Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Formal and Informal Ways the Irish Learn Traditional Music

A typical Galway music session (Photo: Chris Hill)
I'm increasingly interested in learning how and why people play traditional music.  Did you start as a child or learn as an adult?  Did you have musical parents or family members or did you seek it out on your own?  Did you take lessons or teach yourself?  Did you play another style of music prior to this? Do you learn by reading music or play entirely by ear?  Do you deliberately practice scales and exercises, or do you simply learn by playing tunes?  Do you look at the tunes from a music theory perspective, or does theory not even enter into the equation?  Questions like that.

Jessica Cawley
While trolling the internet for this type of information I came across an Undergraduate Research Journal article written by a young woman named Jessica Cawley titled Investigating the Ways the Irish Learn Music.  Originally a saxophone performer, Jessica spent the summer of 2005 in Galway Ireland listening to and observing trad music sessions, getting to know the musicians who play in them, and interviewing the players about the ways they learned the music.  She found that the session musicians in Galway had diverse learning experiences.  As an academic musician, the study also had some unforeseen effects on Jessica's personal philosophy about music, allowing her to rediscover the joy behind all music.

It's an interesting 7-page article and you can read it here:

After the study was published, Jessica would return to Ireland to pursue traditional music full-time, taking up the flute, which has become her primary instrument.  She is now an active performer of traditional music and saxophone in the Cork area!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Find Out The Names Of Tunes With Tunepal!

Tunepal is an app with the trad player in mind.  Using a unique query-by-playing interface, Tunepal helps musicians identify the names of traditional Irish, Scots, Welsh and Breton tunes.  

All you do is hold your iPhone, iPad or Android up to a melody-instrument such as tin-whistle, flute, concertina, accordion, fiddle or banjo, tap to record and Tunepal searches its database of thousands of tunes to find the closest matches.  Titles of matching tunes are shown and you can view the notation on your device or play it back as a midi file.

We tested Tunepal the other night at our trad session on an unknown jig.  Our banjo and flute maestros played the mystery melody together while Tunepal listened.  Within seconds Tunepal delivered its response: “Paddy O’Rafferty with 89% certainty”.  Pretty cool.  Tunes can also be retrieved by typing in a title. 

At a cost under $5, Tunepal is a handy reference app for musicians.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Rare, One-of-a-Kind Brooks Masten Tenor Banjo For Sale - $950

Update - SOLD - actually traded it for a mandolin.

I'm maxed out on banjos, so to make room for another I'm thinking of selling my Brooks Masten tenor banjo, which was custom-made by Brooks in 2008.  Includes a very protective form-fitting custom Glenn Chronkhite gig bag/soft case.  (The case is a $240 value).  Contact me to buy this banjo now! Make an offer!
Brooks Masten tenor banjo w/ walnut neck
Brooks Masten is one of the premier banjo builders working today, and the craftmanship on this tenor banjo is superb. It is currently set up left-handed, with side-position dots on the left-hand side, but as you probably know tenor banjos are easily set up as either righty or lefty.  All you do is switch out the bridge and the nut...everything else is the same either way.
Brooks 77 engraved on the rod.
It has a walnut neck hand-crafted by Brooks. Vega scale length - 17 frets, 20.25" scale. Ebony fretboard.  The open back rim is a 10 3/4" vintage slingerland tenor rim - birdseye maple veneer on the outside and a rosewood cap on the bottom.  With fybreskin head.  It has a brass tone ring, aged hardwear for a vintage look, and a hard-to-find Kershner 4-string tailpiece.  
Irish coin in headstock
The neck is 1 1/4" at the nut and 1 1/2" at the heel.  It has a truss rod.  There's a bone nut.  The paddle shaped peg head has a unique Irish coin embedded in it.  Brooks' signature look is an Indian-head penny, but he used a larger coin of my choosing this time.  Another interesting feature is the fretboard dot at the 9th fret instead of the 10th.  Don't let that throw you off!
Glenn Cronkhite case (green and blue) - perfect fit
Fybreskin head
Birdseye maple rim
I would prefer to sell to a North American buyer.  The cost to ship within the continental US will probably be around $40.  Canadian shipping costs TBD.  Please send me an email (sixwatergrog "at" gmail dot com) or leave a comment if you have a question or are interested in buying.

