After a brief vacation from life’s day-to-day I thought to myself, “what better way than to get back into the swing of things than to share the good times I had with the world at large?” With that in mind, I’m kicking off a new segment this week called “Scholar Vision.” Whenever I’m fortunate enough to get away or simply visit some place that’s interesting and hopefully beautiful, I’ll log my journey in pictures and brief commentary. That said, after a long 21 year delay I was fortunate enough to spend a full 9 days in “La Isla Del Encanto” (i.e. “The Island of Enchantment”), Puerto Rico.
Though I myself was born in Boston, MA and am proud to say that I love that dirty water, both my mom and dad are from Ciales, Puerto Rico. I visited the Motherland if you will a few times as a kid in the 80s and early 90s and always enjoyed my time spent there, but as I previously mentioned a full 21 years had elapsed since my last trip to the island back in the Summer of 1994. Thankfully, on June 23rd, 2015 that all changed as along with my family and wonderful girlfriend I stepped foot on the island for the first time in entirely too long. And boy did I have a blast. We stayed at the Embassy Suites in Dorado, enjoying the comforts of a beach right on hotel land, along with a sizable swimming pool, free Happy Hour from 5:30pm – 7:30pm every day, free continental breakfast every morning, and a killer view from our room. But I wasn’t about to spend the bulk of my time at a hotel, no matter how nice it was. My lady and I went half on a car rental and spent practically everyday out and about visiting a fair share of family (who fed us generously – my peeps can cook), and more so than anything exploring the island’s sights, sounds, and beauty.
For myself, it was a much-needed vacation as I hadn’t realized how taxing the tolls of working a full-time job and fulfilling my duties as one-third of this enterprise we call JP Lime Productions, along with general life stuff truly were for me. A few sprinkled in long weekends in New York or Atlantic City over the years kept me at bay, but I needed a real break, and a real escape. An PR certainly did the trick. It was a fun, relaxing, exciting, and spiritually rewarding trip. I swam a lot, ate like a Latin King (see what I did there?), laughed a ton, did a little jogging, and even cried a bit, but in a good way.
My Puerto Rico vacation was a lot of things, but if I had to choose one adjective to sum it all up, more so that anything it was therapeutic. I needed it. And I’m happy I was blessed enough to finally get back to the island and to have spent it with a beautiful, loving girlfriend and my wonderfully crazy family. With that in mind, I invite you to take a moment to retroactively share my joy as I give to you my very first edition of “Scholar Vision” – Boricua style.
Viejo San Juan / El Morro
I’ve always been quick to criticize people who tell me they went vacationing in Puerto Rico and spent their entire time there in San Juan. Though I hadn’t been in 2 decades, I do remember how beautiful the other parts of the island are and how much fun I had in places like Dorado, Ciales, Bayamon, and Canovana. After my vacation however, I’m hating a little less. San Juan, and Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan) in particular are absolutely gorgeous and tons of fun. With beaches, sites, shops, and bars a plenty, it truly is the place to be in Puerto Rico if you’re not too familiar with the rest of the island. Don’t get me wrong. As you’ll see further in this post, there are plenty of touristy spots you should hit that are well outside of San Juan, but if you end up spending most of your time there there’s no shortage of fun, food, drink, and aesthetic beauty to keep your soul and taste buds happy.
The visual highlight in Viejo San Juan has to be El Morro. For those unfamiliar with its historical significance, here’s a Wikipedia link for your Scholarly pleasures. That said, there’s so much to do and so many beautiful buildings, some leisure, some corporate, some academic that it’s simply impossible to capture them all in one post. The cobblestone roads heading up to El Morro are not the easiest to drive on, and parking’s kinda tight, so it’s best to park at the local garage or one of the main roads adjacent to where all the shops and restaurants are. But once you get over that hump, enjoy the scenery. I can’t stress how lovely Viejo San Juan is and though I visited as a kid, I definitely have a greater appreciation for its aesthetic now that I’m halfway to 70. Below are some choice shots.
Notice below the Carmelo Anthony court, adjacent to El Morro, en route to “La Perla” (otherwise known as the hood). That’s right ya’ll, for those who didn’t know, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony is half Puerto Rican and the court represents a charitable effort on his part to give back to our people. Boo the Knicks, but big ups Carmelo. More sites from Viejo San Juan follow.
