Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Two and a half more days in Puerto Rico

Here is the continuation of my Puerto Rico pictures. To see the first part, including Old San Juan and the rainforest, go to Part 1.

When we arrived on Culebra, we found our guesthouse rental. It was a small studio near the airport, with microwave and mini fridge. There were roosters crowing in yards to either side of us. Everything felt sleepy. We paid and as soon as we had the place to ourselves, Sarah passed out on the bed with her mouth open for about an hour. This is the only picture I have of our room, but since I'm guessing she doesn't want me to show everyone how she looks sleeping with her mouth open, I edited her out:

After she woke we decided to walk to one of the beaches (Culebra is only about 3x7 miles in size). On the way, we saw a huge, magnificent rainbow. Then it began to pour. We sheltered under the awning of the school building and waited for what seemed like forever. The rain blew in sideways and soaked us. I was sure that soon it would pass and we would have clear, sparkling skies for the rest of our trip.

It remained cloudy and rained on and off as we continued toward Playa Melones, which is often accorded "best snorkeling beach." But by the time we got there it was getting too dark to go snorkeling, so we poked around a bit then headed into town for dinner. We ate at El Eden, where Sarah ordered the lobster risotto. It came in a bowl so huge that not only did she eat until full that night, but the leftovers sustained the both of us for two (2) further meals. That is five portions, basically. Between that, my food (which was a red snapper fried whole) and the good company we had, that meal now ranks as one of the favorite meals of my life.

As we had arrived at the restaurant it had started to pour again, and it was still pouring as we were finishing up. We had been speaking with two other couples seated next to us, and finally I asked if one of them had space for us in their car. (I had drunk one beer on an empty stomach and was still drunk... yes, I am a lightweight... which made me bold enough to mooch.) So we were able to avoid a 40-minute walk home in the rain -- or a long wait and $6 for a cab. And we proceeded to keep running into that couple for the rest of our trip.

The next day we were finally able to go snorkeling, which I have been basically waiting to do since the last time I went snorkeling, five years ago, also on Culebra. After having breakfast at the airport cafe, we began to walk toward the beach with our thumbs out, and the second vehicle that passed us stopped -- it was a publico, or public car, sort of a shared taxi. We paid $3 each to be taken to the main beach, and from there we hiked to Playa Tamarindo, which we had to ourselves for part of the day.

The water was as chilly as I remembered. I know I have read about people swimming in the warm waters of the Caribbean, but I have never experienced such a phenomenon. We were glad to have brought swim shirts. Even with the shirts, after being in the water for half an hour we were so chilly we had to swim constantly, not really stopping to look closely at anything, in order to keep from freezing.

Because it had poured all night long, the water was cloudy with all the sediment that had washed into the sea. Our hosts told us it hadn't rained like that in months. And it was still raining -- sometimes we would come up to find raindrops pelting the surface of the water. But we saw a lot of fish and different corals. I happened to briefly spot a moray eel, which was a first for me, and we saw an eagle ray, though I didn't take a picture because the water in that area was just too cloudy. But here are some pictures from Tamarindo:

Bluehead wrasse

Yellowtail snapper

Sergeant majors

Sergeant major with brain coral

Sarah with coral

A shot of Playa Tamarindo taken from within the camera's underwater housing

Sergeant majors, a white-spotted filefish (at top, seen from above), sea urchin, pillar coral, and juvenile wrasses

A upper left, two spotfin butterflyfish


French grunt (on right) and trumpetfish (long slender brown fish hovering over coral on left)

After a couple trips in the water we were very cold. We hung out on the beach for a while trying to warm up, but eventually it started to rain again, so we put on some clothes and hiked back. It was kind of miserable.

There were food kiosks at the main beach and we ate one of the many kinds of meat-filled fried pastry ubiquitous in Latin America. I don't remember what kind it was. We had hot chocolate too, which helped. Finally the clouds lifted and we went for a stroll on the island's main beach, Playa Flamenco, which was nearly deserted at that time.

We came to the abandoned tank, left from when the U.S. used Culebra for bombing exercises. (I should say that a few days after we got home from our trip, some unexploded ordinance was found 10ft offshore, which is a fairly regular occurrence there.)

You can see how well my poncho protected me from the rain. Here is another tank that is located in the campground at the beach:

And then we walked all the way down the beach, and walked back to our rental. We had spent two hours walking that day and two hours swimming, which meant we were very tired, especially considering the four hours' walking and hiking of the day before. The sunset as seen from our street:

The next day, we were happy to be offered a ride from a Puerto Rican couple, who seemed to honestly want us to join them in the cab of their truck, but we said we would hop in the back and I'm glad we did because it was fun... I'm not sure I've ever ridden in the back of a truck before.

We again hiked away from the main beach to a little pocket of white sand and turquoise called Playa Carlos Rosario:

...where we again went in a couple times for snorkeling, until we became so cold I couldn't move my hands anymore. We saw some awesome things despite the cloudy water -- vast stretches of coral, giant brillantly-colored parrotfish, and a huge school of tangs. However, I didn't get very good pictures. After the previous day's pictures I'd noticed that my wide-angle camera made things look too small and far away, so I'd set the zoom in somewhat. But it turned out to be in too far, and as I couldn't see my LCD screen underwater and it was hard to tell where I was aiming, sometimes I aimed a little above or below the fish in question and the close-in zoom cropped it out of the frame. So I have lots of pictures of half a fish, or rocks. Lesson learned!

A peacock flounder, camouflaged on the rocks -- I might never have noticed it if it hadn't swum up under my nose.

The beautiful school of tangs, which we followed for several minutes as they fed (picture is not so beautiful)

Another non-lovely picture of the school of tangs

The front half of a stoplight parrotfish

Two beautiful stoplight parrotfish were hanging out together. Here are bits of both of them.

Another portion of some kind of parrotfish

After the snorkeling, we set up our hammocks and relaxed. For a little bit, anyway, until a party boat pulled up. They blared loud music while the partiers screamed at each other over the music for the next hour, until we gave up and hiked back. I took a final shot of the little beach. The water looked crazily turquoise then, though it doesn't really show in the picture.

Stay tuned for the pics from our final 2 days in Puerto Rico!