Puerto Rico 12/07

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A beach, a walled city and a rainforest hike on US soil...

El Yunque rainforest view to the Caribbean

Another weekend 'sanity' vacation opportunity popped up in-between business trips to Orlando and Tulsa in early December, so off I flew to Puerto Rico to spend a few days on Condado beach, hiking El Yunque (the only rainforest on US soil) and visiting the old walled city of San Juan. Puerto Rico is a US territory about 1100 miles southeast of Florida just west of the US Virgin Islands. I don't know where all my preconceptions of Puerto Rico came from, but I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the city of San Juan is.

Thursday December 6th

I arrived from Orlando at 4pm (AST), picked up my rental car and headed through rush hour traffic toward the San Juan Marriott Resort & Casino on Condado beach. After a quick snack at the hotel lounge, I walked Ashford St. to see what was around. I found a few interesting restaurants and bars, but by and large the area lacked character. Wander a few blocks away from Ashford and it got downright seedy. Back at the hotel around 9pm, I did a long swim in the pool and spent the rest of the evening reading a book on my balcony.

Condado Beach Saturday morning walk

Friday December 7th

The weather looked good for a driving day, so after breakfast at the hotel lounge I headed 90 minutes east to El Yunque National Forest in the Luquillo mountains, which I'm told is the only rainforest on US soil. Near the entrance to the park, I picked up a map at el Portal and then headed a couple of miles into the park to La Coca Falls (first picture above), which is right at the side of the road. There are several pull-out spots with great views heading further into the park (second picture above). Next along the road is Yokahu Tower, perched on a hill with a commanding view in all directions (third picture above and large picture top of page left). A couple miles further into the forest was the Big Tree trailhead which has a medium difficulty hike (fourth picture above and first picture below) of about a mile each way, ending at la Mina falls (second picture below).

By mid-afternoon I had seen and done all I wanted to in the rainforest, so I drove back to San Juan to explore the old city. After grabbing lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, I set out on foot to explore. Christmas parades had many of the roads closed which made for easy walking. Old San Juan is a surprisingly beautiful place made up of cobblestone streets with nicely groomed houses lining them (third picture above), old fortress walls along the beach (fourth picture above) and a variety of restaurants and shops. I did a quick tour of San Cristobal, one of two large old Spanish forts in the city and had the surprising experience there of seeing the end of a rainbow just off shore (first picture below). I drove back to my hotel in the early evening and finished the day with a beach walk and more reading on my balcony, polishing off the first (Bill Bryson's '"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid", - about growing up male in the 50s and 60s) of two books I read on the trip.

Saturday December 8th and Sunday December 9th

Before the trip, I had learned that the Pina Colada was invented about 50 years ago in Puerto Rico, although there is some debate between two bartenders there as to which one was the original. The consensus winner is Ricardo Luis Malave Gracía from the Caribe Hilton, which happened to be just a couple of miles up the beach from my hotel - so that sounded like a nice morning walk. The wind and surf were up with a storm heading in, but the beach was great for walking (second picture above and large picture top of page right). Along the way I passed several street and beach art areas (third and fourth pictures above), before arriving somewhat windblown (first picture below) to claim my goal. Victor, the bartender there, taught me that the key to a great Pina Colada is to use frozen pineapple and coconut pieces so you need a lot less ice in the blender.

I walked back to my hotel (second picture below) and along the way picked up a few ingredients to mix up my own rum-based concoction for later. The storm hadn't materialized by 2pm, so I mixed a drink, grabbed my Inno XM radio and my second book of the trip ("The Road" by Cormac McCarthy - a Pulitzer prize winner) and headed for the sand. I sometimes forget how great a feeling it is to fall fast asleep on a beach in the Caribbean. That's what I did - and what marvelous dreams present themselves in that state. Crashing waves, a bit of rum-induced buzz, but most of all relaxation. I woke up after dark as the storm finally came ashore.

Sunday I spent the morning finishing my second book on my balcony (third picture below) before packing and heading for the airport. Another good sanity vacation. By Sunday night I was back in (what unexplainably passes for) normal life riding out a major ice storm in Tulsa (fourth picture below).

Home Up Aruba 5/14 Aruba 7/13 Aruba 4/09 Aruba 10/04 Cancun 5/07 Costa Rica 4/06 Costa Rica 7/04 Costa Rica 11/12 Curacao 2/05 Grand Cayman 12/00 Jamaica 7/07 Panama 12/13 Puerto Rico coasts 7 & 9/14 Puerto Rico & Vieques 12/08 Puerto Rico & Vieques 9/08 Puerto Rico 12/07 Saint Kitts 2/06 Virgin Islands 12/03

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