We hope that everyone had a great Christmas and New Year. Ours was fabulous! Rachel came to visit us so need we say more? She spent almost two weeks here, it was the best Christmas present ever! It’s started to become a tradition with her visiting us for the holidays and so far she’s spent time with us in the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St.Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and now Culebra and San Juan Puerto Rico. We always have an amazing time and this year was no exception. We picked her up at the airport Puerto Rican style. The airport was filled with families singing and banging on drums, maracas and tambourines welcoming their loved ones home. It was a loud and fun start.
Look where this boat used to run from…my home town! It now runs from Ceiba, PR to Culebra, PR. (When it is not broken down, but that is a whole another story!)
View of the non lift bridge from the canal in Culebra Island.
Culebra dive shop near ferry dock.
We spent the first night in Condado Beach, San Juan and then off to the beautiful island of Culebra where we are calling home for now. (We even got a PO Box so it must be official!) Culebra is located 17 miles east of Puerto Rico and 12 miles west to Saint Thomas, its dimensions are about 7 miles long and 3.5 miles wide. This small island is known as “Isla Chiquita” (small island) and “Ultima Virgen” (last virgin). Culebra is probably more famous for what it doesn’t have than for what it actually possesses. There are no major hotel chains or stores, no golf courses, no casinos, no fast-food chains and no rush-hour traffic (unless you count the ferry dock). The ferry dock can be a bit busy at times as it is the only way on or off the island unless you arrive by small plane or a private yacht.
Melones Beach, Culebra.
We spent some time one day in Culebra at Melones beach soaking up what sun we could between rain clouds and snorkeled a bit too…we even saw a turtle! Uninhabited Cayo Luis de Pena off in the distance.
Flamenco Beach, Culebra….beautiful!
Looks like someone got too much sun!
Culebra also has history mixed with a bit of quirk. A rusty, painted tank resting on the shore is a beautified marker of Culebra’s time as a US Navy gunnery and bombing practice range. With the outbreak of WWII in 1939, Culebra and its small surrounding islands became the primary gunnery and bombing practice site for the U.S. Navy and continued to be used for these purposes until 1975. As of today the government is still in the process of removing unexploded ordinances from around the island and regularly sends out notices to its residents on its progress! Um-mm…yup, watch where you step when you are hiking!
Even though the winds were up and it rained quite a bit while Rachel was here in between the clouds we still got in our beach time. At Flamenco Beach (Culebras most famous), we enjoyed a Christmas potluck and Rachel got some pics with a long abandoned military tank. We also visited Salado and Melones beaches where we were able to soak up some sun and snorkel a bit. Even though the coral is still recovering from the damages of last years hurricanes there were lots of fish and we even got to spend some time with a turtle, just wish that I had my go pro with me!
On Christmas night we joined the town for their annual Christmas parade where we saw some old friends and met some new. This was our second time here for the parade, Rachel included and it was a blast!
Next for us it was off to the mainland. Here we visited the El Yunque National Forest. The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the national forest system. Puerto Rico was hit hard by both hurricanes Irma and Maria. Seems that the rangers have been working hard here to restore paths and trails but unfortunately some were still closed to the public.
DLa Coca Falls. This 87 foot tall cascade stands out in staunch white compared to the dark stone behind it and the lush green forest around it.
Rachel enjoying El Yunque, Juan Diego Falls. It was too cold to get in!
Juan Diego Falls, too cold for Brian…never!
Some of the trails that we wanted to hike in the El Yunque National rain forest were still closed due to Hurricane Maria.
I was sure that I was about to step on a snake as we were hiking one path but no worries…it was only a small, vicious looking dried up vine on the ground!
We were in it for the waterfalls but the park has a interesting history… This reserve was first set aside by the king of Spain, which then transferred to the federal government in 1898. The present lookout towers and trails first become established by the CCC. The Civilian Conservation Corps operated in the years between 1933 and 1942. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the CCC as part of the New Deal Initiative, a program to end the Great Depression. Through this federally funded program, 3,463,766 young men found employment and much needed food, clothing and shelter. Using little else than shovels and axes, the young men of the CCC completed recreation and conservation projects on public lands throughout the United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. They built roads and towers, developed recreational sites and trails, and engaged in forestry and wildlife improvements. In all of these sites, people today reap the benefits of the work done by the CCC. I wonder if the men that worked so hard on these paths and improvements knew that so many would still be enjoying their labors?
