautiful, and lucky my generations is to have the freedom and respect to represent ourselves and our faith so freely and openly and not be treated unequally. We may have not suffered or fought for this freedom like our ancestors, but it is not taken for granted by me, and I feel blessed to be in this beautiful time. The patrons of the restaurant were trendy, young, foodies, experienced travelers, savvy locals. We drank “global warming” margaritas, with habanero peppers and melted ice. The longer you wait, the spicier they get. TO DIE For. We had a 4 course meal, of spicy popcorn shrimp (grilled shrimp with actual popcorn) and white bean truffle soup which came out in teacups you sip. It was one of the most delicious soups I’ve ever tried, and after raving about it to the waitress she came out with a recipe that I could take home. Dessert was banana bread pudding and smoked raspberry and dark chocolate mousse. Tipsy, from the margaritas we roamed around San Juan which is covered in graffiti art and murals. One slim bumpy brick road took us to an underground salsa club.
A few shots of tequila has me doing the salsa. Which I believe my boyfriend is more of an over optimistic dancer, thinking that spinning me is the authentic dance, it may just be one of those fake it till you make it type of things.. Like a hip move, a twirl and quick grab, over and over again. Obviously I was half in the bag and we could have looked like complete idiots, but I didn’t care, we were having fun, and I only stopped when I felt the tequila coming back up.
The next street took us to a more local place. The bartender’s shirt was rolled up and she had a sleeve of tattoos. The legal drinking age is 18 in Puerto Rico, and the crowd was covered in tattoos piercings, and the regular hipster type of clothing you would run into at a Starbucks at 10 o’clock on a Friday night in Philly. The whole bar was graffiti and clouds of smoke puffed up while 2 little Chihuahuas ran under our feet.
On our trip we checked out El Yunque natural forest. I was extremely hung over and the tour guide had my eyes drooping as she kept pointing out the moss and termites. However, she did point out all these giant leaves, curled, white and belly up on the rainforest floor.
“These leaves predict the weather with 80% accuracy, when they’re belly up it means the rain is coming.”
“No way! That’s definitely more accurate that our weather channel.” I quickly pulled up my phone to google this ridiculous claim. It was true! Deciduous trees do often turn upwards before heavy rain. The soft leaves can’t take the humidity and it flips them over. Mother Nature, you wonderful, mysterious bitch.
I did come across a Puerto Rican parrot that squealed “Hola,” but quicky began screeching this horrible noise when Rowan kept chanting “HOLA, HOLA, HOLA!” in his face. Exhausted I climbed a tower, to give me a better view of the mountains. Round and round it went until I was up at the very top. A truly magnificent sight, when a mountain belongs to a forest.
Our other excursion was horseback riding on an old farm. The owners left their mansion, full of horses, a tequila bar, a mansion and wandering reindeer. The sun was hot and I got an old hungry slow horse named, Luna. Rowan and I rode her for nearly two hours, the first hour was relaxing. The second was annoying, because I kept hitting the woman behind me smack dab in the face with the branches, to keep from hitting Rowan. She was hissing Spanish curse words behind my head, while Rowan kept repeating, “Mom, I farted on Luna, and I’m thirsty.” We ended the night with a trip to la Fortaleza at the San Juan National Historic Site. It was pitch black out and the glowing mansion looked like some kind of magic 2 football fields away. The taxi driver parked his car so we could get out and peak. I just couldn’t help myself, so I took off my shoes and started running towards it. Followed by 3 small children behind me, laughing, twirling with their arms open. Sometimes such grand things, give you an emotion you can’t deal with, so the best way to cope, is act like a child. Spinning around until your dizzy, fall flat on the grass and look up at the stars.
Marta took the children home and my boyfriend and I headed to a local bar in town. We ended up seeing some servers from some of the restaurants and we all became fast friends. I found many people from the states working in living in Puerto Rico, maybe to take a break from their lives, or maybe trying to begin new lives. The locals were friendly, spoke excellent English and were just as interested in us, as we were of them. The beers and shots flowed all with good people in good humor, Puerto Ricans are more than welcoming and especially proud of their famous natives, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, and Joaquin Phoenix. (To name a few) The only time I see their faces get tense is when their independence is brought up. Although Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they live in an unincorporated territory not a state, and they do not have the same constitutional rights as other US. Citizens. They cannot vote in the presidential elections, they have no say on most federal laws and regulations which govern them, and no voice on foreign policy. The tension is real, and Puerto Ricans feel they should either have complete independent from the United States or equal statehood. Listen to the people!
I highly suggest a couple/family vacation to Puerto Rico. The people are engaging, fun, saucy and benevolent. You get the out of the country kind of vibe, without language barriers or currency exchange. Plus, the tropical beaches, magnificent mountains, exquisite dining experience, the historic streets, art and landmarks, and the fun tequila driven salsa nights make it all worth your while. You will not be disappointed. Viva la Puerto Rico!