January 23-31, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

We got up at 6 & 7 and did final preparations. I made James’ tent over the card table. Dick took care of litter boxes and turned off the water. We left about 8:45, but one tire looked flat so Dick filled it at Donnie’s and we got another canister of flat fixer at a WM. Dick used up the old one to try to help seal the tire when we stopped for gas. It was sunny the first part of the ride, but clouded up and even sputtered rain through parts of the drive. I called Lula Mae to tell her we were off and we listened to Abba, John Denver, The Dixie Chicks and PBS. It was a rather boring trip on the whole, but we were in the Microtel by the Atlanta Airport by 4:30. Went out to eat at Ruby Tuesdays and I had an iced tea with real raspberries. We both did the salad bar and Dick had white bean chicken chili and I had broccoli cheese soup. Back at the motel, Dick worked on his Wyoming presentation for Cape Fear Audubon and I did the WSJ crossword. Both showered and watched a funny HBO movie, Role Models, before turning in early for an early morning tomorrow.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Got up at 5:30 and were down in lobby by 5:50 in time for Dick to have a bowl of cereal and me to grab a bagel and tiny muffin. Caught the 6:00 shuttle to the airport which took about five minutes. Checked in at a kiosk and got through security quickly. Had a couple of hours to doze, read, etc. Tired from a pretty noisy night in the hotel. The plane was rather empty so Dick was able to have the three center seats and I took a window seat and dozed a little. Planned how to tell Rob I was here in Spanish when I called him from Puerto Rico, bringing back a lot of Spanish vocabulary from way back in high school.

We crossed the road in front of the terminal and were able to get a shuttle quickly to the Payless Rental office. Once there, they didn’t accept that our insurance card meant our insurance was good in PR and Dick was unable to call the company on an 877 number. He called Bob and Bob contacted the insurance company for us, had them call Dick and eventually fax a letter, which unfortunately still had to be followed up with a phone call.

We finally got in our little red Kia and headed south, following the directions the owner of Ciba Country Inn had given me over the phone. We made one mistake but the drive went fine otherwise and we got to the hotel around 4:30. We saw our room and walked through the muddy rain forest grounds, but found most birds easily hid themselves in the trees. Michael, the owner, informed us that we couldn’t take our car across toVieques Island and after puzzling around for a while and trying to find a place in the guidebook that made us think we could take our car, we called the next hotel people and ended up undecided about how we’d proceed once we got to the island tomorrow.

After resting up for a little while we headed back toward Fajardo, driving back roads. We saw the ferry dock area and took photos of the Town Hall. We ended up finding our way to the Extra Chinese restaurant for dinner. At the hotel, we were treated to the noisy serenading of the coqui tree frogs. Dick worked on a few bird and lizard photos he took and I went out with a flashlight to try to see the evasive and tiny coquis, but they remained well hidden. You’d think you could easily track them down from their varied chirps of co-kee. Dick checked out the owner’s bird book. We made it an early night, hoping the dusk to dawn serenade of the tree frogs would be an effective lullaby.

Monday, January 25, 2010

We got up around 7 to the sound of rain on the roof. Slept fairly well, but heard coquis and screech owls during the night. The Continental breakfast in the dining area was very good with lots of tropical fruit (starfruit, mangos, guava), bananas from their trees, homemade muffins and fruit bread, cereal, yogurt, and toast. We ate inside then stood out on the deck. We packed up, paid our bill, and headed out. At the ferry area again we bought our senior round trip tickets for $4 total, then headed toward Los Croabos and walked along the shore there. We drove out toward the end of the peninsula and looked for Balneario Seven Seas Beach. Though we found the camping park entrance and drove around , we never found a way to the beach and the other entrance was closed. So we gave up and ate at a Burger King where I had $40 stolen from my bag while I stood waiting for our food.

