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Monday, January 4, 2010

Final Thoughts

I’ve been home for a day now and have been thinking about my experiences in Puerto Rico.  It was a great trip and I’m already planning my next visit.

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Getting to Puerto Rico from the eastern USA is so easy! 
  • There are flights into San Juan or Mayaguez from Atlanta, Miami, Houston, and New York (perhaps more cities that I am not aware of). 
  • No passport is required because it is a US Territory.
  • I’ve seen flights for about $400 round trip.  That makes a quick long weekend mini-vacation very doable!
Some observations:
  • Speed limits are posted in miles per hour, but distances are posted in kilometers, and gasoline is sold by the liter.
  • The roads are narrow.  Having a small, maneuverable car was safer than a larger vehicle.
  • Local rental car companies may offer better rates than are available through the international chains on line.  Check with Popular car rental as an example (my car was $280 for the week with unlimited miles and was a brand new Ford Focus).
  • Making an effort to find local places to eat was definitely worth the effort.  The cost was about 1/3 of the prices charged in restaurants frequently by gringos and tourists, and the food was just was good or better!
  • Sticking to local drinks was also cheaper.  Medalla beer is excellent, and rum drinks are the way to go.  I had no problem drinking tap water.
  • In Rincon virtually everyone speaks English. In other areas fewer people speak English. Making an effort to speak Spanish is a show of respect and is appreciated by the locals. Even if you know only a few words, start off in Spanish.  If they speak English they will let you know right away. 
  • Many people I met spoke flawless English.  They were delighted when I asked them to please speak Spanish with me so I could practice.  They were more than willing to help, and offered many suggestions about where to go for food, entertainment, and shopping away from tourist areas.
  • Free wifi was available in many places; coffee shops, bars, hotel lobbies, etc.
  • Verizon and AT&T cell phones work there.  I had to call Verizon to enable international roaming on my data plan but there was no additional data charge.  I didn't have to do anything extra for AT&T.

Viva Puerto Rico!

More Bamboo Treehouse Photos

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The bedroom of the Bamboo Treehouse. Falling asleep and waking up to the sound of birds, frogs, and the breeze blowing through the trees was like being on safari!



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Don’t plan on hot showers in the morning when your hot water is 100% solar.  The water in the tank cools off through the night.  In the evening there was plenty of hot water.



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Although it’s only 5 minutes from town, the road to the treehouse is steep and narrow with sheer drops off both sides into the valley below.



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The road follows the crest of a ridge.  The sides drop some 200 feet into the fields and pastures below.  It reminded me of Costa Rica.



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The treehouse faces directly west.  This is sunset on New Years Eve from the bedroom.






Friday Notes (Last Day in PR)


Red dots indicate beaches I visited.

Woke up late in the treehouse. Made coffee and showered. Nothing like a cold outdoor shower in the jungle to chase the New Years Eve grogginess away! Relaxed and enjoyed my coffee and the view of Rincon from the treehouse.

Packed up and headed out. Visited:
• Domes Beach & the BONUS reactor site.
• Marias Beach and the surf shop for some t-shirts

Said goodbye to Rincon and drove 45 mins to Aquadilla. Checked in at the Marriott Courtyard then went exploring various beaches (all were stunningly beautiful and virtually empty):
• Surfers Beach
• Isabella
• Crashboat
• Wilderness


Back to the hotel for a nap, then headed into Aquadilla. Found a plaza filled with people dancing to a DJ playing traditional music. Ate an empanada and drank cold beer at a cafe/bar on the plaza. It was a great last night in Puerto Rico!

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Sent from my smart phone

Thursday Notes (New Years Eve)

Woke up early in the trees to the sounds of birds, frogs, and other unknown critters.

Cold shower (damn solar hot water heater). Percolated a pot of coffee on the gas burner and drank it upstairs.

Ate a quick breakfast and headed into town. The waves looked good at Marias beach so I rented a board for 1/2 a day. Paddling out through the breakers was very hard - once out there I had to rest for 15 minutes before attempting my first wave. The waves were still pretty big; well over my head. A couple of times I got slammed by an early breaker.

Picked up some sea urchin splines and a coral cut on my way back in about 1:00. Cleaned up and changed, then went back to la Tropical for the lunch special: culeta frita con frijoles, arroz, y platanos maduros (2 fried pork chops, red beans & rice, and plantains) for $5.25. I could hardly eat it all!



Back the tree house for a siesta, then to Surf's Up Coffee shop for afternoon coffee, internet, and a chance the charge up my camera and laptop batteries. Met the owner Joe Souza from CT. He's been here 12 years and has been investing in property and various small businesses. He would be a great resource for vacation rentals in the future.

Watched sunset from the tree house, then headed into town for New Years Eve. Details about the evening are on another post.

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Sent from my smart phone

New Years Eve in Rincon

wedding_at_RBCVIt was a fun night that started off with me accidentally crashing a wedding party at the Rock Bottom Casa Verde bar.  I didn't realize it was a private party; the security guard assumed I was part of the wedding party and let me walk right in.  When I tried to pay for my beer at the bar the bartender looked at me kind of funny and said, “It’s an open bar!”  He explained it was a wedding party and said, “Hey man, enjoy!”.

I stayed only long enough to finished my beer.  For years the bride and groom will be wondering who that guy was in the backgound of several group photos! I have to say – WHAT A GREAT PLACE FOR A WEDDING PARTY!

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Since I hadn’t been able to eat at the RBVC, I decided to grab some sushi at the Pool Bar.  It was still early so the place was pretty empty.  I had a chance to chat with the owner, a gringo who had moved to Rincon and bought the bar years ago.  It’s a family business with his wife and daughter who all help out in the bar, restaurant, and the Inn with a few rooms right across the street from Pools Beach, a well-known surfer beach.   The sushi is superb!

