A beach, a walled city
rainforest hike on US soil...
El Yunque rainforest
view to the Caribbean
Another weekend 'sanity'
vacation opportunity popped up in-between business trips
to Orlando and Tulsa in early December, so off I flew to
Puerto Rico to spend a few days on Condado beach, hiking
El Yunque (the only tropical rainforest on US soil) and visiting
the old walled city of San Juan. Puerto Rico is a US
territory about 1100 miles southeast of Florida just
west of the US
Virgin Islands. I don't know where all my
preconceptions of Puerto Rico came from, but I was
pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the city of San
I arrived from Orlando at 4pm (AST), picked up my rental car
and headed through rush hour traffic toward the
San Juan Marriott Resort & Casino on Condado beach. After
a quick snack at the hotel lounge, I walked Ashford St. to see
what was around. I found a few interesting restaurants and
bars, but by and large the area lacked character. Wander a few
blocks away from Ashford and it got downright seedy. Back at
the hotel around 9pm, I did a long swim in the pool and spent
the rest of the evening reading a book on my balcony.
Condado Beach Saturday morning
Friday December 7th
The weather looked good for a
driving day, so after breakfast at the hotel lounge I headed
90 minutes east to
Yunque National Forest in the Luquillo mountains, which
is the only tropical rainforest on US soil. Near the entrance
to the park, I picked up a map at el Portal and then headed a
couple of miles into the park to La Coca Falls (first picture
above), which is right at the side of the road. There are
several pull-out spots with great views heading further into
the park (second picture above). Next along the road is Yokahu
Tower, perched on a hill with a commanding view in all
directions (third picture above and large picture top of page
left). A couple miles further into the forest was the Big Tree
trailhead which has a medium difficulty hike (fourth picture
above and first picture below) of about a mile each way,
ending at la Mina falls (second picture below).
By mid-afternoon I had seen
and done all I wanted to in the rainforest, so I drove back to
San Juan to explore the old city. After grabbing lunch at the
Hard Rock Cafe, I set out on foot to explore. Christmas
parades had many of the roads closed which made for easy
walking. Old San Juan is a surprisingly beautiful place made
up of cobblestone streets with nicely groomed houses lining
them (third picture above), old fortress walls along the beach
(fourth picture above) and a variety of restaurants and shops.
I did a quick tour of
San Cristobal, one of two large old Spanish forts in the
city and had the surprising experience there of seeing the end
of a rainbow just off shore (first picture below). I drove
back to my hotel in the early evening and finished the day
with a beach walk and more reading on my balcony, polishing
off the first (Bill
Bryson's '"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid", -
about growing up male in the 50s and 60s) of two books I read
on the trip.
8th and Sunday December 9th
Before the trip, I had learned
Pina Colada was invented about 50 years ago in Puerto
Rico, although there is some debate between two bartenders
there as to which one was the original. The consensus winner
is Ricardo Luis Malave Gracía from the Caribe Hilton, which
happened to be just a couple of miles up the beach from my
hotel - so that sounded like a nice morning walk. The wind and
surf were up with a storm heading in, but the beach was great
for walking (second picture above and large picture top of
page right). Along the way I passed several street and beach
art areas (third and fourth pictures above), before arriving
somewhat windblown (first picture below) to claim my goal.
Victor, the bartender there, taught me that the key to a great
Pina Colada is to use frozen pineapple and coconut pieces so
you need a lot less ice in the blender.
I walked back to my hotel
(second picture below) and along the way picked up a few
ingredients to mix up my own rum-based concoction for later.
The storm hadn't materialized by 2pm, so I mixed a drink,
Inno XM radio and my second book of the trip ("The
Road" by Cormac McCarthy - a Pulitzer prize winner) and
headed for the sand. I sometimes forget how great a feeling it
is to fall fast asleep on a beach in the Caribbean. That's
what I did - and what marvelous dreams present themselves in
that state. Crashing waves, a bit of rum-induced buzz, but
most of all relaxation. I woke up after dark as the storm
finally came ashore.
Sunday I spent the morning
finishing my second book on my balcony (third picture below)
before packing and heading for the airport. Another good
sanity vacation. By Sunday night I was back in (what
unexplainably passes for) normal life riding out a major ice
storm in Tulsa (fourth picture below).
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