Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Staycation During A Pandemic Part 1

Orchid Tree Flower
Bruce and I have been staying home, for the most part, since mid March.  All of our summer vacation plans have been cancelled.  We were supposed to be in Italy on this very day!! 

A friend from the US called a few weeks ago to say that he and his girlfriend were passing through Puerto Rico, and would love to stop in to see us for a couple of days.  With the closure of other Caribbean islands, and the fact that Americans are currently unwelcome anywhere... their plans changed.  Puerto Rico became the destination, instead of just a stopover.  

With the situation in Puerto Rico being very uncertain, we made some tentative plans... hoping that things would open up before the date arrived.  But instead of improving, the government of Puerto Rico closed down public beaches, and limited use of all beaches to the singular activity of exercise.  I passed all of this along to our guests, but they accepted the limitations, and came here anyway.  

My unofficial work as Island Ambassador was cut out for me!  We would show our friends as much of the island as the current policy would allow... After one night at our place, we were off to the southwestern corner of the island to check into two separate B&Bs.  

Ours was called Estudio Heliconias. With all of the extra Covid rules in place, we felt very safe and comfortable here. The little efficiency apartment is tucked back behind the host's home, with a jungle backdrop full of our beloved Coquis!  It was very clean, and had everything we needed to make a home for a couple of nights!

We checked in and settled down for a restful night.  The sound of the Coquis would sing us to sleep, but I could hear one little frog in particular.  His song sounded very close!  I have never been able to find them because their sound seems to come from everywhere, and is difficult to isolate.  But this one... I could zero in on him, and he didn't stop singing (like they usually do when you get close enough to see them) until I had spotted his little ass!  I'VE GOTCHA!  

The next morning, I had a list of things I wanted to see in this part of the island.  Well, OF COURSE I did!  Our guests had a different sort of vacation in mind, having come from California, and suffering from work fatigue, they opted to sleep late while Bruce and I backtracked to the little town of San Germán, the second oldest town on the island.  

There were a few things there that I wanted to see... a drive through the town was a pleasure in itself.  The homes around the old part of town are quaint and unique.  There's almost a "New Orleans" feel to it!  I love these old towns, and can just imagine how it was back when they were built, bustling with trade and without the graffiti and decay...

We wound through the back streets, up steep inclines so narrow that the cars parked along the road had to tuck in their rearview mirrors to keep them from being snapped off by passing traffic!  First stop: Ceiba de la Libertad

The tree was planted in 1897 to commemorate Spain granting autonomy to Puerto Rico.  Although freedom did not last long, the tree still remains - now 122 years old - and symbolizes the stalwart nature of the Puerto Rican People.

Our next stop was in the center of town, the Iglesia San Germán de Auxerre. I'm not a religious person, but I appreciate the history and longevity of these beautiful old churches.  We parked along the side of the building, and I followed Bruce inside through two huge wooden doors reminiscent of a castle.  Inside we found the hushed peace that spoke of so many blessings bestowed through the ages, I almost felt that we could deserve such blessings ourselves.

The ceiling was painted in the illusionistic method called Trompe-l'œil style to LOOK like intricate, three dimensional tiles, when in fact, it is the mainly flat surface of a slightly curved ceiling.  

Hanging from the center, with it's own illusional collar, is an ornate, if slightly dingy, chandelier!

Read more about the church here!


We wandered quietly, curious about why there was nobody else around... These beautiful relics displayed simply for us to behold unaccosted.  We drifted back out through the enormous side door, and went around to the front to take a look at the facade out front.  These doors are even larger than the ones along the side, and they can be thrown open to greet the plaza that stretches eastward from the sweeping steps. We have been told that all churches in Puerto Rico face to the East! 

When we returned to our car, we saw that the side door had been closed behind us!  I guess that's why we didn't see anyone else around!  The place is CLOSED today!  Well, we will consider ourselves lucky to have seen it, and keep it on our list of places to visit so that we can hear about the church, and maybe visit the museum.

Time to leave this little town, and go pick up our sleepyhead friends from their treehouse.  

Yes, you heard me right.  Their TREEHOUSE!  They were lucky enough to snag this reservation, and there wasn't another available for us to stay these dates.  Add this to our list for next visit as well!

