If you’ve been following the blog for the past month or so, you’ve been seeing, every few days or so, posts appear talking about our trip to Puerto Rico. This evening I’ve finally reached the end of the trip. So here, to wrap things up, is a table-of-contents post that outlines the trip in order, linking together all the posts, adds a few miscellaneous items that didn’t make it into any other posts, and concludes with some heartfelt gratitude.
On Saturday the 11th, we arrived late and went to sleep, finding ourselves utterly delighted with the Fajardo apartment which, thanks to our old friends Scott and Margaret, and with the able assistance of our new friend Raymond, we would use as a base of operations for the next two weeks.
Looking out across the Caribbean from the balcony of the Fajardo apartment
Kenny and Raymond on balcony, night of arrival
On Sunday the 12th, we enjoyed the breeze in the apartment, and I worked on stuff I hadn’t quite finished before leaving Houston.
Also I drove around Fajardo orienting myself and found CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, and a Chinese restaurant whose food wasn’t actually all the bad.
On Monday the 13th, we enjoyed the breeze in the apartment, and I worked. In the evening I had planned for us to have dinner at El Estancia, about which we had heard good things; but they were closed in order to allow the Cooking Channel to shoot a show there. This naturally made me really look forward to coming back once they re-opened.
On the morning of Tuesday the 14th, we enjoyed the breeze in the apartment, and I finished my work about noon. Then we went to El Yunque and the Espíritu Santo waterfall, as described here.
On Wednesday the 15th, we got around to getting dressed just about in time for dinner (which was me buying Subway), and then wandered out to Seven Seas Beach to see the sunset and eat our Subway dinner.
As it was Ladies’ Night at the Caribbean Cinema and therefore Helen’s ticket would cost $3.50 instead of $6.50, we were planning to go watch the 8:30 showing of Minions. But then a spot opened up on that night’s kayak tour and we went instead to Bio Bay, as described here.
On Thursday the 16th, The Open (British, that is) kicked off and in the morning I watched some of it with the sea breeze blowing through the apartment, while Helen worked. Then we went to Old San Juan, as described here.
On Friday the 17th, I watched the first part of the second round of The Open in my pajamas while Helen spend the day writing and recording, also in pajamas. The sea breeze was, again, a welcome companion in the apartment. We got dressed in time to make it to the early showing of Minions, and then had a nice dinner at El Estancia.
If you go to El Estancia: seafood mofongo, yes. Whiskey with coconut water, no.
There was also sad news. Helen got a We-Chat message from Wáng Xīnwěi, a remarkable Chinese friend who with her husband runs an orphanage in China for special-needs children (who otherwise, generally speaking, are simply abandoned to die). Alas, this message was from Xīnwěi’s adopted daughter, letting Helen know that Xīnwěi had finally succumbed to the cancer she had been fighting. I don’t know how you would count the lives Xīnwěi touched for the better, but Helen thinks there were as many as three thousand people at her funeral on Saturday.
Let me just tell one story about Xīnwěi. Helen and I spend a lot of time around cancer patients, and you get very used to hearing people ask, “Why me? What did I do to deserve this?” Or, if the patient is a very nice person, then the friends and relatives ask the patient, “Why you?” Now Christians know that the world has a lot of suffering in it, and that a lot of it isn’t fair, and that when God Himself saw fit to become a man He did so knowing He would suffer unfairly, and that He told us that if we wanted to be His followers then we would have to pick up our crosses and follow in his footsteps. But while we know all that in our heads, for most of us who call ourselves Christians it doesn’t get to our hearts, and when we find ourselves suffering, we don’t say, “Well, it happened to Jesus too; so I can’t complain.” Instead we, too, say, “Why me?” Or at least most of us do.
But when Xīnwěi got sick — Xīnwěi, as kind and sweet and godly a person as you will ever meet — well, things went a little differently. Of course her friends thought it all grossly unfair. But the first time one of her friends said, “Xīnwěi, after all you’ve done for God…why you?” her answer was instant: “Why not me?”
Which is just to say that you’ll probably meet lots of people who call themselves Christians, as you go through life. But if you ever met Xīnwěi, then you have met at least one person who really was a Christian, through and through.
