After a bit of a kerfuffle with the ticket agent (who insisted on flexing her made-up authority), I agreed to leave my camping stove behind. "I guess we'll just eat cold meals for two weeks!" I said in a huff and stormed back outside in the cold to the car.
I've decided that--although everyone tends to think their story is the worst--one of the best methods of therapy for the TSA blues is to tell people about the various nonsensical injustices you've encountered.
Here's mine: Despite being told that I wouldn't be able to bring my (empty, clean, dry) fuel tank for my stove in my checked luggage since it had the word "flammable" on it, I was given permission to bring as many lighters or matches as I pleased in my carry-on bag.
We'd heard that San Juan was getting to be a bad bed bug city, so we were careful in picking a hotel. We got in after midnight and took a cab to the place we ended up booking.
When the cabdriver saw the neighborhood she expressed outright horror--not at the bed bugs (there weren't any) but at the many imagined muggers lurking in the shadows. ("Hurry! Run! Get inside quickly!") It wasn't that bad. The art museum was right around the corner.
Besides, we had this guy looking over us as we slept.
Story of my life. I can't even remember what my face looks like.
Dia numero uno.
We decided to get the hell out of San Juan and get to the beaches. We'd heard about a campground at the Luquillo balneario, but had been warned by our tumescent guide book not to set up the tent unless there were already people there. Except for beach-going day trippers, the place was empty so we decided to keep looking. (Somebody has to be the first, though, right?)
Naturally, before leaving, we procured some delicious arroz y frijoles con pescado.
The next place we scoped out, the Balneario Seven Seas in Fajardo, was much better. The girl at the gate seemed a little confused that we would want to tent camp, but when we got inside we saw two other groups already set up. Go figure.
The Internet had said that rain was on the way. So, ignoring the signage (and haughty lizard), we set up under one of the weird, purple picnic rooms anyway.
It was a pretty sweet campground! The showers in the bathrooms didn't work, but there were some outdoor spigots nearby that got the job done if you waited until after dark. We weren't sure it was entirely necessary, but there was also a security guard that zoomed through on his ATV about once an hour (all night long).
It's surprising how many stars there are in Puerto Rico, despite the amount of ambient light.
Next morning: ocean view!
Sarah got eaten alive by some sand dwelling creatures while we were sitting on the beach. But the place was also crawling with these (innocuous) red and black bugs. They seemed to like eating the flowers on the tree behind our tent. And doin' it. They also liked doin' it.
Though certainly not as bad as many other Latin American countries, PR has its fair share of stray (or seemingly-stray) dogs running around. This little guy knew what was up. (Note the rarely-emptied garbage can to the left.)
Sarah successfully navigates the perplexing mangrove labyrinth.
Actually, the trail did actually disappear toward the end. We saw some of the other campers we'd met at the secret beach on the other side. They were a little distressed about not being able to find their way back through the dense, viney forest. (Not to mention the bloodthirsty fiddler crabs!)
The beach on the other side of the perilous mangrove forest was the bee's knees! The government must've known it too, because there was a weird, empty vacation compound nearby that our book said was for official use only.
We found a more secluded part of the beach and set up to soak up.
Deciding to explore further afield, we drove over to the Las Croabas marina to lunch on bread, cheese, and some awful, orange meat dip we bought at the supermarket.
I've never seen so much "____ wuz here" graffiti as I did in Puerto Rico! There was a ton of it! More later...
It was a nice setting, but I would think twice about keeping my boat here.
(It's not very protected: map.)
I had a fun time looking for typos and spelling mistakes on this sign.
I'm going to a special hell for obnoxious proofreaders...
Having explored the peninsula to the west of Seven Seas the day before, we felt a need for balance and set out to conquer the peninsula to the east. We would have liked to check it out more thoroughly, but the entire point is a wildlife area: the Reserva Natural de las Cabezas de San Juan. The only way you can go inside is to buy a ticket for a guided trolly tour. Fortunately, all of the beaches in PR are public access so we just hiked down close to the water.
They did have a cool tree back there though...
Sarah doesn't like getting yelled at, so we refrained from levitating whiffle balls.
A foreboding sight. Our plan was to camp in those mountains the following night...
Though gloomy in the distance, the sun was still shining on the perfect little beach we found and Sarah puttered around in the shallow end for a while.
