Jehan DeFonseka, Rob Crowell, and Emily King journied to the distant isle of Puerto Rico during spring break. The results: many dirty clothes, which have been washed; tans/sunburns, which are fading in the lack of sun; and a journal, documenting the voyage, which follows.
3/25/06-3/27/06 Flight/San Juan/Vieques
The trip to San Juan was fairly uneventful. Amazingly, we were able to leave 4E along with Bader at around 8:15. We caught the 9:00 Fung Wah, which did not have the same rotten fish smell that it did the last time we went to NY. About 20 minutes into the trip, we stopped because the panel which covered the air duct came loose and the lady sitting underneath it wouldn't stop bitching. I beleive "Go take a bath" was one of her better insults to the other passangers, who were equally annoyed with her. After about 10 minutes of the bus driver trying to fix it, Bader and I switched seats with her, but I really wanted to tell her to go sit at the back of the bus, not becuase she was black, but because Rob and Emily were sitting there and I thought it would have been amusing.
The flight over was pretty above average. ***Side note: Gordita-a fat young girl*** This gordita provided much amusement in the terminal after marry/fuck/kill got old and this AA worker told us to move because "it's not a sitting area. It's a walkway." So we moved in ront of a couple of emergency exit doors and Emily read to us while Gordita took pictures of us with her camera phone and then proceeded to jump up and down, making the entire floor shake. After boarding the plane, we were served a meal (gasp!) and drinks several times. To top it all off, teh stewardesses were pretty awesome, on occasion spontaneously breaking into dance in the aisles.
After landing and collecting our luggage, we realized it was time to address an issue which we had been ignoring--we had no place to stay that night. Our first thought was to find a cheap hotel to stay in, but the lowest price quoted to us was $200, and we didn't feel like paying 10% of our allocated budget on the first night. Renting a car to sleep in was not an option either, nor was sleeping in the airport, as none of us are 21, and much to our chagrin, the airport closes. We spoke to a few workers at the airport (in Spanish!) who informed us that Isla Verde would be a beach on which we could camp. However, upon closer inspection (after taking a publico over there), it seemed that either the beach was private or sketchtastic. As such, we began the adventure of finding a place to stay. Basically, we wandered from hotel to hotel asking for help. Some of the concierges were quite helpful, calling other hotels to see if they had rooms, and even trying to get us discounts, as we were looking tired and desperate, epeically Rob, who had slept (according to him) 15 hours in the last week. The Holiday Inn turned out to be our saving grace. Upon calling, we were quoted $209. When we showed up there, the guy, after seeing how pitiful we looked, quoted $17o. However, as we informed him that it was still outside our feasibility range, he recommended a small guest house for us to stay in, in which the prices were more reasonable. We headed over to check it out, got lost along the way, forgot its name, and as such returned to the Holiday Inn to get better directions. Finding the place he described, the receptionist informed us that they were full for the night, and we returned to the Holiday Inn defeated once again, and at this point willing to take the $270 offer. We, however, first appealed to the concierge's pity again, describing how we were very poor college students, and he somehow got us a room for $115 for the night, which we happily accepted. It was 1:30 AM, so we crashed pretty quickly, and woke for our early taxi to Fajardo and then Vieques.
We took a pubico to Fajardo, which lasted about an hour. Purchasing ferry tickets was not a problem, and we enjyed the leisurely 50 minute ride to the island. once there, we were attacked by publico drivers ho desperately wanted fares, but we wanted to explore the city first. Save for the lighthouse ruins, there was nothing much to see and we stopped at a small restaurant to grab brunch. The waitresses were wearing shirts with the slogan, "Gread food, good drinks, and bad girls," which was humorous because there were probably around 65 years old. After lunch, we returned to the dock hoping to catch a ride to our campground, but found two vacationers there who told us that they had been trying to get a taxi for a while with no luck--apparently the taxi drivers didn't work Sundays, which was troubling to us because our campgroud was about 6 miles away, and we were carrying quite a bit of stuff with us. Lucky for us, a single publico appeared out of the nothingness, ans we all piled in. On the ride to Martineau Bay (destination of the two men) we learned that one had gone to colege in Boston and was now living in New Hampshire. H was expoundng on the virtues of the "Miracle of Science" bar near MIT when we reached his destination--accomodations which we could already tell would be better than ours.