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Lesson with Eamon O'Leary

Eamon O'Leary
Last month I had two hour-long Irish tenor banjo lessons with Eamon O'Leary when he was in Williamsburg, VA to teach at the Boxwood Festival - one lesson on a Thursday and one on a Saturday.  Eamon didn't seem too concerned with time and each lesson ran longer than the allotted hour. 

I instantly liked Eamon O'Leary upon meeting him.  His easy-going, patient nature allowed me to learn some tunes phrase by phrase in a way that I had never been able to do before.  Eamon wasn't concerned with changing my "one finger per fret" fretboard assignment, although he uses mandolin style fingering.

Eamon did bring to my attention several things that I could do to improve.  In fact, he was probably more critical of my playing than anyone ever has been to me in person, but I was appreciative of that.  He had a constructive way of phrasing his pointers that made me feel encouraged and not defensive.

Below are some of the things he told me to work on:
--Watch your over emphasis on "the one".  Smooth it out.
--Shorten pick strokes for a more efficient movement.
--Don't lift fingers on the fretting hand until you have to. When you do lift them keep them close to the fretboard; don't lift them far.
--Experiment with putting in double stops wherever you can.
--Look for places where you can put triplets.
--Some triplets don't have to be melodic. In other words, instead of making a triplet F# > E > D, which would be more melodic, you can do it as F# > F# > D.

Those are the main notes I took.  We didn't talk too much about ornamentation or variation; just about throwing in some triplets or double stops as you see fit.  I recorded the lessons so I plan on reviewing them again to pick up more details I might have missed.  In addition, Eamon taught me two tunes I had never played before: the reel My Love is In America and the jig The Black Rogue.  I now love both of these tunes, especially Black Rogue, and they have now become regular parts of my repertoire.

I'd definitely take some follow up lessons from Eamon O'Leary if he's ever back in the area. Eamon's currently based in New York City and is one-half of The Murphy Beds, with Jefferson Hamer.  He is scheduled to teach at the Swannanoa and Augusta Heritage Irish weeks this summer.  Here's a video of The Murphy Beds.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Old-Time Duet Recordings by The BriarPickers and Bertram Levy/Kirk Sutphin

My old-time music listening is often focused on the specific tunes I’m trying to learn...either through play along tracks, YouTube videos or field recordings.  No officially-released old-time albums have made their way onto my all-time favorite list yet, although some are starting make an impact.  

I don’t need to hear singing in old-time and actually prefer just straight-up tunes.  When there are lyrics in old-time, I can appreciate that they are usually secular and nonsensical, but to me it’s more “Zen” when it’s strictly instrumental.  So the old-time albums that appeal to me the most are ones where it’s just tunes, no vocals.

The old, scratchy source recordings of fiddlers that others hold so dear are not quite as relevant to me I guess – a tenor banjo plucker.  I suppose I'd rather hear consistent, high-fidelity recordings by more contemporary stewards of the music.  Sacrilege?

I'm looking for something in between those historic recordings of influential, guru fiddlers, and the newer recordings of festival-style string bands like Bigfoot or Light and Hitch that specialize in a driving, rhythmic and muddy concept of old-time.  I'm in search of a more subtle, minimalist, creative approach that captures the harmonics and musical interplay between a couple unison instruments.

That's why I prefer more recent, instrumental, duo recordings of old-time music.  As a plus, I'm open to projects that differ from the classic "fiddle and clawhammer banjo" tandem in favor of more unique combinations of instruments.