We ate pretty well on this trip, but it was an exercise in balancing cheap, fried, and delicious. A two-week vacation on a SUNY Potsdam salary is a tricky thing to pull off!
There was a waterfront cafe near the campground--La Costa Mia, I think. We figured that after a few meals of cheese, peanut butter, and (the best goddamn) crackers (I've ever had), it would alright to splurge on a real meal: barbecue chicken on a mound of mashed plantains with a squirty bottle of pink stuff and a couple rounds of shitty Puerto Rican beer. Ho-ly shit.
Said shitty beer: Medalla Light, the pride of PR. We drank a lot of this stuff on the trip, mostly because it contains roughly 0.00001% alcohol. Maybe that's why, later in the trip, the entire island seemed to be drinking and driving on windy mountain roads.
This was pretty much the complete essential beach kit. Minus the bug spray, which we bought, but never used, but should have used.
As my father would tell you, these were the Christmas winds that blew in every day from the east.
Whatever they're called, they made for some neat night photos!
On the second night, the other campers all took off and left us alone in the campground. The officials must not have thought us worth the trouble, because the security guard only came around once during the night.
The security seemed a bit overkill to me anyway. (They locked the gate to the parking lot from 5:00pm to 8:00am too, which limited our food options to hoofable establishments.) And aside from a creeper purportedly performing lewd acts in the woods nearby, we didn't encounter any reason to feel unsafe.
This spotlight wasn't on the first night...
A good place for a Macbeth-style witch ceremony.
So... Although we probably could've gotten by on just cabs and publicos (Puerto Rico's wacky municipal busses), we decided to shell out for a rental car. And... As one tends to do when making reservations online, I went with the rock-bottom cheapest option: a Scion IQ. (Get it?! It's a Smart Car reference.)
It really was a good price: $8/day at Enterprise. We declined the insurance package which would have added an extra $30/day. I was scared shitless of banging up the thing. But, miraculously, we made it through two weeks without a scratch!
The only problem with little Blimpie here was that people would literally laugh and point at us whenever we rolled up to a new town.
Holy shit. A fucking tower in the jungle.
After a couple days on the beach in Fajardo, our plan had been to take the ferry out to Culebra. But, seeing as how it was a holiday weekend (Three Kings Day, when the Puerto Rican niños get their regalos) we thought it might be better to wait until later in the week.
We drove up into El Yunque instead. And after an unnecessary amount of driving back and forth between ranger stations and arguing with the guy at the desk that camping was allowed on weekends, we got our permit and set up camp.
The view from the tower.
(I still can't get over it. A stone tower you could walk up, for free, in the middle of the jungle. Awesome.)
One of the big attractions in El Yunque was the picnic area at the Palo Colorado visitor center. Hiking down from the parking lot, there were dozens of beautiful gazebos nestled in a lush valley along a ridiculously photogenic stream.
Seeing as how it was the off-season for the locals, most of the gazebos were empty. But a few had big families with envious spreads and loud salsa.
As you went further down the valley, the picnic buildings were less and less maintained but more and more photogenic.
We'd heard there were decent dipping spots along the trail. Here, Sarah keeps an experienced eye trained on the creek for the ideal spot.
Of course, most people will tell you that the best swimming is down at the very bottom where you can wade right over to a tall waterfall. It seemed a little crowded to us...
...So, after hiking the entire length of the stream, we made the fully-informed decision to splash around in the pool just above the spot where everyone else was hanging out.
It was a dicey slide down the muddy bank, but we had the place to ourselves.
With the constant erosion of the muddy banks along the stream, relics of ancient times are constantly unearthed.
When you talk to the guy at the visitor center, most of the recommended hikes are the paved ones close to the road. It sounds lame, hiking on pavement in the jungle. But then you realize that if they weren't paved, every trail would quickly turn into a treacherously muddy trench.
The infamous Steve of Baywood, CA would've had a field day here.
Alright, time to get serious. I hadn't realized it when we made our initial plans, but this entire trip was really just a fruit-finding mission. Here's fruit number one.
I saw a couple round things hanging above a water pump station out in the jungle and simply had to investigate. Sarah didn't want me climbing over the fence, so I found one on the ground nearby.
It tasted like a grapefruit.
(Also, I am fully aware that it is unwise to go around eating random plants in the jungle. I smelled it first.)
In addition to paved trails, there were lots of roofed benches. These made sense too, seeing as how it was a rainforest.
