Title: Great time! Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico
What drew me to Puerto Rico? Looking back on it, I'm not quite sure. It could have been the first time I heard about the bio-luminescent oceans, great diving, El Yunque(the only tropical rainforest in the US Forest Service)or gigantic caves. Ahh yes, an article on Mona Island, "The Galapagos of the Carribean". While I didn't go on a multi-day excursion to Mona Island, I did find out why Puerto Rico license plates say "La Isla de Encantada"...
My plan was simple, rent a car and see as much of the island as possible. This method sacrifices quality, but gives a great quantity of experience. To me my precious 2 weeks of paid vacation needs to be spent well, and the best way to start the trip was to make reservations for adventure trips. The first and most anticipated was the all day excursion through the Camuy Caves. The Camuy river is among the top three for longest underground rivers in the world. The cave system is massive, and I signed up for an 8 hour excursion. They also offered an all day Canyoning trip in El Yunque, which I signed up for as well. Scheduling one tour for the third day of my trip and one tour for the end of my trip gave me 10 days to circumnavigate the island.
Despite Puerto Ricans being US citizens, using US dollars and not passing through customs, arriving in San Juan definitely felt foreign! Puerto Ricans are unique; they are both diverse, attractive, cultured and friendly. I picked up my rental car and took off . I studied maps of Puerto Rico for many months prior to my arrival, and it was easy to head east along the shore passing through Loiza and the sprawl of San Juan to Fajardo. I must admit, the first few days were very unpleasant... The heat was getting to me, as were the endless bugs, reggaeton music, my asthma acting up and nobody would speak to a gringo in Spanish! I spent the night in a small motel on the very Northeast tip of the island, going grocery shopping, swimming in the ocean and arranging a dive trip near Isla Palominos in 2 days. I fell asleep to the chirps of Coqui's, small frogs that coat Puerto Rico like icing. Their incessant chirping is surreal, a constant reminder that millions of lives and entire communities exist apart from Human Experience. Tomorrow I will go to the rainforest of El Yunque!
El Yunque is spectacular. The whole north slope of PR is coated in forest, but higher into the hills brings you deeper into the forest. Going higher proved to be the only relief from the heat, even then it was moist and sweaty. The Coqui's increased substantially in number, I stopped my car as wild iguanas crossed the road. Palms and ferns appear in every imaginable color and shape. I'm a bit surprised at how small El Yunque(and by extension Puerto Rico) is. The mountains remind me of the Transverse Range in Santa Barbara. Seemingly imposing, once you get on the top you see it is just one large sloping crest. I stop at some turnouts and hike up creeks along with the other tourists. I go for a swim, and the cool water is the most refreshing thing I think I could have imagined given the heat. Most of the day is spent in these pools, and I go for a small hike through the forest. I need to find a place to stay that night, as the broken air conditioner and broken mosquitos screens of my previous night's accomodations didn't sound appetizing for a second night. I found a 4 star hotel in downtown Fajardo near the harbor, made a reservation for 2 nights, had some comida tipica and fell soundly asleep.
I was very ready for my first dive trip after certification one month prior in Monterey! We met at 8am, the operators were friendly although a bit unorganized. No matter, we had a good crew of 2 divemasters and 6 divers. The boat was big and new. The diving was out of this world. The water was so crystal clear, at 30 feet it felt like I was standing in the sunshine. Coral and songes of all shapes and forms, schools of brightly colored fish and cool water that chilled the Puerto Rican heat. I realized after the first dive that SCUBA diving while on vacation is like icing on a cake! After a lunch of juice, water and sandwiches we went on the second dive a ways away from the first. It was scenery I had only witnessed in pictures, shallow turquoise ocean waters giving way to deserted islands of sand and palm trees. I saw a pair of lobsters that were at least 3 feet long, a baby sea turtle, and an eel. We returned and I was completely refreshed and glowing with excitement about Puerto Rico. I was exhausted after the diving trip in the sunshine and heat, but my caving tour departed the following day at 5am and I needed to find a room in San Juan to make the early morning drive easier. I made my reservations at the Holiday Inn in the trendy beachside Condado district. Just like in Chile, I found driving in a different country challenging and fun. I took a nap and went shopping. I retired at 8 pm as I had to get up at 4am and locate an obscure parking lot on the outskirts of San Juan. In the next couple of days I plan to take some Spanish lessons to refresh my Spanish speaking abilities. I have been recommended a good class, so hopefully I will be completely fluent soon!