Tuesday, August 26, 2014

There is this place!

It is an often overlooked pearl in long string of famous pearls. As we enjoy it's diverse landscape, I am bewildered by it's lack of fame. I didn't realize it myself until I found myself in the middle of its diverse splendor. Round trip airline tickets are available for as cheap as they get. It is so accessible from the United States that you don't even need a passport to travel. By all rights, a tropical Caribbean paradise, and it one day could become the 51st state. So, why is it that when we talk of exotic destinations, it's all too often off of the radar? You can literally take a ferry boat to the famed U.S. Virgin Islands, a stone's throw away. Perhaps the reasonable prices kills the high, "No pain no gain"? I don't know, It's a mystery to me. I beg you all to take a closer look at the exotic destination that is Puerto Rico.

A roadside view along the Puerto Ricos' southeast coast.

Okay, so I convince "3 of 6" to come visit me. Some of you may know him as Alexis, my 3rd son. At the same time I ask my brother to allow my niece to come visit. His over-protective paranoia leads him to believe that it was an invitation for the whole family...? So now, for the first time we have visitors, which is great, but more than bargained for, not so great. I am completely comfortable letting fate take it's course. It has rarely failed me, somehow things always work out, but Marie must have control. She works herself up into a nasty cramp. I can imagine the frustration of trying to share her frustration with me. Talk about a double whammy, I don't care about control, I am a master of adaptation, my indecision has made sure of that. So, without any planning of sorts Alexis gets in on the 10th of August, and my brother and company get in on the 11th, both to San Juan. I'm in Ponce which is on the other side of the island, but just an hour and a half away. Fate dictates that my brother rent a car, and he does, and a major nervous breakdown is diverted.
Eva and Vanilla ready for bed.

Back at the boat we all found a place to sleep, like water finds its path. We even manage to isolate my brother, and his freight train snoring. The next morning my brother (I should start calling him Richie) goes out and brings back two loaves of Puertorican bread, tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. We made a big sandwich that had us burping garlic all day, but they were really good.
Marie had an amazing itinerary planned. There were contingencies, and backup plans for the backup plan. If our war generals planned this thoroughly...well things would just be different.
The first day we took a panoramic drive through the mountains on the western side of the island. The road was often one lane wide, and as twisted as a politician's sense of reason. At one point we had to pull over so that Betty (Richie's wife) could throw up, she was in good spirits none the less. We inadvertently came across a waterfall that was not even shown on the map. It had three levels, and the water cascaded down to a pool at the bottom of each level. The lowest pool was large, and there were cliffs to either side. Hadrian and Alexis  scaled the cliff to about thirty feet, where there was a ledge, and then jumped into the pool below. The water was quite cool. It was all magnificent, and we felt blessed by the experience.
Two small packages that are full of attitude.

The waterfalls' 1st level was mild.

Eva and Erika were the first ones in.

Here we are acclimating to the nippy water.

Now we are ready to move to the next level.

Alexis and Marie working their way down the sides of the waterfall.

Alexis jumping into the bottom pool.

Here's Eva and Erika in the middle pool.

This is the 2nd drop in the waterfall.

Don't get too close to the edge!

Our stomachs were in need of some attention so we move on in search of some local fare. The route we chose was off the beaten path, and what few restaurants we came across were closed during the weekdays. I stopped for fuel, and Richie found a beer stand across the street. Nothing else, just a single free standing beer stand, in the middle of nowhere, that sold nothing, but beer. Present were the attendant and a single client, sipping on a, you guessed it, beer. Time has taught me not try to rush Richie, but to join him, as I will have to endure his visit to the watering hole wherever it may be. We each had 3 beers before our stomachs raised their heads again, this time with a painful stab. It was way past 3 o'clock, and we were running on garlic fumes. Marie remembered this great restaurant that we had first visited a couple of months earlier called "DeLirious". We made a bee-line for it, but arrived at 4:30, the place opened at 5 pm! As we stood there staring, all of us impersonating Mr. Bean, the chef pulled up in a station wagon, and started to unload his groceries. Figuring that it could only help our cause, we all grabbed a bag, and carried it inside, they let us in early.  The signature dish of the restaurant is called the "Volcano". It is a mound of mofongo with a rolled skirt steak placed on top, and then filled with shrimp, and drizzled with rich Alfredo sauce. This dish is best shared because it is simply too much guilt for one person alone to bear. We waddled out of the restaurant, single file, looking like emperor penguins on migration, and had take a walk around the town square before attempting to sit in the car again.
The picturesque town square at San German.

The Volcano at DeLirious.

Our next stop was the bio-luminescent bay in the town of La Parguera. We arrived there just after dark. There was no moon out, which really enhances the luminous effect of the bay. La Parguera is a festive town, strewn with bars, and restaurants. We quickly surveyed the main drag, and found the hub of activity at the waters edge. From there the largest tour operators ran ferries out to the famous bay. Tickets were $8 each, no break for kids, but we made the investment none the less. A half hour wait gave Richie and me time for three rum and cokes, further enhancing the effects of phenomena that lay ahead. The ferry itself was a purpose built vessel with two stories. It had four glass bottom viewing boxes, bathrooms, and a concession stand on the first level. A 6 foot wide staircase led to a second level where good views of the surroundings could be had. It always impresses me, how proficient some ferry captains become on their routes. Our captain wove around the mangroves in the bay, around shoals, and obstacles, and brought us into the phosphorescent area with surgical precision. The crew scooped up a few buckets full of water so that the passengers could agitate the water with their hands, and spur the luminescent plankton into glowing. A diver leaped into the dark water from the second level. The water around him lit up as if spotlight was on him. He turned on his back and made...like snow angels. Hadrian noticed that the water behind the propellers was also brightly lit. On the way back to the pier we sailed along the edge of the bay. A lineup of enchanting vacation cottages captured everyone's attention, they looked like they were out of a fairy tale. They were all on stilts over the water. Each cottage had a porch along the back that faced the bay, some of them even had a berth for their boat. Most impressive is that someone had enough wisdom to preserve the mangroves between the homes. We each picked one, and in our minds it was ours for a minute. Back on shore, we discussed what we had just experienced as we made our way back to the cars, and headed for home. It had been a great day.
The kids on the ferry to the bio-luminescent bay in the town of La Parguera.

