Day 1 – Old San Juan

IMG_2456Da House was freezing. In the middle of the night I grabbed my decorative scarf and layered it over the thin sheet and blanket. It did nothing to warm me, but at least I felt pro-active. In the morning, Michal found the AC controllers. Too little, too late! We GPSed CasaBlanca, our Groupon-found hotel, and walked…down the alleyway maybe 200 yards to its doors. 

Leaving our luggage with them, we found the diner that the manager of Da House had recommended. It was delicious, cheap, and filled with men and women in their workday attire. With no real itinerary in Old San Juan other than “see stuff,” we wandered down street after street as things caught our eye. The buildings are cheerfully colorful, decorated with balconies and hanging plants. The whole city is gorgeous.

We accidentally walked through the back way into El Morro, the fort at the tip of Old San Juan. We passed through Cat Land, a mini parking lot where each jeep had at least three cats sunning themselves. I petted one, and five more jumped down and ran to me. This was extremely validating for my cat-obsessed identity, but Michal was less excited, so we kept walking.
The fort was old and interesting and included more stairs than we were prepared for. There is a good chance our trek through the rainforest tomorrow will be harder than anticipated. For two women interested in history, we sure didn’t read any signs or learn anything. We laid in the grass for a while, then walked down the other side of Old San Juan past cemeteries and more beautiful buildings. Since paying to enter one fort gives you access to the other, we made our way to another fort and wandered a bit. By this point we were sweating profusely, so when we found a shaded room inlet with windows that sucked a breeze past us, we cooled off like soldiers did hundreds of years ago. Probably the cool guys invited their friends into this room and everyone else had tough luck.

We made our way back to CasaBlanca, changed into swimsuits, and walked just outside of Old San Juan to a beach that had been recommended to us. The tide was high and the waves were pretty intense. Our halfhearted interest in finding somewhere to try surfing for the first time disappeared. Instead, we lounged around, took ridiculous pictures, and got incredibly sandy. Walking back through the streets of Puerto Rico with a disgusting film of beach all over was humbling.

But totally worth it, because when we got back to the hotel, we climbed six flights (no elevator—another indicator that I am horrifically out of shape) to the ROOFTOP BATHTUBS. Yup. We cleaned off, washed our hair, and bathed under the clear blue sky. Thankfully we still had our swimsuits on, because other hotel residents soon wandered to the roof as well.

After cleaning up and getting pretty, we went to Barrachina, the birthplace of pina coladas. I discovered this fact, of all places, in Rick Riordan’s last Percy Jackson book, The Blood of Olympus. The drinks were good, the food was delicious, the conversation was so fun. After dinner we walked around the same streets as this afternoon, now lit up with Christmas lights. While it was beautiful, I would definitely not like to celebrate Christmas in Puerto Rico. A humid holiday is just too weird for my Northern blood.

We went to bed early, which is extra ridiculous because our bodies are an hour earlier than local time. In my defense, though, Da House was freezing, and I didn’t get much sleep last night. And tomorrow we journey into the rainforest! So I’d better be well-rested.

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