transition, these photos look better on black.)
I had called Angel for a ride
back to San Juan. Sure, I could've figured out the public car and bus
route, but I didn't want to waste half the day getting there only to
arrive tired and ready for bed, so we forked over the $60 and Angel took
us directly to the hotel, gay-friendly Atlantic Beach in the Condado
neighborhood. We selected the place because it was affordable, right on
the beach, and, according to our guide book, had a drag show every
Sunday night. Alas, the drag show is no more.
But our room was
comparatively luxurious - A/C (too cold for either EM or myself, but you
had no control over it), TV, and quiet - at least until morning when the
other incessant sound of Puerto Rico came through the windows -
|We got a
recommendation from the clerk for some Puerto Rican food, some
joint a block up the street whose name I can't recall - perhaps Purerto Rican Cafe. EM got fish in garlic sauce - super garlicy.
|I opted for fried
pork chunks - a bit on the dry side. We both went with beans and
rice on the side, perhaps the best part of the meal.
Condado's Gucci store, Starbucks, and high rise hotels were stark
contrast from Vieques' off-season sleepiness. Sunday nights the Atlantic
Beach Hotel's bar, overlooking the beach, attracts a large, mostly gay
male crowd, but without the drag show the pounding disco didn't hold
much attraction for us. After some discussion, we decided to head into
Old San Juan.
We wandered the cobblestone streets, lined with Spanish colonial
buildings all in pastel hues - lovely. Unfortunately, we
wandered into town just as some culinary festival was wrapping
up. The crowds and traffic were almost intolerable. So we headed
away from the crowds lingering where the festival had been and found
ourselves in my favorite bar in San Juan Viejo, El Batey.
Across from El Convento, the ritziest hotel and restaurant in town,
El Batey has remained unchanged for some 41 years. It's concrete
walls are covered floor to ceiling with graffiti, interrupted
only by a few framed caricatures of regulars. Taped-together
business cards form lampshades and the cash register is the old
push-button kind. The juke box has a great selection, a mix of
old R&B, jazz, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, as well as the required
Incessant Salsa Machine.
We ended up here all three nights and on two of them the bartenders were drunker than we were. But it was
early in the week, and early in the evening, so we were often
the only customers.
I got to talking with the bartender about rum and she introduced me
to Ron del Barrilito, "It's very bourbony."
I gave her a confused look.
"It's aged in charred oak barrels, so it has a bourbon flavor."
I tried some, on the rocks with only a bit of club soda so I could
appreciate the flavor without much getting in the way, and she had
described it perfectly. It's smoky and complicated. It wouldn't work
well with fruity mixes, I don't think, but it's fine with club soda or
coke. (You can't get it on the mainland except in a few neighborhoods in
New York, apparently, so I brought a couple of bottles back with me.)
We left El Batey to sample other bars, passing by the city walls as a cruise ship took thousands
of day-trippers back out to
Sunday nights in Old San Juan during the off-season are pretty damn
slow. We ended up at Douglas' Pub in the heart of the tourist strip of
It wouldn't have been my first choice but there wasn't much else
open. It also featured the mixed blessing of the internet juke box. This
meant we weren't subjected to more of the Incessant Salsa
Machine. On the other hand, someone was in a melancholy 90's
if I ever hear The Cure, The Smiths, or "Freebird" ever again it'll be
|We had one too many drinks and stumbled out, passing trinket
stores on the way toward the bus terminal. I found this display
strangely fascinating. The camels are all identical and look as
if they're doing a dance from Chorus Line. I also like that Baby
Jesus is on sale. Or maybe that's Toddler Jesus compared to the
infant next to him.
I had hoped to save a few bucks and take the bus rather than the cab
back to our neighborhood, but the one we needed had stopped running at
9. A guy tried to explain how we could get there but my español
wasn't up to the task, especially after midnight and many, many drinks.
So we ended up forking over $15 and getting back to the hotel
considerably faster than any bus could've done.