Final Days in Puerto Rico

Génesis, my host, is taking a course to become a tourist guide. Her teacher teaches at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. He was taking the engineering students on a trip to Camuy caves and a secret beautiful beach, on my day seven. Géne was going with them to practice her guide skills. She said I could go, provided at least one student did not show up, which I would know in the morning of day seven. Also, I would have to pay only for the entry fees at the cave and my lunch. My back up plan was to reach Fajardo at least by 9:00 am, and take the first ferry to Culebra. There are extremely few ferries this season and weekends are crowded. I did not have a solid plan, basically.

I left home at 7:00 am with Géne in her car. If all the students show up, I take a cab and either go home, or leave for Culebra directly. I had left the snorkeling equipment at home but I had everything else needed for a beach. We waiting for the students till 9:00 am. Géne’s teacher was cool. He welcomed me very well and gave me his card. People here have not much care for time. They lounge around. When they apologized to me I told them that I was used to it. Indians follow Indian Standard Time too. Géne also told her teacher that I was traveling alone. He was so impressed that he decided that I could go with them. His name is Hiram and he caters to only Spanish-speaking and local people. He wants them to be aware of Puerto Rico and the importance of the beauty around.

We set off and I was introduced as the exotic one from India. Everyone spoke in Spanish and the whole commentary, jokes, songs, was in Spanish. Géne was extremely sweet and she translated to me everything. It was fun. A lot of students from the university talked to me in broken English and asked me a lot of questions throughout the trip They were all lovely. We saw a lot of mountains, sugarcane plantations, and got a lot of knowledge from Hiram about nature and the ecosystem. We reached Camuy and owing to summer vacation, there were many kids from summer camp. We had to leave for lunch as the waiting was really long.

At lunch, the only vegetarian options were boiled sweet potato, boiled unripe plantain, some other boiled tuber. Everything else had meat – pork rice, blood sausages, beef gravy, pork gravy, etc. I had the vegetarian stuff which choked my throat after a point. I also had some pork rice without pork, and then flan with coconut shavings. It was good. We then left for Camuy again. Also, I did not have to pay even for the entry fees ($6), or my lunch and snacks.

Trust me, the system at Camuy cave is out of place. We had to again wait for another 40 minutes. I talked to the students in the meanwhile. Then we got in and it was quite an experience. I saw Guaba, or whip spider. I also noticed some other phenomena in the cave. It was magnificent. I am told that there are many more and beautiful caves in Puerto Rico that even the locals do not know about. We then had a sweetmeat made of guava, and orange juice. Orange is called china (cheena) in Puerto Rico only. The story goes that they arrived in “from China” boxes first and they thought China is the name of the fruit.

Limestone stalactites - North of PR is full of limestone hillocks, hills, mountains, caves

Limestone stalactites – North of PR is full of limestone hillocks, hills, mountains, caves

From inside the caves - it's quite surreal

From inside the caves – it’s quite surreal

From inside the cave - they say that it can easily fit the El Morro fortress

From inside the cave – they say that it can easily fit the El Morro fortress

After we came out it was too late to go to the beach (I knew it). I was highly disappointed. But Géne took me and another guy from the university to Ocean Park. We chilled there a lot. The guy talked in Spanish because he did not know English very well. I could get what he was saying and replied in English and he understood that. It was amazing. We had beers and when it was dark, we went into the water. After that we went home.

Ocean Park beach

                                              Ocean Park beach

More graffiti:

Graffiti 2 graffiti 3 GraffitiI cooked chickpeas Indian style (chhole). There was some random curry powder in the house which I had used. Géne loved it so much that she ate more than she should have and got me to write down the recipe. I had told Géne about shell-painting. She had a lot of shells and we started painting on them, drinking cider and smoking.

Our gifts to each other

Our gifts to each other

That night as I was packing my stuff Fey came to my room and licked me and jumped all over me. She would not leave my room and made sad sounds. She put her head under my bed and stayed like that for a long time. In the morning, as I was ready to leave, I went to hug Fey and Panda. Panda was under the table and she did not want to come out. That’s what she does when she thinks people are going to go away for a long time.