And this right here is actually a school, if you can believe it. How gorgeous is that?
Another highlight of the trip was visiting the Arecibo Observatory, which houses the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope. The vision of Cornell University’s William E. Gordon, the Arecibo Observatory has been around since 1963 and operates 24/7 under the watch of an international team of scientists and engineers. The attached link is provided for you sciencey types. Hollywood has also made use of the facility, with Golden Eye and Contact among the movies that have been filmed there. From my standpoint, I’ll just say that though the drive to and from, going up that mountain in Arecibo that houses the Observatory was scary, with narrow two-way roads, very few guard rails, and drops hundreds of feet awaiting a sloppy driver, it was well worth it. I learned a little bit about how the telescope operates, with radio/sound waves allowing for a much move vast, precise reach than your standard visual telescopes. And the views were breathtaking, both of the mountains from the facility and of the telescope itself. Admittedly, had my lady not suggested it I would’ve never known about the observatory, but I was happy to feed my brain a little bit while on vacation and once again, the sites are truly remarkable. Take a look.
Ziplining in El Yunque / View from Richie’s Cafe
Perhaps the most sheer fun I had in Puerto Rico was visiting the rain forest, known to the local folk as El Yunque and ziplining. Another brilliant idea of my lovely girlfriend’s, let’s just say that whereas I love adventure and the thrill of heights (big fan of rollercoasters for example), I always endure my inevitable “freaking out” moments before the fun kicks in. This was no different. At one point I was taking such deep breaths that he instructor joked I was breathing like a blow-fish. Hey, I’ll take it. Because despite my initial nerves I had a friggin’ blast. If you’re ever in PR and want to enjoy more than just the beaches and the food, I highly recommend ziplining. Check out Yunke Zipline Adventure – for just under $100 per person you get 2-3 hours of gorgeous views, hiking, instructors who double as comedians (seriously, those guys took the edge off with their constant joking), and 5 awesome ziplines, one being 1000 feet in length. Again, I had a blast. Much like on a rollercoaster where I’m more scared at the top of arc waiting for the drop than while riding the actual drops, it was scarier for me to mount the zipline than to actually ride it. It was so worth it though and something I’d definitely do again.
We got to the meeting spot almost 90 minutes early, so we had some time to kill that afternoon and ended up stumbling across this awesome restaurant not too far from the Hyatt Regency hotel complex in Fajardo, namely Richie’s Cafe. Driving up a mountain to get there, not only was the food and service excellent, the views from up there were dazzling. And to boot, though not in attendance during our lunch, the owner (Richie) is from Springfield, MA and a big Boston Celtics fan! As I posted on my social media pages, even in Puerto Rico us Bostonians represent our sports teams. Bleed Green baby. Check out some standout pics from what was in my book the most purely enjoyable day of my vacation.
Casa Bacardi – The Bacardi Factory
If you’re a rum guy (such as myself), and moreover a Bacardi guy (such as myself), then what good is it to be in Puerto Rico if you’re not going to visit Casa Bacardi? This was definitely a good time. We took the rum tasting tour and had a kick-ass tour guide, a gentleman by the name of Tommy who’s been a bartender and employee of the Bacardi family for several decades and he definitely knows his rum. The factory itself, like many buildings in Puerto Rico, is aesthetically pleasing. Inside, you can actually smell the molasses fermenting which as you’re taking the tour.
As you’ll see below, there are several good photo opportunities throughout the course of the tour, both on the inside of the building and even way above ground on the upper level, where from one angle you can see the factory machinery in action and from another you can actually see El Morro and the Old San Juan coastline behind you. The tour includes two free drink tokens for specialty rum based drinks of the day at the outside bar and also includes a pit stop in a classroom where you get to sip on various Bacardi flavors. For those worried about my drinking and driving, rest assured my lady took both drink tokens (this was a fun day for her) and there was a good 90 minutes plus from the time I did the rum tasting (very small portions, a few sips tops) to when we actually hopped in the car to go eat. Drink responsibly mi gente. And check out some of the action below.
