on the road

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puerto rico

gadfly homepage on the road home notes on places capital: San Juan first contact: 7/6/2007

PR Trip Stats (9/07):

 

Municipalities visited: 19

Best municpality: Rio Grande

Last visited: 7/2007

Town visited most: Fajardo

Places slept in: Playa de Fajardo

Most impressive town: San Juan

Least impressive town: Cayey

Biggest town: San Juan

Most scenic area: Caribbean NF

Most scenic spot: Cabeza de Punta San Juan

Best beach: Punta Santiago

Notable birds: kites and black birds with sideways tails

Lizards spotted: many, many including several large iguanas at San Juan

Notable plants: perfect palms and magnolia

Three words: boisterous, friendly, narrow

Road Trips: Puerto Rico (7/2007)

 

Neighboring Territories:  Dominican Republic, British Virgin Islands

 

Major Passes: Vertical. Passed north to south along the coast using a combination of PR-3 and PR-53

 

 

First Contact: Like most Chicagoans who visit the island, my first steps were at Marin International Airport in Isla Verde. While the plane was taxiing huge iguanas grazing the airfield reminded me that I was far from home. The tropical heat was inviting after five hours on the overly air-conditioned plane. After renting a car, I immediately drove down to old San Juan and took in the sites at Castillo de San Cristóbal.

The island is divided into 78 administrative districts called municipalities, each of which include several barrios. I will use these municipalities to organize the gazetteer.

 

Carolina Mun. (7/6/2007)

Marín International Airport. Like any other big airport, except that when we landed, we were greeted by huge iguanas alongside the runway, which borders a lake and natural area. Isla Verde. Filled with hotels and resorts, but very close to the airport. Not my cup of tea. Piñones. Forests of small pines shade the roadway from the tropical sun. This area is not too far from the ocean so on the weekends it is filled with San Juanites looking for beaches. The roads are clogged on the weekends and the small greasy food spots are open for business.

San Juan Mun. (7/6/2007)

San Juan. What a city! The home of 1.5 million people. The city is set on a peninsula and houses a large natural harbor in San Juan Bay. The more modern city with its skyline sits away from the the old section, which is walled in a medieval Spanish style. The new city is filled with large apartment complexes that do not seem to have a/c since many people spent the day leaning out the windows to catch the Atlantic breeze. The capitol building announces your arrival into Old San Juan where the streets are much narrower, probably due to the fact that the city is about 500 years old. Many of the colorful apartments in this part of the city were gutted and some were being remodeled. It seems people of all economic backgrounds live here, but as you closed in on El Morrow, a crowd of gated mansions stood guard. The marina serves huge cruise ships who drop people off to explore the hilly streets, which sit high above the harbor atop the city walls. The few gates are impressive as is the Cathedral, where Juan Ponce de Leon is buried. The Cathedral is built in a quintessential Spanish style, housing shrines to various santas. San Juan NHP. This park run by the NPS is home to historic El Morro, which was once a battlesite involving raider Sir Francis Drake, and the 18th century Fort San Cristobal. I explored San Cristobal, which has perfect views of the Atlantic coast. It is filled with dark tunnels and one ghost-filled dungeon. The fortifications here are a classic Puerto Rican sight and cover every license plate and postcard on the island.

Loíza Mun. (7/6/2007)

Loíza. This city seemed kind of run down and poor, but still had a positive vibe. It was founded as a hiding place for escaped slaves. This municipality has some of the best roadside sights on the island with everything ranging from pine forests to windy beaches and stands of tall palms. Punta Vacía Talega. There is an unguarded beach here on a steep hill of sand. The wind kicks up huge waves. Most swimmers played in the little tide pools formed by the rocky outcropping at the point.

