El Morro y Castillo San Cristobal

Last weekend we enjoyed a visit from Kyle and Becky.

The lighting is this restaurant is normal; it’s just that they’re both Smurfs.

As part of the grand tour, we all headed into Old San Juan to, among other things, poke about the architecture.

Most notably the city boasts two forts, the larger and older of which is El Morro.

The forts are run by the U.S. National Parks service, which grants access to multiple levels of the structure. The decor is sparse, and the most notable features are the views of the ocean, but there are also museum-esque elements including historical signage about the Spanish empire and how it really went downhill in its later years.

A famous feature of both forts is the garita, or guerite in English, a sentry tower of sorts, many of which line the walls of both the forts and the city. These are something of an icon for San Juan and even Puerto Rico in generally.

Your admission to any one fort gets you into the other on the same day, so we headed over to Castillo San Cristobal. This fort is smaller and younger by a bit, offering most of the same information, but it’s still nifty to poke around. My favorite part is definitely the tunnel to the dungeon, which features hundred-plus year old drawings of ships on the wall, allegedly the work of a captain awaiting trial for mutiny.

This field trip won’t compel anyone who doesn’t already kinda like forts and castles and things anyway, but if that’s your bag both buildings are definitely worth checking out.

Ron del Barrilito Tour

Yesterday Pat and I went to the Ron del Barrilito factory for their tasting tour. They’ve been producing rum there (with a brief pitstop in medicinal alcohols during prohibition) since 1880.

The tour began in the visitor’s center, which is a new building since the original was knocked down by Hurricane Maria. Our tour guide was Edgardo, who is studying chemical engineering and hopes to take over as master blender one day. Since we were the only two people on the tour, we had free rein to converse and learned a lot of interesting stuff from him.

We started with a briefing on the history of the company, from its roots as Spanish naval officer Fernando Fernandez’s hacienda, to its sugarcane production and subsequent rum business, to post-prohibition development of new versions.

From there we headed outside to the hacienda (where a member of the Fernandez family still lives) and the windmill where they formerly ground sugarcane. Currently it’s their administrative offices!

We weren’t able to see the bottling process since that portion is closed on weekends, but we got an extensive look at the barrel warehouses. The barrels are placed first, and then the rum is siphoned in and labeled with the year. As the master blender puts together each batch, he uses this information to assemble 2 through 5 star rums.

The oldest rum barrel in the place is from 1952 and, per the request of erstwhile owner Pedro Fernandez, is to be opened exclusively on the day Puerto Rico gains its independence. According to Edgardo, it’s got about 30 years before most of it evaporates away, so we’ll see how that works out.

Finally, the tasting portion! We were given samples of a 2 star (aged 3-5 years), 3 star (aged 5-10 years), 4 star (10-20 years), and 5 star (20+ years) rum to try. Edgardo encouraged us to smell first and sip slowly, to really get a sense of each flavor profile; he even gave us items like cinnamon and coconut to smell alongside the rum to pick out its nuances. As the rums progressed in age they became noticeably smoother. Pat and I both like the 4 best, even above the 5, which was bolder but less sweet.

At the end of the tour we were given certificates and tokens to exchange for a rum cocktail at the bar.

While we were drinking, Pat decided to buy a bottle of the 4 star rum, which was a bit of a production – you have the option of drawing it and sealing it yourself.

Here is a video of Pat siphoning rum into the bottle.
Here is a video of Pat sealing the bottle.

It’s even on the official registry.

And that was our rum adventure! Which reminds me, if your name is Ron your name is rum. Enjoy!

Donde vivimos

We have a selection of rooms in our apartment. Here is what they look like.

The apartment has two doors, one in the living room and one in the kitchen. This, according to Pat, is due to an architectural decision which allowed the servants to enter the kitchen, make the food, and leave without ever being seen. Horrors!

We have elected to use the kitchen entrance because we are uncouth. Also this allows us to pull a baby gate across the opposite opening and keep the cats from making a run for it. Pat has dubbed this “the airlock,” and I am only angry I didn’t think of it first.

So the kitchen is sort of the de facto first room.

