Caribbean Travel Roundup

Newsletter - Paul Graveline, Editor


Caribbean Travel Roundup
Paul Graveline, Editor
Edition 67
Sept. 1 1996

Last updated 30 Aug 96 1900EDT (2300Z)

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PUERTO RICO BY CHRIS HEYWOOD

This  posting  is  a journal account of the trip my wife and I made to 
Puerto  Rico  recently.  We  visited  Luquillo, Vieques Island, Coamo, 
Boqueron,  Rincon  and  San  Juan. We rented a car from a local outfit 
called  L&M  car rental. We do not speak Spanish, and were not part of 
an  organized  tour  group.  We  reserved  3  nights accommodations in 
Luquillo,  and  another  3 nights in Esperanza, on Vieques Island. Our 
itinerary,  apart  from  that dictated by our reservations, was pretty 
loose.  Since  we were going to have a car, we figured we could pretty 
much  follow  our  noses anywhere we wanted. We brought our snorkeling 
equipment,  intending  to  Scuba  dive  if possible. We also wanted to 
visit  the  Camuy caves, and the Phosphorescent bay on Vieques Island. 
As  with my previous postings, it will become obvious as you read that 
I  am  not  a  professional  writer,  so  forgive any spelling/grammar 
mistakes.  I  have  done  my  best to adhere to the use of politically 
correct terminology where needed.

We took no special medical precautions, prior to leaving.

US  currency  is  used  in  Puerto Rico, so all prices are given in US 
Dollars.

Some   meal   prices  include  a  15%  service  charge  added  by  the 
restaurant.  Temperatures  are  given in Fahrenheit degrees. Distances 
are give in Feet/Miles. Times are given in hours.

We  had great difficulty finding detailed travel books on Puerto Rico. 
We  brought Fodors Pocket guide, and photocopied some sections of "The 
Caribbean  Islands Handbook", and "Affordable Caribbean". I would have 
very  much  liked  to  find a Lonely Planet Guide, or at least a full-
sized  volume,  but  could  not.  We  also brought a travelers Spanish 
dictionary,  which was useless since almost everyone spoke a degree of 
English,  and at least half the people spoke it fluently. We brought a 
Canon  AE-1 with a 25-200mm Zoom/Macro, and some disposable cameras to 
use in our Ikelite underwater camera housing.

Note:  Paradores are a set of Hotels which are heavily promoted by the 
Puerto  Rico tourist board. We stayed at two of them and found them to 
be distinguished only by their high prices.

My wife's name is Linda, and my name is Chris.

Wednesday  June  5  We  got off to a rough start leaving Cleveland for 
Puerto  Rico.  While  grabbing a quick cup of coffee at the airport, I 
asked  Linda  where  the  travelers  checks  were. You can imagine the 
horrified  look  that  accompanied the response: "In my purse...on the 
dining  room  table".  I  immediately  went  over  to  the airport ATM 
machine  and  grabbed  another  $200  cash.  I hoped our VISA and AMEX 
cards,  along  with  $350 cash, would get us through 13 days in Puerto 
Rico.  Our  American Airlines flight left about an hour late, due to a 
radio  problem  that needed some mechanics to come on board. Since our 
layover  in  Miami  was  only  30  minutes  to  begin with, making the 
connection  to  San  Juan  was  going  to  be  a  problem.  So far, my 
experience  with  American Airlines was consistent; never less than 45 
minutes  late  leaving  Cleveland. About an hour into the flight, they 
told  us  we  would definitely not make the 10:30 connection, but that 
there  was  an  11:30 flight to San Juan. I got on the in-flight phone 
and  called  the  American Airlines reservation number to make sure we 
could  get 2 confirmed seats on the 11:30. I was nervous about getting 
seats,  since  they  told  us  that  29  people  on  this  flight were 
connecting  to  San  Juan.  Anyway, when we got to Miami, American had 
automatically re-booked everyone on the next flight.

On  the Cleveland flight, there was an obnoxious lady a few rows ahead 
of  us  who  spent  2  of the 2.5 hours of the flight talking over the 
back  of  the  seat to some poor guy who was doing everything he could 
to  get  away  from her - reading books, writing letters etc. She just 
would  not  shut  up.  The  annoyance  of  having to listen to her was 
almost  made  up  for  by the enjoyment I got from watching him try to 
ignore her.

In  Miami,  we  split  a  $3.50  piece of pizza (admittedly it was big 
piece  of  pizza,  but  $3.50!), and bought a newspaper. The newsstand 
charged  sales tax for the paper, a first in my experience. Apparently 
it  had  taken  others  by  surprise, too, since there was a sign that 
said  "Florida  law  requires  us  to  charge sales tax on all printed 
material."

The  flight  from Miami to San Juan was uneventful. Most of the people 
on  the  plane  were  Puerto Rican, with a few gringos who looked like 
they  were  headed  for cruise ships. We got our baggage and saw a lot 
of  guys  hanging around holding signs for resorts and ships. We had a 
reservation  with  L&M  car  rental. We were the only people at any of 
the  car rental desks. The woman at L&M was very friendly, and told us 
about  some  of  the  local  foods, and to make sure we had seafood in 
Fajardo. She said Puerto Rican food would make us fat.

We  took  the L&M shuttle bus, a converted trolley car (pretty weird). 
On  the  bus was a young American who lived in Puerto Rico. He told us 
the  Northwest coast was very nice. He seemed like a rich kid. He gave 
us  his  business  card, which described him as a "Sculptor and Bronze 
Founder".  One  of  the  nice  things about being rich is that you can 
indulge your children's offbeat career choices. 

We  found  our  way  out  of  San Juan and got on a congested Route 3, 
headed  east  to Luquillo. After about 45 minutes, we got to the town, 
and  spent  a  further 30 minutes trying to find the Parador Martorell 
in  a 10 square block area along the ocean. The beach was magnificent, 
and  this  was just the town beach, not the public beach we had seen a 
couple  miles back up the road. The beach was several miles long, with 
some  decent  waves,  in places. We noticed a complete lack of gringos 
other than us. 

We  finally  found  the poorly marked Parador Martorell. As we checked 
in  we  got  another  surprise:  my VISA card was rejected by the card 
reader.  Luckily  Linda had hers. Our room was quite basic, especially 
considering  the $60/night rate. It was very small, but clean, and had 
TV, A/C and a bathroom.

  We  knew  from the guidebooks that accommodations here were going to 
be  more  expensive  than  we  had  experienced  in Mexico, Belize and 
Ecuador.  Parador Martorell would be a $20 hotel (if that) in Ecuador. 
We  sat  for  a  while  in  the  lobby, which was loaded with tropical 
plants  and  open  all  around. Except for the iron security bars that 
encased  it  (and  every other structure in Puerto Rico, as we were to 
find).  We watched a heavy rain fall for about 30 minutes, followed by 
the  emergence  of  a  very bright sun. We asked the lady at the hotel 
desk  for a good restaurant in town, and she recommended Victors, next 
to  the  church  on  the main plaza. Driving around in the old town of 
Luquillo  was  ridiculous - lots of one-way streets. We drove down the 
same  narrow  streets  so  many times people started really staring at 
us.  It was at this point that I started to notice what I perceived as 
menacing  looks  from  some  of the local people. This was contrary to 
the  very  friendly behavior of the people we had actually dealt with. 
Victors   was   a  nice  place,  probably  the  nicest  in  town,  and 
undoubtedly  the  most  expensive.  I  had conch stew, Linda had conch 
vinaigrette,  both  with  side  dishes of rice and beans (kidney). The 
beans  were  served in a little bowl, with a plate of rice. The waiter 
saw  me eating the beans out of the bowl, and came over to show us how 
to  eat  them.  First, spread the rice out on the plate, then dump the 
beans  and  all  their  liquid  onto  the rice. Then eat it. They were 
delicious,  and  the  lesson was useful for the rest of the trip. Both 
conch  dishes were excellent, but everything was expensive - $8.50 for 
the  entrees, and we had the cheapest items on the menu. We definitely 
could  not afford to eat like this for the entire trip. The food was a 
decent  value  for  the money, by Ohio standards at least, but we just 
didn't  want to spend that much. We saw some cheaper looking places to 
try  the  next  day.  We got back to the room about 7:30, and that was 
pretty much it for the night.

Thursday June 6 Got up and had the breakfast provided by the Parador -
  scrambled  eggs  and  fruit.  You don't really appreciate how good a 
banana  can  taste  until  you  eat  one that hasn't sat in a shipping 
container  for week. About 10:00 we drove a few miles back west to the 
balneario  (public  beach). They charged $2.00 to park, and there were 
showers,   changing  facilities,  beach  chair  rental,  and  souvenir 
stands.  One  thing  we  had learned from the guidebooks was that this 
was  the  most  popular  beach  in  Puerto Rico, with half of San Juan 
coming  out  here every weekend. The parking lot and concession stands 
looked  set  to  handle  thousands.  Thursday was a good day to visit, 
though,  as  there  were  only  a few dozen people scattered along the 
beach.  Luquillo  beach  just goes forever. We walked to the limits of 
the  lifeguard  area and saw that the beach continued all the way into 
town,  and  several  miles  beyond. We rented a couple of beach chairs 
for  $3.00  each  and  started  working  on  our sunburns. There was a 
musical  group  of  about  15  young  people,  who spent several hours 
tuning  their  instruments. Occasionally they would break into a great 
Salsa  riff  for  a few minutes, but they were mostly screwing around. 
They  didn't  seem to be practicing, and we really couldn't figure out 
why  they  were  there.  Around  1:00  PM,  we figured we probably had 
enough  sun  to be sunburned for the rest of the trip, so we headed on 
out.  Just  then,  the  tour  busses  started rolling in (my friend in 
Hawaii  calls  them "Tuna Boats") . Anyway, the tuna boats came in and 
then  the  band  started  getting serious about playing. All the tunas 
from  the  busses  had  cruise line tote bags, so apparently they make 
Luquillo  one  of  their  day  trips.  The  tunas  got out and started 
snapping  up the T-shirts and lining up at the buffet tent. It started 
to rain and we were ready to leave anyway.

After  we  left the beach, we drove east to Fajardo, about 20 minutes, 
to  see where the ferry to Vieques Island leaves from. There are signs 
pointing  to  the  dock  area, and there were a couple of parking lots 
nearby.  We  didn't  stop  to  check on tickets, which we should have. 
Outside  of  Fajardo  we bought some food at a grocery store (Amigos). 
Groceries  were  pretty  expensive,  bananas  49 cents per lb., apples 
$1.50  per  lb.  Puerto Rico is just not a place for a cheap vacation, 
from  what  we  had  seen so far. We were able to use a credit card to 
pay  for  the  groceries,  though.  We  also  stopped at a WalMart and 
bought  some  cheap  beach  towels.  Having  just been to a WalMart in 
Cleveland,  I  could  tell that prices were about 25% higher in Puerto 
Rico.  They  did  have  quite  a  selection  of beach towels and beach 
chairs, though...

Back  at the hotel we tried to take a nap. Three hours in the tropical 
sun  in  June  really takes it out of you. No luck on the nap, though. 
Some  guy  with  a  power saw was raising hell right outside our room. 
(This  guy  has followed me all over the world with that power saw. He 
also  has  an  electric  sander,  and I believe he may live near me in 
Ohio).  Then  the  maid came walking into our room without knocking. I 
bitched  about  the  noise, to no effect. We decided to take a walk on 
the  beach, from the end of our street down past town. We walked about 
1.5  miles  along  the  truly beautiful Luquillo beach. Past town, the 
beach  continued for several more miles, as far as you could see. Some 
kids  were  surfing  in  one  section - it is really a great beach. We 
were  both  feeling  the  effects of the sun. My stomach and legs were 
fried. Luckily we had been careful to sunscreen our noses and ears.

