Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Chicago Burger in Old San Juan

*Overpriced, overrated. Meh.
*Decent mojito selection.
*You can do better, you're in Old San Juan for crying out loud.

Chicago Burger Company
100 Calle Braumbaugh
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Puerto Rico is Rum-tastic!

Today is National Rum Day! In its honor, I thought I would post a little on one of Puerto Rico's most popular attractions (and exports).

Me enjoying my free Bacardi Gold

So I am willing to bet that if you take a little walk over to your liquor cabinet and pull out your rum, it's probably Bacardi. Bacardi is one of the world's largest producers and exporters of rum, and although there are several Bacardi factories and headquarters around the world, their Casa de Bacardi distillery in Cantaño, Puerto Rico, is their largest and also open to the public. For FREE! I love free things!

Casa de Bacardi

The Bacardi Factory is on many people's "to-do" list when they visit San Juan, and rightfully so. Even if you aren't a brewery/distillery buff, it's hard not to recognize the importance of rum to the history and culture of Puerto Rico. Many people associate the island with its "fine Puerto Rican rums," and there are certainly many produced here, among them Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Palo Viejo, Don Q, Boca Chica, Llave, Castillo, del Barrilito, Rico, and Cañita Cura'o. Puerto Rico is also famous for their rum-based drinks, and while the the piña colada its "official" beverage, you'll find a whole host of others, like mojitos and Cuba libres, on all restaurant menus in San Juan.

Courtyard room at Casa de Bacardi

So is a trip to the Casa de Bacardi worth a half day of your Puerto Rico vacation? Well, I guess that depends on you and your vacationing style. I liked it because, as a student, I am pretty poor so am limited to cheap or free excursions. The Bacardi tour is free, and included are TWO free drinks at the Bacardi Bar. The tour itself takes about an hour, and goes through a "Spanish courtyard" room and introduction, a little movie on the history of the Bacardi brand, a replica of an old distillery and Don Bacardi's original office, a demonstration on how to make mixed drinks with Bacardi, an interactive area where you can watch movie clips about Bacardi's production and my favorite, a "smelling area" where you get to smell rum at various points during its production as well as different types of Bacardi rums. At the end you can email your friends a video postcard and take a picture in front of a wall of Bacardi bottles, and then they take you to the store, where you can spend $16 on a "mojito muddler." Yes, it's a slightly commercialized tour, but it's also informative and well put together and did I mention that you get two free drinks? ;)

The demo bar at Casa de Bacardi

So that's it for Bacardi. But interestingly, in my "cultural study" of the people of Puerto Rico, it has seemed that most Puerto Ricans, at least on the island, actually drink Don Q rum. I really don't know why, some say it's cheaper, some say it's smoother, and some claim that you won't get a hangover. I say my rum palate sucks and it all takes like lighter fluid to me. Plus, the chance of me not having a hangover from rum is approximately zero, so I really cannot judge. But, it's just an observation.

Me and Beezers in front of some Bacardi bottles

Don Q also has a tourist attraction in San Juan, directly across the street from Pier 2. It is called Casa Don Q, and basically it is just a giant room where you will pretend to read some facts about the history of rum while coyly making your way over to the rum bar, where you can sample FREE drinks made with Don Q rum. That's right, while walking around Old San Juan, you can take 5 minutes of your time to stop by Casa Don Q and have a free drink. The advantages of visiting Casa Don Q is that
1.) The hours are much better, and if you miss the ferry or the last Bacardi tour (around 3:30), Casa Don Q is still open until 8:00 (except on the weekend, when it's closed)
2.) You can walk there in 1 minute after getting off your cruise ship (if you're the cruise ship type).
3.) It doesn't take a 1/2 day to visit Don Q. Actually it takes about 5 minutes. Unless you are a serious sampler.
4.) If you need a souvenir for your boozehound uncle, the gift shop at Don Q is much less expensive than the one at Bacardi.

Bacardi's advantage? Well, it feels like an actual excursion, with the ferry and taxi rides and the much longer and finely produced tour. Additionally, I felt like I actually learned a lot on the more informative Bacardi tour. Most importantly, the Bacardi tour is at the actual distillery site itself, and while you don't really get to see much of the working factory, you know that somewhere on the property, thousands of gallons of distilled molasses are being bottled and shipped around the country and into the eager hands of pre-gaming college students. Casa Don Q is just a room inside an Old San Juan waterfront building, the actual distillery is located in south of Puerto Rico.


