Saturday, April 13, 2019

Fun With Don And Jan

Plans change and we're really good a rolling with it.  Janis and I had concocted a plan to take her guests to see the NOAA Hurricane Hunters on their Caribbean tour stop here in Puerto Rico.  It would require a drive to the exact opposite side of the island, a drive that would take at least three hours.  When Janis told me that her guests had cancelled their visit, we wavered only momentarily before deciding to go on this trip without them!

When you live in Paradise, it's really easy to get complacent and stop exploring your home island.  We are determined not to let this happen to us!  We loaded into the van at 7am with snacks and swimsuits (just in case) and off we went toward the north side.  From there, the itinerary became fluid.  We had plenty of time to get to Rafael Hernandez Airport in Aguadilla, so we just took off and drove, with stops wherever we pleased!

Er... OK!  Even the eyesores are beautified in Puerto Rico!
First stop to pick up a nice picnic lunch from the deli at Agranel Market, then on down the winding road to sea level where we found this little slice of heaven that is Playa Mar Chiquita!

The beach is a perfect crescent surrounded by coral sand of a uniform beige.  The beach slants sharply from the ring of palms and sea grape that provide shade in the intense Caribbean sunshine.  A rock basin begins where the sand ends, and if you look closely in the nooks and crannies, you'll find handfuls of sea glass!  I've got an unwritten rule that I have to continue searching until I find at least one piece of blue.  I had to search for a while to find one, but a tiny piece finally released me to continue on with our day!

Continuous wave action carved these little rivers in the rock where sea glass is hidden!

Some of it is just lying at the edge of the sand where it meets the rock ledge!
Looks like it's more calm for a water start on the far edge.
Waves come washing in through the keyhole to the Atlantic
No beach scene is complete without brightly coloured umbrellas!
A few creatures have made homes out of the water in the little tide pools

Today's Tangible Treasures!

Today's INtangible Treasures!
So we enjoyed the stunning beauty and picked up handfuls of sea glass, then turned back to the van to continue on our way... only to be stumped by the refusal of function by the keyless entry fob for the Caravan.  WHAT???  The battery on the key fob was completely dead and there was no way to get into the van.  Janis and I drifted off to the shade of the nearby food truck while the men engaged the assistance of our recently met friends, Louie and Gringo George.  Luckily somebody on that beach had the tools we needed to get into the van.  Not going to think to long on that one...  Soon we were about a pound lighter due to loss of bodily fluids through the pores, but happily on our way to the next stop.  I guess we'll be trusting the universe not to let anyone break into the van for the duration of our trip today!

Driving onward, we pulled over to take a look at the coastline view from the safety of a roadside lookout called Mirador de Guatataca.  There were vendors set up selling jewellery, keepsakes and of course, a food truck!

Trying out the new selfie-stick I got for $2 at the hardware store!!!
The Guajataca Tunnel beckons from across the beach.  Next trip!
Louis from the deli had told us about a face carved in the stone mountainside that was somewhere in this vicinity.  We couldn't see it in the rocky face of the scene before us, so Don asked around until he found someone who knew where it was.  This wasn't the place, but it was just a minute up the road to the west.  We took off in the van looking closely at all rocky surfaces until we all burst out laughing when we finally saw it.  Look closely and see if you can make out the face!

I see it!
What doofuses we are!  I had some fun helping others get photos of themselves with the face, then posed for a quick one while my people threatened to drive away without me if I didn't bet my butt back into the van!  By this time we had built up a powerful thirst and the locally advertised Virgin Pina Coladas found everywhere were not helping.

Nice new infrastructure made it easy to get over the dunes.
Our next stop was just another beautiful beach. Ho Hum... They're everywhere!

Yes, I DID say dunes!  You just don't see these much anymore!
It's heartwarming to see my island investing in infrastructure that protects the fragile dune line. 

