[ To Express, To Reflect, To Give Back ]

Our experience in Puerto Rico – Part 1

Its our first anniversary and aren’t first anniversaries supposed to be special and taken seriously? (its got to be if one considers the marriage as successful 🙂 ). As I always do, we were planning for it for almost two months, but it remained ‘planning’ and was never executed! [my greatest virtue (call it weakness or strength) to date is to delayed decision making, put more bluntly, dragging things to the very last minute 🙂 ] But this time Harini was adamant to go ”somewhere” as it was almost a year since we went out for a vacation. The last one was early this year to New Mexico. After bugging me for so many days, and myself wavering all the way from Munich, Germany to Poconos, Pennsylvania, I brought it down to one choice : Puerto Rico(PR). How and Why? It was the farthest sunny place I could go without have to go thru the painful process getting a visa. Puerto Rico(PR) is a US colony and moreover, American Airlines flies non-stop from our closest airport. [I still don’t know who its part of US and still not part of US, Puerto Rico represents itself as a separate nation in Olympics and Miss Universes etc but everyone is a US Citizen there!] .

Even after fixing up the place, I took time till the 11th hour to finalize the hotel/resort. PR isn’t a big country but there is still whole lot of choices on where to stay and on which side of the island nation. For a few days, I thought we were going to stay in a small-time motel in Boqueron Bay on the less crowed south west coast of PR but just the day before leaving NJ, I liked the idea of staying in a full-fledged resort, I booked into Wyndham Resorts at the El Conquistidor Spa & Resort in the city of Fajardo, on the north east coast of PR. pool .Harini took care of every other pre-travel planning from finding things to do, spots to see to packing our clothes and charging our camera batteries. On Thursday, Nov 4th, we reached Newark Liberty Intl Airport around 6.00pm and it was freezing cold and raining heavily (may be couldn’t believe that we were finally going for a vacation :)). After checking in our baggage, we still had an hour before boarding the flight, so we were hanging around the food court area talking to Dana, Nags and grabbing a bite from subway.

After boarding the flight at around 7 pm our flight had to wait at the gate for more than an hour for which the pilot gave some vague excuses (some external startup not working so we are borrowing from other airlines who aren’t working either so we going to our workshop etc…reminds me of a joke Seinfeld gives as a reason these pilot give excuses for delayed take off when the real reason is that they forgot the keys to the flight in their hotel room!!! ). Finally he managed to take off at around 8.30 pm. Just then we learnt Puerto Rico is 1 hour ahead of us (eastern time) and it was a 4 hour flight. After the pleasure of watching the Tom Hanks/Spielberg movie “The Terminal” on-flight ( The movie is OK, worth a home video), we landed in San Juan (capitol of PR) Airport at around 12.30am and after collecting our baggage we stepped into the PR land at around 1.00am. It was warm and humid. Within a few minutes I started feeling the sweat on forehead. Somewhere I read it was 85 degrees.

It felt like we stepped out into Chennai because of sultry and sticky weather. Not only that, people were shouting at the top of their voices(very unlike USA) from one corner of the terminal to the someone in the other corner. The arrival area, just like the one in Chennai, has secured metal rods around the arrival gate and around 100s of locals, at 1.30 AM standing around not letting the each other see anything. All the voices we were hearing were in Spanish. Spanish has a strong emphasis on ‘R’ syllables and I felt almost every word has an R. So imagine people screaming all around you, you only hear ‘CURRR PUR MARRR RROSS PURR JERRR RRRAKK’. Perhaps, someone who doesn’t speak Tamil would also feel the same way getting out from Chennai airport (makes me wonder how it would sound). After waiting for the rental car shuttle to pick us up, we rolled out into the PR highways in our upgraded Chevy Blazer around 2.00 am.

golfThere is probably only one high way, Highway No: 3 from San Juan to Fajardo. After a small mix up trying to understand the Spanish highway signs, I managed to reach that highway from airport. Thank god it was 2 in the morning, there was literally no one on the roads. We drove for about 1 hour lost our way again a little bit at the junction where we had to split for the resort and eventually reached the resort. I believe this resort is one of the biggest and best ones in that area which I certainly didn’t know until I saw this one and a few others around ( All I cared was the rates per night that this one offered and it was under my budget plus the pictures on the Wyndham website looked pretty inviting). It was high up on a hill surrounded by full of palm trees and other tropical plantations. We drove past a golf course on the hills and Atlantic ocean was roaring on the other side of the hill. The combination of the oceanic breeze and the sultry weather was inviting after the chilly nights in Jersey. It was almost 4 am when we checked in and reached our room. Again, we were lucky to be upgraded ( they didn’t have the room size option I had asked for so they had no choice but to upgrade me on to next level ) and we got a ocean view room with a private bar, DVD, Cassette and Music players ( Except for the first and last one, we had no time to use the rest 🙂 ). view The view from the walk-out balcony was truly spectacular, even at the time of the night. The ocean was more noisier now perhaps the world was sleeping, lights blipping far into the ocean from the cruise ships and other smaller islands away from the coast. To the right of the balcony we enjoyed the bright lit night view of the entire resort (We were on the right corner of the V shaped resort). Admiring the ocean view sitting in the balcony for a few minutes, we hit the bed at 4.30.

