19 January, 2017
Feliz ano Nuevo,
The trip back to the States was outta sight. We stayed at Suzanne’s sister and brother-in-law’s home atop a mountain outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Their home is large enough to accommodate the whole fam damily, and it’s always a nonstop party from the minute we arrive. After a couple of days of one on one time with Mike and Sheila, the rest of the gang started rolling in. Both of our kids and their spouses made it for a few days each, and we were able to see most of our nieces and nephews as well as all of Suz’s sibs and Mom.
After returning to Puerto Rico, and settling back into the marina, where Alizann had spent a couple of windy but uneventful weeks, we were ready for some exploration by land. On the first day of the new year, our trusty little rentacar took us to El Yunque National Forest. EYNF is the only U.S. national forest which is a tropical rainforest. After hitting the visitors center for a quick orientation video, we hiked a couple of short loops, one of which took over a steamy trail running next to a river which culminated in a pretty waterfall. Water dripped from the lush green foliage, and bromeliads sprouted from every fork in the trees branches. Huge termite nests occupied many of the deciduous trees appearing like bulbous brown tumors. Given the paucity of hikers along the trail, I was surprised at the number of folks swimming at the base of the waterfall, destroying the illusion of being in the wilderness. The trip to the park was definitely worth it, and we agreed to a return engagement later in the week.
The next day took us to the giant radiotelescope at Arriceibo. First conceived in 1960, and completed in 1963, the radiotelescope was, and is, the largest radiotelescope on the planet, with its’ 1,000-foot diameter spanning a large natural sinkhole in the Puerto Rican karst mountains. Over the last 50-odd years, an incredible amount of ground breaking research has been done there, including one project which resulted in a Nobel prize. The facility is not only capable of receiving radio signals and photons from deep space. It also broadcast our first intergalactic “postcard” sometime in the 1970’s. Studies ranging from identifying gravitational waves (creating proof of some of Einstein’s theories), following Near Earth Objects potentially capable of colliding with our planet, and, closer to home, studying our stratosphere, name just a few. The facility is funded by NSF, the National Science Foundation, and researchers compete for time on the dish by submitting proposals, only the best of which are accepted. We spent around 2 hours there, observing the dish from the visitor’s center, located high on the slope over it, and viewing an informative video. That afternoon was not so high-brow. We toured the Bacardi distillery, which was good fun, but maybe could have been better-I’d give 3 out of 5 stars.
Next day, it was back to El Yunque for the hike to the summit. We started out surrounded by mostly deciduous trees, which transitioned to a Sierra Palm forest that gave way to scrubby bush as we ascended, and the soil got thinner. Emerging at the top, we were treated to a spectacular 360-degree view. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich never tasted so good. The drive home took us by the huge (1000 slip)marina at Fajardo, rumored to be the largest in the entire Caribbean. While having a snack at the restaurant there, we patted ourselves on the back for choosing to stay at Palmas.
Ya can’t come to Puerto Rico without experiencing Old San Juan. Suzanne arranged for a private walking tour to start out our day, using an outfit called “Tours by Locals”. Our guide Jorge, met us promptly at 09h00, and spent 4 hours with us, showing us the high points of the Old city. He was extremely knowledgeable and personable, and the hours just flew by. It was the first time that we hadn’t used our travel agent back home for a local guide in a new city, and we did so with some trepidation, but the experience was good, and the cost was a fraction of what we have spent in the past (whenever we explore a city that’s new to us, we always hire a guide so that we don’t miss the good stuff, and, from time to time get in the back door where tourists don’t tread) By the time 13h00 rolled around, we had already exchanged reading lists with our guide who, by the way had a Masters in Microbiology and had been involved in some marine research (See Suzanne Tuck, Marine Biology and Freshwater Ecology). We also questioned him about the company, Tours by Locals, and he told us that he was pretty happy with the way that they treated him, and was planning to keep them as his booking agents. So……we’ll use them again in other cities. We explored on our own for the rest of the afternoon, and returned the following day, primarily to tour the two Spanish forts, El Morro, and El Castillo, which guard this strategic entry into the Caribbean.
You can’t rent a car without having a “provisioning day”, so Sam’s, Walmart, and Ralph’s Wholesale Foods occupied most of the next day
Over the next few weeks, the wind continued to blow like stink, (we even heard that the cruise ships were staying in port up in San Juan) and since our reservation was for a months’ stay, we just enjoyed Palmas. We walked most mornings, exploring many of the 2,700 acres in the facility. Middays found us doing boatchores, including some varnishing around our windows inside the Girl, repairing some hairline gelcoat cracks, and re-sewing some of our Velcro closures on the canvas. Afternoons at the pool overlooking the ocean were spent reading and sharing stories with our many new friends here at the marina. Suz, our entertainment director, organized potluck dinners at the Tiki Bar (which just services the marina clients) on the night of the NCAA national championship, and due to the overwhelming positive response, the following week for the NFL playoff games. While still here in the U.S.A., I was also able to take care of a little medical issue which was discovered over Christmas back in the States. You know that we don’t eat out a whole lot, but we did a couple of times and have this to report: The Punta Vista restaurant on the roof of the Hotel Milano in Old San Juan had an outdoor section, and served pretty decent Mofongo. The Restaurant on the Plaza, here at Palmas, serves up very fresh Italian cuisine (we ate there twice). The Mexican restaurant at Palmanova, here at Palmas also, was a “don’t bother”. Our Tiki Bar served an awesome, half-pound (no exaggeration) bacon cheeseburger- the ultimate cure for the toomuchfunthenightbefore blues. Outside Palmas, and up the Panorama Highway southwest of the gate was El Nuevo Horizonte perched on the side of the mountain overlooking the ocean. The food there was pretty solid. We just had lunch, but the guy at the table next to us was eating a whole flash-fried fish that looked super. A couple miles outside the gate was the Delicia Café and Bakery, with delicious panini sandwiches, made on a half-loaf of Cuban bread, feeding 2 for $6. (Stopped there 3 times). In Ariceibo, the Salitre de Meson, had a beautiful outdoor dining area right on the beach. With the waves crashing in, the food probably tasted better than it actually was.
Okay, so it’s the 19th. We’re 2 days past our intended stay of a month. The wind dropped this morning like somebody flipped a switch, and the seas have been subsiding all day. We have been expecting this break for almost a week, so will be heading to Vieques for a few days starting tomorrow. Always bittersweet to leave newfound friends, but we’ll see some of them along the way, and there are new pals right around the corner.
So, as we start the New Year, our tally is: 4,197 nautical miles this year, 14,602 nautical miles since leaving Michigan.