Colombia and the Caribbean

Jan-Feb 2018

Colombia and Caribbean map
Our route by bus through Colombia (in red) and flying to the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos and Puerto Rico (blue).


Bogota, Colombia

Mon 22ndJan. We arrived in Bogota at 4am and got a taxi through the now-deserted city to the Hotel Regina in the old town. Once we had changed rooms three times until Sheila was almost satisfied and things had opened up, we had a stroll round Candelaria district, (the old town) and Plaza Bolivar, the main square. We had delicious steak for lunch at Mi Viejo, an historic old restaurant, with red wine and very good Apostolo negra black beer.

Tues 23rd. After another walk round Candelaria we moved yet again to a bigger, brighter room in the hotel Regina and got an Uber taxi to the Zona Rosa district with its up-market shopping malls. We carefully inspected every floor of Andres DC restaurant where we'd had a great time last time we were in Bogota, so that we could make a reservation for a preferred table later in the week (but when we tried to cancel a few days later it turned out they hadn´t recorded our reservation anyway). We walked down the road to the Hard Rock Café for what used to be our favourite pulled-pork sandwich, but it didn´t seem as tasty as it was the last time we had it here. We had a look round Retiro and Andina shopping malls then got another Uber taxi back to the hotel.

Weds 24th.

Bogota from Monseratte
We did a bit more walking round the shops and after that we got a taxi to the funicular and went up to Montserrate monastery on a hill overlooking the city.

It was a lovely warm day but at 3,100 metres high we were soon out of puff as we walked up the winding Way of the Cross to the monastery itself. Along the way we stopped to have a look at the up-market San Isidro restaurant and made a reservation for tomorrow. We also stopped at the nice Santa Clara restaurant and café for coffee, a nice sandwich and empanadas (pasties) for lunch. Back in town we walked about a bit more then went for a coffee at the ´Literary café´ across the street from the hotel.

Jiminez bar meats and cheeses

In the evening we walked across to the nearby Jiminez bar-restaurant and had a couple of lovely Spanish platters of salamis and cheeses with some BBC (Bogota Beer Company) black beers. We got a taste for the salamis and cheeses early on and had plenty more later in the holiday!

Thurs 25th. We went for a day out to Zipaquira, 50 km away, to see the salt cathedral deep in the salt mine. We walked from the hotel to nearby Las Aguas bus stop and waited for the bus to Portal del Norte. The big, bendy city buses all run in dedicated lanes of their own so we whizzed past the slow-moving traffic in the adjacent lanes. At Portal del Norte we got straight on a bus to ´Zipa´ as they labelled it and set off straight away for the comfy 45-minute drive. When we got there it was quite a long walk and then a very steep climb up many steps to the mine entrance, where an English-speaking tour group had just departed, so we ran puffing and gasping to catch up.

Zipaquira salt cathedral
It was a very interesting tour, firstly along dark mine tunnels past carved Stations of the Cross until we arrived at the cathedral itself, three huge underground caverns carved out of the salt. It was most impressive.
Zipaquira salt mine
After the cathedral they even had shops, restaurants, mining museums and a light show down further mine tunnels with intricate carvings on the walls.

Back outside the mine, we stopped in a square for coffee and empanadas then had a walk through the very picturesque old town square of Zipaquira, with the obligatory cathedral and rows of pretty old colonial buildings. We had a long, hot walk - unfortunately going the wrong way - to find the bus back to Bogota, and when we eventually got on a bus it was most uncomfortable and had windows you couldn´t see out of. However, it got us back to Portal del Norte and we got the J72 bus whizzing past the traffic jams to the Gold Museum stop just by the hotel. By now it was time to leave for the evening meal we had booked, so after a very quick wash and brush-up we got an Uber taxi to the funicular station. This time we had remembered to bring ID to prove we qualified for the oldies (over 60) discount, and we rose up in the funicular admiring the colourful sunset over Bogota down below. The San Isidro restaurant just below Montserrate monastery had saved our table by the window with a spectacular view of the lights of Bogota spread out below us. We had a wonderful meal, probably expensive by Colombian standards but good value to us, starting with the most delicious lobster soup, thick and creamy, packed with big, tasty pieces of lobster, followed by big, juicy steaks with delicious sauces (but not much in the way of vegetables) and finishing with crème brulée. It was all accompanied by a nice £40 bottle of sparkling wine, which was a bit expensive because all wine is imported in Colombia.

