I got a little confused with all the names for this area: the West Indies (so named by Europeans of Columbus's day to distinguish it from the East Indies), the Eastern Caribbean, the Greater Antilles (Puerto Rico), and the Lesser Antilles (the rest of the Islands we visited). Even my phone was confused. At one point I saw "Welcome to Jamaica" on my screen.
We flew to Puerto Rico and spent two days there before boarding a Royal Caribbean cruise ship that took us to the US Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, and Barbados.
Then I saw his huge iguana walking across the runway, and I realized we weren't in California anymore:
As soon as we walked off the plane and into the San Juan airport, we were hit with a cacophony of noisy color:
Puerto Ricans are definitely not shy about color.
We caught a shuttle that took us to Ace car rental, where we picked up a Toyota van, booted up our GPS, and headed to the Comfort Inn in Levittown, a planned community suburb of San Juan that was built in 1963 by William Levitt, an American considered the father of modern American suburbia and one of Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century." There are six more Levittowns in the United States: in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and three in Maryland.
We asked at the hotel's front desk for a dinner recommendation, and they sent us to El Kampestre, a local restaurant within walking distance of our hotel that turned out to be highly rated on Trip Advisor.
We started by sipping a refreshing blend of pineapple, orange, and grenadine (pomegranate) juice:
Before our trip, I had researched what we should eat in Puerto Rico, and several sources mentioned a uniquely Puerto Rican dish called mofongo. I ordered Mofongo Relleno de Camarones. It was made of mashed green plantains blended with shrimp and vegetables and formed into a dense ball. It was served with tostones, which are crispy fried plantains:
Bob ordered Asopao de Pollo, a Puerto Rican chicken and rice soup:
Bob thought it was a little bland, but fun to try. However, once he drenched it in El Jibaro que Pica, a spicy, vinegary sauce made in Puerto Rico, his rating went way up.
Our first experience with local food at El Kampestre was lots of fun, but our first experience with Caribbean S--L--O--W dining was a bit of a shock. It took us something like two hours for a relatively simple dinner.
The park opened at 9:00, and at about 9:15 we got in a very S--L--O--W moving line of cars at the gate, another example of the relaxed pace in Puerto Rico. Eventually, we made it in and spent a few minutes in a nice interpretive center
Right away we began to be seduced by the vibrant tropical colors. I took
There is a nice trail that starts near the interpretive center:
Hey! Didn't I see these people in the JFK airport?
I loved the unusually large, flat, green snails in the forest:
We were intrigued by these white leaves that were about the size of a dinner plate. We searched the canopy for the trees they had fallen from in vain:
Dave! Dave! Look at the camera, Dave!
Next we set out on the La Mina Trail, which leads to La Mina Falls, a 35-foot cascade preceded by many smaller falls along the trail. The hike is about three-quarters of a mile and involves a lot of stairs, but the trail is paved and well-maintained and not too difficult.
We noted several small pools on our way down to the falls:
. . . but then I realized they were gawking at this rather remarkable anole:
I got a better look at one a little further down the trail. There is something about them that reminds me of a giant insect:
Bob caught this particular anole, and it wasn't too happy about it:
He puffed out his dewlap in an impressive display of courage:
Mowgli (or Kaa), are you in there?
We heard La Mina Falls before we got there, and it wasn't just the sound of rushing water that we heard.
My sister Chris was contemplating how to get her husband's frozen body back home:
The rest of us were feeling just a bit of peer pressure to comform, but we weren't too keen on the crowds of people in the main pool. We headed back up to other falls we had passed on our way in:
Aha! There's the perfect spot, and we can have it all to ourselves!
Back to the (warm) car:
Our last stop was the 75-foot-tall Yokahu observation tower built in 1963. We had tried to stop at it on our way in, but there was not a single parking spot. We had better luck the second time around.
The tower is exactly what I picture Rapunzel's tower to look like:
A sign provides evidence for the "Yuquiyu" origin of the name "El Yunque":
Ninety-eight twisting stairs lead to the observation deck:
Windows along the way provide beautiful views:
I think the pointy mountain in the center of the photo below is El Yunque Mountain:
Far off in the distance, we noticed some buildings:
That's the city of Luquillo, the tall buildings being hotels:
A trip to El Yunque was a great way to start our Caribbean Adventure. Even the frigid water was a good beginning as it provided a distinct contrast to the warm Caribbean Sea waters we experienced later in the trip.