San Juan, Puerto Rico

I left Mayaguez the morning before I was scheduled to fly out of San Juan and was excited to see some place that was more alive.  The clerk at the Colonial Inn scheduled a van to pick me up at around 11:00.  The van was almost on time and I jumped in with a few college aged kids.  I thought it was going to be a relaxing ride, but the van kept stopping and people kept getting in until we were all right on top of one another.  And this was going to be about a 4 hour ride.  I lucked out and got to sit next to a reasonably cute chick with her probably 2 year old son.  She obviously didn’t speak a lick of English but the kid kept me entertained.  The guy on the other side of me spoke English and turned out to be a nice guy after he his chip off his shoulder.

There was a stop at a little restaurant about an hour into the trip which explained why google maps had been so far off what I had been told for the length of the trip.  I ate a chicken sandwich and we were on our way.  The rest stop was nice, but I again got the “I don’t want to speak English look.”  The view of Puerto Rico was amazing on this ride and I just wanted to get out and get lost in the mountains.  I wondered how a town as miserable as Mayaguez could be nestled in such a beautiful area.

As we began to near San Juan it became abundantly clear that I was going to be getting a huge gringo tax added on this trip.  People started asking the driver how much the trip cost and after giving me a solid look in the mirror, he went out of his way to avoid answering them until he was outside the van and out of my view.  He also had no idea where my hotel was, so I told him I thought it was near the airport.  I was going to show him on the map, but he seemed happy with that answer until we got to the airport.  His idea and mine weren’t apparently in the same ballpark so I got out, he charged me 40 or 50 bucks, and I caught a cab.

San Juan skyline from The Gringo on Vimeo.

San Juan looked like it was going to be a vast improvement over Mayaguez as my cab took me to my hotel and I began to get excited again.  I checked into the hotel and the guy at the counter was rude.  Rude Puerto Rican, check, all systems are normal.  Got up to my room and it was really nice.  The hotel overall looked cramped, cluttered, and outdated, but the room was huge and nice.  I went to the roof top and took the video above.

Of course, this bona fide member of Fatties United (FU) was hungry.  I plugged restaurants into the map app and was completely surprised to find that only two showed up in the area.  An area as built up as this place couldn’t possibly only have two restaurants within walking distance.  Surely this place had a better internet presence than to only have two restaurants in the whole area online!

One happened to be a Shoney’s so I selected it and began walking.  It wasn’t long before I figured out what was going on.  The place was a ghost town.  Most of the tall buildings that surrounded the hotel were completely vacant of everything but graffiti and trash.  In the photos below, the decay of the place is obvious, but I couldn’t really notice in person.  The pictures I took of the empty structures were on the lost camera… Sorry!

So I was walking towards Shoney’s…  The walk was terrible.  The place was a few hundred meters away and I couldn’t get to it from where I was.  I had to walk down the road, take a sidewalk across the river with fences and guard rails stopping me from crossing the road.  Across the river there was finally a place to cross the street so that I could cross the river once more before trying to find the entrance to the gated compound that housed the restaurant.  Every step I took brought into view another great looking distant view and another realization that the last distant view had been good from afar, but far from good.  More trash and run down shacks.  Finally I made it to the restaurant.  Something told me this place was actually a Shoney’s knock off, but I don’t know for sure.  Either way, it had a half-ass buffet and a poor looking steak.  I was content.

On the walk back I skipped the sidewalks and cut through gardens, grass, and pedestrian unfriendly road to go straight back to my hotel.   There was a small bar in the hotel.  I ordered a beer and looked around.  Not a customer in sight.  The only other people I saw were the bartender and some guy sitting outside who looked more like a bum than a hotel employee.  I took my beer to my room and called it a night.  My flight out of Puerto Rico couldn’t come soon enough.

“Old San Juan!”  “Old San Juan is the place to be!”  “You have to see Old San Juan!”

Screw Old San Juan!  No place is worth another day in Puerto Rico!  If I’d wanted overpriced crap and bad attitudes I could have gone to New York City.  At least I could have spoken English there.

5 Responses to San Juan, Puerto Rico

  1. Hi again Jason. YUK, you stayed in the Condado area. I made that mistake when I went to PR in 2008. I’ve never liked San Juan, the Condado area worse than Mayaguez. Run down part of the city, abandoned buildings, graffiti everywhere, trash everywhere. Rude hotel employees? Absolutely! I am not familiar with Condado, my hubby and I were starving and ended up at a shady restaurant that was more like a bar than anything else. The food took over an hour, and we were the only clients there that night! Ahh, and one lousy drunk that got kicked out when the bar tender had enough of him. Ahh, the bar tender was also our server….yikes.

    If you want to stay at a nice hotel you have to stay at the Ritz, the Intercontinental Hotel or Sheraton next to the Convention Center. Or perhaps the hotels on the East side of the Island. Mind you I said nice hotel, not nice staff. Why does Puerto Rico have much terrible service?

  2. Puerto Ricans, in my experience, are generally friendly and helpful folks who are happy to see and interact with mainlanders. They are, after all, Americans tooand mosty have relatives here! Comparing San Juan to the rest of PR is like comparing NYC to the rest of the U.S. Condado, BTW, has been hit by monsterous hurricanes and the capital to rebuild is slow in coming. I don’t claim to be a world traveler (only 26 countries) but I think you get what you give. If you’re nice; they’re nice and if you’re an a-hole you’ll get it back. If the point of traveling is to criticize and prove the inadequacies of others in their own countries you’ll never be happy.

    • Thanks for the feedback. You’re right, the point of traveling is not to criticize others, but the point of my blog is to be honest. The great thing about a blog is that you can look through other stuff I’ve written and determine for yourself if you have similar tastes and desires. If you read beyond Puerto Rico you’d know that it was the ONLY country in Latin America I have actually been happy to leave. Most people I’ve talked to who have been there felt the same way. I too have met many great and friendly Puerto Ricans, but that isn’t the point. I am simply portraying my personal experience there and it was not a good experience.

      Best of luck in all of your travels and I hope you take the time to look at some of the other countries I’ve written about.

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