Our couchsurfer host named Rosa Lie is a very pleasant lady in her thirties who lives with her teenage son Ganesh. They live in a small apartment on the outskirts of San Juan. Me and Torunn got to share a sofa bed in the living room. Rosa is a very cool lady who made us all sorts of local sweets. She lives a very hectic life; going to work at 7, finished at five and then home to entertain couchsurfers or out with friends every night.
We spent the first day exploring the San Juan old town. This is where all the interesting things have happened. The Spanish held on to Puerto Rico for 400 years without the Brits, Dutch or the French managing to take it from them. It was mostly because they built two fairly large forts full of canons that covered every inch of the port where ships could enter.
There had obviously been some natives there before the Spaniards, but they were just slaughtered. This happened on all the Caribbean islands that we visited. There was always plenty of native Caribs on the various islands, and they were always slaughtered by Europeans who wanted to chop down all the forests to start the sugar plantations. This has probably always been the case in the history of most countries; those who have more advanced technology (guns) butchering the natives who are more primitive (only spears).
We visited both forts and 2 museums ,and after that we felt we had seen enough canons and forts for a while. The old Town is pretty cool in itself; narrow cobbled streets and ruins and forts around every corner.
the following day we had rented a car and got a little too ambitious. The plan was to go to the Arecibo Observatory to see the big antenna, the world's largest radio telescope, In addition to the Bacardi factory and icecream shop in Lares.
The Bacardi factory was pretty good. It was one of those rare places that was actually for free. We got a full tour of how Bacardi was made, and everything about the history. Then we had a bartender who spoke about the drinks you can make with Bacardi. It all ended with 2 free Bacardi-cocktails. That was great!. We obviously ended up buying a liter of Bacardi.
It was quite far to drive to the gigantic radioantenna, mostly on small side roads. Expectations were high when we got there as we had seen the antenna in "contact" and "James Bond" and were very impressed. Those who built the antenna had found a valley that was the right size and then put the dish into the valley covering the existing forest.. They built 3 giant towers to keep the whole thing up. At the visitor center they have a small planetarium where there is plenty of information on various planets and other science stuff. It was really a bit too much, as we had really only come there to take a picture of the antenna. We arrived fairly late in the day so we had less than an hour to see the whole site, that was not quite enough. The antenna was very impressive, but it seemed like an incredibly tedious job to analyze all the data that comes from the antenna. Scientists are sitting for months putting together numerous data from the antenna so that they can find out that Pluto is 0,5% smaller than what was previously believed, or other observations.
After the antenna the plan was to go to a small village called Lares. The big attraction there is an ice cream parlor that sells ice cream with funny flavors. They have ice cream flavors like garlic, fish, beef, beers(!) and various other things. I looked forward like a little kid to taste the beer ice cream and fish ice cream. After 1 hour drive from the antenna, we came to Lares, and to my huge disappointment, we were outside the icecream-parlour 3 minutes after five, and the parlor had closed at five. I think the locals thought "that nut must really be fond of ice cream" when they saw me swearing outside the locked store. There were 1 hour drive for ice cream that we never got….So thats the plan for the next time we are in Puerto Rico .
When we got back to San Juan, it was already dark and we had no map or GPS. It was a pretty big problem since we had no idea where our house was. Luckily we were saved by our tablet which had GPS and helped us find a part of town where we could recognize some places and could find the house.
Rosa Lie was cool and had a little party at night. A good chance for us to finish our bottle of Bacardi. We were too tired to come salsadancing with her though. ., besides, we are not very good salsadancers anyway!
The next day we drove to the last remnants of rainforest on the island; El Yunque.
We obviously had planned to go up to the top of the highest mountain in the forest, a route that few tourists venture out on. It took some effort to get up there, but the rainforest was very beautiful and quiet. There were not as many animals there, but still fine. Typically our bad luck when it began to rain and it turned foggy so we could hardly see our own hand, flashback from Jamaica and Panama.
