The luminescent blue bricks roll under me as I attempt the journey back to my room: it seems I am a smidge sozzled, nursing sore knees and blisters. In pursuit of my food assault on San Juan, I am making my way back from Maria’s, famous for their “smoothies” and enchiladas. It turned out that the smoothies are somewhat smoothier with the addition of some of the local squeeze: some Don Q (short for Quixote, natch) rum. My passionfruit frozen smoothie was delectable, if the enchilada a tad disappointing. Not to worry; this is just a brief culinary stop.
Let me start at the beginning of my day: it was the 4th of July, and I was in the US. San Juan, the least American of all America. The day predicted extra traffic both in and out of San Juan. I had an early start to join my tour to El Yunque (pr: yoong-kay), the enormous and spectacular rain forest on Puerto Rico’s north-east coast, just 45 minutes out of San Juan.
In an act of spectacular environmental foresight, in 1903 President Roosevelt set aside land for national parks, to be untouched, and El Yunque (Puerto Rico having been nabbed from the Spanish just 5 years earlier) was one of the first areas to be protected.
On arrival at El Yunque, we drove up, up, up into the beautiful rain forest, stopping at waterfalls along the way. When we reach our destination, the guide announced that we would be walking back down down down to the waterfall, and expect to see locals barbecuing and swimming in the many rivers and waterfalls along the way. After he had finished, I realised I hadn’t been listening properly: what did he say? How long is that walk? Did he say that we start the walk at 2,100 feet above sea level, and end at 1,800 feet?
As I set down the enormous number of stairs as part of a my little tour group, the only thought that kept grinding through my brain was “What goes down must come up”. A feeling of dread set upon me as I replayed what I could recall of the guide’s little talk and asked others what they had heard: if I had to walk up this, it would be far worse than even my Santorini debacle. Seriously, how much is an air lift outta here?
We eventually came upon the waterfall, supposedly the reason for our walk. It was nice, with numerous local families splashing about in the falling, cool water. But there was no time to lose: we had to get back up. I was hoping to make up some time by letting my fellow tour passengers linger by the waterfall. But they didn’t, those American bastards. As we set upwards, I counted off the steps, happy to be knocking off the upward journey…only to head down…AGAIN: Nnooooooooo!
Eventually, although I wasn’t too far behind the rest of the group, I pleaded with a family walking in the opposite direction: how long they had been walking? 5 minutes. Really? REALLY? Yeah, but watch the really steep part. “Whaddaya mean? This isn’t it?” They laughed. Cruelly.
Thank goodness, it turned out not to be as bad as I thought, and I made it to the top, civilisation, complete with blistered tootsies and sore knees.
We headed back into San Juan and I made up for the trauma with a lovely brunch at one of the very nice cafes, St Germain, where I tried a Croque Madame (croissant with ham and cheese, cooked in egg). I was inspired to have this by a post I saw on NotQuiteNigella, introducing me to what looks to be quite the brunch place, Baroque Bistro at the Rocks. Even though Lorraine’s post was all about the cooking classes, I couldn’t get over the Croque Monsieur on the brunch menu.
After a snooze, my search began for the famed “smoothies” at Maria’s on Calle de Cristo. When I arrive there, I am confronted with the rum question. And you know how that turned out. I can report that I made it back to my room in one piece (it helped that the roads were blocked off for 4th of July so only had to focus on dodging Americans).
Late that evening, ventured out in search of Mexican food. Yeah yeah, I know I’m in Puerto Rico, but proximity is everything in my book. I LOVE great Mexican, and find the flavours deeply intriguing. I hope to visit Mexico on my way back home, and maybe fit in some Spanish and cooking lessons. (Naturally, I’ll tell people it’s to see the Mayan ruins but, between you and me, it’s to taste the genuine article: mole, chipotle, halapenjo…).
My hotel recommended a place called La Madre, and it was a knock out. Great service, excellent frozen margarita, and offering a mix of traditional and modern Mexican cooking. The atmosphere was almost early dance party – a hazy pink and blue lighting, funky bar, beautiful people (+ moi) and great food. A video of Cirque de Soleil played on the wall, perfect for a lone diner! The friendly waiter talked me into the duck and mushroom quesadilla and, even though I was a tad full from my drunken pitstop at Maria’s that afternoon, I succumbed.
A quesadilla is like a double-sided crispy crepe with cheese inside. While I couldn’t finish it, the dish was a stunner and perfectly balanced by tamale, salsa and guacamole on the side. Mmmmmm…if only I’d been hungry enough to go for a dessert…