Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Long Way Home

These are my Bucket List items for the island!

After saying goodbye to our host and our friends, I packed Bruce into the car with the last load of "stuff" we had brought along... It's easy to overpack when you're staycationing in your own car!  

We set out on the road with a whole bunch of stuff to do!  I love taking Bruce on a road-trip when he has absolutely no idea where we're going!  He seems to be OK with it, and when I ask him if it bothers him that I won't share our destination with him until we get there, he tells me that it always seems to work out... So I will keep on surprising him!  Today, there is no way that he could have guessed where my diabolical plan would lead him!

Coincidentally, today was the first day that the government of Puerto Rico has relaxed the Covid restrictions.  Sadly for our guests, they are leaving today... but happily for us!  We can roam the island without worrying about being ticketed for loitering on a beach or any other public place... although masks and social distancing are still mandatory.

As we left our B&B, I had our whole agenda mapped out, complete with links to each stop, and the approximate time it will take to get from one to the next.  Organization is key to any plan!  The first stop on my list was to see the Piramide de Aguada. 

We drove in through the gates as the morning sun rose in the sky.  A very nice man greeted us, although he didn't speak English, we did OK.  He welcomed us to walk around the pyramid, but I wasn't able to find out who he was or anything about the place.  One has to ask "Why is there a pyramid here?".  So in writing this post, as I often do, I did the research.  

I found that that back in 1988, three youths were convicted of killing an Aguada woman.  They were sentenced to life in prison and were serving their time.  The father of one of the young men, Nelson Ruiz, began working on building this pyramid on his family farm, to keep his mind off of his son's plight, and to busy himself until his son was released, never wavering in his belief that his son was innocent.  

Of the three convicted, only the parents of Ruiz were still alive when The Innocence Project found DNA results that proved the trio were not involved in the crime. After 28 years, the conviction was finally overthrown and the three men were exonerated.  They were the first ever on the island to have their convictions overturned through DNA testing that was not available at the time of their trial. Wow what a story!!

Sube! Sube!!

So we were wandering around the pyramid, snapping pictures and wondering.  The man was raking the grass around the cannon nearby, when he called over to us "Sube! Sube!" and waived us up!  I know that sube means something like UP!  So with a glance back at the man, I stepped over the chain and hobbled myself right up the steps!

What a fun and unique thing!  Check this off the Bucket List, and add it to the list of places we will bring guests in the future!  Back in the car, and away we go!

So keep in mind, I never really know what we will find when we take off on these adventures.  Will I even be able to locate the place?  Will there be parking? So we're driving along following my Google map instructions, when Bruce points to a place up ahead and says "Hey, look at that!" I follow his gaze and find the next stop on my list!  It's a hillside covered with painted houses, similar to the one in Yauco that we love so much!

Casas de Colores

Parking is easy, and thinking it would be just a quick look, we began our climb with no sun protection and no water!  Big mistake! I sent Bruce up first to make a determination as to whether or not he thought I could make it with my bad foot.  While the climb LOOKED somewhat treacherous, there were neatly placed handrails at almost every step of the way.  Only a couple of times did I need to hang onto Bruce's shoulder or hand for extra stability. 

A thing I love about Puerto Rico... a little paint turns an eyesore into a thing of beauty!

We had no idea what to expect at any time.  We just kept going up, and up, and up.  Every time it seemed like we were at the end, I would see a narrow passage or a worn trail that seemed to lead us on.  There were a few signs, but mostly we were just winging it! But isn't that the BEST part of an adventure!

Is this the end?

Nope, it keeps on going!

Decent view from up here...

We persevered until we reached the top with the promise of more murals~

Wow!  What a climb!  Finally we reached the top.  At least that's what we think!  There were small homes all the way up, and here in at the top, there were people just living!  What a place to live!  I can't imagine bringing in the groceries or moving in furniture!  There MUST be an easier entrance to these little casitas!  And to have random people wandering around just outside your front door?  Well we thank you!

B&B maybe?

Pose for the photo Bruce...

I think there was more to see, and one spot had a sign that said "Salida", but Bruce went partially down that path and thought it would take us out someplace away from our car.  So, we backtracked down, wishing I had turned on the Fitbit to get credit for this climb!  

My Favorite!!

Should have taken this shot with us!

Once back down to the parking lot, I headed for the car, eager to rip this stinkin' mask off of my sweating face!  But Bruce beckoned me to come with him across the road to see the little park.  It's a very nice place with bridges over a brook that runs right through the center.  The whole thing is shaded by a HUGE tree!  You know... Puerto Rico may be somewhat poor these days, but at some point in their history, they were pretty good at creating unique public spaces.  I only hope that some day, these can all be brought back to their former glory.  