So what is one rum-savvy traveler to do? The answer is obvious...

Renee's Rum-tastic Puerto Rico Adventure:
(This tour has not been endorsed by the Puerto Rico tourism board or your mother. )

*Get yourself out of bed before noon, get to Pier 2 in Old San Juan, and take the 50¢ ferry over to Cataño.
*Have the taxi driver (yes, the one screaming "Bacardi!" that you think is schizophrenic) take you, for $3/person, over to the Bacardi factory. You could walk there, I did once, but it is SO worth the $3 to drive.
*Have your two free drinks while waiting to take the tour. If you're feeling snacky, pick up a piece of rum cake at their little snack vendor, but I will warn you, I've had much better. (Specifically, I've had amazing Puerto Rican rum cake here, and you can order them. But that's for another blog.)
*Take the Bacardi tour.
*Take the taxi/ferry back to Old San Juan's Pier 2, cross the street, and hit up Casa Don Q.
*If you're into mixing beer and hard liquor, head about one block up to the Old Harbor Brewery, the only microbrewery in Puerto Rico, to try their $9 sampler, which features a sample of their 5 house beers. I mean, you've already had rum. Liquor before beer, in the clear, remember?
*You must be hungry, so have something to eat at any one of Old San Juan's fine restaurants.
*Refreshed! Now it's time for a rum bar to taste all of the Puerto Rico's rum. In Old San Juan, you can check out the Caña Rum Bar in the Hotel El Convento, or alternately you can take the A5 bus to the El San Juan Casino in Isla Verde to hit up Koco's swanky rum bar.
*Stumble home and relax. You've had a day to remember, although you probably won't remember a thing...

Casa Don Q
Open Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
Marina Street in Old San Juan, across from Pier 2

Casa BACARDI Visitor Center
Cantaño, Puerto Rico
from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM
(Last tour at 4:15 PM)
Sunday from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
(Last tour at 3:45 PM)

Click here for a full list of Puerto Rico's rums

Friday, August 15, 2008

Chupacabra Sighting in Texas

Texas, you never cease to amaze me. In honor of this video from CNN of a "possible chupacabra sighting in Texas," I thought I would give credit where credit is due and let everyone know that the chupacabra is not from Texas (although he does have a blood-sucking Texan cousin that actually made it all the way to Washington D.C.) :)

The chupacabra is, of course, from Puerto Rico. The word "chupacabra" literally means "goat sucker" and it comes from this creature's M.O. of sucking the blood and life out of goats and other livestock and leaving their drained bodies as nothing but bags of skin and bones. I had heard the word before but I didn't know much about it until I went to Puerto Rico. One night my adopted Puerto Rican mother and I were sitting on her patio, drinking our nightly Bacardi and guayaba juice, when her granddaughter came running outside to avoid her bath. My mother said, "Nena, I wouldn't stay out here if I were you, we just heard the chupacabra in the bushes." The little girl froze for a moment, turned white, and then ran back inside the house. "What's a chupacabra?" I asked. She died out her cigarette and leaned in closely. "You don't know about the chupacabra?" she whispered. Lourdes was a dramatic storyteller, and I could tell this was going to be a good one. "Not really," I said. "Oh well you have to know. You never know when one might appear...."

So it goes that in the early 1990's, there was a secret underground military base near Fajardo in Puerto Rico. Scientists there were experimenting with mixing the DNA of aliens with other animals, like dogs, lizards, and humans. Apparently there was a security breach at the facility, and one of the "creatures" escaped. Newspapers began reporting the death of livestock across the island, and curiously, the animals were typically found with two large puncture wounds in its neck and its blood completely drained. Some blamed satanic cult rituals for these killings, but as more and more animals were found dead across the island, people began "seeing" the creatures responsible, which were soon named chupacabras. Some described it as dog-like, some more alien-like, some more human-like. This website describes the 3 forms it can take:

The first and most common form is a lizard-like being, appearing to have leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and sharp spines or quills running down its back. This form stands approximately 3 to 4 feet (1 to 1.2 m) high, and stands and hops in a similar fashion to a kangaroo. In at least one sighting, the creature hopped 20 feet (6 m). This variety is said to have a dog or panther-like nose and face, a forked tongue protruding from it, large fangs, and to hiss and screech when alarmed, as well as leave a sulfuric stench behind. When it screeches, some reports note that the chupacabra's eyes glow an unusual red, then give the witnesses nausea.

