Enjoying mojitos, mofongo & more in San Juan

Sat. January 14, 2017 12:00 AM
by Ross Forman

Looking for the Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame Museum and also finding monument honoring victims of Pulse Nightclub attack

I was told it would be an easy, casual 20 or 30 minute walk from the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino to the Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame Museum.

Of course I knew the Hall would be highlighted by Baseball Hall of Fame icon Roberto Clemente, but I wanted to know and see who else was spotlighted. I just couldn't find out the hours that this Hall would be open, nor could personnel at the Marriott, where I was staying during a recent visit to this unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea.

The walk was probably 45-minutes, mostly because I did some window-shopping en route and stopped along the way to take a few pictures. Selfies, too. Puerto Rico is picturesque, and its waterfront provides plenty of Polaroid moments – with my smart phone, naturally.

I got to the Hall and, as expected, it was closed. I saw some of the outside statues and signage, but not much else. And no one nearby could tell me the hours it would, in fact, be open.

The Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame Museum opened in March 2012 under the bleachers at Sixto Escobar Stadium (Estadio Sixto Escobar) at the Parque del Tercer Milenio in the Escambron Beach area of Old San Juan.

The museum has basic information (names, sports and years) for about 600 athletes. Some of the most famous ones get large bilingual informational presentations.

The Puerto Rican sporting stars include Chi-Chi Rodriguez (golf), Sixto Escobar (boxer), Felix 'Tito' Trinidad Jr. (boxer), and Roberto Alomar (baseball), among others.

The Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame Museum probably isn't high on the must-see list for many tourists, but my passion for sports said it's a must-try-to-see.

I walked around the stadium, seeing a jogger inside on the track. Made me wish I had known and had my marathon-running shoes with me. I was almost completely around the outside of the stadium when I saw this colorful statue in the distance.

It was, ironically, the next spot on my quick afternoon excursion that I really wanted to see, though I didn't know it was so close to the first, nor that I would find it without really trying.

Puerto Rico has unveiled its first LGBT monument this summer – a memorial to the 49 victims of the June 12 massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Most of the people killed were LGBT and Latino, and 23 victims were of Puerto Rican descent.

The monument, located in San Juan's Third Millennium Park, is comprised of seven rectangular columns in rainbow colors, and sits at the entrance to the Sixto Escobar Stadium. At the base of the monument is a plaque highlighting the names of the 23 Puerto Rican victims killed in the massacre, with the additional 26 victims listed, too.

Alongside the names, Spanish text reads:

"This tribute to life strengthens our commitment to fight hate — the product of homophobia — with love and respect. Our slogan resounds in all our hearts: Love is love, is love, is love... "

San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin attended the unveiling.

The monument cost about $9,000 and was funded by city taxpayers, it was reported, and the dedication took place almost one year after a federal judge in Puerto Rico first ruled in favor of marriage equality.

Of course I took photos of the monument, and thankfully there was a pair of policemen on break nearby. One was more than willing to take pictures of me at the monument – so thanks!

There are plenty of other memorable moments from my first-ever visit to Puerto Rico, such as mojitos – some made by the San Juan Marriott bartenders, some made by myself, and I even watched Jose Gonzalez Espinosa, who is the General Manager of the Marriott, make his first-ever mojito.

The drink was much better than expected.

As for food, the first thing that comes to mind was, mofongo. Of course I had some, with shrimp. Mofongo (pronounced mo'fo?go) is a Puerto Rican dish of African origin with fried plantains as its main ingredient. Plantains are picked green and fried then mashed with salt, garlic and oil in a wooden pilón. Mofongo arrives on your plate in a tight ball of mashed plantains. Tasty, yes, but not something I'd want in every meal.

Another memorable food experience in San Juan was dinner at Cocina Abierta, where chef Ivonne Martinez taught and cooked an elaborate, multi-course traditional Puerto Rican dinner. I helped her cook, too – that's part of the program here. The menu that night included an octopus salad, arroz con gandules (pigeon peas rice), cumin and oregano rubbed porkloin with mojo isleno, followed by barrilito and local honey-ripe plantain flambe with vanilla gelato.

Delicious, and quite filling.

Walking off the calories was on tap the next day when I toured Old San Juan, which is a must for visitors. Old San Juan is the oldest settlement in Puerto Rico and the historic colonial section of San Juan.

The settlement is a National Historic Landmark District and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Old San Juan features an abundance of shops, historic places, museums, open-air cafés, restaurants, and so much more.