Day 1: San Juan
14.04.2013 - 23.07.2013
I first heard about Rincon from my younger brother, Jared. He had traveled to Puerto Rico in 2009 and explored the Island with a car. He checked out the different beaches, cities, towns and Vieques. He fell in love with the island. The last time I saw him, He was excitedly talking about his most recent trip. He had discovered Rincon and thought it would be a great place to live. He started sending me Craigslist house listings for Rincon after that. I just rolled my eyes when I received them. I had just started a new job in San Francisco and had finally signed the lease on the most perfect apartment in the city. I was not going to move to Puerto Rico. I didn’t have time to visit Puerto Rico either.
My brother passed away one month later. He was only 26 years old. It was unexpected and I plunged into a depressed state of grief. It was such a painful loss for myself and for my entire family. It took a year before I decided to start traveling. For me it was therapy, a way to honor my brother’s memory by living life in a way he would be proud of. First stop was Jamaica. He always wanted to go but never had the chance. That was an incredible healing experience. I repeated it 4 more times and eventually took my entire family to Negril. I made friends that will last a lifetime, re-connected with family I didn’t know I had and discovered a lot about myself in Jamaica.
One afternoon I was searching through my Gmail for something and I stumbled on one of my brother’s old emails from 4 years ago. It contained a Craigslist description for a house in Rincon, Puerto Rico. I had to smile when I saw it again. My mind was open now that I had visited the Caribbean. I read the description for the first time and I was intrigued. It sounded beautiful. I did an internet search for Rincon and gazed at the gorgeous images. Pictures of Surfers in turquoise waters, Palm trees, Sunsets tropical drinks, amazing views, and iguanas lounging in the sun. I saw that it was located on the west end of Puerto Rico and a 2 hour drive from San Juan.
At that moment I knew in my heart that we needed to visit Rincon. This is where I wanted to celebrate my 11 year wedding anniversary with Markus. I had to see this place in person that my brother fell in love with. Would I love it too? I didn’t really know what to expect. It sounded like a surfer town and I don’t surf. I was glad to see there were swimming beaches with calm water as well. I started to read up on everything I could find about Rincon and made lists of all the places I wanted to check out.
We bought 2 round trip tickets San Francisco to San Juan, Puerto Rico. There was a promotional special with Jetblue during that time. The airline tickets cost Less than $300 r/t each. We still had to rent a car and find a place to stay. We booked a car for a week with Budget through Orbitz (super cheap). We hooked up with Joe Swider. We reserved his 2 bedroom Barrero Beach house for one week. (great price) We knew we would be exhausted from our red eye flight and not up to jumping into a rental car to fight rush hour traffic to get to Rincon. I put in a bid for a one night stay at a mystery 4 star hotel in San Juan through Priceline. After 5 attempts, Priceline finally caved and agreed to my low price request. The winning hotel was El San Juan Resort & Casino.
I had been worried that this trip wouldn’t be possible due to financial constraints . We were on a really tight budget but we actually made it work. The entire trip was really affordable. The whole trip (Airfare, accommodations for 8 nights & the car) cost LESS than 2 round trip plane tickets to Montego Bay, Jamaica.
I was so excited! Everything was set and it was official! We were going to Puerto Rico!!
The day of departure was all a bit of a blur. I ran around trying to pull together last minute toiletries and cleaning up the house for our cat/house sitter. I was in the middle of mopping the floors when she showed up at the front door. I rushed around showing her where everything is in our apartment and what/when to feed the kitties. Meanwhile Markus was bringing the luggage out into the hallway and calling for a taxi cab to get to the airport. We always pack light, 2 Carry-ons each. A small suitcase and a computer bag. We have it down to a science now.
Flying with Markus isn’t always fun. He has restless leg syndrome and it kicks in after about 2 hours in flight. He needs to be able to freely move his legs or he gets cramps. He gets shooting pains up his legs and needs to get up to stretch. This is hard in the tight restricted airplane space. He ends up pacing up and down in the aisle miserably. I tried to get him buzzed enough on wine to get some sleep but it didn’t work. Neither of us slept at all. We were exhausted once we reached our layover in Fort Lauderdale Florida.
It was at that point that Markus declared that he needed a cigarette… this meant we would have to exit the terminal with our luggage and then wait on a long line to go through security all over again. As you can imagine, I was less than thrilled as we navigated the long corridors. I was so exhausted and so disgruntled that I didn’t even recognize the face that suddenly appeared in front of me and said “DAISY!!”
It turns out the “cigarette break” was just a ploy to re-unite me with one of my closest friends who lives in Clearwater. She and her amazing husband drove many hours in the middle of the night to meet us at the airport at 6 AM!! I was completely shocked, touched, and so HAPPY to see them again. We had breakfast together in the airport and it was the best layover we ever had…
That encounter shifted the mood of the trip. We switched from miserable to very excited. The next stretch from Florida to San Juan was a short one. We spent most of that time peering out the plane window together at the beautiful Caribbean Sea. I was filled with anticipation. Sunshine, cocktails, sunsets, beach! It was all right around the corner!
As soon as we stepped off the plane, a flood of familiar smells hit my nostrils. Suntan lotion and coconut oil. I could see the palm trees swaying in the breeze outside the airport windows. I have a lot of memories from Puerto Rico that always come back once I reach the airport. I grew up traveling to the Island. My grandparents live in Isabela and my family would visit once every other year. Unfortunately, My grandparents were not very adventurous. The week was usually spent sitting in their backyard and swimming in the pool. His estate was perched on a cliff with a view of the ocean. My grandfather also had a pack of vicious guard dogs that patrolled the ground. I was terrified of them, so I knew not to attempt to venture off the grounds.
