Monday, July 29, 2013

Puerto Rico: Not too shabby

This summer presented a new and unwelcome challenge. For the first time in seven years, I would not be spending July and August in Amsterdam. The sweltering corollary to this fact was that I would be spending those months at home. In Miami. Where the climate is only a few degrees cooler than that of the sun and the humidity is such that it has been known to provoke a man into trying to chew off a stranger's faces.

Seeing as I have been a vegetarian for over twenty years, chances are good that I would have trouble digesting human flesh so an immediate solution was necessary. That's where the opportunity to go to San Juan, Puerto Rico for three weeks came in quite handy.  Sure, it is still hot as a mofo down there, they have no canals, tulips or quality cheeses to speak of and the opportunities for international weekend getaways are non-existent but we were walking distance to a beach (as opposed to the onerous 15 minute drive I would have to undertake at home), cold Medallas were easier to find then water and a rental car could be had for less than $20 a day.

With our cheapo car, it was possible to cover every bit of the island. Thanks to its small size, everything is day-trippable.  For example, Ponce, Puerto Rico's second largest city is roughly an hour's drive from San Juan (which coincidentally holds the #1 position). With some free time, we were able to drop in and check out its famed colonial architecture.

We never did actually see el chu-chu, just the sign.

We were also able to survey the feline invasion which has overtaken the central square, el parque de las delicias.  Similar to Chicago and NY's cow parades (and Cincinnati's pig one), it features a collection of life-sized sculptures, each painted by a different artist.

From there, we continued for another forty minutes or so to the south-western coastal town of Boqueron, which is known for its beaches. Here, we were able to partake in swimming, drinking, lots of mofongo and a pretty impressive sunset. Not Amsterdam but not too shabby, either.

Even better was the next day's journey to the island of Culebra.  Located seventeen miles to the east of Puerto Rico, it is accessible by either plane or ferry.  We opted for the cheaper, more water-based option, which we just so happened to luck onto.  Some friends, who were way more ambitious than I will ever be, decided to go on the 4am ferry.  Factoring in the drive to Fajardo (which is where the ferry left from), parking, purchasing tix, etc. this meant waking up at 2:30am. As far as I'm concerned, no beach is that nice, so the rest of us planned on taking the 9am departure.  What none of us counted on was the fact that this was a holiday weekend and the we were vying for space with the entire population of Puerto Rico.  By the time we arrived in Fajardo, around 8:30am, our early rising friends were just making it to the front of the line, meaning we just waltzed in and got on the ferry.

Once we were on Culebra, we rented golf carts and set off exploring what are two of the nicest beaches I have ever seen.   First up was Tamarindo beach, which is simply ideal for snorkeling.  The visibility is astounding; it is in a cove, so there is no current to fight against and the salinity is so high that it feels like you are wearing floaties.  Also, an important factor when it comes to snorkeling, there is plenty of marine life.  Personally, I saw some small fish, a manta ray and a sea turtle.  My friend, Matt, got even luckier when he spotted the elusive ATM fish.  Ok, technically, I don't think he ever saw the fish but he did find $35 cash sitting at the bottom of the ocean.

The only drawback with Tamarindo Beach is the rocky sand, particularly at the shoreline. Let it be known that there is no graceful way to enter or exit that water.  It is all arms a-windmilling and "ouch! coño! carajo".

The answer to that problem can be found at the nearby Flamenco Beach.  A combination of perfect powdery sand, plenty of seafood shacks and ample parking make this the most popular of the island's beaches.

What to do in the event of an impending tropical rain shower: Turn up the music and salsa your troubles away.

There was no way we were going to top the beaches of Culebra, so our next outing took us in a different direction.  This time we were spelunking.  That is, if by spelunking you mean taking a choo-choo to the entrance of the cave and then listening to an audio guide as you stroll along a cement pathway from one end to other.

We were at the Caves of Camuy, a cave system originally inhabited by the Taino indians.  It is now a top tourist attraction, with more visitors than bats (and trust me, between the darkness and their flitting ways, I could not get any photographic prove, but there were a lot of bats!!)

This opening is at the other end of the cave and provides a window onto a small waterfall.
La Bruja.

It was, no question, an impressive cave but I heard from locals about other more remote (read: less touristy caves) that I hope to explore one day.  It turns out that even with three weeks, we were not able to exhaust all of our options.  What I was able to do was get out of Miami for awhile and save my friends from having to hear my laments about not being in Amsterdam.  And that ain't too shabby, not shabby at all.

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