Wednesday, February 24, 2010

hiking griffith park: an unrebellious cause

it rained on friday and we thought that because saturday was relatively dry, it would have been very clear on sunday. little did we know that more rain was on the way. so, on sunday, instead of the clear blue skies i have come to expect after the rain, we got dramatic views of los angeles with storm clouds hovering over the megalopolis during our hike.

we didn't want to go too far so the default hiking spot was griffith park, and particularly the trail that started right off the observatory, called the charlie turner trailhead. the trail itself was short (probably less than two miles one way) but the trail was fairly steep. we definitely got a short but good workout.

the trail led up to mt. hollywood but not the hollywood sign itself. we had views of it along the trail though.

below is a picture of mt. hollywood peak:

from the trail, we were greeted by a beautiful view of the observatory with downtown los angeles in the background.

our hike, to and from the peak, lasted one hour. it included a few stops along the way and at the top.

i always look forward to a post hike meal. and the fact that this hike itself was not grueling did not change my routine. thus, we had brunch at the larchmont bungalow.

i had a fantastic meal, which was a bit pricey at around $24 with tip. it included a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and two mini slider omelets (basically half a regular size omelet) with fruit and toast. one omelet was called the meat sensation omelet stuffed with chicken sausage, bacon and tenderloin steak. the other omelet was the seafood lover's omelet stuffed with lobster, shrimp, blue crab and spinach. one can choose other types of omelets when ordering the mini slider omelet option.

this was the seafood omelet:

this was the meat omelet:

the food was not only fresh but also generous. i waddled out of larchmont bungalow.

i suppose it was just as well that i stocked up on calories. i needed it to insulate me from future cold weather. the rain clouds above los angeles made it seem like it was going to be a cold night. or at least i would like to think so to justify all the food i ate.

Monday, February 22, 2010

puerto rico: all good things must come to an end

alas, the long weekend was over and it was time to head back home.

however, we had to have breakfast first. not far from our hotel was a diner and bakery called, la bombonera, that has been around for at least a hundred years. they served typical breakfast fare but i was there for the mallorcas.

a mallorca is basically a breakfast sandwich - i had the eggs, ham and cheese while az had he bacon and cheese - with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. who knew that sugar would work with savory food? but then again, i had to remind myself of that other favorite of mine: chicken and waffles.

because the above food was not enough (or rather, our eyes were bigger than our stomach), we also tried the below meat pie (more like pastry dough stuffed with ground beef). although it was good, the star of the show was the mallorca.

beware, la bombonera gets crowded fast. but if you get there at 7:30 am (when they open) or by 8 am, you should easily find a table.

after a heavy breakfast, we were off to the airport to head back home.

my last view of puerto rico

the puerto rico infomercials i watched in the wee hours of the night a few years back were spot on. i thoroughly enjoyed my visit. i only wished i had more time to enjoy the other parts of puerto rico.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

puerto rico: the metropolis

our last day in vieques was not terribly exciting. our landlord kicked us out early because he had new tenants coming in. that left us to ponder how we were going to get to the airport. but before we panicked, we had to have breakfast. our landlord dropped us back in isabel ii at a restaurant called mamasonga's and arranged for a cab to pick us up and drop us off at the airport.

at mamasonga's, my standard bacon and eggs were not spectacular although my home fries ought to have been crispier. same with my bacon. to be fair, az loved her french toast. it must be the bread. once they started serving lunch, i ordered a crab cake sandwich. a posting on the interwebs reviewed it as divine. it wasn't. the crab cake was mushy. Perhaps there's something wrong with the frying pan? the bread, however, was pretty darned good.

the bacon and eggs with anemic potatoes

the french toast

the crab cake sandwich

although i can't rave about the food at mamasonga's, i thought the service was most excellent. the employees, mostly expats from mid western to eastern states, i.e. where snow can shut down schools, were friendly and helpful. they called us a "publico," basically public transport, to take us to the airport after they found out that the taxi driver arranged by our landlord to pick us up couldn't pick us up. apparently, a gas shortage on the island (as in the only two gas stations on the island were closed because they ran out of gas) meant his vehicle was inoperable. i still don't understand how the gas shortage made his phone inoperable as to prevent him from letting us know that we were still waiting for him.

but i digress. mamasonga staff? great. food? not so much.

alas, our time in vieques was up. but we saw one last wildlife before we left. that lizard was HUGE!

after a twenty minute flight on another cessna, we were in san juan and jarred back into city life.

in san juan, life appeared to be like any other metropolis (complete with the traffic jam). we only had less than 24 hours to enjoy san juan so we were out and about immediately.

we stayed at a former convent converted into a funky hotel called da house in old san juan. it was close to the san cristobal fort, which was our first visit. the views were terrific.

i love these guard towers. the spanish pretty much knew how to defend its territories. i saw similar ones in the old city walls of cadiz.

old cannon balls

view of el morro and the coast from the san cristobal fort

next, we walked about a mile along the old city walls towards el morro, another fort. it was really cool at el morro. it was family day and the locals were out and about flying kites. it was a beautiful sight.

inside el morro

instead of a typical circular stairway, this was triangular

thereafter, we just walked around and saw random things:

the cathedral

the mini park in front of the cathedral

someone was getting married in front of this sculpture

sunset by el morro

san cristobal fort at night

for dinner, we went to el jibarito. it was crowded with tourists and locals alike. there was no ambiance to speak of but the food did not need any such mood enhancers. i had a special plate of roasted pork chunks and pork tamale (the orange stuff) with rice, plantains and some salad. i also had a side dish of mofongo de platano (a mashed mound of plantains).

