Touring San Juan and Heading Out to Sea
11:50 pm: I can feel the small sway and rocking of the ship. It's relatively small, but it's there, constant and real. It was rock solid as we headed out of San Juan, but now there is just the slightest shift and sway to the ship.
We started with breakfast at the hotel, as they'd given the Manors a voucher for breakfast and Ray asked for theirs and ours. So we all had the American Breakfast with tater tots that were supposed to be home fries, and tangled bacon and eggs. It wasn't very good, so I didn't eat much of it.
We then found Tony in the front lobby. Tony Maumi Orama, who was at the taxi/tour stand in the lobby of the Radisson. He was willing to take the six of us on the Bacardi Rum Plant Tour, out to a neat place, then to see the Old Fort over Old Town and then over to the ship. So we didn't have to get a separate taxi and we didn't have to leave all our baggage at the hotel. I liked that a lot.
Instead we stuffed it all in the back of Toy's van and went out on our adventure. The first was the tour of the Bacardi rum plant there i San Juan. It started with free drinks on an open air plaza and ended there, too. There was a little tram that hauled people away, and we took it to the plant, which had a number of floors that we could look at and get lectured on the various beauties of the King of Rums, El Rey de los Rons.
The first floor was just a bunch of casks set a still life, with some ends of old barrels stacked along one wall, where they had all the bat logos facing us. It turned out that in the very first, abandoned building that Bacardi bought, there was a colony of bats in the rafters. His wife remembered that in Spain bats are considered good luck and a sign of intelligence, so she asked him to use them for their logo. So he did! They now own 80% of the rum business in the world. They also own DeWar scotch, Bombay Sapphire Rum, and Martini and Rossi. So they have quite the empire, now.
They then took us up and elevator to their fermentation tanks, which smelled like any yeast-based alcohol production fermentation place, but with the sweet underlying scent of molasses. They showed us the tanks and the covers that siphoned off the produced carbon dioxide, which they then sell to the local soda pop manufacturers and also make dry ice out of the stuff! I thought that was pretty cool. They use those by-products as products themselves instead of throwing it away or polluting with it. The fermentation tanks also produce biomass which they feed certain bacteria, which turn it into methane. The methane is used, in turn, to heat the stills, and it provides 60% of their power needs! That I thought was pretty keen.
There was a whole floor where they only had displays of all the rums they make. There were a number of rums that they only sell here in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, so I thought it would be pretty cool to take one or two of those home. There are so many studies that say that a single alcoholic drink helps ones blood pressure that I'm very willing to try it for a while, but I haven't really found something I not only liked drinking, but wouldn't upset my stomach. So far, these rum drinks haven't messed me up, any and I like them.
There was a little museum of memorabilia, and a video of the bottling plant. It reminded me eerily of all the Unwrapped episodes, even to the cheesy music.
From there we headed back to the plaza and the giant banyan grove in the middle of the corporate lawn. I took a picture of it. Tony took my camera and got a shot of everyone in front of the Bacardi store. There were a bunch of the rums there in the store, but even the tour guide said that the duty free was much cheaper than their store. So I didn't buy anything, but I did look longingly.
Tony then took us out on a small finger of land. It was a tiny strip of land that was set aside as a park called El Cauelo Recreation Area, and it contained, at the entrance, a massive stone structure called El Cauelo Fort. It was right opposite the Forts of Old San Juan, both of which covered the mouth of San Juan Bay. It was pretty impressive, and they were very, very old forts, first started to defend the old city in the late 1500's. Even now there's a defensive, stone sea wall that surrounds most of the old town.
From out on the point, though, we could see the ships and Old Town across the bay. It was pretty impressive seeing these massive ships over the buildings, houses, and even apartments of old city.
The park was really wonderful. Being outside of the protection of the bay there is always a steady wind out there. There were dozens and dozens of families with lots of kids and kites all there to fly them, eat some good food, and visit. It was filled with people this Saturday morning, and everyone looked like they were having a great time. I really liked seeing where the natives went to have fun.
