We stayed at El Convento (The nunnery) during the Caribbean Mardi Gras
Where do I start? Ok, when it comes to LGBT traveling, there are places a gay man should avoid at all costs. When my friends suggested Puerto Rico, I wasn’t quite sure. I pictured all these macho-men spreading their testosterone everywhere. But I was wrong. It was fabulous!
Our vacation was coincidental with one of their largest festivals, St. Sebastian Festival in Old San Juan. The locals actually call it Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián. We arrived two days before the carnival started and got a chance to do our touristy stuff before the street party started. It was 4 friends and I– oh! And my friend Michael’s annoying bed pillow (he can’t travel without it, it’s completely insane!). We stayed at El Convento Hotel. I must admit I was curious. I asked a friend for his advice before booking any hotel in San Juan and he said “Oh, El Convento in Puerto Rico? That placed used to be a nunnery.”, and let’s be honest, when you think about vacations nunnery is not what jumps to mind. But I loved it! I’m a super duper clean freak, and this place was spotless and first-rate.
If you’re already assuming that the festival is a gay parade, you’re wrong (insert game show buzzer sound effect here). It’s packed with local families, and young and older crowds. We saw a few tourists. You know what they say: “The worst thing about being a tourist is having other tourists recognize you as a tourist.” Hope they didn’t recognize us! Except for the happy-go-lucky couple from Chicago we met there. Two cuties!
This 4-day event in January is celebrated every year. We went at night at first. Good food and music; mostly everyone was drinking. What I loved the most was the “pleneros”. These are groups of musicians who play hand drums with traditional Puerto Rican music. People went crazy every time the music started. It turned into something like a Caribbean Mardi Gras! Minus the boobs. Everyone was so friendly. It got crowded and festive, but it never turned too rowdy even though the party spreads throughout all Old San Juan.
When we walked back to El Convento, I uploaded like 700 photos and videos to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. The Internet connection was perfect in my room. The hotel scored major brownie points there!
The day after, we walked around Old San Juan (after waking up at 2:00 p.m. Hello!). It was a totally different experience at daytime. There is a beautiful cultural side to the festival. You get to see some of it at night, but not as much. We saw “cabezudos”, which are costumed heads made out papier maché, and part of a Spanish tradition.
We bought so many gifts and souvenirs from the artists and craftsmen who were selling their works! Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián are like Puerto Rico in a package.
Next time, I’ll bring a bigger suitcase to fit all of it, and probably come back to another big festival or event, like the celebration of Three Kings’ Day in Juana Díaz, the Heineken Jazz Fest, New Year’s Eve –or perhaps my big fat gay wedding. Yaaas!