Sweet Jeebus, that was a big snail. You can't tell the scale from the photo, so I'm just going to say that it was two and a half feet across.
The main road in the park, PR-191, used to go all the way through to the south side of the island. But it got washed out too. (Google maps, however, seems unaware of this fact.) Once things started winding down in the park, we couldn't resist checking it out. It got a bit too Jurassic-Parky for us though, so we turned back.
Like Seven Seas, they lock El Yunque up at night. Normally there's a whole series of campsites along one of the trails, but seeing as how they were closed due to recent landslides, we had the place to ourselves all night.
This was good and bad.
On the one hand, we couldn't drive down the mountain and were forced to sup on the remainder of our now soggy cheese. On the other, we could prance and frolic all we wanted in a well-maintained rainforest park without anybody hassling us!
Our vague directions from Victor, the guy in charge of camping, led us to a little pull-out about twelve clicks up the road. We were instructed to park there, carry our stuff into the bamboo grove up the path, and set up everything in the mud below the shoots.
This guy seemed a little mystified that anyone would voluntarily spend the night in a place like this! We paid him no heed.
It was a little creepy under the bamboo at night, but kinda cool too. Those plants make a lot of interesting noises!
Given that the path to the campsite was such a mucky mess, Andre, intent on not being charged any extra cleaning fees, had the bright idea of bagging the Blimpie's floor matts to keep the mud out of the carpeting.
The next morning, after a auspiciously rain free night, we still had the place to ourselves. Seeing as how the picnic area was crawling with people the day before, the first item of business was skinny dipping in the now-abandonned creek.
Afterwards, Sarah spent a good ten minutes cleaning the mud off of her boots.
We'd read about an abandoned FAA complex up on one of the peaks in El Yunque: the Pico del Este Radar Station. I was really interested in checking it out, but had forgotten to write down directions.
We figured, "How hard could it be?!" and proceeded to check out every little potential trail along the side of the road. We never did find it, but we did come across plenty of mysterious abandoned buildings that most people probably never get to see.
With a pretentious swagger, we set out to hike all of El Yunque's hardest hikes. It was doable, but we were both pretty pooped in the end. Here's another jungle tower (Mt. Britton) visible through a jungle gap.
While we somehow managed to avoid the rain entirely in the park, it did get pretty damp up near the top of the mountains. You can see how thick the fog/clouds get.
(I think it looks like a movie!)
Our goal was the top of the El Yunque peak, but a short spur to Los Picachos (en Inglés/Japonés: The Pikachus
?) seemed like a good idea.
The stairs were treacherous...
...but the views were to die for!
Actually, there was an occasional break in the clouds. It didn't happen very often...
...but when it did, the views really were spectacular.
Visible down below was the tower from the day before.
Waiting for Andre at the top of El Yunque: a boon of mysterious, artsy-fartsy photo ops.
As it turns out, a peak's not a peak in Puerto Rico unless it has an unnecessarily large number of radar dishes and radio towers.
This monster was a little bit further down the hill.
The whole place had an eerie hum. Andre identified the problem and took steps to rectify it.
Underneath one of the giant radio towers, the fence had this weird orangey hue. At first we thought it was rust, but on closer inspection found it to be some kind of radioactive moss.
We got the hell out of there.
We were planning on doing two nights in the rainforest, but after not getting rained on the first night decided to quit while we were ahead. (That and the fact that there wasn't much to do except sit in the tent once the gate was locked and the sun went down.) Sarah had read about a nice hostel in Nagaubo (one of only a few in the entirety of Puerto Rico) and we drove down to check it out.
The directions were vague, but then, all directions are vague where the houses have no numbers and the streets have no name.
When we got there and called the number, a guy named Josué (who used to live near us in the Bay Area) came up and showed us around the Bahia del Paraiso. We'd read that in addition to the dorm room, they had a couple private rooms for the same price per person. We asked, he thought, and then showed us a room in a different building (the turquoise house in the middle of the picture). He told us to come back in a couple hours and he'd have the place made up. We're pretty sure he just put clean sheets on his own bed and let us stay in his room.
Seeing as how it was Three Kings Day, the little seaside town was bumping and we went down to check it out. On our way up to the house, we noticed a big black pickup with a ton of speakers mounted on the outside. Josué explained that he was in the middle of a fight with his neighbor. He'd asked the guy to turn the music down since it was bad for business. The guy responded by turning the music up. Josué called the cops and the music got even louder.