The second variety bears a resemblance to a wallaby or dog standing on its hind legs. It stands and hops as a kangaroo, and it has coarse fur with greyish facial hair. The head is similar to a dog's, and its mouth has large teeth.

The third form is described as a strange breed of wild dog. This form is mostly hairless, has a pronounced spinal ridge, unusually pronounced eye sockets, teeth, and claws. This animal is said to be the result of interbreeding between several populations of wild dogs, though enthusiasts claim that it might be an example of a dog-like reptile. The account during the year 2001 in Nicaragua of a chupacabra's corpse being found supports the conclusion that it is simply a strange breed of wild dog. The alleged corpse of the animal was found in Tolapa, Nicaragua, and forensically analyzed at UNAN-Leon. Pathologists at the University found that it was just an unusual-looking dog. There are very striking morphological differences between different breeds of dog, which can easily account for the strange characteristics.

Apparently the chupacabra could also swim, because he soon made his way off the island of Puerto Rico and through the Americas, including the US, Mexico, and almost all of Central and South America. Surprisingly it hasn't made its way up to Canada...YET. Mua ha ha. Lots of people have reported sightings or even tried to find the chupacabra, including one man who spent $6 million of his own money to do so. Yikes. But to this day, this elusive beast remains unexplained and unidentified, and continues to haunt the imaginations of Puerto Rican children and adults alike.

And now, apparently, the chupacabra has decided to terrorize the small city of Cuero, Texas, a town interestingly named after the Spanish word for "leather" or "animal hide." Smells like a conspiracy to me! Although Cuero is also known, apparently, as the unofficial "turkey capital of the world" with their school mascot known as "the Gobblers," so truth be told the townsfolk might just be bored and need something to do...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Parasailing in Isla Verde

There is me and Abby sailing way above the waters of Isla Verde. We woke up too late for horseback riding, so instead we went parasailing for $60. Totally worth it.

For parasailing in Isla Verde, sneak through the El San Juan Hotel, past their gorgeous pool and onto the beach in front. Here you will find little booths for parasailing, banana boating, jet skiing, and whatever other watersport you fancy. We had an amazing view of San Juan and the ocean on our trip!

After you work up an appetite parasailing, we recommend heading over to El San Juan's beach bar for some refreshing drinks and a light lunch. A little pricey, but very good food!

Asthma in Puerto Rican Children

I feel like I never blog anymore!!

No seriously, I have been super busy lately, so I probably won't be posting as many "fun" blogs, although I still have lots of pictures and stories to share, so I will get to them eventually.

But for now, I thought you might like to read a little tidbit on asthma. Did you know that Puerto Ricans have far and away the highest rates of asthma of all racial and ethnic groups in the United States? And despite some well-formed hypotheses, we still aren't entirely sure why. Read on!

The Facts:

Puerto Ricans have the highest asthma prevalence among all racial and ethic groups in the United States. In a large-scale study of Latino populations, one out of every five Puerto Rican children between 6 months and 11 years were reported to have ever had asthma.1 In Connecticut, where the majority of Latinos are of Puerto Rican descent, it was shown that 24.5% of Latino families have at least one asthmatic child, compared to 17.7% for African Americans and 9.6% for Whites, and that these differences are not accounted for by socioeconomic status or maternal age.2 Connecticut’s Hispanic children have a lifetime asthma prevalence rate of 18.4%, compared to 11.3% for blacks and 7.4% among non-Hispanic whites.2 Disparities in the prevalence of asthma in Puerto Rican children persist even among Latino subgroups. The lifelong prevalence among mainland Puerto Ricans is 20.1%, compared to 8.8% among Cuban Americans and 4.5% among Mexican Americans.1 Of the estimated half-million Latino children with asthma in the United States, a whopping 2/3 are Puerto Rican1, despite the fact that the large majority of US Latinos are Mexican Americans. Age of onset is also earlier for Puerto Ricans than Mexican American children, with more than 50% of Puerto Rican children having their first asthma attack before 1 year of age.1


Many studies have tried to investigate the reasons for the tremendous discrepancy in asthma prevalence among Puerto Ricans, and most hypotheses are now multi-factorial, including genetic, socioeconomic, and cultural factors. Genetic studies of inflammatory response processes indicate that many Puerto Rican children with asthma have increased levels of a variant alpha1-antitrypsin phenotype.5 Alpha1-antitrypsin is a glycoprotein that protects delicate tissues from inflammatory cell enzymes. It was speculated by the authors that the presence of this variant form may predispose these children to asthma.

