A PERIPATETIC JOURNEY
not all who wander are lost
The fishing village of Puerto Real is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, and there was a lot less English spoken than we encountered in other parts of Puerto Rico. Marin in particular has been practicing her Spanish and was eager to try out her new skills; her efforts were always received with a smile. We were introduced to Puerto Rican food at two local restaurants. Some of the family's favorite food items included fried plantains, bolsas de queso (fried cheese balls), mofongo (mashed and seasoned green plantains, but often also including cassava and other root vegetables, topped with meat, fish, or vegetables), empanadillas (stuffed turnovers), arroz con habichuelas (beans and rice), arepas (flour flatbread), and of course the national drink of Puerto Rico, the pina colada.
From the marina manager to the retired local gentleman who drives cruisers on errands in the town for free because he likes to meet people, everyone in Puerto Real was incredibly friendly, welcoming, and helpful. It was the perfect welcome to this culturally rich, scenically beautiful, and topographically diverse island.
Once we'd caught up on missed sleep from the passage from Turks and Caicos, visited with friends we'd first met on New Providence in the Bahamas, and cleaned the boat, we rented a car to explore Puerto Rico for a few days. Our first stop was San Juan. After an intense drive around the steep and narrow cobblestone streets of Old San Juan searching for an open parking slot, we finally decided to take an extremely tight turn into a parking garage. We then checked into The Gallery Inn. According to Eoin, it was the best hotel room we have ever been in. This beautiful and unique inn was recommended to us by the marina manager in Puerto Real. It is both a bed and breakfast and art gallery, with active art studios as well. As we explored the inn, we met some of the artists and looked over the shoulder of one as she painted. While in San Juan, we explored the old city, visited the fort, and had some delicious food.
The next stop was Luquillo, on the northeast coast. We checked into a parador on the beach, the kids had a swim in the pool, then we went in search of dinner. A unique feature of Luquillo is the many food kiosks along the oceanfront. We strolled down the line, checking out menus and trying to narrow down the abundant choices. After a delicious dinner, we walked along a residential street back to the hotel. We won't say 'a quiet residential street', as it seems there is always music playing somewhere. And there are always roosters - roosters that crow anytime it pleases them, not just in the morning.
The next morning we visited El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System. Eoin wrote about our climb to the observation tower at the summit of Mt. Britton in his blog.
After our visit to El Yunque, we explored the central cordillera of Puerto Rico. Mountains comprise about 60% of Puerto Rico's land area, with the highest peak at nearly 4400 feet. We drove along parts of La Ruta Panoramica, a scenic route through the mountains. Descriptions of this route suggested that it is best to drive it during the day because of the narrow roads. Once we were up in the mountains, we understood why. Nothing gets your heart rate up like rounding a steep hairpin turn on a road that is only 1.5 lanes wide to begin with and coming face to face with a tanker truck on your half of the road. Most of the time the drivers honked their horns when approaching blind curves so we could at least be ready for them. And this is a main road we are describing. At one point we had to take a detour onto a secondary road! We were impressed by the engineering expertise that was necessary to build and maintain these roads. There were homes all along these mountain roads, many perched right on the edge, and all with amazing views!
We spent our third night in a town called Comerio, then continued our mountain drive. Visiting a coffee plantation was on our must-do list, but we'd begun to wonder if we would have time. Fortunately, we arrived at the Hacienda Pomarrosa coffee lodge just in time for their once-daily tour. While we waited for the two-hour tour to begin, we were served shots of espresso. The kids were offered cappuchinos, which Marin liked very much. Isla and Eoin didn't care for theirs (when the owner heard that Eoin was allergic to milk, he went to his house to get soy milk), so Brian and Kendall drank them. During Kurt's (the hacienda owner) presentation of the history, economics, politics, cultivation, and processing of coffee, we were served cups of brewed coffee and banana bread baked with bananas grown on the property. Needless to say, we were quite caffeinated and ready for the walking portion of the tour. After the talk, Kurt showed us coffee plants, and the different buildings where each step of the bean processing takes place.
We returned to Counting Stars that evening and began preparations to leave the dock and continue along the south coast of Puerto Rico.
McGlynn family 5 (Isla, Marin, Eoin, Kendall, and Brian) sailing Counting Stars