On my second trip to the “Isla del Encanto” I ventured much deeper than the 1st. The trip I took on February 2011 helped make this trip the excellent journey it became. I was given a mandatory time off for years end holidays totaling 11 days. I wanted to utilize the time to travel beyond Florida. This is usually not a good time to travel for a few reasons. The cost of flights and hotels are usually higher. There is also a higher volume of tourists in this season. The places I would want to explore in North America are too cold or dangerous to enjoy too. Puerto Rico is an obvious choice for climate reasons. The clincher for me was a Round Trip flight for $280. The hotel costs were mostly overpriced however. I departed on December 25, 2012 and returned on New Years Eve in time to head to DT MIA for the festivities.
My mind set entering in this venture was one of acceptance and even a tad of resignation. Since I had already seen the flaws found on PR; namely the condition of a lot of its structure, I was not put off by it on this return trip. When I would see a beer bottle atop a coral while I was snorkeling I did not fixate on the trashy conditions. Instead I rejoiced in finding this beautiful beach with few people around. I rather have an amazing place with some trash yet have full access and freedom than a crowded clean place with a bunch of rigid rules.
Another factor that helped make this journey a memorable one is that I was more prepared to navigate to my destination points. I researched the places I planed to see thoroughly and programmed them into my GPS accurately with specific coordinates. The web site called Puerto Rico Day Trips was very helpful to plan my itinerary. I spent the 1st 3 nights in San Juan. I had to find street parking each time I arrived to the hotel which sometimes took like 20 minutes. I thought the room itself quaint but cozy. There was no problem with noisy guests only the coquís which chirped all night long. This area has a bad reputation for its crime. By necessity I had to walk the back streets at night with my equipment. There are police officers stationed on corners all about the region.
On the topic of equipment, this trip was extra special for this reason as well. Last time around I was lugging around a dedicated still image camera, video camcorder and tripod. Now I was using my new GH3 (Hybrid) along with 4 lenses and tripod to achieve a much higher output quality. No more switching cameras for video and stills. I did need to change the lenses of course. My camera backpack organizes all my equipment and allows me attached the heavy tripod so I could be hands free. This feature alone allowed me to get images I could not achieve otherwise. The many cases that I had to do some scrambling needing both hands allowed me to access places like caves or waterfalls. This was my first time traveling with this new set up. I had extensive practice prior to this for local events though. I was using an ultra wide lens which allowed me to make some dramatic images of beachscapes or from within a cave where space is limited. The speed of the camera when going from taking stills to video is revolutionary.
I start the official day 1 (where I started the 1st time to PR) in El Yunque Rain Forest. I revisited the secret waterfall I discovered and found it all to myself again. In contrast I did the hike to La Mina Waterfall and there was more people than water it seemed. I did not bother taking a picture. I basically did this steep 3 mile hike for my health only. I visited the Rio Espiritu Santo on the seldom visited west side of the park. I found a charming green pool next to a tall yet slim cascade where I took a refreshing dip. There was no one in this slice of paradise while I was there. Later I visited my mother’s cousin Bichara and his wife Ada at their home which was a 10 minute drive from my hotel room. They showed me photos of their vacations to places like Argentina. I enjoyed the asparagus cream, humus and broiled plantains Bichara offered me. I took some humus with me which I ate with crackers for lunch the next day.
On day 3 I was to venture to the west side of the island to stay a couple of nights. On my way I met up with Pedro Casanova. Originally a local and now on vacation, Pedro introduced me to some beautiful beaches. The 1st stop was a cove with a small entrance for open ocean waves to sneak in. The coast’s edge was lined with rock shelves. I snorkeled the coast and was surprised by the variety of colorful fish and coral. The 2nd spot took a short hike to reach. It was also a cove but had the extra feature of a beach cave of sorts. After I drop of Pedro I went to a waterfall called Gozalandia. It is not easy to find this place. It is deep in a mountainous neighborhood that takes many twists and turns ups and downs to arrive at an inconspicuous trail head. I parked in a man’s gated front yard for $5. I could have parked for free somewhere else but I liked the idea of supporting people like this. The man was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey but moved to PR when he was 10 years old. The hike to this waterfall was not long or difficult. This place is a jewel but gets crowded. There is access to the base of the falls. I got a very good refreshing here. People jump of a cliff into the pool. They also have a rope to swing and jump into the pool with. I did try it at the insistence of a fellow American tourist.
I was then headed to the hotel in Aguadilla when I see and hear a band and colorfully arrayed dancers jamming at a shopping plaza. I pulled up and was preparing my camera equipment, but before I finished setting up they stopped and jumped into a party bus to leave. As I was a few miles down the road I see a similar spectacle. It was another party crew. This time I was moving with more haste to prepare my camera and bumped my head with the car’s trunk’s lid. I was told by a local that this “Paranda” organization has 8 buses which tour this region of the island during this time of year. Most of the participants had good cheer but some wore sour countenances when they saw me recording them. I still do not know exactly why they reacted this way.
