Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Puerto Rico

Mary and I recently returned from a 2 week vacation in Puerto Rico. Our friends Tim and Maria have a condo about half-way between San Juan and Fajardo (right next to the Westin Rio Mar).

Neither of us had ever been to Puerto Rico, nor had we ever even really thought about that little island, we barely even knew where it was.

Needless to say, Puerto Rico was a great place to visit.

The quick synopsis of the trip was 3 nights on Vieques, a couple days of Maria's parents showing us San Juan, some towns in central Puerto Rico, San Juan, and all sorts of Puerto Rican food. We hiked a couple of times in El Yunque, took a snorkeling trip on a catamaran, hung out on the beach, relaxed in the condo. Some unforeseen things came up, so we didn't get to see quite as much of the island as we would have liked, and we were a bit disappointed that it rained 4 days during the last week we were there.

But, all in all, a good trip.

If we were to go back, I'd spend 80-90% of our time on Vieques and Culebra. Two little islands off the west coast of Puerto Rico. Why? Because they each have postcard-perfect beaches. Amazing white sand, movie-like blue water, and almost nobody on the beaches. Mary and I were both blown away by the beauty of it all - I hope the pictures turn out.

If you go to Puerto Rico, you'll have to rent a car. There really aren't any convenient ways to get around otherwise. I guess you could hire a cab if you wanted, but that'd get expensive real fast. Plus, driving in PR is something to experience first-hand.First of all, very few people signal - Francisco said that if you signal you're letting the other person know your intention and they're ore likely to cut you off. And, inexplicably, about a third of the cars do not have functioning break lights. This makes no sense because most of the cars are newish - late 90's models if not 00's. There's a ton o traffic because there are 2 million cars for the 4 million inhabitants of Puerto Rico. Because of the traffic, and stop-lights on the major highways, you get lots of backups at the lights. Well, people will make U-turns around the people in the left-hand turn lane. This is a common occurrence. And you have all the motorcyclists that regularly ride between the lanes. Then you have the people inching out into traffic. If you're at an busy intersection and can't get in, you just slowly, but continuously inch out into the traffic until someone stops for you. This works both on the side-streets, as well as the major highways.

Surprisingly, there was no road rage. Honking is a common thing, but it's not a "get out of my you fscker!" but more of a "let's go" or "I'm here" kind of honk. We commonly came across people who were driving 40 miles an hour in a 55 mph zone. Nobody seemed to be annoyed, the car just parted around the slowpoke like a stream avoiding a rock. Driving was almost relaxing. Though the lack of street signs was frustrating when we were trying to find places. And the "mileage" markers were in kilometers, while all the signs told you the number of miles that remained.

The roads in Puerto Rico are pretty wild. Most of the roads are full of pot holes (oddly, we didn't see a single road crew). And the roads on Vieques and in the middle of the mountains were like roller coasters, as steep and windy as the little plastic tracks you used with Hot Wheels as a kid. I swear we achieved lift-off on one of the peaks on Viragoes - it felt just like a roller coaster.

I really enjoyed hiking in El Yunque. Mary described it aptly by saying it looked like house plants gone wild. There were groves of bamboo, ferns 20 feet tall, plants that grew on the sides of trees, hand house plants with leaves large enough Mary could hide behind them. The day we hiked on "La Mina" trail it was raining real hard, so we didn't swim under the waterfall because the water was a bit rough, but it looked like it'd be fun.

The food was good, everything is wrapped in plantain and fried. Yum. Tostones, mofongo, pinones and alcapurias were both very tasty, however, I could have done without the blood sausage and the tripe (served with boiled green bananas). But, there was almost no fruit, and definitely no vegetables (other than plantains and roots). I'd hoped for fresh orange juice, but each time we tried to order it, they people tried to give us either Fanta or orange punch.

I can't thanks Tim and Maria enough for their help with setting things up and for the use of their amazing condo. Plus, Maria's parents were a hoot, and showed us many things we would have never seen without their guidance.

Nobody in Puerto Rico had mint, so I was only able to try one Mojito while I was there. Everybody had their own version of a rum punch, which usually tasted like canned pineapple juice. The best rum punch I had was made by a mother/daughter pair we met at La Finca on Vieques - that was yummy. The other good drink I had was "Licor 43" - a schnapps-like liqueur that tastes of vanilla. Yum. I brought a bottle back with me.

And I loved La Finca, a rustic place to hang out in the middle of the jungle on Vieques. The showers have no roof, one of the cats has a black face with a tiny white mustache named "Tienes Leche?", hammocks on the porch, and fruit trees on the grounds. We ate fresh star-fruit, and I took a machete to a coconut and hacked it open. Nothing tastes as good as a coconut you chopped open with a rusty machete by yourself.

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