We took advantage of the hotel's free continental breakfast, then walked
down the street to pick up our rental car. I found it ironic that our
sparkly new car from Avis cost us the same as the beat up,
mosquito-infested piece of junk on Vieques. The inequities of supply and
We sped back eastward, taking the toll route to bypass a lot of stop and
go traffic, then stopped at Luquillo, a seaside community that hosts an
amazing 1/4-mile-long mini-mall of fried food kiosks overlooking a
beachside park. Only a handful of the establishments were open during a
weekday lunch but we feasted on lobster and crab empanadas with a side
of beans and rice and some super sweet pineapple soda to wash it all
We also picked up a ziplock bag full of coco dulce, "An
immensely sweet confection of fresh, coarsely grated coconut and
caramelized sugar. Looks like a brown, craggy praline," according to the
Moon Hanbooks guide to Puerto Rico.
Then it was up into El Yunque Caribbean National Forest, the only
rain forest in the national forest system. I had driven through it on my
previous trip but didn't have time to get out and hike, so I was happy
to have a full day at our disposal.
|The forest is almost disappointingly accessible - water
falls cascade over rocks just off the side of the road and paved
trails snake up into the jungle.
This allows just about anyone and everyone to enjoy them. In
addition, the park isn't that large and there aren't that many
trails, so you'll probably pass someone every few minutes one
direction or another. But even with the occasional human
distracting from the natural beauty, it's difficult not to be
charmed by the forest. Brilliant red flowers, the constant
chirping of the coqui frogs, the occasional tiny, colorful bird
flitting by - fantastic.
But even with such easy accessibility we passed a dozen or
more people groaning and grumbling, "How much further?"
I couldn't help but fuck with them, "Only 5, maybe 6 more
Christ, I thought I was lazy.
We skipped all the trails at the lower end of the park and
drove straight to the top, which turned out to be the smartest
thing to do. There were fewer tour busses up there, which meant
slightly fewer people.
Even better, if you tromped up the right trail you ended up at a
hilltop tower. Step inside and climb the spiral staircase...
And suddenly you emerge atop the tower where the views
are randomly breathtaking, as the clouds part moment to moment.
I tried putting together another panorama with EM and
myself but I missed a shot or two in between us (and I looked like crap
after trekking through the jungle) so instead you only get a
view. (Note: some browsers automatically resize the image to fit
the window. Hold the cursor over the window until a zoom box appears in
the lower right corner. Click it then use the scroll bar for a much
|Even the tower itself was interesting, brown stone covered
with yellow and orange lichen like some kind of ancient
structure (this one was built in the 1930's by the Civilian
A little lizard greeted us
by puffing out the frill under his chin.
The tower from afar.
|We headed back to town, stopping at a roadside liquor store
where I remembered the proprietor selling a tasty homemade
sangria. He was still bottling them in previously used liquor
bottles so I bought a couple liters of the pink concoction for
our final night in town.
Back at the hotel, we showered then
headed up to the rooftop deck to admire the view of the bar
below, the beach with a portion marked off to protect a turtle
nest, as well as the abandoned buildings on either side of us.
Atlantic Beach is on the edge of some of the ritziest
neighborhoods in San Juan, but is in the middle of a slightly
scummy block. Rent boys lingered in the alley beside the hotel,
glancing up at us as we sipped sangria.
We caught the bus back into San Juan Viejo and tromped up the hill to
Baru, sort of Mediterranean meets Caribbean fare. We started off with a
mojito for EM, Ron del Barrilito and soda for me, and Manchego cheese
and fruit as an appetizer.
We'd had the cheese at bbh in Vieques and fell in love
with the stuff. EM had the risotto for the main course, I went with ribs
that had a bit too much sticky sweet sauce on them.
Only when I went back to look at my review of my
previous trip to Puerto Rico did I realize that not only had I eaten at
Baru before, but I'd had the same dish and been disappointed with it
then too. Ah well.
|We were due to meet Paul later, so with time to spare
we stopped back at El Batey for another few rounds of dice and
drinks before the joint filled up with cruise ship tourists.
We retreated to Nuyorican Cafe, the spot for local music in Old
San Juan. Mid-week and relatively early for Puerto Rico, the
joint was empty when we arrived. Eventually a three-piece
band appeared on stage and the exact same group of cruise
shippers that had chased us out of El Batey filled half the
|The band played something the drummer claimed was more
Brazilian than Puerto Rican and I could definitely tell a
difference between their sound and the Incessant Salsa Machine.
The guitarist's fingers were a blur and the drummer beat out a
variety of rhythms with amazing skill. Eventually a couple of
local girls got into it and started hips a'swaying. Damn, I love
|They even threw in a few minutes of reggaeton, Puerto Rican
hip hop, thanks to a guest musician from the audience spitting
out rapid fire español.
Paul and a friend arrived somewhere in there but Puerto Rico has
banned smoking indoors (hallelujah!) so he and EM sat in the alley
sucking tar while I enjoyed the show. Eventually the band took a break
and we decided to split.
Paul's friend, whose name escapes me, gave us a lift back to the
hotel where we returned to the rooftop deck to share the remnants of our
sangria. EM took one last dip in the ocean but soon it was time to go to
bed. Thanks to Spirit Airlines' goddamn absurd advance arrival time
requirements, we had to get up early to catch an 11 AM flight.