Old San Juan
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
A young woman passing through the Surf and Board about two weeks ago gave me a tip on an inexpensive place to stay in Old San Juan, but there was just one slight caveat, the nice old man running the place didn't speak a word of English.
Instead of grabbing a taxi to Old San Juan from the airport (where my ride dropped me off), I decided to take two public buses to get into town. I was the only gringo riding the buses (which was great), and for a mere $1.50 I got a nice slow ride into the city (allowing me to observe the inner suburbs and the locals who live there).
With the help of the bilingual housekeeper at the guesthouse a few days earlier, I arranged for two nights (the 2nd and 3rd) at the San Juan Guest House. When I arrived at the hostel, Señior Castro and his laughably entertaining reservation system (scribbles on a tattered notepad) had accidentally overlooked my need for a room (and had no vacancy for the evening). Luckily Dan (a Good Samaritan from Portland, Oregon who happened to be in the hallway translating for me) was changing rooms for his last night in town and agreed (at Señior Castro's suggestion) to share a great balcony room together. At $25 each for the night, in the heart of Old San Juan, it was perfect. Afterwards, arrangements were made for a simple room at the same price for the following night.
Later in the evening I was sitting down at a terminal in the only Internet café in town, when I began having a conversation with a cool 23 year old guy next to me (Marcos). We talked while we both surfed and typed; I showed him my Web site and narrated some of the photos in the gallery. It turned out that he worked there, and was managing the café that night.
We shut the café down and decided to grab a few drinks at one of the local bars with one of his friends. We ended up staying out very late, and by the end of the night I had two great invitations: A trip into the rainforest the next day and a couch that I could crash on (at his place in Rio Piedras) for the rest of my time in PR.
Old San Juan
It's fantastic to be out of the jungle and back into the city; I'm finally surrounded by diversity (a far cry from the blond hair of Puntas). This is the first time I can remember ever seeing a cruise ship. I'm awestruck looking at them—juggernauts of the sea.
Old San Juan is a neat part of the city to be in. It's very colonial here, reminding me a lot of the French Quarter of New Orleans. This is a tourist city though, and is very expensive (but awfully gorgeous). My room is comparatively cheap, but finding affordable food amidst the masses of beautiful restaurants catering to the cruise ships is difficult at best.
You can visit everything you'd want to see in Old San Juan in a single day, but it's a good launching point for other places in and around Puerto Rico. If I was to make a suggestion for a quick vacation down to this part of the world (for average income folks), I would say to buy a cheap flight into San Juan, stay in Old San Juan for two nights, and then take a high-speed ferry into the Virgin Islands ($70 round trip) for a couple of days. A week down here would do your mind and body good.
Tonight we're going to a party someplace in the middle of the island, and then catch a ferry in the morning to the island of Culebra off the east coast for a day and night. Tomorrow is Three Kings Day, and from what I hear, it's like Christmas and New Years Eve combined (massive celebrations). It should be awesome spending it there.