Fri 26th. We went for a sightseeing walk, first to the church of San Francisco which was very pretty inside, then along our usual shopping street to the main square and the tourist office for a chat with the friendly ladies there. We stopped for a lunch of empanadas and coffee in a café with a first-floor balcony overlooking the street, then walked up along the little river to the pretty colonial-style church of Las Aguas.

Quinta de Bolivar, Bogota
A bit further up the road past the university we went to Quinta de Bolivar, an old farmhouse that the government gave to Simon Bolivar in 1820 for his part in the liberation from Spain. The quinta and its garden were lovely and we wandered through the characterful furnished rooms and the garden paths up the hill to the viewpoint.

In the evening we went out to sample the street entertainment, stopping to watch among others an Andean violin and guitar trio, a rock concert for Jesus in the main square (wonderful music but when the preaching went on and on we beat a hasty retreat), an amazingly supple and professional belly dancer and a stick-thin but athletic ballet dancer. By then it was getting quite chilly so we retired to Jiminez again for the delicious platter of Spanish salamis and cheeses and BBC black beers.

Tunja

Sat 27th. We got an Uber out to the main bus terminal and no sooner had we bought tickets, found the bus and sat down than we were off. The main bus terminal is to the south of the city so we spent an hour struggling through traffic to the north terminal (where we were two days ago), waited a little while then finally set off on the comfortable journey through the countryside. We arrived at Tunja bus terminal about 1pm and there was some confusion when we called for an Uber because there are three exits from the terminal and of course we and the taxi were waiting at different ones. We found him just as he was about to drive off and went to the lovely hotel Posada del Santa Elena in a picturesque old single-storey building with wooden beams and window frames. We were hungry by now and went down the road to the Mr King gourmet restaurant that we had noticed as we drove past. Here our (lack of) Spanish-speaking skills let us down and Sheila got a toasted ham and cheese sandwich instead of the plate of meats and cheeses we were hoping for as a starter, but I got a very nice trout with prawns in a creamy sauce, so we generously shared our meals with each other (rubbish, Sheila says, she is still bitter about it, she wanted a filet mignon for a main course). I went for a walk round town through the shopping streets, the main square with cathedral and some pretty buildings and returned by the route that the taxi had taken to try to find another restaurant we had noticed, but without success. The main thing I discovered was that Tunja is an amazingly hilly place and I arrived back at the hotel aching and exhausted. The nice lady prorietor made me a refreshing cup of mint tea which I drank sitting in the posada's central lobby, recovering from my exertions.

Villa de Leyva

Sun 28th. After a lie-in and a relaxed pack at Posada St Elena we got a taxi back to the terminal and got on a bus due to depart to Villa de Leyva in ten minutes. Although it was slow at first as we stopped at every street corner to pick up more passengers, it was a comfortable ride and we arrived an hour later.

Casa Terra, Villa de Leyva
We dragged our cases up the cobbled street four or five blocks to the Casa Terra, our favourite hotel from our stay two years ago and it was like coming home. The hotel was as beautiful as before and Ximenia and Alvaro, the proprietors, gave us the spacious Chicala suite with a terrace where we sat out by the pretty garden drinking our welcome cups of coffee and tea.

The large shower room had the taps the other side of the shower head, unlike the showers in all the other hotels we found, so you don´t get soaked in cold water when you turn them on - why aren't they all like that?

We walked the short distance to town and stopped in a cafe, basically someone´s front room with four tables and a little kitchen behind, and had spaghetti and lasagna with black beers for lunch. After a quiet afternoon and a bit of a stroll round we went to our favourite from last time, El Rincon gourmet restaurant and piano bar for dinner. We shared a Spanish salamis platter with salami, ham, olives and sweet garlic for a starter, followed by delicious lobster tail with lime butter and steak tartare for the main course, with black beer and red wine. Delicious.

Mon 29th to Weds 31st.

