Dona Rellena de Queso

Monday, May 30, 2016: Loíza, Puerto Rico

After a weekend cheering on fast cars at the Indy 500, I flew to Puerto Rico to cheer on the Pittsburgh Pirates. The games were cancelled, which freed up extra time to explore the island. I didn’t do much the first day: My friends picked me up at the airport, we bought groceries at Walmart and ate Burger King, and we watched the Penguins and Pirates on someone’s laptop.

Summary of the Below Verbosity

Getting There and Getting Around
  • San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport: Has direct flights to/from plenty of major cities; I flew American from Indianapolis via Charlotte. JetBlue is your best bet for cheaper options, especially if you’re coming from New York or Chicago
  • Rental Car: The major rental agencies all have San Juan airport locations, and I’ve heard the service is better than local companies. Definitely rent a car. If you want to stay at your resort for your entire visit, or have a place right in the heart of Old San Juan, maybe you can get by with taxis, but if you want to check out some other beaches, go kayaking, see El Yunque, etc., you’ll need a car
Lodging
  • Aquatika Vacation Rentals: It’s telling that this complex’s Reviews page simply reads, “Coming Soon!” Don’t stay here. From what I can tell, the complex is made up of vacation rentals and places owned by Puerto Ricans – it’s not a tourist destination – but you’ll find spots popping up on AirBnb and VRBO. They may even be billed as being in the San Juan area, but they’re not really. Throughout the week, we consistenly faced forty-five minute plus drives just to go out in San Juan.The complex is nice enough if you really just want to sit by the pool, but the beachfront access is small, unimpressive, and accessible via usually locked gate. El Yunque and the Luquillo beach and kiosks aren’t too far away, but there are no restaurants, bars, stores, or even gas stations within a short drive of Aquatika, and Loíza is far from anything San Juan.
Food
  • Burger King: The Puerto Rico menu is a nice mix of the familiar and some local additions. I was lured by  a roadside billboard displaying a tempting cheese-filled doughnut called the Dona Rellena de Queso. The doughnuts were okay – soft sugar-covered things – and the cheese inside was maybe what you might describe as artificial cheese. They were delicious. This place and Walmart were my first stops after being picked up at the airport, and I had all my needs met
Shopping
  • Walmart: There are a few Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs along the highway San Juan to Loiza. You can buy large quantities of food (and all other necessities) here
Notes and Photos

My plane arrived midday. On the flight, I was seated next to a mom and a daughter who were coming home from Georgia – the daughter was about to start a Master’s degree in architecture there. They gave me some good recommendations for things to do on the island and translated some of the more rapidly delivered announcements from the flight crew. I was picked up in a large white SUV and the trip began.

Loíza is not an insignificant trip from San Juan Airport, or San Juan in general, even though it’s part of the larger San Juan metropolitan statistical area. There are two main routes – south via PR-66, or along the coast via PR-187. Some friends took 187 on an earlier trip to the apartment complex, and the drive brought them past Piñones, which is a collection of food kiosks along the beach. They said it looked pretty cool, but on the second trip we had to use PR-66 to get to Walmart. Sadly, we did not return to Piñones: Most of our travel to and from San Juan was at night, and parts of Loíza are not the safest communities. The reaction from Puerto Ricans when I told them I was staying there was always a mix of wondering why I’d want to stay so far out and expressing safety concerns. Loíza has a rich history as the heart of Afro-Puerto Rican culture, but also faces endemic poverty and gun violence. It’s worth noting that I never felt unsafe there, even away from the apartment complex, but security aside, Loíza is too far away from most destinations to make a reasonable home for a quick trip to the island.

Full on Doñas Rellenas de Queso and assorted other Burger King menu items, I spent the afternoon doing a bit of work and splashing around in the pool (separately). Aquatika does have a nice lazy river type of water circulation system. (On the subject of water circulation, one of the apartment’s had a serious leak of some sort when we arrived. This problem does not necessarily reflect on Aquatika as a whole.) The evening was finished off watching Pittsburgh sports, just like we’d planned, but on a choppy stream over wifi in one apartment instead of in person amongst a spirited stadium crowd. The Pirates did beat the Marlins 10-0, and the Penguins won their Stanley Cup game.

These victories excited the boys and fueled various rambunctiousness both in- and outside of the apartment. I observed the spetacle warily and questioned whether yelling and wrestling in the pool by a group of short-term-renting outsiders would be tolerated by the complex’s regulars. I speculated that perhaps it already wasn’t. The fighting moved indoors at one point, and two combatants crashed onto a couch in the heat of battle. The couch chose not to support their weight. This breakage would result in a $1,000 fee assessed by the host and shared equally by the guests. Our stay at Aquatika was off to an auspicious start.

Aquatika.jpg
Nice enough but not worth the drive
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