Tuesday, Feb 20, 2006

Our last day. We got up around 7:30am again and finally took some photos of the hotel.

View from the walkway in front of our room.

The hotel's architectural peculiarity was a staircase to the veranda that was kind of less vertical than is customary in other parts of the world. But it wasn't a shoddy craftsmanship. It was actually intended to be this way.

So we said good bye to the hotel and left for the toll road to Fajardo.

Our plan was to explore the southern part of the El-Yunque rainforest (having explored the northern part on our first day). We were supposed to take Route 31 about 15 miles before Fajardo. The exit sign was duly there, but when we took the exit, there was no Route 31. After about a mile we turned around, ready to head back to the Toll Road, when we spotted one of the ubiquitous roaming dogs and realized we never took a picture of one.

Puerto Rico is a paradise for dogs; especially old ones. When they reach certain age, they are released into the wilderness and they wander freely throughout the whole island. You can see them in every town and every village. And very often they seem to walk quite purposefully, as if on a pressing mission. In Maunabo, we once saw a dog that was crossing the road in a manner suggesting that it was on its way to the Post Office to Fedex a couple of bones to its relatives in Mayaguez. That was the most determined dog I have ever seen. And even at the hotel there was a dog constantly lying in front of our door.

When we took the pic of the dog, two women walked out from the restaurant and one of them told us that southern part of El-Yunque is accessible only partly because of a recent landslide and that our best bet was to take road 969 west and after some bridge take left onto 191 and follow it as high as possible.

We did as she said. We found the bridge, we found the road 191 and started the climb.

The sun was shining brightly, the vegetation was at its usual reflective green and even the remaining colors seemed to have put an extra effort into tickling our retinas. The road itself was easy to follow, although full of potholes. The sheer number of potholes we saw on this island was amazing. And the size of some of them would easily warrant the term "bathtubholes".

I always thought that potholes were the result of ice expansion in road's little crevices. But there is no ice in Puerto Rico. The inevitable conclusion being that all the potholes in Puerto Rico are man made. I imagine that every night, when the tourists are asleep, crews with jackhammers are deployed throughout the island and they drill the roads till dawn so that the tourists from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Canada can feel at home. That is what I call the ultimate hospitality.

Anyway.... We followed the road 191 for about 5 miles going into the mountain until our progress was stopped by a yellow metal bar. We left the car there and discovered a little creek going further up into a mountain.

We followed the creek up, climbing on the rocks...

...and came to a little plateau which revealed a series of cascading waterfalls...

...where a couple of adventurous tourist were enjoying themselves.

When we returned to the car, we decided to follow the road 191 a bit further...

...and take few more photos of the rainforest...

..and its thick clusters of bamboos...

...and cascading ferns...

...and exotic trees that used every opportunity to photosynthesize.

We crossed one more creek...

...where crews were building a small dam and a power station...

...but soon we came to a point where a landslide wiped the road off completely and behind it there was but a jungle...

...so we took our last picture of the rainforest and returned to the car.

On our way back we shot few more of the neighborhood and bye bye El-Yunque.

When we passed the bridge at the foot of the hill, we noticed a piece of dry wood lying on the road. When we approached it, it unexpectedly arose and somewhat reluctantly walked off the road. It was a large iguana, about a yard long that was basking in the sun on a quiet road. I didn't have time to take a picture of it, but Louka jumped out and captured it just before it disappeared in the underbrush.

From that point on the sailing was pretty smooth. We reached Junkos, found Route 30, which flowed directly onto highway 52 and by 2:30pm we arrived at San Juan. Our flight was at 7pm, so we thought we got one last chance to see San Juan in daylight.

There was the fortress...

...and many nice residences...

...as well as narrow bustling streets leading to the harbor.

We took a quick lunch, Louka finally got his shot with a bottle of Puerto Rican beer and we were soon on our way to the airport.

As we were approaching the airport, we were looking for a gas station to fill up but couldn't see any. Since we had a little bit of time left, we turned around and exited the airport, hoping to find a gas station in the district directly behind the airport. But there was no district there. When we exited the airport, we followed the access road for about a mile and all of a sudden we found ourselves on a bridge across Laguna San Jose going away from the airport and with no chance of turning around.

That was a lesson in how fragile life can be. A moment ago we were standing near the car rental at the airport, our trip successfully completed, and now we were driving away from it and the traffic in the opposite direction began to thicken.

After we paid $2 toll fee for this little lesson, we took the first exit and entered a poor looking neighborhood looking for a gas station. The first one that we found was completely abandoned for no apparent reason and we had to delve a bit deeper into the neighborhood to find one that was functional.

When we returned to the highway, we realized that from this side we cannot enter the bridge back and so we continued away from the airport. When we took the next exit, we realized that it was 4:30pm and fate had one more adventure in store for us: getting stuck in San Juan rush hour traffic.

When we finally returned to the highway in the right direction (i.e. towards the airport), we were glad that the day before we became the true Puerto Rican drivers, for without some creative weaving and cutting into lanes, we'd never reach the airport. Traffic became very fluid, the concept of lanes slowly dissipated and cars resembled molecules of an ideal but lazy liquid.

But at the end we made it alright. Louka took last pictures of the island on the bridge bedecked with American and Puerto Rican flags, at the airport we met once more with Laco to settle some financial issues and at 7:30pm we said our last good bye to the island slowly disappearing below us.

To the island of palms, potholes, rainbows, dogs and turquoise waters.