Tuesday, January 3, 2017: Rincón and San Juan, Puerto Rico
The last day of a wondeful trip to Puerto Rico spanned Rincón and Santurce, San Juan’s trendy artistic enclave. I did yoga poses, including the “downward-facing dude,” on the beach, drove a bunch, traded a very personal, generous gift for two probably mediocre books, and visited a coffee shop with a funny, questionably seasonal password. Below is a guide to escaping San Juan and to some good places in Santurce and Rincón.
Summary of the Below Verbosity
Getting There and Getting Around
- Parking in Santurce: Park wherever you can find a spot on the street. There aren’t too many lots or garages. Some restaurants valet, but you (of course) must be a patron
- Leaving San Juan Airport: Note that the Jet Blue gates are technically in a separate concourse, and if you’re trying to find the Jet Blue kiosks, they’re also in a different part of the airport. You could spend humiliating hours frantically searching for Jet Blue’s setup in the arrivals hall with all of the other airlines to no avail. You can get to Jet Blue gates by entering the main security, but only if you don’t need counter service. Note also that, technically, anyone going to the continental US needs a USDA-approved sticker on any bag. The USDA affixes these stickers to the bags after the bags have run through a large conveyor belt in the arrivals hall – I found one between the main airlines and Jet Blue. You very easily can get in line for security without running your bag through that belt, so I’m unclear on whether the mandate is at all enforced
- Santurce: Fodor’s has a pretty good guide to San Juan’s “Hipster Haven,” which by virtue of Fodor’s publishing a pretty good guide to it may now be disqualified as a hipster haven. But there are still rundown buildings mixed in with art galleries mixed in with street food and good coffee shops, so it’s hipster enough for me
- Double Cake: This small coffee/cupcake shop in Santurce has reasonably priced coffee, plenty of space to work, and very tasty cupcakes. The cupcakes are the perfect size – hefty, but not too enormous for someone to lodge a full vertical bite with a normal-sized mouth. The French toast cupcake specifically I found unique and delicious. When I visited, the place was never too crowded or noisy and the wifi was strong
- Libros Libres: A give-one-take-one outdoor book exchange right on Calle Loíza in Santurce with an eclectic selection of selections stacked vertically, horizontally, and diagonally on rickety shelves and in milk crates. I picked up The Spymaster by Donald Freed, the cover of which for this edition purports to be “The Espionage Novel to End All Espionage Novels,” which I certainly hope isn’t true because I really like espionage novels. I am slightly comforted by the book’s published date in 1980, as I definitely have seen and even read spy books published since then. I also grabbed The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier, which according to the cover also wrote Girl with a Pearl Earring, which seems to follow the same titular formula as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which is a dope book. I doubt Girl with a Pearl Earring is as good but who knows
- Tresbé: This food stand sits on a wooden deck at Calles Loíza and Las Palmas. Customers sit outside in the shade or the sun and can choose between quieter, more removed spots or perches overlooking Calle Loíza. Street food from a counter though it may be, I would not recommend coming here if you are in any sort of hurry – at the counter you are told to take your seat and assigned a server, who does not rush to bring anything to you. That said, I would put Tresbé’s slow-moving service more in the “that’s part of the experience” category of slow-moving restaurants than the other (negative) bucket. All the food on the the brief menu was good: tacos, wings, Caribbean cherry juice, etc.
- Sandy Beach: One of Rincón’s many beautiful beaches, this one is a little out of the way. You’ll find a few surfers there, and the area just off the beach houses a restaurant, a yoga studio, and a set of massage tents
- Ocean Park Beach: A wide, open beach, lined by palm trees and flanked by large beachfront hotels and the like, with great views out to sea. It borders Santurce, and sits between the Condado and Isla Verde beaches. It can be reached easily from Santurce, though the fences and properties bordering the beach can make the short walk tricky. I arrived from the main Calle Loíza drag by walking north on Calle Cordero and then getting over onto Atlantic Place to continue north to the beach. There is a small pathway between buildings at the end of Atlantic Place
- Barefoot Yoga Bodega: A yoga studio in the parking lot at Sandy Beach in Puntas. Classes are taught in a serene alcove brightened by sun filtering through a light canopy of trees. The establishment’s only physical structure is a small trailer next to the practice area. Classes are laid back and eccentric
Notes and Photos
We began Tuesday rushing to relax, as it were. We thought it would be cool to do some yoga at this beachside studio for which Chantel had seen a flier, but first we had to pack. The rules had us out of the spectacular AirBnb by 10, and yoga started at nine. The previous night had seemed too indefectible to waste packing, so we had procrastinated.
