In our seven days on the Isle of Enchantment, we undertook quite a bit. Spending three days in San Juan and driving through the rainforest and mountain in the center of the island to reach the second-largest city, Ponce, where we spent our remaining four days, we got to see and do just about everything we wanted to. And now, only a month later, I’m finally sharing the wonderful memories we made! As the pictures show, Jordan actually commanded both my digital and film camera about half of the time, resulting in an unnerving amount of photos of me, but since he’s got a good eye, not all of them are hideous ;)
THE CATHEDRAL OF RUM
While technically a Cuban rum since 1862, Bacardi has been produced in Puerto Rico since the 1960s and has headquarters in Bermuda. The Cathedral of Rum, as it’s aptly named, is an amazing look into the history of the largest privately held, family owned spirits company in the world. Even their iconic bat logo has a tie to the family - when Doña Amalia Bacardí, wife of the founder of Bacardi, spotted fruit bats in the distillery, she insisted that a bat should appear on every bottle. They’re also a symbol of good luck in Cuba!
We opted for a rum tasting tour, allowing us to learn about and taste six of the brand’s finest rums. Because we also had the greatest, most sarcastic tour guide named Eric, this experience was especially enjoyable, and we found ourselves sipping on our rums a big longer than the tour should have lasted… The rums we tasted included: Superior (classic), Añejo Cuatro (Jordan’s favorite), Ocho, Diez, Limitada (notes of coffee, obviously my favorite), and the Reserva Limitada.
After our tour, we utilized the free drink tokens included in the booking and sat at the Bat Bar Pavilion for a few hours while the rain poured down. On the way, though, we of course had to stop and play in the sugar cane.
The third oldest European-established capital city, San Juan is now the 46th largest city under U.S. jurisdiction, and probably the most touristy area in Puerto Rico. We spent most of our time in Old San Juan, walking the cobblestone streets, along the ocean, and around the city’s former defensive forts. Not pictured here is the abundant bars and clubs contributing to San Juan’s night life, our favorite of which being El Batey where Hunter S. Thompson would hang out while he was authoring the Rum Diary. The bartender there also is in two bands, one of which is the song selection for this post.
EL YUNQUE NATIONAL RAIN FOREST
Another spectacular feature of this 100 mile wide and 35 mile long island is the only national rain forest in the U.S. forest system on the north eastern side of the island. The road leads you to all the major attractions, including a water fall, old watch tower, and natural swimming hole (not pictured, but posted to Instagram, are my adventures in the swimming hole’s small water fall). Unfortunately, due to damages caused by Hurricane Marie, many of the popular hiking trails are still inaccessible. That didn’t stop us from enjoying all the nature around us though.
CUEVA DEL INDIO
What good is driving across the island if you don’t make a road trip out of it? Our first (and only because we ended up completely enthralled and spending all our time there) stop was about an hour west of San Juan: Cueva del Indio, or cave of Indians. The prehistoric rock structure has protected the island against many a hurricane, and natives claim hiding out in the caves will save you from disaster. For more adventurous types, or people just better at planning ahead, you can snorkel underneath the caves and jump from the rock structure into the crystal clear blue waters.
Oh, and on the way there, we found this statue of Christopher Columbus donated to Puerto Rico by the Russians, because…….we sill don’t get it.
Anyone who knows me knows I adore coffee (and also tea). So when I found out Puerto Rico had coffee farms, I immediately found one close enough to one of our AirBnBs to make a day trip, and that’s how we entered the wonderful world of Hacienda Muñoz. At one point in time, Puerto Rico was the largest coffee producer in the world. Today, about 10 farms still produce authentic Puerto Rican coffee. Hacienda Muñoz is a rare bird, though, because they’re the only farm on the east side of the island near a town called San Lorenzo.
Hurricane Maria devastated coffee farms on the island. Typically, a coffee plant needs four years from the time it is planted until it begins producing beans. For Hacienda Muñoz, the hurricane destroyed over 10,000 of their 14,000 plants. They’ve slowly rebuilt their plant inventory, and through experimenting with soil types and hours in the sun, they’ve hastened the time for a plant to produce to only 18 months. Competitors are still trying to figure out their secret.
Hacienda Muñoz also offers two restaurant options on site, and we chose the one with more local cuisine options so I could finally try some mofongo.
Of course, the #travelingbearistabear had to come along for this excursion. What kind of bearista would he be if he hadn’t visited a coffee farm?
Our home on the south side of the island, Ponce is the second-largest Puerto Rican city and offered us many excursions within driving distance, including visiting downtown and seeing the bio luminescent bay.
Possibly the reason I’ve been posting far less on this blog than I ever have before is that I started shooting 35mm with a Canon AE1 I picked up at the thrift store last April, and through many trials and tribulations, have finally gotten decent at it. Not only that, I now prefer it to digital and find it harder and harder to convince myself to lug around my D3s (weighing probably 8lbs) when I could carry this light film camera and a few rolls of film instead. The downside of course is you don’t see you photos right away, and we have lost some incredible photos from various rookie mistakes, but even with the risk, the quality of the images you do get are (in my opinion) so superior and have so much more character.