We finally reached Sun Bay, walked to our campground, looked over at the beach about 50 yards away, and could not even begin to describe how beautiful it was there. I think I may have siad, "This is...wow," a demostration of my master of the English language as always. I will not even try to describe it, but hopefully Emily will have many pictures. We pitched tent, located bathing room and shower facilities, got into our bathing suits, and headed out into the water, which felt amazingl. Playing frisbee with the waves was much fun, and after that got boring, we decided to wander along the beach, quickly getting distracted by a few coconuts. Breaking them open whilc preserving the coconut mild proved difficlut and ultimately a failure. Whereas Rob tried to darefully drill a hole into the top with a stone, I threw y coconut at pretty much every hard surface I could find. Neither method worked well, and even when we got through the outer hull, the innter hull proved inpossible. After exploring the peninsula a bit and lounging around till sunset, we headed into Esperonza for dinner and found a small touristy bar which took forever to bring our food. Aparetnly, burgers aren't as quick and simple to make as I thought. However, the dinner conversation was great, especially after Rob got drunk (just kidding) and we discussed that the best way to break open the coconut would have been to bury it in the sand and shoot it with a machine gun such that the bullet would stop inside the cocnut without treating an exit wound. Depth calculations for which to burry the cocnut woudl have to be performed once we knew more properties of the sand itself. On teh walk back to the tent, a black dog started following us. Af first, I was concerned, but it proved well prained, did not bother us, and seemed to want companionship more than anything else. Rob named him Jefferson, which no seemes a very fitting name, though tat the time I wanted to name him Lucky. We sat on a platform on the beach, with Jeffereson keeping watch below, admired how amazing the stars were, decided that we were in paradise, discussed life, existence, religion, relationhships, and constant propagation, and then went back to our tend for a good nights rest, again with Jefferson sleeping on the groud close by.
3/27/06 Jehan deFonseka
3/27/06 Sun Bay/Bio Bay
We awoke to paradise, the sun, the beach, the water, the trees all beautiful. The caretaking crew came by, cleaning up teh beach, as we lounged. After sufficient lounging, (reading, napping journalling, playing frisbee) we decided it was time for lunch. The cafeteria at the campground was, however, closed, and so we set off into town to find alternate means of sutenance. We reached the restraunt we'd eaten at the night before to find that the only oteher restraunt beside it was closed, so we continued on and discovered an entire row of restraunts we'd missed.
The one we chose was decorated with amusing sayings and license plates from a varienty of states. The numerous Massachusetts plates led us to aske our waitress if she was from Mass. She said se wasn't, but she thought the owners were. We talked to her for a while, discovering that when her kids had left home, she just packed up and moved to Puerto Rico, never having been here before, nor with nay real idea of what she was going to do. Why do so many people lack such spontanaety? It's really amazing, and kind of inspiring. Just go for it, no plan required.
After lunch, we went swimming and played frisbee. After a bit, Jefferson returned from wherever he'd been, and wanted to play. We threw the frisbee for him, and he promptly took it back to shore and began shewing on it. We got it back, in a slightly saddened state, and Jefferson dove right back in. He kept following the frisbee until we got scared he would keep swimming until he was tired and hurt himself. Finally, we just let him have it, and ignored him. he chewed it for a while, then attached himself to a group of girls and headed off.
A truck came and picked us up for the Biobay tour. We and several other kayaks of people paddled a ways around the bay to the entrance of the mangrove tunnel. The tunnels were much too small to row in, and so the strategy was to pull yourselves along by the mangrove roots. The tunnels were quit amazing, completely enclosed by the mangroves. There were little crabs scuttling around the roots, Lookinga t our little fleet of bright yellow kayaks, I could imagine an army silently pulling itself thorugh this passageway.
