In this post: coffee, beer, and shopping on the island of enchantment.
My first outing while in Puerto Rico was for shopping; there is a new super Walmart in Toa Baja that is all the rage with the locals of the several Toa somethings and other neighboring towns; to that place my brother drove me when I asked to do some light shopping. What a mistake! I went in for a bag of bread and a few household items that were in short supply at home; three hours after I was panicking in the arts and craft aisle trying to figure out how I was going to fit all those cheap art supplies and the other random stuff I had grabbed in my luggagge. Which ones to take? Why was there everything and anything I could ever want? And so cheap! And then my phone rang and my brother asked if I had somehow hitchhiked home and left him alone in the store because he had been looking for me for the last twenty minutes. We managed to make it out of there alive and not broke. There is something that my family and friends in Puerto Rico had yet to understand: no matter how much the local sale tax raises the price of things in the island, almost everything will always be at least 25% cheaper than in Qatar—sometimes much more than that if you count sales—and that is always a good excuse for shopping. I am not proud of it and must plead temporary insanity due to good deals’ deprivation while abroad, for my unintended shopping spree.
There were other shopping adventures but let’s move on and talk about something that we can all agree on: Puerto Rican coffee is awesome.—Ok, there is the remote possibility that I am exaggerating on this one; however, if you had tried it, then there is a good chance that you’d agree with me.
I find the everyday local brew nice but every time I am here, my family tries to impress me with some artisanal roast or other. A couple of years ago, at the instigation of my dad, we made a tasting trip to El Museo del Café in the north central town of Ciales. We were hooked. Naturally, the first thing that AwHus asked for when he came out of the plane was “Café don Pello” del pueblito de Ciales [donde se rumora que] hay una piedra bendita, que la vieja que se sienta amanece jovencita, citing the song that I taught him a while ago.—In the little town of Ciales there is a blessed stone, whichever old lady that sits on it will become a young lass by dawn.—I haven’t been able to find the stone yet, but the coffee is excellent. They roast it and grind it on site and the aroma, wafting over the greenery and karst mountains, is simply amazing, and AwHus wanted to impress his friends at work with a sample of the smooth, rich brew.
But first we had to get there which was fairly easy; trough the highway into an exit across the town of Manatí, from which a good road led us straight into Ciales trough hills and green, open vistas. It had been there more than a year since the first time we went, AwHus was driving and I alternating between navigation and chatting with my dad, who was on the back sit. And then we arrived at a traffic light just at the entrance of Ciales. While we were waiting for the light to change my dad was praising me for having a good memory on directions, AwHus joined him in the complements, I boasted, and we passed the light as we chatted drove up into town and still chatting I misdirected AwHus into a one way street. Against traffic.
Fortunately, I realized it immediately and asked him to stop and to start backing up carefully into the main road. Unfortunately, a police car coming from the right direction saw us and parked a few feet behind us, effectively cutting off our escape route. The three of us just sat there, mortified and waiting for the inevitable ticket that was surely now being prepared and the full impact of the embarrassment that we were already feeling, when my dad took off his seat belt and told us just to wait there. AwHus asked what the intended to do, I said “Don’t worry, let him do his thing.” Less than five minutes after my dad came back to the car smiling, he had told the policeman that we were looking for el café de don Peyo and were lost. The policeman replied that what we were actually looking at was Museum of Coffee and to follow him for he would lead us there. And that he did, very kindly and politely, to our wonderingly-amused gratitude.
We had our coffee, our cakes, and but we had already visited the museum in 2017 and so did not do a second tour but we hung around the terrace, talked about random happy things, and I took a whole bunch of pictures, among those, the karst tall hills in which the town of Ciales is nestled, and a perfectly fruiting coffee shrub that just happened to be right behind our table. They have a small museum, a tiny petting zoo—where I took the picture of a golden pheasant, and the video of a dwarf goat frolicking (Available on my Facebook page).— While I was admiring the bird and composing my picture, a couple walked up to me and asked what kind of bird it was, I answered golden pheasant, they looked at the bird for a few seconds, took a few pictures with their mobile, and then the woman commented “How cute! It has the same hairdo as Trump.”
Many things happened in between that but I am going to fast forward to my last week of stay in Puerto Rico to talk about a different kind of drink, beer. We are not know by our beers, in fact, we have only one mass produced and consumed in every bar and chinchorro between San Juan and Isla de Mona, that being Medalla. Or so I thought. At a late lunch with one of my brothers I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the fashion of producing local craft beers had arrived in Puerto Rico: behold Ocean Lab Brewery‘s Mambo with passion fruit aroma. It was amazing, so amazing that my brother took me beer hunting so that we could sample the other types of beer from the same brewery.
In the first place we stopped they had run out of them, but we were not going to give up. Actually, I was going to give up but my brother understood the foolishness of my ways and encouraged me to persist on the hunt. We arrived in this gas station in Toa Baja were we found the object of our quest, all fresh and ready to drink in the big wall fridge of the mini mart. There was only one problem however, every time I reached for the handle of the fridge to take a beer, a shrill, alarm-like sound will come from it. Once, twice, three times, until I was exclaiming in frustration “What the hell! Do they have booze alarms in Puerto Rico now?” “It’s so you can open the door,” the guy next to me said and smiled. And then I had to laugh. You see, after midnight in that particular township liquor sales are forbidden and they enforce the law by keeping the doors of the cooler locked, and the sound was because every time the cashier saw me reaching for the door, she pressed a button so I would be able to open the cooler. One learns something new every day.
Anyway, I did succeed in getting my beers, a light, sparkling brew to be drank icy cold, perfect for the Caribbean summer. It’s a pity that I cannot bring a six-pack or two into Qatar, as it is forbidden to bring alcohol there. Non alcoholic items are allowed though, and I sent AwHus home with several pounds of freshly ground coffee, a memory of a mountain town, and the fragrance of a local song tightly sealed in golden coffee pouches.
That is all for now. In part III, I will tell you what I enjoyed the most of all the good things I ate. Because there is food, and then THERE IS FOOD IN PUERTO RICO.