Sun broke early but we were too tired to realize it, we woke up around 10. and hurriedly rushed to the breakfast cafe as we just read the note on the desk that said breakfast clsoes at 11. Finishing the breakfast with a hot cappuccino, we decided to take a drive around the resort to start with. With sun light, the resort looked much like a paradise. Believe me, it was. The moment we rolled down into the curvy driveways of the hill, I only remembered our “God’s own land” Kerala which is could be compared with this for its tropical beauty. It was beautiful drive amidst the rain forest, the lush golf course and with the line of beautiful beaches on the horizon.

Getting out of the resort and driving into the outskirts of the city of Fajardo, we soon realized that Puerto Rico, though being a part of US is still very unlike US. We noticed dirty roads with garbage all along the curbs and overflowing garbage bins. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying the natural beauty of all the other things. The best was the low-ceiling colonial-style houses, one after the other ( no lawn or front yard very much like what it will be in places like cochin) colorfully painted in pink, green and blue. Yeah, this was strikingly contrasting to how houses are built here in US (almost all in a community look alike). But in PR, there was no uniformity and it looks different but natural.

The previous night while driving from the airport to Fajardo we stopped on red lights watching as no one waited except us. Strange ! We realized much later that after midnight nobody needs to make full stop for the red light !.The roads are designed in the US way with multiple lanes and perfect lane dividers but people just drive in the middle of the road not following the lanes. On another day driving out in heavy traffic, we saw people use the shoulder(not really a drivable lane) as the 4th lane and driving high speed comfortably, the cop included I should also not forget to tell you how prompt and rule binding one guy was. In the middle of an intersection when the light changed to red, he stopped right there, and cars honking big time turn either from front of him or behind :)…….Rules is rules isnt it? no matter where you are!

Back to our first day; Returning back from that late morning drive, we did some shopping for a while within the resort. There were shops all over the place selling beach wear to cigars to art/crafts. While having lunch at the pool side restaurant, we decide to dive into the pool. Looked like everyone in the resort were already in the pool, can’t blame ‘em, at around noon the sun was scorching at 90+. Hanging out in the pool and playing some water games (just between us with the volleyballs and tubes) we came back to our room for coffee time. During the morning outing, Harini already had her eyes on a Chinese restaurant “Chopsticks” just outside a few miles from the resort. So we came back to Chopsticks for dinner. We encountered the real Puerto Ricans there for the first time. No one in the restaurant spoke English. We managed to use some sign languages to ask for ‘No meat, vegetarian fried rice’ and luckily got what we asked for. I don’t remember when the last time I was in a place when everyone around me spoke a language that i didn’t know but this was one little embarrassing and at times, bit scary. As soon as we finished dinner, we said better return back to resort where we know we will be fine. The day was not yet over, apart from those rooms up the hill this resort also had private villas, which were located down the foot of the hill for which we had to take a tram which incidentally was located just outside our room on that floor. So we went down to Las Castle village(Private Villas) in few minutes. That walk on the edges of that island overlooking the sea was unforgettable. It was warm and cozy walking amidst the coconut and palm trees resisting the ocean breeze. After chatting for a while at the ocean front bar there, we returned back to call people in India to take their wishes and also to wish Harini’s mom on her birth day(Its the same as our anniversary). Exactly at 12, we wished each other marking our first anniversary stepping into our second.
Harini by now has already learnt a bunch of Spanish words…how? From the signs on the streets :SALIDA(exit), Pare(stop), Velocidad Maxima(maximum speed limit), Solo(only). With that vocabulary I felt a little better stepping out into the country side. Next day we decided to visit a small island, called the Palominos, owned by the resort where they also offered many water sports and recreational activities like parasailing and horseback riding. We took a 15 minute ferry ride from the resort and reached Palominos. The sun was at its peak at 10 am and everyone were enjoying the sunbath. We found a good spot, that was sunny but still shady and started enjoying the sun and the beach. The water, crystal clear sparkling with sunshine, but still cold enough to keep us cool below the sun, invited us shortly. So we went into the beach and Mr.ActSmart (that’s me!) slammed Harini into the sea (don’t worry just knee deep) :)..she came out safe but was cursing me with fury. Back to the shore shortly, but I am not among the ones who would sit quite and idle for long and I was already take the wave runners for a ride. Poor Harini, innocently agreed, it was all fun until we both got bit farther into the ocean on wave runner. Although she was sitting at the back, once we reached the middle of the ocean ( about a mile into it) she was shouting at the top of her voice as if her lungs will blow up soon and as always, I kept laughing and enjoying the tides hitting them harder and jumping higher every time. (In her own words : I actually felt like being tortured by some devil having fun watch me cry and shout. I was so glad that we hired it for half hour and not the full hour.30 minutes looked like 30 hours of breath taking rollercoaster ride, I took a sigh of relief once I touched the earth). Now when I think about it , I know for sure that it was FUN!!!!(Am not sure if she will do it again thou!:))

The experiences from next two days will folllow shortly and the photos shortly after that [blaming it on me, we still dont have a digital camera, so waiting to develop the rolls!]

[It took both of us four days to write this which is why it got bit lengthier, hope its enjoyable—i am sure we will enjoy it years from now]

The Part 2 of this travelogue is here. [Click]

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