Sierra Palm Forest level of the forest, just below the dwarf forest. Walk through the Sierra Palms on your hike up to Mt. Britton.
We hiked up to MT. Britton Tower. 3,088 ft. high. It is a wonderful overlook of the El Yunque Rain Forest, you walk through the Sierra Palm forest as you climb. The path itself is paved, a bit narrow and full of lots of tourists like us on this day!
View from Mt. Britton.
Hippie’s Waterfall, or Salto del Hippie…Look for Brian there way back in the middle. He swam out and climbed over some big boulders for this shot!
Survivor Falls (or Cascada SobreViviente) Brian swam all the way over to the falls he said that the flow was pretty strong.
The locals call this place Survivor Falls (or Cascada SobreViviente).
With our fill of waterfalls and hiking up, up and away with aching and tired muscles we headed to Old San Juan to celebrate the new year. We love Old San Juan! It’s buildings, architecture, town parks and statues, the blue cobblestone roads and oh yea, the cool BIG forts and walls! There is so much to do here that it is impossible to see it all in just a few days. We stayed in the town center and had walking access to all that was offered.
Most of the narrow streets in Old San Juan are paved with adoquines, or blue cobblestone pavers, which were made with iron furnace slag that, according to historians, was part of the ballast of Spain’s sugar-carrying-ships. They were brought as ballast in the bottoms of European merchant ships in the 1800s. They were first used as road pavers in 1784.
The Puerta de San Juan (San Juan Gate) was built in the late 1700s, is one of six heavy wooden doors in the wall which for centuries were closed at sundown to cut off access to the city and protect the city from invaders. The wall is up to 20 feet thick and up to 40 feet tall.
One of the many statues that we saw in Old San Juan. I thought that this was was pretty cool…. Eugenio María de Hostos – This statue of Eugenio María de Hostos (The Citizen of the Americas)
This beautiful old chapel is Capilla del Cristo (Cristo Chapel). It was built in 1753. There are different versions of the story of why it was built – either by a thankful father whose his son lived after his son and his horse fell over the wall, or by a sad father whose son died after falling over the wall on his horse. Either way, the altar is made from thousands of the silver “promesas” that are given as offerings for a wanted miracle.
We had a blast trying to take in as much as we could. Sadly the time came for it all to end and Rachel was due to fly home. We dropped her off at the airport with lots of hugs and kisses and a few tears. We had so much fun while she was here!
Now our next adventure was to get back to Culebra on the ferry. We knew that the ferry was going to be busy so we had pre-bought our round trip tickets. We thought that we could get some shopping in on the main land before returning home. The shopping did not take as long as expected so we decided to see if we could get an earlier time slot. When we arrived at the ferry dock it was as expected very busy. We soon found out that there were no earlier boats available so we found a nice spot on the grass to make our home while we waited. After sitting a while and listening to others we found out that they had canceled an earlier ferry. We knew that this was not unusual. The ferry is after all public transportation and is not always reliable. I think that their motto is “We reserve the right to make changes at any given time for any reason!”. After a bit a worker came over to some people by us and had a conversation with them…in Spanish of course which we are not yet fluent in. Brian caught her as she was leaving and asked if the three o’clock ferry was still on schedule and she said yes but to take notice and when they called the next Culebra ferry to get in line. Well, at one o’clock they called a Culebra ferry so we jumped up and got in line. As they were counting the people entering the boat we saw that we were the last ones they that they let on. Don’t tell anyone but somehow we ended up or “snuck” on an earlier ferry. Well, the gate keeper knew that we had tickets for the three o’clock so I guess all was good. After all I kinda think that it was her suggestion anyhow. Yea! We did not have to sit for two more hours or more I mean who knows if the last ferry was delayed or even canceled. We were just glad to be home!
Lots of folks waiting for the the delayed ferry to Culebra.
So here we are back on Moon. No Rachel 🙁 But I know that we all had a blast while she was here. We are back to normal doing small chores around the boat. Lots of things to do and an endless list so no problem there. I think that we will plan too snorkel again some time soon and this time I will bring the go pro and hopefully that beautiful turtle will be waiting for us to share with you. Take care all until next time.
Jennifer and Brian