On Saturday the 18th, The Open got mostly canceled for the day due to ridiculously bad weather, and so we decided to go to the other end of the island and drive at least part of la Ruta Panorámica, as described here.
On Sunday the 19th, we took a ride with East Island Excursions to Flamenco Beach, on the island of Culebra, as described here.
On Monday the 20th, I watched the last round of The Open, which took all day. Helen wrote and recorded but wasn’t happy with any of it. (Her personal standards for what she is willing to publish online are WAY higher than mine, obviously.)
On Tuesday the 21st, we went to Cerro de Punta, the highest point in Puerto Rico, and came back via the middle section of the Ruta Panorámica by way of the waterfall on the Río de Doña Juana, as described here.
On Wednesday the 22nd, the original plan was to go to the botanical garden in Caguas, and then in the afternoon hike in El Yunque National Forest, having first stopped in San Juan to buy some Scotch as a present for Raymond. This was a bad day, and not just because we found out that our beloved friend Wáng Qīan had lost his fight with cancer. Helen had to put up with me in a bad mood, as everything that could go wrong seemed to…but at least the day ended well. First of all, it turns out that the Jardín Botánico, like many places of business in Puerto Rico, is open only viernes a domingo, Thursday through Sunday. Then we had some other delay, I can’t remember what other than really bad traffic had a lot to do with it…oh, yes, it turns out that it does you no good to call up “liquor store” on your Google Maps app, because in Puerto Rico “liquor store” means “bar that sells shots of hard stuff,” not “store where you can buy bottles of hard stuff.” So I tried “wine shop” and that showed us exactly one in San Juan. We got stuck in a traffic jam trying to get there, and when we finally did get there it was out of business. So I googled “Where can I buy good wine in San Juan?” and found a place that we had been pretty close to a half hour earlier but now had to get back to through the bad traffic. And by the time I had finally gotten Raymond’s Glenfiddich (that shop didn’t have Oban or Springbank but I wasn’t about to go try to find someplace that did) it was too late to get any hiking in before El Yunque closed at 6:00. So we just hung out in Viejo San Juan for the evening, and did at least wind up having a pleasant dinner in El Jíbaron, which is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, and where I got a very good fried red snapper, though Helen wasn’t too impressed with her beef stew.
By the way, about two days before we left Puerto Rico, it suddenly occurred to me that in Puerto Rico I might have better luck doing my Google Maps searches in Spanish. [palma a cara]
And at the very end of the day – well, that’s when we saw the youngster playing in the fountain, as described in the earlier post about Viejo San Juan.
On Thursday the 23rd, we went back to the botanical garden in Caguas, and then revisited the Holy Spirit Falls, as described here. We ended the day having dinner with Raymond and his very sweet girlfriend Amarilys, and Raymond got his Glenfiddich.
On Friday the 24th, we cleaned the apartment, gave the keys to Raymond’s girlfriend Amarilys, said our goodbyes, and headed for Viejo San Juan by way of El Yunque, as described here. Not a great day as Helen was sick for most of it and the hotel in Viejo San Juan was disappointing. But at least we got lucky and got a nice parking place, on the street (where parking is free if you can get it), right across the street from the hotel.
On Saturday the 25th, we got up at 3:30 despite the fact that the hotel didn’t bother to give us our wakeup call. Nor did they bother to have anybody at the front desk so we could check out. We left the key under the cushion of the chair where the front desk guy should have been, left a terse and displeased note under the mouse explaining where to find the key, and left, perforce leaving the front door unlocked, which, frankly, I considered to be their problem rather than mine. But we made it safely onto the plane and were able to get back in time for Helen to sing at Wáng Qīan’s funeral that afternoon. And when we landed…well, there was a message waiting for me that my Aunt Arlene had died. And there was so much work stacked up I had to go ahead and start Sunday afternoon rather than waiting for Monday.
But it was an awfully nice two weeks, all the same.
This leaves me with only a few miscellaneous notes to add about Puerto Rico.