We  were  getting hungry in the late afternoon, so we went out looking 
for  a  cheaper  place than last night. We checked the menu at "Joey's 
Ribs",  which was very expensive ($9-$25 per entre). Other places were 
even  worse.  Finally we found a Chinese take-out place. I had Chicken 
with  Broccoli,  with fried rice and French fries for $4.50, and Linda 
had  3 pieces of fried chicken with fried rice for $3.50. The food was 
pretty  good,  and  we  had  enough  left over to save the most of the 
fried  chicken  for tomorrow. Went to bed relatively late - about 9:30 
this time.

Friday  June  7  I  woke  up early, 6:00 am, and went out to find some 
coffee.  Fat  chance. There were a lot of people driving around, going 
to  work  etc.,  but  no place open. I even drove down to Fajardo, but 
even  the  McDonalds  was  closed  until  7:30 am. We were going to El 
Yunque  rainforest  park  today, and I wanted to get an early start. I 
spent  so  much  time  driving  around  that  the  Parador was serving 
breakfast  by  the  time  I  got back. They had pancakes and pineapple 
today,  and  their  coffee  was very good. We left for El Yunque about 
8:00.  We  got  a little rain on the beautiful ride up to the park. It 
is  extremely  lush,  and  the  landscape here, and in a lot of Puerto 
Rico,  reminded  me  of the central highlands of Costa Rica. They even 
have  the  same kind of "living fenceposts" here. These are fresh tree 
branches  cut  and  used  as  fenceposts.  After  a  while  they start 
growing,  so  eventually  you end up with a line of trees connected by 
barbed wire. 

The  new  El Yunque visitor center, "El Portal" was closed, but we saw 
a  sign that said "El Yunque Trail .5 mile". We figured we'd take this 
1/2  mile  trail  and come back to the visitor center. We started up a 
really  well-maintained trail through some extremely lush palm forest. 
After  about  twenty  minutes,  we came to a sign that said "El Yunque 
Peak  - 2.8 miles". So apparently the first sign meant 1/2 mile to the 
El  Yunque  trailhead. We decided to continue on to the peak, and turn 
around  if  we  got tired. We both had good hiking boots and raincoats 
(as  well  as the camera, food, Swiss Army Knife etc. etc.). The trail 
was  pretty  easy  in  most  places,  and well maintained. Some of the 
potentially  slippery  spots had roughened concrete. It rained off and 
on  and there was a pleasant breeze most of the time. As we got higher 
the  mist increased and there were fewer palm trees in the forest. The 
quantity  of  epiphytic  plants  increased,  though.  There was not an 
abundance  of flowers, but there were some bright red bromeliads to be 
seen.

After  about  two hours of steady walking we came to a place where the 
trail  crossed  the  exposed  mountain face. The wind was very strong, 
and  the  mist  was so thick you couldn't see anything. You could tell 
that   the   mountain  dropped  away  steeply.  We  came  to  a  rocky 
outcropping.  I  crawled  out  and  Linda took my picture. Some people 
told  us later that the rangers warned them that people had been blown 
off  that rock to their deaths. The vegetation was stunted by the wind 
and  it  was  a  pretty  surreal scene. The mist lifted briefly and we 
could see that it was indeed a very steep drop down the mountain.

After  another 1/2 mile we came to the end of El Yunque trail. The end 
was  anti-climactic:  just a guardhouse and a bunch of radio antennae. 
The  guard was fairly surly, and gruntingly pointed at a cooler when I 
asked  him  for  some  water.  His  job was apparently to literally do 
nothing  but  sit in a chair and watch TV, perhaps just to keep hikers 
from  damaging  the  radio  towers.  We  only stayed a few minutes and 
headed  back  down  the  trail. We had seen no other hikers during the 
entire  3.3  miles  up  the  trail,  but we saw a few groups of people 
coming  up,  while  we were headed down. About 1/2 way down we stopped 
and  had  lunch  - yesterdays fried chicken and some fruit. The return 
trip  was much easier, since it was all downhill. Throughout the hike, 
we  heard the Coqui frog - apparently the symbol of Puerto Rico. It is 
a  tiny  frog  that  makes a loud "Ko-Kwee" sound. El Yunque forest is 
famous for them.

After  we finished hiking, we drove back down the way we came, towards 
the  visitor  center.  El  Portal  looked to be a brand new, elaborate 
building.  However,  they  charged $3.00 per person to get in, which I 
thought  was  ridiculous,  so  we  passed.  Instead  we turned around, 
headed  back  up the hill, and took some country roads in a roundabout 
trip  back to Luquillo. We went down some roads that were about 1/2 as 
wide  as  my  driveway,  through some splendid mountain scenery. There 
were  scattered  houses,  with  beautiful gardens, but not much actual 
agriculture.  We  stopped to take pictures of some spectacular flowers 
in  peoples  yards.  There were very few people around, and those that 
were  looked  at  us with what I interpreted as a mixture of suspicion 
and  dislike.  I really don't know what they thought of two gringos in 
a  rental  car, but they sure didn't act like they were used to seeing 
strangers there. 

We  came  out  of  the  hills, back down into Luquillo, and stopped at 
McDonalds  for  some coffee. I normally like their coffee, but I found 
it  to  be  mediocre compared to most of the coffee we drank in Puerto 
Rico.  Again  we  tried  to take a nap at the Parador, and again there 
was  a  one-man  power tool symphony in the yard below our room. I was 
becoming  less  satisfied  with  Parador  Martorell  each day, and was 
really  looking forward to Vieques Island on Saturday. We didn't check 
out  any  other  accommodations in Luquillo; most seemed to be weekend 
condo  rentals. I just cannot give Parador Martorell a recommendation. 
It is too basic, and noisy for the cost. 

We  went  back down to the main square to look for some dinner. We had 
seen  a  pizza  place  across  the  square from Victors, but it looked 
pretty  scummy.  Instead  we  went across the highway and had a decent 
pizza  at  Antonino's.  It  looked  like a chain, but they served beer 
(10oz cans of Budweiser). After that it was another early night.

Saturday  June 8 Woke up early and got on the road to Fajardo to catch 
the  9:00 am ferry to Vieques. We got to Fajardo about 8:00 and parked 
the  car  in  a  pay  lot ($3.00 per day) near the dock. I assumed (!) 
that the car would be safe in a pay lot.

  We  were dismayed to see hundreds of people lined up waiting for the 
ferries  to  Vieques  and Culebra. Most looked like day-trippers, just 
carrying  coolers  and  beach  blankets.  We  didn't know where to buy 
tickets,  but I saw a line at a building across the street where a lot 
of  people  were lined up. I joined the line and learned that the 9:00 
ferry  was  sold  out.  I was instantly bummed, since my guidebook had 
said  the  next  ferry  left at 3:00 PM (of course there was no posted 
schedule).  Someone in line told me that there would be an 11:00 trip, 
but  that  they  would  not  start selling tickets for the 11:00 ferry 
until  the  9:00  left.  So I waited 45 minutes and finally got to buy 
two tickets for $2.00 apiece. We grabbed our bags and got in the soon-
to-be-chaotic  line  for  the  Vieques ferry. To our pleasant surprise 
they  started  boarding  another  ferry  at  9:30  and we were sailing 
before  10:00.  The  passage  to Vieques took about 90 minutes and was 
pretty  enjoyable.  We even saw some dolphins swimming alongside for a 
few  minutes.  As  time  went  on the sea got a little rougher and the 
people  sitting  on  the  left (port?) side of the ferry got drenched, 
especially  those at the back. Maybe that's why all the old people sat 
on the other side.

At  Vieques  we got crammed into a little Publico (van taxi) with what 
seemed  like  about  30  other  people  and their luggage. We were all 
headed  for  Esperanza,  about  20 minutes south of the dock area. The 
driver  dropped  us and 3 other gringos at Bananas. Bananas is a 20 or 
so  room hotel with an open air bar/restaurant right across the street 
from  the  ocean. The view from the bar was superb - bright blue ocean 
and  sky,  a  little  island  about  1/4  mile offshore, some anchored 
fishing  boats.  Our room was a lot nicer than the one in Luquillo - a 
suite  with  A/C  and a refrigerator, with a little screened-in porch. 
It  was  clean  and  cost  $60.00 per night. We ate lunch at the hotel 
restaurant,  a  chicken  sub  and  rice & beans. The rice & beans were 
served  as  they  were  in  Luquillo;  since  the waiter had helped us 
there, we knew just what to do. 

We  took  a  walk  along  the main drag of Esperanza - about 3/4 mile, 
with  Bananas  just about in the middle. This looked like a good place 
to  do  not  a  whole  lot of anything. The coastline was very pretty. 
There  isn't  much  beach  in  town; we had read that the good beaches 
were  on  the  military bases. We walked down to Blue Caribe Dive Shop 
to  inquire about diving and Phosphorescent bay trips. Mosquito Bay is 
supposed  to  be  one  of  the  worlds best Phosphorescent bays, where 
microscopic  glowing  creatures  light up in the water when disturbed. 
This  was  one of our primary reasons for coming to Vieques. We signed 
up  for  a  P-bay  trip  that night, for $17 each. Their dive packages 
were  $85  pp  with  their  equipment, $75 pp with your own equipment. 
They  said  the  weather was questionable for diving the next day, but 
that  we  should come back in the morning. We went for a very hot walk 
around this small town, before returning to Bananas for a nap. 

It  was  starting to get dark as we headed over to Blue Caribe for our 
P-Bay  trip. there were a total of 11 people, using plastic kayaks. We 
rode  with  the  guide over to the launch site. He was a Floridian who 
had  been  on  Vieques  for  5 years and seemed to know and care a lot 
about  the history and culture of the island. We got the kayaks in the 
water  and  started paddling out into the bay. It was pretty dark, but 
it  looked like a circular bay, maybe 1 or 2 miles across, with a very 
narrow  opening to the sea. Our guide (I have forgotten his name) said 
the  shoreline  was  all  mangroves,  and  the water was very shallow. 
Paddling  out,  you could start to see some sparkles in the water. The 
water  welling  up  into the kayak and swirling around the paddles got 
more  and more sparkly, with thousands of little phosphorescent spots. 
Out  in  the  center  of the bay it was truly fantastic. You could see 
bright  trails  underwater  from swimming fish. If you shook your hand 
underwater  there  was  an  explosion  of  sparks  all around it. Even 
little  waves  had  flecks  of  light in them. You could make out each 
kayak  by  its luminescent wake. I jumped in the water and dove under. 
The  glow  from  my  swimming  body is indescribable. The magic of the 
moment  fled  immediately,  when  I  realized my kayak was being blown 
rapidly  away.  The  water  was shallow, about 4 feet deep. The bottom 
was  covered  with  seagrass  and mud that threatened to pull my Tevas 
off.  I  got  back in my kayak as soon as the guide brought it back to 
me.  It  really  was  one of the coolest things I've ever seen. I took 
handfuls  of  water  and  poured  them on myself: it looked like I was 
pouring  little  diamonds  all  over my body. This was unique among my 
experiences.  This  is  said to be the best bay of its kind outside of 
China.  There are 750,000 bioluminescent dinoflagellates per gallon of 
water  (who  counted  them?  I  had  a  hard enough time spelling it!) 
Diesel  powered boats, pollution and insect repellent all threaten the 
delicate  life  here.  The experience could be diminished by increased 
shoreline  development and its accompanying light pollution. Our guide 
said  that there was a Phosphorescent bay in Florida when he was a kid 
that  has  been  completely  destroyed  by pollution. The local people 
seem  to understand that even though this is a tourist attraction that 
brings  money  to the island they have to be careful to keep it fairly 
low  key.  We heard that the other P-Bay in Parguera, the one shown on 
the  maps,  is  pretty  well  diminished  in effect now, due to diesel 
boats.  This  is certainly one of the wonders of the natural world, in 
my opinion, though the experience was over too quickly. 