Géne took me to Loíza, which is dominated by African culture. I almost cried. This place is beautiful – the shacks selling frittos, the very amazing beach, the souvenir shop, no buildings. Also, they have bomba dance performances here at night. I of course missed it. Bomba is where the dancer makes the music, and not the other way round. Also, drink pina colada from street-side vendors here. I will guarantee you that it will be the best pina colada you will ever have in your life.

Loiza beach

Loiza beach

Loiza beach with trees

Loiza beach with trees

Graffiti in Loiza

Graffiti in Loiza

I went to the souvenir shop and bought nice shot glasses for my friends, a candle holder, bracelets, hammock for myself. I gifted a beautiful ashtray to Géne. Then she dropped me at the airport. We hugged, kissed, as I promised that I would be back for more of Puerto Rico. Despite all of these, I have not been to and done some of the best things in Puerto Rico.

It's not a house, but a graffiti

It’s not a house, but a graffiti

The place where I had the best pina colada in my life

The place where I had the best pina colada in my life

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Days FIve and Six in Puerto Rico…A Little Lazy

After kayaking to reach the biobay, my arms were kind of sore. I woke up quite late. I then went to the national historic site with Génesis, my host and her two dogs. They became quickly popular with the people there with all the running and playing around like psychos.

Génesis told me a lot of things about the fort there, and the history of Puerto Rico. We saw a cargo ship pull up to the shore. She told me about the islands around and some more things. We then had Helados Caribe. I paid $4 for the two cups. Coconut flavor melted in my mouth. We then headed back home, and dropped the dogs. After that we went to Asahi, a sushi place in Rio Piedras. It’s quite good and they cook a lot of stuff for pleasing the local Puerto Rican palate. They even have mofongo. I had one of the only two options for vegetarians, seaweed salad (I am not a big seaweed fan but it was quite good). We had two beers too. We split the bill and it was $20 (it would have been less because I had stuff worth $10 but I wanted to split it equally). Then we went to the store and bought a bottle of wine worth $10. I paid for it.

Here are some pictures from the beautiful place:

Wedded

Wedded

Beyond is the sea

Beyond is the sea

Kite Flying

Kite Flying

Fey looking for Panda

Fey looking for Panda

Cemetery

Cemetery

When home we had wine and Géne and her sister told me more about Puerto Rico’s history, and the atrocities meted out on Puerto Rico and the people there by the USA. If you are interested in knowing some of these facts here is a link: http://listverse.com/2012/10/26/8-atrocities-committed-again-puerto-rico-by-the-us/ . Besides, rainforests, coral reefs, mangroves have and effect on ecosystem that is highly critical. These things have been tampered with, with species going extinct, depletion. You will know about these things if you loved your subjects of Geography and Science in school (and later too). It’s scary, what’s happening. To lighten the mood, we saw funny videos after smoking up and then retired for the day.

The next day Géne, her twin sister, two dogs, and I went to a beach in Isla Verde. I do not know the name of this beach, and it’s not exactly hidden, but tourists just don’t know about it. Only locals come here. A lot of buildings are around in the area and you can see them right next to the beach too, but it’s a very beautiful beach. I snorkeled here and saw some fish in the water. I saw my own reflection too, while floating on my stomach. It was lovely. We spent a long time here and the sun was out in full glory. Try to find this beach; it should not be too difficult.

isla verde 1 isla verde 2 isla verde 3

The water is more beautiful than what the phone could capture. My phone was working on and off because of water in it from kayaking. I had put in a sealed cover but when Peter clicked the pictures he had not bothered to wipe his hands.

After, we went to a cute cafe named Café Tresbé, which is not too far from the beach. I had their excellent vegetarian sliders with sweet potato fries, coconut hot sauce, and papaya hot sauce. I also had their mixed fruit smoothie with coconut milk. Puerto RIco has amazing smoothies everywhere. I also paid for one other person’s meal. All of it just cost me $20. The cafe’s logo and tag translates to – good, pretty, and cheap. Perfect! It of course has cool graffiti on its walls too.

