After successfully destroying all my fingernails by biting them and only getting a small fraction of my major to-do list done, it’s safe to say that my days back at the office did not go quite as planned.
Honestly, I’m still daydreaming about Puerto Rico, swaying palm trees, piña coladas and spending time with my loud family.
There is nothing like spending the holidays with your loved ones, seeing a stampede of children racing for presents underneath the Christmas tree, enjoying double servings of your stepmom’s asopao and listening to “Mi Burrito de Belen” on repeat everywhere you go– literally everywhere, the beach, the mall, the car and even while walking through winding roads looking for Taverna Lupulo (my favorite bar in Old San Juan).
…and now I’m homesick again. Do you want to take a trip down memory lane with me and relive my vacation? Let’s go!
Where we laid our heads to rest:
Halston and I stayed at the luxurious Wessendorf Manor, a quiet and private retreat a top a hill in Guaynabo. Our room was modern but modest and included an in-suite bathroom and A/C. A mouthwatering breakfast of fresh fruits, waffles and freshly-squeezed orange juice greeted us each morning under a terrace by the pool. Other amenities included complimentary car rental, no resort fees, housekeeping, snacks and free Wi-Fi.
…but don’t bother looking it up as it doesn’t exist. It’s actually my dad’s house and my stepmom (whose last name is Wessendorf) was actually the (best) cook. I had you going though!
I don’t usually have an itinerary when I travel to Puerto Rico alone because I just want to spend time with my family. Nowadays, I’m usually accompanied by my husband whose insatiable curiosity about the island just won’t die, so I’m forced to go *shudders* outside. All joking aside, it is interesting to travel with him and see the motherland through different eyes.
Inspired by a river trekking blog post, we found ourselves driving an hour and a half from Guaynabo to Utuado, a city I’ve never had a desire to visit. As luck would have it, we took a wrong turn and ended up driving about 40 minutes up-and-down a twisty, narrow road on a mountain with no cell service. Thankfully, Halston had downloaded the Google Map of the area and we eventually found our way.
Our first stop was Rio Caonillas and parked our car by a bridge. Since we were ill-prepared for this adventure, we took our shoes off and walked down the trickling, shallow river until it began getting deeper and faster.
Our second stop was stopping by Lago Dos Bocas, a man-made lake constructed in 1942 by the island’s electric company by blocking the Arecibo and Caonillas Rivers where they meet. They later built a dam and installed a hydroelectric power plant. I’m unsure if it is still in use.
[edit: husband has just texted me saying that we visited Lago Caonillas not Lago Dos Bocas which is nearby. I’m an idiot. Proceed.]
As we were leaving the lake, we came across a hilarious “recycled garden” and I had to get out of the car to take pictures. Tires and garbage were painted and assembled to look like characters from Disney movies, Despicable Me, The Simpson and El Chavo del Ocho. Positive messages and Bible verses adorned the wild bamboo growing along the path.
We paid a $2 parking fee for our car and walked around admiring the flowers. We bought four flowers for my stepmom for $10 and bought sunflower seeds for $2. Unfortunately, the seeds were unsalted and no one ate them.
I’ve been to Cabo Rojo multiple times; either to stay at small beach resorts or to visit La Parguera, one of the island’s bioluminescent bays. The municipality received its name (Cape Red) because of the reddish color of its salt-flats and cliffs.
On this trip, we visited the Los Morillos Lighthouse, which stands on white limestone cliffs surrounded by water lagoons and marshes. The lighthouse itself was kind of “meh…” but the views surrounding the lighthouse were spectacular.
In Aguadilla, we visited Crash Boat Beach and were surprised at the number of American tourists that had found their way to that side of the island. The beach occupies the site of a former military port and still has some of the original structures, like boat slips, which people use to jump from. You’ll find food vendors on every corner at this beach–Halston and I ate two chicken kabobs and a piña colada each (don’t judge us, we were starving!). Parking is a bit complicated so we paid someone three dollars to park by their house.
For YEARS (I am not even exaggerating), I’ve been meaning to go to Waffle-era Tea Room (La Waflera) in Old San Juan and I was finally able to do so.
The restaurant is known for its teas, gourmet waffles and it is located in a tourist spot, so you can already imagine the sky-high price of our breakfast. Halston’s waffle alone was $17.50, but totally worth it.
I ordered a sweet waffle with fruits, maple syrup and cinnamon and Halston ordered a “salty” waffle with prosciutto, cheese and poached eggs. Both were delicious and but were glad to have ordered one of each because at one point the salty waffle’s flavor got a bit too overpowering, so we ended up sharing more than intended.
While lounging around Isla Verde beach, hunger struck so we headed over to Mist Rooftop Bar + Kitchen.
The service was slow and the food left much to be desired. The shrimp we ordered literally looked like the bulk cocktail shrimp you buy at Costco and the wings weren’t impressive. We finally got our drinks when we were done eating, even though the restaurant was dead and we were the only customers waiting on drinks.
The drinks were decent and the view breathtaking, so I’ll give them that.
El Mercado de Paseo Caribe:
The trendy new food hall, which opened its doors back in October, houses over 15 restaurants and bars and can fit up to 600 people. El Mercado was extremely busy when we went on a weeknight and we had to watch for tables and chairs like hawks–my suggestion is to secure a table before ordering your food so that you’re not left wandering around for a spot to sit.
Inside you’ll find over vendors offering culinary delights such as Italian food, Mediterranean, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, Vietnamese, breads and pastries and craft beers and cocktails.
The food at Nonna, the Italian restaurant we settled on, was okay–nothing out of this world. I was told that the squid ink linguini that I ordered would be spicy, but the only thing that left an after taste was the $20 charge for linguini at a food hall.
In a cross between a food hall and a food truck rally, Lote 23 opened right in time for my trip in Santurce, the sketchy but trendy municipality where all the cool kids hang out at night.
Lote 23 is divided in four terraces with 16 vendors bringing gastronomic offerings such as pizza, Puerto Rican-Chinese fusion, South American food, burgers, noodle joints, Popsicles and sweet, sweet libations.
We created our own noodle dishes at Wok It which were relatively inexpensive. As you continue adding to the dish, the price increases.
It goes without saying that every trip back home involves a visit to one of my brother-in-law’s Metropol restaurants. Hey, we have to keep the money within the family and provide for my nieces and nephew, right?
They’re currently working on opening a new location at a hotel across of the new Convention Center but my ultimate dream is for them to open in Orlando so that I don’t have to go to ugly, hole-in-the-wall restaurants for Puerto Rican and Cuban food.
I was really craving Mediterranean and/or Turkish food during my trip so we ended up in Istanbul, a teeny, tiny Turkish restaurant in Old San Juan. I ordered the Chicken Ottoman Casserole, stir-fried chicken with mushrooms and garlic. It was packed with flavor and I wish I had taken the leftovers with me, but we were headed to Los 3 Cuernos with my friends and I didn’t want to look like a loser…
We brought in the New Year with my family at Vivo Beach Club‘s New Years Eve bash, dancing along to the live band and DJ and everyone had a great time… well, everyone but my niece who was dying of boredom, but maybe that’ll change when she’s 18 and is allowed to drink (drinking age is lower on the island).
And just like that, another whirlwind Puerto Rican adventure ended, leaving me wondering when I’d be back. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
How did you spend your holidays?
Also, I’m headed to New York over the weekend. Any recommendations?