A (sort of) travel article from Australia’s Weekly Times.
MANY Aussie farmers may enjoy their Bundy and Cokes, but in Puerto Rico the love of rum is taken to a whole new level.
The home of Bacardi, Don Q, Ron del Barrilito and Trigo, to name a few famous brands, the love of rum is so entrenched Puerto Ricans have founded a festival of rum and boldly declare themselves the “rum capital of the world”.
It is also the country’s biggest export, with almost 160 million litres of rum shipped out around the world each year.
Whether it’s the rum, the beaches, the warm, turquoise waters, the culture, architecture or the people, it’s not hard to find Puerto Rico absolutely intoxicating.
I rarely drink spirits, but on my second night in old San Juan, the historic heart of the nation’s capital, I find myself in El Batey, a rustic, charming bar next to my hotel. On the recommendation of the bartender, who looks like he knows a thing or two about the famous spirit, I order a rum.
One drink soon becomes two and it is immediately apparent why Puerto Ricans so love their rum — it tastes pretty darn good. As tempting as it is to sample many more of the rum varieties on offer at the bar, I leave, having an early morning (small) plane to catch to Culebra, but I make a vow to immerse myself more in Puerto Rico’s national pastime.
Culebra is a small island off the east coast of mainland Puerto Rico and is home to about 2000 Puerto Ricans and some expatriate Americans. It has a very dry climate and as such, there is little run-off into its surrounding beaches, making for crystal clear and clean water, some of the best in the Caribbean.
Culebra boasts many beautiful beaches including the stunning Flamenco Beach (Playa Flamenco), rated the third best beach in the world for 2014 by Tripadvisor.
But even on Flamenco Beach, rum’s pivotal role in local society is apparent.
As extended family groups take up spots on the beach’s beautiful soft white sand early one morning, each carries a large Esky (usually red) full of rum, ice and mixers and it’s never too early to start sipping.
Despite the free-flowing spirits, I see no aggressiveness or rudeness as the day unfolds, just that famous Latino laid-back attitude and some ordinary music blaring from some of the musical speakers the locals also love to bring to the beach.
After a few days exploring and sunning ourselves on Culebra, it’s time to fly back to old San Juan, the second oldest city in the New World, with more than 500 years of history.
With its cobblestone streets, beautiful colonial (and colourful) architecture, historic forts, squares and amazing sea vistas, old San Juan has been enchanting visitors for centuries.
But a visit here is not complete without a tour of the Bacardi factory, the largest rum distillery in the world.
A short drive or ferry ride from old San Juan, the tour is free (although if you go with a tour company it can cost up to $40), it is open seven days a week and tours in Spanish and English leave every 20 minutes.
History and memorabilia are mixed in equal portions on the tour, as is the fundamental role rum plays in Puerto Rican society.
A bartender will even show you how to make a proper Mojito among other cocktails.
And, perhaps, most appropriately, every adult who goes on the tour receives two free rums to be enjoyed at your leisure.
You have to drink to that — and to Puerto Rico.