Cafe Tresbe 3          Cafe Tresbe 

   Cafe Tresbe 2          Cafe Tresbe 1

We then came back home, took shower, and went out to buy cider and cat food. We got two bottles and I paid for one. Guess how much? Well, $2. Later Géne’s sister went out again and bought munchies. I had fries with lots of mayo ketchup. We had cider together and then went to sleep. I had a plan for the next day. I also had a plan B, if that did not work out.

Beaches, Stars, and Luminescent Bays in Puerto Rico

On day three, I made myself some breakfast, and then set off from home. I bought a mango pineapple smoothie from McDonald’s for something like $3 and then took the T9 from Rio Piedras to drop me near Escambron beach. It’s not exactly pristine, because it’s quite well-known. Also, a lot of families had showed up with their kids. You can swim in this beach because the waves are controlled by rocks. You can do snorkeling too. On a good sunny day, it can be nice. But the area around is pretty commercialized. I relaxed there, and then thought of going to the nearby Condado beach. But I instead kept walking to old San Juan. Other famous and good beaches are Ocean Park, and Isla Verde.

Escambron Beach

Escambron Beach

On the way I stopped by a gas station to buy beer worth $.95, had it outside the station. I also bought some chocolates and almonds to give me good company. It was under $5. Next stop immediately was Capitol of Puerto Rico. There is no entry fee, and it’s worth all the no money you have to pay. I kept walking around, and then went to the San Juan food court for coconut pina colada and mojito. It cost me $10. I left a tip of $1. Then I went to Punto de Vista, a rooftop restaurant, and had vegetarian mofongo. It was amazing! I also had a beer with it. It cost me around $20 with tip. (Food in old San Juan can be expensive. It is a very touristy place.) After that I had another beer from the food court for $2 and then took a cab back home. That cost me $20.

Capitol de Puerto Rico

Capitol de Puerto Rico

Mural work on the way toward old San Juan

Mural work on the way toward old San Juan

View from Posada hostel

View from Posada hostel

Next day, Géne, my host and I went to the supermarket and I bought some stuff for the house. I spent around $25. Stuff is really cheap here. I also bought some things for myself. Then we came home and I cooked Lo Mein noodles for myself, Géne, her sister, and a tour guide, Peter, who was going to come pick me up for a biobay tour.

This tour happens only at night, and it’s best to go for it on no moon days. Unfortunately it was just the day after full moon. Peter is Géne’s friend and he works as a tour guide in Fajardo. San Juan to Fajardo taxi one way will cost you $70. There are buses that go there too, but I had no patience to either find that out or to wait for one. Also, I got my ride for free. I just had to pay for the biobay tour. It was $75. There are several groups who do these tours. Peter’s group is called Puerto Rico Tour Desk. Peter is very knowledgeable and he has a sense of humor that resonates with nature. He is a very good tour guide.

There are very few bioluminescent bays on Earth and three of them are in Puerto Rico. Actually there are luminescent plankton in many bays, but the sheer number of them in these bays makes them observable. I wanted to go to the one in Vieques, but I was not in a position to do that easily. In Fajardo, you have to kayak for quite some time with your partner to get to the bay. Make sure you are fit and in good shape to be able to do this easily. Either way the guides are around to help. The bay is in the north-eastern peninsula of Puerto Rico. You also hear a lot of fauna like the cookie frog, crickets, nocturnal birds, etc. Everyone in my group was paired because they were couples. I travelled first class with Peter. There are more benefits than you can imagine to travelling alone. We did a very good job kayaking in sync, and I am not going to describe the rest of the experience in much detail. What you see on internet are completely fake pictures because it is almost impossible to capture this phenomenon on camera. All I will say is that you get a 180 degree view of stars and planets above, and there’s plankton glowing in the waters. You are in the middle of nowhere. Peter said to all the couples that they could “make love to the plankton” and go skinny-dipping but it had to be a quickie. I was the first one to jump out of my kayak. A couple jumped after me and made love in that water I guess. They were cool.

