Sunday, October 18, 2015

5 Days in October: A Return to Puerto Rico

October 2015
I went to Puerto Rico. Again. This time for five days. With four dudes. This is how it went down.

Luquillo Beach. We landed in the afternoon so we didn't have a tremendous amount of time. Decided to come out here to do some flyboarding, but because it's no longer tourist season, no one was around to take my money.
Still life.
The view.
Actually this little surf hut was around to take my money. Surfboard rentals were $10 for 2 hours. What a deal. Problem was the surf was around 10-feet. Way too high for me. As I paddled out, I just kept paddling over waves, way too frightened to challenge myself to take them (and wipe out). The white wash was just fine for this wuss.
This is the main reason we went to Luquillo. The food. There's a long row of food kiosks set up along the highway. Lot of diverse eats, but I remember falling in love with El Jefe Burger Shack on my previous trip and figured I'd introduce my boy, Pete, to one of the best burgers I've ever had. I got the half-pound ground chuck filled with braised short rib, and topped it with fried egg and avocado. It was amazing, but I'd recommend the burger filled with chorizo instead, because the rib and barbecue sauce overpower the meat's flavor. Drink with a few Medallas.
Self explanatory.
A friend of a friend hooked us up with a private tasting event, Rums of Puerto Rico, at Princesa Gastrobar in Old San Juan. All of PR's rums were out and about for the tasting, bigger names like Bacardi and Don Q, but my favorite was Caray Rum, who's owner we got to meet. He's a big fan of Astros star Carlos Correia. His kid went to the same baseball camp.
This was Anejo Gold Rum, which Caray hopes becomes a sipping rum much like with whiskey. I'm not a big sipper of alcohol, but this was quite smooth. The ambience may have been a factor.
This is one of the beaches at Rincon, a well-known surf town on the west coast of the island about 2+ hours away from San Juan. On the drive here, we ate breakfast at a Wendy's. Breakfast at Wendy's? Crazy! Crazy shitty that is. Now I know why Wendy's doesn't serve breakfast up here. Anyway, we rented boards from Mar Azul, a small surf shop about a 2-minute drive up the hill from the beach. Cheap rentals, as well.
This GoPro still is totally misleading. I didn't catch this wave but I wanted to look cool. Here's the deal, I rented a 7'6 board because it had a GoPro mount and I thought it would be sweet to get video. Low and behold, my skill set does not enable me to catch waves on a 7'6. Damn you, shorter longboard! #Fraud 
Downtown Rincon. Not much to look at except this guy. Who judging from the design on this memorial, probably communicated with mermaids and other sea-based species. #NoDisrespect #IgnorantAmerican
Upon some new local friend's suggestions, we ate dinner at a Cuban restaurant called Asere, in a neighborhood where all the locals hang, La Placita. The food was incredible, and they also had solid mojitos to accompany. I'm not a huge rice and beans fan, but them beans were indeed a musical fruit! Not because they make you fart, but because they're so good you hear a symphony when you're eating them (actually, that might've been the music on at the restaurant). 
This tuna tartare with plantain chips did not last long. We also got the ceviche but it was creamy, not as light as I prefer. Wouldn't recommend trying that bad boy.
I was impressed at how the bill was presented. In a Cuban cigar box. #ItsTheLittleThings La Placita is filled with different bars and clubs to hit. It's Santa Barbara's State Street, or like the West Hartford Center! #Sigh #ItsNothingLikeWestHartfordIfYouKnowWhatImSaying
The Friday night crowds at La Placita only got bigger as the night wore on. We didn't stay out too late as we had an early morning drive.

GoPro video:

Next: El Yunque National Forest, Old San Juan at night

Rope Swings & Waterfalls at El Yunque: Puerto Day 2

October 2015
My first rope swing. Won't be the last.

