Friday, May 19, 2017

Puerto Rico

Mr. CT Lawyer and I went to Puerto Rico about 2 months ago with his friends for a birthday celebration. A lot has happened since then (my mom passed as soon as I returned) and it feels like ages ago, but it was such a wonderful trip I want to make sure I document somewhere, so if I forget again that I went, I have this place as a reminder.

I arrived in San Juan late and after a turbulent flight. I wanted badly to sleep in for a long tim - and the rain before, during, and after our trip beckoned me - but we had a flight the next day to another island in the region, the naturally beautiful Vieques. Luckily, when we woke up and looked out the window, the mess of the constant rain and annoying flights were erased by the opulent blue we saw at the resort's beach, and all across the horizon.

The next morning, we grabbed our backpacks and took a cab to the small domestic airport in the middle of town. There, we were placed on scales and assigned one of the 7 seats available on the prop plane we were taking to get to Vieques.

A note to appreciate the tiny prop plane we took - our trip there was a delightful float to Vieques. We were below cloud level the whole time, and our 30-minute trip was a wonderful tour of the coast of San Juan and the dazzling blue waters that surround it. Our older pilot was a real gentleman type (with the coiffed hair and dress all in the appropriate classiness), and our little noisy plane dutifully tooted over to Vieques with his attentive switching of switches and watching the radar screen. The flight back, on the other hand, was turbulent and like being in a toy boat during a storm, rocking and zigzagging in the air while we beat the rain and rough low clouds. One of the ladies on the flight back got sick and I prayed for an emergency landing the whole 30 minutes in the air.

Anyways, Vieques.

Vieques is an island that boasts being the least touched by the modern world in a bunch of places (save the nuclear testing happening on one end of the island that kind of ruined parts of the island off limits to others), and we loved it for that. We arrived at the little airport to a beautiful smell of tropical trees and fresh rain, with the temperature being lower than the main island. We took a cab and drove to Esperanza on the southern side of the island (where the small tourist town was) and admired the lush green going past us as we drove. Vieques has a large National Park on it, but even the area where we were staying felt peacefully rural and low key. The roads aren't repaved because of the stormwater runoff impacting the beaches, and there is not a lot of light pollution. There are (what I believe are wild) horses roaming the streets of the tourist area, chilling out in a truly laid back beachy vibe that encompasses the whole island. For the very brief day we visited, we loved it!

Our Airbnb wasn't much to write about, so I won't. And it was raining a lot while we were there so I won't go too much into the tourism there for the one night we stayed there, for there wasn't much that we did or ate (except at a little joint named El Rancho Choli, where we were given tasty but huge portions of local pork and rice).

We were in Vieques for a very specific reason: bioluminescence. I have wanted to see bioluminescent waters for a while (since I found out about them, probably), and Vieques is supposed to be one of the best places in the world to see them. So when Mr. CT Lawyer mentioned his friends trip to PR, I almost immediately started to research how to kayak in the bioluminescent bays. We were fortunate that we were in the area for the appropriate time of the month (during a new moon), or else all of our trips would have been for naught. And apparently Vieques can fill up quickly, so we were extra lucky we booked it so early on so as to avoid missing out.

The evening we arrived, we went to a green store and waited for a bus to drive us to the bay for the kayaking experience. We had hired a local eco-tour group (Jak Water Sports), which turned out to be at our benefit as they only do small groups and use minimal light while we are on the water. The friendly staff got us ready to go and rocked us down the rocky road to the water, and at 8pm we headed off into our partner kayaks to experience the bioluminescent plankton.

At first, we didn't think much of the water that lit up gently while we touched our paddles onto it, but the further we got from the beach, the water sparkled like stars around us. We had a glass bottom kayak, and we could see the little glowing specks rushing past us like we were traveling through space at great speeds. We put our hands in the water and they would be covered in twinkling stars. I threw water on my partner and his back shimmered. And we had perfect timing because as we started to kayak back to the beach the rain started to downpour; we were able to run into the bus quickly. As the rain started, though, the light flickered in the water as the drops hit the surface each time. Magical is the word.

After our fun bioluminescent adventure, we returned to Old San Juan and became standard tourists. I don't mean that in the sense that we wanted to be that way, but it was just easier to be that way, because of our large group and our resort deal and the way PR works. There is a lot of tourism-based shopping and tours and places in San Juan - it was hard to not be a standard tourist. It was still lovely.

We had a day in Old San Juan, where we did the routine pilgrimage to the old and beautiful fortresses that hug the coast and tried to get a feeling of the town. We enjoyed looking at the waters through the 16th-century porticos and walking around the old architecture of big defense walls. We carefully navigated old cobblestone streets and tried to get lost down alleyways in a small strip of land that is Old San Juan. The town's buildings were vibrant colors and closely packed on the old Spanish streets. It reminded me of New Orleans a bit, only with more commercial than NOLA's artisanal local shops laced in between tourist traps. We were surrounded by shops like Ben & Jerry's, Adidas, and Coach - not normally what I think of when I think of Puerto Rico. We were clearly not the target audience.

Foodwise, this trip was a lot less gastronomic than many of my trips have been in the last few years. Sure there, were a lot of food options, and the pork and seafood were delicious, but we weren't having mind-blowing meals every time. Which was fine! The one thing I wanted to try, mofongo, my partner had tried before I arrived and had proclaimed to never wanting to try it again, so I didn't have a lot of time (or options) to go for it in the 4 days we were there.

BUT! We did have two awesome meals while we were there. Let me tell you about those memorable meals.
  • Cafe Cortes Chocobar is my dream-come-true restaurant because they incorporate chocolate into everything. Take, for example, the chocolate-infused ketchup we had with our waffle fries, or our chocolate-spiced ceviche. And, of course, decadent chocolate shakes with chocolate shavings! The place was bustling, and we only got snack foods to hold us over for dinner. There was a line waiting to be seated before us, and it was worth it. I brought home some hot chocolate bars they had, and I have to admit they've already been drunk in entirety.
  • Marmalade was our fancy romantic dinner date for the trip (because every trip has a fancy romantic dinner date), and we were both blown away by the meal. We ordered way too much (they offered dinners based on 5, 6, and 7 dishes - we chose 6, and were full to the point of popping), but each dish was delightful and fun. Most of the dishes we picked were rich and flavorful (our mistake), but there were a lot of lighter and fresh dishes as well. I had a very nice sangria, and finished off with creme brulee (my favorite). I had to walk outside for a while to get some air after our filling meal, but we already talk about going to Marmalade again when we return to San Juan.
Finally, a lot of our trip, when we weren't kayaking in Vieques or scaling Old San Juan, was stationed at the resort. We were, after all, there for a friend's birthday, and for mandatory relaxation. We spent a night enjoying a lovely birthday party under a colorful sunset on a vanilla sky, and one day we went to the spa for a treatment and massage after lounging around the beach and pools for a few hours. That's not normally how I travel, but I think this time it was glorious and (given the events that happened after the trip) necessary.

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