Occasionally the tunnels would open up into little lakes in the mangroves, where we would stop, look for wildlife, and Chad, our guide, would explain things about the mangroves, the birds, the fish, the bay, all the while smoking. But even though he smoked, he still cared about the environment, and so was careful to put all the butts in his kayak. We reached a largeish lake, and floated around for a hwile. It was so amazingly peaceful, you could just lfoat ofr hours thinking and looking at the smy, water, trees...Soon we retraced our path out to the bay. From there we rowed out to where the bay met the Caribbean, and stopped on a little beach for a snack, which was notably missing the crackers, and to wait for darkness to come. Chad determined it was dark enough, and we rowed out into the bay, toward the deep section where we could swim.
I could say that the bioluminescence of the bay is caused by dinoflagallets, that it's possible because of the reef at the mouth of the bay wich keeps the water calm, that it's one of teh absolutley most amazing and beautiful things I've ever seen, without really making you understand.
It first appeared on the paddles, which looked like they had streams of bubbles coming off them. As it got darker the glow grew, until the paddles had an aura of greenish-white mist each time they entered the water. A hand trailed through the water left a trail of white fire behind it. Soon it was dark enough for each boat to create a faint wake, and teh pools of light from the paddle hung in the water behind us for several seconds. Small fish, scared and thinking we were a much larger fish, darted away, leaving tangled, zig-zagging streamers of white behind them. They were like silend underwater fireworks, beautiful and breathtaking.
We got to the deep section and got in the water, after many assurances that we would be able to get back in to our kayaks, as the drunk people that Chad had taken out had no problem getting back in. Everyone had an aura, a personal light show. If you lifted an narm out of teh water, the glow consolidated into many individual sparkles, which slid off into the water like tiny snowflakes. Hands were magical reateing smoking underwater fireballs of light. It was truly magic, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. If you swam, your arms, your hands, each finger was ourlined in light. Kicking feet made a cloud of light below you. Floating there, glowing slightly and looking up at the amazing star field above me, that made this entire trip.
Eventually, though, we did have to go. We paddled back, marvelling at the glowing swirls from the paddles, and the sudden trails of light from startled fish. We got back to the shore, pulled the kayaks onto the beach, and rode home in the back of a pickup truck. That ride, too, was amazing, the wind in your face, the starts above you, slowing so brightly. Chad truly has the best job in the world, taking people out and exploring the mangroves every day, then seeing that amazing show nature puts on, and listening to the wonder of everyone seeing it for the first time. That is the life.
Upon returning to Sun Bay, we went swimming. Rob and Jehan went skinny dipping, although I wasn't man enough to discard my bathing suit. We stayed in the water until small biting things drove us out, then sat up on the platform overlooking the ocean and talked about life, the universe, and everything else that came to mind.
3/28/06 Emily King
The second morning on the beach was just as wonderful as the first. Jehan and Emily left the tent early, whereas I decided to catch up on a bit of sleep and only emerged after my watch informed me that it was nearly 8:00. Inagine, that was sleeping in! There's something about this island (Vieques) that really encourages such schedules: we tend to go to sleep a few hours after sunset and awaken soon after the sunrise. I don't konw if Jehan or emily got to see the sun coming up, but I'm sure it was beautiful looking out over teh waves and sand.
After a delicious morning breakfast of Oats and HOnney, we got ready for the day's adventure: we were traveling back to an area near teh ferry dock to spend the day exploring Vieques on horseback. Donning pants for the first time since we'd arrived, we made our way toward the gates of Sub Bay (a three to five minute walk past the construction crews working on a new structre, a large grassy area which had recently been the site of an outdoor festival of some sort, a handful of colorful roosters and a small herd of wild horses which all ramed freely around the island). We were expecting the horseback company to fetch us at 9:30 and transport us to their location; however, after around 45 minutes of waiting under a tree and after several failed attempts to contact the driver by cellphone, we decided that it was a lost cause and, somewhat saddened, we resolved to spend the day swimming and snorkeling at Red Beach, which was a few miles away, past the Bio Bay. We first headed into town, luckilly decided not to change chothes beforehand, in order to aquire snorkeling gear for Emily and myself.