Just past this park is a public beach.  They call them Balnearios here, and it's pretty much a beach that has infrastructure like parking, bathrooms, sometimes showers and even food for sale.  We didn't go down as far as the beach, because I've got an appointment in the afternoon that I must keep, and that beach wasn't on my agenda.  

Another one of many thousands of banderras painted all over the island!

Next stop along the way, is one of the more famous beaches on the island. Crash Boat beach can be seen from a viewing platform on the hillside, and that's where we stopped to take a look.  Today being the first day that these public beaches have been open for some weeks, we anticipated big crowds.  At this time of the day, the parking lots were already beginning to fill.  We had several beaches on our agenda today, and there were a couple that we just got near enough to scope out the parking, and drove on.  We had no wish to join the hoards of beach-goers when we have the option of returning on a week day! Crash Boat looks like a nice place to snorkel though, and we will definitely be back!

The stunning Atlantic

And more murals...

Off to the next stop!  Let's throw some ruins into the mix!  I wasn't expecting much, but when we arrived at Punta Borinquen and saw the crumbling walls, I was once again pleasantly surprised.  The Ruinas del Faro Punta Borinquen! There were quite a few families wandering around. We've all been cooped up for months, and it's such a beautiful day for exploring the island.  It warms my heart to see the Puerto Ricans out touristing!  

We began our own exploration of this place, with a look at the beach.  We watched the waves roll in for a while, breathing in the ocean and flower-scented breeze.

A narrow path led down the side of the lighthouse to a ledge above the beach.

Time to check out the inside of this once majestic building.  The stone walls are thick, and still they succumbed to the ravages of time and weather. Once again I am amazed that places like this are open to the public completely free and unattended.  There are no lines, no tickets to buy... just come and enjoy.  

Once again, I did the research after the fact.  I found in my research, that this lighthouse was activated on September 15, 1889.  Funny that we are just two days shy of its 131'st birthday!  The story goes, that the structure was built by the Spanish to protect their ships sailing around the island. It had 13 rooms and housed two families.  That's pretty extensive as far as lighthouses go!When the US took over ownership of the island, this lighthouse played an important role in the building of the Panama Canal, guiding the many ships coming from Europe.

During this time, there were complaints that the lighthouse was built in the wrong location, and construction of a new lighthouse began about a mile away... But before it could be completed, this lighthouse was damaged by a strong earthquake, and the resulting tsunami engulfed the structure, mortally damaging the building. Thankfully, because of the strange actions of the birds and dogs, the lightkeeper's family was forewarned and escaped to safety! Again!  Wow, what a story!

The new lighthouse went into service in 1920 and currently houses a Coast Guard station. We drove over to see it, but the gate was closed, so we could only get photos from afar.  

Ok, so let's review.  So far we've visited a pyramid, a hillside covered with painted houses, many, many murals, a park, a beach, and a two lighthouses!  What's next on the agenda?  You'll never guess.  I loaded Bruce back into the car, and off we went to my next surprise.

We drove through a little beach town, and out onto a sand road toward the end of the earth.  Punta Sardina looks like a lunar landscape, barren of vegetation, and treacherously rocky.  The vast expanse of razor sharp limestone rock caused me only momentary hesitation.  I hobbled myself out onto the point, very close to the edge where the waves crashed, sending huge plumes of salt spray.  

I was looking for... a blowhole!  Having been to several in the Bahamas, I knew the sound of it when I heard it.  It is completely hidden from view by the rocky terrain, but I could hear it.  I followed the intermittent sound, pausing to look every time it blew.  But there was no telltale spewing of saltwater, so I was very close before I saw the hole.  

That's it?  It's just a hole, maybe 1ft across, maybe less.  But as I stood and watched, the hollow, distinctive sound came blasting up from the force of waves hitting the side of the cliff.  Now and then, I would see faint spray, but today, conditions weren't perfect for a water show.  It was still exciting.  I went very close around the hole, then thought better of it.  Who knows when the water would come blasting out, and I didn't need to be knocked off my feet.  Falling on these jagged rocks would be a bloody event!

We watched the hole for a while, then wandered over to the cliffside to take a look at the wild Atlantic waves.  Bigger swells were expected throughout today and tomorrow, but they were pretty impressive right now!

