Monday December 12, 2011
Woke up after my first night on the sleeper-sofa. It actually wasn’t any worse than the regular bed I had been sleeping on the past week. So for me, this was a win. Today was the day we finally could break free of San Juan and head out to explore the island. Mom wasn’t feeling well so it ended up being Gary, Shirley and myself. We were picked up by the shuttle driver and taken down the street to Charlie’s Rental Car where we picked up a 2012 Ford Fusion. The hostess behind the counter who was helping us gave us directions on how to use the toll roads with the AutoPass pay system as well as directions to various points of interest.
We loaded up the Fusion and headed on the road. The Fusion rides good over the bumpy roads of Puerto Rico, and Gary and Shirley loved the displays. With just a hint of confusion and my expert directions, we were on our way to points east. Our travels took us to the PR-66 Toll Road and the first automated toll lane we went through buzzed at us with a red light, so confused, we decided to just pay cash as it seemed we were not getting the transponder to register that we were paying the fees. Come to think of it, we couldn’t find anything that remotely looked like a transponder, so that made our choice to pay cash and any further stops, that much easier.
Our first stop was at the Outlet-66 Mall to get a quick breakfast. The first place we saw was a Wendy’s, and since bisquits haven;t made it here yet, they breakfast menu items were served on normal buns. Mine was actuallly good and not greasy. After our meal break, it was a quick 20 minutes more to the El Yunque National Forest. We ponied up the $4 entry fee per person at the visitor center (or El Portal as they like to call it) and wandered around to get a feel for the rest of the forest. I got my obligatory magnet, and after we walked through the exhibits (skipping the Spanish only movie), we headed up into the rainforest.
We didn’t spend that much time – maybe an hour or so – driving up the hill where we saw La Coca Falls and Yokahu Tower. There rest of the real highlights in the park required a bit of hiking, and sadly we did not have enough time in our day to spend wandering the upper trails. I wouldn’t mind coming back and doing the 1.5 hour hike to the top opbservation tower, but I really would need to get in shape first.
We headed back down to the main highway and we decided to head around the Eastern edge of Puerto Rico to do a mini circle route back to San Juan. We headed around the island via Luquillo, Fajardo, and Humacaro. We missed one of the scenic turnoffs to do a mini coast loop, so we decided to push south to the Faro de Punta Tuna (or the Point Tuna Lighthouse), which had an awesome name. We stopped in Yabucoa for a snack break and search for unsweetened tea at McDonald’s. While there I popped into Walgreen’s to get me some new Solar Shields as the glare from the tropical sun was getting to me.
We then headed south to finally get to the Faro de Punta Tuna. Once we got into the smaller streets, I used Google Maps to help me navigate. It turns out Google wanted to send me up and down some extreme streets, so we just decided to follow the signs. We passed a cool looking beach near Maunabo, and made sure we hit it on the way back. Arriving at the Lighthouse, I discovered that, yet again, it was closed Monday and Tuesdays – just like Aricebo! I took the obligatory fence shot, and careful not to disturb the dog sleeping in the road, we headed back to the beach we saw earlier. Turned out to be a hidden gem as it was isolated and there was no one on it at all. We took a lot of photos and even got our feet wet in the Caribbean Sea.
After soaking in as much as possible, it was time to head back to San Juan and Condado. We took the interior route back and despite a delay at the toll plaza with traffic, it was a smooth ride back. We made it with 30 minutes to spare before Charlie’s closed. Gary got clarification on the Autopass system, and apparently we would have been fine, but I am glad we payed anyway since the tolls were not over $1.50 each and it gave us piece of mind.
After chillaxin’ at the room for a bit checking on Mom, Gary and I decided to have dinner at Chili’s of all places. Despite a bit of a language barrier, the food was good and much cheaper than the hotel. It was time to relax some more before our early departures tomorrow. I have the earliest flight, but as a bonus I get in several hours before everyone else due to my tight connection in Miami. I am hoping there are no delays and I don’t miss the connection like what happened coming back from Argentina.