  We  walked back to Bananas for dinner: a huge hamburger for me and a 
steak  sandwich for Linda. I made a note to skip the French fries next 
time, though. It was about 10:00 pm by the time we got to sleep.

  Sunday  June 9 I got up very early and sat on the screened porch for 
a  while  until  Linda  woke  up.  We  had  a  great  breakfast at the 
Tradewinds  hotel restaurant. Sunday was Belgian waffle day, so we had 
one  of  those  and some corned beef hash. I had already eaten about a 
years  worth of meat on this trip. At the giftshop we heard some other 
people  say  that  their  morning  dive had been canceled due to rough 
seas.  We  walked  down  to Blue Caribe to check. The dive master said 
the  waves were 5'-7', which was to much for their boat. unfortunately 
they  didn't  expect it to get better very soon. Our fallback plan was 
to  rent  a  car  for  the  day  and  go to some of the beaches on the 
military bases. 

The  east  side  base  was closed for some type of ammunition transfer 
operation.  The  west  side  was  open,  though.  We called Island Car 
Rental  from  Bananas  and  they  came to pick us up. We rented a real 
beater  of  a  Hyundai  for  $35  and drove to Garcia gate. There is a 
military  checkpoint where they look at your drivers license. The part 
of  the  base  we  drove  through  looked  abandoned.  Unusually for a 
military  base,  there  were  broken  down  buildings and weed covered 
fields,  and  no people. We drove about 5 miles down a dirt road, to a 
turnoff   for   "Blue   Beach"   (standard  colorful  military  naming 
convention  -also  on  the  island are "Red Beach" and "Green Beach"). 
There   were  several  cutoffs  leading  to  the  beach.  The  bay  is 
spectacular,  with  that  gorgeous Caribbean turquoise water and white 
sand.  The beach was pretty shallow, ranging from 20 to 75 feet. There 
were  a  few  people  scattered around, and a windsurfer flying across 
the  water,  back  and forth between the shore and an island about 3/4 
mile  offshore. We lounged around in the blistering sun, using lots of 
sunscreen.  We  walked  to the point at the east end of the bay, where 
the  shore  was rocky. We passed one part of the beach where the water 
washed  over a bunch of small rocks and broken shells, making a really 
cool  musical  tinkling. We left the beach in the afternoon, and drove 
around  the  town  of  Isabella, where the ferry docks. It was totally 
dead: no people, nothing open. 

Back  in  Esperanza,  we ate at Tradewinds. At the bar we met a former 
resident  of  Vieques  (American)  who does contract teaching for IBM. 
Typical  talkative expatriate, full of B.S. about everything - writing 
science  fiction  books, living in the Caribbean. The woman who worked 
at  the  bar  was  more  low  key,  but  interesting. She had lived on 
Vieques  off and on for 17 years. She ran a business making hot sauces 
for  export  and  the local restaurants. Our dinner was excellent, but 
very  pricey.  We both had capitain, a local fish with white flesh and 
a  fresh  ocean  taste. I love to eat seafood when I can see the ocean 
that  it  was  swimming  in  that morning, and this was definitely the 
case  here.  We  also had conch chowder, made with potato and pumpkin. 
It  was  pretty spicy, but delicious. The fish was about $14 each, the 
chowder  $3-4, so with a few Coronas and tip we were about $60 poorer. 
This  was  our  one  big  splurge dinner of the trip, and probably the 
best place to do it.

Monday  June  10  Another  early  morning,  and  another  breakfast at 
Tradewinds  (French  Toast  and  cereal). I was kind of wishing we had 
stayed  there instead of Bananas. Bananas was the hangout for resident 
expatriate  Americans,  doing  what  they do best: drinking and BS'ing 
about  themselves.  I  really  like  these  tropical  places, but I am 
pretty  turned  off  by  the  expatriate  lifestyle,  which  is pretty 
similar  every  place  I've  seen  it.  Work  in  the tourist industry 
(souvenir  shops,  hotels,  bars,  dive shops) all day, and drink with 
the  other  expats  at  night.  Tradewinds seemed a lot more laid back 
than  Bananas,  although  we  didn't  check out the rooms. I think the 
rates are similar. 

We  had  to  have  the  car back by 1:00 pm, so we decided to do a few 
more  hours  of beach time at the base. We drove to the east base, but 
they  were still closed for operations. We went back to Blue beach for 
some  serious  power  burning  from 10:00 to 12:15. This time the area 
was  completely empty. We could see two other people about a mile down 
the  beach,  but other than that we had the entire place to ourselves. 
This  was  a rare treat - miles of beach and ocean in private. We left 
early  enough to get the car back on time, and they drove us back into 
Esperanza.  The town was completely dead. It was mid-afternoon and the 
weekend  visitors  had left. We were outnumbered by the expat drinkers 
at  Bananas.  There  is  a red-haired waitress at Bananas who had been 
completely  unhelpful  the  day  before  when  we were trying to get a 
rental  car.  She  was equally unhelpful today when we tried to figure 
out  how  to  get  a  taxi  for the next day. The people at this hotel 
didn't  seem  to  be interested in doing much for you except relieving 
you  of your money. We called 3 of the 4 publicos (taxis) with numbers 
posted  on  the bulletin board. One of them said their taxi was broken 
but  they  would arrange for someone to pick us up the next morning at 
6:00am.  We  wanted  to  get  the 7:00 am ferry back to Fajardo. A few 
people,  including the waitress at Tradewinds told us that the publico 
drivers  were  reliable,  so  it  became  an exercise in trust that we 
would make it. 

We  spent  some  time  planning  the  next phase of our trip along the 
Panoramic  route ("Ruta Panoramica" on maps) through the south central 
mountains.  We  planned  to  try to make it to Banos De Coamo, another 
Parador  northeast  of  Ponce.  The  woman  at Tradewinds told us that 
driving  would  take about twice as long as it looked on the map, both 
because  the  roads were narrow and because we would want to enjoy the 
scenery  along  the  way.  We  figured that we would need to catch the 
early ferry in order to have enough time to get to Banos De Coamo. 

After  a  nap  it was time to go out and hit the Monday night Medallia 
beer  special  at  Bananas  ($1.00  for a 10oz can). We ordered 2 at a 
time  each.  While  we  were  sitting  at  the bar, a busload of young 
American  sailors  came into town. They were probably not stationed on 
Vieques  -  they  had very white skin and didn't seem to know the town 
at  all.  I guessed that they were from the ship that was transferring 
ammunition  on the east base. At first I wondered if this was going to 
be  like  one  of  those  old John Wayne movies where the sailors come 
into  town  and  bust  up  all the bars and fight with the locals, but 
they  were all very well behaved. There were two Shore Patrol officers 
walking up and down the street keeping an eye on everything, though. 

 Tuesday June 11 We got up at 5:00 am, in the naive hope that our pre-
arranged  taxi would actually show up. We were waiting out in front of 
Bananas  before  6:00  am, and continued to wait until almost 7:00 am, 
the  departure time of the early ferry. Finally, a publico came by and 
I  said  "The  ferry?"  , the driver said "Si!". He got us to the pier 
just  in  time for us to see the ferry leaving. It was literally about 
4  feet  from  the  dock.  We  sat in the taxi bitching, although this 
driver  was  not the guy who had been supposed to pick us up. I really 
didn't  feel  like sitting around the ferry terminal for 4 hours until 
the  next  departure.  The  publico  driver,  who  spoke  very  little 
English,  said  "El  Aeropuerto?",  and managed to communicate that we 
could  fly  to Fajardo for $15 each. This sounded unlikely, but we had 
nothing  to  lose,  so we paid him another $2 each to drive us over to 
the  Vieques  Aeropuerto.  Sure  enough  the  guy  at  the  Isla Nenes 
airlines  ticket counter told us he could get us on the 8:00 am flight 
to  Fajardo  for  $15  each.  It  looked  like they just flew a circle 
route,  like  a bus, between Fajardo, Vieques and possibly Culebra. We 
went  over  to a little food stand and had some coffee and a great ham 
sandwich.  In the middle of breakfast the guy from the Isla Nenes desk 
called  the  food  stand  and  said our plane had arrived. We ran back 
over  to  the  terminal,  paid  $30 for our tickets, and hopped on the 
plane.  It  was  a twin engine 10 seater which took off with no delay. 
The  ten  minute  flight to Fajardo was the best deal we had in Puerto 
Rico  so  far.  We  flew over the navy ship on the east base and got a 
pretty  good  view  of some reefs on the way over. At Fajardo we got a 
publico  down  to  the  port to pick up our car. I paid $12 to get the 
car  out.  I  was  very  satisfied to be driving off just as the ferry 
we'd missed was pulling in. 

PUERTO RICO AND VIEQUES BY EVAN FERGUSON

A Tour Around Puerto Rico 

This  is  a review, in the form of diary with tips, of my wife Ariane, 
our  20 month old son Kyle and myself, Evan's, first holiday in Puerto 
Rico.  We set out to try and get a flavor of all the island in only 10 
days  by  renting  a  car  and driving around PR. Hopefully, if you're 
also  a  first  timer, this will give you an idea of what's available. 
If  you've visited before it would be interesting if you've shared any 
of  our  experiences  (including  our  first  hurricane,  Bertha!). We 
reckon  we've  gotten  a  reasonable  handle on what to do and eagerly 
look  forward  to  our next trip, so that we can re-visit our favorite 
places  and  explore  some  new  ones.  Puerto Rico was and is a dream 
vacation. 

 Thursday, 4th July - Arrival in San Juan 

We  headed  to  Puerto  Rico,  courtesy of Delta Frequent Flyer Miles, 
from  Houston  via Atlanta and Orlando. In San Juan, we had decided to 
make  reservations  at  the  Condado  Beach  Hotel  through  Travelers 
Advantage,  as this was on their list of half price hotels. We managed 
to  get  a  room  with  two  doubles,  overlooking  the  sea, on their 
executive  Vanderbildt  Club  5th  floor  for  a rate of $90 per night 
(breakfast  included  along  with  a  free  private  bar  area  in the 
evening!).  We  reckoned this was a great bargain as the Tourist Guide 
Magazine we had listed rooms at $190-$430. 

We  arrived  at  Luis  Munon  International  Airport at about 10:30pm. 
Originally,  we'd  planned to hire a car from National on arrival, but 
I  was  a  bit nervous about first messing around and picking up a car 
that  late  in  the  evening  (from  an  airport  we'd been told could 
resemble  a  zoo),  and then in the dark, finding our hotel in a place 
we'd  never  been  to.  We  therefore decided to keep things simple by 
taking  a  20  minute  taxi ride into town and then collecting our car 
the next day. This turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise. 

We'd  heard rumors about traffic in San Juan, but thought that late at 
night  it  would  be  minimal - wrong! Because we were arriving on the 
4th  of  July,  everyone  was  out to party and the streets of Ashford 
Avenue,  where the Condado Beach is, were jam-packed. Our helpful taxi 
driver  tried  a  few  short  cuts  but  everything  was  locked solid 
reminding  us  of  the traffic in Jakarta, Indonesia, where we used to 
stay.  Eventually  we  got  to the hotel at about midnight, checked in 
and collapsed into bed. 

