"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in
its net of wonder forever."—Jacques Cousteau

February 26, 2020

The Coquí

“I wish I had never gone traveling. Said no one ever.” -Anonymous

On our first night in San Juan as we walked along the street we could hear a sound we didn't recognize. I wondered what type of bird was making the noise we heard. Later during our time in Puerto Rico we found out it wasn't a bird, but a frog. The sound the little tree frog makes is “Co-kee! Co-kee!” This sound is what gives the little frog its name, Coquí. 

Coquí is a tiny tree frog, about one inch long, native to Puerto Rico. It's skin is smooth and almost transparent, with coloration rapidly blending with its surroundings. Hiding in moist and dark places during the day, it emerges at sundown for its nightly performance. 

The coquí frogs are found on a number of islands throughout the Caribbean, but only the ones in Puerto Rico sing, and only the males in Puerto Rico are vocal. The male coquí’s song has been measured at 90 to 100 decibels, making it the loudest existing amphibian. Like the coquí, many Puerto Ricans are smaller in stature, but exuberant when speaking. The traits of this minuscule frog and the tremendous people of the island often mirror each other, so it's the perfect national symbol for Puerto Rico: small island, small frog, BIG VOICE.
Here is the sound of the coquí.

February 25, 2020

Puerto Rican Food

"In order to really get to know a place and the people, you've got to eat the food." -Emeril Lagasse

Puerto Rico's cuisine is a unique merging of ingredients, cultures and recipes. The native Taíno Indians, the Spanish conquistadors and the African slaves have all influenced what has come to be known around the island as cocina criolla, or Creole cooking. The local dishes usually incorporate different types of meat, garlic, olive oil and rice. They often contain the starchy staple plantains, whose taste is a cross between a banana and a potato. (click on highlighted text to get recipe)

Mofongo is the unofficial king of Puerto Rican cuisine. It's a tasty concoction of mashed plantains, seasonings and an unlimited choice of fillings including vegetables, shrimp, steak, pork, and seafood.
Lechón asado is spit-roasted suckling pig, so beloved in Puerto Rico dish that there is a road in Guavate, called the Ruta del Lechón (Pork Highway). Along this road you'll see and smell the delicious lechoneras, or rustic, open-air roadside eateries. This dish is prepared by slow roasting the whole swine, swaddled in salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and ajíes dulces, over a wood charcoal fire. 
Arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) is the island's national dish. This dish has distinctive Caribbean roots, but the Puerto Rican twist is in the secret sauce known as sofrito. This aromatic sauce is sautéed or braised beforehand and gives the dish it's zesty flavor. Arroz con gandules is typically made with pork, chorizo, red peppers and olives.
Asopao de Pollo is Puerto Rico's answer to chicken noodle soup. This homemade savory soup is made with chicken and rice. Most restaurants have it on their menu, as it is a favorite with the Islanders. Asopao de pollo is actually more like a gumbo than a soup and may include chicken, shellfish or pork along with peppers, pigeon peas, olives and tomatoes.
Alcapurrias (stuffed fritters) can be found as street food all over the island. A beach food staple, these delights are usually made with a batter of green bananas and stuffed with crab, shrimp, or lobster. Other variations include cuchifritos (stuffed with pork), almojábanas (cheese-filled rice fritters), bacalaítos (codfish fritters), and buñuelos (yam fritters).   
Tostones are served as an appetizer. The dish is made by smashing plantains and frying them. We ate a version of these in Costa Rica and loved them.
Empanadillas are savory fried pastries traditionally filled with ground beef, but you can find them stuffed with chicken as well. You can also find pastelillos in Puerto Rico, which are a smaller, more buttery, flaky and delicate version of the empanadillas.
Rellenos de papa are potatoes stuffed with ground beef and deep fried to create a crispy outer layer. The meat filling, called picadillo, is ground beef mixed with adobo, sofrito, tomato sauce, olives, oregano and garlic powder. The picadillo is then stuffed into mashed potato balls and fried in hot oil. The result is a savory fried potato croquette. 
Pastelon is the Puerto Rican version of traditional Italian lasagna. The filling is made from fried meat seasoned with oregano and cumin and mixed with sofrito, olives and tomato sauce. The meat is placed between layers of ripe, thinly-sliced plantains, topped with cheese and baked in an oven. Pastelon has a unique taste that is both salty and sweet.
Asopao is a blend of rice and soup that is popular across the Caribbean. The dish is similar to gumbo and is often paired with seafood, chicken or pork. The most popular in Puerto Rico is asopao de pollo, which is made from broth, rice, chicken, oregano, tomato, olives, onion, garlic and other seasonings. 
Coco Rico is the Coca Cola of Puerto Rico. It has a fairly light flavor and is similar to Sprite, but with a coconut aftertaste. 

February 24, 2020

Feb. 19 - Old San Juan, PR

“Live with no excuses and travel with no regrets” ―Oscar Wilde

We began our day like we did yesterday...coffee and guava pastries at the little coffee kiosko in the Plaza de Armes. After breakfast we headed east to explore a little beach close to the El Capitolio (Puerto Rico's Capital building), it's a beautiful area of town with lots of official buildings. From there we visited Castillo San Cristóbal.