With the car haphazardly stuffed with stuff, we careened along the same roads along which we’d spent the previous three days careening. Our destination was a beach we hadn’t previously visited, and it was located on a gravel road at the bottom of a steep hill off of a sharp turn. The gravel road had a parking lot, peacefully shaded by trees and bordered by a restaurant and a trailer on the sides that weren’t the road and the beach. The trailer housed the yoga operation.
My occasional dabbling in workout classes in Chicago and other busy metropolises suggests that they are tightly scheduled, jammed into small time slots to give busy professionals doubling as catered exercise lesson connoisseurs exactly the amount of rigorous cardio they need to feel like they earned whatever snack they pick up after and to feel like the $30 fee was justified. If you show up late, you’re disrupting class, subtracting from everyone else’s finely focused experience, and at the least guarantee that the $30 aren’t worth it. The class has moved on without you, and if you aren’t already an expert you’ve missed whatever opening explanations would allow you to participate. The instructor lacks the time and desire to fill you in.
I was thus doubly surprised when we checked in at the Barefoot Yoga Bodega trailer fifteen minutes late, paid, grabbed mats, and hustled over to the lot behind the trailer to find a long-haired middle-aged guy kneeling in front of a jam-packed class still verbally preparing his pupils for a session that had yet to begin. He was elucidating what you might describe as a guiding philosophy for his class, which proceeded (paraphrased) like so:
- You can apply these techniques when you are out on your board and just trying to balance or trying to summon warmth when the water is cold
- Put x bodypart in y place. Or don’t, whatever feels good
- Let’s do a shavasana now. An asana is, like, any position you put your body in (turns out this definition is more-or-less correct)
- “Now let’s move into downward-facing dude, I mean, dog” (not paraphrased)
Various catchphrases and idiosyncracies fueled a meandering and surprisngly informative journey through philosophy, phyiscs, metaphysics, surfing, anatomy, and other disciplines that in turn guided a worthwhile yoga session.
I ended the class the way you’re not supposed to end a yoga class: popping a headphone in each ear and getting on a call. As I started the car, Chantel became ensnared in conversation with another typically atypical Rincón transplant: A perfectly tanned and possibily oiled older man with greasy long hair who worked in his previous life as a trainer for various major-sport West Coast professional sports franchises and now owns the yoga bodega’s neighbor business, a series of three or so tents that comprise a beachfront massage studio. He offered a stream of advice about what’s good in the area, we’re actually leaving for San Juan right now, got it, you should try this scenic route back to San Juan (which did sound pretty nice – down south past Ponce and up 52 through the mountains), when my wife and I first moved here we, etc. Once he departed for his tents, we stopped to say goodbye wistfully to the beach (pictured above) and headed to San Juan. Chantel drove and generously lent me her wifi hotspot (I can’t extol enough the virtues of AT&T over Verizon in Puerto Rico); I worked.
We arrived in San Juan several hours later, and settled on hipsterish Santurce to finish out the trip. A few steps into our stay there, we encountered the Libros Libres book exchange on Calle Loíza.
I love book-shopping, and am fairly new to the world of give-one-take-one book exchanges, so I still find them enrapturing. I will be honest: I was not prepared to part with any of the books I had brought with me to Puerto Rico, but I wanted to get my hands on some books from the exchange (again, the paralyzing fear of not experiencing something interesting on vacation), so I only had two options: the Vieques AirBnb host’s books she bequeathed me out of the nothing but goodness of her heart and possibly a desire for self-promotion and/or because she had too many of them printed and there weren’t going to be any more sales. I felt a little guilty about trading in her books, before I’d even read them, to get other books, but I will rationalize my callousness by saying that a Puerto Rican life coach will get more usable literary publicity on a sidewalk in San Juan than in my bookcase in Chicago. Maybe I will buy her books on the internet to make up for it.
After book-shopping, we grabbed a bite to eat at Tresbé, which was tasty, and I migrated to Double Cake, a small, tidy coffee and cupcake shop on Calle Loíza. The cashier gave me the wifi name and password: “hohohoho,” all lower case. I must have looked at him questioningly. “Four hos are better than two,” he explained. I offered no argument.
While I worked, a girl came in and ordered. I didn’t hear her question, or his response, but I inferred them when she said to him, “It’s a short password and weird but okay.” Right she was.
I finished up work for the day and cut down to the beach to take in what I was leaving. Santurce runs along beautiful Ocean Park Beach and near Condado as well. Here the sky feels vast, the beach endless, and the charming clutter of Old San Juan and the surrounding highways a world away.
They aren’t actually far, though. Chantel picked me up and we went to the airport. I got lost on the way to the Jet Blue gates, stumbled onto the USDA sticker distributors, bumbled through security, got a more intimate patdown than I would have liked, and slumped into a chair at the gate. I was leaving Puerto Rico, again. My fingers clattered away on the keyboard as I prepared for the week ahead and staved off thoughts of just staying here in this paradise.
I flew home.