Shops in Villa de Leyva

The next few days we had breakfast in the lovely garden at Casa Terra with Alvaro's wonderful home-made jam, a stroll looking at shops and the square, then for lunch either a coffee and pie at La Galleta café or a nice set lunch at the Cucina de la Gato (kitchen of the cat),

In the evenings we had pre-dinner drinks at Cava de Don Fernando or some of the other bars on the square, lovely dinners of Spanish meats platter and filet mignon and steak with blue cheese sauce at the Rincon Gourmet, or guacamole and pizza with salami, blue cheese and caramelized onions at the Mercado Municipal restaurant, or another excellent pizza at one of the restaurants under the arches on the square.

Villa de Leyva ice cream
On each occasion Sheila finished off with a block of passion-fruit or dulce de leche ice cream on a stick from a shop on the square.

When we got back to the hotel our beds had been turned down, there were fresh towels and a drink and little biscuits left out for us.

Barichara and Guane

Thurs 1st Feb. We sadly checked out of Casa Terra and said goodbye to Ximena and Alvaro our lovely hosts. We had a long but reasonably comfortable day travelling by bus to Tunja, then to San Gil and finally to Barichara, arriving about 7pm.

Barichara cathedral
Barichara is another pretty old colonial town around a main square with nice wood-framed one- or two-storey buildings and stone-paved streets.
Barichara Don Juan restaurant

We checked into the Posada Sueños de Antonio and immediately went down to the Don Juan restaurant just off the main square in a nice old building with lots of beams and balconies, and had delicious ´baby cow´ (veal) and prawns paella.

Fri 2nd.

Barichara Suenos de Antonio
After a very nice breakfast by the garden watching the birds on the bird-feeders, we moved from the small, dark room 1 over to the larger, brighter room 2 at Sueños de Antonio and were much happier.
Barichara main square
We spent the morning walking about looking at the cathedral, the main square, the nice old houses and some hotels for tomorrow night when our hotel is full. Back on the main square one of the restaurant-bars was just setting out their tables next to the cathedral steps, so we sat looking at the park and had mini empanadas, black beers and very nice Woodbridge Californian red wine for lunch.

In the evening we went back to the park and sat at the next-door bar having black beers and chatting to the French couple who had been staying at Casa Terra and who turned out to be experienced travellers, so we had a pleasant time swapping travel experiences. We hurried round to the Don Juan restaurant before it closed at 9pm (Barichara is certainly not a late-night place) to have delicious prawns in garlic and seabass with prawns, with Gato Negro (black cat) Chilean wines.

Sat 3rd.

A street in Guane
We got a tuk-tuk for the 20-minute ride to Guane, a tiny historic village at the end of the road in the hills. It was pretty but very quiet and could be called a one-horse town if only they could find a horse. We wandered round the square, looked in the pretty church and each of the shops, had a coffee in a scruffy restaurant in a little garden and by 11am we were ready to go back. The lady in one of the shops phoned a tuk-tuk driver who came from Barichara, bringing supplies for her shop, and took us back.
Barichara Casa Oniri
Sueños de Antonio was full tonight so we moved to the very elegant Casa Oniri just off the main square, all very clean and white with a big, airy room.

We went in search of lunch and found the very popular Shambala café just off the square (which had been completely full yesterday) and had a delicious big plate of rice with vegetables and prawns in a mild curry sauce.

Barichara Don Juan restaurant

In the evening we went back to Don Juan restaurant again but this time we had a table in one of the balconies overlooking the street, and had another delicious meal of steaks - baby cow and filet mignon with blue cheese sauce - and more expensive wine of course.

Sun 4th. We liked Barichara so much that we decided to stay an extra day. We were very tempted to do the five-km walk along the ´royal path´ through the hills to Guane but everyone warned us how rough the path was and our shoes just wouldn´t be up to it, so rather than sprain our ankles we went on a big two-hour circuit round the top end of Barichara, on a network of back streets and footpaths through the ´tropical dry forest ecosystem´.

Barichara flowers in street
We looked into a couple of nice old churches and admired the colourful trees and flowers hanging over the house walls, and the butterflies, lizards and a flock of buzzards (or possibly vultures) in the forest.

Back in town we had a pasty, a coffee and an ice cream for lunch in a café on the corner of the square. In the evening we followed our usual routine with a couple of drinks and a pleasant chat about travel, music and rugby with the French couple, followed by wonderful filet mignon at Don Juan restaurant.