Two recent albums - Mrs. Maxwell by the BriarPickers and The Bellow and the Bow by Bertram Levy and Kirk Sutphin - as well as one recently rediscovered gem - 2005's Appalachian Mandolin and Dulcimer by the late Butch Baldassari and the late David Schnaufer - meet all the criteria I'm looking for in old-time music.
Mrs. Maxwell is the work of two musicians - Brian Ray on mandolin and Paul Kienitz on fiddle - a home recording done live with no overdubbing.  It's a great selection of old-time tunes interpreted through the challenge and freedom of a mandolin/fiddle duet.  The BriarPickers describe themselves as "Rustic Chamber Music", which is an accurate description of their somewhat refined vision of traditional music.
The Bellow and The Bow is the only old-time album I know of featuring anglo-concertina as one of the lead instruments. The concertina is played by old-time music veteran Bertram Levy, also a distinguished stringed instrument player who, in this case, focuses on "a bunch of harmonicas in a box with buttons". Levy is joined by Kirk Sutphin, a leading reincarnator of the Tommy Jarrell style of fiddling and the Fred Cockerman or Charlie Poole style of banjo playing. What you have is meticulously authentic southern fiddle or banjo playing paired with concertina. Good stuff.
Finally, in search of another potential favorite old-time album, I went back through my iTunes to re-discover Appalachian Mandolin and Dulcimer by Butch Baldassari and David Schnaufer. Sadly, both of these musicians have passed away since this was released in 2005, but this remains an important reminder of the potential for expression within the traditional music of the Appalachian Mountains. Like the other two albums mentioned here, this is just straight-ahead live playing. David Schnaufer described the CD as..."a musical conversation performed on vintage and contemporary instruments in settings to showcase the rare archaic harmonies of these lonesome and eternal themes".

Those are three examples of old-time albums that have begun to strike a chord and resonate with me.  There's more I could mention and I hope to discover more as time goes on.  Got any suggestions???

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Casa Yaboa - Culebra, PR

Jacinto, the friendly owner of Casa Yaboa, was waiting for us when we got off the plane at the one-room Culebra airport. At this point, we weren't planning on renting a vehicle, so Jacinto took us to the Colmado Milka grocery store and waited outside while we picked up supplies for the next 4 days, before driving us to our cottage.
View of bay from Casa Yaboa's beach
Casa Yaboa is a unique accommodation consisting of 3 cedar cottages overlooking a rocky beach and surrounded by a subtropical forest.  It's a tranquil setting close to nature with lots of outdoor space; you have to turn down a private dirt road driveway to get there.  It's located about 5 miles from the town of Dewey (AKA "Puebla" or just "Town") and about 2 miles from Zoni Beach. The rocky beach on-site is part of a small bay with calm waters that are good for swimming, snorkeling or kayaking.  Jacinto provides kayaks for residents' use and we paddled around on some plexi-glass bottom kayaks a couple times and could see the reef below!
Trees Nest cottage - looking from kitchen to front room
The three units are each very private, so you almost feel like you have the place to yourself, but with just three units it can't get that crowded to begin with.  Ours was the Trees Nest, which is the smallest cottage - perfect for us.  It sits on a hill above the water, and you do kinda feel like you are staying in a tree house.  The cottage was very clean and tidy when we walked in, and tastefully decorated.
Trees Nest felt like home, sweet home
We were very impressed.  There is a comfy bed, a wee kitchen, bathroom and indoor/outdoor shower.  You can look out and see trees and the water from the front and the side.  There are two side decks also with water views - one that is a bit lower and often shaded, and an upper deck right off the bedroom that is sunny in the afternoon.  Make sure you have bug spray if you plan on sitting out on these decks in the evening hours.
you step out from the bedroom onto this deck. there's a lower deck on the other side.
The kitchen in the Trees Nest cottage doesn't  have an oven, but it does have a double burner hot plate and there's a gas grill on the deck outside.  There's also a coffee maker, mini-fridge, and silverware, dishes, pots, and pans, so we had no problem cooking meals there.
In the evenings you can watch the sun set, and in the mornings the cottage remains darkened as the sun rises over the hill behind you and shines out onto the bay.  There are many screened windows, so as you lay in bed you can hear the sounds of waves crashing, almost as if you were sleeping outdoors.  Trees Nest doesn't have air conditioning, but the ocean breezes and ceiling fans keep it comfortable.  Jacinto showed me the inside of the Casita Bubi cottage while it was unoccupied and it was awesome too, set back a little farther from the water but with expansive views of the bay.  We didn't get to go into Casa Guayacan, but I'm sure it is great as well, maybe even the best of the three.
Common area for lounging
We spent the first day enjoying the cottage and the grounds.  The next morning we walked to Zoni beach, but I don't recommend trying to get there on foot unless you really like walking.  Zoni is only a couple miles away via a paved road, but the combination of hills and the hot Caribbean sun made for a challenging trek.  It's also possible to kayak into town, although you would have to be a fairly experienced kayaker to paddle against the currents coming back.  It's best to just rent a jeep or golf cart from one of the 3 or 4 companies on Culebra that offer them, which is what we ended up doing. By golf cart Zoni Beach is just a few minutes away, and Town is a leisurely 20 minute ride.  
View from standing on deck outside kitchen door
The world famous Flamenco Beach is a few more minutes past the town, but still easy to get to by golf cart or jeep.  I thought about renting a jeep for safety reasons, but a golf cart is half the cost and Culebra is only 7 by 3 miles big, so you can be from one side of the island to another within 30 minutes.  You are sharing the road with cars, but most drivers seemed considerate - accustomed to the tourists in golf carts - and were driving at an unhurried pace to begin with.  
The front screened window, as seen from the bed
On our 2nd night at Casa Yaboa, Jacinto took us into town to eat at Susie's Resturant, which he runs with his wife Susie, the chef.  Susie worked for years as a chef in Old San Juan before opening her own restaurant in Culebra, so eating at Susie's is quite the culinary experience.  We had worked up an appetite after a day spent at Zoni Beach.  It was fun to be in a laid-back restaurant with artsy decor where fellow diners are dressed in cutoffs and tank tops, and then be served this gourmet food.  Susie's was the best meal we had in all of Puerto Rico - highly recommended!

