Sunday, February 14, 2010

La Jungla

These photos are from our time spent at La Jungla. This conservation area belongs to the Department of Natural Resources and is simply beautiful.
We tried camping here but there were too many stray dogs - however, during the day, this is the perfect spot for a swim without the crowds.
Just remember to pack your bug spray!

Camping - Day 2

These photos are from our 2nd day camping. The photo of the colourful community is in Yauca, the others were taken in Ponce and at the plantation where we managed to score some free mangoes!

Camping, beach and mangoes...

Sick of concrete jungle, we decided to pack up the car and head down south for a couple night of camping. The truck needed to be tested for sleeping and showering, and since gas is dirt cheap here (.67 c/liter on average) - we thought, why not?

Our first stop was Arroyo, at a beautiful campground called Centro Vacational Punta Guilarte. We arrived after 6pm, so we were asked to pay our fees the next day as the office was already closed. We were the only ones there - and the security guard put on the lights just for us. Unfortunately he didnt have keys to the bathrooms, so we did our toilet trips "camping-style" and travelled to the far end of the campground where the cabano's (cabins) were to shower.
The sunset was beautiful as we toasted our hotdogs on sticks and took Alpen for a walk along our beachfront campspot.
When we settled down for the night, we got ourselves comfortable in the back of the truck, which Geoff worked on so hard to get ready for sleeping... well, that lasted no more than 5 minutes because it was SO HOT and stuffy in the canopy that the windows were already getting condensation on them before we had a chance to fix the sheets! Luckily we brought the tent along with us...
Our little puppy slept and behaved so well that first night - although a little curious of all the noises in the dark, she settled down really quickly and woke us up when she needed to go potty.

The three of us slept so well, and we were woken by birds chirping and the sun the following morning. A dip in the ocean first thing before packing up and heading off on the brand new 'Ruta Agricola' (Agricultural Route) launched by Tourism Puerto Rico. This ended up being a HUGE disappointment. I guess that things down here in Puerto Rico happen very differently from other parts in the world... lets launch a new tourism product and THEN work on it... advertised was six farms, all offering tours of the orchards, open-to-public fruit selling and information, but we only saw a sign for one farm, and were interrogated by the security guard at the front, who only let us in after telling him that we were buyers.
I must say though, once we were inside this farm, we were greeted by a very nice man who went by the name Roy, who was apologetic that nothing was set up for the public and said that we were the first people to stop by. He ushered us into his own truck, and took us on a little tour of the orchard (3000 ha!) and explained to us everything they grow there- mangoes, bananas, avocado and palm trees for landscaping. I think he felt sorry for us, because he let us out and pick some mangoes to take with us. Fresh off the tree - yum!

After the end of the Agricultural route, we ended up in Ponce, which we were told was now a very safe city after having such a dark past with crime. We didnt get a good vibe from the place at all, with locals following us giving us the "thumbs down". Because of this, we didnt end up sticking around for Carnaval, and instead headed out past Playa Santa to where we read was another beautiful camping spot. It was actually just a tiny, dirty beach right near a town, and we decided to keep searching... until we came across Department of Natural Resources's land...and found the most beautiful beach - serene, quiet - and we were the only ones there - in the middle of nowhere!
We watched the sunset and ate our sandwiches, followed by a shower that Geoff installed in his truck. It worked very very well - and we didnt need the 'heat' function as the water heated up itself just from being in the tank in the warm weather!
As we settled down in our tent for the night, the stray dogs started to come out - we werent going to stay here! By this time it was 9pm and we were exhausted from lots of sun, swimming and driving, so we bit the bullet and stayed the night in a hotel in Yauco, called El Cacique - it was cheap and nasty and we do NOT recommend it. It was right next door to a "6-hour Motel" and even though we stayed in the hotel area, it was loud, crowded and the rooms were awful. We had to sneak Alpen in - but of course we had very nosy neighbours so it proved to be a little more difficult.

The next morning we decided to go back to our magical beach in La Jungla (Department of Natural Resources) and go for a swim before heading back home. It was a Saturday (beach day for locals), but we were the first ones there and had the beach to ourselves for a good half hour before more people started rolling in.