Interesting evidence that may support a “genetic” hypothesis in Puerto Ricans comes from the drastically different asthma prevalence among Mexican Americans. Despite having a lower socioeconomic status than whites and a lower rate of health insurance than Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans have significantly lower rates of asthma than both of these groups, even when controlled for socioeconomic status and parental smoking behavior. 1,4 Initial and serial testing of pulmonary function in Mexican American and white children showed non-Mexican-American children had significantly lower maximum expiratory flows (Vmax50%) in each year of testing, suggesting that Mexican American children may have larger airways than their white counterparts.4 Perhaps further studies will investigate more fully the differences in pulmonary function of Puerto Rican children.

Other studies point to the living conditions of Puerto Rican children as a possible explanation for their high rates of asthma. Puerto Rican children are the poorest children in the United States6, and it is well documented that poverty increases risk for certain illnesses. Other studies have suggested still other risk factors, such as differences in family structure and migration patterns, that may account for some of the discrepancy in prevalence.7 It has been reported that among Latinos, Puerto Rican women of reproductive age are more likely to smoke (33.5%) than Mexican American (23.2%) or Cuban women (22.6%), thus putting children at greater risk of complications due to second hand smoke.3 Another risk factor for asthma is prematurity and low birth-weight,8 and it has been suggested that the high rate of low birth-weight births to Puerto Rican mothers may also play a role in the development of childhood asthma among Puerto Rican children.


Charter-Pokras, O.D., & Gergen, P.J. (1993). Reported asthma among Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, and Cuban children, 1982 through 1984. American Journal of Public Health, 83, 580-582.


Beckett, W.S., Belanger, K., Gent, J.F., Holford, T.R., & Leaderer, B.P. (1996). Asthma among Puerto Rican Hispanics: A multi-ethnic comparison study of risk factors. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 154, 894-899.


Pletsch, P.K. (1991). Prevalence of cigarette smoking in Hispanic women of childbearing age. Nursing Research, 40, 103-106.


Dodge, R. (1983). A comparison of the respiratory health of Mexican-American and non Mexican-American white children. Chest, 84, 587-592.


Colp, C., Pappas, J., Moran, D., Lieberman, J. (1993). Variants of alpha 1-antitrypsin in Puerto Rican children with asthma. Chest, 103, 812-815.


Bureau of the Census. (1997). Selected social characteristics of all persons and Hispanic persons by type of origin. Retrieved August 12, 2008 from


Lara, M., Morgenstern, H., Duan, N., Brook, R.H. (1999). Elevated asthma morbidity in Puerto Rican children: a review of possible risk and prognostic factors. West J Med, 170, 75-84.


Oliveti, J.F., Kercsmar, C.M., Redline, S. (1996) Pre- and perinatal risk factors for asthma in inner-city African American children. Am J Epidemiol, 143, 570-577.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

OK Kola Champagne is not OK.

I don't really drink soda, but my adopted Puerto Rican mom, Lourdes, insisted that I try OK Kola Champagne, which she buys by the case. This is how the conversation went:

Me: *scrunched nose*

Lourdes: Good, right?

Me: This tastes like super-sugary bubble gum dipped in Splenda.

Lourdes: I know. I took that diabetes test at the doctor's and when I drank that orange $h!t, I was like, DAMN! This is good! It tastes like Kola Champagne!
(Lourdes is originally from the South Bronx, and uses colorful language)

Me: You liked the taste of the Glucose Tolerance Test?

Lourdes: Hell yeah! Because I love Kola Champagne. It's hard to find that $h!t in New York!

So there you have it. Kola Champagne: for a sugar-weary white girl from CT, it's like an orange-y, bubble-gummy Glucose Tolerance Test. But to many Puerto Ricans, it evokes memories of balmy summer days on the island and childhood trips to the local bodega. Or maybe of their last trip to the doctor.

Love it or hate it, Kola Champagne, invented in Puerto Rico, is wildly popular here on the island. And for a truly Puerto Rican experience, it's certainly worth a try. Especially if you really, really love sweet stuff.