The  Condado Beach is at 1061 Ashford Avenue, San Juan, PR 00907 - Tel 
1  800  468  2822 & 809 721 6090 / Fax 1 809 724 7222, (Mail to PO Box 
41226, Minillas Station, San Juan PR 00940) 

Friday, 5th July - Our First Day 

We  rose  early and caught a taxi into Old San Juan. Unlike last night 
where  our  driver  had  charged  us  at  the rate we'd read about and 
expected,  I  didn't  notice  this  fellow  had left his meter off and 
charged  us  double what we expected. We rightly or wrongly decided to 
avoid  a fuss and be more careful next time. We do understand than the 
San  Juan  authorities  have  tightened up considerably on unruly taxi 
drivers  and  you  can see many cabs and magazines displaying a map of 
flat  rates,  based  on  zones  within the city for each journey. Make 
sure your driver switches his meter on and follows these rates. 

We  got  dropped off at the Tourist Information Center, La Casita just 
by  the Cruise Ship docks and set off into Old San Juan. We discovered 
Old  San  Juan  to  be a beautiful collection of small winding streets 
with,  obviously,  many strong Spanish architectural influences. There 
are  an  abundance of beautiful old churches, convents, museums, etc., 
interlinked  with  signs  that  you are still actually in the US, e.g. 
Walgreens,  KFC,  etc.  From  the former, you might want to visit such 
places  as  Cathedral  de San Juan (Cristo and Caletta de Las Monjas), 
Plaza   del  Quinto  Centenario  -  Quincentennial  Square  (just  off 
Beneficencia),  Iglesia  San  Jose  (by Plaza San Jose by Beneficencia 
and San Sebastian), or a myriad of other gems. 

Old  San  Juan  is  chock  a block with places to visit within a small 
area.  The  streets  are  a  bit  hilly so be prepared for a strenuous 
walk.  However,  they  also  offer  many scenic picture opportunities, 
particularly looking out from the City Walls over San Juan Bay. 

The  tourist office had also given us a small street map and marked it 
up  with  some  local  tips  of  eating  establishments.  For lunch we 
decided  to  try a place we hadn't read about in any of the literature 
we'd  received  in  the US, Cafe Guillermo. This place was a real find 
and  we'd  recommend  it highly for an inexpensive, yet terrific local 
or  continental  meal! It's located on Cruz (on the El Morro side), in 
between Luna and San Francisco. 

We  had  a  great  meal of appetizers such as Chorizo (spiced sausage) 
sauteed  in  wine,  potato  chunks  in  a tomato sauce, diced onions & 
tomatoes  on  a crisp new baguettes, Spanish egg omelet etc. Out total 
including  soft  drinks and tips, for Ariane, Kyle and I was only $22. 
We'd  recommend  going early though as we were literally first through 
the  door  at  11.30  and  by 12, it was full with mostly local office 
workers. 

In  the  afternoon  we headed off by foot for El Morro. We reached the 
promenade  grass area in front in about 15 minutes. We stopped to rest 
up  as  the  day  was scorching hot and the hilly climb had taken it's 
toll  on  a pregnant Ariane. The large grass area in front was perfect 
to  lie  back  and  mellow  out and Kyle had a blast running about all 
over the place, watching all the kites being flown. 

We  then had our first misunderstanding of the trip. I wanted us to go 
up  and  look  around El Morro but Ariane strangely decided against it 
and  remained  to relax further in the grass. In any case I headed off 
and  had  a great time with Kyle exploring the myriad of corridors and 
rooms,  watching  the  video in the theater, checking out the souvenir 
shop  and  admiring the stunning views from all angles. We then headed 
back  and  met  up  with a somewhat irate Ariane who was wondering why 
we'd  taken so long to look at what she thought was meant to be only a 
rundown  shell  of  an  old  castle.  On  explaining what El Morro did 
contain,  Ariane  then obviously decided she'd wished she'd come along 
so we decided to come back the next day.

As  a  "reward"  and  peace  offering  we  then thought we'd chill out 
somewhere  and  catch a small refreshing beverage. We walked back into 
Old  San Juan on the higher northern part and onto San Sebastian, just 
beyond  Iglesia  De  San  Jose. We entered a simple open bar, I forget 
the  name,  on the corner and I had my first Medallia, the local beer. 
The  cold  as  ice bottle turned out to be marvelously refreshing so I 
decided  to  stick with this for the rest of the trip, in favor of the 
widely  available  mainland  brands such a Bud or Coors. After this we 
walked  around the area doing some window shopping (good quality costs 
in  Old  San  Juan, inexpensive bargains are undoubtedly poor quality) 
before  catching  a  cab  to  the  airport to pick up our car and then 
returning to the hotel. 

For  dinner,  we  have  to  take  this  opportunity  to  thank  fellow 
Compuserve  members  Heber  and  Larissa  Rosa,  who  recommended some 
restaurants  in  a  reply  to  a question of mine in The Travel Forum. 
They  suggested  we  try  out  Ajili  Mojili  in  Condado  (Joffre and 
Clemenceau)  for  some  fine  Puerto  Rican food. We walked there in 5 
minutes from the hotel and had the culinary experience of the trip. 

On  Larissa's  recommendation  we both had Mofongo, a local specialty. 
It's  was  served in a wooden "cup". The cup contained an outer casing 
of  what  I  believe  was a pork rind base and then filled with, in my 
case  stuffed  crabmeat, and Ariane's, tenderloin and chick peas. This 
was  accompanied  by beans and rice and was a gastronomic extravaganza 
which totally filled us both up. 

I'd  recommend  calling  ahead for a reservation (725 9195) as we were 
lucky  to  get  a  table for two. The waiters were also very attentive 
and,  for  a good restaurant, also paid positive attention to Kyle, at 
one  point  taking  him  for  a  walk  to  the  bar allowing us to eat 
uninhibited!  Dressing  up  a  bit  would  also  help as a T-shirt and 
shorts  would  look  a  bit  out  of place. Meal, drinks and tip was a 
reasonable $66. 

After  dinner we walked back to the hotel for a nighttime cocktail. We 
sat  in the lounge in the entrance and admired the Condado's beautiful 
Grand  Staircase.  Some  fancy function, probably a prom, was underway 
as  scores  of  young  Puerto  Ricans  dressed to kill in tuxedo's and 
stunning evening gowns were arriving and going up to the ballroom. 

Saturday, 6th July - More of Old San Juan 

Instead  of  having a hotel breakfast, when we arose we decided to eat 
on  the  run.  Directly  opposite the Condado Beach is a tiny kiosk in 
the  wall  which  sells  empanadas,  pies and other local specialties. 
They are very tasty, fresh and cheap. 

We  then  drove  back into Old San Juan and it being a Saturday had no 
problem  finding  a  car  parking  spot  in  one of the multistory car 
parks.  We  decided  to  tour  "outer" Old San Juan, starting from the 
same  Tourist Information Center. We walked down Paseo de la Princesa, 
a  pretty pedestrian promenade below the City Walls. Toward the end is 
the  scenic  Paseo  de la Princesa fountain and all along the walk are 
old statues set in below the city walls.

We  then  headed up inland again towards El Morro. When we arrived, as 
luck  would  have  it,  there  was a Puerto Rican salsa band and dance 
troupe  recording  a pop video in the grass moat of El Morro. We stood 
and  watched  this for a while, really enjoying the music which seemed 
so  suitable  for the location and the sunny weather. We then ventured 
into  El  Morro  and I enjoyed my second trip as much as the first. We 
spent  more  time  on  the higher regions of the fort and also visited 
the  small  museum.  There  are many photo op's and amongst others, we 
got some good ones of me "posing" on top of a pile of cannonballs. 

By  now it was time for a late lunch. We headed back to San Sebastian, 
which  seems  to  be  filled with nothing but pubs and restaurants. We 
stopped  in  at  Patio  El  Sam for cerviche, Guava Shells with Puerto 
Rican  Cheese,  Tostones (fried plantains) and the mandatory beans and 
rice.   Although   this  sounds  mouthwatering  the  food  was  a  bit 
disappointing  despite  Patio El Sam having a fine decor. A lunch bill 
of $33 saw us on our way back to the hotel for a siesta. 

Back  at the hotel we realized we'd lost some souvenirs we'd bought at 
El  Morro.  We  reckoned  we'd  left  them  under  the  table  at  the 
restaurant  and  called  up.  Fortunately  they were still there and I 
drove back into town for them. 

I  stopped  by  the small bar we'd visited yesterday, which was almost 
next  door  to  Patio  El Sam for another refreshing Medallia. At this 
time  a policeman and a somewhat agitated mainland US tourist came in. 
The  tourist  was  apparently  looking  for  some  help in translating 
something  to  the  policeman. The barman helped out and it arose that 
the  situation was that the tourist's wife had had her bag snatched at 
Plaza  del Quinto Centenario. The policeman duly went off to help. For 
the whole time in the island this was the only hint of crime we saw. 

We  always felt very safe and comfortable and it appears that the only 
crime  against  tourists  is  occasional  random  petty  theft without 
violence.  If  you  follow  some basic, common-sense precautions, then 
the crime is probably far less than back on the mainland. 

Back  at  the  hotel I joined Ariane and Kyle at the nice outdoor pool 
on  the third floor for a leisurely swim. Later I was watching CNN and 
casually  mentioned  to  Ariane  that  they  said a tropical storm was 
heading into the Caribbean in our direction. 

Thereafter  we  relaxed  for  the  rest  of  the  day  before  heading 
downstairs   for   dinner  at  the  Condado  Beach's  Cafe  Del  Arte. 
Unfortunately,  this  restaurant  was disappointing in relation to the 
grandeur  of  the  hotel  itself and our first waiter was particularly 
inattentive  and  unhelpful.  The  food  itself was fairly average and 
Ariane and Kyle retired for an early night. 

I  myself feeling a bit more adventurous, took off for an after dinner 
stroll  down  Ashford  Avenue.  It was an interesting walk and as I've 
said  before,  I  felt  perfectly safe. About the only disturbance was 
young  Puerto  Ricans cruising in their cars, each trying to outdo the 
volume  of  the others car stereo's! I stopped by a bar for a cocktail 
and  ambled  back  to  the room. Watching CNN again I noticed that the 
storm  was  now  a  Hurricane  called  Bertha,  was getting bigger and 
heading our way! 

Sunday, July 7th - El Yunque and Vicinity 

We  arose bright and early on a sunny morning and headed out Highway 3 
to  Palmer,  where  we  turned inland to El Yunque. On arriving at the 
first  "gate",  which  was  actually  the  entrance  to the new multi- 
million  dollar  El  Portal  Exhibition and Conference Center, we were 
told  by  the  attendant  that  the park was going to close at 12am so 
that  they could prepare for the hurricane. This would give us 3 hours 
to  tour  El Yunque so we decided to bypass El Portal and head up into 
the  forest  on a quickly twisting and rising, but wide and relatively 
comfortable road. 

We  had  been  concerned, with Ariane's pregnancy that El Yunque would 
involve  parking  in  a central area and then some hefty walking. Much 
to  our  pleasure  we  discovered  El  Yunque  is  literally  a "drive 
through"  rain forest and all the main attractions can be reached this 
way.  However,  there  are  plenty of opportunities to park and either 
visit  a  site  or  head  off into the forest for a hike on one of the 
many marked trails, of varying degrees of difficulty. 

Our  first  stop  was  at Las Cabezas Observation Point which offers a 
panoramic  view  out towards Luquillo and the coastline. We then drove 
on  another few hundred meters to the scenic La Coca Falls. This seems 
to  be  an  area  of  prime  photo opportunities and is a must stop. A 
little  bit  further  on  is the Yokahu Observation Tower which Ariane 
commented  looked  like  Rapunzel's  Tower.  Kyle and I climbed to the 
top,  about  150ft, and again had some more 360 degree panoramic views 
of the forest and the coast in the distance. 

