Puerto Rico & Vieques 12/08

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Another December to remember in the Caribbean...

Sunset over Puerto Rico seen from Vieques island

Craig's finals for his first quarter at UCLA were done, so off we flew to Puerto Rico for a quick December vacation. This was my third trip to Puerto Rico within a year (December '07 solo & September '08 with Ben). I continue to enjoy the unique opportunities that it offers. It's an easy trip - US dollars, no customs or immigration, US rental cars, English spoken almost everywhere. For Craig it also adds another twist - the drinking age is 18! The weather while we were there was ideal - just a few drops of rain with 80° to 85°F in the days, dropping into the mid-70s at night. Once again, the highlight of the trip was the bioluminescent bay swim on the island of Vieques - truly indescribable, but this time I got at least a blur of a picture.

Saturday December 13th - Old San Juan San Felipe

We arrived at 10am (AST) after our overnight flight from LA, checked in at the Marriott Resort & Casino on Condado Beach (view from our balcony in first picture below) and were eating lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in Old San Juan by noon. From there we walked the narrow cobblestone streets of the west end of old San Juan (reminiscent of Seville, Spain) to Fuerte San Felipe (second through fourth pictures below), one of two 500 year old forts bookending the old walled city. After a cool-down stop at Barrachina, one of the two bars in San Juan that claim to have invented the Pińa Colada, we drove back to the hotel and spent the rest of the evening relaxing on the balcony.

Corrupting youth: Caribe Hilton Pińa Coladas

Sunday December 14th - Old San Juan San Cristóbal and Vieques Island

The morning and early afternoon were open, so we decided to see the rest of Old San Juan. Fuerte San Cristóbal is the eastern compliment to Fuerte San Felipe (view west of San Felipe and the old city wall from San Cristóbal in first and second pictures below). Back at our hotel by mid-afternoon we changed into swim suits, packed cameras and towels into a duffel bag and headed east to Marina Puerto del Rey (it's at N18.28778 W65.63656 for any GPSers out there) to catch our 4:30pm East Island Excursions catamaran to the island of Vieques for the bio-luminescent bay swim. The 45 minute, 30 mile ride in the cat to Vieques was very rough that day so juggling the Pińa Coladas served enroute was next to impossible. I did manage to snap a nice sunset over Puerto Rico as we approached the dock in Vieques (large picture top of page left). We were met by a van at Vieques' dock in Esperanza and driven across the island for dinner at a restaurant run by Island Adventures (third picture below). From there we took a bumpy 15 minute school bus ride to Mosquito Bay. We had ideal conditions for experiencing the bioluminescent swim. Both of us were armed with waterproof cameras, but getting a decent shot proved next to impossible. The fourth picture below was taken while I was in the water at ISO 1600 with a 15 second exposure, so while just a blur, it does accurately capture the color while Craig waved his arms in the water. I guess swimming the bioluminescent bay is just one of those things in life that must be experienced live. A beautiful nearly full moon rose over the mountains as we returned to shore.

Monday December 15th - Poncé and the South Coast

We headed south across the central mountains of Puerto Rico (first picture below) and then west to Puerto Rico's second largest city, Poncé, named for Poncé de Leon who sought the fountain of youth in the natural hot springs north of the city. It seemed like the drive traversed one ecosystem after another with the plant life, climate and views changing throughout. We spent a couple of hours in Poncé walking and shopping the old town square (second and third pictures below), then eating a late lunch at a very good (and thankfully air conditioned) café / wine bar called Tomas, two blocks northeast. We ducked out of Poncé just before rush hour for the drive north (fourth picture below - monument along the road) and got back our hotel around 5pm. We snapped some shots on our balcony as the sun set and spent the early evening swimming in the pool and the hot tub. We finished the night with a late dinner at Via Appias Deli and Wine Bar in Condado.

Tuesday December 16th - el Yunque tropical rainforest

Heading east about 90 minutes from San Juan, we entered the only tropical rainforest in the US, El Yunque National Forest. A couple of miles into the park is La Coca Falls (first picture below). Next along the park road is Yokahu Tower, perched on a hill with a view in all directions (wide angle picture facing north to the Caribbean at top of page). A couple miles further into the forest was the Big Tree trailhead which has a medium difficulty hike (second picture below) of about a mile each way, ending at La Mina falls (third picture below). Before returning to our hotel, we took a side trip for a long lunch at the other bar in San Juan that claims to have invented the Pińa Colada, the Caribe Hilton (large picture top of page right). We spent the remainder of the day relaxing in the pool and hot tub and enjoying our last conversations on our balcony (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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