Okay I was having a very good day filled with variety and surprises. I was thinking that I would just wind down at the beach for the sunset. I arrived at Crash Boat Beach and inspected the calm blue water. It was windy but offshore which is the prevailing wind here. The beach was crowded and I was just meandering among the people when I spotted something interesting. This man had a crew of pelicans and a sole Bobbi bird surrounding him as he walked. I turned my lens on him and he with perfect English turned to address me. He said “If you buy a bracelet from me which costs $1 I will pose the birds so you may take the pictures you want”. I choose a pink bracelet. He strapped it on my wrist and we proceeded to set up our shooting of the birds. He calls these birds my individual names. They all are highly trainable. He has magnificent Frigate birds which have very large wing spans come from flying over the ocean swoop to where he has a morsel on a stick held up. The Frigate comes with a lot of velocity as he snatches the morsel away. While this is going on, the sunset was dynamically picturesque. I then saw a young man balancing on a tight rope which was tied in between Palm Trees. I spent time with him and his aspiring film making friend. He did other gymnastic feats so I may capture it on the memory card.
On day 4, I return to Cabo Rojo. I enjoyed it even more this time around. The sea cliffs with their golden color and turquoise ocean crashing waves impressed me with delight. The sky was clear. The birds were abundant and varied. I saw a bright orange bird at the onset to my walk here. I roamed the cliffs with no one around except large iguanas. The view of the beach called Sucia from the cliffs is one of my favorite scenes I have seen in person. I then travel deep into the interior of the island thru expansive twists and turns, ups and downs to reach a waterfall called Salto Curet. I found a charming river on my way that compelled me to stop and take a dip in. The river banks had a variety of colorful flowers and large bamboos growing there. I again had this slice of paradise to myself. I think should I have hiked up the river away from the road and go deeper in the jungle and camp there, I would not encounter another human being for a long time.
This island is very appealing to me because of facts like this. There are places that are mini wonders that are not difficult to access and are not exploited. There are some places that are exploited of course but even these places are not ruined by this. When I went to Cave Ventana there were thousands of people going to and from. The Shell Gas Station people decided to charge entrance to it though they obviously do not own the property. I don’t mind paying them the $3 though. I did not like that I was fined $100 for parking in a so called green space. I said to the lady officer who issue the ticket that there is no sign whatsoever concerning no parking. The same day I parked by a sidewalk with a yellow line in Old San Juan. I basically invited another ticket and was slightly disappointed that the fine was only $50 and not $100.
The mountain cave opens up to a view of surrounding mountains and a big river running thru the valley. Even with the hordes of people (mainly locals) this place is amazing. I would like to see this place early in the morning with no people one day though.
So after a long drive that ended on a unpaved road I set out to the Salto Curet Falls. It is necessary to hike within the river to reach the falls. I did the hike with my non water hiking shoes knowing that it would be their last trek. Just like in Costa Rica I left my shoes behind. This is one of the most impressive waterfalls on the Island I think especially concerning water volume. A local told me that the water volume was optimal that day. This local happens to be a US born Caucasian lady that moved to the mountains of this island. She creates artistic glass. A girl from this group told me that there is more waterfalls that occur above the main falls. They described this place as awesome. They said there are 2 cascades and great pools to dip in. I was given instruction of how to get up there. To reach this place I would need to do some near vertical climbing using roots, plants and rocks. I started the adventure under a canopy of jungle plants and trees traversing a steadily climbing mountain stream. This place was amazing but I soon came to the conclusion that this was beyond what I was willing to do at the time. My heavy equipment (backpack with camera, lenses and tripod) would have made it dangerous especially for the way down. I did jump in the main pool of the main waterfall and swim against the current to reach its base.
I had originally booked 1 night in Aguadilla and the following night in Mayaguez. After I saw and liked the Aguadilla hotel, I wisely decided to cancel the Mayaguez room and extend the stay at Aguadilla. So I leave Aguadilla predawn on Day 5 to enjoy the Coast of Isabella. This is one of my favorite places on the whole island. I love the variation of the vast rocky coast mixed with coves and blue water. I finish this day by revisiting the San Cristobal Fort in Old San Juan to enjoy the wide open field surrounded by the ocean on one side and the bay on the other. The parade of kites during sunset is quite the sight.
My departing flight was scheduled for 2pm, so I decide to visit the Indian Beach Cave in the morining which I went to on 2011. This time no one was at the parking lot (which is someone’s front yard). There is a $2 fee I would have paid otherwise. This time I could climb the ladder into the sea cave area because I could strap all my equipment to my backpack. There were abundant bats flying all about. There are petro glyphs found here too. Some ocean water makes it way to this area forming a blue whirlpool. This was a fitting end to my journey.
The weather was ideal for the tropics. It was not too hot any of the days. I saw clear blue skies most of the days. The clouds during some of the sunsets were great compliments to the big sky. The people I met were interesting and easy to get along with. They were also willing to share key information of their Island. My semi resigned mind set helped make this one of the best trips I have taken. I was not expecting things to go so well as they did. Love does not require the object being loved to be perfect.