New Year’s Eve in Puerto Rico

We didn’t get much sleep after our trip to the bioluminescent bay, as we arrived back at the hotel in the wee hours and had to be up ‘early’ for the rainforest tour. We struggled out of bed at 7 then left soon after to find breakfast with Julian down the ride. Glen opted for some vile looking thing from Burger King, while Julian and I had fruit and yoghurt from the shop across the road. Bec and Alastair found us there too.

El Yunque National Forest

We walked up to the nearby Marriott Hotel to await the bus’s departure at 8:15. There were 13 people in total squeezed into the minivan. Most of us met at the hotel, while two other groups were collected from nearby hotels. Once we were all settled, we started our journey to El Yunque National Forest in the east of the island.

The guide took us along the scenic route, pointing out a few beaches along the way and talking a bit about Puerto Rico. Of all the things she told us, the thing that stuck in my head was that the native Indian population had been wiped out by the Spanish and had been replaced with African slaves. Along the way we also stopped at a cave, which was closed, so we continued up to the forest. I fell asleep somewhere on the journey, but unfortunately not for long.

The guide made a stop at the visitor centre, where she also had to pay the entry fee for all of us. There were so many people and tour groups there that there was a queue of buses and cars to get in, and long queues at the toilets. We went to change into our bathers, before hustling out of there as quickly as we could to beat as much of the traffic as possible.

The roads were busy going into the forest. Cruise ships docked at the harbour had discharged many people and El Yunque is one of the popular highlights on a trip to Puerto Rico. We stopped along the way at a restaurant where we preordered our lunch before being delivered to the start of the trail which led to the waterfall. The guide bid us farewell, told us how long it would take and that we should go for a swim at the waterfall, then she went to wait in the car.

The rainforest is a little strange in that it has a lot of non-native plants in it (including an Australian pine tree species). The original forest had been cleared quite extensively but was then turned into a national park and reforested. Despite the appearance of exotic plants, there was still the rainforest feel. I got quite excited at the seeing bromeliads growing on tree limbs. We also spotted three large snails, their shells about five cm across. Unfortunately we didn’t see any of the little frogs endemic to this area (though that’s not surprising considering how small they are and that they like to live inside curled up leaves).

After about a half hour of walking we made it to the waterfall where there were already a large number of people taking the plunge into the pool at its base. We picked our way across wet and slippery rocks, disrobed and prepared ourselves to slip into the water. It was not warm, I’ll say that much. Ice shot up our legs as we submerged them, and goosepimples rose rapidly. A gentle entrance was too torturous so I jumped in and nearly hyperventilated. Frantic wriggling around and arm-waving managed to warm me a little until my body went numb and the experience bordered on pleasant.

Glen didn’t come in at first but eventually plucked up the courage and was soon remarking how lovely it was. We swam underneath the downpour, trying to stay beneath the flow but couldn’t unless we held on to the rocks. We swam for a little, then stepped into the calmer pool, before getting out and drying ourselves off.

I was a little worried about catching dysentery or amoebic meningitis, having submerged my head, but so far it seems no tropical parasites have taken up residence inside my intestines.  I did have an oversupply of saliva for a little while but it appears to have been nothing but paranoia.

The walk back up was a little steeper than on the way down but we arrived at the end of the train before the guide arrived to take us back up the hill to the restaurant. Lunch was ok, pretty good considering that it’s in the middle of a national park, and I enjoyed my lemon and strawberry smoothie. Very refreshing.

After lunch the guide drove us down the hill to one waterfall, then another spot to take photos, then a tower (where we got a good view across the forest) and then to another waterfall. All of them were lovely spots, but after getting in and out of the van so many times (and constantly squeezing past people who had changed seats–honestly, it was like musical chairs), we were more than ready for the tour to end and be taken home. There was one more stop but we all said we’d pass so that got us out of the rainforest and towards home.

I slept a little on the road home, swaying in and out of sleep as the van rocked on bumpy roads. We returned to the hotel at 3:30 or there abouts and then went to bed for a few hours in preparation for the evenings festivities.

New Year’s Eve, Puerto Rican-style

We went for a late dinner at a restaurant around the corner, having a few drinks and filling our bellies, before returning to the hotel again to get dressed properly. The place we were going, Oceano, had a dress code, but being such a humid place, we didn’t want to wear long pants, shirts, or even socks and shoes, until the very last minute. While there were people at the restaurant who were dressed rather nicely, we painted a scruffier — yet far more comfortable — picture.

Once formally attired, we walked down the road to the beachfront restaurant/bar where we’d welcome in the new year. Dressed in jeans that feel so thin in the biting Toronto air, we were soon overheating (everyone except Bec who, as a girl, was given greater leeway in what she could wear. She still looked great and classy but decidedly cool). We were summarily appraised when we entered to ensure we met the dress code, and once passed, quickly hurried to the deck overlooking the beach. We needed air and as much of it we could get.

There was a stage setup there as well, which had a DJ playing some great tunes, and space for a band that arrived shortly after us. Alastair bought a bottle of champagne to share. We drank, melted and waited for midnight. The music alternated between dance/techno music from the DJ and salsa/cha cha/etc music from the live band. It was all very lively, though I preferred the DJ’s music. After a while though, the dance floor filled to capacity and the temperature rose. No breeze came off the ocean so we became uncomfortable quickly. Julian went to get some more drinks from the bar, and spent ages waiting. Only two staff worked the bar to serve a large number of people; a number of which left rather than wait.

We saw fireworks being let off on the beach, as well as Chinese lanterns ascending into the night sky. Eventually we counted down to midnight and a much bigger fireworks display went off over one of the nearby resorts. We wished each other a happy new year…and then Julian, Glen and I left. We were too hot to get much more enjoyment out of the place. Bec and Alastair stayed but we returned to the hotel and showered and changed into something cooler. We had intended to go out again but the comfiness of the bed was too alluring and, horror of horrors, we were in bed by one and asleep by 1:30.

And so ended what has been a truly magnificent year. Happy new year all!

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