Puerto Rico Trip Report

30 03 2009

I know many of you have been anxious to hear how we did camping in Puerto Rico with Noah and Kallen.  Well, we pulled it off……sort of.  I know now why I set my goals so high, because in reality I actually only accomplish about 1/2 of them.

DAY 1

Flight was supposed to leave at 5:15am last Thursday.  Since we live about an hour and 10 minutes from the airport, we all got up around 2am.  Began standing in line just before 4am and the Delta counters weren’t even open yet.  A few minutes later they proceed to tell us that there are mechanical issues with our plane and our flight has been delayed until 1pm.  Well isn’t that just a great way to start the day.  Our plans had been to arrive in San Juan around 1:30pm and head to Seven Seas to set up camp before dinner time.  Now what the hell were we going to?  Our flight didn’t get in until after 10pm now and we weren’t going to drive over an hour and then set up camp.  I somehow talked Delta into getting us a comp room at the Best Western connected right to the Puerto Rico airport.  Check out our sweet flat screen:

Night 1 at the Best Western

Night 1 at the Best Western

DAY 2

Got up early and headed to Acampa – the only outfitter store we could find in the San Juan area.  We asked the guy working there about places to camp, things to do, etc.  He wasn’t all that helpful since he didn’t provide any information that we hadn’t gathered from our own research.  Here’s a pic of the boys outside of the store:

Acampa Outfitters - San Juan

Acampa Outfitters - San Juan

Next we drove about 50 miles to the Seven Seas campground on the far eastern end of Puerto Rico.  The beach was nice and the area was pretty quiet.  We had lunch at this little restaurant right on the beach and everything on the menu was fried food, even the “tacos” that I wanted to order.  The waitress informed us that Puerto Ricans fry everything, so good luck to us finding food that wasn’t.  Well then, I couldn’t wait to do some camp fire cooking.  Jason couldn’t figure out why his Medella Light’s (official Puerto Rican beer) were going down so fast until we realized that the cans were only 10 ounces instead of 12 ounces.  So even though food and drink prices in Puerto Rico are the same as they are here in the states, you get less beer for your money – what’s up with that?  Some locals told us that they make 10 oz cans so the beer doesn’t get warm….hmmmm.  Oh and you can only get 3 kinds of beer in Puerto Rico – Medella Light, Coors Light and Heineken.  Most locals don’t drink beer, they love the rum.  Even though Bacardi is the best selling rum all over the world and is made in Puerto Rico, the locals prefer Don Q rum, because it is not as sweet as Bacardi….interesting.

After surveying the campsites and the beach (which was pretty small), we decided to ditch camping at Seven Seas and head straight over to Culebra Island, which we were told had the best beach in all of Puerto Rico.  I was ok with hanging at Seven Seas, but I think all the iguanas and lizards running around the camping area freaked Jason out (wussy).

We took a ferry from Fajardo (about 10 minutes away from Seven Seas) over to Culebra Island (about an hour and a half ride).  We left our rental car at the ferry dock and decided to take a bus/taxi from the Culebra dock to the Flamenco Beach campground.  At this point we were still upbeat about camping until I found out how far we had to carry our bags to our campspot.  There were 5 sections to the campground and they put the local partyers in section A and local families in sections B,C and D.  We were assigned to section E at the very end of course.  This area is reserved for tourists and did have the best camp spots nestled right next to the beach.  Here is a picture of all the bags that we had to portage in:

I still think we packed too much

I still think we packed too much

Each of the big bags weighed over 50 pounds and most of the time I had to carry Noah as well.  The bags with wheels were no help – have you ever tried pulling them through sand?  After dragging bags through the sand and heat, we finally reached section E and it was full!  So we headed back to section D, set up camp, played in the ocean for a bit, ate dinner and went to bed really early.

