Updated: Mar 28, 2020
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR SIAN-FRANCES CROWDER
This blog is dedicated to our adventures as empty-nesters. But as we can't travel at the moment, I need to branch out and include a few of the chickens who have flown the coop, only to be returned to and quarantined in it.
Scented by sea breezes with a hint of rum, Puerto Rico, a sun-washed medley of Spanish and American influences, is a Caribbean vacation delight.
I write this post from my bedroom in London, having been abruptly ejected from university in the United States, two months before graduation. Thank you Coronavirus. I won't complain much because my friends, Ana, Helena, Maya, Joan and I are the lucky ones. We traveled to Ana's home town, San Juan, Puerto Rico, for our final spring break before we graduate in May. Right before travel restrictions.
In 2017, Category 5 Hurricane Maria devastated St. Croix, Dominica and Puerto Rico. It was the worst natural disaster to hit these islands, and the worst Atlantic hurricane since Janine in 2004. The tenth most intense in history. Maria is the third-costliest in history, with losses estimated upwards of $91.61 billion.
As of January 2019, there has been $20 billion in grants allocated for Puerto Rico's reconstruction. Many feel this amount is too little to help the lives of ordinary affected Puerto Ricans.
Paradoxically, January 2019 saw a $600 million cut in food aid to Puerto Rico by the Trump Administration. But at least they had paper towels.
The tourism trade in Puerto Rico, one of its largest industries has started to rebound. The new 'Have we met yet' advertising branding emphasises Puerto Rico's culture and history. It seemed to have been successful, as tourism is finally on the rise.
I wish the people we have met; tour operators, food service and friends, all the luck in the world.
The following is our itinerary from which many happy memories were made.
Day Out: Poza del Mujeres, Manati PR
What would anyone do on their first day of spring break? Of course it would be to hit the beach, preferably with a beach bag full of rum and pina colada mixer. What should also be in that beach bag, besides a bag of ice and plastic cocktail glasses, is sun screen.
Poza del Mujeres is a small, less populated beach in Manati, Puerto Rico. This beach, and neighbouring Playa la Cueva de las Golodrinas are close to each other in the Reserva Natural de Hacienda La Esperanza. Rocky outcrops surround the beaches and allow for them more privacy.
With all the excitement of being free from studies, in Puerto Rico with a bag full of rum, we forgot the sunscreen. This resulted in my entire party suffering sunburn. On the first day, not ideal. We may have also have experienced some sun stroke because we had visions of a solitary horse on the beach. It was peaceful and happy and we had no idea what it was doing there.
Hurricane Maria visited this spot in 2017, and destroyed some of the coastline houses. It was a shame to see them still in a state of disrepair.
Night Out: La Placita
La Placita de Santurce is a historic landmark and meeting place for restaurants, bar-hopping and salsa dancing. During the day, the pace is slow and perfect for grown-up meals and games of dominos. At night, the heat picks up and the streets heave with music, cocktails, tourists and locals alike. The neighbourhood caters to everyone. High-end restaurants jostle for customers with chinchorros, or hole-in-the-wall-bars. There is even a chinchorros named Chinchorros.
We went to a very popular sake restaurant that oddly none of us can remember the name of. Odder still, is having Japanese for dinner while in Puerto Rico. This restaurant is famous (though not that famous as no one can remember the name) for their sake shots. A shot of sake balances upon two crossed chopsticks on top of a glass of beer. The customer then bangs a hammer on the table next to the glass of beer while patrons yell "SAKE!" This ritual repeats until the shot falls into the beer and then the beer drank. To be honest, not my cup of tea, nor pint of brew either.
The drinks are quite cheap in La Placita, and everyone has a good time. Guide-friend Ana claims that this is where young funsters spend their Friday nights.
The Fajardo River feeds the ponds that create Cieba's natural beauty spots of Charco Frío and Las Tinajas. This is a fun, if a little tiring hike, usually reserved for locals, but appreciated by all. You must wear shoes on the paths, even though they will get wet. There is a rope swing 15 minutes walk from the parking lot. This was a lot of fun as visitors cheer each other on when going off the rope.
There is a natural waterslide upstream from the rope swing, and lots of little pools to swim in. Most importantly, I was able to Kloof. Kloofing is a South African term for 'jumping off rocks into ravines', and has been my dream forever. It was super fun, dreams fulfilled.
There was such a great vibe at Las Tinajas. Local families spend their time here, chilling with drinks and music.
Day Out: Ocean Park
Ocean Park is an upscale beachfront community located between Condado and Isla Verde. The wide beach and offshore reefs prevent big waves, though strong seasonal onshore trade winds make the beach popular for kitesurfing and windsurfing.
A ella le gusta la gasolina
Dame más gasolina
Como le encanta la gasolina
Dame más gasolina
Who knows what Daddy Yankee is writing about here: does he want actual gasoline? Is he making sexual overtures?