Giron and Bucaramanga

Mon 5th. Our journey to Giron went according to plan. We had an early breakfast at Casa Oniri then walked down to the square and got on a bus about 9am which left at 9:15 so it was probably the 9am bus a bit late. We arrived at the San Gil bus terminal where we bought tickets on a bus that was due to leave in ten minutes to Bucaramanga. For some reason that bus didn´t turn up so they put us on a different company´s bus which left soon after, and we had an interesting three-hour ride through the spectacular mountains. At Bucaramanga bus terminal we booked tomorrow´s tickets for the bus to Medellin and got a taxi for the 15-minute drive out to Giron, arriving about 1pm. Giron is another historic old town with pretty houses and a church around a central square but because it´s so close to the big city of Bucaramanga it seems much more commercialized and is surrounded by a rather Blackpool-like sprawl of cheap shops, burger cafés and kids´ amusements.

Giron cathedral from Las Nieves hotel
We stayed in the nice, historic, wooden-beamed Las Nieves hotel right on the square, in a big room with a balcony looking right onto the square and the cathedral. It was atmospheric but not quiet, with the shrill-voiced vendors yelling their wares in the square below and the cathedral bells suddenly pealing at random times.

We walked round the old part of Giron in the evening looking for a nice restaurant but there just weren´t any in the old town, so we went to a bar and billiards hall and had several black beers and packets of crisps with the friendly people there.

Medellin

Tues 6th. Our journey to Medellin all went very smoothly. We got a taxi back to the terminal at Bucaramanga and the bus to Medellin was waiting. It left promptly at 10am and we had a very comfortable 8-hour ride through the interesting countryside, with one stop at a friendly little café for lunch. Medellin is a big, busy city and we found ourselves at the big, busy, multi-level north bus terminal where we eventually found the right level for taxis and a friendly taxi driver took us to the Binn hotel, up on the eastern hills above the city, after negotiating a complicated one-way system which went the wrong way just before we arrived at the hotel. The hotel has two restaurants and we chose the pizza restaurant option and had a big, very tasty pizza and several black beers.

Weds 7th. After an interesting breakfast at the very comfortable Marriott-style (but half the price) Binn hotel, we got a taxi to the centre and had a big walking tour round Medellin.

Pablo Escobar by Botero
We started at the museum of Antioquia with its big collection of paintings and sculptures by Botero, the well-known local artist, including 'the death of Pablo Escobar' in his characteristic rotund-characters style.
Botero statue in Medellin
There were plenty more of Botero's statues around the square outside. Does my bum look big in this?.

We went to the historic church of San José and along Junin, one of the pedestrianised shopping avenues, up to the big brick metropolitan cathedral which was closed. We had a very filling lunch in a café along the way and went back to the plaza by the museum and walked the other way along Paseo Carabobo, the other pedestrianised walkway, as far as the old railway station which is now offices and has a solitary old steam engine standing in the courtyard. Tired out, we got a taxi back to the hotel - the driver didn´t know the hotel and fell into the same one-way dead-end trap as last night´s taxi, so we dragged ourselves up the last 500 yards. That evening for a complete change we found a highly-recommended Indian restaurant a mile down the hill from the hotel and had a delicious and quite spicy Indian meal.

Thurs 8th. We went for a cable-car ride way into the hills above Medellin. We actually started half-way up because our Uber driver took us through the interesting but poor neighbourhoods up the hills to Santo Domingo station where we went on the line ´L´ cable car right over the hill to Arvi nature park in the forest behind. We came back down on line L and changed to line K right down to the river in the valley below. Here we switched to the metro (all on the same ticket for about £1.60 each) and sped along the valley to Parque Berrio station near the park full of Botero´s statues. We walked through the shopping streets again, stopping for another delicious passion-fruit ice cream for lunch, whilst watching the worse-for-wear prostitutes peddling their wares in front of the church! In the evening we went down the hill to San Carbon, a big, popular grill-style restaurant in a huge thatched open-sided hall and had ceviche to start and delicious big prawns and a juicy steak, with not-so-good very expensive sangria and red wine. Great fun.

Cartagena

Fri 9th. A taxi took us way up into the hills to Medellin airport and we flew to Cartagena. We were on Latam which is a low-cost airline so we had to pay an extra $15 each for the luggage and there was no in-flight service, but the flight left exactly on time and landed early in less than an hour. The hotel had sent a courtesy car for us and we found the driver wandering round showing our names to everyone he could find.