We  then  decided  to  drive  on up to the top of El Yunque, bypassing 
some  visitors  centers which we planned to catch on the way down (you 
cannot  do  a  "circular"  tour, but must return down the same route). 
The  road  stops  some  13  kilometers  up.  We  wanted to hike to Mt. 
Britton lookout but decided it was too rough. 

We  tried  driving  a  bit  closer  down  what  appeared to be an side 
extension  to  the  main  road.  However,  the  road  got narrower and 
narrower  and  very  pot-holed and rocky. Just when we decided we were 
heading  into  the  middle  of  nowhere  and  would  need to execute a 
multipoint  turn,  the  track  suddenly opened out again into the main 
route.  We  had  in  fact done a 1 kilometer, 180 degree turn, much to 
our relief. 

We  then  happily  started  heading  downhill again and stopped at the 
Palo  Colorado  Visitor  Information Center and Picnic Area. This is a 
small,  but  nice  stop,  which  also  offers some short walks to some 
nearby  attractions.  There  is  a  picnic area complete with barbecue 
pits,  some  rock pools where many people were deciding to take a swim 
and a small man-made pond and bridge area which was very pretty. 

When  we  were  finished, we then packed up and continued on downhill, 
bypassing  the  Sierra  Palm Visitor Information and Picnic Area. Cars 
continued  to  head  uphill  in droves and I immediately began to pity 
the  unfortunate tourists and also many Puerto Rican families who were 
arriving  en-masse,  complete  with  sumptuous  barbecue supplies. The 
time  was  now 11:30am and they had obviously not stopped at El Portal 
and were all blissfully unaware El Yunque was soon to close. 

As  we  left  El  Yunque we felt that it did deserve its reputation as 
"an  enchanted  forest".  I  had never seen so many different types of 
trees  and  vegetation  in a small area - it felt that every "climate" 
of  tree  was  there,  from palm to pine. We had also been lucky as it 
had  never  rained  during  our  relatively brief visit, it apparently 
rains heavily on the forest every 

By  now,  we  were  feeling  very  hungry. The day was still sunny and 
beautiful  so  we  decided  to  head  to  nearby  Fajardo  and  the El 
Conquistador  resort. On arrival at El Conquistador, we were struck by 
the  magnificent  opulence  of  the place. You reach the resort proper 
from  the main gate (where you pay a few dollars to get in) by driving 
a couple of kilometers through the golf course. 

As  we  were  driving  in,  streams  of cars were heading out. When we 
arrived  at  he hotel proper and walked into the reception, there were 
big  long  lines forming at the check out desk. Apparently, due to the 
incoming  Bertha, the hotel had just made the decision to evacuate all 
local  residents  along with any mainland or foreign tourists who also 
wished  to  leave.  People  were  struggling for the nearest phone and 
trying  to get the few remaining seats on flights out of San Juan that 
afternoon.  It  was at this point we started to get a bit apprehensive 
as  we  were scheduled to check out of the Condado Beach the following 
morning  and drive to Cabo Rojo, our next base, on the western side of 
the island. 

We  decided to have a quick lunch and afterwards head back to San Juan 
to  decide  on what to do. The lower portion of the hotel on the coast 
looked  very  scenic,  set  against the vivid blue sea, so we took the 
cable  car  down  the  side  of  the hill to this area and went to the 
Stingray  Cafe.  On  the  way  down, I took the opportunity to ask the 
cable  car attendant on his recommendation as to what we should do and 
he  basically  laughed  and told us to hunker down in San Juan and see 
the storm out. 

As  we  waited  for  lunch  we  eavesdropped  over  some  other tables 
conversations.   It   transpired  that  although  the  hotels  private 
Palomino  Island  was  closed  to residents, one of the managers of El 
Conquistador  was  sitting  next to us, organizing a quick trip out in 
his  yacht  to  it  with  some  of his cronies - "while I still have a 
yacht"  he  was  saying!  Bertha  therefore hung over us like a shadow 
during lunch. 

It  was  almost surreal sitting outside looking into the marina as the 
sun  beat  down,  realizing  that less than 24 hours later we could be 
getting  battered  by  Bertha. The meal however lightened our frame of 
mind.  I  had  a  tasty goat cheese pizza and Ariane, some salmon with 
taboulli.  With  drinks  and  tips this came to $41, pretty reasonable 
indeed considering the setting and well worth trying out.

The  drive  back to the hotel was a slow one with Highway 3 jam packed 
with  weekend trippers heading back to San Juan to prepare for Bertha. 
On  arrival  at  the Condado Beach, the staff basically re-iterated it 
wasn't  wise  for  us  to  head  to  Cabo  Rojo so we made a tentative 
reservation  to  stay  an  extra  night.  Although it was now 5pm, the 
weather  was  still  gorgeous  so we decided to head onto the beach to 
make the best of it while it lasted. 

We   enjoyed   frolicking  around  with  Kyle  and  the  rest  of  the 
beachgoers,   still  with  no  sign  Bertha  was  on  the  way.  After 
freshening  up  in our room we headed down to the Vanderbildt club for 
a  quick  cocktail  and  a  dinner  recommendation.  The girls on duty 
recommended  Amadeus  on, yet again, San Sebastian in Old San Juan, as 
many   of  the  restaurants  had  closed  early  to  prepare  for  the 
hurricane.  Thankfully  the  drive to Amadeus was quick with virtually 
no  traffic.  The  meal  though  was  average to decent as we dined on 
Cerviche,  fried  plantains  and  salmon,  salad and soup finished off 
with  some  more  guava  shells and Puerto Rican cheese. The bill this 
time,  a  moderate  $53 with drinks and tips. We paid by Visa and took 
advantage  of  a  Visa  Coupon  book  we had obtained from the Tourist 
Office,  which  gave us 10% off the bill. This is worthwhile obtaining 
as  it  has  a  wide  variety  of  discounts  for  dining,  excursions 
souvenirs and so on. 

Back  at  the  hotel we inquired again as to the latest Bertha update. 
At  this time we were fortunate enough to run into one of the off duty 
hotel   management.  This  gentleman  turned  out  to  a  tremendously 
friendly  and  helpful  fellow  called  Mehdi  Naqvi  and  he  was the 
Director  of  Finance  for the Condado Beach, it's sister hotel the La 
Concha  and  the neighboring Convention Center. He was most reassuring 
that  the hotel had a good plan and suggested that we either stay this 
night  as we'd planned and an extra day & night or if we wanted, check 
out  early  and  head off to Cabo Rojo right away if we were up to it. 
As  we'd  had  a long day and were tired we decided to stay put, sleep 
on it and hope that Bertha would change course overnight. 

 Monday, July 8th - Bertha 

We  awoke  to gray skies, increasing wind and very choppy seas outside 
our  balcony. With dismay we realized we were in fact going to have to 
hunker  down an extra day & night. It was somewhat disappointing as we 
had  planned to visit the Rio Camuy caverns this day, and then head on 
to  Cabo  Rojo for the next three days. As it was we went to breakfast 
with our heads down. 

We  bumped into Mehdi again, now on duty, but every bit as cheerful as 
the  first  time we met him. Mehdi said that the hurricane was bearing 
down  on  us  but that he felt it would turn north at the last minute. 
He  told  us to take it easy and that the hotel would put a evacuation 
plan  for  the refugee shelter under our door, with instructions as to 
what  and  when  to  do. He told us the plan was to move everyone into 
the  Convention Center's windowless auditorium and wait out the storm. 
There would be food provided and radio info on a regular basis. 

After  breakfast  we  met  some  mainlanders  who were resident on the 
island,  coming  into  the  hotel. They explained that they headed for 
the  Condado Beach every hurricane, as it was the "best place to be on 
the  island". I also decided to make a quick run to Walgreens to stock 
up  on  toys  for  Kyle  to entertain himself with during our upcoming 
"internment".  It  was  now about 9:30am and the eye apparently 3 to 4 
hours away. 

As  I  left  the  hotel with Kyle, it still hadn't started to rain but 
the  wind was picking up quickly. I also met a couple who told us that 
they'd   been  told  to  move  their  car  from  the  Condado  Beach's 
underground  car park to the neighboring La Concha's high-rise, as the 
former  was  expected  to flood! We quickly went into the garage and I 
noticed that the drains were already higher (due to the tide?). 

We  got  to  Walgreens and found they were shutting down in 5 minutes, 
so  we hurriedly picked some things out and returned to park at the La 
Concha.  Afterwards,  on  walking the 200 meters from the La Concha to 
the  Condado  Beach, the wind was beginning to gust and it was getting 
harder  to  push Kyle's stroller. The streets were visibly and quickly 
quieting down and many shops had boarded up their windows. 

Back  at  the  hotel  we  started to follow the evacuation rules which 
included  packing  all  of  our  belongings up and putting them in the 
cupboard  in  the  bathroom.  Apparently this was to prevent damage if 
the  windows  blew  out/in, as they are prone to do in a hurricane due 
to   atmospheric   pressure  changes  between  outside  and  inside  a 
building. We then headed off to the refugee shelter. 

When  we  arrived  the  place  was busy. The auditorium looking like a 
Bosnian  shelter,  complete  with neat rows of camp beds. After we had 
settled  into  a  corner,  we again met Mehdi and he made sure we were 
all  right.  It  appeared that he was giving us special attention, and 
these  thoughts  were  confirmed,  when  he told us that if Ariane had 
been  about  4  weeks  more  pregnant, they would have moved us to the 
hospital  as  the  hurricanes pressure change could also induce labor. 
Apparently  windows  were  not  the  only thing liable to blow out! We 
basically sat down and started to wait. 

There  was  a  radio  news  stream  being  piped  into the auditoriums 
speaker  system  and we listened to constant storm updates and learned 
that  currently the nearby US Virgin Islands were bearing the brunt of 
the  eye.  Just  then the power went out for the first of four or five 
times.  It was eerie being into a windowless room with some 400 people 
in  total  darkness.  A  few flashlights appeared and nobody panicked. 
When  the  power  came back the A/C didn't, so the room started to get 
very  warm.  The  hotel then served the first of two surprisingly good 
meals,  considering  the type of self serve area they had built in the 
center of the auditorium. 

I  looked  at the storm from a small area outside that hadn't yet been 
boarded  up,  where  yesterday evening we had been playing. Now it was 
dark,  pouring  rain and the palm trees were leaning sideways with the 
fronds  straining  and  stretched out horizontally with the wind. Some 
crazy  youths were playing on the pier, no doubt trying to prove their 
macho-ness!  However,  we also later learned that a little earlier, an 
American  had  drowned  at  Luquillo  while  waves. Looking out at the 
weather he must have been stark raving mad. 

Mehdi  came by to check on us and gave us some industrial size candles 
which  came  in  useful  as the power stayed off all of the afternoon, 
while we waited, and waited, and waited and waited for about 8 hours -
  only  broken by another meal serving and being filmed by TV cameras. 
We  also  made it back to the Channel 11 news back home in Houston and 
some friends were worried! 

At  about  8pm the all clear was eventually given and we ventured back 
to  the  Condado  Beach. Mercifully, Mehdi's prediction had turned out 
to  be  right  -  at almost the last minute and the eye had missed us. 
Going  back  to  room  all we needed was a relaxing (medicinal) drink! 
Unfortunately   the   governor   in   his  infinite,  but  reluctantly 
understandable  wisdom  had  banned  alcohol  sales  for  that day, so 
nothing  was  available.  Mysteriously  though,  we  found a couple of 
miniatures in our room which saved the day - had Mehdi helped again? -
 I suspect so.

