Shopping, sight-seeing & an awesome kayak adventure
We were literally counting down the days until Puerto Rico. At last, a place for Ash to shop and lots of adventures available to satisfy Tash. It did not disappoint!
Leaving Tortola was not the easiest task. When going through security, we had not paid departure tax (yep, they charge that here…ridiculous) so had to leave the queue, pay and rejoin. Tash was reprimanded as she went over the yellow line and it is strictly single file. After finally getting through security, we were told we were both subject to a “random” baggage check so we had to wait 30 minutes while they opened our suitcases and searched. At this stage, everyone was boarding so we quickly joined the queue but in typical BVI style, still waited. Whilst waiting, Ash was subject to another search on her hand luggage. Turns out the security guard recognized her from Bomba Shack! We finally walked along the tarmac to enter the plane. Loving our camera, we tried to take a photo and got reprimanded again. We were quite relieved to get on the plane and in the air. It was an amazing flight flying over all of the islands and upon flying over Puerto Rico, we realized how big the place actually is. The flight is only 30minutes so an ideal getaway.
Got into Puerto Rico (or PR as it is commonly referred to) and as we were leaving baggage collection, we saw our long lost red and yellow friend, McDonalds. This was our first stop, before even leaving the airport. YUM!
A quick shuttle ride to the rental car and we were on our way. Driving on the wrong side of the road (i.e. the right) turned out to be a slight challenge initially and we both had incidents where we were driving happily on the left side of the road for a while. Thank goodness we got a GPS as the roads are not the easiest to navigate, especially when the signs are in Spanish. And after not having proper roads, never mind highways here in Tola, it was a slight change. We saw lots of great sights and shops along our way and our second stop before even reaching the hotel was one of our (especially Tash’s ) favourite stores in PR – Walgreens, a big discount pharmacy…ah the Dischem of PR. Spent a good while in here stocking up on all the good things that do not find their way to Tortola.
We finally got to the hotel round 10pm. Amazing entrance hall which turned out to be a bit deceiving but the location was great. Had a quick shower and change and went exploring. Had a great dinner which made us realize how expensive Tortola is. Nice cocktails and walked around checking out a few of the other local spots.
On Saturday morning, we walked around Condado (where we stayed) in pursuit of a breakfast spot. We settled on Dunkin Donuts – we know why Americans are so big but a chocolate donut was a great start to the day!
We then went to explore the infamous Old San Juan. Our first stop was Fort Cristobal which was built by the Spanish to protect Puerto Rico from the Americans and Brits. Puerto Rico was a central harbor from the North and the South, and was therefore a much desired territory as it was the gateway to the carribean. It was built over 150 years and this made us realize the olden days must have been boring with the men fighting or building forts and no women! We saw all of their hidden hideouts and tunnels and went into the dungeon where the Captain of a Spanish ship was kept until being executed and he had drawn some ships on the walls – Tash said she would have drawn pretty flowers instead. It was a great sight and learning some history and seeing the historic sights are definitely more interesting when it is surrounded by a beautiful blue sea.
We then went into Old San Juan and after searching everywhere for parking, we went and got a much needed drink in the coolest glasses. We walked around the town and acted like real tourists going into every souvenir shop – it is a really pretty place. Went back to the hotel for a quick dip in the pool and then it was off to Las Americas – the biggest shopping mall in the Caribbean.
Las Americas – wow! It truly was massive and having not had shops in 2011, we made the most of it. Ash was truly in heaven but Tash did surprisingly well. After 4 hours, many shopping bags and an underwater camera later, it was time to head away from the shop mecca. Shopping truly tired us out so Saturday night was a chilled one, spent enjoying some dinner and drinks.
We decided to be a bit healthier on Sunday and not go to Dunkin Donuts for breakfast. We found this quaint little place that made delicious food (eggs, sausage, bacon and pancakes) and was reasonably priced. Plus the Spanish waiter was really cute so that’s always an added bonus!
After that it was time to hit the beach in one of our new bikinis. Our new underwater camera had its first outing and kept us entertained for hours! It’s so much fun to be able to take photos in the water, will definitely be using that on future boat trips. The beach was quite crowded and noisy but really beautiful and the weather was perfect. We got stopped by the cops on the way to the beach which got our hearts racing but when we told them we don’t speak Spanish they just waived us through.
After a quick snack and a mini shop in Walgreens (that place is more addictive then Dischem!) it was time to get ready for the highlight of our trip – a kayak tour to the bio bay. The bio bay is about 1 hour and 40 minutes from where we were staying, in a place called Fajardo. Luckily we opted for the option that included transport there as we definitely would have got lost and missed the tour! Las Croabas Lagoon in Fajardo has 500,000 to 700,000 of bioluminescent dinoflagellates ( a plankton) per gallon, so when you wave your hand through the water you trigger so many of them that your hand lights up with a thousand tiny stars. The plankton light up when they are touched! Imagine a lagoon full of liquid starshine! It really is an amazing experience! We were briefed by our Spanish guides on what to expect and how to maneuver the kayak (most of which we didn’t understand due to their accents, which led to us going in circles later!). Then it was time to get onto the water.
We kayaked through the red mangroves which have grown overhead to form a sort of tunnel. It’s really pretty, the roots provide good shelter for spawning fish so apparently fish come from all over to lay eggs there. The path through the mangroves is quite narrow so you have to be careful not to paddle into the trees! We managed to get through fairly unscathed. Once we got through the mangroves we were in a big lagoon where we anchored all the kayaks together while the guides gave us the low down on how a bio bay is formed (again, a lot of this went over our heads due to their accents, but it was really interesting). Then the sun went down and the magic began! The water really lights up and illuminates whatever is in the water – feet, hands, paddles. If you splash water onto the boat or your skin it looks like you have diamonds on your skin! And you can see a zooming streak of light as fish swim close to the surface – really, really amazing! It was a gorgeous, clear night so we could see lots of stars. We asked the guide if we could swim (you are technically not supposed to swim in the water), and he said you’re not supposed to but that accidents do happen! So he told us to wait at the back and when everyone had gone up ahead we “tipped” our kayak and got to swim for a bit! We were nicknamed the “crazy kayak” after that and had to pretend we really did fall in! The kayak back was in pure darkness, the only light you can see is the small blinking light on the back of the kayak in front of you, an incredible experience! After a trip home that seemed to last forever we got ice-cream for dinner which we ate in bed and then passed out!
Sunday saw us less than impressed with our choice of restaurant for breakfast; food took forever and was cold when it arrived. Afterwards we fetched Fred (a French-Canadian who had been visiting Tortola and had a 8 hour layover in Puerto Rico on his way home) from the airport and he joined us on part two of our tour of Old San Juan (think at times he wished he was at the airport as we went into about 14 souvenir shops). We started at the other fort - Castillo San Felipe del Morro which took over 350 years to build. It has a graveyard next to it which provided some great pictures as the sea is in the background. It is really daunting to think about how these forts were built – seems easier to just let everyone dock their ships there!
After lunch and a cocktail at this really cool restaurant - Senor Frog, it was back to the airport and back to Tortola.
Puerto Rico was an awesome experience and it was so nice to travel on proper roads and have proper shops!! Will definitely be going back there!