Written by CBS4′s Rick Sallinger
My favorite waitress in my favorite pub (Pint’s in Denver) was telling me about what a great trip she had taken to Puerto Rico. The highlight, a kayak trip on a “bio-luminescent bay” where the water glows when you touch it. So I cashed in all my frequent flyer miles, disregarded my kids’ upcoming college educations, and we were off to end 2012 in style.
Mr. Know-it-all traveler. I packed all the essentials into my carry-on including toiletry kit (with medications), swim trunks, pajamas etc. But when I got to gate at DIA the agent says, “All overhead racks are full you will have to check it. It will be waiting for you at baggage claim in San Juan”. It wasn’t. Our arrival was 2:30 a.m. Fortunately a vehicle was waiting for us at Ace Car Rental, but not what we expected. All they had left was a giant Dodge Ram pickup truck. Nevertheless it got us to the Gran Melia about a half hour from the airport.
After sleeping past noon I called United to find out my carry-on was “carried off” in Newark and was still there. Making the best of it I put on a pair of my son’s too small swim trunks and went to the hotel beach/pool. Ah, paradise, even if drinks are $9 a piece. We encamped on the lawn overlooking the Caribbean, palm trees and a spectacular never ending pool filled with Greek-style pillars (this place looks like it was built for gods) with canals and fountains everywhere.For dinner went to the “kioskos” at Loquillo. There are moe than 60 little restaurants in a row. The food at La Parrilla was good (even If I didn’t care much for Mofungo, the national specialty).
Speaking of gods, the Puerto Ricans used to believe God hung out in the clouds that constantly sit on top of the mountains in the El Yunque rainforest. They may have been right. It is a misty and mystical world.I don’t think Tarzan was Puerto Rican, but he would not have been out of place in this dense jungle. There are vines hanging everywhere, beautiful waterfalls with pools you can swim in at the bottom and magnificent trails for hiking. The roads are so twisty car sickness is more likely than malaria (by now we traded our pick-up for a Nissan).
Normally I don’t like being awakened by the phone, but this call brought good news. My suitcase had arrived at the hotel. To celebrate I put on my own swim trunks that weren’t two sizes too small and we went in search of a deserted beach. My guide for eastern Puerto Rico had indicated we could find some west of the town of Loiza. While we did not see any “deserted beach” signs there were obvious places where cars pull over. We picked one and hit the jackpot. There were miles of empty beach with golden sand framed by thousands of perfect palm trees.
As good as it was, the day got even better with our Kayak trip set for that evening. We drove to Fajardo, about a half hour away from our hotel. There 10 companies were preparing their customers for the $45 two hour trip. These were small two person kayaks. Once it was dark we paddled from a bay into what was a long narrow canal through a tunnel-like forest of Red Mango trees. It was so dark all we could see were circular glow sticks on the kayaks in front of us some kayaker hit me in the head with a paddle. As we neared Laguna Grande, the bio-luminescent bay, our paddles produced what looked like a sparkler effect as they agitated the water. The reason behind this we were told are micro-organisms feeding off the dead Red Mangrove leaves that glow when disturbed. While not to the nearly to the extent of pictures I had seen, my older son proclaimed it one of the neatest things he had ever done.
Hard to top the day before, but we gave it a try. Back to Fajardo we went, this time to catch a ferry to the island of Vieques. Some friends of ours had just been there and their pictures made the beaches appear irresistable.
The one hour ($2) ferry ride dropped us at the town of Isabel Segunda. Getting transportation was organized chaos, but it worked. We chose Sun Bay as our destination to see the wild horses that reside there. The “publico” (van) driver dropped us with a promise to return in time to catch the last boat. Clouds cleared and sun drenched a fantastic beach befitting the cover of any travel magazine. It was a long horseshoe shape with golden sand and two small islands to stare at.
Regretful to leave we got back in the “publico” to return to the ferry. If there is one thing we learned that day about Puerto Ricans, they love their music. As the ship departed all the locals on our level broke into song. They banged on coolers to providing the percussion. Perhaps they were getting ready for the next day-New Year’s Eve.
With a late night ahead we opted to take it easy on the beach. But I got up early and made a return to the rainforest do a hike I had read about.What the guidebook didn’t tell me about the Angelito Trail was that it was pretty much straight down one way and straight up going back. This is labeled “moderate.”
For the evening the real party was in San Juan, however we stayed at the hotel. The subdued atmosphere suddenly changed as a band called “Barreto” marched in. Four drummers, a trombonist and a wild singer. They had the place hopping with Puerto Rican music — fun to sing along even if we didn’t know the words.