We would've tried to join the party, but what you see here is about the extent of it--five or six people milling about under a streetlight. When they finally decided to call it quits at about 2:00, the roosters next door (the neighbor on the other side breeds chickens for cock fighting) figured it was their turn to make a little commotion. Fortunately, we'd anticipated this and bought earplugs the day before.
Early-morning crowing aside, it was an awesome place. Here's the view of the bay at night...
...and here it is the next morning!
Sarah's bug bites had blossomed into some real doozies!
Josué's "business partner" Dawn, a generous but disgruntled expat Californian, took us for a ride the next morning down to the local beach.
We brought the dogs, Marley (pictured) and Enzo, who had a lovely time eating garbage and hunting iguanas.
I spotted a crab.
In retrospect, maybe we should've spent more time in Naguabo. The hostel was wonderful and we would've liked to have hung out on the boardwalk in town a bit more.
But further adventure awaited us just offshore on the Isle of Culebra.
When we go to the ferry terminal, we ran into Lucy, a girl we'd met camping several nights prior. She'd gotten a ride with some other campers back west the day before to surf a couch in San Juan, then came back to Fajardo to go out to Culebra. That's her in front of Sarah. (As it turned out, we kept on running into the same people all around the island. So much for originality.)
Somehow we managed to make it onto an earlier ferry out to the little island. We thought this was fortuitous at first, since there's limited room for passengers on the cargo ferry. But we were quickly herded into a cramped, windowless hold down below. When the boat started slamming down the backsides of waves and the crew started three-stoogedly trying to distribute barf bags to the vomiting crowd, we realized that maybe we would've been better off waiting for the passenger ferry.
It was worth it.
The campground at Playa Flamenco was top notch. (And at $20/night, it oughtta be!) We got there late in the afternoon on Monday, so the office was closed. But there were plenty of helpful, laid-back dude(tte)s hanging around the food kiosks near the parking lot.
One guy told us to set up our tents in camping area E. "It's the best," he said, "quiet, showers, right on the beach. Area E." So we trudged on down to E and looked around. There were a couple of people who had clearly been there for months (what with their hammocks, pots and pans hanging from branches, giant tents, and palm-frond walls erected around the perimeter of the staked out claims).
We started setting up the tents but then a friendly South Carolinian came over. He said they'd been there for several nights and that if they could do it again, they wouldn't stay with all the crazies in Area E. We took his advice, backtracked to D, and never looked back.
In the morning, Ranger José had stuck a note in my boot. I didn't even hear him come in the tent! What a professional.
The campground was far from full, but it did have a healthy assortment of international weirdos and vagabonds. There was a group of four young German gentlemen who were planning on staying for at least a couple weeks (though we saw them on the ferry back to the main island a few days later). When they weren't running around naked singing 1980s American heavy metal tunes, they were huddled up on the beach in their sleeping bags. Given the ferocity of the wind all night, I'm surprised they weren't completely covered with sand in the morning.
And what Puerto Rican beach experience would be complete without some decaying American military paraphernalia?
Goddamn it. I shoulda bought a hammock when I had the chance...
Over near the showers, I spotted a large green fruit hanging from a branch on a tree. It was the only one on the tree, so naturally we decided to pick it and break it open.
Easier said than done. Here, Lucy tries a stabbing approach with her trusty knife.
Later, I managed to get the little bastard open by smashing it on a pointy stump. It had a stinky white pulp inside. I showed to Sarah, Lucy, and another new friend Daisy and her dad, but nobody know what it was.
I couldn't help geeking out a little once I got back to the Internet. Looks like that mystery fruit was a calabash gourd. (link
) Good thing we didn't eat it. The book says that the stinky white pulp is poisonous!
Here's a picture that looks a little more like the specimen we found: 'nother link. And here's why I regret not taking it home with me: last one.
Eat your heart out, Jimmy Buffett!
We'd heard about a good snorkeling spot on the back side of the island. Sarah had tried snorkeling a few times in her life, but had never really enjoyed it. I knew she was wrong to not enjoy it so I pressured her into trying it again. Good thing I did...
It was AMAZING!
The word on the street was that Playa Carlos Rosario had the best snorkeling in the Caribbean. You had to sneak through a locked fence to get there. We tried the unnamed beach just to the south of Carlos too, and it was even better. Like swimming through an aquarium.