Hotel Santa Ana Cartagena
Hotel Santa Ana had reserved our favourite room, a huge two-storey space with a spiral staircase up to the bedroom. It was as lovely as we remembered from before.

Maria Jose, the nice lady manager, had given us a bottle of wine to celebrate Sheila´s birthday so we put it in the fridge to have on the day. They brought us a delicious ice-cold welcome drink of coconut lemonade which we sipped in the palm-filled garden. We unpacked and changed into cooler clothes because it was quite a bit hotter down here on the Caribbean coast. In the evening we went for a wander round and found that Plaza Trinidad, our local square in the Getsemani district near the hotel, had become a much more trendy area in the last two years, with lots more bars and restaurants, street food stalls, lots of tourists rather than locals sitting out in the square and a break-dance team performing to loud music in the middle of the street, to the annoyance of taxi drivers who couldn´t get through the crowds. Down the road we found that the restaurant on the corner by the park that we spent so much time in on our last visit having big plates of salamis and cheeses and big jugs of sangria had gone upmarket and didn´t do plates of salamis and cheeses any more which was a disappointment. We went and found a nail salon for Sheila for tomorrow then walked around the busy, lively streets some more and ended up at a nice, small tapas bar called Clandestino down a side street. The proprietor, who spoke excellent English (he was from New York) proudly described the dishes for us. We started off with bruschetta with garlic and tomato and marinated olives which were so delicious that we asked for the recipe and he wrote down all the ingredients that the olives have been marinated in for us (and we don´t normally like olives!) This was followed by a plate of Spanish salamis and cheeses that we´d been looking forward to all this time and it was delicious. Back at the hotel there was loud live music and people having a noisy good time in the street outside, but we were so tired we slept through it anyway.

Sat 10th. At 7 o´clock in the morning it was blissfully quiet outside as everyone was sleeping off last night´s good time. After a very nice breakfast at Casa Santa Ana we had a day of pampering Sheila with a bit of exploring. Sheila had her nails and hair done at Doris salon, recommended by Maria Jose. We walked around checking out some restaurants that Ximenia in Villa de Leyva had recommended which looked very nice (as did many more of the hundreds of restaurants in the old town) then stopped at the KGB bar where we sheltered from a rainstorm two years ago. Back then they did an amazing ceviche (prawns in lemon, herbs and spices) but now they only have hamburgers on the menu, and the one we ordered never turned up, so we just had some black beers for lunch. While Sheila´s pampering continued I went to Mila bakery (recommended by Ximenia) for a nice salami, ham and cheese sandwich and coffee. In the evening we went back to Clandestino for more delicious olives, salamis and cheeses and wine of course.

Sun 11th.

Cartagena old city balcony
We had a stroll round the town photographing the pretty flower-covered balconies and having a look in the museum of the Inquisition which was a bit of a non-event.

We bought a salami, ham & cheese sandwich at Mila bakery (there have been lots of salamis and cheeses on this holiday - the diet starts as soon as we get home!) and took it back to the hotel where we opened the bottle of wine and started Sheila´s birthday celebrations. In the evening we had yet more salamis and cheeses at Clandestino then sat at a café in Plaza Trinidad watching all the happenings in the lively square, with a Zumba dance team on the church steps, a mime mimicking all the passers-by in the street and all the cafés packed with crowds. As we sat drinking our beers we noticed the French couple that we bumped into along the way in Villa de Leyva and Barichara at the café across the street and chatted with them - our paths crossed yet again!

Mon 12th.

Cartagena Torre del Reloj
We had another nice walk round the picturesque old town  ....
Cartagena birthday cake
.... and returned to the hotel where they had very kindly given us a chocolate cake for Sheila´s birthday, so we had a boozy, chocolatey lunch with the rest of the wine.

I tried to walk round the city walls but it was so windy I had to hold my hat on the whole time which was too difficult so I came back to the hotel. We had another drink on the square in the evening watching all the hustle and bustle, then walked around looking for a restaurant until eventually we went to Café Lunatico, recommended by the French couple, where we had rather slow service but absolutely delicious tuna tartare, cochinelle (suckling pig) and creamy rice with prawns.