Walking to Esperanza, we encountered Chad (our guide from the night before) making his way toward us from Esperanza, still wearing the same outfit as the night before. He said hello to us as we postulated about his previous night's exploits quietly to ourselves. Soon after, Jehan spotted a van with a familiar telephone number printed on the side. Encouraged, he told us that it was the number for the horseback company! Pulling out his phone, Jehan soon realized that the familiar unmber was not the horseback people, but was instead the nuber for a publico we had taken earlier. After joking that our inability to contact our scheduled van was due to the fact that Jehan had been calling the wrong nubmer, we called them again and finally got them! We aborted our trip to Esperanza and hiked back to Sun Bay to meet the van.
Looking a lot lik an old surfer, the driver continued the tradition of overwhelmingly nice and helpful fold that seem to exist everywhere you look in Puerto Rico. He apologized for the mix-up several times, asked abou the camping at Sun Bay, and told us a little about himself as we made our way across the island and around narrow, lush, and quite beautiful dirt trails into the hills. It turned out that he was married to the woman who would be our guide; it seemed that the two of them ran the business out of their secluded, airy home.
Looking unconcerned that neither Johannes or myself had ever ridden before, the three of us got saddle up and, along with our guide, set out to explore the neighborhoods and wilderness surrounding the house. As we learned how to control our horses, instrucing them to speed up or sow down and to stay to the far right when traveling on paved streets, we made our way thorugh the inhabited hills and into a wildlife preserve where the horses really picked up the pace and were given much more control and room to run. After exploring the preserve, which reminded me a lot of some parts of Arizona I've visited before, our guide asked us exactly how much we thought we could handle. Indicating that we were certainly ready for more, we took our horses to the shore of a small, rocky beach where we got off our horses so that they could rest and cool themselves in a murky pool surrounded by sands on one side and a cliff face on the other. Holding onto the riens and standing as close to the pool as possible, we allowed our horses to drink, splash, and bathe. Not content merely to stand ankel-deep in the water, Kikkowoman (my horse) puled tightly on her rens to reach deeper water, kicking and splashing the cool water on herself and leaving my legs and shoes quite wet. once Kikkowoman got out of the pool she nuzzled me withe her muddy nose several times, dirtying up my shirt and nearly knocking me down! Johanne's hourse Canaria proved to be much more interesting, however. Once she was led out of teh water she proptly collapsed into the sand below her hooves, breaking out into convulsions upon landing. Thoroughly coated in sand, our guide was forced to pull her back in for a second bath. There was much resistance. After the unfolding of a highly comical scene including Canaria's refusal to lie down and her vain attempts at staying dry, we made our way across the beach, past a gang of menacing dogs, and back into twon. Here we passed many paradoxical homes which appeared to be in various stages of neglect, anywhere from having a few discarded peices of equipment strewn about the yart to having broken fences and missing windows. Homes that were relatively well cared for neighbored houses that were collapsed or condemned. Almost every house we passed, however, was decorated with many potted plants which seemed well taken care of--a sign that the residents, while possibly poor, still had pride in where they lived.
After the horseback tour was complete, we explored an old fort on a hill overlooking the ocean, which provided a fantastic view of the landscape all around us. The original driver then took us back to Sun Bay, allowing us to stop twice along the way to use an ATM and to visit a fruit stand, the first we'd seen while on the island. We purchased three of everything: three pears, three plums, three apples, and thre cocoa frijios which is a coconut with its top chopped off and a straw placed inside.
Following a lunch of granola nd fruit on the beach of Sunbay, we decided to reserve a pulico for tomorrow morning's early ferry ride back to the main island. Adfter the only nubmers we had failed to be available for the following morning, I went to a police officer working at the part for help. His only publico contact was unavailable as well, but he pointed me to a DRNA officer who just happned to be bassin through the park at that moment. Luckily, one of the officer's family members was a publico drier, and our 5:45 appointment was scheduled.