After  a  surprisingly  relaxing  day  we  went straight to bed for an 
early  start  the  next  morning.  We  felt  like  we'd  had  quite an 
adventure  really  as this had, not only been our first hurricane, but 
also  the  earliest  to hit for 100 years - just during our first week 
in our first trip to Puerto Rico! Tuesday, July 9th - To Cabo Rojo 

Our  trip to the western part of the island was now down from three to 
two  nights,  with  us  due  in  our  subsequent  location,  Jayuya on 
Thursday.  With Bertha having messed up my best laid plans of visiting 
the  caves  Monday, on the way to Cabo Rojo, we reluctantly decided to 
miss  them  out as that would've basically only given us the Wednesday 
in  Cabo Rojo. Although we greatly regretted missing out on Rio Camuy, 
one  of  Puerto Rico's premier attractions, we decided that this would 
be nice to save for our next visit.

The  Condado  Beach  at this time still hadn't managed to restore full 
power,  so  we  decided to strike out early. We packed up, checked out 
and  got  on  the  Highway  22 Express Tollway and headed west towards 
Arecibo.  We  made  excellent  time and were there in a little over 55 
minutes.  We  hadn't  had breakfast so we decided to try and grab some 
food en route. 

About  200  meters  after  Highway  22  ends  and turns into Highway 2 
proper,  we  discovered  another  real  find.  There  is a small local 
roadside  restaurant  called El Neuva Union. It's a simple little stop 
but  has  a  wonderful  selection  of  clean  and  freshly  made local 
specialties.  We  bought some pastries, sausages, omelets and the like 
and  heartily  pigged  out  at  the restaurant for about $7! This is a 
great  place  to  stop  if  you're  heading for Cabo Rojo or Rio Camuy 
(although  for  the  latter it is about 5 minutes out of your way) and 
the family running it are very welcoming and friendly. 

Well  fed,  we  got  into  the  car again and spent about another hour 
following  2  round  to Mayaguez before exiting onto 102 and following 
this  smaller  coast  road about 20 minutes to our next hotel. For our 
next  stop we had decided to choose one of the Paradors. From the book 
we'd  obtained from the Puerto Rican Tourist Office we had selected an 
attractive  looking  one  called  Perichi's. (Route 102, KM 14.3 - Tel 
(809) 851 3131 / 0590 and Fax (809) 851 0560.) 

We  checked  in  to  a modern, but quaint and clean 4 story hotel, and 
for  $69.55  a  night,  were given a nice room overlooking the sea. It 
was  now  only about 12am, so we decided to go and explore the coastal 
region  around Cabo Rojo. A couple of recommendations had been made to 
us to visit Boqueron, so we took the 10/15 minute drive there. 

To  be  honest  we found Boqueron somewhat disappointing. There really 
didn't  seem  much there apart from a few seedy looking T-shirt shops. 
We'd  had  visions  of  a  quaint harbor town but this wasn't it. Some 
reviews  had  said  that  there is more to Boqueron than meets the eye 
but  we  decided  not  to hang around and struck out for the a leading 
local  landmark, the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse beyond the end of 
+++++++++


When  we  say  the  beyond  the end, we mean beyond the end. After the 
paved  road  stops,  you'll  have to follow a sand road for what seems 
like  a  very long time towards the end of nowhere. We didn't spot any 
tourist  info  signs  suggesting the lighthouse was further along this 
track  but seeing no other opportunities, we stuck it out. This turned 
out  to  be  right  as  we  then  began  to  see the lighthouse in the 
distance.  We  drove  on  and  parked  at the car park and took the 10 
minute  walk up to the disused lighthouse. The area is very remote and 
windswept,  with  the  lighthouse  sitting  at  the edge of some steep 
cliffs.  It  was  very  pretty and we hung around for some time before 
heading off. 

It  was  now early afternoon and we were hungry. Our luck at stumbling 
onto  some  great  food  stops  held  and by accident we found a place 
about  KM 307. This is a really excellent seafood restaurant along the 
roadside  fancier  than  you  may  expect from the outside. Ariane had 
grouper  in a white wine sauce and even though I should have had fish, 
settled  for a Churrasco steak with beans and a rice dessert of papaya 
with  Puerto Rican cheese. This was an wonderful meal and what we felt 
was a bargain $38.

On  the  subsequent  drive  back  to  Perichi's  we  felt that we were 
beginning  to fall in love with Puerto Rico, not only for it's natural 
beauty  but  also it's culinary extravaganza. All we were fit for back 
at  Perichi's  was  a  lazy afternoon by the pool. When we were at our 
room,  Kyle  took a liking to the young female receptionist - who just 
happened  to  have  a  plate  of  French fries. The stairs to our room 
overlooked  the  downstairs  reception and the food. Noticing this she 
pulled a couple off her plate and came and gave them to him! 

In  the  evening we were pretty tired after a long day and didn't feel 
like  venturing out of the hotel. We decided to eat in Perichi's award 
winning  restaurant.  The  owner  of  the hotel, Mr. Perichi has had a 
long  and  distinguished  career  in  hotel  and  catering and this is 
reflected  by  the  many  food  awards  and trophies on display in the 
hotel  bar  and  restaurant.  The  restaurant  itself  is surprisingly 
upmarket  for  the south western portion of the island and wouldn't be 
out of place in a fashionable neighborhood of San Juan. 

>From  an  extensive  menu we chose some hearty vegetable soup followed 
by  pork chops for Ariane and a red snapper filet in Spanish sauce for 
myself.  We  were  still  a bit full from our late lunch and this meal 
almost  finished  us  off.  Perichi's  also has an extensive choice of 
quality  wines,  although  the wine list doesn't always correlate with 
what's  available.  We  had  a non-listed, outstanding bottle of Pinot 
Grigio  '94  with  dinner and were amazed at a total bill with tips of 
only $48. 

The  staff  were  also  very  well  trained  and  friendly. One of the 
waitress,  Walesca  -  Wally  for  short - took an immediate liking to 
Kyle  and  unrequested  by  us, took the opportunity of the restaurant 
being  pretty  quiet  to  entertain  him  so  mom  and  dad  could eat 
unrestricted  (if  you're  parents of youngsters you'll understand how 
great this can feel!). 

Toward  the end of our meal Kyle's energy started to fade so I decided 
to  take  a  time  out and put Kyle in the stroller and go for a walk. 
Although  it  was  dark,  it felt great to wheel Kyle along a deserted 
pavement  in  the village, with the sea no more 10 meters to our right 
and  listening  to  nothing  but the sounds of nature, I began to feel 
really  mellow. Kyle obviously did too, and within minutes was snoring 
away. 

In  Houston I couldn't imagine doing this (walking down dark, deserted 
streets,  late at night), yet down here I felt 101% safe. I did pass a 
couple  of  locals out strolling and they smiled and greeted me with a 
friendly  "Ola"  which  I  tried  my  best to repeat in my rudimentary 
Spanish.  Back  at  the  hotel  Ariane  and  I continued to mellow out 
before  happily retiring to our room and joining Kyle in sleeping like 
babies. 

 Wednesday, July 10th - Guanica and La Parguera 

We  awoke  invigorated  and  motivated  to  explore  further. We ate a 
leisurely  breakfast outside by the pool and headed off for a beach at 
Guanica,  a tropical dry forest, compared to El Yunque's tropical rain 
forest.  We  took the slow (i.e. scenic) route for much of the way and 
went  through  the  main  town  of  the  region  San German. We got to 
Guanica  in about 30 minutes and right away saw lovely coastline, with 
hills coming down into the sea creating lots of scenic bays. 

We  then followed Route 333 out into Guanica forest. The vegetation by 
the  road side was varied and impressive with everything from palms to 
cactus  and  from  the  distinctive  bright  red  flamboyan  trees  to 
"normal"  trees.  Along  the  coastal side of the road are a myriad of 
small  and medium sized beaches. We passed the main one Cano Gorda, by 
the  Copamarina Resort and followed 333 to the end at Tamarindo Beach, 
just  to see what was there - we ended up shooting a lot of film along 
the way. 

Here   there   are   also  a  couple  of  very  small  executive  home 
developments  off  to  the  side  of  the road and I imagine these are 
weekend  retreats for wealthy locals, from Ponce, or even San Juan. We 
turned  and  headed  back, deciding to stop for some beach R&R at Cano 
Gorda.  The  beach  was  relatively  quiet and very clean. A few cafes 
played continuos, loudish salsa music which helped our relaxed mood. 

For  lunch  we snacked on Baguettes with some cheese and chorizo which 
we'd  bought from Extra Supermercado in Cabo Rojo. (At the supermarket 
we'd  been  amazed  at  how  cheap  everything  was,  even compared to 
Houston - not having to pay sales tax also helped.)

In  the  afternoon,  after  leaving  Cano Gorda, we decided to try and 
follow  the short coastal route to La Parguera. On the map this seemed 
easy   enough,  but  in  reality  it  was  a  little  more  difficult. 
Indicative  of  the  island,  there are many more roads available than 
marked  and  we  ended  up  in  a small beach town called Playa Santa, 
which didn't even appear on the map. 

With  a  little  persistence,  we  found the road we wanted and headed 
into  La  Parguera.  We  had also read good reviews of La Parguera and 
understand  it's  a popular resort, underscored by the many water side 
Paradors.  To  be  honest,  like  Boqueron, we reckon La Parguera is a 
little   over-rated   and  wouldn't  have  exchanged  our  Parador  at 
Perichi's  for any of the ones we saw. La Parguera seems to be more of 
a  young peoples party town and does offer good diving and snorkeling. 
However, our family situation obviously rules out most of these.

We  did  stop  for a refreshment in one of the clubs, which at 4pm was 
empty  apart  from  us. However, there were photos all around the wall 
of  it packed out with kids boogying to a live band on stage. There is 
also  some  construction  going  on in La Parguera and I'm sure things 
will look better when everything is finished. 

That  evening  we  decided  to eat again in the hotel at Perichi's and 
Wally  again  helped  out  with  Kyle  as  we had another fine meal of 
extremely  tasty  chorizo  along with gammon steak, minute steak, some 
lasagna  for  Kyle, finally polished off by a large chunk of chocolate 
cake.  I  was  beginning  to  feel  my  weight  in  food  and took the 
opportunity  to  again  try  and walk some of it off before we retired 
for the night. 

 Thursday, July 11th - Ruta Panoramica to Jayuya. 

After  another  leisurely  poolside  breakfast  we  said  good-bye  to 
Perichi's.  Today,  we  had  to reach our next stop in Jayuya which is 
pretty  much  bang in the middle of Puerto Rico. We had the options of 
following  the  Coastal  Route  2 and heading inland from due south of 
Jayuya,  or  heading  back  to Mayaguez and picking up the famous Ruta 
Panoramica  which  traverses the middle of Puerto Rico, coast to coast 
along the mountains. We chose the latter. 

The  tourist  brochures  warned us to take 3 days for this route but I 
thought  they  were  being  somewhat  conservative since we had driven 
almost  the  same distance from San Juan to Cabo Rojo in a little over 
two  hours.  However,  the  tourist  brochures  were  right and family 
Ferguson was absolutely wrong! 

In  Mayaguez  we spend almost 45 minutes just trying to find the start 
of  Ruta  Panoramica. The center of Mayaguez is an intricate series of 
narrow  and  very  busy  one  way  streets - the start is right in the 
middle of these. 