az had some kind of pot roast and a mofongo de yucca (a mashed mound of yucca).

the food wasn't pretty. but the food was definitely tasty.

after such a filling meal, we walked around towards the pier where we found the locals just chillaxing. there was a night flea market where people sold tobacco, jewelry, crafts and food. it was such a lively scene. so az and i participated by enjoying dessert. i had a batida de papaya (papaya shake) and az had a mantecado con brownie (a brownie sundae).

we walked around some more and when we finally got our fill of the streets, we headed back to our hotel, which was right next to the nuyorican cafe. it was basically a bar with a live band playing latin jazz and salsa. it was a good band with great energy but it didn't start playing till midnight. i think i am getting too old because i was tempted to just go to sleep without seeing the band play.

i may have been too old to stay up till the wee hours but i was young enough to appreciate that i had an enjoyable day. puerto rico may have beautiful beaches but the culture, art, food and history were definitely engaging.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

puerto rico: no beaches allowed

after a heavy night of partying (*cough* *sarcasm* *cough*), az and i were set to explore the north side of vieques. avoiding barrio esperanza, we decided to find breakfast in barrio isabel ii, also known as the vieques capital. it was no bustling metropolis but it had more than one "main road."

have i already mentioned that the island has only two gas stations (a block from each other) and one supermarket - all in isabel segunda?

breakfast was at the la viequense panaderia whereby i demolished a pressed sandwich with ham and cheese. the bread was actually quite good. not very doughy with a crunchy crust. a little bit of sweetness too. i'm still kicking myself for not taking a picture.

once sated, we were ready to explore. we wanted to visit green beach on the western tip of the island on the atlantic side. while the main highways were paved, most of the roads headed for the beaches were not. getting to green beach was no exception. however, we were dismayed that somewhere along the way, the road was closed. the us navy used to do a lot of testing in vieques but now, a lot of the land is restricted as a wildlife refuge and managed by the fish and game department. which is just as well. the island is lush. however, we only wished fish and game warned us of such closure before we drove all the way there via rough roads.

not to be deterred from enjoying the atlantic side beaches, once back on the main highway (which meant paved but not necessarily always wide enough to comfortably fit two vehicles coming from opposite directions), we just stopped on some random beach. but before i show a picture of a random atlantic side beach, here's a picture of a typical paved road:

the water on the atlantic side was noticeably colder. we were told by expats that the atlantic side was also generally rougher. luckily, the day we went, it was not.

getting our feet wet in the atlantic was sufficient. we were soon back to the carribean side. our next stop was supposed to be red beach. however, the road was also closed. so we found a road headed generally towards the water and found pirate's cove.

clearly, it was not for laying out. it was still pretty though.

then, we tried to find secret beach. clearly, it was not a secret because it was on a tourist map. the road to get there was, however, closed. it would've been better if it remained a secret so i didn't have to harbor such disappointment.

next, we were off to blue beach or la chiva. i actually really enjoyed this beach (although media luna still topped my list). it was wide, warm, fine white sand, not crowded and just plain gorgeous.

here's the eastern view with a shot of "the crowds" (it was a saturday after all):

here's the western view:

we probably walked at least a mile and back along blue beach.

after staying for a few hours, we decided to check out playa grande and black beach, which were to the west of barrio esperanza. unlike the other beaches, playa grande and black beach were rockier, rougher and the sand was grainier and, er, black. definitely interesting but not good for swimming.

we only saw two couples on these beaches.

at that point, we decided that we were done with beaches. there were a lot of great things i could mention about the vieques beaches. but i cannot emphasize enough how the masses were not to be seen. although the beaches were clearly marked on every single tourist map of the island, it felt as if the beaches were empty enough that they were your own private strip of nirvana.

question: why did the horse cross the road?
answer: how would i know. i just take the pictures.

it was time to enjoy isabel segunda itself. one thing that was noticeable was their love of color. pastels, to be exact. our markers to get home were passing by the blue house and turning at the corner with the pink house. our apartment rental itself was painted bright green and yellow.

at the mar azul bar, we had a very nice view of the sunset from the atlantic side.

after walking around, we headed to cantina la reina, billed as a mexican restaurant. it was valentine's day weekend as well so they had a three-course prix fixe special for $35. what a value it was, too. the ingredients were fresh and tasty. particularly, all the seafood were locally caught.

my yellowfin tuna tostada:

az's pork tacos:

az's strip steak with relleno pepper stuffed with mashed potatoes (!) and manchego:

my lobster enchilada:

az's lime flan:

my flourless chocolate cake:

cantina la reina also had a bar/lounge upstairs with balconies where we watched cars drive by, people walk by, and horses trot by.

speaking of horses, it was interesting to note that young people got around town at night by riding horses. we saw women dressed in party gear (in jeans, not skirts) headed to parties on horseback with the bicycle red light thingies attached to the horse so they can be seen by motorists (street lamps were restricted to the main barrios and not necessarily on every street of that barrio). outside one bar/club, we saw a lot of those horses "parked", er, lined up and tied to the post. the clackity-clack of galloping horses on the pavement was a common sound.

anyhow, below are just scenes from the plaza in isabel segunda:

at this point in the trip, the mosquitoes were joined by bed bugs to feast on my blood. it was uncomfortable and i just wanted to be left alone in my scratching. so it was an early night. the next day, we were off to check out a city. san juan, that is.