We then decided that we should spend the few remaining daylight hours at Red Beach. hailing the next publico that came by, we were informed that the beach closed at 6 PM, giving us less than 2 hours there. Although we didn't get to see the supposedly beautiful beach, we decided to do a little more exploring around Sun Bay, heading for Media LUna instead. We walked across a strip of water-worn rocks near the beach, hunting for crabs and fish, when we spotted Jefferson accepting food from a family on the beach! Overjoyedd to see us agian, he left his mound of Cheetos and ran to greet us, tail wagging.
When we got to our destination we were amazed by the quality of the sand and the rich blue of the sea. Using Jehan's snorkle to scour the depths, we were unable to locate the sting ray we'd spotted after we first arrived there. Following the day's adventure, we had dinner at a local pizzarea and settled in for an early night.
3/29/06 Robert Crowell
3/29/06 Casa Cubuy
A quick addendum to the previous entry: I was NOT calling teh wrong number. Despite what Rob adn Emily may say, it was teh fault of the horseback riding company that we were not picked up, and after I called the same number every time and finally got through to them realizing that they had forgotten about us, they came to pick us up. Also, as Rob's pencil ran out of lead, I will finish his previous post: After temporarily leaving us, Jefferson returned while we were at teh Pizzeria and waited patiently by the side of the table, never begging for food. The pizzeria was owned by an 18-year veteran of the pizza business from New York, who was quite proud of his baking prowess. He was delighted to hear that we enjoyed the pizza thoroughly. We returned to the tent at which point Emily and I went to sleep while Rob wandered around his boxers on the beach for an hours before returnding to the tent. No discussions tonight, as we knew that we had an early publico to catch.
The next day, we awoke having not slept much taht night. Jefferson had repeatedly tried to climb the tent as if it were a sand dune, waking us up every hour or so. We quickly cleaned up our campsite, met with the publico driver, and caught the ferry back to the mainland, on whichwe saw one of the waitresses who had served us lunch two days before. After having slight difficulty in finding a publico on the other side, a man offered to both take us to casa Cubuy, and to pick us up on the 31st. The drive over was quite a breath-taking experience, which inreased in slendor as we neared our destination. Signs of civilization slowly disappeared as we traveled up into the mountain rainforest known as El Yunque. The hotel looked down over a river and you could see waterfalls in the distance. the vegitation was quite diverse, and there were geckos crawling everywhere. Mountains lined the horizon, and the clound mist provided the scenery with just the right accentation. In a word, it was perfect. When we entered our room, we juts started laughing. For the same price as staying at the Holiday Inn, teh room was much bigger and had its own private patio, complete with hammock.
We set out on our first hike, crossing a river and passing a 300 year old ceba tree. When about a mile in, we came to our destination: a river flowing through a series of wading pools and waterfalls. We went for a swim, and started trekking downstream, alternately using the water or climbing the rocks on either side. The entire scene was magical, and after we clibed back to our starting location on the river, each of us found a niche to sleep in and we meditated/slept for the next hour. No one wanted to leave, but hunger got the better of us and we eaded back to Casa Cubuy for lunch.
That, of course, does not mean that we ate the lunch provided by Casa Cubuy. That would have cost to much. Instead, we had stopped in a general stor in Viequez, knowing that cheap food would be hard to find at Dasa Cubuy, and bought the necessities. As such, we sad down to a mal of peanut butter sandwiches and Ritz Bits cheddar crackers.
After lounging for a bit, we set out to explore once again, this time following teh road up the mountain. Emily identified many different ypes of birds along the way, including a coquee bird, which Rob harassed incesantly by imitating its whistle. I'm sure the coquee bird was quite confused. On the way back it started raining which sounded beautiful and made the entire experience complete. We've decided that Bemix needs an emergency rainforest button. Walker can work out the details.