How cool is that???  This property was about 8 minutes up the road from ours, and as it turns out, is owned by a friend of a friend.  There is no internet, no television, and the "room" is open to the air.  At night, there were no mosquitos, as they are kept under control by the BATS!!!  Our friends told us that it was cool and pleasant for sleeping, and even in the middle of the day, the forest is cool and quiet.  There are dirt paths through the beautiful flowers to explore.  

It's all very natural, and the treehouse is built in the boughs of another Ceiba tree.  This one was planted by the owners some 25 years ago, with just this in mind.  

I'm envious! Just imagine, being completely unplugged and having nothing to do but enjoy one another, and maybe read. Maybe these voices in my head would cool it long enough for me to enjoy the peace and serenity of forced calm.  Who am I kidding???

I'm already off to the next stop in my mind!  And that would be... yet another church!  And this one was extra special.  Coincidentally, this was the one day a year, when the church celebrates the miracle of its inception with an islandwide pilgrimage.  

There are two legends that for some people, compete... and for others, they co-mingle to make one grand miracle.  Basilica Menor Nuestra Señora de la Monserrate is the only church on the island that has the town built around a miracle.  

Every year on September 8th, the pilgrimage is held.  Masses are conducted throughout the day, and projected outside for those who couldn't find room inside the church.  We met a very nice man who explained things to us in English, and he even gifted us all with a bottle of holy water that had been blessed by their Bishop!  I'll take all the blessings I can get!  Our friend Mark even opened his and poured some on my swollen and painful foot!  Yes please!

We waited outside while the Mass finished, and were in exactly the right place to see the priestly procession as the Holy Men left the church and disappeared into the back room to wait for the next Mass.  We were then able to go inside and take a look around.  This church is 400 years old.  That's 4.0.0 years!  Amazing.  

Unknown artist - this is said to be the oldest painting in Puerto Rico (1564-1625).

One of some 400 paintings by artist José Campeche

What a treat it was to participate, even in our small way, with one of the Island's historical events.  Pandemic be damned!  While gatherings are supposed to be seriously limited, we joined the local people in dutifully wearing our masks, and had our hands sprayed with disinfectant before entering.  Puerto Rico is no-nonsense about this Covid thing!  

An Oriole chases a lizard
We left the church, having to pull Bruce and Mark away from the very nice young man who was telling them all he knew about the church... and walked back down the hill to the car.  Next stop, the salt pans and lighthouse at Cabo Rojo.  Sadly, this is where the wheels fell off of my plan!

The Salt Museum and viewing tower were closed.  The salt pans were full of new water, so our friends couldn't see the salt layers growing.  The road in to the lighthouse was gated.  Dang it!  

But our friends were not upset at all.  Through my apologies, they assured me that they were prepared for closures, and had already been able to do more than they thought they would.  Such gracious guests!

We went back to our B&Bs and retired for the evening.  Turns out that this was good for us.  We're not used to this level of activity!  We were tired!!

The next morning, we were up and out by 9am and on our way to see some beaches along the west coast.  Again, our plans were thwarted.  The public beaches were closed and locked down so that we couldn't even drive out and take a good look.  We wandered through some of the little coastal towns.  Totally touristy in a local's way, if that makes sense.  I made mental note to bring my kids here next time they visit us!

It was very strange driving through these places with nobody around.  Like there has been a nuclear holocaust and nobody told us!  We did find a few places open for business, one of which was a really neat restaurant called El Bohio. Good thing!  We were all starving!

We went out on the dock over the water and found primo seating - all alone - with the nicest view!  There's a tiny island that intrigued us... and the coast looked somewhat like the Florida Keys.  Kind of made me feel nostalgic for our early cruising days!

After a delicious lunch, we loaded up once more for the final destination of the day.  Our next B&B in the northwest town of Rincon.  This was a different thing for us.  We each had a room rented for four days in a single condo unit at the Punta del Mar Beach Resort! It's a gated condo community and our building was just a short distance from the beach.

It's run by a very welcoming man named Bryan, who has opened his home to the wayward traveler.  His 90+ year old mother in law lives there with him, and he does massage and gives surf lessons as well.  Total free spirit!  Upon arrival, we got settled in our rooms, and had the initiation speech, then Bryan took us out to show us our beach!

It was nice to land in such a relaxing place where we could just sit and watch the setting sun behind Desecheo Island. It doesn't seem like we've done much this day, but we were all pretty travel-weary.  Soon after sunset, we all retired to our respective rooms, eager for the next three days exploring a new part of the island! To be continued...

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