As of April 2013, Susie and Jacinto are planning on moving the restaurant to a new location a bit further from town but closer to Casa Yaboa, opening by July or August.
There were many hermit crabs on the ground below the deck
Susie and Jacinto are animal lovers, and you'll be sharing the grounds of Casa Yaboa with some rescued/adopted cats.  Jacinto stops by each morning and evening to tend to his cats, which are healthy and well-looked after. We also saw an iguana scurrying up the hill, some smaller inquisitive lizards near our cottage, and lots of hermit crabs roaming around outside.  Like I said, you are close to nature here.
Culebra has got to be one of the best islands in the Caribbean and Casa Yaboa is definitely one of the best places to stay in Culebra.  You won't regret it, and, in fact, once you are there you won't want to leave!  To read more about Culebra in general, click here.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

1st Time in Puerto Rico: Four, make that Five, Days en Culebra

The pace of life started to slow down as soon as we touched down at Culebra's Aeropuerto, after a 30 minute flight from Isla Grande in San Juan that curved dramatically around the small island on its approach, offering the first glimpses of the incredible Flamenco Beach before snaking between two little mountains for a happy landing.
Culebra map - a cartoon map suits this animated island
After collecting our bags from the plane we entered the tiny, dusty one room airport where a dog was sleeping on the floor.  The dog wasn't waiting to get on a plane.  He had apparently just wandered in the front door and was hanging out.  That was a good sign we had come to the right place.
Ensenada Honda
Culebra, you see, is an overlooked jewel amongst a sea of higher-profile Caribbean destinations:  about 17 miles east of Puerto Rico's main island, and 12 miles west of St. Thomas.  Culebra is part of Puerto Rico, therefore making it pretty hassle-free for American travelers - no passport required and the same American currency is used.  Your cell phone will work here and you can drink the water with no problems.  Feel like Tweeting or Facebooking that picture of the rum drink you're enjoying?  Do it!
They say the best way to make a good impression is to just be yourself, and that's exactly what Culebra does at first glance. The seven-miles-long by three-miles-wide cay doesn't put on any airs.  There are no stoplights, no large resorts, no high-rise hotels, no chain restaurants, no department stores, and no cultural attractions outside of one museum that I never found to be open.  Just a few guesthouses, small hotels and self-catering rentals scattered throughout the island, plus some restaurants, gift shops and basic grocery/general stores.
Flamenco Beach
There's only one beach with facilities of any kind (lifeguards, food kiosks, bathrooms, camping), but that beach - Playa Flamenco - is consistently ranked among the top ten beaches in the world.  That's where most people go and there are taxis ready to transport you from the ferry terminal to Flamenco Beach. Other secluded beaches with equally white sand and emerald waters, like the beautiful Zoni Beach (a nesting area for the endangered leatherback turtle), are waiting to be found; you just gotta poke around.  Water taxis can take you to even more pristine stretches of sand on smaller satellite islands, including Playa Tortuga on Culebrita.
Shady spot on Zoni Beach
It's all very, very laid-back and low-key. Come to think of it, this might be why it's so appealing to some, but not that popular with others who may be in need of more attractions, activities and night life.  Culebra has about 2,000 permanent residents: a mix of native Culebrenes, Puerto Ricans, and crusty North American expats.  Most everyone speaks English, but of course it's nice to learn some Spanish if you can.
Dinghy Dock bar
People come to Culebra to wind down and take it easy - go to the beach, go snorkeling, go diving, go sailing, maybe go kayaking or hiking.  These sunny outdoor activities lend themselves to island drinks: pina coladas, painkillers, daiquiris, and Culebra's own special alcoholic milkshake the bushwacker, available at any of the island's bars or restaurants.  The regional cervezas, such as Medalla Light, Magna or Presidente, also taste much better than they should here.

