Sunday, January 08, 2006

What I Did on My Winter Vacation

The above picture is the view from our room at the Copamarina Beach Resort on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, near the town of Guanica, fifteen or so miles west of Ponce. V. and I were there from this past Monday evening until Friday morning, and we had a terrific time. Puerto Rico, for those of you who know as little about it as I did until this past week, is a fairly small island, not much more than a hundred miles from end to end, so that even if you're flying into San Juan, in the northeast corner of the island, and you have to drive your rental car all the way to the southwest corner of the island, the drive is still shorter (and much less annoying) than the drive from suburban Maryland to Rehoboth Beach. I am told that the traffic around San Juan can be horrific, but as we were driving on holidays, we did not have any difficulties from the time we picked the rental car up until we dropped it back off. There were significant problems and delays on the trip down to San Juan, but as it is, apparently, now the functions of airports and airlines to make the rest of one's vacation seem even better by comparison, these problems are best forgotten, though I will likely not be flying the unfortunately named Ted in the future if I have an alternative.

The Copamarina itself is located on the beach and is backed right up against the Guanica dry forest preserve. Because there is a high and beautiful mountain range running through the middle of the island, most of the precipitation is kept on the other side of the mountain, and the southwestern corner of the island is essentially an arid zone, though an especially beautiful and green arid zone.

The intent of this vacation was to loaf as much as possible to build up reserves for the dreaded tax season, which will be eating my life within a few weeks. Although we got in some nice hikes in the preserve (the picture on the left is of one of the many, many dildo cactuses from the coastal section of the preserve; that is the real name of the cactus; feel free to make all the jokes that I'm going to pretend I was too refined to make) and some nice trips to the local beaches, we also spent a lot of time by the pool reading*, and in the bar watching the bartenders prepare all manner of fancy drinks. Who knew that a mojito was so complicated?

V. and I are not big drinkers, but we had purchased an all-inclusive package, so all of our drinks were free, and it seemed a shame not to take advantage of this feature. One supposes that my failure to wake up with a hangover after any of the four nights I was there must mean that I did not drink as much as I might have, but I certainly drank a lot more than I usually do. And I drank things that I would never drink at home, not least because my bar is simply not that well stocked. I had, for example, never consumed a pina colada prior to this vacation, a fact I attribute mostly to Rupert Holmes. However, it was my first trip to the tropics, and I reasoned that Mr. Holmes' heyday was sufficiently in the past for me to hazard the beverage. I will say that the drink is significantly less unfortunate than the song, but one was certainly enough. I did, however, indulge in multiple mai tais.

I am not sure exactly how reflective of the Puerto Rican cuisine the menu at the Copamarina was, but I certainly did get more than my fill of plantains (I am now officially over the plantain, I fear). The food was otherwise excellent, and if you ever find yourself there, you really must order the duck confit and spinach salad as an appetizer and the deep-fried whole red snapper as an entree. (But not at the same meal, if you wish to walk away from the table without the assistance of a forklift.) The latter is an especially stunning presentation. The deep-fried whole fish stands up on the plate, curled around a bowl of creole sauce, a delicious concoction of tomatoes and green olives. Unfortunately, it was far too dark in the dining room for me to get a picture of it, and I mostly left my camera in the room, except when we went hiking in the preserve. The deep-fried whole read snapper is a bit of trouble to eat because it has not been filleted, but it is well worth the effort.

Other standouts included the conch and octopus salad at lunch (it comes served inside a bowl made of deep fried plantains, unfortunately), and the crabcakes at dinner. V. reported that the lamb chops and the filet mignon were also excellent, and I'm sure they were, but my policy when I'm right next to the sea is to eat as much seafood as possible.

It is a shame that we couldn't have spent more time in Puerto Rico so that we could have sampled more of the island and more of the cuisine. The day we flew back was La Dia de Reyes (translated as Three Kings' Day, aka Epiphany). Our favorite waitress explained to us that this is the main holiday of the Christmas season in Puerto Rico, and it's too bad that we didn't have the opportunity to experience any of the local festivities. It is, of course, the nature of vacations (at least of good vacations) to be too short, and while I am not exactly grateful to be headed back to the office tomorrow, I am very thankful that we had splendid weather and a splendid time while we were there. I'm pretty sure we'll be back.

*I finished both Light in August and Candide while I was there. It is difficult to imagine two reading experiences more different from each other than Faulkner and Voltaire, but I enjoyed both a good deal.


Anonymous lindy said...

Welcome home, sir. Glad you had a good holiday.

What is the story with plantains, anyhow?
I had one served as a garnish to a fancy restaurant sandwich. It is the only one I ever sampled, and it was, uh, very firm in texture. Since usually I enjoy some form of most every food-I assumed it was either unripe, or poorly prepared. It was more or less a highly disappointing, tasteless banana-rock.
Are they supposed to be like that? Thus far, I've had no opportunities for another taste of one. Maybe that hasn't been a huge loss?

11:37 AM  
Blogger anapestic said...

Your description of your single plantain experience pretty much matches every plantain I ate this past week. It's hard for me to imagine that they were all equally unripe, so I presume they tasted the way they were supposed to taste, especially since everything else that kitchen made seemed very well prepared.

1:51 PM  
Blogger bhoygary said...

As a Voltaire fan I would recommend the "Dictionnaire Philosophique". It's the nastiest piece of litterature ever. Try and read it in French though.

And this will be my last ever recommendation to you. Not managing to get a hangover with all the facilities of a tropical open bar is a major failure, I don't think we can be friends anymore. ahahaha

12:17 AM  
Blogger Sangroncito said...

Puerto Rico is one of the few places in Latin America I haven't been make me want to go.

5:10 PM  
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