Rebecca and I have just returned from a seven-day trip to Puerto Rico to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. It was supposed to be a five-day trip, but thanks to “Superstorm” Sandy, our flight home was canceled, the rebooked flight was canceled, and we ended up needing to stay two extra nights. We knew that the girls were fine staying at our house with my in-laws, but we missed getting to go home to them when planned.
Other than that, we had a great trip. I wanted to tell you a little bit about what we did, and share some of the photos that we took.
On Friday the 26th (our anniversary date), we flew US Airways from Boston to San Juan, Puerto Rico by way of Philadelphia. The trip was pretty smooth, except for the extra delay before our plane took off from Philadelphia, since they had to plot a route to get around Hurricane Sandy, which, at the time, was churning through the Caribbean. (pics of this leg of the trip: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Flight-to-Puerto-Rico/26307923_897XBq).
Once in Puerto Rico, we got our rental car at the airport and drove for about four hours from San Juan to Las Marias, a town in the middle of the eastern central mountains of Puerto Rico. Some of that time was due to rush hour traffic getting out of San Juan, but it also had to do with the winding, 25mph roads going through the mountains. They were quite challenging to drive, especially at night! By the end of the trip, though, I had become fairly proficient at navigating them.
We eventually reached our destination, Maravilla Mountain, after darkness had fallen. Maravilla Mountain is a vegan/vegetarian bed and breakfast in an incredibly remote location in the middle of the forest. We were the only people staying there at the time, so we had our bedroom, plus a sitting room and bathroom, all to ourselves for the duration of our stay. We had purchased their “all-inclusive DIY” meal plan, which meant that they prepared all of our meals ahead of time and refrigerated or froze them, and we simply heated them up whenever we were ready – breakfast, lunch and dinner. The hosts, Margo and Mark, were incredibly hospitable. Margo’s cooking was delicious and filling, Mark’s woodworking and decor was fascinating, and the house was very comfortable. It was particularly relaxing to sit on the porch hammock-swings at night, overlooking the forest. They also had a massive movie collection, which I learned that Margo had picked out herself, and a huge flatscreen TV, which was great for watching in the evenings. (pics, including photos of most of our meals: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Maravilla-Guesthouse-and/26307973_c487FW)
In general, each day of the trip followed a similar pattern: we would get up early to go out and do some adventuring, then return home in the mid-afternoon to relax, have dinner, and relax some more.
On Saturday, we drove southwest to Cabo Rojo, a town on the far southwest corner of the island. There, we hiked up to the Los Morillos lighthouse, and down to a small beach in a cove. The views of the Caribbean Sea and the cliffs of Cabo Rojo were incredible, and the beach was very nice. It even had natural cabanas – the beach was lined with shade trees that provided a place to change into swimsuits and sit when a shade break was needed. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Cabo-Rojo/26308166_D57zPR).
On Sunday, we drove northeast to Camuy and Arecibo. In Camuy, we visited the Rio Camuy Caverns, a massive cave system formed by an underground river. We took a tram ride deep down to the entrance to the cave, and had a guided tour around inside the cave. It was very hard to capture in photos, but it was incredible in size and variety of rock formations. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Rio-Camuy-Caverns/26308304_hRTszQ)
We then drove to Arecibo to visit the Arecibo Observatory, the world’s largest single-dish radiotelescope. You may recognize it from such movies as GoldenEye or Contact. It’s a massive structure built out in the middle of the hilly northern country (“Karst” country) of Puerto Rico – a huge reflector dish in the ground, three massive towers surrounding it, with cables holding up an array of instruments designed to receive radio signals reflected by the dish. There is a visitor center that explains much of the history and science behind the telescope, and an observation deck that allows visitors to have a good view of the telescope. As a science geek, it was definitely a must-see for me! (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Arecibo-Observatory/26308901_tnRc9b)
On Monday, we drove southeast to Guanica to visit the Guanica State Forest, a dry forest on the southern coast. After winding up a mountain road to a parking area, we took a hike down one of the trails. It started out looking much like our own forests and ended up looking more like a desert. At the bottom of the trail, we walked along a road and eventually came to a beach with a view of the Caribbean Sea. It was a sweltering day, and we ended up quite hot and sweaty, but we got to see some incredible plants and ocean views. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Guanica-State-Forest/26312477_BTvMwL)
