These pictures are not going to enter any contest nor get used for wallpaper anywhere (including my own laptop). But they are very significant. At least to me. See, they represent the first time I got a used camera from someone to use and likely the first pictures I ever took as a 7-8 yr old.
The choice of B&W was not intentional. I don’t recall if my Mom went to buy me the film. I think it is more likely the film was with the unused camera and I just took the film that was there. Color photography had existed FOR YEARS, for the record, when I took these pix
The pictures are of what seemed the world to me at that time, before I realized I would live to travel (or even that there was much of anything outside of MY world). The pitures are from the world around my home. I lived in this house (in Jardines de Caparra, for those of you who know PR) probably 3 or 4 yrs, about 6 houses away from my grandparents and one of my aunts/uncles. And in the same neighborhood as 3 other aunts/uncles (if I recall correctly).
So, they are not going to do anything special in this world. They only have real value to me (maybe my sister or Mom if they remind them of something from long ago). But they show my first steps of discovery and wonderment at the world out there – worth capturing with an old camera…
Looking to the right of the front porch towards where Skippy, the dog, lived
Of course, I wanted a picture of the sun across the street from (us facing west and towards the river in front of the house). I didn’t know a ring would show on the pic!
A picture of the back of Skippy’s house, notice the bars on windows that have been ever present in the Puerto Rico I knew…
I believe this is the house 4-5 houses down from us towards the corner where one of my buddies lived.
The front of our house. Not sure why I didn’t do the whole facade!
The other neighbor’s house with the “sauce llorón” (weeping willow, I think). Where Meiling lived (she was not Chinese, not sure why the parents chose the name).
Old world charm in the new world. Streets that have seen a lot of history and major empires fighting for them. Old San Juan’s charm lies in its setting by the water, in its history, and in its well-preserved architectural jewels (including the “adoquines“, the cobblestone used to pave the streets a few centuries ago). The wavey adoquines resemble the sea around Old San Juan, reminding us of its place in the Spanish Empire as a key port.
Cobblestoned streets with their modern load
I went to Puerto Rico, where I lived for 15 yrs growing up, for a long weekend after a 5-year absence. It is always an interesting trip when I go with the mix of family, friends, and lots of memories. Most of my family has moved away from there and many friends are no longer there either but I still never have time to see the ones who remain. Also, I never have enough time to see things I want to re-visit or things that I just plain and simple have never seen before (like La Parguera or the Bacardi distillery, must-sees). It is funny how that goes! While this trip was due to a family member’s illness, I did get a little time to go around some.
I had never spent too much time (other than driving through) some of the towns due west of Bayamón. In particular, I saw more of Vega Baja, Vega Alta, and Toa Baja in a day or two of going from place to place this weekend that the sum of the time I ever spent there before. It is interesting to see how densely populated some of these towns can be (and how bad traffic can be!). Yet, along the coast (where the “Baja” towns are) I saw some of the “‘hidden away” beaches I had never been to before, far away from tourist areas and the local crowds (like Los Tubos and Puerto Nuevo, which I hear surfers love).
In terms of food, my Dad took me to a real treat of a place, La Casita Blanca, a small restaurant of typical Puerto Rican food near Barrio Obrero, a neighborhood that had glory days a long time ago but that even in my childhood was already known for higher levels of crime and, therefore, a “must stay away from” area. The restaurant is quaint and picturesque and is located in a semi-residential, semi-commercial street (Ave. Tapia).
When you sit down to eat, they serve you not only the typical basket of garlic bread but also fried cod (“bacalaito“), and a small serving of an awesome chicken soup. When you are done, they serve you a small dose of anise to cleanse the palate. I had to go for the carne frita (friend pork chunks) and mofongo (friend mashed plantains) – one of my favorite Puerto Rican dishes! The place was a really neat hole-in-the-wall that had a lot of character, great food, and friendly staff.
A house in the old part of Barrio Obrero
Finally, I had to have my “quesitos“, a Spanish-influenced pastry filled with cream cheese that I can’t find at home (though I have it whenever I go to Miami or Tampa). My favorite place to eat these in PR is La Ceiba on Ave. Roosevelt. That, a “croqueta de jamón” and a cortadito (coffee and milk) make for a most bodacious breakfast! A sister bakery to La Ceiba is La España, on Ave. Baldorioty near the airport (next to a cemetery and across from another one!). So, not only do I enjoy going to La Ceiba but on the way out of the island, I make a stop at La España to eat some goodies, and take some home with me
Writing about Puerto Rico will not be easy for me as writing about other places. I lived in Puerto Rico since I was 2 years old until I finished high school so my experience of Puerto Rico is not just a trip or an extended visit. However, I will try to highlight, through a few of these entries, what one who visits Puerto Rico can expect to see and experience.