I came back with another tour guide. He dropped several groups in Marriott, one in Hyatt, and then said he wanted to say “hi” to a friend in a bar. I was cool with it. He asked me if I wanted drinks. Ideally I would have said no, but I knew he worked with Peter so I went ahead. I had a passion fruit mojito in a hole-in-the-wall bar. It was really very good. It was free for me because the bartender was tour guide’s friend. I tipped the tour guide $6 (I tipped Peter too with $10) and told him that I wanted to head back home. Then I slept like a baby.

Forting Around in Old San Juan

The second day I woke up and started mucking around the house. I was hungry. I fixed myself a lame vegetarian sandwich and then started talking to the guy on the couch (the guy who was renting the couch). He told me that he was going to old San Juan. I asked if I could go with him and he had no problem. Fey licked all my face until I was disgusted and had to push her away to get out for enjoying the day.

Couch guy and I left home around noon. We walked to the bus stop in Rio Piedras, and waited for M1 that goes to Sagardo, for about 45 minutes. My head was spinning. I was hungry. The bus fare is just $0.75. Can you beat that? At Sagardo, we waited another 20 minutes or so for M3 that took us to Old San Juan. That was another $0.75.

Old San Juan is very very pretty, with a highly Spanish influence on its architecture. The roads are cobbled, the lanes are narrow. The apartments have pretty doors. There are people smoking cigars. I fell in love with Old San Juan. I did not click many pictures because I had to make a mental note to force myself to stay there the last two days in Puerto Rico. We had to walk uphill a lot to find couch guy’s hostel. On the way we had Puerto Rican icecream, Helados Caribe, from a street-side vendor. It was all the worth its $2. Passion fruit and coconut flavors. Umm…

After we found couch guy’s hostel, we went to Old San Juan food court and had a shot of chichaito, anise flavored rum. That was $2 each. My head had kind of stopped spinning because it thought it got some food. We went to Castillo San Cristóbal, the small fort. I think I will probably go there again later if I have time. Entry was $5. Keep the ticket if you plan to go to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, the bigger fort, which you should go to. There is a tram every fifteen minutes or so that takes you around old San Juan. If you are tired walking, wait for it outside the small fort. It will pick you up and drop you right outside the big fort.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro is in the same site as San Juan National Historic Site. It is breathtakingly beautiful. It was a Sunday, and families with their kids and dogs were ambling about. Many people were flying kites. Beautiful kites – shark kite, minion kite, green kite, blue kite. The fort itself is huge. It has six levels and like forts always do, this one made me marvel at its architecture.

Some views from the two forts:

20150531_160408 20150531_160634 20150531_160640 big fort view buggy small fort three flags Tram View triangular stairs

We got out after exploring every corner of the fort, and then stopped by the fountain where only kids were having fun, not giving a fuck about anything in the world. A little ahead, a street band was playing local music. People were having beers, dancing. We then walked down the street and had amazing food (I had breaded eggplant and tofu sandwich with fries and nachos) in a restaurant right next to old San Juan food court. Their salsa is just amazing. We had beers too. It cost me around $15. We kept walking some more after that.

street art

Work by a street artist

mural 2

Murals

mural

Mural work

mural 1

More mural work

people chilling before next music

People chilling before the next music plays

random stuff

Random stuff that I thought was funny

I had to get home before it was dark, but it was already dark. A street painter did some good job with spray paints. I got a bus from old San Juan directly to Rio Piedras – T9. I waited for it for about 30 minutes I guess. Seriously, buses in Puerto Rico teache you to be patient. From Rio Piedras I almost ran on my way back to the house, a stretch of 2.5 km. I did not have a pepper spray with me. Without much plan for the next day, I just took a shower and went to sleep with my music on.

First Day in Puerto Rico

An everyday itinerary, planned with the money-time balance in mind where money is more important because it is less important. There are goals but no defined path. Fun has to be had. Things got to be easy. There’s got to be long walks. Above all, there’s got to be an open mind.

A cab to the airport from home cost me around $20. Against all my wishes I went to Starbucks and had a banana and a tall (the smallest) glass of peach iced tea lemonade (I was dehydrated, excited, and all of that). I think I spent around $5 there. My flight tickets cost me $380 to and fro, from Boston Logan to Luis Muñoz Marín in San Juan.