Crashing waves still cause me to feel a little nervous!
Me and my friend!
Soon we found refreshment!  Just down the road at Jobos beach, we visited a little beach bar to get those Pina Coladas!  They were not the best ever, but the were icy cold and hit the spot!

OK, OK!  Enough messing around.  Let's get down to business.  The reason for today's outing was to see the hurricane hunter planes!  We finally found the airport and the long line of vehicles still waiting to enter.  The even was due to end at 3pm and it was already after 1!  We found parking in the sea of shimmering heat just about the time the rain clouds cooled things off.

We didn't have to wait long to get in, but we did have to be checked for weapons both bodily, and then someone picked through our bags looking for contraband.  We were waived through and began looking for the end of the line of people waiting to get a look inside the Hurricane Hunter.  Realising that it snaked through the entire venue and out the back, we voted unanimously to skip it.  I'm sure we can find photos online if we want to!

We checked out some of the other vendor tables and heard about the work done by the Puerto Rican Customs & Border Patrol and the Puerto Rican National Guard.  They had some equipment on display and were happy to tell us all about their work.

K-9s were taking a break!

 We got to ogle the crowd with the infrared binocs!

I assumed this was a bomb robot...

Hazmat suits and air tanks for dealing with toxic events.

This robot is tricked out to test the air for toxins!
Don found his Firefighting brethren!

We escaped the rain just as the first drops began to fall.  Rain followed us out of the airport and all the way to Puerto Real where we stopped in to see friends at Marina Pescaderia.  Why didn't we get any photos of that???

The late hour convinced us that we must save the lighthouse at Cabo Rojo until next time and hurry on to dinner at Cocina Fresca.  There we had a delicious meal that is in direct contradiction to the fact that the restaurant is housed in an annex to a Shell gas station.  The stuffed chicken breast was delicious and we returned home just after dark with full tummies and tired from all the laughter.

Janis will call her absent guests and tell them about all the fun we had without them!  WE are so lucky to have these friends here with us to accompany us on our adventures!  So many more good times to come with Don and Jan!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Few Of My Favorite Things ~ Other People's Vacation Photos

I'm sure that there are SO many as-yet-undiscovered places that will become favorites, but for today's installment of Other-People's-Vacation-Photos, we will visit a couple of our old standbys.  The close(ish) proximity to our home in Arroyo is a bonus as it means that I can pack in a lot more in a day without the long drive!  Today, we go to Ponce, just an hour to our west.

I wanted to go to the Art Museum but the tours in English were at times that didn't fit our agenda, so we'll save that for the next visit.  An easy stop to get us started is the Cruceta del Vigia perched high atop a hill overlooking the town of Ponce.

Riding up in the elevator...
This 100ft tall tower has survived the hurricanes and is even in better condition than it was during our last visit here in 2016.  Even so, the ride up in the elevator tickled my fear of heights so I stood back from the windows as we ascended to the viewing platform that runs through the cross section near the top.

From there, you can see forever!  The view is simply stunning.  We looked at the landscape through Bruce's binoculars and tried to pick out familiar landmarks and places we had been.

Our health conscious friends led us back down the hard way... via the many, many stairs!

It was a LONG way down this way!
While the Vigia Tower was built in 1984, it stands high on the hill in the spot where there was once an historic lookout that dates back to 1801.  The lookout was dual purpose, the first being to house the guards whose duty was to sound the alarm should invaders threaten.  The second was to identify approaching ships as friend or foe so that residents could get out their pocketbooks if a merchant ship arrived carrying goods from afar.

The signal flags
Although many of the tourist attractions in Puerto Rico are free of charge, there is a small entry fee to see this one.  We were happy to pay the few bucks it cost to keep this and other venues alive.  There is a ticket booth at the entrance to this property that sells combination packages to the several points of interest on this hill.  We picked the Vigia and the Japanese Garden for a nice stroll to reduce the stress of all this touristing!!!

