It’s morning, and we’ve arrived at our first port of call: old town San Juan in Puerto Rico. The colors are stunning: the water, the buildings, and the plants all feel extra vibrant in this sunshine. We wander a little and then return to wait for the Holland America tour up the Fort (Reagan’s choice, as an official tour was the only way she felt safe to leave the boat). Our tour guide is a stern older woman and she is frazzled. Asks everyone to line up in twos. She’s doing a count. Some people are lined up singly (because the cruise has lots of non-couple travelers, and also lots of introverts who didn’t feel comfortable asking a stranger if they could pair up in line). But this totally throws her into a tizzy, and she gets a bit shout-y and makes us all do it again. This time, the more extroverted amongst us help the shy folks to pair off for the head count. (We later learned that a tour guide called in sick, so at the last minute, this woman was dealing with over 30 people, when normally they are capped at 15 per guide). Anyway, we’re ready to head off into town. We learn some history. See some lovely buildings. Then up the hill to Castillo San Cristobal.
We are reassured several times that it’s impossible to get lost. The port is at the top of the hill, the cruise ship at the bottom. “If you are lost, you can just roll down hill back to your ship.” Ha! The views from the Fort are lovely.
We learn some interesting history. Our guide is flummoxed again when handing out pamphlets. “How did I run out? It’s one per family.” Again, we inform her that the majority of us are traveling solo and not in pairs. She goes to get more fliers. Afterwards, she encourages us to climb to the top, “but I will wait down here. Up there is just a photo opp.” But it is very lovely.
And I work on my travel photo karmic balance, by offering to take photos of anyone who’d like a non-selfie. *smile* Then it’s more touring, learning about some historic buildings under that punishing mid-day sun. All sunscreen, all the time!
We spy a few lizards along the way, some iguanas, and a smaller green guy I’m pretty sure was an anoles. Wander a small cute arts market. Find a patio for HOT outdoor lunch, where an adorable little bird did it’s best to convince us that it was Starving To Death! We did not fall for it. Adorable though.
After lunch, Reagan returned to the ship (as she didn’t feel comfortable exploring Old Town without a guide. And she had an evening activity (meal and a dance) booked for later). And I went to wander. Later Reagan messaged that she wasn’t feeling well and so skipping her scheduled meal and cultural experience, which is a bummer. At least I was able to direct her to the over the counter meds I’d packed, so she could feel a little better while resting in the room.
The brightly colored buildings are just too cool.
Eventually found a cute sidewalk café. Ordered an iced latte, as the folks in front got two and they looked great. The barista’s face fell, as he said forlornly, “Oh Miss. I have a problem. I have used up the rest of my ice on those drinks.” Not a problem, and I order the Bombon (espresso with condensed milk). He came over later to make sure I was liking my drink. When I confirmed it was delicious, he gave me a high five and a free cookie. And it was an idyllic spot to write some postcards.
Then off to the food walking tour. https://sanjuanfoodtours.com/old-san-juan-food-tour/ I was VERY excited about this well-reviewed tour, and it totally lived up to expectations. While at the meeting spot, before tour begins, it becomes apparent that 11 of the 12 people on our tour are all JoCo folks (I did that!! After Reagan confirmed she didn’t want to do this, but was fine if I still did, I shared on the socials, and it sold out pretty quickly. Ha). We’re chatting about food, and one guy says, “I don’t like coffee or plantains” and I just barely contain my outraged gasp! I did not say, but thought loudly, Sir, not only are those two of my favorite foods, do you realized you’re doing a FOOD tour in Puerto Rico?!?!?
The one Non-JoCo tour member is Julie, from the DC area. She’s understandably never heard of Jonathan Coulton, and I watched her becoming more and more bemused during the “tell us about yourself” introductions, as each person keeps mentioning they’re all a part of this thing. She was a total trooper and along for the adventure. Turns out she works for Scholastic Books, and so the rest of us nerds were super impressed (as those book fairs played such an important role in so many of our childhoods. She’d just needed a holiday, booked a short trip to PR by herself, and added this tour as an introduction to the city. (She’d literally just landed, dropped her luggage, and rushed over). We got along great. Everyone was super nice, and there was much laughter and tasty foods.