We parked in the publico lot and walked our suitcases to the ferry building where we sat and read for an hour and a half or so. When everybody got up and moving, we followed then outside, watched while the incoming crowd departed and went upstairs in the ferry, going outside every so often to cool off, and get a bit wet in the process. We read and Dick napped a bit during the 90 minute voyage. When we got to Vieques we quickly found a taxi which we shared with a woman from the island. We passed several loose horses as we crossed the island to Esperanza where the taxi driver found our hotel at the end of the promenade and only asked $3 each for the ride.

At the Trade Winds we checked in and were shown to a very cute room with sea murals on the walls, down a narrow passageway past the dining area. There were three steps up to the bathroom area and beyond that a door to a shared terrace. The whole room had a very charming beachy aura about it, not to mention a king sized bed with a quilted embroidered spread.

We rested for a very short time, then headed out and down the beach which connected by a natural causeway to an island. I picked up lots of beach glass, shells, and bits of sea polished coral on our way along and around the island. Dick headed for the interior of the island and got several bird photos, including a hummingbird that didn’t turn out well, some grackles and several shorebirds.

We got back to our room around 5:30. I bought a birthday gift for Christy (which turned out to have been made in Nepal) and we decided to eat at the restaurant connected with out hotel. We sat outside, overlooking the ocean and a cruise ship anchored there. We both had chicken- Dick’s guava glazed and mine in coconut curry. After taking night photos of the ship, we retired to our room where Dick worked on his photos of the day and I read.

Tomorrow we plan to reserve a night tour of the bioluminescent Mosquito Bay and spend the day just exploring around and swimming. We had debated renting a jeep but think we can easily stay amused around here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Some little beastie seemed to be rustling around the far end of the room around 3AM, then seemed to let itself out again. Dick got up early and went out photographing birds. I showered and we went to breakfast when he got back-not as lush as the first B&B. I texted the kids and heard from Christy in the AM and Rob in the PM. We went out toward and past the causeway, me shelling and Dick way ahead on his birding mission. Beyond the island the beach had little to attract me, so I went back, and he caught up with me before the main street began. He had seen a large group of the wild horses farther along Sun Bay.

We had lunch at Belly Buttons then went to the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust- which had gardens, a library and small aquarium area in a patio with several small tanks. We checked our email there. Then we went back to our hotel and read and rested for a little while. I tried to make a reservation with Island Adventures for the bio cruise on Mosquito Bay, but they weren’t doing those cruises for several days. I asked at the hotel desk and was advised to try Blue Caribe who also runs the trip as a kayak trip. They were going out tonight, so I made our reservations,

We put on our swimsuits and headed for Sun Bay again, where the waves were gentle and the water was warm. After swimming we walked over to see the wild horses again. I popped into several shops while Dick went straight back to the hotel. He showered, then we went back to Belly Buttons for a quick dinner before leaving to join the Mosquito Bay tour. We waited outside the hotel until another cruise director said this was his company’s gathering point- so we strolled down to the Blue Caribe office and caught up with everyone there.

Blue Caribe had a fairly large group of 25 going, so went in two vans- ours with a cracked windshield from falling coconuts. We followed the other van and kayaks along the coast and over a very rough road down to the bay, the van getting scraped by branches as we went through the darkness. Dick and I shed everything not essential, convertible pants, T shirts and shoes, got our life jackets and paddles and followed the crowd through some very interesting-smelling mud down to where we each got our kayaks. Most of the people shared bug spray, but forgetting that the place was not called Mosquito Bay for nothing, Dick and I didn’t, and woke to bumpy itchy legs the next morning.

