Puerto Rico
June 2007

Day 1
Vieques
Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 4
Puerto Rico
Day 5 Day 6

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 demand!

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 down with.

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 miles!"
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 270 degree 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 bigger picture!)

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 Conservation Corps.)


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 room.
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 women.
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 espaol.

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.

Day 1
Vieques
Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 4
Puerto Rico
Day 5 Day 6

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