Puerto Rican Holiday: El Yunque Forest/La Mina Falls

I really wanted to go to Costa Rica this year and frolic with monkeys, but by the time I was ready to book our trip the flights became unappealing. I’m not wasting an entire day out of my vacation in multiple airports. Twenty-one damn hours travel? I might as well go to Dubai. But we decided to go to Puerto Rico. I’ll be honest, PR was not high on my list of places to visit, because it is U.S. territory. Nothing against vacationing in the U.S. I just really wanted a new stamp in my passport. But at the end of the day Puerto Rico is a tropical island and my excitement started to build as the plane descended onto Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. I looked out the window and saw the great city of San Juan with lush, green mountain ranges as its backdrop.

Let me start off my saying that I don’t know why we paid all that money to stay at the San Juan Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. And I especially want to kick myself for paying extra for a room with an ocean view. Don’t get me wrong. The resort was excellent: the staff was very helpful and friendly, the place was clean and beautifully decorated with contemporary furniture and accents, the bartenders made excellent (strong) drinks, and the food at the Latin Grill was delicious. I heard the gym was great but come on, me? In a gym? On vacation? Even I can’t keep a straight face at the thought of trying to fit workout gear into my carry-on.

The only people who truly benefit from these hotel amenities are the ones who spend their entire vacation chillin’ on the beach, by the pool, or on their balconies overlooking the beaches and the pools. I’m not that type of person. I can’t spend my entire holiday in the resort. I’m an explorer. When I get to a new place I need to take in as much of it as I can, because I don’t know if or when I’ll ever return. I probably sat on that balcony a cumulative 20 minutes, because I had things to see and do and only five whole days on this beautiful island so time couldn’t be wasted. There were adventures to be had.

We got to the hotel around 2 and checked in smoothly. As soon as I got to the room I opened the doors to the balcony to behold all the magnificence that $30 extra a night can buy.

20150713_103531Stunning!

I stared at it for a couple minutes. Then I got bored, changed into my swimwear, and headed straight for the beach because I wanted to be a part of the scenery. We found two beach chaise lounges under an umbrella all the way to the side, away from everyone else. It was as if someone put them aside just for us. We laid there and just enjoyed the cool breeze before taking a dip in the clear waters. It was warm but rough. We rode the waves like two grown children and laughed whenever an unexpected “big boy” caught us off guard and toppled our bodies underwater. It was a great first day.

The following morning we were up at 7. Yes, I know sleeping in is one of the perks of being on vacation, but the tour to the El Yunque Rainforest was not going to wait for us to get it together, so we had an early breakfast and waited for the van to pick us up. I was tired but excited. When we arrived at El Yunque Hildon was highly upset because he realized we didn’t need to spend $69 a piece for this tour. We could have just rented a car and drove there ourselves. But, what’s done is done. The card was charged and we were already there so no use in worrying about what we should have done. Besides, sometimes it’s just more fun going with a group. It makes things interesting. Before heading to the bottom of the forest we were taken to the El Portal Visitor Center, which has exhibits on the types of flora and fauna in the forest. Admission is $3 per person unless you’re on a tour.

20150709_093446We were also treated to a short film on the history and importance of the rainforest, which is narrated by Puerto Rican award winning actor and director Benicio del Toro.

Trekking through the forest was hard work but fun. Some spots on the narrow pathway were slippery, so we had to pay attention to where we were stepping, something that’s hard to do when you want to take pictures of your surroundings to prove to your friends on social media that you were actually there. One woman slipped and fell, and when her friend tried to help her up she fell too. After that I started walking like a newborn giraffe. I was not about to get caught slipping out there in anybody’s forest. I was in such awe of the scenery though.

Screenshot_2015-07-16-21-01-43-1See? Proof.

Screenshot_2015-07-16-21-01-02-1-1More proof.

Being surrounded by trees and the sounds of the coqui — several species of frogs named for the ko-kee sound they make — and birds put me at peace. Our hike ended at La Mina Falls.

The guide said the water was “refreshing” which I soon found out was a euphemism for ice frigging cold.

Screenshot_2015-07-16-21-01-28-1-1He wasn’t ready.

And I chipped my pedicure because I kept losing my footing on the slippery rocks under the water. I made a mental note to invest in swimming shoes as I struggled to maintain my balance. But it was worth being able to float under the waterfall.

Screenshot_2015-07-16-21-32-52-1-1Bliss!

It was deep but not as scary as I thought it would be. Usually when I’m swimming in bottomless water my imagination runs wild with thoughts of some monster grabbing hold of my legs, but there were kids in the water and I couldn’t let them show me up, so I dove in. I enjoyed it so much that when the guide said it was time to leave I was reluctant to get out, and I wasn’t alone. The group ignored his frustrated cries until he said it was time to eat. Shit, I almost broke my ankles between those rocks trying to get out of the water at the mention of food.

We went to Tropicale Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in Rio Grande for lunch and drinks. They make the best pina coladas I’ve ever had. I had red beans over white rice and rellenos de papa.

20150709_125649Delicious!

Mashed potatoes stuffed with minced beef and then deep fried. What’s not to love about this dish? Hildon had Canoas de Platanos Maduros (Sweet Plantain Canoes) on the side of his rice and beans. It’s basically meat and cheese stuffed into fried sweet plantains. I didn’t get a chance to take a pic of his canoas because by the time I pulled out my phone he was already halfway through it and humming.

When we returned to our hotel we chilled on the beach for about an hour, then got ready for dinner. We ate at Raices in Old San Juan. We both ordered the mofongo: fried green plantains mashed with butter, garlic and herbs in a mortar and stuffed with perfectly seasoned, lightly fried chicken. So. Damn. Good. And surprisingly filling. I couldn’t even finish mine.

20150709_203702Highly recommended.

We walked around old San Juan for an hour looking for that spot where all the stray cats hang out, because deep inside I’m an old cat lady. Hildon tried to pretend like he didn’t care whether we found them or not but I saw his ass looking. Anyway, we didn’t see a group of cats. Just one, and he looked like he was on a mission so I didn’t get a chance to greet him. We gave up on our search and headed back to the hotel, because we had to get up early in the morning to start our next adventure.

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