Puerto Rico has become an annual pilgrimage for my wife - The Lovely Cynthia - and myself - The Obnoxious Bogo. This time we decided to venture to the west end of the island to Rincon about a torturous three hour drive from San Juan.
Rincon is a tourist area that is primarily a stop for the island residents rather than a huge influx of those from the continental states. Most of the upscale resorts in PR tend to be in the San Juan and Ponce areas or in their general vicinity with an occasional lonesome one spread elsewhere on the island. I could care less since we stay in guest houses or boutique hotels. Cost and most importantly our personal preference are the contributing factors as we find the large resorts quite self insular and lack the ability to get a neighborhood feel. Bogo goes “native?” Neither of us need a spa or a golf course or a 400 square foot room and twenty-four hour concierge service. We prefer neighborhood stores, restaurants and stopping by local road side stands. We prefer public beaches and actually enjoy being in a neighborhood where chickens may roam the streets despite being the island equivalent of middle class to upper middle class. And where we stayed that is what they did. Kids playing in the streets, dogs running loose, folks sitting on their porches, parking cars on sidewalks and just strolling around. This was a neighborhood and not a four star enclave.
Rincon is quite a beach area that is noted as being a surfing hot spot. The beaches are many and the sunsets are a killer and toss in consistently mild weather and it is a keeper. We stayed at a guest house and were for our five days the only ones. Someone must have warned them I’d be in town. They have eight rooms and all remained empty as this was the end of “low season” which means cheap rooms. Generally “high season” and its accompanying expense starts in mid December so if you go to PR plan accordingly. Now when I say we were on the water I mean on the water. Walk out our room and cross a tiled communal patio and go thirty feet and it is the ocean. You get the picture.
Right down the beach - about a five minute walk - was a resort. This was not a lavish place but one that had those amenities you may occasionally desire such as a more upscale restaurant, music and a bar. We wandered down twice and the place was relatively quiet on both a Friday and Saturday night. The “low season” thing.
I once had a PR student who said to two Asian students: “We Ricans are just like you - we drive like s**t and love to gamble.” How right he is about both. The main highway from San Juan to Arecibo area is Route 26. Two lanes, tolls, great scenery and drivers who seem to stay in the passing lane and go 45MPH with no desire to pull into the right hand lane. You find yourself going right and left to swerve around these folks. I asked a local about this quaint customs and he gave a Spanish term that roughly translated was something like A-holes. The other thing is turn signals. Why even have them? It became a game to see the ratio of who used them. It was about one out of thirty would actually put on a blinker when turning. Massachusetts drivers actually appear polite. After Route 26 comes Route 22 and it is endless traffic lights for forty miles.
Everywhere you go is the lottery. The national lottery tickets are sold on tables set up in front of high traffic areas or on roadsides right out of trucks with lottery signs. Scratch tickets are popular but they seem to prefer the daily numbers and the national lottery. Casinos are in some areas - primarily San Juan - but are small in scope and frequented almost exclusively by tourists.
The language barrier exists. My skills with Spanish are now limited to about fifty words. I can order food, ask for directions, find a bathroom and that is about it. What will often happen is my fifty words and a locals fifty English words will be enough to get things done. Sometimes the results could be unusual as you may end up with a food item that you are totally clueless about. What is also interesting is how many noted American companies do not have their signage, menus and other information in English. It seems in the states they bend over to accommodate but not on the island.
Speaking of food I have never been one to sing, shout or mime the praises of PR cuisine. I’ve just never considered it that special. In San Juan and Ponce you have a variety of restaurants that practice infusion culinary arts that will blend PR cuisine with Cuban, French, Italian and so on but in Rincon it is primarily the basics and a whole list of your standard known fast food chains. I love Churches Chicken and they was one about half mile away and the local bakeries had some exceptional pasties. I did find a local place that did Bar-B-Que and it was great. Pulled pork, beef and roasted chicken and plantains done a variety of ways. The cook (don’t call me chef) went to the prestigious Culinary Arts Institute of America but gave up being a chef for the beach life in PR.
In PR a grande is equal to our small. A standard coffee size is six ounces and a large eight ounces. The Coffee is exceptional in taste and we actually have PR coffee shipped out about twice a year. No more expensive than getting a bag of DD. The local beers - Madelia and Silver Key come in ten ounce cans so size does make a difference.
One of the things that always gets my bride irritated is that PR is far from “going green.” They do not recycle, the streets tend to be sloppy, and we have never seen a solar panel array or a windmill despite their astronomical electrical costs on the island. They must have alternative energy somewhere but I haven’t seen it yet.
If you rent a car in PR it is relatively inexpensive but the highways system is almost on existent. San Juan and Ponce areas have some four lane roadways and there is one connecting San Juan to Ponce but if you go east or west out of San Juan after about fifty miles you are no longer on a highway system but smaller roads. The signage can also be a mystery as in some places it is confusing or does not exist - just like Massachusetts.
For those who are budget minded PR offers a nice option to other non American islands in the Caribbean. No worry about any passports or entrance or exit fees. The weather is excellent and there are many bargains as far as places to stay. The island also options some touring options from a rain forest to the giant array at Arecibo.