We  then  headed inland up a series of permanently rising, zig zagging 
roads.  We  enjoyed seeing thousands of papayas lying by the roadside, 
having  fallen  from  overhead  trees,  just  begging to be picked up. 
Compared  to  Puerto  Rico's  speedier  roads, here it was hard to get 
above 25 km/p/h for more than 10 seconds at a time. 

Earlier,  we  had tried to find a detailed map of the Ruta, but hadn't 
been  able  to  find one and we now discovered that the Ruta itself is 
very  badly  marked.  There  are many signs marking the route but they 
tend  to  be on a stretch of roadside and not at an intersection, when 
the  road  would  suddenly  split  and with no sign available for help 
you're left with a 50/50 choice on which road to take. 

Invariably,  we took a few wrongs ones and became a bit disorientated. 
At  one  point  we happily re-discovered the Ruta, only to find out we 
were  heading  in the wrong direction and were going back to Mayaguez! 
Our  tolerance  was  shortened  by  the fact that the twists and turns 
were  playing  havoc with Ariane's hormones and after 5 hours strapped 
in  the  car  Kyle's  patience was also getting justifiably exhausted. 
Although  the  scenery  is outstanding, we re-christened the Ruta, the 
Ruta From Hell. 

Before  we  would undertake it again, we would highly recommend a) not 
being  pregnant  b)  not  doing  it  with  very young kids, and c) the 
Puerto  Rican  Tourist  Company,  or  suitable  authority,  remarkably 
improving  the  level  of  signposting  at  intersections  - as I said 
earlier,  there  are  lots of nice signs, so they have made an effort, 
but they are not always in the right place. 

We  did  eventually  find  our  overnight  stop  of Hacienda Gripinas, 
(Route  527,  KM  2.7,  - Tel (809) 828 1717 or 1 800 828 1718 and Fax 
(809)  828  1719.) late that afternoon. At $65 a night for a three bed 
room,  the  Hacienda proved to be a gem and an oasis. It's a beautiful 
old  wooden  house,  located  in  an  old family coffee plantation. We 
understand  the local press had given it some questionable reviews but 
we loved it. 

Our  sole  regret  was that we were only staying one night - next time 
we'll  certainly  stay  for  2  or most likely 3. You do not feel like 
you're  staying in a hotel. You feel like you've been transported back 
to  the  grandeur of a late 19th century Spanish coffe plantation. Our 
room  was  in  the  main  wing  of  the  house,  just  by  the reading 
room/library  and  we  had  shuttered  doors  that opened out onto the 
scenic   balcony,  beautifully  furnished  with  hand  carved  rocking 
chairs. 

The   tranquillity  was  breathtaking.  We  took  some  walks  in  the 
immaculately  kept  grounds and explored the lower pool area, which is 
just  installing a Jacuzzi. The swimming pool itself was the prettiest 
one  we  saw  on  the island with one side being molded into beautiful 
rocks.  We only had to be there for a few minutes before the stress of 
Ruta Panoramica began to fade away.

In  the  evening  we  ate  at the Hacienda's restaurant. Kyle had some 
chicken  gumbo,  Ariane  some soup and salad, I had chicken empanada's 
with  beans and rice and to finish we had a wonderful homemade dessert 
of  coconut  pudding,  of which we unashamedly had seconds. We retired 
to  the rocking chairs on the balcony to listen to the night sounds of 
birds, crickets and so on.

There  were  board games available to play and it was so relaxing with 
no  TV,  radio  or  telephone  in the room. There was also no A/C, but 
then  again, no need for one with the cooler mountain air. An overhead 
fan was more than sufficient. 

On  the balcony, I fancied mellowing out with a Drambuie and asked the 
duty  manager  if he had, not expecting him to find any. He invited me 
into  the kitchen and showed me the bottles of liquor available - just 
about  everything  was there including Drambuie. He then invited me to 
choose  my  own glass and pour (without a measure) my own drink! It is 
little  personal  touches  like  that,  that  stick  in  my  mind on a 
holiday,  and encourage me to go back to somewhere again and again. By 
now,  Kyle  had  now fallen asleep and Ariane and I sat and relaxed on 
the rocking chairs, reluctant to go to bed.

 Friday, July 12th, - Jayuya to Vieques Island 

In  the  morning  we  arose  early  and  took  another walk around the 
grounds  before  breakfast. We ate heartily and began to check out. It 
was  at  this time we bumped into Hector Sanchez Martinez. Hector is a 
native  Puerto  Rican tour guide and he had a minibus of tourists also 
staying  at  Hacienda Gripinas. He was running an escorted tour across 
the island. 

We  talked  to him of our experiences on the island (he laughed at our 
trials  on  Ruta  Panoramica and commented that even Puerto Ricans get 
easily  lost  on it) and of our remaining plans. When we told him that 
we  were  heading  to  Vieques that day he, believing we were going to 
follow  the  second  half of Ruta Panoramica, told us we'd be lucky to 
make   the  ferry  at  Fajardo.  We  told  Hector  we  were  going  to 
reluctantly  blow the Ruta off and head due south from Jayuya and pick 
up firstly Express Tollway 52 and then the coastal Highway 3. 

Hector  said  that  it  would  still  take a little bit longer than we 
thought.  He  then  (friendly,  but unabashedly), started plugging his 
book  "Puerto  Rico Turistico - Guia De Viajes Para Puerto Rico". This 
is  in its fifth printing and is an exhaustive, well researched A-Z of 
Puerto  Rico,  by  town  and  region. Although it's only in Spanish at 
present,  Hector is re-printing it in English. In any case it was such 
a good book we bought an autographed copy.

For  information  on  one  of  Hector's tours call (787) 765 8595. For 
information  on  Hector's  book,  contact him directly at Calle Soller 
#528,  Matienzo  Cintron, Rio Pedras, P.R. 00923 or telephone 748 7483 
and  767 4023. (We would probably consider doing a tour with him if we 
wanted  to avoid driving ourselves and also wanted to avoid the having 
to  research  and  then  find  the  many sites to visit.) After we had 
finished with Hector, we reluctantly checked out. 

In  retrospect  we would have planned a longer stay in Jayuya to visit 
the  many  attractions  such as the local artisans work shops and also 
to  take  advantage  of the many sites along Ruta Panoramica, which we 
were  going  to have to miss out on. In any case we headed off to race 
for the 1pm ferry from Fajardo to Vieques. 

The  first  part  of  our journey went well and fast down to the coast 
and  then along Tollway 52. We exited at Salinas and picked up Highway 
3.  Since  Highway  2  had  been  a  fast  route,  we expected 3 to be 
similar.  Again  we  were  wrong, Highway 3 is a very scenic, but slow 
and  tortuous coastal road which often gets bogged down in small towns 
with  heavy  traffic  and narrow streets. This is all very well if you 
have no deadlines but we were pushing on for the ferry. 

In  retrospect  we  would  have followed the Expressway closer back to 
San   Juan  before  cutting  across  to  Fajardo  from,  say,  Caguas. 
Alternatively,  in  the  future  Highway  3  is also in the process of 
being  supplemented  by  the  new Tollway 53, which is currently under 
construction  and  open  in  a few small areas. This will dramatically 
shorten  the  driving  time  between  Salinas  and  Fajardo  and  also 
complete  a  high speed network which will cover 100% of the perimeter 
of the island.

Getting  back  to  our  journey,  as  the morning progressed it became 
clear  that  we  were  going to a small, remote, little and finally no 
chance  of  hitting the 1pm ferry. Fortunately, there is also a 4:30pm 
one  too  (as  well  as  9.30am  also).  Highway 3 does offer a lot of 
scenic  opportunities such as the Point Tuna Lighthouse and the Caribe 
Playa beach resort area. 

We  eventually  got  to  Fajardo  at around 2pm, with little to do but 
kill  a couple of hours till boarding time. There is very little to do 
at  the  Dock  area,  in  fact it is a typically dock type area with a 
couple  of  seedy  bars, restaurants and hotels. If we'd had more time 
to  kill  we'd  probably  have driven up to El Conquistador, but as it 
was  we  drove  around  Fajardo a bit exploring nothing in particular, 
before parking our car in the long term car park at the Dock..

The  ferry  tickets are very easy to organize and obtain, costing only 
$2  per  person.  We bought our tickets for the 4:30 ferry and crossed 
into  the terminal waiting area. As this was Friday, and also the last 
ferry  of  the  day, it was pretty busy with people heading to Vieques 
for  the  weekend.  Ariane,  being  pregnant, and Kyle were allowed to 
board  first and get a seat before the hordes of others (including me, 
as an elephant with all the bags) scrambled on. 

I  say  scrambled  as  their was mad rush to get on, even though there 
was  more  than  enough seats for everyone - it wasn't as if the ferry 
was  going  to suddenly depart and leave everyone behind! A Viequesian 
I  talked  to,  said  it  was  the same every Friday and that a little 
simple  organization  would  cure all. On hearing that Ariane had pre-
boarded  because  of her pregnancy, he produced a lemon and gave it to 
me,  saying that if she felt rough during the crossing, to nip into to 
it  and inhale as a cure. This again was another personal touch that I 
really  appreciated.  The  ferry  then  departed on time and we headed 
off.

The  journey  took  about  an  hour and 15 minutes and there were many 
scenic  sights,  which  would  have  been enhanced had it not been for 
slightly  overcast  weather.  The  crossing  was mildly rough and very 
quickly  about  half  a  dozen  people were heaving into the available 
sick  bags.  A good tip for the crossing to Vieques is also not to sit 
on  the  left hand side of the open, upstairs area. This area is prone 
to  fairly  severe  splashing as the boat dips into the waves and just 
about  everyone  on  that  side was very wet by the time we arrived in 
Vieques! 

On  arrival  at  Vieques we called up to the Sea Gate Guesthouse where 
we would be staying (PO Box 747, Isabel Segunda, Vieques, P.R. 00765 -
  Tel  (809)  741 4661). We had booked a room for $60 a night. The Sea 
Gate  does not take credit cards, only cash or travelers checks, and a 
two night deposit must be sent ahead in advance. 

Earlier,  when  I  was  making the booking, the owners daughter, Penny 
Miller,  had  been  immensely  patient  and helpful with my questions, 
advising  me of the ferry timetable and so on. They offered to pick us 
up  from the terminal and sure enough, when we called, a car driven by 
a  smiling  Dutch  American  lady,  appeared  within a few minutes and 
drove us up to the Sea Gate. 

The  Sea Gate is set high up on the bluffs overlooking Isabel Segunda, 
the  main village on Vieques. It also overlooks the newly restored old 
fort, which now serves as the town museum. 

When  we  got  to  our room on the 3rd floor of the guesthouse we were 
delighted  to see that in actuality, it was a beautifully and quaintly 
decorated  self contained apartment. There was a fully utensil stocked 
kitchen  and dining/ living area with a fridge/freezer. Adjoining this 
was  a  double  bedroom  leading into a large bathroom. The rooms were 
spotless  and  we felt at home the moment we walked in. The views were 
spectacular  and  we  also  had  a  large  balcony  in  front  of  the 
apartment, complete with tables and chairs. 

The  owner, Ruth Miller, is a half Irish/half German American from New 
Jersey  who  settled  on  the Island some 30 years ago and she and her 
daughter  are  now a local institution - everyone we met on the island 
knew,  and  spoke  highly  of,  Penny and Ruth. Ruth made sure we were 
comfortably settled in. 

In  addition,  the  lady  who  had  picked  us  up at the terminal was 
actually   another   guest,  Kitty  Scheuer,  who  had  the  adjoining 
apartment  on  the  other side of the 3rd floor. Kitty has been coming 
to  Vieques  for  years  and  always  stays  at the Sea Gate. From our 
subsequent  experiences,  we definitely will be doing likewise. If you 
choose  to  stay at the Sea Gate, which we highly recommend, please be 
sure  to tell Penny and Ruth that Evan, Ariane and Kyle encouraged you 
to stay there. 

