Puerto Rico 1999

Posted on April 22nd, 2012 by Viveca in Travel

Jon and I went to Puerto Rico in September of 1999. Neither of us really wanted to go. We’d put off planning a vacation for too long, because he didn’t have a job and didn’t know when he’d be moving, but once he committed to moving in October, we decided to get in one good vacation first.

We wanted the most exotic vacation we could buy on not a lot of money, and the papers were advertising lots of cheap flights to eastern Europe. Neither of us had particularly wanted to travel there, either, but we went to Barnes & Noble and read up on castles and countrysides and began to get all psyched for a trip to Hungary and Romania. We planned it all out, but then when we called to make reservations, the fares were much higher than we’d thought. So, we decided how much we were willing to spend, about $200 round trip, and the farthest we could get on that was Puerto Rico. Pretty haphazard, but it turned out to be probably the best vacation I’d ever had.

Even though the weather never fluctuates more than 10 degrees per year in PR, there is a marked tourist season defined in opposition to the eastern US seacoast; when it’s cold here, people go there. In September, when the weather in New York is just fine, PR is empty of tourists. Very laid back, very nice.

I didn’t write up the vacation as it happened. I didn’t even write it up after. A year later, I posted some photos and impressions. Here they are. I’m not fixing the verbs.

San Juan is incredibly beautiful. I was expecting something closer to San Jose, which is a dump. It’s also pretty expensive. We wanted to stay in Old San Juan, and we found what we thought was a reasonably priced hotel. They show us to our room, and it’s completely flooded.We asked them to move us to another room. I wish I had pictures of the rooms. I’ve stayed in hotels in small towns in Mexico for $4 per night with no running water that were nicer than this place. Our room has no windows, but the top of the walls is open to this lobby/corridor, which also has no windows. It’s very institutional. Despite being so far inside and surrounded by concrete, the night Felix Trinidad defeats Oscar de la Hoya, we are awakened by car horns and screams that last over an hour. Here’s a picture of the corridor, you can see the ceiling collapsing. If you look down over that railing, you face an atrium filled with garbage and pools of stagnant water.

San Juan hotel

Decrepit hotel atrium, San Juan

Aside from our dumpy hotel, the city is actually lovely. The streets are paved in blue tiles, stone walls surround the city, and Fuerte de San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), a Spanish fort built between 1539 and 1783 overlooks the blue ocean. They held out Sir Francis Drake there in 1584.

Blue tile street in Old San Juan

Typical street in Old San Juan. Note blue tile streets.

Cemeterio de San Juan

Cemeterio de San Juan. Cool chapel from 1863 and some amazingly realistic marble sculptures.

El Morro.

Stone walls of El Morro.

Gun emplacements at El Morro.

Gun emplacements at El Morro. The rooms on the left included the forge and the kitchen.

Look out tower

Look out tower in city wall.

In front of El Morro.

In front of El Morro.

Pigeon Park

El Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park). They nest in those holes. Ick.

Stone Walls San Juan

More stone walls around city.

San Juan street

Typical street: pastel houses, blue pavement.

The day we went to El Morro, we left the hotel really early in the morning, walked there, and put on sunscreen. Too late. I was burnt the rest of the vacation. What else did we see in San Juan? Hmm, well, we gambled. Made some money too, black jack mostly.

We took a bus forever to go on a tour of a Bacardi factory that promised free drinks. Such a bust! Well, we did get some free drinks, but given how cheap everything was anyway, they were hardly worth the time we spent to get there. The tour spent about 15 minutes showing us how rum is made and another two hours or so indoctrinating us on the wonders of their brand.

In this room, for example, we visited glass cases containing different types of Bacardi while they painstakingly listed which drinks were best with which Bacardi rums.

Bacardi factory

Bacardi factory tour only included rooms like this one.

It was enough to drive you to drink. Well, enough to drive us to drink, anyway.

That’s about it for San Juan pictures. The rest of this won’t be in any kind of order or anything. The reason the trip was so great was probably that it had such a wide variety of everything: the whole nature thing: beautiful scenery, great hikes, wonderful snorkeling, beautiful beaches, bio-luminescent bays, pre-Columbian ruins, Spanish colonial sites, beautiful cities, and yummy food. Lots of roadside fried stuff that’s just wonderful.

One day it started to rain while we were in the ocean. We ran back to the car afraid of getting hit by lightning, and we were in a small town with nothing to do. We drove around and found a couple out under an umbrella selling oysters. It was still pouring, but it was about 80 degrees out, and we stood outside under the umbrella in our swimsuits and Tevas and ate fresh oysters in the pouring rain. When our arms and faces got covered in oyster juice, we’d poke out from under the umbrella and rinse ourselves in the warm rain.

From here

From here...

One day we hiked from here (above) to there (below).

In the “from here” picture, you can just make out a tower in the background. The “to there” picture was taken from that tower looking back at the parking lot.

to there

...to there.

These next few pictures aren’t in any order. Just random thoughts and images.


Pre-Columbian ball fields (bateyes) at Caguana Indian Ceremonial Park and Museum. Not just pre-Columbian, but pre-Taino (jíbaro from AD 1200). They aren't exactly sure what these were used for. Worship? Sport? There are reliefs on some of the stones.