Río Grande Mun. (7/6/2007)

Río Grande Pueblo. The area surrounding this compact, run-down town is some of the most beautiful places in the world. The cattle inhabiting the sunny and scenic pastures to the north look like no cows I have ever seen in America. They are skinny and walk around with long horns. The town itself could do a lot better considering its proximity to some of the island's biggest tourist sites and is very troublesome driving through. Caribbean NF. This is a World Heritage Site and the most impressive forest in the U.S. National Forest system. It sits atop the Luquillo mountain range standing 3000 feet above sea level at some points, including the famous El Yunque peak. The hills are covered with a thick jungle of every sort of plant imaginable. I spent many hours driving through and hiking here and saw palms, dinosaur-sized ferns, pines, orchids, impressive magnolias, and clumps of 25 foot tall bamboos gently hitting each other like God's wind chimes. The paradise can be a tough hike, I must admit, but it was worth it to see La Mina Falls. This waterfall is the coldest water on the island so the pool beneath was choked up with hikers getting relief from the heat. The grounds include picnic houses, observation towers, a few tourist traps (with empanadas and pregnant dogs on the roofs), and unparalleled views of the island. The birds and lizards and rains.... a lovely place to visit.     Mameyes I. A collection of gas stations and condom superstores, no lie.

Luquillo Mun. (7/6/2007)

Mameyes II. Juan Martín. Pitahaya. Fortuna. There were some big condos here.  Luquillo. The famous beach at the foot of El Yunque is a party city on the weekends and a ghost town during the week. The beach houses some huge hotels and condo buildings. This is where I saw three gardeners waiting for bus carrying four foot long machetes. 

Fajardo Mun. (7/6/2007)

Playa Real de Fajardo. My home on the island is the Fajardo Inn on the hill overlooking this barrio, which is home to to the Culebra and Vieques ferries. At night the sound of coque frogs and passionate Pentecostal preaching fill the air. The Inn has a good restaurant and the best pool in the universe. Fajardo Pueblo. The center of the municipality is the city of Fajardo. It is definitely a claustrophobic's nightmare. The only place they might be relieved is in the plaza in this classic Latin American town. Cabezas. This is the point of land that juts out into the Atlantic. It seems that the resulting bay is protected from waves by a reef where flocks of gulls do their hunting. The forests are a mix of pine and palms and seemed to be inhabited by chickens. There are two beaches here. One is wild and home to fish and aquatic plants, the other is the popular Seven Seas Beach, where Puerto Ricans camp out during the weekends. The hilly point of land is capped with a large, whitewashed lighthouse. Las Croabas. This town includes a small harbor and is being developed. The famous Conquistador Hotel is located here. Sardinera. Another harbor town, but much less developed, along the eastern shore of the island. Quebrada Fajardo. Along the roads in this barrio are tiny stores with huge inflatable energy drink cans on the roof. it seems there is a soft drink war here. In the world of alcohol, Coors Light is king. Quebrada Vueltas. Demajagua.

Cieba Mun. (7/7/2007)

Machos. Cieba. Guayacán.

Naguabo Mun. (7/7/2007)

Daguao. Playa Húcares. Santiago y Lima.   Small.

Humacao Mun. (7/7/2007)

Punta Santiago. Río Abajo. Humacao.

Yabucoa Mun. (7/7/2007)

Camino Nuevo. Juan Martín. Yabucoa. The self-proclaimed "city of sugar."

Maunabo Mun. (7/7/2007)

Quebrada Arenas. Maunabo.

Patillas Mun. (7/7/2007)

Guardarraya. Bajo.

Arroyo Mun. (7/7/2007)

Palmas. Guásimas.

Guayama Mun. (7/7/2007)

Guayama. Palmas.

Cayey Mun. (7/7/2007)

Jájome Alto. Quebrada Arriba. Cayey.

Caguas Mun. (7/7/2007)

Caguas.

Gurabo Mun. (7/7/2007)

Passed through in the night along PR-30.

Juncos Mun. (7/7/2007)

Passed through in the night along PR-30.

Las Piedras Mun. (7/7/2007)

Passed through in the night along PR-30.

An ancient gate to the walled capital of San Juan. It is one of the only walled cities in America. (2007)

Looking north from the beach at Las Cabezas. (2007)

Looking toward San Juan Bay from the jungle-covered heights of Caribbean NF at Yokahá Tower. (2007)

The sea-going town of  Playa Húcares sits atop a boardwalk that hosts seafood restaurants. (2007)

The coldest water on the island is that which cascades down La Mina Falls. The refreshing swimming hole attracts countless swimmers. (2007)

The island's history as an important military outpost for the Spanish and then the Americans is seen all over San Juan. (2007)

 

All photos (c) 2007 J. Bezold. All rights reserved.