Sunday, December 6, 2009
Luquillo and beyond!
The last few days have been fabulous. Aunt Rosie and I spent one whole day at the world famous Playa Luquillo, which is very close to my casita in the rain forest. I was unable to swim much because of a torn shoulder muscle, but enjoyed the salty ocean just the same! The water was perfect in temperature and tranquility, making it very hard to get out. When I did get out, I would take a leisurely stroll over to my aunt who was under a huge umbrella on the beach. We chatted a bit in between her reading and napping sessions and I ran over to the kiosks to get an occasional drink and some local fare for us to enjoy. The day passed in relaxing fashion, and we spent the rest of the night at the house listening to the rainforest and Johnny Cash. In between singing and sipping we talked about our family history. I learned quite a bit about my grandparents and my ancestry on my father's side.
Lucky for me, my aunt is a very spontaneous person, and also a fantastic passenger. Her navigation skills have some room for improvement, but I believe she only gives up at reading the map because getting lost is more fun! Getting lost, and finding our way was the theme for the second day as we hustled down the chaotic highways on the island in search of our first stop... Coamo.
The ride down was filled with stupendous views of the central mountains and as we climbed higher and higher we were showered with some excellent rain fall and cooler temperatures. It looked sometimes as if we were going to drive into the ominous eye of a hurricane, then two minutes later we would be back into the sun. The weather persisted like this for most of the morning.
When we reached Coamo, we stopped at a few friends' homes, but they were not around. The homes in Coamo are mostly stunning in decor. Beautiful iron clad gates are kept fresh with bright Caribbean cremes and mauves and all of the houses seemed to have a very fresh coat of paint on them. The rains are very rare on this side of the island and you can see that in the less weatherized looks of the homes. In the rainforest it is quite the opposite and constant maintenance is necessary to keep anything looking even half way decent. After a delicious breakfast at a local bakery with some killer coffee, we ventured on to Ponce.
Ponce was once the capital city of Puerto Rico and holds many great treasures. We were looking for the main plaza that hosts the most beautiful fountains and statues on the island. It is a very romantic place filled with antiquity and leisure. There are children playing and singing, parents enjoying ice cream or a game of dominoes. The old fire house was an extra special treat with its original decor and lively history. Aunt Rosie was able to grab a few choice souveniers while I placed a bet on a mechanical horse machine that the locals were playing on..... come on number six... come on.... oh.... 20 wins it! Our eyes filled to the brim with optical candy, we headed west for the Guanica dry forest and La Parguera.
The dry forest was filled with beautiful, healthy looking cacti and flowing grasses atop of craggy rock structures and old coral formations. The ferrous red rock held beautiful landscapes and vistas flowing out to the ocean. There were many amazing beaches, coves and canyons that often had only a handful if any people at all. This was a wild and open place. A place you could fantasize about pirates getting lost and never returning. The whole south east coast is like that. Tiny, winding roads that peal through sometimes smokey grasslands and pasture. Born of the warm Caribbean winds and resting on the protected mangrove shores is the amazing fishing village La Parguera. This place was once an incredible little fishing village turned local tourist haven. If you came here on a weekend a few years ago you would be lucky to find a place to park your car, let alone spend the night. The small main drag of the town was a bustling bazaar of happy go lucky Puerto Rican families enjoying fresh seafood, hand made gifts, and every form of entertainment available! You could imagine my shock and amazement when we pulled in on a Saturday afternoon and found the place virtually a ghost town. Most of the fine establishments for sale or just closed completely... we walked around pile ons and plywood fences for numerous unfinished construction projects that didn't look like they were going to be completed any time soon. The town was practically laid to rest.
Even the famous bio bay tour operators were fighting for the few of us who had shown up for the afternoon. I conversed with one of the last remaining vendors who was selling fresh seafood kabobs that were to die for. He said simply, "the economy" and raised his arms in helplessness. He was content squeeking out a living from fishing and grilling in the same spot he had once made money hand over fist. He was very happy and welcoming to us and I could see why he could be surviving through the storm with his great attitude. It saddened me to see this town this way, so we spent money where we could and were thanked over and over for coming, but La Parguera couldn't hold us for the night. We were heading north and west to the surfing capital of Puerto Rico, Rincon!
We cruised the beautiful west side of the island and dropped into the road to Rincon just before sunset. Rincon is "paraiso gringo" or gringo paradise. It is the home to some of the best surfing in the planet and you get the sense of surf town the minute you get close. There are surf shops, surf inns, surf bars, surf lessons, and blonde haired, blue eyed anglos everywhere. "Dude" is an official spanish word here and this area often reminds me of the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. It isn't quite as known, but the waves are here my friends and they are fairly consistent, and they are often huge. This wasn't the case, even though winter swell season is upon us, but even so there were a number of surfers in the water getting a bath and an ocassional 2 footer! We spent the night at a really nice hotel right on the ocean. We sat in beach chairs til midnight letting the water lap at our feet talking about love and relationships. This was bonding time indeed! Many stories were shared over pina coladas and a live salsa act playing at the hotel beach bar.
The next morning we woke up and explored more of this gringo paradise, its beaches and breaks, lighthouses and law enforcement. Yes, I said it... law enforcement. No I didn't get deported, but we did talk to an interesting Border Patrol officer walking the beach in full garb. He said they are always patrolling for Dominicans and Haitians that try to make the 100 mile plus crossing to Puerto Rico. He was a good sport and only a month into his tour on the island. I gave him some great info on the area and he seemed to be pumped about learning to surf. You know you are in a great place when the law enforcement has surfing on the brain!
Getting lost in Jobos, then finding the world famous surfing beach filled the middle of our day. We enjoyed breathtaking views of the ocean and some surprisingly better swells from the North Atlantic. There was a small troupe of surfers enjoying the breaks and plenty of locals on the scene just lounging on the beach. We sipped cold coconut milk from a local vendor and had some local food then started the slow winding trek back to our home in the rain forest.
Aunt Rosie's 55th birthday is today and we celebrated in fine fashion at the orphanage with all of the children singing in spanish and showing us a great time! I led the boys in animal calls and we erupted the jungle into laughter and calls of all kinds. It was like a Discovery Channel special gone haywire. After songs were sung and cake was served, we roped two of the boys into playing Pirate Farkle with us. They picked it up right away and we played for a few hours. As I finish typing this, I'm sitting on the balcony of the house, 2000 feet above sea level. I have the sounds of the forest and my aunt snoring to keep me company of the most peaceful kind. I bid you all sweet dreams tonight!