There are many places in Puerto Rico worth seeing. However, for me, Old San Juan is tops. Consider that Old San Juan is a decade or so short of having been in existence 500 years. Santo Domingo is older but, for the Americas, 500 is impressive enough.
The best way to appreciate the uniqueness of Old San Juan, which refers to the area formerly surrounded by a wall and the immediate vicinity, is by coming into the bay in a cruise ship (or maybe some other boat). The tip of the island where Old San Juan is houses the El Morro fort, a very impressive fortification built centuries ago to protect San Juan de Puerto Rico from pirates from other European countries (even the mighty Francis Drake tried -and failed- to take San Juan).
The fort of El Morro and its beautiful and rolling grounds
From the fort, a huge wall surrounded Old San Juan with several gates (only one survives) controlling access. A good bit of the wall remains, especially from the fort of San Cristobal towards El Morro, then to La Fortaleza (the governor’s mansion) to the Capilla del Cristo. Seeing the old city surrounded by this wall, especially at sunset or nighttime is a sight to behold.
La Fortaleza (the governor’s house)
The fort of El Morro is a must see for anyone visiting PR. Get a guide so you can understand how the fort operated, how it was used to defend the city, etc. Step into a “garita” and feel what a Spanish soldier must have felt centuries ago serving as a sentry keeping an eye out for ships. The fort is huge (take a water bottle if it is hot!).
The quintessential image of Old San Juan: a garita along the city’s old walls and the lively ocean behind it
As kids we loved going to the fort. The fort of San Cristobal is smaller but still an impressive site. There is a cemetery below the ground of the fort of El Morro. Local luminaries are buried there; however, be warned, getting to it is risky so I would actually recommend not going but, instead, cross the El Morro grounds and look down on the cemetery from the gaps in the wall.
The area around Plaza de Armas is the center of the town, where city hall is. It is your typical Spanish plaza. Nearby, you also have the Plaza Colon. Anyone around will happily direct you to these places. The Capilla del Cristo and the next door Parque de las Palomas are local favorites. The Capilla (chapel) was built on the edge of a cliff in honor of a jockey not dying (a very long time ago) when he and his horse went off the cliff on a downhill race down the Calle del Cristo. People leave items as thanksgiving for prayers answered. It is a charming site.
Beautiful simple balcony in Old San Juan
Old San Juan is a great place to explore on foot as it is very compact. Walk to the Cathedral, enter the hotel across the street (“El Convento“, a former convent), walk down by the waterfront, explore the backstreets and examine the architecture. If you get lucky, take a peek inside any of the houses (people do live there!); worst case, at least go into shops or eateries that retain the inner courtyard so you can appreciate how people lived and still live in these magnificent buildings. The cobblestone streets and the architecture really take you to a different time (if you can ignore the cars!).
A side street near the Cathedral
As you approach the cruise ship area, the number of souvenir shops increase exponentially but in the rest of Old San Juan, you will find shops where the locals also shop and souvenir shops that are more reasonable. I remember as a child my mother going to Old San Juan on a Saturday to go shopping. There are many places to eat and many of those being oriented to tourists but, for a local style lunch, el Siglo XX is a classic (Calle O ‘Donnell). Other well known eatiers are La Bombonera and La Mallorca (some of these may be closed by now…). If the day is hot, stop at a piragüero, and get the piragua (shaved ice with a syrup with the flavor of your choosing).
Nightlife in Old San Juan is abundant. The bars in the Calle del Cristo were famous in my time in PR and are likely still popular with the local crowd. I believe that Calle San Sebastian has also developed as an area to go out at night. The area by the cruise ships also has places to eat and drink but, to me, having known another side of Old San Juan, that would feel too touristy and I would avoid it. (Anyone with more current info and perspective, please comment if all this is outdated info!! I don’t claim to be current on where to go for nightlife, but I know there is!)
If you have kids, the forts and adjoining grounds will clearly be fun for them – but get a kite and be ready to fly it!
Kites in the blue sky on the ground of El Morro – taking me back to my childhood
Check out this link for more info on what to do with kids: http://www.puertoricodaytrips.com/kids-in-old-san-juan/
It is hard to do Old San Juan justice in any write-up. It is a charming, deeply historical, and beautiful location to see and explore!