Puerto Rico & Vieques 9/08

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An incredible swim in a bio-luminescent bay, a 500 year old walled city and a tropical rainforest on US soil...

Reserva Natural las Cabezas mangrove

I'm not one to pass up any Caribbean opportunity, so when a midwest business meeting got deferred, off I flew to explore this great island for four days, expanding on the places I saw on my first trip here in December, 2007. Because it was summer break at UCSB, my older son Ben was able to fly in for the later part of the visit. The highlight of the trip, and one of the most unique experiences I've ever had, was our late night swim in the world's most bio-luminescent bay on the island of Vieques.

Friday August 29th

I arrived from Dallas at 4pm (AST), picked up my rental car and headed west through San Juan's traffic crush to the La Concha Renaissance on Condado beach. After snapping a few shots from my balcony (first picture below), I drove into old San Juan for the evening. I had dinner just down the hill from the southwest end of the 500 year old city wall (second picture below) at a cozy restaurant & jazz cafe called Carli Cafe Concierto, owned by pianist Carli Munoz. I finished the evening at Barrachina, one of two San Juan bars claiming to have invented the Pińa Colada (third picture below).

Ben & Wayne on the rocky northeast coast

Saturday August 30th

Ben's overnight flight from Los Angeles arrived mid-morning. After unloading his luggage at the hotel, we drove into old San Juan to explore. The weather was hot, but otherwise ideal for walking around San Juan's cobblestone streets. After lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe (fourth picture above with Ben on-stage) we headed north toward Fuerte San Felipe (first three pictures below - entrance, second tier inside and building arches), one of two 500 year old forts bookending the west and east ends of the old city. From Fuerte San Felipe, we walked east along the north shoreline (fourth picture below) and explored the other fort, San Cristóbal. I had visited San Cristóbal on my prior trip in December.

The view west from San Cristóbal shows the old city wall extending between the two forts (first picture below). We got back to Condado Beach in the early evening and witnessed an interesting sunset that included two storms over the ocean off in the distance (second picture below). We then enjoyed an extended tapas dinner at Mirós (named for the painter, with his prints hanging throughout), that included a bottle of one of my favorite, but hard to find Spanish wines (La Rioja Alta, SA, Vino Ardanza '00 Reserva Rioja). We finished the evening at the Marriott Condado's casino across the street, Ben's first experience with organized gambling.

Sunday August 31st

We awoke to a beautiful sunrise from our balcony over Condado beach (third picture above facing east showing the hotel's seashell covered restaurant). After a quick breakfast we headed 90 minutes east to El Yunque National Forest in the Luquillo mountains. We had a very full day planned farther east, so we drove just a few miles into the park to La Coca Falls (fourth picture above), which is right at the side of the road. I had explored El Yunque more extensively on my prior trip, but this brief visit gave Ben a decent glimpse. After lunch in Fajardo, we drove to Reserva Natural las Cabezas at the northeast tip of the island, where we had reservations for the 2pm tour that included Laguna Grande mangrove (first two pictures below and large picture top of page left), the rocky Atlantic coastline (third picture below and large picture top of page right) and the Fajardo lighthouse (view southwest from the platform in fourth picture below).

Heading south from the Reserva, we got a bit lost finding Marina Puerto del Rey (it's at N18.28778 W65.63656 for any GPSers out there), where we would catch our East Island Excursions catamaran at 5:30pm to the island of Vieques with for the bio-luminescent bay swim. The 45 minute, 30 mile ride in the cat to Vieques was fun, albeit hot, with very weak Pińa Coladas served enroute. We were met by a van at Vieques' dock in Esperanza and driven across the island to a restaurant run by Island Adventures (the folks who do the bio-luminescent Mosquito Bay tours) for dinner and our instructions for the night swim. We had near perfect conditions on the bay with a new moon keeping the ambient light to a minimum. The water was about 85°F. I tried to take pictures both from the boat and in the water, but none turned out. I copied a couple of pictures from the Island Adventure site to the bottom of this page, but even they don't do the experience justice. The water really does light up that much! When you raise your arm up out of the water the droplets coming down on your skin sparkle like diamonds. A very unique experience.

Monday September 1st (Labor Day) & Tuesday September 2nd

After our whirlwind Sunday, getting back to the hotel after midnight, we decided to blow off my planned Monday drive through the center of the island to Cuomo and Ponce and instead hang around Condado, the pool and the beach. Very relaxing. We grabbed lunch at Via Appias Deli and Wine Bar on Ashford a few blocks from our hotel. In the evening we drove into old San Juan and enjoyed a Plantation style dinner at Raices, which is a local phenomenon. Tuesday morning we packed and headed to the airport for our flight home.

 

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