By  the  time  we  had  settled  in, the sea air from the crossing had 
given   us   a   hearty   appetite.   We  asked  Kitty  for  a  dining 
recommendation  and  she  suggested Taverna Espanola, a Spanish Puerto 
Rican  restaurant  located  10  minutes  walk down into the village of 
Isabel  Segunda,  just  opposite City Hall. She told us that she would 
be  going  there  later  that evening with her brother and his family, 
who  had  also  arrived on Vieques a little earlier that day. They had 
flown  in  and  were staying in a bungalow on the guest house grounds. 
Kitty  volunteered  to  drive  us  down  to  the restaurant, and being 
pretty hungry, we accepted. 

The  Taverna is a very simple but lovely local restaurant. We had some 
vino  chorizo,  beef  stew with beans and rice, and pork chops. Dinner 
was  tasty  and  washed  down by some Medallia's came to a inexpensive 
$34.  During  dinner first Kitty and her relatives, then Penny Miller, 
arrived  so  we  all  got  one  table  together  and had a great time, 
getting  to  know  one  another.  Penny, it transpires, also literally 
doubles  as  a  local veterinarian, working for The Humane Society and 
had  been  off  treating  a  horse which had hurt itself. As the night 
went on we knew we were going to fall in love with Vieques.

 Saturday, 13th of July - Exploring Vieques 

We  arose  bright and early and opened the apartment door and breathed 
in  the  view.  Writing  this  now, I'm almost jealous of myself! When 
staying  at  the  Sea  Gate  your  rate, will include a full breakfast 
consisting   of  something  like  sweetbread,  freshly  picked  fruit, 
cheese,  coffee, tea and milk. It gets served on your balcony at about 
8am and sets you up well for the day.

We  had  also  arranged  to hire a car from Island Cars (on Route 201, 
Tel  (809)  741  1666  -  just beyond the Crows Nest Guesthouse). They 
will  rent  you  a  car or jeep for $25/$35 a day and will collect you 
from  where you are staying. When we got to Island Cars they also gave 
us  a  free  car  seat for Kyle. Unfortunately, it turned out that you 
can't  fit  it  into  the  back of a jeep, so they re-booked us into a 
beat  up  old  red car, which looked like a reject from Rent-a- Wreck. 
Even  so,  we weren't disappointed and it only added to the fun of our 
trip. We lovingly re-christened the car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang! 

In  any case, we headed off to explore Vieques, which essentially is a 
fairly  small  island  and looks so from the ferry. When you are there 
is  appears much bigger and a car is a necessity and there is a lot to 
explore.  (The  island  is in reality about 21 by 4 miles with an area 
of 33,000 acres and a population of 8,000.) 

Firstly  we  headed  out  east  as far as the road would go. This went 
through  some  residential  areas  with private beach but ended at the 
point  the  road  turned  into  the  US  Marine Base (more of the Army 
presence  later).  We turned back and headed to the other side (south) 
of  Vieques  where we hit Esperanza. This is where most of the tourist 
activities  occur and the beachfront is a series of restaurants, bars, 
guesthouses and diving shops. 

We've  spent  some  time  in Bali and this type of beachfront wouldn't 
look  out of place there. We chose to eat in one of the nicer open air 
restaurants,  Banana's.  This  is  a  typical Denpasar joint with some 
rooms  for rent through the back. It is owned and run by "mainlanders" 
and  offers  a wide variety of tasty food in it's clean restaurant. We 
had  some marinade jerk chicken, a fabulous tuna melt, something whose 
name  I  forget,  which  was actually fried dough, and an enormous hot 
dog for Kyle. The bill with drinks and tips was about $20.

We  then  decided  to  hit the beach. From any map of Vieques you will 
see  there  are  a  wide  selection  of beaches, of varying degrees of 
accessibility.  Two  of  the  more popular ones are Red Beach and Blue 
Beach,  both  located  on  the  military  base.  These are open to the 
public  on  production  of  a driving license, but are closed when the 
military  are conducting exercises. Unfortunately they were there when 
we were, so the beach was closed. 

The  US Military has a controversial role on the island, with the land 
on  the  island  itself  almost being split into three equal areas. To 
the  East  is  the  Marine  Base, to the West the Navy Base and in the 
central  strip  is  virtually  the complete population of Vieques, bar 
some  squatters  on  the  military lands. Earlier, before the military 
came, Vieques had had a thriving sugar industry.

As  it  began  to  decline  the  military  arrived,  and in the 1940's 
expropriated  some  26,000 acres of land and relocated large chunks of 
the  population. In 1947 they at one point tried to take the remaining 
7,000  acres  and  relocate  the  rest of the population to the Virgin 
Islands.  Luckily, strong opposition caused them to abandon this plan. 
Also  fortunately  nowadays, the military are confined to base and not 
allowed  to  enter  the middle chunk so you can almost, from a tourist 
perspective, ignore their presence. 

The  only  problem  we  experienced  was  the beaches being closed and 
hearing  some very short series of distant explosions as they had some 
bombing  practice,  which  was  relatively  unobtrusive.  On the other 
hand,  from  a  residents  perspective,  the  bombing  is  undoubtedly 
destroying  some  of  the  pristine environment and coral reefs, along 
with  disrupting  the  fishing stocks. The military did assist greatly 
during  Hurricane  Hugo when Hugo destroyed some 80% of the island. On 
behalf  of  the  population,  they  basically  rebuilt many things and 
replaced wooden buildings with solid brick and cement homes.

Conveniently,  their  presence also prevents the construction of large 
tourist  resorts  and  hotels,  a  la  San Juan, which if it did occur 
would  spoil  the  desolateness  of  the island. This presence and its 
associated  handicaps  or  benefits  are therefore two-edged. However, 
looking  at all the evidence today, we personally feel that Vieques is 
too  gorgeous to spoil and that the military presence should be scaled 
back  somewhat.  Political  moves  are  underfoot to reflect this, but 
Vieques  must, if this occurs, as we say, not spoil itself by becoming 
over commercialized. It's appeal is in its unspoiled beauty. 

One  review  we  read  said  "Vieques  is  for the newly wed or nearly 
dead".  In  essences,  this is true. If you are looking for nightclubs 
and  casino's,  forget  it - stick to San Juan. If you are looking for 
some  refreshing  solitude,  beautiful and quiet beaches, along with a 
fair  selection of restaurant, then Vieques is for you. We feel people 
either  love  it  or  hate.  We were certainly moving rapidly into the 
love it category.

We  decided  to  go to the main public beach, called Sun Beach. It was 
remarkably  quiet  and  we  enjoyed  splashing  about in crystal clear 
water,  with only a mild surf. There are no food kiosks, bars or other 
facilities  on  the  beach, so if you want something come prepared! We 
had  also  been  warned  that  Vieques  does have a small, petty theft 
problem,  with  poor  squatters  hiding  in  the vegetation lining the 
beach  and  then  throwing fishing lines out it, hooking rucksacks and 
the  likes.  The  official  tourist  literature echoed this fact so we 
always  left  our  camera, watches and jewelry behind at the hotel. We 
had  no  problems  and  when  we were finished at the Beach, we headed 
back to the Sea Gate to prepare for dinner. 

For  dinner  we  chose  to go to The Inn on the Blue Horizon, which is 
located  through  Esperanza and about another kilometer or so down the 
coast.  This  is  a  new  upper  class  hotel, and is openly marketing 
itself  as  the  poshest  on  the  island.  It  indeed has a beautiful 
setting and a lovely outdoor restaurant. 

However,  we  discovered that it is run and owned by some unbelievably 
arrogant   and  American  flaming  homosexuals.  Personally,  we  have 
nothing  against ones sexuality, providing they keep it to themselves. 
I  do  have a problem however, with gays who are arrogant to the point 
of  looking  down  on  you  because  you  are  straight. I also have a 
problem  with  gays  (or  anyone  else)  who  are  also  arrogant  and 
condescending  towards  children.  Unfortunately, the staff of the Inn 
on the Blue Horizon are of this type. 

For  example,  at  one point we noticed a scenic vista in front of the 
open  air restaurant, beyond the outdoor pool area looking out to sea. 
There  was a small sign before the entrance sating only residents were 
permitted  beyond  this point. Even so, I politely asked, since it was 
quiet,  if they would kindly make an exception and allow me to walk to 
the  vista and shoot some pictures. The waiter, who is a double for Ed 
Begley,  Jr.,  condescendingly  told  me that the owner, Billy Knight, 
was  at  the  bar, and "Billy" wasn't happy by these requests and that 
"Billy"  wouldn't  allow  it.  I  felt  a  little  bit put out by this 
answer.  I  mean,  it is one thing if a bus load of tourists wanted to 
get  off  and  take  over the place to take pictures. However, I was a 
patron  of  the restaurant and voluntarily spending my money there, so 
I sort of considered myself a temporary resident. 

This  sort  of  soured  our  feelings  for  what,  I  say  again, is a 
beautiful  Inn  and  beautiful  restaurant.  Ariane's  meal  itself of 
pompano  fish  in  a  white  wine  sauce and mine of Cajun snapper was 
worthy  of  a  high  starred  restaurant. With drinks and a lower than 
normal  tip,  the  bill  came  in  at  $36  and for which in return, I 
"arrogantly"  paid  for  with  my  Platinum Amex, was also undoubtedly 
good  value. Needless to say though, "Billy" won't be seeing any of my 
hard  earned  dollars  on  my  nest  trip  to Vieques. If they wish to 
establish  a  high class, arrogant resort, then "Billy" can keep it to 
himself! 

 Sunday, 14th July - More of Vieques 

Overnight,  while  we  were deep asleep at the Sea Gate a fairly heavy 
tropical  rain  burst  located  itself  over  Vieques and continued to 
shower  on  and  off for most of coming day. We were determined not to 
let  a  little  bit  of  rain hold us back, so after breakfast, a book 
read  and  chat  with Kitty, we stoically trooped off in Chitty Chitty 
Bang  Bang  to  explore the remainder off the Island. The rain though, 
did put a damper on our beach plans for that day. 

Around  lunch  time we ended up again in Esperanza and decided to have 
a  meal  at  Mario's  (also  called Restaurante El Quenero). This is a 
very  local  restaurant  and we were the only tourists there. Everyone 
else  appeared  to be local families coming together for Sunday lunch. 
We  ordered  up  some local dishes which were only average, decided to 
eat  and  quickly  pay up, then relocated 50 meters back down the road 
to  Banana's,  which  was  turning into a favorite stopping ground for 
ourselves. 

Whilst  we  were  there  we heard some samba music coming from a small 
deck  area  across  the  street.  I  wandered  across  and saw that an 
impromptu  local  dance  was  taking  place and the same families we'd 
left  at  Mario's  had  now  moved  over  here after their lunch for a 
Sunday  afternoon  dance.  It  was  enjoyable  watching  the different 
generations  all coming together and having a good old dance together. 
Back  at  Banana's  we  finished  up  with  some  desert and since the 
weather  was  still somewhat iffy decided to head back to the Sea Gate 
for a lazy afternoon.

Whilst  sitting  on the balcony, my curiosity got the better of me and 
I  ambled  down  to  the  Fort  Conde de Mirasol to have a look at the 
museum.  The  Fort  was  constructed  for  the  then  Spanish Governor 
between  1845/55  and  is  the  last  actual  Fort  constructed during 
Spain's  colonial  days. In recent years it fell into disrepair before 
be