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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Last nights in San Juan

I am writing from home in Massachusetts.  It is Wednesday, exactly one week since we returned from Puerto Rico. We arrived back without incidents, although the cold was a stark contrast to the previous weeks.  We'd been delayed three days when Jet Blue cancelled our Sunday flight home due to an anticipated large snowstorm.  That didn't materialize, but I guess there was a lot of icing, and they probably would have cancelled anyway.  I was not too distraught, okay, I was really happy that we couldn't get back. Loring was really frustrated. Can't blame him, things don't get done as well, and pile up, when he's away from work.  So I felt a bit guilty having wished that we would get stranded.  I only found out  after our return home, that he wasn't frustrated at having to stay longer, only that JetBlue was really inept at handling the cancellations and rebooking. They notified us in the middle of the night, two days before the flight. He attempted to get online, unsuccessfully, at 530am, and then waited on the phone for an hour.  I was asleep and blissfully unaware of all of this. By the time he was cursing and woke me up, the soonest flights back weren't until Wednesday, five days away, and three days after we were scheduled to go home.

We located another place, in another part of San Juan, Sansource,  for two days.   I never saw enough of the city to figure out if there was any true center or downtown, or just a lot of different neighborhoods and sections. The last night we spent at the Airport Hotel for convenience, since our flight was at 6am.  Nothing special, small room with not even a chair beside the one at the small desk. Good bed.  The advertised outdoor hot tub was nowhere to be seen.  There was just a dismal looking outdoor space with some artificial grass patches. Someone told us, or maybe just guessed, that the tub had blown away in the hurricane. That's surely possible. But I think they ought to have removed it from their website and signage one and a half years later. And the price was almost as much as the marvelous Gallery Inn in Old San Juan. Loring met a man who'd been on a Sunday flight that was also delayed three days. Their group stayed at the Airport Hotel all three days.  Our little apt. may not have been up their alley, but there are myriad fancy hotels in town. They had two rooms and had spent something like $ 1800 dollars for the three days. Hard to understand.

We unfortunately had a little run in at breakfast at 5am before our 6am flight.  As we entered the room and began to serve ourselves good looking scrambled eggs,  a woman indicated that our breakfast was "over there" and pointed to another buffet table.  Our table had ham, not very good pancakes, and the most horrible looking oatmeal I'd ever seen. I love oatmeal but didn't eat and will refrain from describing what it looked like.  As we were leaving to catch our flight, we heard the staff offering just arrived guests individually made omelettes at the first buffet.  I was crestfallen and frustrated and asked why they hadn't told us that. They were defensive and rude,  and indicated that they tried to tell us but we walked away before they could. That was blatantly untrue, and to lay the blame on us was infuriating. In fact, Loring and I had entered separately, and were both told the same thing.

A couple of days ago, I got a mailing from Booking.com asking for a review. I wrote what I've written here, and then also wrote directly to the hotel saying the same thing, and that I had answered a Booking.com inquiry with the same info.  I haven't heard anything back from either, and am guessing that I won't.

Sorry to rant about a negative experience but I am good at holding a grudge.  It's a shame that our sojourn ended on a sour note.  But I must say that aside from that, it was a terrific trip.

So now, to some ending details of our last couple of days.

We wound up staying in a small apartment in another part of San Juan.  It was a kind of beach community, small houses, no hotels that we saw, and a mix of locals and tourist beachgoers. The place was a bit cramped. There were six beds in two bedrooms, so more than enough sleeping room for us. But the living/kitchen space was tiny, with one small sofa and a little breakfast table with two chairs. Hardly room for the two of us, and it's hard to imagine how any more folks could hang out there.  There was no outdoor space to hang out in, just a small alley way thru which one entered.
The good part was that it was a  couple of blocks from a beautiful beach, and a couple in the other direction to a street with numerous restaurants and bars.  One place had the Patriot's game on, and a large crowd and a couple of bouncers.  The patrons seemed to be Pat's fans. We ate at a small quiet, family run restaurant across the street. I had a crab stew, delicious.

Our first day there was Sunday. There were numerous kite surfers at the beach, fun to watch. The next day there weren't any at all.  The beach was quite nice, and the waves were pretty gentle, my kind of place.  Although I still get nervous whenever one washes over me.

On Tuesday, we packed up and went off, luggage in hand,  to a manatee rescue center located on the campus of a university.  They had several rescued manatees, huge but still juveniles. Two were hopefully going to be returned to the ocean when they were big and strong enough. One was blind and would be kept there for life. Another had been hit by a boat.   There was also a rescued pelican and a couple of turtles.  Our tour guide, Marina, was a riot, full of jokes and silly references.  She referred to "the director" multiple times, and later introduced us. Turns out he is her father. When I asked how long she'd been working there, she said "since birth."  She's now nineteen and a college student.

We weren't allowed to touch the animals, a good thing, although tempting. And the caretakers
touch them as little as possible, not wanting them to be any more accustomed to humans than necessary. But we did get to feed them. First we cut up huge amounts of cabbage, watermelon, squash, and a number of other fruits and veggies, and put them in large plastic containers.  The pieces had to be a certain size, smaller or larger and the animals wouldn't have eaten them. The neatest and weirdest part of all was how we did the lettuce. The center had designed and made some metal holders. We slammed down numerous heads of lettuce onto the skewered contraption, maybe seven or eight heads. Each contraption had two skewers.   Then we dumped the bins and threw the skewered lettuces into the manatee's pools. The manatees immediately came up to feed.  But they didn't consume all of it at once. So the pools were left with lots of floating produce, kind of an odd sight.

We were allowed to take photos in the indoor space, but not in the area where the animals live. Not sure why. But Marina took tons of photos, in fact made us pose for them repeatedly. She promised to send us the photos soon. They gave us certificates indicating that we had been Manatee Caretakers for a Day!  and will be sending us T shirts as soon as their new order comes in  .All in all a fun experience, if a bit pricey. It was $75 for a two and a half hour tour.  But the money all goes to maintaining the center.

Aside from the misadventure with the buffet, and the frustration of dealing with JetBlue, it was a pretty perfect trip. The only thing that might have made it better would have been if I'd been able to snag a couple of tickets to Hamilton!

For those who don't know, Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator of the ridiculously popular Broadway play, was recreating his role in the original production in San Juan, right when we were there, for a couple of weeks.  As with every production, seats were almost impossible to get. I tried, several times, when they were first released.  I was online shortly after the release, put on a wait for 15 minutes, then informed that the seats were all gone. I asked our hosts- to- be in Patillas if they could try to obtain tix for us and them. Turns out that the seats for locals, although only ten dollars, were equally hard to get, by lottery each day. And I entered a Jet Blue contest, where one winner per day was chosen for a prize that included plane fare and one night's stay in a hotel. we could have bought$5000 packages that also included flights and hotel. But that seemed a little extravagant, even if the money is all supposed to go to a fund supporting arts in Puerto Rico.

But Oprah was there, and Jimmy Fallon.  ( I tried to get tix to his show there as well.)So the best I could do was to watch Fallon play a role with the cast in a production number. The guy can sing, too.
That, of course, I could have watched from home as easily.

But I am awfully glad we went, even sans Hamilton.  I originally had the idea before I knew about the Hamilton production.  Prompted, in part, by wondering what Puerto Rico was like, and how well it had recovered from the devastation of the hurricane, a year and a half before. And the answer is that it is largely  but not completely recovered. But things are open and the economy can sure use the support of more tourists, whom they are trying hard to woo back.


Well, that's all I can think of now. So I will end here, finishing up the saga of yet another adventure.

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