Flat Tire Fixing Freak

Lug nuts to car jacks, I got it down!

lefty, loosy
Off with the nuts!
When you think of Puerto Rico, do you think of flat car tires? I didn’t think so, but so far today, I think I should have.

Out for my morning run around Old San Juan, what do I find at Paseo la Princesa but a tourist with a flat car tire? Worse, one who seems not to have a clue how to change it.

While he is on the phone telling the car rental agency he’s missing the tire iron, I reach into his trunk and find it instantly. Then, as he’s jacking up the car after I loosened the lug nuts, the car rolls back on the jack. Tourist-boy hadn’t put on the parking brake.

While he watched, I changed his tire, saving him the grease and perspiration that soon covered me. Not that I minded. I was out for a run to begin with and being car-free DC, its fun to do car maintenance once a year.

Car tire replaced, and the little emergency tire holding up, off the random tourist drove leaving me to think that was the end to my annual car fixing moment.

Then Mom and I decided on the Bacardi rum tour. On the way there, our Puerto Rican publico (a shared taxi that’s much cheaper than a San Juan Taxi Mafia) started making funny noises. As we pulled over, the stink of rubbed-away rubber confirmed my suspicions: it was another flat tire fixing call to action.

Out of the van I jumped, and off it the flat tire I took. Not wanting to melt into a pool of sweat before my waiting afternoon drink, I let the capable driver put on the new tire while I retired to the shade to watch.

Now that this day has passed, I have only one wonder: How many flat tires await me in my Puerto Rican vacation future?


A Bummer of a Bacardi Tour

Skip the commerial, just head to a bar.

the good life
Casa de Commerical
Reading up for our Puerto Rican vacation, one place Mom and I agreed on going first was the Bacardi Rum factory tour. Not for the free booze mind you, though that was not an insignificant allure, but to learn the history of rum and the process by which its made.

Today, we made the trek to the factory, starting with a catamaran ferry ride across San Juan harbour and including the now customary flat tire change. Once at the factory, we enjoyed a free rum drink while awaiting the tour, introducing Mom to tasty mojitos.

Then the tour began and the day went all pear-shaped. First up was a 50 meter bus ride to the “museum” where we were given malfunctioning audio handsets while waiting in a nearly empty room. Then there was a short film, or really long Bacardi rum commercial – I couldn’t really tell which.

Next up was a room where you could ogle more Bacardi memorabilia and listen to short videos on different rum distillation processes. From those moments of history, I learned that Bacardi uses a proprietary process and their own special strain of fermenting yeast to make their signature rum. I also learned to fast-forward through the multiple marketing images blasted at every opportunity.

We then went into a mock bar and had a quite lame three-minute lesson on how daiquiris and mojitos are mixed before boarding the bus again. Here I was hoping for an actual factory tour, like at the Ben & Jerry’s factory or almost any brewery, where we could see the distillation process up close and personal.

No such luck. It was back to the pagoda-bar for the bus, for another free drink after we quickly exited the drop off point, the gift shop, empty-handed. Overall, it was a bummer of a Bacardi tour, not worth the effort to get there, not worth the two free drinks once there, and definitely not worth the attempted walk to Isla de Cabras after we left there.


An Intergalactic Busy Signal

What is your message for Veger?

How I talk with aliens
My techo-helmet
Driving the twisting back roads of Puerto Rico towards the famous Observatorio de Arecibo radio antenna, the world’s largest radio/radar transceiver antenna, I couldn’t help but to have flashbacks to the movie Contact. Specifically the scenes where it was shrouded in tropical rains, a hidden techno-wonder, that suggested man’s mastery of radio waves, of physics itself.

Arriving at the visitors’ center, I was greatly disappointed to realize that Warner Brother’s post-film largess was spent on a museum that not only didn’t mention much of Arecibo’s successes or technology, it didn’t even have convenient access to view the actual antenna.

To see the antenna at work, to fully realize its size, and to be in awe of its workings, you’ll have to ask a visitor’s center docent for directions. She’ll then point you down a bland hallway, where at the end will be a door looking suspiciously like an alarmed fire escape exit.

Pushing through the door, you’ll come out onto a viewing platform where Arecibo’s technological and engineering might will strike you silent in awe.

There, suspended over a perfectly spherical aluminum mesh dish will be several tons of working radio and radar antennae. Technology that allows scientists to discover Nobel Prize winning celestial details.

And what might you hear, standing on that platform? What might we be sending into the cosmos at almost the speed of light?

“BEEEEEEEEP”

“BEEEEEEEEP”

“BEEEEEEEEP”

Yep, an intergalactic busy signal. An audible tone that made me wonder when the helpful voice would come on and say “The number you have dialed for Andromeda is currently unavailable. If you’d like to make another call to extraterrestrials, please hang up and try again. Thank you for using Crab Nebula Telecom.”


Old San Juan Taxi Mafia

It’s worse than DC, and that’s saying something

fun times
An arm and a leg per ride
How much do you think it is for a taxi in Old San Juan. How much might it be to go the two miles from Plaza de Armas to Puerta de la Tierra? According to the door of a Puerto Rican taxi it is $1.75 for the first mile, $2 per mile there after. But then you didn’t ask the driver.

According to the San Juan Taxi Mafia, any ride in Old San Juan, no matter the distance, is $10 at flagfall, increasing if you bring along luggage, no matter if the driver touches it or not.

To leave Old San Juan for any other destination in San Juan City, its $15 with the price jumping in $5 increments as you pass invisible zone boundaries. That means a trip to a center-city museum or a cool guayabera store is around $20 each way just for transportation.

While your wallet is smarting from the ridiculously overpriced short rides around San Juan, and you’re feeling trapped in your hotel room as a result, here’s small counterbalance: longer rides are somewhat more cost-effective.

A taxi ride across the island, say from San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport to Fajardo, the eastern seaboard port of departure for Vieques, is only $80, which you can share with as many people you can fit into the passenger van.


Puerto Rican Gold

At the end of a tropical rainbow

the good life
Mom caught her gold
What might you say to a sunny day in December? A sunny day you spend relaxing on a beautiful beach? A beach, warm, sunny, tropical, which is also still America? You might say “Florida” or “Hawaii” but would you say “Puerto Rico”?

I know I am saying “Puerto Rico” right about now. It’s the start of my Christmas vacation and I’m on Puerta de Tierra, a beautiful beach in Old San Juan the same afternoon I left cold, wet Washington DC.

Better yet, Mom is headed this way too. She’s joining me for two weeks of fun, sand, and sun on this interesting “Free Associated State”. Yes, Puerto Rico is part of the United Sates, everyone is a citizen and you do not need a passport. But like Washington DC, they do not have voting representation in Congress.

They cannot vote for Presidents either, but at least they do not have to pay US income taxes. Mom and I are voting with our feet and our wallets. Out go the crisp greenbacks, in come rum, wine and a good time.

Now there is still work involved. I’m concentrating on regaining my deep summer tan, a quest that requires much beach lounging and body-trimming morning runs. Mom is focused on learning her history, seeing the sights, and catching up on her chick-lit.

Together, it’s going to be two weeks of Puerto Rican gold. May your vacations be as rich too.