We also took the tour to various waterfalls which was pretty cool. After the rainforest, we went to a town that is known for having lots of local street food. The best thing about travelling around the world is to try the food from the different countries. Puerto rico food was actually very good, and none of us got sick - double bonus !
On the way back to San Juan, we made the big mistake to drive to the city center in the middle of rush hour traffic. It was a very bad idea, and we still do not know why we were so stupid to decide to do it. The worst thing was that we did it just to get a beer-picture with the fort in the old town. We always try to take a beer-picture in each country, so we find the local beer and shoot the bottle in front of a national monument.
After a few hours in a traffic jam we came to the old city after darkness fell. Old Town was pretty cool in the dark because all the monuments and forts are lit with spotlights. The beer-picture was relatively poor. On the way back to our house, we got lost in the center of the metropolis of San Juan. Torunn was driving and she almost had a fit by the time we finally found the way out of the maze. We were pretty tired when we finally got home.
The next day we said goodbye to Rosa Lie and set off to meet our next couch surfer who lives on a small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico.
The island of Vieques is definitely a place that all tourists to Puerto Rico should visit. The main attraction there is a bay which has the highest concentration of luminescent algae in the world.
We took a taxi from the boat and went to the village of Esperanza where the rastaman we were staying with was to meet us. When I had asked him about the address he said that I just had to mention his name to anyone since everyone on the island knows him. The first people we asked did not know who he was, but then we asked some bearded Americans in a local pub. They were very careful not to give us any information, just in case we were FBI or something. They called different people, and after we had had some beers at the pub Alexi turned up and took us in his truck to his home.. 2 minutes later we were accommodated in his nice little pink house. An hour after that, we were in the yacht of a wealthy friend and drank rum in the sunset, while the burgers were sizzling on the barbeque. It was one of those situations where we felt grateful for couch surfing and all the cool people we meet.
It was a very nice yacht and fun people who owned it. We went on a little trip with the boat and then to the village for a pub crawl. Alexi was a real night person, When we started to get tired around 2AM he had barely started his evening. We went home and he got home at 6 o'clock, apparently with a loud lady.
Alexis job was a tourist guide to the luminescent bay, something that we had planned to do anyway. So the second night on the island, we went there with him and some American women.
Me and Torunn had a kayak to share and began paddling. For each paddle stroke the water around the kayak lit up like a giant neon-light. We saw the fish in the water as they made a luminous track where they swam, probably easy to be a predator fish in this lake.
Only a few months ago an American woman had been swimming in the bay and a shark had chewed off a large piece of her leg. It apparently went well after a few months in the hospital, but it is illegal to swim in this bay, partly due to bad PR when tourists are eaten by sharks, but mostly to avoid interfering too much with the algae.
It was fun to stick your hand in the water, so I could obviously not help myself when it came to bathe. I had a small accident and "fell" out of the kayak right in the center of the bay. It was cool, I was flopping around and made a lot of light around myself. I felt a bit like "Tron". I made an angel, just like a snow-angel, only more fun.
I was the only one who swam of the group, and suddenly the guide and the others started shouting that I had to go out of the water, so I jumped into the kayak again .
It turned out that the guide had seen the luminous outline of a very big fish that came quickly in my direction, most likely a shark. It may be that I got the wrong kind of attention floppling around. The poor hungry shark probably thought I was a sick fish that he could have for dinner.
Later in the evening we grilled on the beach with the friends of our rastafriend Alexi. We were in a good mood.
The day after we were leaving to St.Croix, which is one of the islands in the U.S. virgin islands. We left for the airport in Vieques (which is the smallest airport I've ever seen) and waited for our plane to leave. There were only a handful of other passengers as our plane was a small 8 seat Cessna plane. The pilot was very young, probably only around 20, and Torunn had the honor of being co-pilot. Slightly disturbing, but fortunately it was only a half hour flight and Torunn would prove to be an extremely competent co-pilot.