Tony said that he lived near there, which I thought was pretty neat. From there we headed into Old San Juan, and Tony took us to the opposing Fort. He gave us a very thorough and complete tour of the place. We went on all the levels, and he told us stories about everything there. He took us out into a turret that looked out over the ocean. He took us all the way to the top and the gun placements. He told us about the five deep cisterns beneath the fort, the wells that served them, and then took us into the dark depths of the dungeon to see some sketches by one prisoner there of all the ships he saw out the small crack of the prison area.
It's a massive fort, on the same scale of many of the forts we saw in Scotland. Massive walls, high embankments, and lots of strategic places to see stuff. It was beautiful up there, and we could get a sense of the tightly packed city within the walls that were protected by the fort. Then Tony took us on a drive through those narrow streets. They were all walled in by the houses and apartments on either side, none of which had any space between them other than the other crooked, narrow streets. The houses were all build right on each other, and they were all beautiful pastel colors with white borders. The government's been helping everyone renovate the area, and it really shows. The facades seemed tiny, but sometimes we'd catch a glimpse of beautiful plazas or gardens or courtyards behind the barred windows and shuttered doors. Given that it was mid-day, I can see why they had things shut tight against the heat.
Then we got to the shopping district and it was brilliant with life. Then Tony took this steep downhill turn and we got to see the sea! And how steep it is when the wall falls off. It was right next to La Casa Blanca, or Ponce De Leon's old house, which, I think, is the present governor's house. From there it was a twist and a wind and then we were down by the board streets that headed for the cruise ship docks.
He left us there, with a handful of money from all of us, and a fond farewell and the hopes of a recommendation. If you do get to Puerto Rico, he is Toy Maumin Orama of Plaza Escorial taxi services, and his base number is (787) 762-6066 and his cel number is (787) 391-9050. It was well worth the money.
We boarded the cruise with much handling of luggage, ID's, and belongings and a long walk around the seedy dock shops. Free samples galore. And then a long walk across the gangplank where I just had to think, "Look ahead, look ahead, don't look down." I kept thinking I'd drop something.
Then we were on-board. We found our room, found other people's luggage outside our room, and then stuck what we had into the room. We then met up with everyone at the Windjammer buffet for lunch. They had enormous platters that I was very, very careful to only fill a third of as it was already 4 o' clock in the afternoon.
I was mildly disappointed that we were eating on board instead of eating in town as Tony had pointed out a really nice Puertorican cuisine restaurant. I wanted to eat there. But so it is when you've 'already paid for your food'. it was an okay buffet, so, again I didn't eat a lot, until folks point me at the dessert bar. I tried the chocolate pecan pie and was disappointed. The pecans were soggy and obviously hadn't been toasted. This did make me worry, a bit, about dinner. We'll see how it goes.
After lunch we wandered around the ship for a bit, went the spa tour, which didn't impress me that much but took a lot of time. Bah. There is a steam room that is free, through, and I might take advantage of that if I'm too shy to use the public hot tubs. From there were wandered around and then I saw Joan waving at me from and overhead bar! So we went up there, and I got just a soda water while John got a beer, and we talked for a bit before everyone went and took a nap. I needed it badly, too, as I hadn't slept that well last night.
Both John and I slept through to 7:30, which was about when we had to get up to get to dinner. Tonight was supposed to be casual, and so we were, more so than the recommended dress code, as we were in shorts. So it is.
The waiter thought I was a man until I ordered, last. But he made up for it after that. The drinks guy did not impress me, he got my drink, a plan soda water, wrong, and then got me a caffeinated cappuccino for my dessert drink. Bah. I was bounding along after dinner.
