This archipelago, home to 3.4 million people, a tropical climate and exquisite cuisine, awed me with the beauty residing in its people, architecture, and its diverse natural scenery.
I was sitting in the back of a shabby, historic taxi-van, watching the world around me slowly morph from bustling city into mountainous villages into a verdant tropical forest. Our friend and driver, John, born and raised in Puerto Rico, was familiar with the serpentine, tortuous roads leading into El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s 28,000-acre rainforest. There is a breathtaking silvery waterfall hidden in the forest, and after a forty-five minute hike, I was standing right in front of it. The best word to describe it is majestic, it’s a sight that makes you feel small and all of your worries inconsequential but in a breathtaking, liberating way.
We had already been in Puerto Rico for two days. My boyfriend Chris, two of our close friends, and I were going to be traveling in Puerto Rico for 6 more days. We planned on visiting beaches, sailing to islands off the eastern coast, hiking the rainforest, and shopping for souvenirs.
What we did not plan on was being unable to rent a car. We originally booked a rental car because the guest house we had rented out was in central Puerto Rico, in a small town called Gurabo, and there is no uber, no taxis, nada within walking or biking distance. So, when we went to the rental car location with a reservation I had made weeks ago, the representative informed us that to rent a car for 6 days would not cost the $200 I was originally quoted, but almost $700 due to fees and required insurances.
So, we called a cab. I was trying to stay calm and relax, even though I was exhausted from travel and nervous about how we were going to find another means of transportation during our stay.
There is a saying in Spanish that perfectly describes what happened next. It’s: “No hay mal que por bien no venga”. It literally means that ‘there is no bad from which good cannot arise’ but its idiomatic equivalent in English is something more like: “Every cloud has a silver lining”. We stepped into the cab and we met the driver, John, our honest-to-god, metaphorical silver lining. It’s an hour-long drive from the airport in San Juan to our guest house in Gurabo and during that hour we talked to John and eventually told him about our transportation-less situation. John offered to help us out. He drove us to the destinations we had planned on, destinations we hadn’t thought of but he recommended; he was our guide and showed us his island. He even drove us to Wendy’s when we were dying of hunger on our way home from the airport.
It was such a relief when we finally arrived at the guesthouse. We swam in the pool to cool off and decompress; then it was time to sleep. We had a big day ahead of us.
We woke up early the next day to go to the beach, one John recommended to us, near the beautiful coastal town of Loiza. We met beach dogs, ate the traditional Puerto Rican Dish ‘Mofongo’ (which was heavenly), and swam the day away.
For our second day, we visited El Yunque National Rain Forest. This forest is home to thousands of diverse species and it is normal to see many colorful birds, loud coquis, rivers and waterfalls throughout the Jungle-like scenery. On our way in, we climbed up the Yokahu Tower, which has an observation deck offering a stunning bird’s eye view of the rainforest. After climbing back down we began our hike down the winding, slippery path leading to the waterfall. We got SO many mosquito bites, almost slipped every so often, and laughed the whole way down. When we turned the corner and saw the waterfall, we were stunned. We swam for an hour, slipped a few more times on the rocks, and then made our way back up. Hiking up the mountain we were silent, mainly because of our heavy backpacks, breaths and even heavier feelings of physical exhaustion. It was a little more than an hour’s hike up the steep mountain path.
The next couple of days we visited various beaches, went to an open-air market and explored the port-city of Fajardo. We got to know John more and learned about his life in Puerto Rico, his family, and his perspective and a Puerto Rican U.S. citizen. The next day we were headed to La Isla Culebra, which meant we had to get up early. John suggested we just spend the night at his house, since it was closer to the Island, and he had two guest bedrooms.
At his house, we met his wife, Betsy, who is one of the kindest women in the world (and also one of the best cooks), their one-year-old son and their six-month-old puppy Rocko. Their family welcomed us into their home, and it was such an incredible experience.
The next day we drove to the shores of Fajardo, to catch to ferry headed to La Isla Culebra. Then later that day, we got pizza at Mario’s, a family owned pizzeria with the most delicious pizza I have ever eaten. 10/10 recommend.
Our last day in Puerto Rico we spent in San Juan. We went to a beach in the morning and then we headed to Viejo San Juan, the oldest part of the city. The blocks of ancient buildings are so colorful and charming. We met a man with 20 parrots, got some souvenirs for family and friends, and got ice cream.
It was a fantastic trip, we got to meet such warm and caring people, and see the beauty of Puerto Rico.