My opinion is that the top-ten song, voted the number 9 Best Latin Song of all Time according to Billboard magazine, is about the small, pre-made packets of alcoholic bevvies they sell on Ocean Beach. Gasolina is the brand name of these portable little rum-based goodies and perfect for a day at the beach.
Night Out: Old San Juan
And since I am in a lyrical mood-
I like the city of San Juan.
I know a boat you can get on.
Hundreds of flowers in full bloom.
Hundreds of people in each room!
Can anyone traipse through San Juan without recalling the lyrics to America from West Side Story? How often does one hear random hand-claps as they wander through town? For people under 50 or for those disinterested in musical theatre, you will understand this reference when the remake, featuring Ansel Elgort, debuts in 2020.
Old San Juan is home to the San Juan National Historic Site, with buildings dating from the 16th century. These include the San Felipe del Morro and San Cristóbal fortresses and the old city walls. The Bautista Cathedral houses the tomb of Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León.
This is a very touristy area, full of Caribbean-Fusion restaurants and colourful houses. We enjoyed delicious mojitos in one of the many cool cocktail bars. Music pours onto the cobbled streets as one can choose between a crazy mix of karaoke, live music, pop and western techno.
I loved it so much I wrote this little ditty:
I like the city of San Juan
All the mojitos you can get down
Hundreds of people in each street
Oh the mojitos are so sweet!
Clearly the mojitos were my big take away from Old San Juan.
Day Out: El Yunque
This was one of the highlights of my trip! This large rainforest, decimated by Hurricane Maria, has now grown back and is in great form.
This natural park is an excellent place to immerse yourself in nature. You can visit for a hike on one of its many trails or bathe in natural pools beneath waterfalls. The kloofing (remember that term?) becomes more difficult, and the rocks more craggy the higher up you hike, so it's important to have rock shoes.
El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest Service. The name El Yunque refers to the indigenous Taino word Yuke, which means "white lands". There is an average rainfall of 120 inches a year, giving El Yunque a very diverse ecosystem. It hosts hundreds of unique plant and animal species, including the island’s famous coquí frog.
Night Out: Chilies
The people of Puerto Rico love their chilies.
Day Out: Casa Bacardi
There are two tours at the facility: the historic tour and the mixology tour. Of course we took the mixology tour.
The tour starts, after a complementary cocktail, with the history of the country.
After learning what I have written in the previous paragraphs, we moved on to the factory and processing tour. We learned how they make rum.
Next we moved on to the mixology. Here, the mixologists teach you how to make mojitos, Cuba libre, and lemon daiquiri.
These are all sound lovely now as I prepare for a boozy, quarantined lunch.
Day Out: The Boat Tour to Culebra
Culebra is a small island and surrounding group of cays off the east coast of Puerto Rico. It is accessible only by boat. In the northwest, Flamenco Beach is a crescent of white sand, lapped with azure waves and backed by tree-covered hills. Nearby Tamarindo Beach offers clear waters full of fish, sea turtles and rays. In the southwest, head to Punta Melones beach for dramatic sunsets.
This was the most expensive thing we did on the trip, but it was very much worth it. We paid $150 a piece, which includes lunch plus drinks. The guides are very kind and informative when giving tourism advice.
The boat collects you at 9:30AM and drops you back at 3PM. There are two stops during the day. The first was for snorkelling and the second was off the island, with a swim to the beach.
The tour operators give you the lunch of sandwich or pasta. It was very good. You also get as many pre-packed rum based cocktails as you like. If you are good at winking and elbow cajoling, you might even get an extra shot.
There were plenty crabs lolling about on the beach. Joan picked one up, and it was dope. Being a SIMS fan, I could not get the image of SIMS Castaway out of my head. Perhaps the hot sun and the unlimited rum led me to believe crabs were dope and I was a bobble-headed SIMS avatar. Yes, I'm sure it was the rum. I must be very good at winking.
Day Out: Playa Poza del Obispo, Arecibo
Our final day at the beach.
This off the beaten path beach is actually two beaches in one place. The main draw here is La Poza (the pool). Long Beach, further east, is popular among locals for surfing and boogie boarding.
Playa Poza del Obispo is nice and wide, plenty of space for lounging on the soft sand, even on a busy day. This beach may be small, but the natural show performed on by the waves, is spectacular. The waves crash upon the rocks that surround the beach, shooting the water into the air with panache enough to compete with the fountains of the Bellagio.
The backwash creates small pools, where people stand and wait for the next wham of water.
Higher up there are spectacular views and a lighthouse.
I could not have asked for a better final spring break trip. I love Puerto Rico and we are very lucky that we managed to travel there before the travel bans came into effect. We may not have a graduation ceremony this year, but I got to go Kloofing, and that may have to be enough.
Thank you so much for my hosts, The Moraskie family, my friends and everyone who made this trip possible.
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