Registered guests at the Flamenco Beach campground are expected to wear plastic bracelets for the duration of their stay. I wore the blue bracelet to indicate my "group leader" status. Sarah put on the accompanying red bracelet, decided it was too tight, couldn't get it open, cut it open, and tied it back together with a a piece of rip cord cut off the sleeping bag.
Our supplies replenished, we had a variety of fruit juices to drink in the morning.
Each of them, however, paled in comparison to the sweet, sweet nectar of the Aloe Vera King Lychee Juice that we'd procured back on the mainland. (I keep checking this page
to see when it becomes available on Amazon.)
How in the world did a deer get out to this tiny island
On a related note, I finally saw a living iguana. (As had been my experience with kangaroos in Australia, I saw at least a dozen roadkilled specimens first.) We were walking through Dewey, the cute little town on Culebra. As we came around a corner, at the bottom of a hill, a green flash came by running and scratching the pavement at full speed. It dove into the bushes across the street. Scared the shit out of me.
On a previous trip to the tropics
, Andre managed to de-husk a coconut and provide his family with the rejuvenating milk contained therein. Here, he outdoes his previous feat by smashing the hard nut on a concrete block and gaining access to the delicious white meat inside.
Fortuitously, the smashing cracked the coconut right down the middle. And for the rest of the trip, I galloped about a la
Andre found a great climbing tree. Sarah was not entirely amused.
One of the aforementioned kiosks sold everything. Well, nearly everything. The didn't have Aloe King Lychee Juice, but they did have tasty guava drink. And radical boogie boards... Plenty of radical boogie boards.
The kiosks were crawling with cats too. Had there been just one or two, I might have pet them. But it's a little gross when you literally can't look in any direction except straight up and not see a cat. Gross.
After three nights on Culebra (including one night of intense, mysterious, possibly dengue fever), we got back on the ferry and rode back to the main island where Blimpie was waiting for us in the guarded lot. (Still no scratches or broken windows!)
Next stop: Rincon.
But first, we tried to stop by the offices of the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales to pick up camping permits for later in the trip. This proved disastrous. We had tried calling, but none of the phone numbers we found worked. When we went to address listed on the Internet (and argued our way past the guard at the gate), we realized it was a wild goose chase. (Turns out there's a Brazil-esque amount of red tape through which one must navigate before being granted a permit.) Worst of all, our failed mission plunked us right in the middle of San Juan rush hour and we spent the rest of the day sitting in traffic.
But when we got to Rincon, it was oh so sweet. I rented a longboard from some guys in a garage and plopped it on top of Blimpie. As you can see, this made our primary mode of conveyance all the more ridiculous.
I was really nervous about surfing.
Aside from a couple of recent river-surfing attempts
, it had been a year and a half since I last paddled out. So I really built it up. And by scheduling only two nights in Rincon, I was putting a lot of eggs in one basket.
The morning after we arrived, I got up before dawn and drove around looking for waves. It was flat in town and I started getting a little disheartened. Further up the coast, however, I found what I was looking for.
I sat around a watched for a bit, then drove back to retrieve a sleeping Sarah. We headed back to the spot (Maria's, I later found out) and I paddled out. When I got to the peak I'd spied from the beach, there were only two or three guys out.
Turning for a set I stroked, dropped, popped up, and turned. It was like I'd never stopped. Sarah, who was watching from the beach, said she cried a little bit when I caught the first wave. I kept reminding myself to not smile like a lunatic, but it didn't work.
The next day, when I returned to an empty lineup, I saw a big green sea turtle swimming right between me and the reef.
Post-surfing in Santa Barbara, it was customary to celebrate with a burger and a coke/beer at the local Kahuna Burger. Talk about well-placed marketing! This flyer was posted on a garbage can right next to the car when I got out of the water.
It took a bit of luck to find the place, but somehow we did, and the burgers were de-lish. (They even had surf movies playing on the TV! Just like the real thing!)
A handsome light, though not the one my grizzled old lighthouse-keeper father told us to visit. (Sorry, Pops!)
With a perfect visit to Rincon behind us, we headed back East over the mountains. Our first stop: the supremely weird Bosque Estatal de Guajataca, where we encountered even more wildlife clinging to walls.
Some of the trees were getting a little too touchy-feely. We took off before things got weird.
More weird fruit. (I didn't eat this one.)