Nassau, Bahamas (via Panama and Miami)

Tues 13th. We arrived at Cartagena airport bright and early to find that our Avianca flight to Miami had been cancelled and they hadn't tried to let us know. This was a problem because we had a non-refundable flight on from Miami to Nassau and a non-refundable hotel booked there. However, after a bit of investigation they transferred us onto a Copa Airways flight to Panama and a flight on from there to Miami in time for our connection, so after three flights and four countries we did eventually arrive in Nassau at 8pm. Immigration and baggage proceeded so smoothly that we were out of the airport while the taxi we'd pre-arranged was still driving to meet us, but before long we got to the Oasis Retreat that we had booked and this was the second big disappointment of the day. Instead of the split-level two-bed apartment advertised on booking.com they tried to put us into a pokey little corner room. Sheila was soon on the phone to the proprietor who agreed to move us into the big split-level suite next door, then "we'll see what happens tomorrow". We walked down the road to the 'fish fry', a collection of barbecue shacks and restaurants that the taxi driver had pointed out, and there we met Johnny and May, a nice, enthusiastic couple from Seattle who persuaded us to try Sky Juice and Pink Harbour, two unique Bahamian cocktails along with our smoky jerk pork.

Weds 14th. We met Errol, the friendly owner of Oasis Retreat and he agreed that the description on Booking.com was misleading, so he offered to let us stay in his beach house instead. He was still working on the kitchen and some things were unfinished (Sheila had no intention of cooking anyway), but the master suite upstairs was fabulous. Nicely furnished and decorated, the big comfortable bed had amazing views through windows on three sides of the sea right outside, with the sound of the waves crashing just below us. The garden had recliner chairs and a Jacuzzi on the rocks right beside the sea. It was wonderful and we were very happy to move there. While the housekeeper was getting it ready we left our bags there and Errol kindly gave us a lift back to town. We had a strange brunch of conch soup (very chewy) and bean soup (all solid doughy gnocchi and few beans) and after that a walk around the historic centre of Nassau, which has several nice old buildings and hundreds of tourist shops. There were only two cruise ships in port so it was, according to a local, a quiet day.

Nassau Graycliff hotel
We walked up to the historic Graycliff hotel which was nice and atmospheric but rather overpoweringly dark with all the dark wooden rooms and furniture (although the bedrooms look wonderful on booking.com), and a jungle-like garden round its two swimming pools (one was the first swimming pool on the island apparently).

We got on a passing number 10 bus which took us the four miles or so out to Sandy Port, the upmarket suburb of Nassau where our beach house was located. Sheila did some sunbathing (she managed a whole half-hour) and had a relax in the Jacuzzi, later we got the bus back into town and had a drink on the balcony of Sharkeez bar watching one of the cruise ships reverse out of port and sail off into the dusk. By now it was after 6pm and downtown Nassau was shut and nearly deserted. We bought a couple of bottles of wine at a bottle shop, the only thing still open, and got a bus out to City Market in Cable Beach on the way to Sandy Port. There we stocked up with a hugely expensive assortment of salamis and cheeses (one of the packets of salami was £20) which we had with the wine as a Valentine's day treat in the dining room of our beach house (it was a bit too dark and windy to have them in the garden outside as we'd originally planned).

Thurs 15th. We caught the number 10 bus again down to the town for the fixed fare of $1.25 each, had another look round the shops and had an excellent brunch at the Twisted Lime - American-size portions of lamb gyro (wrap) and a tasty fish sandwich, both with French fries.

Nassau beach house
We came back to the beach house and had a dip in the Jacuzzi  ....
Nassau beach house
.... and a paddle in the sea at our nearby little private beach.

We went back into town for a sunset drink but the service in Sharkeez was very slow this tame so we came home before the buses stopped running and had another wonderful meal of the rest of the salamis, cheeses and wines.

