El Yunque And Old San Juan

El Yunque, this is the gem in the Puerto Rican crown – a tropical rainforest, the only one administered by the US Forest Service. Supposed to have hundreds of species of birds and beasts, thousands of types of plants, etc. So we had to see it, just to say we had – although with this much Puerto Rican hype behind me I was pretty sure of what to expect. We got there. And it was, I concede, a forest. And so we hiked to the top of the mountain – one of the highest in Puerto Rico at about 3450. The trails were well maintained – almost TOO well maintained, with asphalt and concrete all over. But the park was just well boring. We hiked to the very top of the mountain and back, a trip of about 3 hours. During that time we probably hiked 50% of the trails. Final tally of life:

1 small brightly colored bird the size of a wren.
2 red-tailed hawks.
Maybe a half-dozen lizards
2 snails

Thats all we saw. We dont stomp through the forest and make a lot of noise, and weve been plenty of other places and seen quite a bit. But there was nothing here. There werent even any noises. Total tally of animal noises:

1 frog (I heard him, but never saw him).
3 unidentified birds

That was it. Seriously, it was like hiking in a tomb. Ive never been to a national park with less to offer. As for plant species I saw palm trees. What else? Oh, palm trees. Not coconut palm, Im not sure what species they were exactly, but they were definitely a palm. I did see an occasional bamboo and a bromeliad or two. Oh, there was some moss here and there. Of course there were a few other types of plants here and there, but not the thousands of species I read about.

The view from the top of the mountain was nice though. I could see from San Juan to the Ponce area, and the ocean all around the eastern side of the island – probably a 40 mile radius or so. Just getting out and walking was nice. But the forest, compared to every other national park Ive been in (and Ive been to quite a few) well, the forest was a massive letdown. There just isnt anything nice I can say about it. Well, the trails were well maintained. But I said that already.

Oh, I did get to have some fun there though – I mean, this probably broke several federal laws, but I didnt see any signs posted telling me NOT to, and I didnt get caught, so

And no, I wasnt just showing off. It wasnt even my idea – although it should have been :) It did get to be a bit concerning towards the end – the tree was significantly less stable than it had seemed from the ground. And when I got to the end of the tree it got slippery, too but I solved the problem quickly enough. Problem was, when I sat down the tree was wet and soon, my clothes were too oh well – it was fun :)

So next we spent one more night in Fajardo (the nicest $75/night rooms on the island, at Lighthouse of Las Croabas Guesthouse) and then went to San Juan. We split up and Crystal and I were dropped off in Old San Juan while the others went and turned in the rental car and went back to the hotel. So we walked to El Morro, the big fort. And the walk was nice, in an antique-old-town sort-of-way. The fort was massive and impressive, being the size of a large hotel, 6 levels tall each level being between 30 and 50 tall. Stone walls 15 thick in spots. The oldest surviving fort in the western hemisphere. So we wandered around it for awhile. Took a few pictures, like these:

PR El Morro 1

View From El Morro

PR El Morro 2

The entire old town was surrounded by the fort walls, which was pretty impressive. And it was neat to think that these stones had been here 500 years. I mean, where I live if a building is 75 years old its considered historic. In New England, a 200 year old building is old. Plymouth rock wasnt until 1621, and this fort was standing about a century before that. But that would mean little to someone who came from say, Paris or Rome, where “old” is measured in millennia, not centuries

Still, old or not it got boring in less than an hour so we skipped out for the Old Town again. On the way back we found a hidden hole-in-the-wall middle-eastern restaurant. We knew it would be expensive, but we thought we might find a new flavored drink to split. It was a cute place, and we had live music (some sort of an arabic hammer dulcimer?) which was quite good. We had the place almost to ourselves, and even though a glass of the drink cost 8$, it might have been worth it.

Especially since I got the recipe :)

Basically, you take 10 dates, 8 ounces of milk, some nutmeg and cardamom and put it in a blender. It is unbelievably good – and there is no sugar in it at all. This really wasnt blended well enough so we had big date-bits at the bottom of the glass, but still – Ill be making that as soon as I get home.

So after that we decided it was time to head to the airport hotel where we were spending the night. To do this, we could either:

A: take a taxi for 21$ or
B:

So naturally, we chose B. B turned out to stand for “Bus”. Wed ridden buses in Ecuador and Mexico and figured they were pretty much the same. Well, in principle yes. But in detail they were different. For one thing, as we found out after attempting to pay – they were free, anywhere in San Juan. This was actually the first thing on the island where someone didnt have their hand out. So naturally I didnt believe it at first. Anyway. As Ive mentioned in previous entries, Puerto Rican Spanish is horrendously hard for me to understand, so it was difficult to figure out just what bus to get on and just where to get off. But a few independent sources, when faced with the question “Aeropuerto? and a helpless shrug, indicated bus A5. It wasnt ready yet, so we waited about a half hour for it, and got on. Im glad we were at the bus terminal, and not one of the stops, because after about 3 stops, the bus was full and no one was getting off.

After 6 stops, it was packed. After 8 we had 85 people on a not-that-large bus.

Packed Bus In Puerto Rico

I think the people were packed so close in the center aisle that they could have held water between them. The bus driver kept yelling “Atras, atras!” which means “go to the back!”. So theyd try to pack in tighter. Of course, the bus was full all the way out to both doors. I snapped this picture of the bus driver violating federal law;

Yellow Line

the sign reads “For the safety of all passengers the law prohibits driving this bus while anyone is standing in front of the yellow line” and I KNOW there were at least a half-dozen people in front of that yellow line. Alas. Anyhow, I befriended a 50-something motherly-looking woman, which is my tried and true method of survival in a latin country, and explained I was going to the airport and asked where I should get off.

She replied in rapid-fire Spanish, 90% of which I didnt understand. But basically I gathered that I needed to talk to the bus driver. I looked helpless again (it comes easy to me) and so she turned around and rattled back and forth to the driver. Finally she told me that I needed bus B40, and that I needed to get off at <mumble mumble mumble>. I nodded and thanked her, knowing that she would probably indicate my stop to me – and so I really didnt have to understand what she said, since I probably wouldnt recognize the landmarks anyway!

Sure enough, she tapped my shoulder and said “Bajar aqui, aqui!”, so we got off and waited. I asked a few more people which bus we should take to the airport, and after a few different opinions I eventually sifted out B40 was in fact correct. So we waited for it, eventually it arrived, and finally we got to the airport. The whole trip across town took about 1.5 hours, plus the half-hour wait up front. Was it better than paying $21 for a taxi? Oh yeah!

Next day we flew home without incident. And I was SO glad to get back home, to real food – food of ANY kind is better than the greasy, lifeless, starchy food on Puerto Rico. Back to reasonably sane traffic. To vegetables and fruit! To cheaper food – and cheaper everything!

Are you considering traveling there? DONT! There is nothing there that cannot be found cheaper in the US or Mexico, and much better and MUCH cheaper in places like Costa Rica.

So you ask, would I go back to Puerto Rico? Without the threat of burning at the stake chasing me, or massive sums of money drawing me? When Puerto Rico freezes over! (theres a metaphor there if you look for it).

One Response

  1. Roberto Says:

    El Yunque is not boring. You didnt know where to go which is very different. You went to the part open to the public. Next time do some canyoning.

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Posted on November 16th, 2008 by Natnee and filed under Puerto Rico |

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