We followed the leader out to a central buoy where all the kayaks were tied together- for the half or so of the group who wanted to swim. I went in but Dick stayed on his kayak. With a bright ¾ moon, the effect of the bioluminescent dinoflagellates wasn’t as pronounced as when it’s darker, but if you moved your arms, you could see a cloud, and kicking your feet deep down produced a brighter glow. After fifteen to twenty minutes we all got back on our kayaks and paddled back. We washed the muck off our feet, walked back to the Trade Winds Hotel and I showered. Dick worked on the day’s bird photos and exchanged books at the hotel’s exchange. Then we both read till we were read to drop off, having stuffed a towel under the patio door to keep the beasty out- we hope.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dick was up and off looking for birds by seven. Evidently our nighttime visitor was blocked by the towel because it was a peaceful night. I washed my hair and was out by 7:30 beachcombing along to the causeway and back. I was back just after 8:30 and Dick ten or so minutes later, having run into a good group of birds just as he was ready to head back. We had our minimal Continental breakfast- cornflakes, muffins and juice and went to our room, packed, paid and returned keys. Partway along the ocean walk a taxi van spotted us with our suitcases and took us to Isabella Segundo. Dick worked on photos in the waiting area and I walked around in the town, taking photos.

The ferry ride was lovely and sunny, though a little rough. Dick slept some of the time and I read. We were relieved to find our car still in the parking lot, and used Emily, our GPS, to get us on our way to Ponce. We drove through a lot of lovely countryside, grassy mountains, large horse farms. At the first major shopping center we had seen, we had Chinese for lunch and renewed our road trip food at an Amigo Supermercado.

In Ponce we had a little problem getting to the hotel because of one-way streets, but went round a few blocks and came out right near it. The Belgica Hotel is the oldest in Ponce, as the very helpful woman at the desk told us as she showed us around and to our room. Our room had a king sized bed with gray satin coverlet, fancy wood insets above doors and windows and a very high ceiling. Just down the hall was a computer alcove and a balcony with a shared fridge and even an exercise bike. Definitely a charming place and very centrally located.

We walked out to the city square with its impressive buildings, including the unique black and red fire house, now being used as a tourist info center. The square had fountains and gardens and lots of pigeons that looked different enough that Dick was interested in photographing them. Dick got a T shirt at one tourist shop then sat in the square while I visited a couple of others, buying gifts and a T shirt for myself.

Ponce has an interesting tradition in the week before Ash Wednesday. People dressed in colorful robes and wearing horned papier mache masks roam the city making mischief. It’s thought the tradition came from Spain where similarly dressed people wearing more grotesque masks roamed the streets, targeting lapsed Christians and trying to scare them back to the church. Many of these outfits adorn mannequins outside storefronts. They add to the appeal of Ponce.

Back at the room, we turned on the air conditioning and I went out and did some checking up on the internet. Dick worked on birds on our computer and I read. We both washed a few clothes to tide us over. Then we went back out and enjoyed walking around, passing up on one recommended restaurant because no on was there, and another because it looked classier than we did. We ended up getting a tropical pizza and some chocolate gelato at a place just off the square, along with a local soda called Malta India which was very good and uniquely flavored, sort of like a maple flavored cream soda. Then it was back to the room where we did our computer things read and waited for bed to call to us once more.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

We were up, showered, had breakfast and were off just after 8. We drove toward Guanica and spent a good bit of time trying to find Playa Santa. In our travels I spotted a beautiful orange bird and we stopped on a small road where Dick got photos of three different humming birds as well as others. When we finally found Playa Santa we drove down the bumpy entranceway and changed into bathing suits in the car. We had bread and peanuts for lunch there. Unfortunately a car parked next to ours and the man sat in it during the whole time we were there, making us very suspicious. So Dick sat near the car while I went in a bit but found it pretty cool. I took my place on the observation rock while Dick roamed around looking for birds, then gave up and we left.

We drove back toward Guanica and back east along the coast looking for birds and trails into the Bosque Estatal de Guanica. We found several beaches worth beachcombing on and I even got four or five pieces of red beach glass. We got to the end of the road (325) and went in search of the road along the inside border of the bosque where the main entrance to the dry forest was. We found it and stopped early along the road for Dick to roam in search of birds. Unfortunately we weren’t there five minutes before a park ranger told us apologetically that he wanted to close the park gates and we had to leave- at 3:30!!