Providenciales island, Turks and Caicos

Fri 16th. There was no sign of the taxi that Errol had promised so we stood out on the road worrying about getting to the airport and trying to flag someone down, until a taxi pulled up (which may or may not have been Errol's) and took us there. We were just in time - as we dashed up to the check-in desk they addressed us by name and had clearly been waiting to close the check-in. After this the flight, on a 30-seat propeller Embraer, was uneventful. As arranged, Laura the very nice proprietor of the Airb&b, came to pick us up accompanied by one of her friendly dogs, and kindly gave us a bit of an orientation tour of central Providenciales island. After dropping our bags at the house she again kindly took us to Grace Bay, where most of the hotels and restaurant are. We had a sandwich and a Caesar salad in an Italian café for lunch then walked around the shops which didn't take very long - Providenciales makes Nassau seem like a mega-city. Everything is even more horrendously expensive here than the Bahamas which was bad enough, including taxis who charge a fortune to go a tiny distance, but Laura had explained how to flag down a Jitney - the unlicenced taxis usually with illegal-immigrant Haitian drivers who charge $5 per person, a fraction of the main taxi fare - and one of them got us back to her house with no problem.

Providenciales drinks in the garden

Back there we sat in the garden outside our room drinking wine and beer that we got from the supermarket and nibbling cheese and salami while one of Laura's dogs looked on enviously, until the dusk closed in and the insects came out to bite us, when we retired to our room to finish our meal.

Sat 17th. After a nice lazy start, making the most of Laura's washer and drier to wash our clothes (so nice to have clean, ironed clothes again), we called David the Jitney driver from yesterday who came and took us to Coral Gardens at the beginning of the Grace Bay resorts.

Providenciales Bay Bistro
We walked along the soft white sand in the sunshine by the beautiful blue sea for the best part of an hour until we came to the Bay Bistro by the Sibonne Hotel, which Laura had recommended. There we stopped for an excellent brunch of eggs benedict with a Mimosa (champagne & orange juice) and a fried fish sandwich and nice Barefoot Californian wine. It was a lovely spot, sitting on their verandah overlooking the beach and the hotel's garden.

Eventually we carried on walking up the beach as far as the Regent Grand where we back-tracked through the shops to Shay Café for a coffee. We walked back along the beach to Bay Bistro and had delicious raspberry sorbet, then flagged down a Jitney to take us back home. In the evening we sat out in the garden again as the sun went down, enjoying the rest of our salamis, cheeses, wine and beer until Laura came home and we had a pleasant chat on the verandah with her and her sociable dogs and cat.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Sun 18th. Up early and Laura very kindly gave us a lift to the airport where we got our flight to Miami. Because Puerto Rico is an American colony we had to go through immigration in Miami (instead of San Juan) and pick up our luggage just to take it across the hall to drop it off at the transit desk. We had a nice sandwich and wine at a restaurant that took our Priority Pass as there was no actual lounge, and flew to San Juan. The airport taxis there were very well organized and fixed price and we were soon installed in our spacious two-bedroom airb&b apartment in Old San Juan, in the centre of the old city. We had a short walk round then a tasty meal of 'sliders' (which turned out to be mini burgers with brie and bacon) and ribs, in a 3rd floor restaurant right opposite the windows of our apartment.

Mon 19th. We walked round the old town for a while until we stopped for lunch at a nameless but very popular pizza and tapas bar on the corner of Fortaleza and Tanca streets for lunch. We had a pesto & ham pizza and garlic mushrooms, mini empanadas and salted chips with local beer and very smooth red wine, which was all delicious. In the evening we walked in the other direction from the main square and sat outside Marilyn's Bar and had drinks and a very tasty burrito.

Booty's Bar San Juan
We set off in search of another bar for a last drink but it started to rain so we ducked into Booty's Bar and had a drink with a couple of bearded bikers from Minnesota. They had come to work in one of the teams who had won one of the contracts to rebuild Puerto Rico after last year's hurricane. The bar was playing country music and Keith (on the right) tried to teach Sheila the two-step.

In the Turks & Caicos the Canadian electricity company shipped in teams of workers who had the electricity restored in two weeks. The teams here couldn't start work until the heavy machinery was released from the port on payment of a very large fee. 

Tues 20th.

San Juan El Morro fort with cruise ship
We started our sightseeing at El Morro, the original well-preserved fort which has guarded San Juan harbour for 500 years.
Cathedral Plaza San Juan
From there we walked through the pretty streets and squares of the old town to the cathedral where we sat in the cool shade inside for a few minutes.

