Puerto Rico

6 Days 5 Nights
496 Miles Driven

Not that we were counting, but we noticed 3 Wal-Marts, 6 K-Marts, 1 CompUSA, 3 Home Depots, and 43 Condom Worlds
Of course there were countless McDonalds and Burger Kings and even a couple Dunkin Doughnuts

We left Boston for San Juan, PR on Wednesday morning, and arrived in time for some sightseeing. However, since we hadn’t bothered to get a map, and had only a GPS and the Lonely Planet, the trip to the hotel took most of the afternoon. We quickly found that numbered roads are often far from highways in PR (case in point). Our first hotel was a small hotel in a residential neighborhood (read: gated community) right on the beach in “Ocean Park.” During a walk around the neighborhood, Kate went into a liquor store to get a bottle of water. The conversation with the cashier went like this: “Where are you from?” “Massachusettes.” “Where in Massachussettes?” “Near Boston” “Where near Boston?” “Worcester” “Where in Worcester?” It turns out he had attended private school in Connecticut and college at Anna Maria College outside of Worcester. He pulled out a Massachusettes road map, ignored the other customers and had a long discussion with us about such things as the Shrewsbury (MA) municipal light and cable company and Puerto Rican statehood.

Unfortunately somehow I consistently missed good Puerto Rican food. I’m still not entirely sure what (or where) it is. I kept trying to find interesting eats, but after the rather dry red snapper in garlic sauce (garlic powder and butter) and the uninteresting Mahi Mahi with Costco frozen mixed vegetables, I had my doubts. I was so discouraged that I even stopped at a Burger King one day. Until the last day of the trip, the “calzoni con chorizo y vegetales” (yup, thats chorizo and vegatable calzone) I got at a pizza joint in one of the small towns we passed was winning. The meal that finally won was the last day in Old San Juan when I had “pastelon de amarillos,” a very tasty sort of lasagna made with plantains instead of pasta. The Mofongos that Kate got were also pretty good.

Puerto Rico has a schizophrenic relationship with measures. Gas is in Liters, “velocidad maxima” is in MPH, distances are in Kilometers (except on the odometer), temperature is metric, and time of day is English.

Driving in Puerto Rico is not easy, but also not impossible. One surprise can be that you will not see anyone get out of the way for a police car or ambulance with their lights on. They never shut them off. I can only assume that if they want you to get out of the way they will turn on their siren. The mountain roads were fun to drive, and it seemed like almost every road qualified as a mountain road. I noticed that I felt much more comfortable seeing a 1978 Datsun B210 with 1 original body panel coming straight at me on a corner than Cadilac Escalade rented by the 70 year old Texas couple.

In case it’s not obvious, the only spanish I learned was from signs.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t until we stopped in the rest area on the Mass Pike that it really dawned on me that I should learn Spanish. The people behind the counter at Boston Chicken spoke English only to me. I was somewhat surprised in Puerto Rico to notice that people were not always confident in their English. Of course, not knowing any Spanish, I had a reason not to be confident in my Spanish.

The second day we headed for the Rio Camuy Cave Park. We arrived just after about 300-600 (depending on who you listen to, but a lot anyway) school kids. We ended up waiting about 5 hours for the tour. It was a tourist tour, but a very interesting cave. After the cave tour, it was too late to hit the Arecibo Observatory, so we headed to Mayuguez, which had a very nice downtown, and on to Aquadilla to a hotel overlooking the ocean.

Although the Lonely Planet was often helpful, we found the author panned way to many interesting places. Her description of Aquadilla was far less than flattering; however once we were off the strip malled main road, we found it to be a nice place. Our hotel had a great view of the town as well as the Atlantic.

The third day we wen to the Arecibo Observatory, you know, the one you see in all the movies (although I think they bleach it for the filming). It was impressive, mostly in scale. After Aricebo, we headed to the “punta mas alta de Puerto Rico.” At 1338m (4390 ft), that would be Cerro Punta located on senic route 143 in the central mountains. There weren’t any markings, just a tar road leading steeply up to the communication towers on top. This didn’t look like a good road for the venerable Dodge Neon, so we walked up the last 600 vertical feet (we needed some exercise anyway). It was actually fairly chilly; we could see our breath, and I noticed some types of plants that I see more often in NH. That night we had hoped to get to a mountain town with an interesting sounding hotel; however, it was getting late, and travel along the senic highway was slow. After driving a fair distance and consulting with some helpful Wal-Mart employees (not sarcasm) we ended up backtracking and staying at the “best bet for miles around.” We found that out the hard way.

The fourth day we headed for the hills again, to the rainforest at El Yunque (Carribean National Forest). It was a little late to do a hike all the way up to El Yunque peak (and in the end, it was clouded in anyway), so we did a short hike to the observation tower on xxx. The view was great in all directions, from the rainforest to the ocean. That night we stayed in Fajardo. After eating at the standard fair Mexican restaurant in the hotel, we went to explore the property. We scared a feral cat just about to grab some leftovers, and tried to make friends. Most of the cats we had seen were pretty skittish, and this one was too. However, I noticed two kittens playing on a pool chair at the other end of the pool. With a lot of coaxing (and an unhappy mother cat) we were able to get them to play with some palm branches. One by one, two other kittens came out of the shadows as they got jealous of the fun their siblings were having.

Our last day in Puerto Rico, we headed to Casa Bacardi. It was interesting (although the Jack Daniels tour beats it hands down), and the Mojitos were great. This is the only place I can think of where the alcohol is free, but you have to pay for the water. After Casa Bacardi, we headed back to Old San Juan to check out Castillo San felipe el Morro, the Spanish fort on the tip of Old San Juan.


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