I fell in love today…with Old San Juan, even though we were only able to spend a few hours there. I simply cannot wait to experience more!
We braved the “publico” (bus) transportation system to Old San Juan (at $.75 you really can’t beat it) which conveniently dropped us off within walking distance of the ferry to get to Cantaño where Casa de Bacardi is located. I had never ridden a public bus before, so I was nervous/anxious about the experience (that was most convenient after all was said and done).
We discovered that the only public transportation here in Puerto Rico that really screws you is taxis. Even rental cars, if you choose economy class, are $30 a day! A taxi from Miramar (our hostel) to the edge Old San Juan, a 15 minute drive, is easily $20 bucks excluding tip and baggage fees. They charge a dollar per bag, but “cut deals” for multiple passengers. By deals they mean, knock a buck off of the total price…at least that is what I understood. The ferry across is even only $.50 a person, and the mini buses that run from the dock through town and to the Bacardi factory entrance only charge $1.00pp. Perhaps that is why taxi drivers seem so…unpleasant.
From the ferry we intended to catch another bus to the factory, but opted for a mini-bus that dropped us off at the factory gate. While walking to the bus stop we were bombarded by taxi drivers insisting we ride with them, pay $3 a piece and get curb-side service. We clearly offended them by declining their offers for cheaper fares, so a few drivers actually berated us along our walk from the gated entrance to the tourist desk (a quarter mile trek). Why are rude/offensive words and terms so easily retained in any language?!
The tour of the Bacardi factory was…free. Seriously, the high point was the fact that it was free. All of the information shared on the tour could easily have been researched online, although, some of the artifacts in the visitor’s center were legitimate historical pieces from their respective time periods. We got to view a mock version of the distillary process- not the actual working machines, and rode in a trolly that literally took us around a circular track that seemed completely Americanized. By American, I mean lazy. It would have been faster and more practical to walk the entire tour. We did at least meet two nice French gentlemen, Laurent and Jean-Pierre, while on the tour.
We parted ways once back in Old San Juan, but got caught in serious traffic due to the governor’s public address. The streets were overflowing with crowds cheering and booming fireworks. It really felt like we were making history with the people of San Juan!
After dinner at Cafe Berlin, which was decently priced, delicious but the service was once again sub-par, we sought off in search of a coffee shop. Tiff and I stumbled upon “The Poet’s Passage” where sounds of rhyme and verse coupled with sweet coffees filled the air. It is nestled near the edge of the old city, and only 3 months old. Poet’s Passage is a quaint little haven for the emotionally expressive artists of “Little America.”
Once the home of a haughty Starbucks, this decent-sized space now boasts the vibrant voices of local poets, the eye of artists while grinding the beans of Puerto Rican coffee kings! A brother and sister team come together to present the tourist and native population with a taste of meshed old and new literary style. One wall is hand-painted to resemble a sheet of notebook paper, while others are trimmed with dictionary pages. Each table’s centerpiece is a bucket with plain notebook paper and pencils, encouraging customers to share their own voices.
The prices are considerably cheap for an independent coffee shop, but since they hand select their beans from local growers, I see where they have an advantage. The coffee was delectable; smooth, rich, creamy with a naturally sweet flavor- as coffee should be. Their pastry selection was quite sparse, but they offered a full deli as well and at one point served alcohol- until they realized their liquor license was to distribute, not sell. I cannot imagine the trouble they got into for selling alcohol without proper licensure.
The brother, Lord, sat with us for close to an hour suggesting places to go, things to see and do. He was so kind and beyond helpful! Pretty sure he’s my favorite person that I have met on this island…probably because he appreciates the arts and the history of his culture. He also supports his sister and her dreams, which is something the Hispanic culture really holds on to, that seems dissociated amongst other cultures.
The Poet’s Passage made my heart so incredibly happy; I am still riding on the high! It is exactly the type of low key spot Tiff and I were searching for that we were told simply did not exist on the island. I can only truly speak for myself there but I believe Tiff enjoyed herself despite the fatigue of walking/touring all day. I hope to visit again before we leave the island…but even to spend another day in Old San Juan would appease me to no end.
We successfully hopped on the right bus back to Miramar, but nearly missed our drop-off. We were so in awe of the “familiar looking” businesses that it did not quite dawn on us that they were familiar because we have walked past, or to them, on several occasions thus far. Fortunately, we pulled the chord just in time to make our stop and walk safely back to our hostel.
I would like to dedicate my free rum shots to our successful use of Puerto Rican public transportation system! Tomorrow the real adventure begins, as we rent a car and navigate ourselves *dun dun dun*