Puerto Rico


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Published: October 14th 2014
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Puerto Rico


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In the airport - All public toilets should have a foot pedal flusher!!
I spent the last week in Puerto Rico. Traveled almost the entire island, saw beautiful sights, and experienced things I never thought I would.

Arriving in San Juan very late Wednesday night, the GPS I had so ingeniously programmed the hotels and other destinations into failed to recognize where we were and got us seriously lost in a derelict and scary neighborhood in a San Juan suburb. Bars on every home’s doors and windows, no lights on, no people walking around, graffiti everywhere; almost deserted. Cars parked wherever they felt like it. Huge potholes in the roads and big dips out of every turn and parking lot, caused the car to bottom out almost each time.

After driving around for nearly an hour, I finally check in to the hotel at close to 2am. The Coqui Inn looked low-budget on line, but not terrible. Make my way up to the room and walk in to see the crappiest junk motel I’ve ever seen in real life. It’s seriously bare bones to the max, and I’m actually surprised to see a TV and a minifridge in the corner (which ends up leaking all over the floor when there’s anything in
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Neither the chain nor the deadbolt even work.
it making it run).

There are 2 beds, an end table, 2 windows, a ‘window’ air conditioner, grimy tile floors, and a bathroom. One of the beds is broken, when you sit on it or move while on it, it creaks & groans mercilessly. The windows don’t have glass at all, but are made of horizontal shutter-style covers that rotate similar to vertical blinds; only one window has a screen, but that one’s shutter doesn’t actually open.

The AC was ‘installed’ into a too-large hole in the wall below this window and plywood is nailed surrounding it, but I can still see outside on most edges.

Sheets don’t fit beds, there is a dead bug on the floor at the foot of my bed. The ceiling fan does work, but only has 2 of the 4 working bulbs. The bathroom has a mirrored medicine cabinet that won’t stay closed, and there is only one light bulb screwed in to the fixture, leaving 2 open sockets.

The toilet paper holder is broken, so installed above it is a commercial style econo size holder.

The toilet, sink, and shower surprisingly all run. There is a coat of
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Note the screen on the left window and not on the right. Also those brown 'curtains' don't move, they're like glued in place.
dust on everything that’s not touched regularly and I’m pretty nervous to touch anything at all.

After we set down our things, my friend has a little meltdown and states that “Tomorrow, we are getting the hell out of here and I am checking us into a Best Western or something. This is effing ridiculous”. I cannot help but think this whole thing is just about the funniest thing ever and I can’t stop laughing maniacally. Seriously. I can’t say but half a sentence without bursting into a fit of hysterical laughter. I think this is so absurd, and I’m over-tired, so the nerves just took hold and I could. Not. Stop. Laughing. My breath was hitching, I flung myself onto the unbroken bed and stared at the ceiling holding my tummy that was hurting from laughing so hard and just kinda rolled around for a few minutes trying to control these bouts of hysterics. I try to tell my friend that it’s OK and that we should just pretend like we’re camping.

After a hot shower, my friend calms down a bit, and as we’re lying down with the lights out, says “You know, it’s not THAT
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You can see out at the top right, left side and light comes in through the whole bottom.
bad, there’s hot water. We can make this work, it’s not like we’re going to be spending a lot of time inside here anyways.” I agree. We kept our reservation, and stayed the whole 3 nights.





The first full day in PR was spent exploring San Juan. Just as we were leaving the hotel, I’m standing at the top of the stairs outside our door and I hear something in the tree. I look over and see a pretty gigantic creature in it and I yell “DUDE THERE’S A MONKEY IN THE TREE GET OUT HERE!” Well, turns out, there are no monkeys on mainland PR, and this creature was actually a giant lizard!

The beach was just a short walk across the highway from the hotel.

Drove around the nearby area and also made my way down to Old San Juan. It was beautiful. I learned so much about the history – I won’t get into it, but this is a good reference guide: http://www.topuertorico.org/city/sanjuan.shtml

I visited Castillo de San Cristóbal – one of the old Spanish Forts, and walked endless blocks.

Went to the docks where the cruise ships came in. Ate a traditional Puerto Rican dish called mofongo at a great restaurant called Raices.

Being a vegetarian, I was a bit skeptical that I wouldn’t get to try any of the local dishes and would have to resort back to ‘American’ cuisine, but the server here was very friendly and explained what was and was not made with meat or animal fats and said this would be a good choice for me. It was yummy too!

The second day was spent mostly at the rainforest, El Yunque. It was about a 45 minute drive east from San Juan. After driving up the mountain for EVER, the visitor’s center handed out maps of all the hiking trails. The guide said this particular trail was 20 minutes in to a waterfall you could jump into and swim in and then 20 back.