In 1634, almost a hundred years after starting construction on El Morro, the Spanish began construction on the even larger Castillo San Cristóbal. This fort would stand guard at the eastern gate, the land entrance, to the walled city of Old San Juan. It took over 150 to finish the fort, although modifications were made well into the 18th century. San Cristóbal is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World, covering 27 acres. The fort is actually a number of different units connected by tunnels, each unit being self-sufficient if another part was invaded. Walking around the fort gave us a lot of exercise and offered wonderful views of the coast from Old San Juan to Condado and beyond.  

We spent the afternoon slowly wandering through the streets of OSJ taking in the beauty of the buildings and enjoying the views of the water. We walked over 17 miles the last three days in OSJ...that's a real workout, but what a place to explore. Today was our last full day in Puerto Rico, but it won’t be our last. We have fallen in love with the island, Old San Juan and the people of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico capital building (El Capitolio).
This beach was across the street from the capital building...sea glass beach.
Castillo San Cristóbal
Aerial view of the large Castillo San Cristóbal. 
Tunnels like this one were an important part of the fortifications like San Cristóbal. They protected soldiers from enemy fire and enabled commanders to move large numbers of troops to new positions, unseen by the enemy. This is the largest tunnel in the fort and leads to the main plaza. 
Janice having fun with the soldiers. 
Exploring Castillo San Cristóbal
Looking west towards El Morro. 
Looking south from Castillo San Cristóbal over Old San Juan. 
View from Castillo San Cristóbal looking east towards the capital building and the beach we visited in the morning. 
Calle (Street) Norzagaray looking back at Castillo San Cristóbal. 
Plazuela La Rogativa overlooks the San Juan Gate and La Fortaleza (Governor's Mansion). 
The beautiful streets of Old San Juan
The Methodist church in Old San Juan
Our last dinner in OSJ was at Ostra Cosa 
Cute little plaza across the street from San Juan Bautista Cathedral and close to our apartment. The whole town is full of cute sculptures. 

February 23, 2020

Feb. 18 - Old San Juan, PR

“You have the brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go.” -Dr. Seuss 

Today we walked up to a little coffee kiosko in the Plaza de Armes for breakfast. We enjoyed a very good cup of coffee, a guava pastry and a nice visit with a local enjoying the same breakfast...to us it was the perfect way to start our day. After breakfast we headed up to El Morro. One of two forts that were built by the Spanish to protect the city from pirate attacks from the French, Dutch and English. Castillo San Felipe del Morro, (El Morro) sits atop a high promontory overlooking the entrance to the San Juan Bay. Construction on El Morro began in 1539, but the six-level fortification was not considered complete until 1787. El Morro is an immense fort with 18-foot thick walls, dungeons, barracks, outposts, ramps, and mazes of tunnels that protected the city from foreign invasion. 

San Juan Harbor was an important port because steering currents and trade winds blew sailing ships here. It was the first major island with water, shelter and suppliers that sailing ships in route to the Americas from Europe needed. Today Old San Juan is a busy hub for tourism. It's the Caribbean’s main cruise port and is home to more than 28 different cruise lines which bring millions of tourists to the city each year. (oh...that doesn't sound good).

We spent the day taking in the beauty of this old town and we've fallen in love. People have been walking these same streets for 500 years...small streets and colorful old buildings full of so many memories. If walls could talk, the stories they could tell.

Plaza de Armas...our favorite little area to relax and watch people and have breakfast.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Map of the fort.
The fort was protected by a dry moat. The moat was a key component of their defense. A moat makes it difficult for enemies to reach and climb the walls. Moats make the walls even higher and they hide the foundation of the fort protecting it from enemy cannon fire. 
This was the window in the lady's bathroom...what a view. 
Puerto San Juan [El Morro] Lighthouse - Four lighthouses have served to mark the entrance to Puerto San Juan. The present tower was built in 1908. 
A view of Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, Old San Juan and Castrillo San Cristobal. 
Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery
Looking east across the entrance of San Juan Harbor. Fort San Juan de la Cruz is on the other side of the channel. The two forts provided cross fire and made entering the harbor impossible.
Military engineers of the 1600s and 1700s built sentry boxes, called "garitas," that protruded from high vantage points. Sentries kept an eye on the landward and seaward approaches, as well as the base of the walls below. Twenty-eight garitas remain on the fortresses and city walls of Old San Juan. Each is unique in style and shape., reflecting the influences of the Earline in which it was built. 
The Paseo El Morro (El Morro Walk) is a path that leads from the fort to the San Juan Gate. It provides great views of  La Fortaleza (the Governor's Mansion), the  Islade Cabras and the San Juan harbor. 
We enjoyed lunch in this little outside cafe named El Parnaso. 
Two of the cruise ships that were in port while we were in OSJ...the people looked like little ants coming off their boats from a viewpoint high on the city wall.
Happy hour was at a little spot called El Adoquín del Patio. Far from the harbor and very local...but lots of fun.