We slowly wound our way through mangroves and small cays to reach the anchorage in Salinas on the south coast of Puerto Rico. It looked like about 100 other boats had already nestled their way in, but we have learned that there is always room for one more boat to join the fleet (the same holds true for dinghy docks). I toured the anchorage watching the depth and maneuvering around our new neighbors until we found a spot to drop the hook and call home for the next week – Salinas boasted a super cruiser friendly harbor and we needed a safe spot to call home base while we explored the mainland. Ready, set, GO! (Anchor set, dinghy down, to shore!)
Since we wanted to see as much as possible this week and since Puerto Rico is GINORMOUS compared to anywhere we have traveled so far, we lined up a rental car for the week. We were going to be landlubbers (marineros de agua dulce)! We made our way to the Snack Bar which offered $2.50 beers and free wifi to do a little research. Puertoricodaytrips.com served as our tour guide for the week with more places to check out than we could possibly squeeze into one week – but every article I read seemed to get added to our “must do” list. So we set out with a much more structured agenda than usual, but man am I glad we did because I wouldn’t want to miss a thing. Here are a few of my favorites:
El Yunque, bosque nacional
El Yunque, el june-k according to the film narrator at the park, is the only rainforest in the US National Parks. So we put on our hiking shoes and drove up the mountain. And up and up and up. Everything was so green, so lush, and sooo humid. We picked two trails to hike, the trail to the Britton Observation Tower and the trail to Mina Falls. The first hike was listed as challenging…and they didn’t lie. We hiked uphill for an hour or so – by the end my legs were all jello-y. But the best part about hiking uphill is that you get to hike downhill on the way back The trail to Mina falls was a little crowded for our taste, but earlier in the day would have been awesome. We left the forest (bosque) very sweaty and very happy people.
Thermal Springs in Coamo
This is probably not on everyone’s must do list. But I thought it was so cool (or hot!) because I have never done anything like it before. The pools are filled with sizzlin’ water heated by a dormant volcano below the surface. The Baths have been recently renovated and the relaxing music made me feel like we had been transported to another time and place. The water is supposed to contain healing properties, so we soaked in as much as we could then lounged Bath side and waited for the sun to sink lower in the sky. It really was a healing experience.
Viejo San Juan
Old San Juan is filled with colorful homes, REALLY old forts, and a fantastic pizza joint. We wandered the streets, checked out El Morro fort and the Casa Blanca museum before finding an Italian spot to have lunch. There is so much history here – some walls in the fort date back to the 1600’s and all the streets are cobblestone. The tourist attractions were cool, but our favorite activity was just perusing the streets and stumbling in on a local farmers market. We probably should have explored more than we did, but even though it was recommended to spend a whole day there, we felt like we had experienced it enough after half a day…maybe it was the end of the week and we were a bit exhausted…
I asked Logan to write this part – he does a much better job of describing Puerto Rico’s culinary scene.
When I try to encapsulate our experience in Puerto Rico I inevitably end up envisioning swine. I am constantly reminded of one of the most memorable moments in The Simpsons history…
Homer: Are you saying you're never going to eat any animal again? What about bacon?
Homer: Pork chops?
Lisa: Dad, those all come from the same animal.
Homer: Heh heh heh. Ooh, yeah, right, Lisa. A wonderful, magical animal.
Carna Frita, Chicharonnes, Lecheron, Morcillo, and on and on. It’s incredible how much pig there is on the menu, EVERYWHERE. The most blatant display of pork worship is highway 184. Just off the main road that runs through the center of Puerto Rico is a narrow windy mountain highway that some of have dubbed the pork highway. For miles and miles along this road on both sides you see whole pigs on spits roasting away. These restaurants, or Lecheroneras, prepare massive amounts of pork and the sides that go with daily. When we visited Los Pinos on a Sunday at noon the place was jam packed full of people devouring gluttonous amounts of pork product. Beautiful, disgusting, impressive; you be the judge.
We also had the opportunity to go out on the town with a couple locals and experience some local neighborhood fare. Aunt Lori put us in contact with her friend’s brother who lives in San Juan. So one Friday night, we headed out with Fritz, Andrea, and Kate and their friends Kevin and Cheryl for a social meal with some of the best food we found all week! We learned a lot about the food we had been eating – the many forms of viandas (root vegetables), the ins and outs of plantains, the coveted “burnt” rice from the bottom of the pan – we were becoming Puerto Rican cuisine experts! Sharing good food with good company is one of our favorite things, thanks for a great night guys!
We could probably use another month here to see what there is to see, but it’s time to get going again. After stops at Isla Caja de Muertos and a mangrove island known as Gilligan’s Island (not a clue why) we are on our way to Boqueron on the west coast. We have been watching the weather really closely so that we can cross the Mona Passage over to the Dominican Republic. The Mona Passage is another “nasty” piece of water that requires careful planning to cross, so we are waiting for more than calm conditions. If the forecast holds, we will sail off Sunday around noon for Luperón.
I’m so glad that we made it to Puerto Rico. This one definitely goes on the list of places to re-visit.