Frog on grounds at preserve with ballfields. They also have a small museum there and incredible biodiversity. The coolest thing in the museum were stone belts. Think about it.

museum humps

The museum has a number of three-humped figures, that look like these mountains. Of course they ascribe all this religious significance to them, but I figure they could have been maps or something entirely secular and still refer to the mountains (or not). Seems like they always jump to religion to explain stuff though.


These huts are replicas of jíbaro ones.


Slug found hiking down to cave at Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy (River Camuy Cave Park).

royal palm

Royal palm

cave mouth

Entrance to cave, well, exit I guess, since you're looking out.

cave entrance

These cave scenes are all from different caves in the same cave park at Camuy. The really amazing stuff, of course, was on the inside and all dark. Highly recommended.

Now, just in case you’re getting too jealous, here are some of the less fun things about the trip.

car carcasses

Common roadside sight.

road closed

We drove for hours only to discover you can't get there from here.

mosquito bites

I counted 40 bites just on one leg, ankle to knee. Lovely, huh?

mosquito-bitten legs

I even had to take prescription anti-histamines.

Oops, we did it again.

There’s one good road that rings the island, but maps of the interior are not even close to reliable, and the construction seems to go on forever. There’s no advance warning. You come across something like this, and you have to backtrack for hours.

Turn around. Try another route.

road closed

Road closed. You no go there, illegal.

And there was this whole incident.

keys in locked car

Yup, somehow I locked the keys in the car.

It was in Ponce and we were exhausted after a day of sight-seeing when we returned to see this. I grabbed a cop, who wasn’t very helpful, but for some reason tons of passersby were eager to help, freeing what seemed like miles of wire and coat hangers from nearby businesses.

It was not fun, but then there were so many people trying to help that we had to try not to laugh. They did manage to unlock the door eventually.

Ponce was beautiful though. Established in 1692, it’s the second biggest city in PR (population 191,000).

Ponce: Fuente de los Leones

Fuente de los Leones (Fountain of Lions) in Plaza las Delicias (Plaza of Delights), Ponce.

Ponce fire station

Fire station constructed in 1882. Was still in use until 1990. Now a museum of fire stuff or something. Cool building. we didn't bother with museum.

Ponce: pretty doorway

We broke into this building because it looked cool. Inside was just offices, but the doorway was cool. Ponce is pretty. Lots of neat stuff like this.

My other series of pics seems to be from the Reserva Forestal Guánica (Guánica Forest Reserve). It’s a cactus-scrub-subtropical dry forest with strange little stunted trees that are horribly twisted by fierce winds from the ocean. It’s strange that such a small island has a dry forest and rain forest of major importance (and beauty).

We also went hiking in El Yunque (the rain forest). I just don’t seem to have as many pictures. Actually we went to Luquillo and Fajardo and Arecibo and the best place of all, Vieques, with the most amazing snorkeling, and to La Parguera to see the phosphorescent bay, and I just don’t seem to have a lot of pictures of any of it. Anyway, here are some pictures of Guánica.

dry forest

The funny thing here was that it was so deserted. We didn't see anyone else for hours. The parking lots were flooded and abandoned.

twisted tree

There wasn't anyone to get maps from or water or anything. Strikingly beautiful though.

cacti Puerto Rico

The short fat cacti were my favorites. They looked like fat melons with flowers all over them.

Puerto Rico

It got so hot, I actually got worried and needed to turn back after a few hours.

Well, that’s almost it. Here are a few more pictures. It was a great trip.

yellow flowers

I like flowers.

La Parguera

We had this hotel near La Parguera entirely to ourselves. Not even the staff was there. We had to call them to bring over a set of keys the day we arrived, and then we never saw them again.

Puerto Rico landscape

Typical landscape seen from car window. We drove around a ton, and it was all so beautiful.


We made a few friends. This was on the door to our hotel room in Vieques.

Okay, I admit it. I cannot for the life of me remember which way is up in that lizard photo.

We took a ferry to Vieques, by the way. Somehow I talked our way on with the rental car, which we had been planning to leave ashore. Well, it wasn’t so easy to talk our way off, and we got stranded on the island for a few days until a ferry could get the car off. We didn’t mind too much, because Vieques was so amazing.

It was all deserted. We went to a restaurant one time (the bar was open) and asked if they were serving dinner yet (it was late afternoon). They said, “not today; maybe tomorrow.” Some disadvantages to being the only tourists there I guess, but well worth it.

Vieques, Puerto Rico

Vieques. Mmmm. Vieques.

70 percent of Vieques’ incredibly beautiful land is owned by the U.S. military, who use it for all kinds of nasty testing that’s damaging the buildings and polluting the sea.

The movement to get the military off the island is widespread but amazingly civilized. Lots of people asked us how we felt about it and listened to our answers. Even the graffiti we saw said things like, “U.S. and Puerto Rico work together to stay strong, but Vieques has done more than its share.” Very moderate.

Anyway, we went snorkeling in military water, and nobody seemed to mind.

It’s funny as I write this up a year later how many of the amazing moments are lost. There aren’t any pictures of us eating oysters in the pouring rain or playing cards and drinking piña coladas while we watched the sun set over the ocean. Well, go take your own trip and take pictures.

That’s it for now. Hope you enjoyed the journey. I know I did.

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