Saturday, August 13, 2011

Puerto Rico

On July 20th, we went to Puerto Rico with our good friends Valerie and Darren. We're always up for a fun adventure, so when they suggested a trip to Puerto Rico, off we went. The plane ride was my favourite -- uneventful, and it gave Fiona time to play with her new Kindle. She loves having an entire bookcase at her fingertips. (Fiona's comment: The Kindle was an awesome first anniversary present, especially when Doug isn't stealing it!)

Arriving the first day, we decided to travel along the coast road to Fajardo, so that we could take the ferry to the island of Vieques the next day. We stayed at the El Conquistador (an okay place, but Too Many Lines), and because they didn't have our requested double beds, Fiona managed to convince them to give us free drink tickets, free breakfast, and a $25 matched bid token for the casino. Darren pointed out that the roulette wheel was only biased against you if you didn't have a free bid token--so after doing a bit of math, it became obvious that it was well worth it to play one spin. So, in a flurry of activity, giggling, and high fiving, we went down to the casino, and aggressively bet $50 on Red. The few people there looked at us like we knew something was up, and everyone at the roulette table joined us in our bet. The dealer spun the wheel, it was red! We won! We squealed and jumped and made a spectacle of ourselves. The table loved us and then laughed as we ran to the cashier cage as we cashed out in record time, 3 minutes after we entered the casino. With the free breakfasts, the tickets, and the $50 won, we easily were paid to stay at El Conquistador!

The next day, we explored Vieques. The guidebook recommended a guesthouse that was overrun by animals (cats, dogs and horses) -- perfect for us. We kayaked and swam in the the Bioluminescence bay, where Dynoflagellites will glow when disturbed. This leads to a very trippy experience, where swimming looks like this and kayaking looks like this, and you can see fish freak out when you kayak close to them, leaving trails of light.

The next morning as we started our horseback ride, Darren apparently told the guides to "take us somewhere fun", so we went everywhere. We went through scenic Vieques:

There were mountains, so we went up mountains (Fiona's horse doesn't like going uphill anymore than Fiona does). But, by far the most fun was running along the beach. I had tried goading my horse to a trot before, but even at a slow trot, the whole "horseback riding" thing looks more stable in movies than it feels in real life. So, when we went full speed, galloping down the beach, the derivation of the word "breakneck" became very obvious. But, wow, it was fun. And, I lived, and we got to drink coconut juice from fresh coconuts. And, the beautiful beaches -- wow:


That night, after we made our way back to the mainland, we were lucky enough to couchsurf with a nice expat named Coden. He had two extra rooms, with beds in each, which worked out very well. He was a concierge at a local resort, so he told us of great restaurants and gave us the skinny on the El Yunque National Forest.

The next day we went to the rainforest.
We hiked up to the highest point on Puerto Rico, where the trees are stunted, we believe due to constant winds. And, boy were the winds constant. Being cautious of windy, high, wet slippery rocks, I was content to be far from edge with the fatal drop, but of course, Fiona is fearless, looking down with wonder. We saw a lookout from the top, but it was not the day to look out.

The next day we took a day trip to Cuelbra. We got to take a Publico, which lived up to it's reputation for meandering slowness. Our trip to the beach was interrupted by a random drive through town to pick up some friends of one of the passengers. However, the beach was beautiful with snorkelling and just general goofing by the ocean.

Our last day, we went to see the forts of Old San Juan. El Morro was very straightforward -- a fort facing the sea, with most batteries facing out to sea. The puzzle we struggled with was why were there cannons at the water level? If you could have elevated cannons, wouldn't they shoot farther and be better than ones that were lower?
Answer here, for those curious (They were designed to hit the hulls -- an easier shot horizontal than trying to arc)
However, after El Morro was attacked successfully by land, the Spanish created another fort: Castillo de San Cristobal. That fort was designed to stop a land invasion, and it is *VERY* strange. There are small fortifications that extend almost to the sea, but then tunnels that lead to the main outpost. There's obviously been construction at different times, and as gun range increased, certain walls became obsolete, so they were constructed around. Which lead to weird circular dead ends, weird walls beside other walls, and moats in the middle of nowhere. Darren and I spent a lot of time trying to understand the whole fortification plan, but eventually had to leave, unsatisfied. So, now I have a research project.

More pictures of our adventure can be found here.