More like 40 each way. It was rough. My calves burned from the previous day’s jaunt around town and the fort, and I ended up being a big wuss and going pretty slow most of the way. (It still wouldn’t have only taken 20 minutes had I been trekking at a good pace I don’t
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Not sure why they left the 2 broken pieces, or what exactly the purpose of that shelf above the toilet is
think…).

There was an observation tower at another stop up the mountain road. I climbed the hundred or so stairs to the top of the tower to reach the 1575ft elevation and the view was breathtaking.

Although I’m afraid of heights and was timid at the beginning, I could’ve stayed up there for hours. You can see the mountains far into the distance, and everywhere you look, it was just green green green hills filled with forest.



After the rainforest trip, dinner was eaten back in Old San Juan at a tapas restaurant called Toro Salao.

The ambiance and atmosphere made it an an amazing experience. It was night and we ate outside on a little patio next to the blue cobblestone street.

The umbrella was open in case it rained again (which it did frequently while we were there, just not during that meal), a little candle at the table. Pitcher of sangria. Delicious. Nothing special about the food, though it was good. It was Friday night, and the town was hopping. Everyone was dressed up, and music was pouring out of each establishment. A fire juggler was about 20-30 feet away
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At least this window was sealed shut
from our table, entertaining folks was they walked by, and later a pair of mimes made their way by also. Perfect close to the last night in San Juan.



On the third day, I went to the Bacardi rum factory in San Juan.

It was very interesting to learn about the history of the Bacardi company and the making of rum.

The 2 free drinks weren’t bad either. After the tour, I headed south to Poncé. About an hour and a half drive through the mountains, it was another great experience. The farther south I went, the terrain and surrounding plants changed from lush green forest style mountains to dry desert style cacti and brown dusty hills. Quite a difference in such a short period of time.

The hotel here was a Howard Johnson. Major upgrade from the Coqui Inn at San Juan, and man did it feel like luxury. Again got lost in town, but it helped that it was actually daylight this time. Drove around town to get acclimated and try to find out what to do. Major downside to this town was that the beach was about 10 minutes away, through
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'Monkeys' HA!
an industrial park and it was all rocky and coral – not a swimming beach at all. That evening was spent at the hotel restaurant and in the hot tub.



On day 4 we drove around Poncé and went to the Museo Castillo Serrallés – a huge mansion in the hillside that once belonged to the family that founded Don Q rum and is now a museum.

Then up to the observation tower that looks like a gigantic cross and has a Japanese-theme garden out back. That afternoon, drove the 40 minutes west toward Guanica to catch a ferry boat to a real beach. (So the hotel clerk said) The boat went to Gilligan’s Island. Cute. Being Sunday afternoon, it was packed with people. The water all the way from the shore to the end of the dock was only thigh deep, and the clearest water I’d ever seen.

There wasn’t a whole lot of sandy shoreline, and I was stuck there for 2 hours until the ferry came back to pick me up. I wandered around a little and found a little alcove surrounded by trees with a tiny bit of sand, it was
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We hit raccoons and squirrels here, there the roadkill is giant lizard
like my own private island.

Absolutely gorgeous. I mostly walked around in the water, and I even saw a weird fish only about a foot away from me.

It was almost like snorkeling, but I didn’t have to really get in.



Dinner was at a beachside seafood restaurant, Pito’s, and I got to watch the sunset over the ocean.

Not many options for a veggie here, so it was salad for me, but I also tried Bolitas de Yuca – cassava bites. It’s a root vegetable similar to a potato, and it was made into little balls like a crabcake style or a hushpuppie looking thing. It was pretty good, but had a weird bitter-like aftertaste. The view and atmosphere was, of course, beautiful.



After dinner I went back to the town square in Poncé and couldn’t understand why there was virtually NO parking, and an entire block of a main road was closed. There were people EVERYWHERE and I couldn’t figure it out. Then it dawned on me, it was Sunday night, and being that the majority of the Puerto Rican population is Catholic, everyone had come to the town
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View from the top of the walking bridge, mountains and rain in the far distance, cemetary below. My hotel is far left underneath me about a block and a half away.
square to attend the service at the historic Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe – the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Quite a site.

I stopped over and also saw the Parque de Bombas, an old fire station.

On Monday, day 5, I woke up and went to the Poncé marina which was near the rocky beach near the industrial park. There were giant 4-5 foot long fish right there and little neon bluish gar looking fish too.

I saw for the first time the parrots too!

The only other birds I’d seen so far were grackles and pigeons, with the occasional egret or pelican thrown in depending on where I was. The parrots were super neat with their little nests up there in the palm trees.

Realizing there was really nothing much else to do here besides visit a coffee plantation and a ceremonial Indian park, the decision was made to forgo the HoJo and drive farther west to Rincón.

After another few hours in the car, I checked in to the Rincón Beach Resort. Now this was a serious upgrade in lodging.