Exploring El Yunque

We left our AirBnb at 6:45am to drive around 90 minutes south to El Yunque National Forest to meet up with Montana Explora, a local outfitter that conducts adventure tours. I'd highly recommend them - but don't be scared off by your guides, who are crazy young! Sadly I've forgotten their names, but our lead guide was 22, and his assistants were 15 and 16. It was wild to think a bunch of 30-year-olds were entrusting our lives to these teens, but let me assure you - they had their shit together! Vastly different than myself at that age. That said, as you fill out the waiver, I saw two things I've never had to fill out before: blood type and religion! So if a massive accident occurs, they can give you a blood transfusion. Religion…. so they know who to call if you die!! HAHAHAHAHA!!! Crazy. But so worth it. Here's their website: 
This is what greets you at the entrance to the rainforest. A burnt up car that I presume was for drug dealing or robbery purposes. I've seen "Heat" and "The Town" - I know what these cars mean!
There's a healthy hike involved to reach the waterfalls, and we asked for one of the most physically taxing routes they could give us. At one point we were literally pulling ourselves up the mountain with vines. Fricking vines, Tarzan!

Odd routes. But that teenager in yellow sure looks chill.
This is one of many waterfalls that we got to play in! What I mean by that is we walked behind it, swam underneath it,   and jumped into it. Play time!

Jumped into waterfalls... and pushed into waterfalls...
Looking at the view, I felt like I had to bring back the 251 freestyle (a Mobile special).  Although I was scared as all hell of falling over the edge here, so this took about a million times to take. Our 15-yo guide was ridiculing me. Always cool to get made fun of by someone who can't drive yet.
We had two major rappels on the trip.
I tried to take a picture of my vantage point and the steepness of the rock. It didn't come out that great.
Just lounging.
This was the steeper rappel straight into the water.

This was among the many natural waterslides we were able to climb up and go down. It was completely random where they determined it was safe for us to play. I asked the dudes how they determined that, and he said trial and error. Lot of bruises in that methodology.
We jumped off this bad boy twice. It was around 27-feet, but I'd like to call it 30 to make it sound more badass. This was the 2nd time we jumped. The first time the rain started to come down and it looked like the apocalypse was happening. Which made it all the better. The tricky part of this jump is not the height, but your landing radius. There were rocks to the left, and a cliff to the right - so you really just had to jump straight. Not a big deal, but I'm a tremendous fan of large jumping radiuses as I'm not coordinated enough to handle small ones.

Padre's POV
Pete messing with the falls, trying to do the ill-advised face plant.
I have the bandanna because I was sweating like a hungover wild boar when we first got suited up. #GreatCaptionDBag #WayToRuinASweetPic
We went places we weren't supposed to apparently. All I know is those kids walked us directly past this sign.

This was easily the most precise cliff jump I've ever done. By this time, my GoPro battery died, so no more video, which is a total bummer because this is when our trip got much more intense. This jump wasn't that high - maybe around 20+ feet, but it was strategic. You had to jump far because there were rocks and cliff beneath you; you couldn't jump too far to the left because that was the mouth of the waterfall; can't go too far right because the current will take you towards another waterfall; can't jump too far forward because there's more rock; you also can't take a running start because it's too slippery. I don't know how many times we asked the kids - ahem, guides - if they were sure this was safe, but they continued to reassure us. Oh yeah, after you jump into the water, the dude at the bottom throws you a rope that you have to catch and pulls you ashore. It was nuts. And f'n rad.
After jumping off the previous rock, this 20-footer was nothing.

Our highest waterslide. The guide directed us to the right area, then let go as we slid into the waterfall.
Underneath the waterfall.
Three posers.

After we rock slid our way all the way back to the bottom, we capped off the trip with a rope swing. This was actually more intense than I expected it to be. I don't know what height it was, but you build up a lot of speed. Our main guide warned us how dangerous the rope swing was, which is saying something because he didn't stress the danger of all the other things we did. I gripped that rope tighter than saran wrap.
The entire tour lasted from around 8-5p. Go if you have the chance.
That night we hung in Old San Juan. Highly recommend La Factoria, a bar that continuously winds thru multiple rooms. It was a more age appropriate crowd for us, as it seemed like the streets were flooded with kids who ought to be watching Dora the Explorer.
Saturday night. Later!
GoPro Video:

Next: One of the most beautiful beaches you'll ever see.

Beauty and the Beach: Culebra. Adios Puerto.