There were a lot of these on the ground, and we observed them in various states of ripening. Phase 1: scrotal-esque fruit drops from tree; falls to ground. Phase 2: as cantouloupe-colored flesh softens, star-shaped lateral slits begin to appear. Phase 3 (above): fruit "blooms" and begins growing pungent, hairy mold.
It was also observed that fruits were fun to stomp on in all three stages of decay.
All of a sudden... a cave!
Out in the forest, among the steep limestone mogotes and deep wet sinkholes of karst country, we came upon a staircase leading down to the so-called Cueva del Viento. (It wasn't very viento-y.)
And it was dark in there!
(Note the stalactite graffiti!)
We were accompanied by a spelunking Puerto Rican youth group. It was unclear what these rapscallions were up to, but we were certain it was no good. (They were probably scratching "the spelunking Puerto Rican youth group wuz here" on the wall.)
Sarah, feeling a little woozy, but unafraid of the swooping bats, took her leave, while Andre took one last shot of a few penetrating rays.
We don't know anything about Puerto Rican politics, but what the hell: Viva Puerto Rico Libre!
The noble Blimpie, dwarfed by the Guajatacan jungle.
When our camping plans for the next night fizzled, (the spot turned out to be a gravel patch near a group of beery old Puerto Rican dudes), we decided to spring for a room at the luxuriously weird Hacienda el Jibarito. On display in the lobby were all manner of pseudo-historical knickknacks, including everything from old yokes to electronic Smith-Corona typewriters.
More bizarre lobby accoutrements.
In nearby San Sebastian, we noticed a sizeable festival underway, and, seeing as how our tiny car could fit into literally any parking spot, we decided to check it out. It was loud, sunny, and hot, and not knowing anything about what was happening, we decided to move on. It was only later that we learned about the parade we missed, wherein a young cow is gussied in make-up and fancy clothes. Shit.
The rest of the day was spent dodging drunken motorcyclists and jeepists who had swerved into our lane in an attempt to bypass the bumper-to-bumper traffic leading back to the festival.
As a longtime Ian Fleming fan, it was Andre's responsibility to make sure to visit the Arecibo Radio Telescope. They've got a little museum next to the gift shop and this helpful chap was on one of the tellies going on about the moon or some such business.
One of the suspension towers viewed through the curiously textured windows of the telescope museum.
And then, the telescope itself. Behold!
Holy moly, this thing was big. That little geodesic tumor on the left is called a "gregorian dome." I don't know why.
(Also, I think there's a bird nest in that branch!)
On the way back to the car (after riding a few laps on my imaginary bike around the 300m dish), we spotted this other dish on a nearby hill. Poor little guy probably doesn't get any attention. Well, here's to you, you small but noble dish!
Our plan was to do some renegade camping in the Bosque Estatal de Toro Negro (since the government had made it so difficult to get an actual permit). But when we posted a message on the CouchSurfing forums asking for advice, a guy in Aibonita said "or you could just crash at my place." Done deal!
We drove along the Ruta Panoramica all the way there. Puerto Ricans, according to our guidebook, aren't big fans of hiking. So there's a road that goes up Cerro de Punta, the highest peak in the country. And, of course, there were radio/radar towers up at the top.
Rather than drive up the ridiculously steep road, we parked down at the bottom and hiked up anyway. From the top we could look down on our tiny car and imagine that gangs of bandits were lifting it into the back of their truck along with all our stuff.
A modest monument had been erected atop the peak. What could it say?
One of the towers didn't have a fence around it. This made for prime artsy-fartsy picture takin'!
I thought about climbing this ladder. Then I noticed how it seems to angle backwards higher up. (Also, Sarah said I wasn't allowed.)
More fruit! Actually, this was a pretty perilous Andre-trap. You can't tell from the picture, but there was a steep cliff just below and the oranges were just out of reach. I managed to get ahold of one of them anyway, and it was delicious.
Though we didn't camp there, we did go for a walk around Toro Negro just before it started getting dark. There's a big cement pool with a creek running through it and in the summer they plug up the hole at the bottom to make a sweet little swimming spot.
It's on the list for when we come back!
Our hosts in Aibonita, Rafa and his girlfriend Joanne. After a lovely late-night moonshine-and-durmming session the night before, they took us on a hike in a nearby canyon the next morning. As usual, the couchsurfing part of the trip turned out to be a wonderful experience.
