While walking up the road to San Filipe Del Morro castle, one of two old forts within walking distance of the cruise ship docks in San Juan Puerto Rico, we spied two bright yellow bikes chained to a lamp post. Fascinated, John stopped to take photos. The bikes advertised themselves, boldly painted with the name of the place they came from. We went on to tour the castle and back to the Holland America Westerdam, but he decided if we visited San Juan again he would really like to rent those bikes.
We did return to San Juan, this time on the Carnival Liberty. I looked up the Rent the Bicycle bike rental place online before our trip, but not thoroughly enough to remember exactly where to find it, just that it was within walking distance of the cruise ship dock. With cruise ship internet being slow and expensive we did not bother looking it up on the boat when the port-shopping map the cruise ship provided us with clearly showed a visitor information center not far from the docks.
On the short walk to the visitor’s center, we were bombarded by people trying to sell us $10 tours of the city. If we had no other plans we might have been tempted, as we’ve always enjoyed random bus tours. This time though we had a goal in mind and told them all no. The nice lady at the visitor’s center said that the bike rental place was beyond the opposite end of the cruise ship docks, but that she could call them and they’d come pick us up right there. She gave us a map and we stepped outside to wait for the van, which pulled up to the curb moments later.
The bike rental guy said he sometimes sets up a kiosk near the boat docks and people can rent the bikes right there. We had not noticed it. He took us down to his shop and set us up with bikes (and unfortunately helmets which he seemed to expect us to wear so we actually did.) He also gave us a map and specified a route that would take us to a bike path where we could ride to a park with trees so old they had huge trunks and roots growing from their branches, the oldest trees in San Juan. That route would also take us to a different fort farther from town, a local market and some great views.
We started out to take that route, but when we weren’t sure exactly where we were before we even got out of town we decided we did not want to get so far away from the ship and turned the other way toward Castillo San Cristobal instead. The other way probably had better bike riding, but going through town made for a lot of great photo ops. San Juan has many scenic places. On some beaches huge waves roar in, pounding the shore furiously while churning sand into a brown sludge at the water’s edge. Other beaches the waves roll in, lapping the sand without seriously disturbing it. Old bits of wall with garita lookout towers that pop up between newer buildings in random places, brightly colored buildings on blue brick roads, and the forts themselves all beg to be photographed.
We rode past San Cristobal. In between the two forts sits a row of brightly colored houses, many in ill-repair. One had the roof completely missing from the top floor.
In most places that would be prime real estate, beachfront property or at least ocean view. It is on the side of the island where monstrous waves thunder in, probably with an undertow unsafe for swimming, but even so it did seem a rather odd place for slums.
Near El Morro we found some of San Juan’s many cats. One garita held a cat feeding station, with several cats nearby. One came up meowing for some attention. The others seemed a bit more shy, preferring to stay out of reach.
Through the window of a nearby garita, I saw what looked like the perfect bike path many feet below, though no way to get there. Through another window a red gate loomed large, the way in to the path. Just then someone walked by asking directions to that exact gate, the San Juan Gate.
We went the other direction, hoping to find a way down to that path nearer to El Morro, and then to ride back. We passed a guard near one of those gate arm things across the road who said riding bikes there was fine. Farther on we came to a map of the fort area, and a no bike riding sign. We turned around and went back toward the San Juan Gate, stopping to ask another security guy along the way if we could ride there. He said yes and gave us directions to it. Once through the gate we stopped for some photos, but as soon as we started to get back on the bikes yet another guard said we could not take them toward the castle from there. We could go the other direction only if we walked them. The path to the castle is called Paseo del Morro, toward town it is Paseo de la Princesa.
We walked the bikes down a short distance and found one of those giant trees with roots growing from the branches next to the path, which had a brown cat running down it.
Around the corner we stopped on some benches near some spiky sculpture things to eat the fresh organic oranges the bike guy had given us. Meanwhile a couple groups of people on the segway tour went by, riding them on the path.
Then a 4-wheeler and a motorcycle went past in the other direction. After we finished our oranges and came to the end of the path, we saw a police car drive in. So it seems everything can be driven or ridden down that path except bicycles.
Last year’s trip to the Caribbean brought sunshine every day. This time we have ran into rain or wind most places. Following the drenching we received in St Thomas, we packed along rain gear setting out on a sunny day in San Juan. We hadn’t been off the path where we weren’t allowed to ride the bikes long before rain suddenly beat down on us from a near-blue sky. We got a bit wet while we rummaged through the backpack looking for the rain gear, but got it on soon enough to avoid a major soaking.
We rode toward the docks, not getting far before the rain turned to sprinkles and then disappeared all together. We stopped near a row of food trucks where a couple small green parrots begged for crumbs alongside San Juan’s ever-present pigeons. The tree overhead came alive with a flock of parrots, and the two on the ground flew off with them. We took the raincoats off and rode on toward the waterfront.
From there we rode past the ship docks and back to the bike rental shop, stopping for pictures of Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam pulling in next to the Liberty.
The bikes are one-speed, but easy to ride. They glide along without much pedaling effort on flat areas. Even on the uphills we only found one steep enough that we needed to walk the bikes, and that was mainly due to a of a crowd of pedestrians on a narrow sidewalk.
Rent the Bicycle also offers guided tours.
Leaving port, we had great views from the balcony of our cabin. A rainbow over the Holland America ship and sea views of El Morro. Waves with a burst of salty spray splashing over and through a row of rocks jutting from the sea several yards from the shore leave the impression of a sea moat for the old castle.