All in all, a great camping trip and all three of us had fun! Ponce was disappointing, but the rest of the south was quiet, unspoilt by tourism and beautiful beaches. It was extremely dry, and hotter than the north. Now that we know how well behaved Alpen is whilst camping - and how much she enjoys it, we'll do many more camping trips! In fact, we're already planning our next one...

(I've had to break up the pictures on several posts because Blogger only allows 5 at a time - and I have so many beautiful pics from our camping trip!)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Beach fun at Loiza

After waiting for our handyman to spend 4 hours to install a fan (!!!), we were itching to get out and make the most of the beautiful weather. We went to a beach that is situated between Loiza and Pinones, just a short drive from home.
Its interesting to see the contrast between this beach, where there were only locals, was a lot more rugged and had little kioskos selling Acapurrias and Pina Coladas to just the next town along - Isla Verde which is tourist central with Starbucks and McDonalds.

This beach is rather interesting - they have a natural breakwater, but the water in the sheltered area has a very strong current. It was fun for people like me that love the water and didnt mind being carried down the breakwater, but most people hung close to the shore.

Alpen found a friend - a 4 month old Bull Terrier named "Bull" (how original?!), which she had a lot of fun wrestling with. A great afternoon!

Not as easy as it seemed...

More truck dramas!

Licence and Co. called us to let us know that AFTER we'd paid our rego fees, they (DTOP) had "made a mistake" and actually want to charge us extra fees now as all pick-up trucks are considered for commercial use. Well, we certainly didnt want to pay the extra $65 to register it under something that wasnt being used commercially!

The guy that was helping us out at Licence and Co. recommended that we go back to the Hacienda (where we paid our import taxes) and ask that they change the type of vehicle it was on the documents (personal rather than commercial), and then he would take it back to DTOP to prove to them that it is a personal vehicle.

A trip to the Hacienda was better than expected, we came during lunch hour (one of the few government offices that operate during lunch hour), and were served right away.. about 6 people later and we were escorted to the top level of the building to talk to the head honcho. Apparently they could do it - but then the import tax would go up and have to be paid - another 15%, which would've been approximately $500!. So, at the end of the day, we figured its cheaper to classify the truck as commercial and pay a once off fee of $65, then to go through a whole bunch of paperwork to change the classification to a personal truck and pay the outstanding percentage of taxes.

We should almost be ready to hit the road with Puerto Rican plates by Monday!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Today we thought we'd bite the bullet and hoof down to Medicaid - we were told that you have to get there before 7am (the office opens at 7:30am) to get a number and wait, wait, wait...
We got there at around 6:30am, and we were already number 50!
It was such a weird system, they'd call everyone out, one by one just to check in.. Geoff needed his social security card and drivers licence with him.
Then we had to take a seat again, and waited three hours just to make an appointment! In the meantime, there were babies crying, drug addicts coming in, a fast vendor singing and prancing around and an abusive man that pounded on the window when he wasnt being served fast enough. And I thought we at Vicroads had it tough!

My advice: bring a book, PLENTY of snacks and drinks and learn to drown out all the commotion.

NOW - the earliest appointment that they had available was a month and half away, and Geoff needs to bring all his documents and ID...then, once they approve that he's eligible, he will need to go to another office, and pick up his Medicaid card. Phew!

Monday, February 1, 2010


We were invited by our neighbour to watch him perform at his flamenco show in Old San Juan - so we headed out to Cafe Nuyorican last night and squashed ourselves into the cute little old "cafe" (more like a bar).
There was one man with a spanish guitar, another singing and then our neighbour Ronaldo who was on the Flamenco Box Drum. It was really interesting actually - it looked like a speaker, but it was a big box that was on the floor and it made a metallic sound when he beat on it. He d between the drum and dancing - and then there were two girls that wore beautiful dresses - and one for each different dance!

Although the acoustics were really bad and earplugs would've been welcomed for the singing, I loved how much the Puerto Ricans took part and supported the group all the time - they clapped along to the music, always cheered and shouted "Ole!"