Our guide Pablo is a delight. He’s super young (just turned 18) but had a great presence, full of funny anecdotes and interesting facts. Knew how to keep everyone engaged and corralled and safe and well fed! Also did remarkable work on verifying and accommodating everyone’s food allergies. “Now I know the name Pablo right now doesn’t have the best reputation. Maybe you are thinking of, well, you know. It is my goal that by the end of this tour, you will think of ME when you hear the name.” Coffee roasters. Fancy toasted ham and cheese with some guava sauce. Lovely passionfruit paleta. “Did you really even go to San Juan if you didn’t eat a Paleta from Senor Paleta?!?”
Empanadadillas. Ceviche (and they served a cute diced caprese salad to the vegetarians, which I thought was a clever substitute). I’m sure I’m forgetting things. We walked through many gorgeous areas, and tried many tasty things.
We were in charge of pounding our own plantains and assembling our own Mofongo.
And the Mojitos were strong! Ended the night at a gelato place. “There is nothing especially Puerto Rican about gelato. It’s just, ya know, good.” But affogato style, with PR espresso shot poured over top. Old Town at night is gorgeous. Many of the buildings have colored lights.
The night is super clear. Lights reflecting on the water. Just lovely all around.
There is a “Concert from a Hat” on the ship, wherein Jim Boggia and Miles Zuniga will have to try to play and sing the songs audience members put into a hat. It’s lovely, on the outside concert stage, dangling my toes in the water. Everyone’s in great spirits, chatting and enjoying the sometimes struggle on stage. Also, they admit when they’d suggested this as an idea, they’d expected to be in a smaller room with maybe 80 people, not several hundred folks, singing under the moonlight. They’re a little intimidated, and keep reminding the audience that they are older, so please only suggest older songs. Ha. A man I’m chatting with asks if I’d like to learn my Lord of the Rings Horoscope. Um, yes please! Turns out Libra is Frodo. I’ll take it.
While the performers may occasional grouse, everyone is supportive, even in their ribbing, and the audience sings along. If they pull out a suggestion that they don’t really know, they let the audience decide whether they have to attempt it or not. As we’ve seen them struggle through some songs they DID know, everyone chooses kindness and lets them pass. Paul Saborin jumps onstage to join in for “Hotel California.”
I don’t know if this was the genesis for what became a running “Hotel California by The Eagles (technically just Eagles)” throughout the remaining mainstage concerts or not, but I’d like to think it was. They recruit an audience member to assist with lyrics to Alanis’ “You Outta Know,” who then needs to recruit another audience member when she got lost in the final verses. The woman next to me is knitting with her toes in the pool too, hails from Oklahama, and is also having a delightful time. The guys behind me join us in raucously singing along, too. I turn around to see that DJ Riz (from Seattle’s KEXP) is one of the guys behind me. Cannot confirm whether he was one of the singers, or not. After the concert ends, we’re chatting a bit. Suddenly a group of people start Howling. It very much startles Riz. I explain there is a “howl at the moon” event scheduled for each evening, so that must be what’s happening. “I’m scared. Will you protect me?” I point out there’s safety in numbers, and we’ll look out for each other. He laughs and introduces me to his husband Rob. I confess I’m a Seattle kid, and that those KEXP parasocal bonds are strong. How in our household, we talk about all the DJs like they’re our pals. He smiles and says they are. Awwww. He says that he has a terrible memory for people, so asks me to come up and reintroduce myself when I see him again. Which does happen once more on the cruise, and he remains a delight.
In the elevators, there’s an ongoing post-it note fight over who gets to take Video Dave to Prom.
During the Open Mike Eagle concert, he sang a song about “will you go to Prom with me?” Afterwards, Open Mike says this is first time they’ve performed this song when there is an ACTUAL Prom happening in a few days, so it’s probably not a literal question. To which Video Dave says, “Oh yes it is!!” Following Video Dave on instagram during and after the cruise was extra fun, because it was clear he had SO MUCH FUN. And his buddies in comments were clear that he’d been NOT looking forward to performing a cruise. And he admitted how wrong he’d been. One of us. one of us. one of us.