After we left the forest, we headed back towards Las Marias and the guest house, but on the way, we stopped in Mayaguez to visit the USDA Tropical Agriculture Research Station (TARS). The TARS performs research and experiments in a variety of agricultural areas. They make a big point of saying that they are not a botanical garden, which basically means that the layout of their grounds was not chosen to be particularly aesthetically pleasing. It was still very cool to see all of the cataloged tropical plant species that they had. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/USDA-Tropical-Agriculture/26312520_kNJc74)
Monday night was our last night at Maravilla Mountain, but our rebooked flights were on Thursday, so we still had to fill up Tuesday and Wednesday with activities. On Tuesday morning, we drove to our hotel in San Juan. We had booked a room at the Borinquen Beach Inn, a small motel in the Isla Verde area of San Juan. It was the cheapest hotel we could find that was near the airport. It also happened to be close to the beach – just one or two minutes to walk there from our room. It was definitely not a fancy beach resort, but it had the basics that we needed. It was also right across the street from Taco Bell and Walgreens, so we had access to cheap food to help save money during this unplanned portion of our trip. (pics of Isla Verde, the beach, and our hotel: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Isla-Verde/26312786_h829L7)
After checking in, we drove to Old San Juan to explore its historical sites. We visited Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a fort that was built by the Spanish in 1539 and occupied by them until it was won by the Americans in 1898. The views of the old city and the ocean from the fort are incredible. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Castillo-San-Felipe-del-Morro/26312569_bvczk5 ) We took a free tram from El Morro to Castillo de San Cristobal, another fortress in Old San Juan. Where El Morro was designed to protect against sea attacks, San Cristobal was built to protect from land attacks, right at the entrance to Old San Juan. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Castillo-de-San-Cristobal/26312618_WrqdMH)
We also walked around Old San Juan a bit, and had a meal at Cafe Berlin, a restaurant with Puerto Rican, international, and vegan/vegetarian cuisine. Rebecca had a veggie sandwich while I tried mofongo, a Puerto Rican specialty. It was tasty, although I probably wouldn’t choose to eat it often. (pics of Old San Juan: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/Old-San-Juan/26312743_5kQ3cj)
On Wednesday morning, we drove to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the US national forest system. As the island goes, it’s a relatively small piece of land, but it seems pretty big when you’re driving through it. We went up an observation tower to get a great view of the forest, we hiked down a trail to a waterfall, where Rebecca took a dip in a natural pool, and we visited the El Portal Rain Forest Center, which had a video presentation narrated by Puerto Rico native Benicio del Toro. (pics: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/El-Yunque-National-Forest/26312825_cvGtw7)
On Wednesday afternoon, we went back to Old San Juan again, as I wanted to visit the Pablo Casals Museum. We first went to the location as listed in our travel guides, but found a sign saying that it had moved to another location (or, that’s what I thought it said). So we asked around and tried to find its new location. We were pointed in the general direction of another art gallery which this museum was said to have moved into, but after walking around in circles for a bit, we finally learned the truth – the museum was in the process of moving, and neither the old nor the new location was open. In any case, we had a nice walk around Old San Juan. The architecture of the art museums we walked around was beautiful, and I’m sure that the next time we have a chance to take a trip to Puerto Rico, the new location will be open.
On both Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, and on Thursday morning before leaving, we spent time swimming, or rather trying to dodge huge waves, in the beach behind our hotel. The late afternoon was a nice, quiet, not too hot time to enjoy the warm Caribbean water.
At last, on Thursday morning, we drove to the airport, dropped off our rental car, and got ourselves to the gate for our flight. We had learned the previous day that our rebooked flight put us into first class, an experience that neither of us was accustomed to. We boarded the plane and sat in the first row (seats 1A and 1C), and enjoyed our first class experience… nice food, big comfortable seats, first on and off the plane… really nice, and at no extra charge, I assume due to the fact that we’d been bumped from our flights. (pics of the first class experience: http://gallery.prwdot.org/Travel/First-Class-Experience/26312992_vcNNrx)
We made a smooth connection in Philadelphia, had a quick flight to Boston (coach class, but still very comfortable), and zipped out of the airport, to our car, and drove home as quickly as possible. We arrived home to finally see our girls again, and to thank Nonni and Grandpa for hanging in there with the girls for two extra days.
Overall, it was a great trip and a great way to celebrate our 10th anniversary.