Dinner itself was actually pretty good. I got to have a watermelon gazpacho which was this beautiful bled of savory and sweet, like any good gazpacho really should be. Cold and refreshing, with hints of celery, tomato, onion, and topped with the crisp sweetness of ripe watermelon. I loved it. No one else ordered it or thought it worth trying. John tried it, and said that he'd expected tomato, but got something very different, and different it was.
For dinner, John got the chicken cordon bleu, which was ham and cheese in chicken. I decided to try the cod with a champagne sauce, mashed, and vegetables. It was quite good with an herbal crust on top that was garlicky and good. I enjoyed that enough that I almost forgot that I was supposed to get dessert, too. I ended up with two desserts, one a rum soaked yeast cake with banana cream, canned figs, and mandarin sections. I also got a slice of key lime pie. The first was actually excellent. The second was passable, but not wonderful. The white chocolate 'fondue' which was more like a vanilla cream, was what the waiter recommended, but wasn't that good.
He was a pretty okay waiter. He was Sathish, from India, and his sense of humor was just enough off from ours to make things just a bit more embarrassing. Ah well.
After dinner we all signed up for the sailing and snorkeling adventure. This was after deciding that we really wanted the kayaking adventure, but finding that it was full up. Ray doesn't favor water sports, but he was willing to give it a try. I was more comfortable knowing that there would be instructors, equipment, and folks in the water with us to make sure that we'd be comfortable.
After that we went to our staterooms, got our life jackets and hit our muster stations. It was the mandatory lifeboat drill, and we got there early and I was glad because we could lean against the wall while they packed us all in like sardines. It was close, uncomfortable, hot, and humid as anything, especially with all the people there. We got recorded when we got down there, and after they made sure that all the kids were tagged (turns out that their policy is that all kids under 12 have to wear a wristband all the time), they started calling out stateroom numbers. The general rule was that until EVERYONE was accounted for, no one could leave. So they went through it twice, and got everyone, finally. Sometimes it was just people who were already there that just didn't know their numbers, yet.
That was pretty interesting.
From there, everyone headed for the pool deck and the big "Farewell to San Juan" party. It wasn't until the lights started shifting through the people across from the ship to our side that I finally got, viscerally, that we weren't just on some hotel with cool exteriors and great views. It was a ship. It as *moving*. From the 12th deck/floor, John and I raced to the bow to look. And we found that there were stairs down that led to a deck that oversaw a huge Heliopad that was filled with people!
John and I spent the next half an hour trying to find a good way out to the Heliopad, and finally had to ask at Guest Relations. Turns out that you have to go outside on the sides of deck 5, go forwards, then up some stairs that take you nearly to deck 7, before it's the heliopad. We met a bunch of people coming out as we headed in, and when we got out there, a lady was closing it up. A good thing, too, as the wind was a body punch as we headed up the stairs out there. The wind was just whipping. So John and I looked out the ports, and then found a place to sit down and talk for a bit.
I came back to the room to write and think and probably sleep. John went to see who was where around the ship and explore a bit. He isn't quite as tired as I am. I am glad of that. He did, however, come back before I was done writing and has been good enough to order me a hot chocolate I really wanted but didn't bother getting from one of the open cafes before I got here. I have a feeling I'm going to regret that when I find out how much it's going to be. It may well be no charge, but we'll see.
It's strange to be underway, to feel the ship rocking under me.
I miss Jet. I won't call, though, as I don't really miss just hearing about him or whatever. I miss *him*. There was a two-year-old on the Bacardi tour, and he held people's hands and walked down the stairs just like Jet. He smiled at people, hid from people, and did all kinds of babble that made me grin. Ah well.
Mmm... hot chocolate. I needed the warmth as the cabin is pretty cold. There was no extra charge on the chocolate, but we tipped the bringer anyway. The cabin is small and John's afraid of the heat getting turned on, but we have it right in the 'center' of the heating options. We're watching Ocean's Eleven, and it's pretty cool. Nice to be able to watch non-kid stuff on the TV and I've been wanting to watch this movie for quite some time