An interesting tidbit about driving in Puerto Rico — everything is in kilometers EXCEPT the speed limits, which are in miles per hour. So if you see a green sign that says, “San Juan 65” and right behind it a white sign that says “MAXIMUM VELOCIDAD 65,” you are considerably less than an hour from San Juan. I am sure there’s a good reason for this and am very curious to know what it is.
Another Puerto Rican driving tidbit: despite the fact that every couple of miles on the autopistas there are signs saying plainly, “VEHICULOS LENTOS O PESADOS USEN CARRIL DERECHO,” every fifth car in the left-hand lane is driving ten miles below the speed limit, placidly undisturbed by the constant stream of cars coming up behind them and then changing lanes to pass them on the right. These cheerfully slow drivers…perhaps they do not know Spanish. Also, because they will do this while somebody else is fifteen feet in front of them driving ten miles below the speed limit in the right-hand lane, it is absolutely non-remarkable to see drivers switch at fifty mph from the right-hand lane, where they are behind a slow driver, to the left-hand lane, where they are cutting in front of an equally slow driver, with — I am being soberly accurate here — maybe five feet to spare for each bumper. And you will see HALF A DOZEN CARS IN A ROW shoot that same gap, one after another, without its occurring to either of the slow drivers to do anything even to widen the gap, much less to eliminate the problem por usar el carril derecho. (And yes, before very many days at all in Puerto Rico, I was a confirmed and confident gap-shooter.)
When speaking Spanish here, if your car is in need of tires, you are looking for gomas, not llantas. And thanks to a peculiarity of the Puerto Rican Spanish accent, in which final s‘s are habitually dropped where it is felt that comprehension will not thereby be compromised, if Raymond’s girlfriend has given you a couple of tires, you may well say, “Amarily, gracia por las goma,” rather than “Amarilys, gracias por las gomas,” Took me a bit to get used to that, which I had before now only noticed occasionally in Latin hip-hop — perhaps Daddy Yankee is from Puerto Rico? [checks Wikipedia] Oh yeah! He shoots! He scores! [does a dance of self-congratulation]
I like Puerto Rico a lot but we can’t retire here, for two reasons. (1) There is no winter; the lowest temperature ever recorded in Puerto Rico was forty degrees Fahrenheit. (2) I couldn’t find graham crackers for love or money. (Also, Helen doesn’t like the food very much and doesn’t speak Spanish; so there is that as well.)
The fiery red / orange / yellow tree one sees everywhere in Puerto Rico is the flamboyán in local parlance, known elsewhere as the royal poinciana or the flame tree or the peacock tree or the árbol de la llama (I can understand why it is called a peacock tree but I have no idea why anyone would think it looks like a llama).
There is a house on the autopista that runs south from Fajardo that caught my attention the first time we saw it. We drove past it half a dozen times and I never got a good picture of it. The people who built it clearly have all the money they need; it was at the very top of a sizable hill with a magnificent view of the sea on one side and the mountains on the other. Prime property, and a big new house. Which they painted a grotesque mustard yellow. Why would you buy that property, build that house…and then paint it the color of an emetic?
Finally: a huge thank-you to Scott and Margaret Olle, without whose suggestion it would never have occurred to me to take Helen to Puerto Rico, and whose apartment in Fajardo and friendship with Raymond made it possible. Allow me to take this opportunity to say that Scott and Margaret are happy to rent that apartment out when they aren’t using it themselves. Helen and I were actually a sort of test run for the concept: could we get there? would Raymond show up to meet us with the key when he was supposed to? would the people at the gate get the message from the office that Darrell Pierce and Shu Yang were temporary residents and should be allowed into the complex? would Raymond provide enough help if crises or questions came up during the week? We came back with a glowing report of the experience in general and of Raymond in particular (as you see on the blog here). So, User Acceptance Testing having been passed, as it were, Scott and Margaret are now, I believe, “going live.” I think Scott said they would ask something like $850/week. Frankly, having seen the kind of hotels in Viejo San Juan that charge $200/night for tiny rooms without even any windows, I think that’s an eminently reasonable price for a cliffside two-level three-bedroom three-bath patio-balcony-and-24/7-sea-breeze-equipped penthouse in Fajardo looking out across the blue Caribbean. If you want to go, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Scott.