I started my trip from Key West to Puerto Rico by rental car, since flying to Miami would have cost the yearly operating budget of the city of San Francisco (metro area only) – plus the $25 checked bag fee (ouch!).
I love rental cars: this one was bright yellow with air conditioning, cruise control, and windows that operate with a button. The best part is, when I turned the key, it actually started! (My last rental car required pushing a button – but they forgot to tell me, so I spent most of my morning trying to hot-wire it.)
Absolutely nothing eventful happened on the way to Miami; it was like some weird problem-free zone. I just listened to This American Life on NPR, some Love and Logic parenting CD’s (It’s all I had), and hours of Irish drinking songs. What? That doesn’t sound like fun to you?
The facility where I dropped off the rental car looked like something out of the Jetsons! I love the way modern airports are going for this Gattaca-style space-age look. I was just waiting for Uma Thurman to get a sample of my hair for DNA testing.
After my train ride from the rental car center to the airport itself, I opted for my usual pat-down at security. I can’t bring myself to use the high-tech scanning tube, it looks too much like the device that whisks my deposit slip to the teller at the bank drive-through.
I’m not sure why people complain about the TSA pat-down, instead of stretching my arms out for the radiation scan, I usually get to stretch my arms out for a lovely 5 minute massage. This time it was not as enjoyable to be frisked. The nice fellow was trying to direct me and grabbed my thumb right where I got stitches last week (don’t ask – it’s too embarrassing to admit that I cut myself while doing dishes). I cried out involuntarily… then feared that I was about to have the smack put down on me for that outburst. Happily, I was ignored, so I moseyed my way over to the Admirals Club for a nice horn of Scotch to wash the taste of airport security out of my mouth.
My flight to San Juan went as smooth as could be. San Juan has loads of brand new buildings; this place has really become cosmopolitan! The roads are all nicely paved – a pleasant contrast to my last tropical visit, which was to Costa Rica: home of the worst roads in the western world.
My colleague Doug met me at the airport and we drove our rental car to the port of Fajardo where we stayed at a lovely little bed and breakfast. The parking lot was full of mango trees, and the frogs were singing songs. Breakfast was delightful, and even included what our waitress told us were tortillas, but I’m pretty sure this was Wonder Bread.
After breakfast we went to the ferry terminal to buy a ticket to the Island of Culebra, our home for the next two days. They told me the 9 o’clock ferry was sold out, so I bought a ticket for the later ferry. When I went to the staff member to ask if I could waitlist for this ferry, she just took the ticket without looking at it and waved me on. Ah Puerto Rico, so American, yet so third world. I waved goodbye to Doug who was off to pick up a reporter who was joining us for the site inspection.
The harbor was full of old rusty and half-sunken ships, and the ocean around the main island is full of hundreds of small islands. It reminded me a lot of the Florida Keys, only these islands have full hills. It is absolutely stunning!
The ferry soon landed on Culebra, and I was met by Dick (our local bike supplier). Dick was driving an old rusty VW bus. He gave me a quick tour of the island, then took me to meet the owner of our rental house … well, it turns out he took me to the wrong place, so he took me back downtown. He showed me a few neat sites like the eco-school and the airport and eventually dropped me off about two blocks from the ferry terminal.
Now to the biking! I rode my bike completely in the wrong direction for about an hour. This is why we do site inspections! On my way back to the correct route, I found a mango tree in someone’s yard that had already dropped some mangoes. I tore into a few. They were fantastic … only now I was completely covered in sticky stuff. I did my best to clean my hands in the spiny grass and with bits of paper trash from my pockets. Worst of all was that my beard was full of sticky juice. I rode till I found a lovely spot to rinse my face and hands in the ocean.
I rode on through beautiful hills until all of a sudden I had the most amazingly wild down hill ride! At the base of the hill was the prettiest beach I have ever seen. I first walked up and down the beach. I eventually got into the ocean even though I was in my bike shorts. Then I figured no one would see, and ditched the shorts. The water was so warm, crystal clear, and ice blue.
When I got back to the apartment Doug was there, and he had Mike (our reporter) with him. We all got on our bikes and rode to Flamenco Beach, which is rated one of the best beaches in the Caribbean … which it is! We swam in the perfect waves for about an hour before tearing ourselves away to return to our apartment.
For dinner, we went to Mamasitas, a quaint restaurant in an old historic canal property. We were seated overlooking the water. Our waiter was a hottie! His name was Francois, and he was born on a boat in the Culebra harbor. I wondered if there was anyway to make sure he is on duty when our group comes through in November…
Not to worry, it turns out that Francois runs the water taxi that will take us to Culebrita, a tiny protected island with a crumbling lighthouse and still prettier beaches. We spent the afternoon snorkeling, hiking, and relaxing on this amazing island before heading back into town to catch our charter flight to Vieques.
I could tell that our guys are going to love this place, and I’d only just started scratching the surface of Puerto Rico by Bike[to be continued…] Click to read Part 2.