We had a look at La Fortaleza, the oldest mansion in the western hemisphere and now the governor's mansion, and the tiny Christ chapel built on the city wall overlooking the sea and strolled down to the waterfront where the cruise ship we had watched coming into port from the fort was now moored up and disgorging passengers onto the dock. We walked up the street to café Puerto Rico by Plaza Colon, where we had delicious prawn gumbo and prawns in garlic sauce with rice, beans and real potato chips, with a very alcoholic sangria. On the way back to the apartment we bought passion fruit sorbet from an ice cream shop and raced back to get it into the freezer before it melted. As dusk approached we set out for a 'pub crawl' and headed towards the port, stopping for 2-for-$5 beers along the way. After looking at the cruise ship which was still in port, we stopped at a cocktail bar on the waterfront for another beer. It started to rain so we moved to the indoor section of the bar with everyone else and when the rain stopped we walked around the old city looking for somewhere to eat. However, it was after 9pm and all we could find were bars with very loud music that didn't serve food, and as the rain came on again we raced to St Germain restaurant on the corner next to our apartment where we had a delicious fish sandwich and blue-cheese pizza with glasses of wine, sitting in the living-room like rooms in the historic house where the restaurant is located.

Weds 21st.

San Juan windy fort
We went to San Cristobal fort, the other part of the city fortifications, and got blown to shreds as we admired the views.
Street in Old San Juan
We walked round the shops, had a look in St Francisco church and went down steep streets to the port to see the two cruise ships moored up at the dock.

We walked up the hill towards Christ chapel, sheltered from the first rainstorm by having a dulce de leche ice cream and the second by having a burrito and guacamole for lunch at El Parnasi Mexican restaurant on Cristo Street, ducking inside and outside as the rain swept through and the sun shone. After sleeping off lunch we set out for a walk in the evening, but cut it short as the rain came on again and went back to St Germain for a wonderfully tasty meal of the best ever ceviche and a fish sandwich (much better than it sounds!).

Thurs 22nd. We set out to see Casa Blanca, the historic house and museum that was the last thing on our sightseeing list, but after diverting via various shops and the waterfront which was heaving with passengers from the three cruise ships, we found Casa Blanca was closed for renovations.

Marilyn's Bar, San Juan
We consoled ourselves by having a superb lunch at Marilyn's bar, starting with a the ubiquitous plate of delicious salamis, cheeses and olives, followed by a tasty burrito with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo, with wine of course.
Statues in Plaza de Armas San Juan
In the afternoon I sat in the main square having a cup of coffee watching the world go by and four of the statues not moving (the fifth only moved if you put money in his cup). It had become much quieter because the three huge cruise ships had departed.

In the evening we walked around wondering where to get a snack because we were still full from lunch, and just down the street from our flat we found 'Birra & Empanada' which was a nice friendly locals' place where we had a very good sangria with passion-fruit juice and tasty empanadas.

Fri 23rd. We zig-zagged through some shopping streets down to the port and got on the free 'trolley' that does a continuous circuit of the old town.

La Perla township, San Juan
On a whim we got off between the two forts and walked down into La Perla, a barrio of colourful small houses nestled between the city walls and the sea. There was an enormous amount of damage and it had obviously suffered in the hurricane.

By now it felt like lunchtime so we went back to El Parnasi and this time we could sit out at one of the street tables in the sun instead of sheltering from the rain as we had delicious prawn fajitas. Back at the apartment we ordered an Uber taxi over to Condado, the beach area with rows of modern hotels along the seafront, where we walked up and down the beach dodging the stormy seas until we were exhausted and retired to a Starbucks for a coffee and ordered an Uber to take us back. In the evening we had a starter of empanadas and sangria at Birra & Empanada, then went back to St Germain for main courses of their wonderful ceviches.

Sat 24th. We had a leisurely pack and at 11am found the cleaner sitting on the stairs outside the apartment waiting for us to leave as agreed. We went with our suitcases into the St Germain café on the ground floor opposite (as opposed to their restaurant on the next floor up) and stretched a coffee, eggs benedict, Norwegian sandwich (smoked salmon, cream cheese & capers) and key lime pie over the next four hours until it was time to go to the airport and fly home via Bogota, arriving at 2pm on Sunday afternoon.


To see our other travels, click here ........ Globe