DAy 3

Woke up to a most beautiful morning and spent the entire day at the beach.  Jason had a little luck snorkeling and of course when I tried to go out I got in trouble by the lifeguard because apparently I missed seeing the red caution flag.  So no snorkeling for me that day due to dangerous rip tides.  Here’s a pic of Jason getting out earlier in the day:

Jason going to spot some fish

Jason going to spot some fish

I must say that Flamenco Beach was the prettiest beach I have ever been to – the finest white sand and crystal clear turquoise water.  We chose to come to Culebra Island because we heard it was a fantasy island escape – a blend of beauty and quietness.  Well they got the beauty part right, but that day and night was anything buy quiet.  One of our earlier taxi/van drivers was talking about how this was on of the busiest weekends on Culebra because it was the biggest “goat” race in the entire caribbean.  He showed us the starting line and said that the “goats” would pass right by our campground.  So here’s me looking all day for goats to come racing by the beach.  It wasn’t until the next day after talking to another local that the island was so busy because it was a Heineken sponsored sailboat regatta.  OH, the driver had been saying “boat” all along, not “goat” – stupid me.

Life doesn't get better than this....

Life doesn't get better than this....

Our crazy creek chairs were the bomb!

Our crazy creek chairs were the bomb!

Of the entire trip, we had our best meal back at our tent site – black angus burgers cooked over our little MSR stove.  Since our boys are up around 6:30am everyday and we had a full day in the sun, we were ready for bed by 9pm.  Unfortunately the rest of the campground was ready to party all night…..so I can’t even tell you what time I did actually fall asleep.

Hangin around camp.....

Hangin around camp.....

DAY 4

After breakfast we packed up a few backpacks and hiked about a half hour over the mountain to the other side of the island.  We went to a beach called Carlos Rosario which had the best snorkeling I have ever done.  Within an hour I had seen at least 30 different species of fish, plus really breathtaking coral.  Around 11 am we made the decision that we had seen what we needed to at Culebra and wanted to get back to the mainland.  After snorkeling we had camp packed up inside of 45 minutes, grabbed a taxi to try and catch the 1pm ferry back to Fajardo.  I stood in line at the ferry dock for a good hour and a half and thought there was no way we were getting tickets for the next boat.  Then by some act of nature, the captain of the ferry came out and told the ticket agent that the boat was full.  He then asked me how many people I had in my group and I said 4 but that I had 8 bags as well….man there was no way they were fitting us on.  It wouldn’t have been a big deal if we had to stay later, but we were all packed and what were we going to do with all our gear until we could catch the next boat?  The captain then told the ticket agent to let us get on and cut off the line right after us – holy cow!

After the hour and a half boat ride and the previous once again hot, long, exhausting camping portage, we made the decision to get a hotel room in Fajardo that night.  I felt somewhat of a failure since we couldn’t get through the whole trip camping.  But me and Jason were wiped out by this point from all the traveling and portaging.  We ended up staying at the Fajardo Inn which had a great kids pool area, playground and mini-golf.  Once me and J had a great shrimp dinner and a few rum specialties from the Blue Iguana bar, we were RELAXED.

DAY 5

Headed up to El Yunque rainforest at 7:30am to spend the morning hiking.  Today was the best day of the trip for all of us.  We hiked 3 trails – La Mina Falls, Bano de Oro, and Mt. Britton, which was the most difficult and highest elevation.  Of course we expected to rain in the rain forest, but it rained pretty  much the entire 4 hours that we were there.  The boys Columbia rain ponchos was the best investment we made for this trip and our family was definitely the best outfitted.  Most people just wore tees with no rain gear.  One lady did don a plastic grocery bag on her head – I guess whatever works.  Here’s some trail pics and look at all the bamboo I found!

Kallen the super trouper!

Kallen the super trouper!

On the La Mina Falls trail

On the La Mina Falls trail

Hiking to the waterfall

Hiking to the waterfall

Made it up over 3200 feet to Mt. Britton Tower.  All that work and too cloudy to get a view of island - dang it!

Made it up over 3200 feet to Mt. Britton Tower. All that work and too cloudy to get a view of island - dang it!

Just hanging out with my favorite woody grass....

Just hanging out with my favorite woody grass....

Okay - maybe I love bamboo a little too much....

Okay - maybe I love bamboo a little too much....

