May 22, 2009

Don't call it a girl-cation, part 2

Continuing the adventures from Puerto Rico...

By the time we returned from National Salsa Day, it had turned to night. We were sun-worn and full of ridiculous amounts of fried food, but not quite ready to call it a night. Our hotel had a beachfront restaurant – we’d eaten lunch there the first day and taken advantage of the fresh fruit blended rum drinks (hellooo fresh mango!) – but this was more of a wine night. A bottle of wine, three exhausted ladies and an amazing ocean breeze: Yes, the first two days in Puerto Rico treated us all right.

Day 3, we got up bright and early for an epic day. Over the objections of our hotel “concierge” about handling it on our own, we rented a car to go explore south of San Juan, including the El Yunque rain forest and bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. By the recommendation of our guide book, we wanted to get to El Yunque early to avoid the crowds, so by 9AM we were on our way winding through tiny towns along beachfront roads (Most importantly, past the club where they filmed 'Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights'!), and an hour later we were there, in North America’s only rain forest.

One of the economic stimulus programs from FDR’s new deal involved paving the rain forest – because who wants to hike when you can stroll along on concrete? (So don’t worry everyone, if the economy keeps tanking, we can create more jobs by adding sidewalks to our National Parks – Yosemite, here we come!). Despite this strange incongruity, El Yunque is undeniably beautiful.

Here I am, coming around the bend, on our "hike"

We got to the end of the road, and found a trail that would take us past La Anza waterfall. We opted to not go swimming in the waterfall, as it was crawling with traveling teens and their families, in which many of the parents were behaving worse than the kids (I’m talking to you, Dad trying to scale the wall inside the waterfall), but we enjoyed quite a lovely walk from end to end of the path and back (One of my favorite quotes of the weekend, courtesy of the overweight woman gasping for breath on her way down a hill thought we had done the there-and-then-back hike by mistake: “They went the wrong way! Make sure we don’t do that!”)

That was enough exertion for the day, so we made our way out of El Yunque, in search of the perfect Puerto Rican beach. Mission accomplished:

But we didn’t go swimming. Our bodies demanded food, and we’d read about the famous food kiosks that lined a road near our location. Food kiosks? You had me at hello! Because it was a weekday, a number of them were closed. And some of them were really, really closed:

But we eventually settled in at Bubbles, where we enjoyed the patio for a good couple of hours. We chatted with the super friendly cook, bartender and owner, sipped margaritas, enjoyed an amazing view and cried over stray cats. Well, that last part was just me.

With full bellies, we had just enough time for a lazy hour on the beach, so at the recommendation of the chatty Peruvian ex-pat owner of Bubbles, we headed down the street to Luquillo, where it appears we took no photos, so you'll just have to trust me that it was gorgeous and, finally, wind-free!

After the relaxing afternoon, it was time to get back in the car and head to our bioluminescent bay tour. The tours are kayaking excursions from a harbor, through a 10ish-foot wide canal, into a bay where, thanks to the perfect intersection of ecosystem and temperature, hundreds of thousands of single-celled kinda plant, kinda animal organisms "glow" within the water.

We put on our life vests, listened to the safety schpiel, climbed into our 3-person kayak…and promptly went off course. Not just a little off course – like, headed to open ocean off course. I wish one of us had a waterproof camera, so we could share photos of this disaster. Jessica – the “steering wheel” at the back of the boat - overestimated her unpracticed-for-years rowing ability. I – the “motor” at the front” – overestimated my ability to see the boat ahead of us and keep us on track. Sarah – in the middle and oar-free – overestimated her ability to sit between us powerless. It was truly the perfect storm. How bad was it? At one point, we were literally turning in circles. The tour leaders had to go back to shore, grab an extra boat and rower, and split us up into two kayaks. (I'm really trying to resist the urge here to talk about how naturally athletic and coordinated the three of us really are...).

Jessica & Sarah went with one of the tour leaders. I went with the extra employee they’d grabbed, who didn’t want me to row – or talk. Once we settled in, we were able to enjoy beautiful night sky, and the tiny plankton-like creatures glowing in the dark water below. The beginning of the kayak trip had already been so crazy that the giant traffic jam back through the canal – different tour groups passing one another on the wrong sides, colliding, getting turned around or sometimes stuck in the trees that lined the sides – didn’t really phase me. Eventually we made it back to shore in one piece. Here we are with Jessica & Sarah’s boat captain, SeƱor Jokester:

Water-logged and wholly amused by what had just transpired, we headed back to our hotel, determined to have one final night out – we still had outfits left to wear, afterall!

Unfortunately, Monday nights don’t tend to be the most happening nights around, so our night out mainly meant drinks in a hotel lobby, a quick trip to the hotel casino (I made $7!), and a dinner that finally included plantains.

Our flight was early afternoon on Tuesday, and we decided we had time to squeeze some historical touring of Old San Juan in. So, after returning our rental car, we jumped on the bus one final time and headed straight for Fort San Felipe del Morro. As public transportation is wont to do, it took us a bit longer than we expected to get there – so imagine our dismay when we saw the walkway up to the Fort:

10 minutes later we were inside – with about 20 minutes to see everything there was to see. We rushed up and down mysterious stairways, enjoyed the amazing ocean views, and promised ourselves we’d read up on the importance of all this stuff later (Yeah, that totally happened…).

We did, of course, find enough time to commemorate the trip once more, from atop that long walkway:

And then, just like that, we were off to the airport for one final tropical drink and back to Boston.

This trip was a long-time coming, and absolutely everything I could have hoped for – three days of solid girl time, plenty of sun, delicious food and drinks, and just the right amount of culture and history. Now, time to start planning next year’s trip – perhaps somewhere French speaking, so Jessica can take the lead. Did someone say Monaco?


Jezka said...

I can't believe so much time has passed without me studying my fort brochure.

LOVE your recap. Just ordered all the pics online for the hard copy photo album.