Roll #14: Forests, Fanta, & Boiling Nuclear Superheater Reactors

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Sunday morning came early.

Today was the big day. The day we would bid a faux farewell (for a few hours) to San Juan and make our way to El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the national forest system. Pretty special, I know. There was, however, a giant barrier between us and El Yunque's tropical splendor: 30 miles of road and no vehicle. This barrier, along with a restless child, was what got me up early.

After a quick breakfast, I began my 2.5 mile trek towards the Enterprise Rent-A-Car located at Condado Plaza. The walk was, for lack of a better term, otherworldly. There was nobody in the streets. No signs of life. Even the tourist-pestering, empanada-crumb stealing pigeons, were absent. Yes, it was 8:30 in the morning but in a city of 350,000 souls, someone had to be out and about. Right?

I made my way eastward on Expreso 26 in solitude. Plaza Colon came and went. Nobody. I passed the Casa Olimpica, Biblioteca Carnegie, House of Spain. Nothing. The soft morning light bounced off the dome of El Capitolio. I lowered my sunglasses and continued to walk.

Was the entire city was abducted by extraterrestres overnight?

Why was I spared?

Should I fashion a hat out of aluminum foil to protect my thoughts from surveilling, otherworldly, lifeforms?

With every step, a new question, more ridiculous than the previous, popped into my head. I was almost to Luis Munos Rivera Park.

Just as I began to contemplate extraterrestrial fashion, I felt something brush up against my leg. I looked down to see a chicken nonchalantly trotting down the sidewalk towards a group of compatriots. In the middle of this commotion was an elderly man, vigorously throwing copious handfuls of chicken feed into the air. I couldn't help but smile. In addition to vanquishing the hunger of the chickens, he had also put my concerns of alien abduction to rest.

I eventually arrived at Enterprise (passing a few more individuals), checked out the car, picked up the family, and made the journey to El Yunque. The experience was magical but as fate would have it, so magical that I didn't think to snap more than three pictures. My bad.

Among beautiful flora, we stumbled across reminders of Hurricane Maria, especially evident in the now out-of-commission restrooms at Baño Grande.

We drove back to San Juan, ate mofongo, watched the sun set from El Morro as my son entertained spring breaking co-eds, and went to bed.

The next morning was our legitimate farewell to San Juan. Armed with water, jugo de china, and pan sobao, we hopped in the car and made our way towards one of my favorite places in the world: Rincón

Our drive was a beautiful collage of ocean vistas, mountains covered in dense foliage, and sprawling farmland. After a an hour so of driving, we decided to get a closer look at the aforementioned ocean vistas and pulled off at Guajataca Tunnel. The tunnel itself is impressive and stands as one of the few reminders that Puerto Rico did, in fact, have national railway system. As you walk towards the tunnel, you are guided by a cinder block wall, now decaying and covered in graffiti. Through the holes in the wall, you can see the waves breaking on the adjacent beach. Nature framed by peeling paint and exposed cement. Beautiful. By the end of our detour, we were hungry, so we headed to a local lechonera (Lechonera El Timbirichi de Pascual) and filled up on roast pork, rice, beans, and the butteriest yucca you've never had. How many arteries have been clogged by Pasqual's delicious yucca, we'll never know.

Against better judgement, I grabbed a coca-cola and continued the drive just as the food-induced coma began to hit. Within an hour, we found ourselves within Rincón city-limits and began the most treacherous part of the journey: Rincón's treacherous Highway 413 ("highway to happiness"). After the ups and downs of countless colinas on what should be a one-way road (but isn't), we made it to a calle sin salida.

After my GPS reconnected, I reversed and made the appropriate right-hand turn, bringing us to our destination. Uncertain of what we would encounter (we were only paying $50/night), we were greeted with accommodations (and a view) that warranted more than we were being charged.

The rest of the day was spent exploring our immediate surroundings, consuming local eats, and watching the sun set over a picturesque beach. This sunset was particularly magical, as it was accompanied by the presence of a woman trotting by atop a beautiful white stallion. You can't make this stuff up.

I awoke Monday morning like a child on Christmas day. Excitement, jitters, everything but the scent of eggnog and spice, greeted me the moment I opened my eyes. I ran out of the bedroom (quietly), across the cool tile floor, and swung open the kitchen door. I was immediately caressed by a cool, morning, Caribbean breeze. Today was the big day...I actually mean it this time. Snorkeling day at Steps Beach. As I waited for the family to awake, I prepared a feast of chorizo breakfast burritos and reflected on my snorkeling experience the year prior: colorful fish, light dancing on the coral, warm water, the slow push and pull of the tide, the sea urchin spikes buried deep into my foot. A magical mixture of euphoria and pain. This year, fingers crossed, more euphoria, less pain.

After my son was sufficiently lathered with some UV impenetrable Coppertone Baby, we were on our way. Five short minutes later, we were there. But before talking about "there," it is important to mention what you'll see just before pulling off Highway 413: a herd of grazing cows. They say happy cows come from California. Dare I say, happier cows come from Rincón.

To my dismay, the pleasant morning wind which greeted me earlier, had created choppy, turbulent water. Not ideal for snorkeling. Nevertheless, I made my way into the water and spent late morning/early afternoon burning my back and being mesmerized by nature's underwater kaleidoscope. By 2PM, it was already a successful day and was further improved with some Rico Mini, A/C, and aloe vera.

The next few days flew by. We ended our time in Rincón the way we started it...with a beautiful sunset. This time, from Punta Higuero, overlooking Domes Beach, a beautiful beach flanked by a dome-shaped nuclear plant (closed since the 1960s). Quite possibly the most out-of-place nuclear plant in the world. I imagine Domes was a utopia of sorts. A place where "radical" and "irradiation" could be exchanged in a single conversation. A place where surf bums and nuclear physicists once mingled, sharing tall-tales, Medalla Lights, and waves. Eventually the sun set and my surf-topia day dreams, along with our time in Rincón, came to an end.

The next day, we found ourselves walking around Santurce, killing what time we had left before our flight. Admiring the local graffiti and sipping Fanta de china, we dreaded the moment wheels would hit tarmac in Baltimore and we would be forced to awake from the dream that is Puerto Rico.

Camera: Canon EOS Kiss III

Film: Kodak Gold 200

When: April 2019

Where: Rincón & San Juan, Puerto Rico

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