Here are my promised observations of Puerto Rico, and a look into my psyche via what made my favorites list. Before you comment, let me just say, yes, I know I’m a little bit weird.
Favorite thing: The lighted magnifying mirror in the hotel bathroom. It made eerie white circles around my pupils and I looked like an alien when I put my makeup on. Cool! I could not get a picture of it, dammit.
Other fave thing: My entire life I have been trying to learn Spanish but I appear to be functionally retarded at that and every other language besides English (and sometimes English). I did, however, master the phrase, “Donde esta el banyo?” and have practiced it in my head for years. I was with a group at the marina looking for the can and we spotted a guard. One of the women asked where the bathroom was and got an apologetic “no English” answer. I rattled off my line and the guy lit up and gave us great directions. In Spanish, which no one understood. But dammit, he understood me! I was WAY happier with the whole episode than I should have been.
Other other fave thing: The city bus drivers drove like maniacs. I swear to God at one point we took a corner on two wheels. It was great! I’m a speed demon myself and truly appreciated their driving art. Also, the drivers took care of their women fares. They made sure that each woman knew what direction they needed to go for their hotel or other destination. It restored my faith in humanity. Sort of.
The not so great part about the city bus drivers was that they obviously ran on island time, and the “every seven minutes” schedule worked out to more like twice an hour. Still, it was much more exciting and a lot cheaper than taxis. We went ahead and rented a car for the last two days.
We drove around quite a bit, trying to see if the crazy Puerto Rican drivers deserved their rep, but mainly it was the tourists who drove like spazzes (us included) because there are no road signs to speak of, and when they were visible they were oddly placed and, of course, in Spanish. The Spanish part wasn’t so hard, but many of the signs were placed after where you were supposed to turn or at other odd intervals which was not so good. Nevertheless, we found everything we were looking for eventually, and then some. It was a little confusing – the speed limit (maxima velocidad) signs were in miles, and the “distance to” signs (what few there were), were in kilometers. The gas is sold by the liter and is cheaper than it is here at home. Proximity to SA, maybe? The stop signs said Pare instead of Alto like they do in Mexico.
Other observations: There were a lot of starving dogs around Aricebo. I didn’t notice them in San Juan or Carolina, but along the Aricebo coast they were plentiful. I gave one friendly dog at the beach some jerky, thereby probably prolonging its misery.
There are a lot of houses around the Aricebo coast that are being reclaimed by the jungle. It’s so wet I’ll bet it doesn’t take very long to make one dissolve back into the earth. I didn’t get any pictures of them and I’m sorry. They were striking and poetic looking, somehow. That area seems to be very poor EXCEPT around the observatory.
Horses and cows run around wherever they want, sans fences, on a lot of the island. You have to really pay attention when you’re out in the grassy areas where the rainforest has been cut down. We saw one wreck that looked to be wandering horse-caused. The horse appeared to be okay, the car not so much. The tow truck driver had his lights flashing the whole time.
All service vehicles and some wanna be service vehicles in Puerto Rico drive around with their lights flashing, unless they are running a red light, then they turn them off. We saw that a lot. Sometimes the cops and ambulances have their sirens on, too. We asked a local how anyone could tell if the cops were actually pulling them over or just driving around like that, and he said You Can’t! He cited several times of being followed through two or three lights and finally having the cop pull up beside him and holler YOU! YOU PULL OVER! They’re all used to it but it made us laugh.
The people there were, for the most part, very nice. Most everyone in the touristy areas was bilingual which made life easier for us tourists. And the money is US dollars.
We stayed at the Ritz Carlton, if you can believe that. It was a nice hotel, but my room had temperature control problems, and little bitty ants. But really great shampoo and soap!* There were so many free toiletries (which I stashed in Bob’s suitcase thereby adding 15 lbs to it) that Bob was afraid he was going to get snagged for grand theft when we checked out.
I would stay at the Ritz again if I was rich, but we couldn’t afford to eat there this time. Seriously. Pancakes were $16. Hamburgers were $18. I’m not making that up. A mimosa was $13. We walked elsewhere for every meal after my conference was over. We had breakfast at the Ritz once on the first day only. Buffet was $26. For breakfast. So we had menu food, and it still ended up being almost $60. FOR BREAKFAST, people. It was good, but there isn’t a breakfast on the planet that’s worth $60.
Getting Our Exercise
We went kayaking at night on the ocean and through the Fajardo red mangrove canals into the Laguna Grande wildlife preserve where the bioluminescence bay is. What a cool thing to do! I highly recommend it to anyone, even in the rain. But no pictures! You just can’t really take them there at night, and the guide said all the ones on the web have been photoshopped all to hell and back. Here’s a daytime video of the entrance through the mangrove forest canal. It was scarier at night.
Here’s some info on the bioluminescence – about the light emitting dinoflagellates. Hey, that makes them LEDs!
I have to go back to PR. It’s a lovely place to visit and they take pretty good care of their tourists and there are a million things to do. I didn’t get to see the Aricebo Observatory, which was my number one tourisy goal. Next time! And next time, we will stay somewhere with a kitchenette….
Bob took some great pictures of Old San Juan, posted here.
*I always collect all the shampoo etc every day and haul it home – we have a collection point at work and we periodically take it all down to the WEAVE (Women Escaping A Violent Environment) center a couple of blocks away. They appreciate it. It makes me feel saintly. And it was certainly no sweat off the Ritz Carlton’s back.