"You can live for two months without food, two weeks without water, but you can't live two minutes without air."
After all the garbage we'd been seeing along the various hiking trails we visited, this was a refreshing sign.
(It was very frustrating, in fact. When we were walking back to the car after Cerro de Punta, we saw a group of old people that had set up lawn chairs next to the road. They were drinking beer and wine and when they finished they just threw their garbage into the bushes. What am I supposed to do? Scold them? Pick it up in front of them? Respect their right to do whatever they want? Ugh.)
On the advice of Rafa and Joanne, we stopped by one more state forest: Carite. There was a lovely campground with swings right down by the creek.
We finally got rained on, but it dried up pretty quick.
Not thick enough for Tarzan-ing, but there were some nice vines in the campground nonetheless.
Why are some bamboo trunks covered with moss and lichens while other ones are totally clean? Why, dammit?!
Better still, there was a sweet swimming hole just upstream from the campground. (We'll have to go back.) Andre managed to jump in quickly before another party of swimmers arrived. Sarah missed her window.
On the way back out of the forest, we pulled over to check out an abandoned complex in the jungle. It wasn't at all clear what this place was (an ex-resort, perhaps?), but it would've made a sweet paintball spot... were we into that sort of thing.
I found one of the few Spanish words I actually know.
After stopping for an unforgettably good barbecue pork lunch at one of the many roadside stands along the "Ruta del Lechón" ("Pork Highway") in Guavate, we headed back to San Juan. We figured the city would be a good place to finish up the trip.
The guys that rented me the board in Rincon had mentioned that a big swell was coming and that I ought to stick around for it. When we got to San Juan it had arrived. It's hard to tell from this picture but I estimated it at around a solid ten to twelve feet. (Stoked, but still out of shape, I decided not to risk it.)
Sarah booked a hostel room at the Posada San Francisco in Old San Juan. This place was immaculate.
See what I mean? This is a room in a fucking hostel!
Good thing it was so nice too. To end the trip with a bang, Andre's body decided to subject him to a severe allergic reaction over the entirety of his epidermis. (From the moonshine perhaps?) It was not pleasant. But a quick trip down to the cruiseship-catering Walgreens for some benedryl and loratadine and he was good as new.
Walking around the city, we observed some of the local wildlife.
And this old lady was yelling down to the shopkeeper below. (It sounded like she was shouting "Cookie! Cookie!")
More serious waves spotted between the buildings of the part of Old San Juan that our prissy guidebook told us to avoid.
Twelve-year-old Andre was beside himself with glee! The Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th-century fort overlooking the entrance to San Juan Harbor seemed to go on for miles. There were so many goddamn turrets and secret passages and hidden rooms that Andre had the time of his life.
(Not to mention the sloppy-but-impressive surf porn on constant display to the north.)
If the wave out in front of this place had been in California, that bright bunch of surfers would have called the place Boneyards.
I probably should've put on sunscreen. It was a long walk from the hostel to the fort.
Nearly every room in the place opened up to a small arched porch overlooking the ocean.
I thought about yelling down to these kids to do "Thriller
," but then I figured they probably wouldn't get the reference. (And they almost certainly wouldn't have had the choreography down.)
The original part of the fort was actually swallowed up by the more ambitious later phases of construction. You can still go down inside it though. Here, Sarah inspects a piece of shrapnel that made it through the thick outer walls and lodged itself in this inner sanctum.
Those Spaniards knew how to build a classy fort, huh?
On the last day of our trip we headed back east along the coast a bit (visible in the distance) for one last day on the beach. It was pretty windy--not the best beach conditions. So we headed back and scoped out a place for dinner. What we found was a crowded little pizza/beer/wine bar: the Pizzaria de Pirilo. (I just found it on Yelp.) We went with the carnitas and pico de gallo pizza. This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made on the entire trip.
With only a few hours left before our flight, we upgraded our El Morro tickets for an extra couple of bucks and checked out the Castillo de San Cristóbal across the street from the hostel. Sarah liked this fort even better: it felt a bit more lived in and you got a much better sense of what it was like to be there. Also, they had a really long, sweet-ass tunnel.
During WWII, when the American military was in control of the fort, they added some horrendous cement bunkers on both forts to look for U-boats. There wasn't much left in these concrete tumors except more graffiti and sweet views.
Some of the graffiti was older than the rest.
The view from the hostel balcony.
A magnificent ending to a magnificent trip!