Now my grandparents are divorced and I had not seen my grandmother in over 10 years. This visit was long overdue.
Last time I was here, I vowed to learn how to speak Spanish fluently. That unfortunately didn’t happen. I DID try though…
It was nice being able to stroll right out of the airport and into one of the taxi cabs lined up on the curb. The whole process took less than 10 minutes. I had gotten used to the long custom lines in Jamaica. This was one welcome change. I was exhausted from 14 hours of traveling and having no sleep at all. I looked forward to cranking up the AC in our hotel room and taking a nice nap. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way.
EL SAN JUAN RESORT & CASINO
I was surprised when I stepped into the foyer and saw the fancy chandelier. Marble pillars, fancy sofas, slick floors and fountains. I knew I had saved almost 75% on the hotel, but I still didn’t expect it to be this fancy.
“Whoah…” I whispered to Markus.
He kind of curled his lip. This is not his kind of scene. He’s more of a jungle boy. I knew he would prefer a simple hut on the beach over this extravagance any day..
A group of girls strolled by. They were perfectly bronzed with fancy sundresses accentuated their plastic surgery bodies and lots of gold jewelry dangling off of them. Yuck! This was not my scene either.
We rolled our luggage over to the front desk. The woman behind the counter was friendly enough but said that our room was not ready yet. We would have to wait in the lobby or put our bags in storage until the room is available. We waited… and we waited…
An hour later, we decided eventually to store our bags with the front desk crew and explore the grounds. The lack of sleep and food was making me a little grumpy. The grounds were beautiful… 3 different pools, even a lagoon size one with a waterfall… a beach with turquoise waves crashing down. The beach was in full swing with reggaeton music blasting and people partying. There were 3 different bars. People were squealing and jumping in and out of the water. It was all very spring break-like.
If I were in that festive kind of mood, I would have had a blast. Unfortunately I was still in the outfit from my flight because we couldn’t get into our room to change. Jeans are not a good clothing choice for the middle of the day in the Caribbean. I was sweating and uncomfortable. We decided to go visit the bar.
We ordered 2 tequila shots and 2 small cans of beer. The bill was nearly $40.00!! It wasn’t even a full size can of beer. It was a mini can. That price did not sit well with either of us. We realized that we would not be a patron to this or ANY of the bars in El San Juan Resort & Casino ever again.
After 3 hours, I went up to the front desk to see if our room was ready yet. It was not. I was desperate. “I know I asked for a room with a King size bed initially but we’ve been waiting so long that I don’t even care anymore.” I pleaded “I’m so tired. We just got off a red eye flight and we haven’t slept at all. Please give us a room. Any room at all…Please….I’m going to fall asleep in the lobby… “
“We have a room available with 2 queens…”, The man at the front desk stated after a minute of typing
“We’ll take it! Thank you! Thank you so much!” I was so relieved and grateful. I nearly jumped over the table and hugged him.
I have no complaints about the room. It was just what we needed with a nice view of the pool area. The beds were incredibly comfortable. Markus and I immediately dropped our bags to the floor, removed our sweaty clothes and collapsed into the cool sheets. I fell asleep to the gentle hum of the air conditioner.
I woke up at night to the sound of coqui frogs chirping in the distance. It’s the most beautiful sound. It reminded me of where we were and that we had 8 nights in the Caribbean stretched before us. Best feeling ever!
My friend, Bea lives in San Juan and I had told her I would call her once we were settled in. It was still early so I gave her a call and we arranged to meet up in the resort parking lot. She would take us away from the touristy and overpriced El San Juan Resort. She wanted to give us a taste of the REAL Puerto Rico. She drove us through Ocean Park, along the water. She pointed out some of the places she went to growing up, places she lived and talked a bit about her life.
We stopped to eat at the most amazing restaurant called “La Cueva Del Mar”. If you’re in Ocean Park, San Juan you must stop here to eat. It’s a popular place, so it was very crowded when we arrived. We went to the bar and hung out there for a while.
By the time at table opened up, we were already pretty tipsy and in good spirits from all the Medalla’s. I let Bea order because she knew the best things on the menu and we decided we would all share it Tapas-style.
There really isn’t any way I can describe how incredible this dinner was. Everything was seasoned to perfection, cooked to perfection and completely fresh. The smells were intoxicating and I honestly felt like I couldn’t stop eating it. I was in food heaven. We went to many different places to eat in Puerto Rico after this and they were all fantastic, But this restaurant wins the prize for BEST dinner ever. It’s not the most scenic location. It’s a little bit off the beaten path but it’s worth the cab drive fare to get here.
After that we grabbed a bottle of wine and hung out at Bea’s place. It was a lot more fun and cozy than El San Juan Resort & Casino. We had a blast just laughing and talking on her beautiful balcony overlooking the courtyard. It was such a fun night. I was now in full-on vacation mode. We ended up crashing in her guest room that night. Most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in! I was so pooped after all that travel and partying. I slept like a baby…
Tomorrow…We would drive to RINCON for the very first time!
I knew Rincon was going to be different from San Juan, but I was still surprised by how much it’s really an entirely different world on the west end.
To be Continued…