Little turtle

There's a little Bonsai garden inside the grounds

We took a drive through the old city and found a good bit of devastation from Hurricane Maria still in evidence.  It's very sad to see these old buildings lying in ruin and typical of many historical "downtown" districts across the Caribbean and the US.  The money it takes to renovate and maintain these homes and businesses is just not there.  But the ones that have been brought back to life are beautiful to behold.  There is obvious pride on display everywhere we went, even in the absence of wealth.
Old Hospital looks like something out of a scary movie!
Beautiful old buildings just crumbling...
So all of this has been the lead up to my real favorite!  Next stop, La Soplaera Falls!

We took the winding climb on narrow roads out of Ponce and up into the clouds.  Literally!

This is our fourth trip to the falls and while we always bring our swimsuits, we've only gone swimming one time.  Down at sea level, swimming seems like a good idea, but when you get up into the mountains, the altitude and the shade of the forrest make it quite a bit cooler.  The same thing happened to us today!  We made the short hike up the river to see the falls and the pool below them, then returned to the car to have our picnic lunch before continuing on.

Even with today's rain, the falls that normally wet this wall on the right are dry.
Watch your footing... it's still slippery!
Cross this narrow wall then step across the rushing stream... almost there!

Ahhh, there it is.  Paradise!
There were cars in the parking lot across the street, but whomever else is here must be hiking to the falls further upriver.  We saw no-one on our hike in, but one or two couples arrived while we were there. I'm always amazed that we have this magical place to ourselves, and that it remains FREE of charge!

Getting to the pool is just enough of a challenge to make you think you've been on an adventure!
You have to scramble through the rushing stream and over and under huge boulders to get in and out.
Bruce awaits on dry land!
On the way out, we stopped to appreciate the minutia of the rainforest.
Where the Red Fern Grows

Parking Lot below the clouds
Some kind of seed pod
Mountain Flora

We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains and our picnic, then retraced our drive back down to civilization.  That's one of the things I love the most about Puerto Rico.  Inside of half an hour you can go from normal city life, to the wilds of the interior, just like that!  While we decided to forgo the swim in the mountain pool, we were definitely up for a dip in the warm mineral springs just outside of Coamo!

Modern facility that houses the mineral hot springs.
Soaking off ten years of age with our best buddies!

Ahhh the feeling of sitting in the natural mineral laden waters is lovely.  The heat melts away the weariness from our muscles and bones.  This touristing is tough!  I gave my injured shin bone the extra treatment, holding it beneath the piping hot stream!

This facility is lovely and they have almost fully recovered from the damages ravaged by hurricane Maria in 2017.  I'm so glad to see this place is up and running!  It's a secret little hideaway that's never too crowded and one of MY top favorite places to go!  I just wish it was a little bit closer to our home!

Complete with Sato dog in front!
We enjoyed a hot soak, then used the very nice changing rooms to get ourselves ready for one more stop.  All this touristing makes me disinclined to cook dinner after a long day travelling.  We picked a place for dinner off of Google Maps that turned out to be one we marked on the to-do list previously.

In fact, there are several restaurants along this little sand peninsula that forms the eastern shores of Los Jobos Bay.  We drove all the way to the end and picked the one that spoke to us, Donde Pica el Peje.  I have no idea what it said, but it did speak to us!

It's kind of like a beach bar on steroids!
The kitchen is housed in that screened corner!
We were greeted by America, the sweetest server on the island.  The restaurant is family owned and operated so service was top notch, but not fast.  Willie, the second generation owner, came over and sat with us for a long conversation.  His mom, Nellie was doing the cooking in that little screened off corner.  She even came out to inquire if we needed something when she saw us looking around.

The food was simple, freshly prepared when we ordered it and delicious!  The place is only open Thursday through Sunday evenings and is now a NEW favorite!

The drive home was only about 25 minutes and we got to show our guests another quintessentially Puerto Rican thing... the party bus!  Our day is complete!  What fun we're having showing our friends all the reasons we chose Puerto Rico as our new home!  And we're not done!  Other People's Vacation Photos... to be continued!