After that you have the combined living/dining area. It contains various things for the cats to sleep on. Their favorites change weekly.

To your left you have the bathroom. Mind the giant sloth.

On your right is the theoretical guest room. Currently it’s more the room we put things we’re not sure where to put yet.

And straight back is the bedroom. This is where we keep the other things the cats sleep on and/or under.

There you have it! Oh, yes, we have a pool.

A cerca nuestro apartamento

Good news – we have a permanent apartment!

We have settled in Isla Verde, a neighborhood in Carolina juuuuust outside San Juan city limits. If you come visit us, you can enjoy:

… direct beach access…

Disclaimer: this view is from our floor lobby, not our apartment proper. Alas, our circumstances are dire.

… mountain (and airport) views…

… al fresco meals at sunset…

… and a one-mile walk (along the ocean) to a dedicated brewery with some seriously excellent food and booze.

Among other things!

Don’t want to share a bathroom with us? The Ritz-Carlton and Marriott are literally and nearly literally next door, respectively.

We’re putting the finishing touches on the apartment’s innards. Next time: a photo tour!

Clases de español

What’s both helpful and difficult about practicing Spanish in Puerto Rico is that in San Juan, where we live, a solid 80% or more of the people are bilingual – like really bilingual. You can start out speaking Spanish to someone, rummaging around your brain for the words, but they’ve already switched to English because you’re taking too long. As long as you stick to cities and major towns, you could easily navigate Puerto Rico without learning any Spanish at all.

But that’s no way to live, so we are now in the midst of our third week of Spanish classes. They were surprisingly difficult to secure. You can’t swing a (purely proverbial) dead cat around here without running into an advertisement for English classes, but since everyone already speaks Spanish there’s not nearly as much availability.

Luckily we were able to locate private tutors, which come in a symbiotic set: Eddie is a native Spanish speaker and Geraldine is originally a French native who now speaks Spanish and English; she serves as our bridge both in language and in her ability to get into the mindset of a non-native speaker.

Much of the class is precisely what you’d expect: some verbs, some tenses, some practice. What really makes it valuable is the opportunity to converse in Spanish, slowly, groping to say what you want to say with the words you have and then finding out from the teachers if you made any sentences worth keeping for later.

Meanwhile Minxie and Ruffian have learned no Spanish whatsoever. They are cultural ignoramuses. ¡Las gatitas son tonta!

The iguana at the end of this post

This Saturday’s adventure involved a trip to Piñones, just outside San Juan. It’s a little more off the beaten path, lined with little bars and food stalls. Here, have this video I should’ve filmed horizontally but I didn’t so let’s call it POV.

The beach on the near end of Piñones is somewhat craggy – very picturesque but not as good for lounging about. Pretty though.

We grabbed lunch at a place called The Reef, which was… not very good, food-wise. Pat later read that a lot of these places make all their food in the morning and then slap it under a heat lamp for the remainder of the day. But it was an excellent atmosphere and a nice place for drinks. Here I am modeling Medalla Light, a native Puerto Rican beer. It tastes like beer.

Don’t forget to tip your roosters.

After lunch we drove further down the road to a more comfortable beach, featuring an old coral shelf protecting a quiet ocean pool of sorts. We were able to wade over to the reef and check out the ocean on the other side.

So that’s Piñones. Anyway, here’s that wild iguana I promised.

Easter report

Hello! Easter, as far as we can tell, is honored in Puerto Rico by anyone and everyone heading to the beach. For fear of losing our parking spot, we’ve stuck close to home, and by consequence have minimal new stories to tell.

However, a few things have happened. We ran into Benecio del Toro, for one. Pat held a gate open and said “Buenas” to him, and he said “Buenas” back.* Here ends the tale of our encounter with Benecio del Toro.

*Pat is anxious that you know that in PR it is common to simply say “Buenas” as opposed to the full “buenas tardes” etc.

Additionally, Dan and Andrew came to visit. We mostly confined our time to grabbing dinner, as Pat and I have had to spend our weekdays working, but we hit up some new spots with them, including Casita Miramar.

Now we are back from our traditional Easter dinner: tacos and margaritas at La B de Burro. Cheers!