Most of Culebra's watering holes double as surprisingly good, eclectic restaurants where you can belly up to the bar in your tank top, swim trunks and flip-flops, and get a little light-headed on stiff drinks as you enjoy gourmet-level Puerto Rican and Tropical Fusion entrees, especially at local favorites like Susie's or The Dinghy Dock. How about a morning at the beach, followed by lunch and drinks at a place on the water, then an afternoon nap or hike before returning to the bar for happy hour and dinner, then finally some time spent star-gazing back at your cottage in the cool breeze before drifting off to sleep listening to the waves crashing and other indigenous sounds? If that sounds like fun then Culebra might be right for you.
Inside Susie's Restaurant, just before it got crowded on a Saturday night!
Visitors get around by either renting a jeep, or my preference, a golf cart!  Seafaring folks might use a kayak or dinghy.  We realized that we were going to need a rental after attempting the 2-mile trek from Casa Yaboa to Zoni Beach, up and down hills in the hottest part of the day. We made it there and back on-foot, but not without vowing to get a golf cart the next day, which we did.  You can get anywhere on the island within 30 minutes in a golf cart, and you can't help but enjoy the ride in a buggy like that.  By the way, we stayed at the eco-friendly Casa Yaboa and this 3-unit getaway will be focus of my next post.
Tarpon fish stay close by at the Dinghy Dock
After happening upon Culebra I feel like the search is over for tropical destinations.  It checks all the boxes I need, and none of the ones I don't.  It's so much less glamorous than you expect the Caribbean to be, and that's what makes it so great.  We were supposed to stay for four nights before returning to Old San Juan, but after falling in love with Culebra we scrambled to change our plans and managed to stay there an extra day-and-a-half, which made all the difference and allowed us to really settle in and enjoy our surroundings on "island time".
Picture from Datiles Beach on our last morning in Culebra
Leaving Culebra, but ready to return!
Much of Culebra is protected as a wildlife refuge, and the independent-minded locals seem strongly against development, so chances are Culebra could remain a hidden paradise for years to come. You'll need bug spray to ward off the mosquitos and lots of sunscreen, but you probably knew that already.  If you run out of these items there are places to buy more, or just ask anyone and I'm sure they'll be happy to share.

Click here to read my previous post about our 3 nights in Old San Juan.