We drove some minor roads hoping to find a good birding area, but with little luck. So we set Emily to tell us the way back to the hotel. On the way we saw a hillside full of beautifully vivid colored houses – possibly Yauco. We got off the highway but never found a very good vantage point for photographing the houses. We took a few photos of the houses and a banana field there.

We stopped for dinner at a seafood restaurant where you could dine overlooking the sea. Dick had red snapper and I had grilled chicken- both with a Puerto Rican flavor which neither of us was crazy about. We were the only people there, but found the waitress to be a very indifferent sort. Dick did get photos of house sparrows and bananaquits that were quite close up.

When we got back into Ponce, we parked quite close to the hotel, then went to the center where Dick took photos of the fire station and we bought a shot glass to replace the broken one. We told the desk attendant we’d be moving on tomorrow and headed up to do internet, work on photos, wash a few more clothes, and plan our next day’s activities which will probably entail staying in a hotel on the northwest coast. Dick wrote to the realtor about selling Sandwich and we signed up for our stint on Family Day at the Museum of Coastal Carolina when Laura called.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Showered, had breakfast and were on the road by 8. We stopped at a black sand beach north of Joyuda where I found different sorts of snail shells and a crab with strange white pinchers. Dick photographed birds by the shore and in a boggy area by the beach. It was a nice beach but filled with junk as many of them were. Some places like Ponce were very clean, but on the whole, lots of junk was left around, old sofas, water heaters, shoes of every sort and even a child’s ride-on toy on this particular beach.

We continued on to Mayaguez, saw the Teatro Yaguez with its yellow and white glass dome, then drove to the Zoologico de Puerto Rico. We spent some time in the aviary, but then it closed for an hour or two, so we walked around and saw the caiman, tigers, llamas, giant tortoises, elephant, hippos, rhinos, lions, zebras, cougars, leopards, camels, sloth, wild pigs, wart hog and black bears. We wanted to go into the arthropod house- especially to see the butterflies, but they had a power outage and it was in darkness. After another fifteen or so minutes in the aviary photographing roseate spoonbills, flamingos, and many kinds of parrots, we headed north again.

With a combination of Emily, the guidebook directions, and a phone call to the hotel, we found El Pedregal where we had decided to spend the night. The grounds were lovely with a swimming pool and restaurant on the property. We settled in a little, then asked for directions to a post office where I mailed Bob’s birthday card and some postcards. We drove into the town of Aguadilla and walked around the plaza. Dick found some white winged doves and was very happy that they cooperated in getting their pictures taken. A woman on a bench signaled her interest in Dick’s camera and he let her look through it. When it was over we noticed her arms were covered with sores and bandages, so Dick did his best to clean off everything.

We walked to the beach where there was a good bit of beach glass, but little else but clean sand. Many brightly colored boats were pulled up on the sand. We walked back along the waterfront, then drove to Church’s Chicken that we saw on our post office foray. After eating there, we went back to the hotel and Dick showered, then we went to the restaurant and I had a Baccardi and coke and Dick had a Corona sitting outside overlooking the pool.

Dick worked on his birds and I showered, then we read our way to being sleepy enough to call it a day. We had tentative plans for tomorrow in mind as we make our way up to San Juan to leave on Sunday.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

We were off by 7:30, eating slices of bread for breakfast as we went. Our fist stop was the Bosque Estatal Guajataca (Guajataca State Forest). The road to it was very curvy and you were advised to keep your window open two inches, turn off the radio, then sound your horn before each steep curve and listen for horns coming from the opposite direction. We stopped at the entrance where a trail was marked to the Cueva del Viento. It led into the forest, so we figured it might also be good birding territory. We climbed up to an overlook, then went back and continued on the trail. There were enough signs to keep us going in the right direction, but none told how far we still had to go. Dick decided it had reached the point of diminishing returns for him, so he waited while I continued up another ten minutes and found the cave.