It was literally right on the beach.
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Less than 10 minute walk
There was a pool, jacuzzi, putting zone, pingpong table, and a giant chess board right outside.

A few more feet away, and there is the beach.

Excellent digs. The beach was mezmorizing. It was the first time I got to spend a serious amount of time just lying there listening to the waves and soaking it in.

There were cute little crabs ALL over the beach.

Town was very modest. A few giftshops and restaurants. I tried some local snacks and drinks from the grocery store.

Drove to the lighthouse and saw surfers waaaaaaaaaaay out there waiting for the waves to come.

Also climbed up yet another observation tower. Beautiful view, of course.

Drove the coastline for a few miles and took the freeway back to the resort where I saw 2 guys riding Paso Fino horses bareback right next to the road!

Dinner was at a German/Italian restaurant where I encountered my very first mainland American server! No accent, it was weird. It rained again and when I got back to the resort, the coqui frogs were going nuts! I still never saw one but dang I sure heard them.
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Gorgeous

The last day was spent driving north and east back to San Juan. Almost stopped in Arecibo to go to the observatory there, but it was south off the freeway a ways and I couldn’t judge the time and distance properly enough to know I’d make it to the airport in time, so I skipped it and decided to spend some more time in my favorite place, Old San Juan.

I was glad too, because I went down some different streets I hadn’t seen before, and saw some different shops and restaurants. Lunch was at this cute little place on the corner called Caficultura, again I sat outside under an umbrella right next to the blue cobblestone street. Sipping sangrias, soaking up my last few hours of culture and beauty I will probably never see again. I was very content, and getting sad to leave.

The last few blocks I daydreamed of just not getting on the plane and moving in to one of the apartments above the street and having my stuff and my gatos shipped down to me and just quitting my job and starting over. It was a short-lived daydream, but a fun one nonetheless.
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It's all one ways, and people will still park on both sides. Scary navigating.


Puerto Rico was a beautiful place and I’m very glad I got to see as much of it as I did. The memories will last a lifetime.





My list of fun facts of PR:

There are stray dogs everywhere except the rainforest, though they are in the villages down toward the bottom just running amok also. I tried to save my leftovers from every meal and give them to a stray dog later. Most were timid and scared of me but they all ate what I set down after I walked away.

Not many stray cats, much less than the dogs. Even fewer are chickens, most are kept in yards. For some reason I expected them to run around everywhere.



There were lizards and iguanas everywhere to the north, I rarely saw them in the south.

Rincón was the only city where I saw horses virtually everywhere. People would often tie them up to like a lamppost and just leave them there. Even saw one walking down the median of a divided highway, he’d been tied to a tree in the middle.



The trees often
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Far far far walk to the fort.
hang right over the roads like a canopy. Not necessarily connecting to the other side, just hanging over. Flamboyances were the most common.

Everywhere you go, there are roadside food-buses. It seemed like people would drive their van to a good stretch of road, open up and start cooking just waiting for the hungry passersby to stop. (I never did, assuming they would only have meat.)



Corners often had men selling fruit out of pickups, I even saw one guy selling fish out of the truck of his car.

Virtually every stoplight intersection had guys walking up and down the lanes selling bottles of water, sometimes fruit.



The cemeteries often have the coffins encrypted above-ground.

There are no liquor stores, alcohol is sold everywhere; gas stations, grocery stores, wherever. Legal age is 18, and you can even buy cans of beer at the gas station just like a can of pop.



Driving and parking:

Apparently stop signs are optional. Most people coast through them and you always have to be cautious to see if the other guy coming at you is really going to stop or not.
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Finally made it.
Everyone is horn happy, honking all the time. Clearly cops don’t give out fix-it tickets because it is extremely common to see cars with lights of all kinds out, many have several. People rarely use blinkers. They change lanes when they want to. They also park wherever the heck they want to. Seeing cars facing both ways on both sides of the street and often even on sidewalks is a regular occurrence.

Cops and ambulances drive around with their cherries on all the time, except the cop car lights blue and green instead of red.

There are the classic mainland places nearly everywhere you go, Burger King was the most common - all of them had a huge playland outside. It was hard to go a few miles without seeing one. Others include: Subway (which I had breakfast at one morning and it was cool because the egg isn’t a prefab rectangle, they fry it up right there for you from scratch), McDonalds, Church’s, Popeyes, Wendys, Walgreens, Walmart, Kmart, a few Taco Bells and Sams Clubs, and I even saw a Denny’s and a Sizzler.

There weren’t many other chain type stores that I notice that we
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View from atop toward the end of the peninsula at El Moro (didn't go to that one).
don’t have up here, just Taco Maker, like Taco Johns and Cash & Carry, a grocery store.


Additional photos below
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Mi mofongo con verduras
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I didn't jump in
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On the trail
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Pretty flower


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