Hunger pushed us onward, and we were at that point where it didn't really matter what we ate, we just wanted something now!  I had seen some concrete picnic tables back up the beach from where we stood now, so we backtracked and had a little picnic with some leftover pizza from a couple of days ago.  That's all we needed.  A nice little break with a beach and some shade.

Side note:  Between our picnic spot, and the blowhole, there was a really cool little spot that was full of people!  We will return here on a weekday and check out the swimming hole

So, we're into the afternoon, and I have an appointment to meet a guy about some art at 2pm.  That doesn't leave us much time to get the last things on my agenda done!  This next event was another mystery.  Why do I always worry that I won't be able to find these places, then when I get there, it becomes obvious! This happened again as we drove down the road following Google directions.  Suddenly the road ended at a parking area with vendors and a beach!  We parked the car, donned our face masks, grabbed an umbrella because it looked like serious rain... and followed the throngs of families all heading in the direction of Túnel Guajataca!

Doing a little digging, I found that the Guajataca Tunnel, now an historical monument, was built around 1904 when the railroad expanded to the west part of the island.  Now, it's a tourist venue and sometimes concerts are held here.  We stood outside for a while, watching the waves roll onto the adjacent beach.  Then the rain began!

Everyone began to move toward the opening of the tunnel in a quiet and orderly fashion.  I've gotta love the gentle nature of the Puerto Rican people.  We joined the throngs of mostly mask-wearing people, and moved along with the flow, deeper and deeper into the tunnel. 

I've gotta say that it was nice to have people to follow.  We tried to blend in and act as if we knew what we were doing, when all of this was totally new to us!  

Sad to see the graffiti inside the tunnel.  But I guess it's almost everywhere these days.  So many people have asked us if we are ever afraid living here.  My answer is always this:  If you put yourself in harm's way, you're likely to find it.  We take normal precautions, we don't go to places known for crime, and we aren't out carousing all night.  We live a normal life, just like we would in the US mainland.  There is danger everywhere if you don't use your head. We have NEVER felt fear living here, or anywhere else we've travelled in the Caribbean.  

Stepping down from the soap box, we continue on! When we reached the opposite end of the tunnel, people were standing around waiting for the rain to stop.  It seemed to be lingering longer than usual, and we had our umbrella, so we stepped out onto the path that lead between the sheer rock walls on both sides. 

There is a cave that runs all the way through the rock wall!

Bruce forges ahead looking for shelter.  There's a doorway up ahead that looks promising.  It's a concrete room built around the bottom of the rock wall.  Inside there was another cave that lead back into the hillside.  It didn't look very secure, so Bruce rejoined me under the umbrella as we reached the end of the rock walls. 

The waves were somewhat flattened by the rain, but it still looked pretty rough out there.  It's amazing how the water can turn from brilliant turquoise blue and green, to this somber grey with the rain. 

Exiting the tunnel where we entered
There were small groups of wet people returning from further along the ocean-side path.  We decided that we would turn back here, leaving the rest of the path unexplored... this time.  This is a place we will definitely revisit!

We returned through the tunnel and it was still raining when we emerged.  We sloshed through small rivers to get back to our car!  It was really coming down!

The next stop, possibly two, on my agenda were pretty much rained out.  We were going to try to find Pinky the Flamingo at one of the two ponds he/she is known to frequent.  There was talk that Pinky has not been seen for a while, but I was hoping to get lucky.  But when we arrived at the first, and then the second pond and looked out... all we could see was grey rain and a few ducks.  No Pinky for us today. So, we abandoned our quest and returned to reality.

One more Bandera, somewhere in Camuy!
Just in time, I made contact with the artist I wanted to meet up with.  I found the work of Ramon Alejandro on Facebook, and have been very eager to see his work in person. We arranged to meet up in the parking lot of the Sam's Club in Aibonito, about 10 minutes away!  Thankfully, the rain stopped temporarily.


We found Ramon easily and when he opened up the back of his SUV, and I saw all of the beautiful pieces there... my eyes instantly gravitated to "the one".  There was no question.  As my treasure was being packed up inside its protective bag, complete with certificate of authenticity, Ramon told me that these were numbered and unique.  They were created on bricks from a building from 1896 in the town of Utuado, where he lives.  I hardly cared, I loved this piece so much!  He has others for sale if you're interested!

Once we completed our transaction, we decided to take advantage of being in the Sam's parking lot.  We parked, went inside, found Haas Avocados, and a few other things, and just like that, we stepped out of Staycation mode, and back in to our regular Island Life!  What an awesome week.  What a super awesome DAY!  And hopefully, Covid will calm down soon and we can continue our exploration of our beautiful Island!

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