The way down was a steep combination of wooded stairs and stairs carved out of the clay and holey limestone that resembled dinosaur bones. The cave had a wide entrance lined with banyan roots. Inside the mouth there were several stalagmites rising from the floor and stalactites high on the ceiling. Some of the more accessible ones had been broken off. I rejoined Dick and we retraced the trail, then drove a short way further up, but found nothing of note there.

Lunch was eaten by the sea in Aracibo- subs from Subway. It was quite windy down by the ocean, with the requisite amount of trash, but also some brightly colored limpits and scallops.

By about two we found our final Puerto Rican hotel- A Howard Johnson’s that was housed on the fourth floor of the Cardiac Hospital. The room was very nice and even had two treadmills for patron use. We moved our car to behind the hospital, then brought our luggage up, rested for a couple of minutes, then headed to Old San Juan. It was a lovely breezy day there and we walked around seeing the sights and looking for birds, as always. On the green before the fort, filming was going on including costumed people on stilts and children who danced to a trio of musicians.

I had a pina colada at an outdoor table on a narrow cobblestoned street with balconied houses decorated with iron grillwork and beautiful flowers. The cobblestones are a beautiful blue like none we had ever seen before. They were originally ballast rocks that came over on Spanish ships, of a stone called adoquines. We walked through a church, saw the fortified walls of the old town, and went into an area where the regularly spaced holes in the walls served as pigeon cotes. Children bought food from a vendor to feed the pigeons that flocked by the hundreds. Hungry, and back at the main square, there were many vendors selling arts and crafts, foods, and candies from wagons, so we had pizza and enjoyed the ambiance.

The last part of the evening was spent looking at the day’s photos, reading, showering and getting ready for the fairly short flight back to Atlanta. That will be followed by a fairly long drive to get to Dick’s brother’s place, shared with his nephew, Wayne, in Royal Palm Beach, Florida where the brothers and others will celebrate what would have been their father’s one hundredth birthday on Feb. 1.

Some overall thoughts on Puerto Rico follow:

The mutt is alive and well in Puerto Rico. Dogs are everywhere. Some are lucky enough to have owners, but many appear to roam the streets, looking for kindness from strangers and evidently finding it often enough to stay in relatively good shape. Many were very friendly as if they hoped you would take them in. And none appeared to be at all aggressive. With such a mild climate, it’s a good place to be a dog!

The houses were lovely, with every pastel color in a muted rainbow. And the cast iron grill work, while possibly for security reasons in some cases, was intricate and varied with geometric designs and floral, sometimes with flowering vines climbing it. There were run down houses, but the majority were well cared for and lovely to look at.

The palm trees were likewise varied, with 30 foot tall fan palms and others of silver tones. Coconut palms were everywhere, with coconuts on the ground, sprouting, washing in on the surf, and falling on people’s windshields, as our Mosquito Bay driver testified. Royal palms with their beautiful polished trunks swayed above us. Beaches were lined with palms, sprouted from those washed ashore. The foliage was a great deal like Hawaii, with hibiscus, birds of paradise, bougainvillea, and helliconia.

The beaches were varied from those with golden sands to those with seaweed and rocks. Little crabs scuttled out of the way, including hermit crabs in bright shells. I found a lot of sea glass- rare in this day and age. Limpets and varied snail shaped shells were common. Driftwood had its own tropical look too, with bamboo and strangely shaped roots with geometrically shaped holes winging them. One beach had an area littered with broken conch shells, probably opened for the meat which was on menus everywhere.

We went from rain forest environments to the dry forest when cacti of every shape and size grew amongst the other foliage. Even ten minute’s drive could take you to very varied environments. The island is rich with beauty of varied shape, size, and, always, color.

Our stay in Puerto Rico was very enjoyable. There were flowers everywhere and the weather was balmy most of the time. The people seemed happy too, and we heard no arguments- even between children and their parents. Having to remain vigilant against getting things stolen from our car meant that we often took turns and didn’t do as much together as we would have. But on the whole, it was a good trip and one that we’ll look back on with pleasure.