Once Upon a Time I Toured the Puerto Rico that Tourists Don't See

A Trip to the Puerto Rico, the Enchanted Island

I like to travel. In February 2002, I spent two weeks touring Puerto Rico. Touring, we learned,  is something tourists rarely do. They visit San Juan or Ponce because that is where the airlines fly go. They go. They stay. They leave. Touring elsewhere is rare. In two weeks we drove nearly 1,000 miles around the 9,100 square mile island. I don't know how many times people told us how rare it was for them to see tourists from the Main Land. 
Plazuela de la Rogativa - Where the Paseo De La Princesa meets the sea is the Plaza of the Procession ("Plazuela de la Rogativa"), one of four plazas in San Juan.
San Juan - Narrow streets, historic forts, colorful homes and shops, and graceful  parks are set against the Caribbean Sea. 

(Left) Where the Paseo De La Princesa meets the sea  is the Plaza of the Procession (Plazuela de la Rogativa), one of four plazas in San Juan.  Built in 1971, it features the fountain and sculpture shown above depicting a procession of religious women and commemorates an event that took place on the site in 1797. During the spring, a fleet of British ships led by under Sir Ralph Ambercrombie sailed into San Juan Bay, meaning to launch an assault on the city and take control of the colony. When the attack was foiled, they undertook a naval blockade of San Juan, hoping to starve the residents into submission. As the towns people began to despair of any help from soldiers garrisoned in the inland towns, the governor ordered a rogativa, or divine entreaty, to ask the saints for assistance. The women of the town formed a procession through the streets, carrying torches and ringing bells. The British, hearing the commotion and seeing the moving lights, decided that reinforcements had arrived and gave up the siege and sailed off.

One of the high points in San Juan was  the (hidden) Botanical Garden of the University of Puerto Rico. This lush 75 acre urban garden has hundreds of species of tropical and subtropical vegetation line the paths, ponds and bridges, and sky high palm trees like those above.One area has 30,000 orchids. Another has an exotic collection of Helliconias. A young palm garden gathers 125 species and the bamboo collection includes one variety that can grow 4 feet in one day. An aquatic garden is strewn with water lilies and Egyptian papyrus.

One area has 30,000 orchids. Another has an exotic collection of Helliconias. A young palm garden gathers 125 species and the bamboo collection includes one variety that can grow 4 feet in one day. An aquatic garden is strewn with water lilies and Egyptian papyrus.

On popular thing is to picnic under cinnamon and nutmeg trees and numerous exotic fruit trees. Naturalists study the Herbarium (36,000 samples to dates) or the protected orchid collection. We finished with a visit to "Jardin Monet" and its display of terrestrial and aquatic flowering plants, and a quick lunch at the park concession.

Luquillo Beach
Luquillo Beach, Puerto Rico. February 12, 2002.  (Click on image for larger view)

Luquillo Beach

Luquillo Beach is 31 miles east of San Juan and is said to be the island's best and most popular public stretch of sand. It was recommended by my colleague John Cruickshank, who seems to  know everything about Puerto Rico.

We stayed at the Luquillo Beach Inn and spent three days swimming, picnicking, visiting nearby towns, and exploring the El Yunque Rain Forest.

 "Luquillo" is a Spanish adaptation of Yukiyu, the god believed by the Taínos to inhabit El Yunque.

One of the high points was the Caribbean National Forest (El Yunque) with its strange and exotic  Cloud Forest. I didn't hike all 24 miles of trails, which range from short strolls to half-day scrambles to the summits of the 3,500-foot Sierra de Luquillo. But I did as much as time allowed. Many of the trails are paved to keep hikers like me from bogging down in deep mud. 

I spent most of the day hiking two sections of the La Mina Trail, which the U.S. Forest Service recommends for the "more adventurous." First I hiked from the Palo Colorado Information Center down to the La Mina Falls and on to its end at Big Tree on highway 191. In the afternoon I hiked from Km 13 up to Mt. Britton Lookout Tower and back. I'd planned to go on to the top of Mt. Yunque but ran out of time.

Rico Caribbean National Forest 
(El Yunque)

Elizabeth returning from a hike on one of the trails near the crest of  Sierra de Luquillo in the El Yunque rain forest in Puerto Rico on February 14, 2002
In this photo, I am nearing the end of La Mina Trail at Big Tree. February 14, 2002 (Click on image for larger view)

The Forest Fire

This photo was taken the morning after the fire. The white building is used as a shed. The Hacienda Gripinas is out of the picture on the right. February 16, 2002
The morning after the fire. The white building in the rear is now used as a shed. The Hacienda Gripinas is out of the picture on the right. February 16, 2002. (Click on image for larger view)

The 4,390 foot Cordillera Mountains occupy about three fourth of the 3,500 square mile island. The beautiful 'Ruta Panoramica' along the crest of the mountains is cork screwed and narrow as Vermont cow paths. Even locals don't drive them after sunset.

We stayed one night in a remote, government sponsored parador or inn called the Hacienda Gripinas. When we arrived, the mountains were green with trees and grass. 

At 10 PM, a forest fire was raging on the cliff above me where you see all the rock and ashes now. A fire truck was parked next to our red car where I am standing. We did not sleep well at all.

Mary Lee by the Sea

On the north and south shores of Puerto Rico are narrow coastal plains. The North is tropical. The South is arid. 

We rented a cottage in the Mary Lee by the Sea's complex on the ocean a few miles from Guanica on the South Coast.  I spent three days slavishly preparing for a professional site visit to the University of Humancao -- as you can see in this picture.

We rented a cottage in the Mary Lee by the Sea's complex on the ocean a few miles from Guanica, where as you can see in this picture I spent three days slavishly preparing for a professional site visit to the University of Humancao.
(Click on image for larger view) February 18, 2002

One night we had dinner at a lovely parador, the Villa Parguera, in the picturesque fishing village of La Parguera.
Our view during dinner at the Villa Parguera. February 19, 2002. (Click on image for larger view)

Dinner at the Villa Parguera

Our trip was not all work. We had to eat too. At Mary Lee by the Sea, we ate at home, which was kind of fun. 

One night we had dinner at a lovely parador, the Villa Parguera, in the picturesque fishing village of La Parguera.

One of the interesting things we did while there (besides work, of course) was to take a boat trip at night to the Parguera Phosphorescent Bay.

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