Aerial View  of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico from air

When I got off at San Juan airport, it was really hot and humid. Keep the sunscreen handy if you are landing during the day. I wanted use the bus to reach my airbnb house, about 15 minutes from the airport by car. It’s a farmhouse kind of a place – away from the city and tourists. Génesis Cumba is the owner and is a very sweet and kind lady. Her dogs are adorable. I would recommend you to stay there if you are looking for a local experience that is cheap. You have to drill it in your mind though that it would be really helpful to have a car rented.

The house is about 30 minutes (2.5 km) from the nearest bus stop, which is very close to the University of Puerto Rico (yeah, it’s all about landmarks) in Rio Piedras. The rent is about $19/day excluding services and tax. Now there is no useful information on the internet about buses or trains in Puerto Rico. I guarantee you that. I asked the tourism information center at the airport about the buses and he said that no bus goes to Rio Piedras from the airport. It was not the right information I think. The bus stop at the airport is not conspicuous at all. It’s like finding a hidden treasure or something. There are no signs or boards and the bus stop just says “PARADAS” (buses). No numbers, no information, no schedule, or stops. Also, there is no bench. While you are standing in the sweltering heat, a lot of taxis stop by and honk to tempt you to get into it. After about 1.5 hours of doggedness, and growing gray clouds, I had to give up and jump into the taxi that came my way. The taxi driver was very old and had no clue where he was taking me to. I put on my GPS and started directing him. He did not know English and I did not know Spanish. After missing about 3-4 exits, and the old guy dashing his already beat car against a mail box, a toll booth, and another car, I finally reached where I had to. He did not accept a card, and my host was nice enough to take him to the nearest ATM and give him money. She told me he was deaf too. He told her in Spanish right in front of me that I was illiterate. He was nice, though, given his conditions. People here are generally very sweet and nice. This cab ride cost me $25. It’s fixed rate.

The house had Génesis, her sister, two other people like me, Fey and Panda – Genesis’ dogs. They are furballs who love to play, lick your face and toes, bite, and jump on you. It’s my fourth day here, and I love them a lot. Génesis has her own cats, and the ones she has temporarily adopted too (she is very kind). It’s a nice house. I went for lunch to Rio Piedras in Genesis’ car. It’s tough for vegetarians in Puerto Rico (not in old San Juan, though) and I had a strong feeling that I would have to start eating meat. Surprisingly, we found a vegetarian restaurant and I had a hefty and good meal worth just $6.5 (including fruit punch). Rio Piedras, has a lot of awesome graffiti. There’s a lot throughout San Juan, and it’s just mind-blowing. I will try to get some pictures later. I don’t have the best ones yet.

2015-06-02 11.57.25  20150530_235856 20150531_145019 20150531_160405

At night I went to a bar in Rio Piedras with one of the housemates. It was a long walk to and fro. Also, it is not so safe. Have someone accompany you, and keep a pepper spray handy. I had an umbrella too. The bar is pretty ghetto and very cool. Do go there if you are around. It will be an experience. I just had a beer worth $2 and then headed back home.

20150530_230538

A view from the bar

The house address: K15 Calle Generalife, Carolina, San Juan – 00987. It is listed on Airbnb.

I do not have the address for the vegetarian restaurant but I will try to find it. Their food is very local and they have quite to a few things to offer to the vegetarians. If you eat meat, just try the food truck on Calle 3, right opposite the McDonald’s. It’s super cheap, and I am told very tasty too. For those who swear by food chains, you have a lot of McDonald’s, Subways, Burger Kings, etc. to suck on.

Address to the bar: El Boricua, 5 Calle Saldaña, San Juan, 00925. You need cash here and I don’t think they have any food. You must go there if you want an awesome experience. I would suggest to call and ask when they play live music.

Make sure you carry a lot of cash with you. Withdraw it before you come to PR. There are only a few local ATMs here that charge you for every transaction. I will write about the rest of my days in a bit.