The movie screen behind the stage plays '50's and '60's retro surfing movies 24/7, and they make great fresh mohitos! They also have a grill and do kabobs and steaks.  The guy next to at the bar was wolfing down a steak kabob and was raving about it.  He had just arrived with a one-way ticket on the afternoon JetBlue flight into Aquadilla.  He had no idea how long he was going to stay.  He was a commercial painter and surfer and planned to stay as long as his money lasted, picking up odd jobs to extend his funds.

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After dinner I headed back to the RBCV (the wedding party was over at 9:00 PM).  The place was busy, but not quite the place to ring in the New Year (no live music or dancing).  I met two ladies (former college room mates), Pam from PA and Amanda from NY who had also just arrived in Roncon.  Amanda works for JetBlue and is a frequent Rincon visitor.  She said “The Spot” on the beach by the marina was supposed to be good.  They were without a car so I offered a ride if they would show me the way.

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The Spot was great!  It is right on the beach with an indoor section, a covered open air section, and a patio.  There was a punk rock surfer band playing and they got carried away and played through the stroke of midnight!  No one seemed to care (time is pretty much irrelevant in Rincon) that they did the countdown at 2 minutes past the hour.

I ran into James and Inda, two of my surfing instructors, and Shannon, James’ fiancée, and I rang in the New year with them. After midnight I wanted to check out the Tamboo because several local people I’d met told me that was the place to be, so I left the girls from PA and NY and the surfers and headed to Tamboo.

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Tamboo was definitely rocking!  A Puerto Rican band was playing and they had roasted a pig (a PR tradition).  Everyone was eating, drinking, and dancing.

The contrast between “The Spot” and “Tamboo” was what my vacation was all about: the Puerto Rican version of traditional Latin America, and the hard core surfing culture.  They happily coexist and compliment one another in Rincon.


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Back to the Bamboo Treehouse.  Morning comes early when you’re sleeping in the trees – the birds don’t seem to care that it’s a new year and a new decade.

It was a New Year’s Eve to remember!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Exploring Aquadilla, Puerto Rico

Aquadilla_plazaI enjoyed Aquadilla because it is a more traditional Puerto Rican town than Rincon. 

On my last night I stayed at the Marriott Courtyard near the airport.  I planned to eat in the hotel, but decided at the last  minute that it was just too sterile; I can eat at a Marriott anytime.  Instead I headed into town.  I found a plaza on the beach with a DJ playing traditional music and people dancing.  The plaza was lined with small open air bars that served light food – perfect!  I planted my self at one and enjoyed a cold beer and an empanada de carne (beef empanada – a deep fried pastry filled with ground beef).

IMG_0456Around Rincon and Aquadilla the hills come right up to the coast.  As a result, roads down to the beaches are steep and winding.  At every one there’s a sign entering and exiting the Tsunami danger zone.  The idea is to run like hell to get above the sign when there’s a Tsunami alert!

I spent the afternoon driving around checking out the beaches around Aquadilla.  For the most part they are rocky with patches of sand, empty, and beautiful!  Here are some photos:

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Crashboat Beach











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Wilderness Beach











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Surfers Beach (5 minutes from Aquadilla Airport and near the Surf Zone surf shop)

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wednesday Notes

Packed up at Beside the Point and headed out to explore Rincon. Visited the Lighthouse and the nuclear reactor dome.

Stopped at Marias Beach and watched big waves and surfers.

Explored downtown. Had lunch at El Tropical, a locals place. Had my first taste of mofongo relleno con camarones. Delicious! The lady waiting on me complimented my spanish!

Had coffee at the Surf's Up Coffee Shop (free wifi) then checked in at the Bamboo Treehouse. Had a nice chat with Joe who built his home and the two guest houses. Very friendly and interesting guy.

Later headed into town for more wave watching, then drinks at The Calypso bar on Marias Beach. Dinner (sushi) at Pools Bar with music by Fernando Ferrer. Need to look up his CD - very good! Ran into surf instructor James and his fiancée Shannon, both from Sarasotta Fl. They have been here for 6 months working for the surf school.

Stopped by the Tamboo to see what was happening. Stopped to talk to Frank the hand painted sign guy. Would buy one but too big for carry on luggage.

Called it a night and headed back to the tree house. Flashlight mandatory for the walk through the woods! Discovered something ate half of an apple I left out on the counter. Probably a fruit bat.

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Sent from my smart phone

Rincon Surf School (Rincon Surf & Board)

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The folks at Rincon Surf School (also known as Rincon Surf & Board) were my tutors and guides for my first two days of surfing.  Their focus is on safety, fun, and learning.  It was the best money I could have spent!  Not only did they help me improve my surfing, they took care of transportation to and from the beach, the surfboard, and the selection of the best beach for each day.  Beach selection, it turns out, is critical because there are dozens of surf breaks around Rincon.

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Me after two great days of lessons at Rincon Surf School.  

By the end of the second day I was able to consistently stand on the board and ride the face of a breaking wave to the beach.  I'm still having trouble with turning and catching larger waves.  Not bad after a 30+ year interruption in my surfing!

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This week the swell at most of the best known places was anywhere from 6 to 20 feet!  That’s great if you are a professional surfer or a spectator, but completely unsafe for anyone else to be in the water.

Brian runs the place with the assistance of Alexandra.  In additional to Brian, two other instructors James and Edna took care of my group of 10 to 12 students.  The students ranged from a family of five with no surfing experience to a few people with a bit of experience.

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A random surfer on Maria Beach, Rincon