Friday, April 12, 2013

First Time In Puerto Rico: Three Nights In Old San Juan

View down Calle Sol from our apartment
Our taxi from the airport dropped us off in Old San Juan shortly before 1pm on a Tuesday. After a greasy lunch in a restaurant off Calle Cristo we deposited our bags in our apartment for the next 3 nights and then made a beeline to Old Harbor Brewery.  They had 5 beers available and we did tastings of them all.  The beers were surprisingly good; on par with the breweries here in Virginia. My favorite was the Coqui Lager.  Laura's favorite was the Kofresi Stout.  Old Harbor had these cool 2-liter cylinder tube-shaped pitchers with an ice chamber and its own spout, but we weren't feeling that ambitious yet.
Later that afternoon, after a stroll along Old San Juan's cobblestone brick streets and a rudimentary pina colada in a place claiming to have invented the drink, we would find ourselves in El Batey, a locals' dive bar near to where we were staying.  No pina coladas here!  Just cheap Medalla Lights and rum with pineapple juice.  For a grungy place, El Batey leaned intellectual and had an old-school jukebox on which I programmed some Grateful Dead, Miles Davis and more.  There was graffiti and other scribblings on the walls that served as avante-garde art. After El Batey we made a mid-evening jaunt to the randomly chosen El Patio de Sam for some bar food before turning in fairly early.
Closeup of a wall in El Batey
Street noise and a poorly air conditioned apartment had us up early, and after a filling breakfast of eggs/bacon/toast and strong coffee, we headed off to see the two forts which dominate the old part of the city: Fuerte San Cristobal and El Campo Del Morro, dating back to the 1500's.  The towers, monumental walls, dungeons, underground tunnels and large manicured grounds of the two fortresses took a few hours to explore. Walking past the photogenic La Perla slum in between was interesting as well (attention tourists: do not enter La Perla).  Coming out of El Campo del Morro we walked on a part of the El Morro Trail and saw the San Juan Gate.
Fuerte San Cristobal
View from Cristobal to El Morro fort, with La Perla in between
El Morro Trail
After all that time in the burning sun, we went to Cafe Berlin for lunch and frozen drinks...with rum please.  Cafe Berlin offers healthy, creative, vegetarian-inclined food.  Following lunch, an afternoon nap was in order.  Post-nap we went for drinks at Nono's (decent beer selection, "so bad it's good" 80's music playing through speakers) and Ostra Cosa (indoor/outdoor bar, aloof staff). Neither place blew me away but they were worth checking out I suppose.
Paella from El Picoteo
We continued to eat well that Wednesday when we chose Hotel El Convento's El Picoteo restaurant for dinner.  El Picoteo specializes in tapas, and we got the paella -- excellent!  They also make a mean pina colada.  After a break we went to The Mezzanine at St. Germain for coffee, which led to cocktails (I had a gimlet, Laura had an old-fashioned), which gave way to shrimp and pineapple kabobs and lively conversations with some other patrons.  There was also a guy playing Spanish guitar and a poetry reading while we were there.  I liked that place.
Gimlet from the Mezzanine at St. Germain
That was Wednesday.  On Thursday morning we had a taxi drop us off at a rural stretch of beach about 10 miles east of San Juan called Pinones, known for its ramshackle food stands selling all that good, fried, Puerto Rican food like alpacurrias, tostones and empanadillas.  The vendors weren't quite up and running when we first got there, so we walked a few kilometers back and forth along the beach-side path through the mangrove forest before sampling as much of the unhealthy food as we could stomach.
Pinones beach
Pinones was deserted when we were there, but I heard that it can be a pretty hopping party-zone on weekends. After a while we called the taxi driver to pick us up and he was there promptly.  The fare was $25 each way and, in hindsight, this side trip was probably not worth it, but it satisfied my curiosity about Pinones.
boardwalk path, Pinones
After returning to Old San Juan we went in search of the museum devoted to cellist Pablo Casals (note it is now located on the 1st floor of the Cuartel Ballaja).  Once we finally found it, the Pablo Casals Museum was a little underwhelming, but the Museo de Las Americas on the 2nd floor of the same grand building was worth visiting.  It was mid-afternoon when we left the museums en route to a taphouse called La Taberna Lupolo that Laura had just remembered reading about. We found the place, but they don't open until 6pm so we spent some time back at our apt. playing banjo and ukulele.

Besides Old Harbor Brewery, La Taberna Lupolo is the place in Old San Juan that every beer lover should darken the door of.  This hipster-friendly suds haven has over 50 beers on tap, plus many more in bottles, and they let you sample before getting a pint on draft.  I had a red ale, a black IPA and a German alt bier. It was all good.  We almost ate dinner there, but decided to go to Hotel El Convento's Pizza e Birra restaurant instead.  The pizza was awesome and there was even some left over the next day for a morning snack!
The taps at La Taberna Lupolo
On Friday we left Old San Juan on a small twin-engine aircraft for a 30 minute flight to the island of Culebra.  I suppose we weren't very good Puerto Rico mainland tourists, because instead of booking a tour of the El Yunque Rainforest or seeing the biobay in Fajardo, we just hung around Old San Juan for three days and nights, save for the excursion to Pinones.
Flight to Culebra
We put off going to the Bacardi Rum Factory because we were supposed to return to Old San Juan for one final span of 24+ hours the following Tuesday and had planned on going then.  We also had intended to dine in one or two of the acclaimed Old San Juan restaurants on Calle Fortaleza during that last overnight, but once we got to Culebra we fell in love with the little island's casual charm and decided to stay there an extra day instead of returning to Old San Juan.  So, our original plan of 4 nights and 5 days in Old San Juan became 3 days and nights there.  Click here to read my follow up post about Culebra.