La Cueva Ventana en Arecibo
La Cueva Ventana en Arecibo, or “the window cave in Arecibo” was definitely a great time as well. We did some hiking, got to see some bats, learned about how the indigenous folks of the island would use the caves for rituals, and at the end got to take in another awesome view from the window of the cave itself. At one point the tour guide had us all turn off our flashlights right smack in the middle of the cave to demonstrate how dark it truly is in there, and let me tell you it was spooky, especially when you hear the bats above you flapping their wings and making their high-pitched bat sounds. But thankfully we made it through the tour with our hair intact and some memories and pictures that’ll last a lifetime. Check it out below.
Ciales / Cemetery
I had a ton of fun in Puerto Rico and Lord knows I needed to detach from the everyday struggle. As much as I planned to both relax and enjoy myself as much as possible, the single most important thing I wanted to do while I was out there was visit my father’s gravestone. Given it had been 21 years since I last connected (at least in physical form) with my dad, it was long overdue and I needed that experience more than any swim, any sip of rum, any zipline, hike, or mofongo. There was a cavity in my soul that needed filling, and the visit to his tomb did as much for my well-being as anything else I experienced while I was down there. Though he and mom separated shortly after my birth, relegating our relationship to mainly weekend visits, and he passed away when I was only 10, my memories of him are all positive. Not everyone can say the same.
My dad was one of these “love him or hate him” type guys. He wasn’t perfect. He had many flaws. He wasn’t a faithful husband, put my mom and my older siblings through a lot of crap because of his drinking problems, was a bit of a scrooge when it came to money, and didn’t take any crap from anybody. If you took his parking spot in a snowstorm he’d slash your tires. He was that type of dude. But he was also a lot of fun. He loved music and would both play the guitar and sing at parties. He joked around a lot with family and friends, talking his mess and putting smiles on people’s’ faces. He loved baseball. He named me after one of the more prominent Puerto Rican baseball players at the time of my birth in 1980, Ivan De Jesus. When he moved to Boston with the family, he became a Red Sox fan. My love of the Celtics and Patriots is organic, a Boston thing if you will, but my dad, Jose Ramon De Jesus, is the reason I’m a Red Sox fan.
As such, I thought it’d be nice to decorate his gravestone with Red Sox trinkets and that we did. My brother took an old picture of he, dad, decorated the exterior, and printed it out as a memorial of sorts along with the Red Sox pennant and mini batting helmets. It was a little corny I guess, but it meant a lot to me to be able to bring a piece of Boston, my dad’s second home, back to his first home… his final resting place. This more than anything defined my trip. Rest in peace Pops, you are missed.
The cemetery is actually located in the town where both my dad and my mom were born and raised and where they subsequently met, Ciales Puerto Rico. It’s a mountain town with narrow, scary roads, not unlike those en route to the Observatory and the views from my aunt’s house are nothing short of beautiful. Below are some of my favorite shots.
Beaches, Food, Drinks, and Wildlife
And to cap off the piece, below I’ve included various pictures of the resort in Dorado as well as the three beaches outside of the resort that I was fortunate enough to visit; one in Cerro Gordo (about 15 minutes from the resort), one in Manati (which wasn’t a commercial beach, just a spot we stumbled upon where we saw people swimming and decided to take a swim ourselves – huuuuuge waves at this spot), and the last in Carolina (not too far from San Juan).
I’ve also added pictures of some of the delicious dishes and refreshingly tasty drinks (including my lady’s favorite, the Coco Loco, which the resort served in a coconut) that we had. Lastly, I couldn’t help but to share some choice shots of the wildlife we came across in our travels. Fun in the sun, swimming in beach water that’s refreshing but tepid (unlike our cold ass New England beaches), eating mofongo, tostones, amarillos, chicken chicharrones, the best shrimp and produce I’ve ever had, maji maji, and one that lamentably I didn’t take a picture of, pineapple ice cream. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I had a blast, I had a blast, I had a blast. I’m thankful to have been able to share it with my loving girlfriend and my awesome family and now this inaugural edition of Scholar Vision, all of you. Till next time Puerto Rico, Boricua hasta la muerte, gracias Dios por esta suerte.
Non-commercial beach in Manati
Beach in Cerro Gordo
Beach in Carolina and cousin Jacky posing at the nearby restaurant where we ate afterwards
Various shots at the resort in Dorado
Food & Drink