Richie and Betty were enjoying the ride.

The captain and his 1st mate.

The next morning we got a late start. It was almost noon before we headed out. The lighthouse at the very southwest tip of the island was our first destination. The drive was an event by its' own right, with great views around each corner. Shortly before the lighthouse are the salt tidal ponds. There were a couple of salt hills ready for market. It is impressive to see salt in such vast amounts, piled so high that you just want to climb it...and the kids did, as we ran around the base screaming at them to get down. I thought for sure we would all be reprimanded. The parking area for the lighthouse was still a quarter mile from the light, but there was a trolley bus to take you the rest of the way. The site was a peninsula surrounded by cliffs, about 50 feet high. Waves crashing along the bottom gave us an ominous feeling. The bus driver, obviously bored to death, had conjured up a way to make his job more interesting. Once at the end of the road, he would make a wide u-turn that would place the bus tires a few feet from the cliffs edge. He would be entertained by the look of raw fear on the passengers faces. A "religious experience" is what he called it as he sat there looking back at us with a gaping smile, having more fun than anyone else! I am pretty sure the municipality was unaware that it sponsored his hellish event.
We all posed for a picture on top of the lookout tower over the salt ponds.

The kids were really amused by the salt mounds.

The historic lighthouse at Cabo Rojo.

Here's a view of the peninsula. 

The light still works today.

This the spiral staircase inside the lighthouse.

These are the treacherous cliffs around Cabo Rojo.

The view was unnerving.

This a view down the coast.

This is where the bus driver would take the bus.

A religious experience?
The next destination was Boqueron, the small town where we had first arrived a couple of months ago, and quite close to where we were. A great stop for lunch, it was quieter than it has ever been on a Thursday while we had been staying there. In any case the first stop was a bar, where we were served a generous rum-and-coke for 3 bucks each. The rest of the gang went off to the beach. Richie and I just sat around killing brain cells, and that was that. We would wander out into town only as far as our drinks would last, and then we would scurry back for another. What a great afternoon.
The town dock at Boqueron.

We were back at the boat early in the evening. Richie was falling asleep before dinner was even ready. Of course that only makes you the object of everyone's attention, and so we all took turns bothering him. Finally he went out to the cockpit and found some peace. I made "chicharron", deep fried pork belly with the skin still on it, and mofongo. You really have to try it! My patented cooking process makes the skin crispy yet tender, like a saltine cracker.
The next day, having slept so much already, Richie was up at dawn. Not having the patience to wait for everyone to muster, he woke Betty, Erika, and Eva, and then headed to San Juan via the panoramic coastal route. The rest of us got on the road at about 11 am, and we joined up in Patillas at about 2 pm, and continued on to San Juan. About 20 miles outside of the capitol city, in an area called Luquillo is a strip of restaurants that we call the kiosks or the fish fry. We had been there a few weeks earlier, while celebrating Eva's birthday. Mostly local fare, it is a bargain, and we all feasted for a mere 20 bucks. The people watching isn't bad either.
The ruins of an old windmill.

We caught up with Richie and Betty at Mufasas'.

This is the beach at Patillas.

Eva is all tied up at the moment.

We just had to pull over for this view.

These are the food kiosks at Luquillo.

The kids loved the fair like food.

We had made arrangements to stay at a hotel close to the airport, Richie and Betty were leaving at 2:30, and Alexis at 6:00 pm. A quick visit to Old San Juan, and lunch was all that we would have time for the next day. Richie and Betty got separated while sightseeing in San Juan and spent most of their remaining time trying to find each other again. We had discovered a restaurant called Raises (roots) on our last visit to the city. They serve excellent typical local foods with a great presentation, and excellent service. There is something to be said about civilization. I just had to take everyone there before our guests left us. With hardly enough time left before they had to leave, we all sat down for lunch. The chuleta kan-kan is one of their signature dishes. It's like the rib that tips Fred Flintstones car over. I just had to see Alexis with one of those in front of him. 
A statue commemorating a historic event in San Juan.

A sentry's lookout turret along the wall.

The buildings in San Juan are magnificent.

One last meal with the group at Raises.

Richie having another Volcano.

Alexis has his hands full with this pork chop!

Eva and Alexis Had fun with the smelly pigeons.

I don't think Hadrian would make a very good sentry.

Doing what you are not suppose to is half the fun.

Eva struggled with the high winds.

This is a view from the fort to San Juan Harbor.

A battle against the Danes actually took place on these lawns in front of the fort.

An old cemetery just outside the fort walls.

 A great time was coming to an end. It was great to have visitors for the first time since we left the States. Everything is better when it's shared with loved ones. Eva was just devastated, and made us all aware of it on the ride home, over, and over.


  1. Thank you Calypso Cat, we always look forward to your comments, it make us feel a connection.