Some friends from the hostel had a rental car so on the morning of my birthday a few of us piled into the car and armed with a map and directions we took off for a tour of the Bacardi factory! Wow, what a pain in the ass! Here are a few things to know about San Juan (and Puerto Rico in general I later discovered)...
1) Road signs are not to be trusted.
2) Names of streets are not to be trusted.
3) Other drivers? Not to be trusted!
4) Police? Yeah, don't expect them to care whether drivers are obeying the traffic laws or not.
A simple short drive to the Bacardi factory turned into an adventure in driving through the clusterfuck that is San Juan. First I (as navigator) got fired. Then Thomas. Funsize didn't even try, so I got rehired and refired. Then Thomas. Then back to me. We kept missing exits, finding new exits, getting turned around, going the wrong way, getting back on a road we recognized, taking off in a new direction, then eventually making it to the road we wanted to be on to begin with! And we did eventually made it, all in once piece, laughing and already having a good morning.
The Bacardi factory offers free tours, and it only takes an hour or so. And afterwards you're given two tickets for a couple of free drinks at the bar, so I found the experience to be fun and totally worth it! You get a bit of a history lesson, finding out that this company is the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world... founded in the 1860s and run by the past 7 generations of Bacardis. You learn that the San Juan factory produces 85% of the world's Bacardi rum. The other 15% is produced in Mexico City. You're given lessons on how to make the two major drinks made with Bacardi rum... the mojito, and the the mint julep.
Afterward they take you on down to the floor where you learn about the stages of making the rum. Fermentation. Distillation. Aging. And finally... Blending. We trooped up to a viewing area where we got to see one of the giant Distillation warehouses.
Once the lessons and tour were over it's back onto the trolley and back to the gift shop and bar. I ended up buying a bottle of the Torched Cherry rum, and as I checked out I made sure to tell the guy at the cash register that it was my birthday! So to celebrate he pulls out a shot glass and pours me a generous shot of the Bacardi Limited... their top of the line, $90 a bottle rum. O.M.G! Best rum I've ever had! Smooth and dark, it poured over my tongue and down my throat like nothing I've ever tasted before. I've been lucky enough to taste some very spectacular scotches over the years, and now I can say that this rum is just as good. I understand the concept of a "sipping" rum. No way would I want to ruin this rum by mixing it with something else.
The guys and I grabbed a table and enjoyed our two free drinks. Then my new favorite rum enabler comes out of the gift shop and presents me with a ticket for another free drink. And pretty soon he comes over the intercom and announces it is my birthday and I get a round of applause from the various tourists sitting around enjoying their own drinks.
This time I decided to ask the bartender what he'd mix with the cherry rum, since I now had a bottle and had no idea what a good mixer would be for it! He made me up something with lemonade and cranberry juice... an odd combination to my mind, but holy crap a delicious one to my taste buds! As we were up and getting ready to leave, the guy at the ticket counter called me over and he gave me yet ANOTHER free drink ticket (gave one to the guys too). So we all went back and got a final drink (in my case a 4th) to enjoy on the drive back to the hostel.
We stopped at a food cart right outside the factory gates and all four of us ordered (not knowing what it was at first but thinking what the hell) a "Tripletta" for lunch. It ended up being chicken/bacon/ham chopped up and fried and put into a sandwich with lettuce and tomato and a sauce I didn't recognize. And ho boy was it tasty! I was already past the tipping point of getting drunk on rum so having solid food in me was definitely a good thing.
I spent the rest of the day hanging out with people at the hostel. Drinking rum, sharing rum, and generally being relaxed and happy to celebrate my birthday in such an inebriated way. *laughs* I met a guy from New Jersey who had just checked in and found out that it was his birthday too, and we ended up spending a lot of time hanging out for the rest of the weekend.
We were going to get a group together to go out on the town that night, but by the time everyone else was ready to go it was already past my bedtime (damn me being a morning person and not a night person!) so I decided to get some sleep. Eric (birthday twin) and I had made plans for the next day that involved a very early start. And we both wanted to ensure we were well rested.
All in all, it was a great birthday. And considering I'd come close to dying the day before... just amazing that I was alive to enjoy it.