Upon returning to Casa Cubuy, Emily discovered a gaping hole in her pocket. More disconcerting was that the room keys which had been in that pocket were now missing, and as we did not want to pay to replace the lock, we went out in search of them, quite discouraged as there was quite a bit of ground to cover. After about 40 minutes, Rob was about to give up when we saw a car approaching down the road. When the dirver saw us, he slowed to a halt and asked if anyone spoke spanish, and when I said that I spoke a little, he began, "Eston buscondo sus llares?" "Are you looking for your keys?" We replied that we were, at which point he told us that he had found a pair up the road and could bring them to us. As such, a complete stranger who did not speak a work of English returned our keys to us.
We ventured back to the hotel for a relazing night. DInner was peanut butter sandwiches, oats and honey granola bars, and Ritz Bitz cheddar. Afterwards, we returned to our room, sat around and read for a bit, and then discussed life, existance, Mars, AI, and crack dealers after which we went to bed, with the coquee bord whistling away in teh background, waiting for Rob to anwer his call.
3/30/06 Jehan deFonseka
3/30/06 Casa Cubuy/El Yunque
We woke after an amazingly long time free of large black dogs attmepting to scale our place of inhabitance, which was a much appreciated change. Also appreciated was the second shower in two days. Clean and rested, we sat out in front of our room, looking at the scenery.
The view is amazing. From the door of the room, you could see three waterfalls and tree-covered mountains receeding into the mist. The tops of the mountains were lost in the clouds, and whisps ventured down to the lower slopes to lend to the lazy, mystical atmosphere. The distant hills faded into the sky, becoming less and less distinct. And the entire valley was completely covered by dense, beautiful vegitation. There are palm trees everywhere, lending an interesting texture to the scenery, interspersed with other, deeper green trees. The entire thing, as far as you could see, looked like a rich green carpet. And the sounds were breathtaking. While far from quiet, it was very soothing. The birds chirping, the roar of the waterfall below us.
Eventually we wandered up the stairs to the dining room to find that breakfast was ready for us. It began with a plate full of fruit-mango, papaa, pineapple, watermelon...all throroughly appreciated by the poor fruit-deprived Bostonians that we are. This was followed by an omelette and bread with mango marmelade. We spent breakfast talking to th eother guest of the lodge, a woman who was travelling around Puerto Rico, staying a day at various places. She told us about Thailand and other such places, seeming to have done similar things to this in her younger years. She was also a rock climber, and we mentioned various things on that subject.
After some time to digest, we set out on our adventure of teh day: to hike to the distant third waterfall we could see across teh valley. Adfter consulting one of the employees, who advised us on a route and told us that Robin, a professional hiker, was out that day, and we might run into him. We set out, carefully NOT entrusting the keys to me,and tried two possible trails off the road, but each quickly led to a dead end. We decided that following th road must be the correct path, and set off again. Reaching the point at which the road was obscured by a mudslide, the point at which we had turned back the day before. We refused to be fooled again as the path did tis best (or so we thought) to imitate a river. The path started out relatively easy, but became increasingly more interesting as we came to parts which had been washed away by mudslides. Parts of it required feats of balance not to go tumbling headlong down the mountain, and others required true climbing to traverse. We exploded into hilarity each time the trail returned to the road, or whatever remnant of in remained.
soon it began to rain, rather lightly, but quite insistantly. Soon there was a sheet of water running down the road, and we were all quite thoroughly soaked. This made the climbing interesting. Mude makes an interesting surface for vertical travel.
At one point it stopped raining, more or less, and we decided this was probably as dry as it was going to get, and we stopped for a lunch of granola and Ritz crackers (The ones that Chad had forgotten on the Biobay tour). THen we continued on, through meadows where the trail was only a trampled line in the grass, and across potential mudslides now running with water. After a long time with no hint of a waterfall, we decided to turn back to ensure arrival at Casa Cubuy before dark, but not before calling cocoa down into the valley. The rain, as if to make up for its brief break, returned and kept us company for the rest of teh journey. However, instead of being annoying, the rain was quite refreshing, as it was rather warm, and not windy.