View from tower overlook

View from tower overlook

La Mina Falls

La Mina Falls

Washed out Bano de Oro trail - had to turn around

Washed out Bano de Oro trail - had to turn around

We were planning on camping the last night in the rain forest, but after seeing how washed out the camp sites were and how far we would have to portage in (once again), we opted to spend the last night back at the hotel (I know, we wimped out).  We found a great little family restaurant for dinner that night.  It was all outdoor seating and they made everything on a big grill.  The boys loved the place because there was a very friendly cat that hung out around the table and they got to listen to the coqui frogs singing in the plants. It was a great place to spend our last evening.

Last night in Puerto Rico

Last night in Puerto Rico

Speaking of cats (and dogs) – in Puerto Rico stray cats and dogs are EVERYWHERE!  Back at our campground they came out of the trees like an army ready to take over the island.  Don’t get me wrong I love cats (I have one), but it was almost an infestation of them.  Also stray dogs run everywhere in and out of busy traffic along the highways – I just kept my eyes closed because I knew one would get hit eventually.

DAY 6

We couldn’t decide if we wanted to head to Old San Juan or check out Luquillo Beach for our last morning.  Our flight left at 2:30pm so we didnt’ have much time to get much done.  We ended up heading back to San Juan to check out the old San Juan forts built by the Spanish military back in the 1500’s.  Well the entire morning can be summarized in one word – TRAFFIC.  Yep that’s all we spent our time doing.  Puerto Ricans have a love affair with American cars and they drive everywhere.  This was very disappointing to see since it is a perfect climate to get around with cycles or scooters.  I honestly don’t quite understand how Puerto Ricans even afford cars.  The median wage is $19,000 and my local informant tells me that a basic 2 bedroom home in San Juan goes for about $200,000.  All of the food,drink, clothing, gas prices,  etc. are the same as they are here in the states – so how do Puerto Ricans financially survive?  I know that almost 1/2 the population lives below the poverty line and receives government assistance such as food stamps and WIC – but the numbers still don’t add up……..

Anyways, we only got to see a quick view of Old San Juan and couldn’t even tour the fort sites because there were no parking spots within a mile.  We drove back towards the airport and had lunch on Isla Verde beach before calling it a day.  Of course both our San Juan and our connecting Atlanta flight were both delayed – thanks Delta – luv ya.

Would we go back?  Maybe.  I think of Puerto Rico as beauty and the beast.  While it has some of the most beautiful beaches and the rainforest is killer – the town areas are very dirty and poor.  It saddened me to see garbage everywhere even on the beaches and at our campground.  I feel fortunate growing up in Minnesota and having the leave no trace policy ingrained in my mind.  Every time we go camping, boating, or to the lake, we never leave gargage laying around – never.  I’m thinking I probably won’t make it back to PR because there are just too many other places on my “bucket list”.  Thanks for reading…….

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5 responses

31 03 2009
matt

This blog’s great!! Thanks :).

10 04 2009
Andrew

Thanks for the great write up!

18 04 2009
Arthur

Oh and btw, Puertorricans live good, no poverty and not everybody lives in San Juan, which is very over priced. People have cars because there’s no subway and not that much reliable public transportation. One other thing you should know about PR is if you don’t like crowds or traffic, stay out of San Juan in the weekend and on rush hour.

22 04 2009
naturallybamboo

Hi Arthur-
Thanks for taking the time to post. I do know that about 1/3 of Puerto Ricans live in San Juan which is about 1.4 million people. I agree that Puerto Ricans are almost forced to have their own vehicles because there is not a good public transportation system in place. I was just surprised that I hardly saw anyone riding bikes – even in the smaller towns.

I know that I cannot make generalizations about your culture, because my reports come from just a few locals that I spoke with on our trip. I did read somewhere though that Puerto Ricans rated themselves the happiest as compared to all the other cultures in the world.

18 02 2011
babysun

Hi, Mr Bamboo
Glad to read your blog on Puerto Rico before we go there next month. We also plan to camp the whole trip but feel a little scared by your description. Sounds not really pleasant to camp anywhere in Puerto Rico. I hope winter time makes it less crowded. It would be my first time renting a car and camping in US. But your blog is in great detail and is very helpful, thanks for writing this blog. I wish we can bring back a great memories to share.

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