With the chores out of the way, we can have some fun. Top of the must do list: Food Tour in Old San Juan! We always learn some good history and interesting architectural information on the food tours we do. The Old San Juan Food Tour was no exception. For instance, we learned that Puerto Rico was Spanish held and, unsurprisingly, the indigenous people were decimated by European disease and persecution. San Juan has a large fort at one end (El Morro, pictured top of page) and a small fort at the other and the walls connecting the forts surrounded the city.
El Morro was originally planned to be built at La Fortaresa, where the governor’s mansion is now. The problem with the location was that it was too far from the entrance to the port and by the time they became aware that they were being invaded, the ships would be well inside the port. Puerto Rico (the modern name of the island) translates to Rich Port and other countries desired to conquer it for this reason. It was in a key position on the trade route with a beautiful and protected natural deep-water port. One battle that stands out in history was when the Dutch tried to conquer it. But the fort and its walls held strong and the Dutch were decimated with huge numbers of casualties. Around 100 years ago, Puerto Rico made the decision to dismantle part of the fort walls in order to give the city better access to the port.
Three years later, the Americans invaded… successfully. And Puerto Rico came under U.S. rule. For over 100 years the island has been trying to adjust to being American instead of Spanish and it is still a strange mish-mash of politics and culture. The population is still Spanish speaking, but English is being rolled into the education system. The US had always assigned a governor to represent the interests of Puerto Rico within the US government, but this representative didn’t speak Spanish nor understand the inner-workings of the island.
Puerto Rico fought for the right to appoint its own governor, which was eventually granted, but now everyone we speak with complains about the corruption of the Puerto Rican government. Puerto Ricans can vote in the primary, but cannot vote in the presidential election. We learned a lot more that I won’t bore you with, but Dave and I were thoroughly charmed by Old San Juan and dearly hope they get it all figured out someday without the loss of their culture.
Well, maybe I’ll throw one more at you and try to be shorter about it. The Cristo chapel museum, pictured above, was once a working chapel. People would bring silver charms shaped to the parts of their bodies that ailed them. They would pray for healing and leave the charm.
Over time, the charms were quite numerous and the chapel melted down the oldest and used the silver to make a beautiful silver alter. Now a museum, several more charms are on display. Horse races were held on the street the chapel now faces. One horse was unable to stop and plunged over the wall and into the sea. People prayed for the rider, who incredibly survived the fall. Folklore states that the Cristo chapel was built to celebrate this miracle.
This apartment held the record for being the narrowest building. It was originally an alley between buildings that was built into an enclosed servants’ quarters five feet wide by 36 feet long. The apartment has since been uprooted as the narrowest building and there are several others such as the one we saw on the West Village Food Tour in New York.
Funny, I didn’t take pictures of any of the foods on the tour, though they were all very delicious. We sampled mofongo, rice and beans, Mallorca sandwiches, pina coladas, local chocolate, guava paste and cheese, fruit popsicle thingies, and probably more I am forgetting. But I did take pictures of some of the art, including this strange penguin boat (above) and a giraffe cat.
Oh, Dave did snap this shot of me making mofongo. Dave and I adored Old San Juan, which was clean, beautiful, and steeped in history. We highly recommend this tour for anyone visiting the old city.
Plantains are a staple on the island and travel by the truckload. Green plantains are not sweet and are used in mofongo and tostones. We were told mofongo is health food because it is only fried once (then butter and garlic are added and mashed up). Tostones are unhealthy because they are fried twice (sliced plantains fried, mashed, formed into patties, and fried again).
When choosing a place to fill up the car in preparation for our visits to El Yunque National Forest and Sandra Farms Coffee Plantation, we might choose to get Doggie Gas. But we just couldn’t do it. I kept picturing someone going around collecting doggie farts. Reminds me of Cheech following around the labrador. Pass.