October 2015: Culebra's Majesty
Culebra from above.
We got up at 5:45am to catch a 7:30am puddle jumper to Culebra. That was not ample sleep. Let me tell you, if you take a plane to Culebra, you don't need to get to the municipal airport early. Get there like 15-20 minutes before, and that'll be 15-20 minutes earlier than you need to. No TSA. One-way flights to the island are around $70. You can also take the super cheap ferry early in the morning from Fajardo, but depending on the season, it might be a long shot to get as there's limited seating, a long line that people sometimes camp out at, and no advance ticket purchases. If you want to save the hassle, the flight is an easier option. Although that ferry price is awfully tempting.
We be dragging ass. Our 8-seater plane.

The pilot apparently didn't mind having a GoPro camera jammed in his face.

Our G-ride. Courtesy of Carlos Jeep Rentals. Don't get a jeep. These golf carts can go anywhere on the island. As we discovered.
This little food truck, down the street from our AirBnb, is the spot to eat. Cafe Casa Grande operates on island time, but they made a delicious pesto torta sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich. Accompany the sandwich with an assortment of fresh juices and you're good to go.
Not much to look at, but it's good.

Entrance to Flamenco Beach. This was the reason I wanted to revisit PR. One of my boys hyped up this place as one of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. He was right. White sugar. Warm turquoise water. No crowds.
Really pure.
Super really pure.
History lesson that I stole from other sites: the Navy used to use Culebra to test bombs and artillery. It wasn't until the 70's that a non-violent protest from locals led the Navy to stop using the island for testing. That said, there are still remnants of the past - most notably, this tank that just sits in the water. I believe the "Ley 66" is dedicated to ESPN's Bob Ley. That's what I believe. I could be wrong.
This tank must've been operated by barbers.
Here's a nice close-up of our golf cart, which we ended up taking for an off road ride at the suggestion of the dude who rented us snorkel equipment. He recommended we go to Carlos Rosario Beach on the western part of the island, but the only way to get there...
Was through this gate. The guy told us it's totally fine and normally that fence is locked up. He said there's a cart path - even though technically against the law to drive down - but no one actually gets in trouble for it. Hmmmm. By the way, a woman told us earlier there are still landmines in the area, so be sure to stay on said path. Snorkel renter dude then mentioned we can walk, but that will take around 10-15 minutes. Well, that just sounds too long... so we ended up taking the cart on a bumpy ride that involved branches smacking us in the face and destroying the shocks to our Humvee of golf carts. In the cart, it took 10 minutes to get to where we wanted, so I don't know what the hell snorkel dude was smoking. If you take away the light bruising and permanent back damage, the ride was actually super fun!
The path led us here. Completely isolated. This would've been so much more awesome if the snorkeling was good though. There just wasn't much to see,  the water had very poor visibility, and there were sea urchins and sharp coral. Both my dudes Brian and Mason ended up with several urchin spines in their hands and feet. Pete and I were fine, so maybe those guys just don't know how to snorkel.
We had to commemorate making it through the path of broken spinal cords.
The view from our AirBnb. The place was a palace, unlike our stay on the main island.

Okay so this isn't a great picture. I know. But this was the bar at the Hotel Kokomo, one of the few places still open at 10pm on a Sunday night during non-peak season. The bar was practically empty. Maybe 1 or 2 locals. It had a TV. That was set on a family channel (in a bar!). On the channel was the "Super Mario Bros" movie. The "Super F'n Mario Bros" movie??? I thought all proof of that movie's existence was buried in a New Mexico landfill like Atari's ET video game. Not impressed? Whatever. I thought that was zany.
We almost stayed at this place because it was super cheap. I'm really glad we didn't.
Flying back to San Juan. 
Pete and I only had a few hours before having to take off, so we checked out El Morro, the impressive fort in Old San Juan.
Classic El Morro shot.

More El Morro. For facts, you can check my Old San Juan, PR blog entry.

Contemplating jumping.

 Love the colonial look of Old San Juan.

Mason getting artsy. Fascinating colors of cobblestone.

  And just like that - we were done.

GoPro Video: