After several adventurous days in the Dominican Republic, including a summit of the Caribbean’s highest peak (Pico Duarte, at 10,164 ft.), I was ready for some beach time. So I hopped over to Puerto Rico, staying just outside of Old San Juan in Ocean Park. Expecting a glittering village with handsome couples decked out in white linen pants, I was slightly surprised to find a relaxed neighborhood sporting several second-hand stores. But after stopping to buy bananas from a cordial fruit seller, then exchanging smiles with local fisherman, displaying their catch in the back of a pickup, I felt at home.
While on the beach later that day, a strange sensation came over me; beaching it solo can be tough. When you’re accustomed to climbing, kayaking, and adventuring in general, the act of sitting still is difficult. Fortunately I met Manolo, a lean and tanned local, who left his crowd of guitar-playing, bronzed friends to come and say hello. He had an impeccable elevator speech, mentioning both his Ivy league education and former Olympian status in under ten seconds. Sensing he may have been under the influence of something other than coconut oil, I kept our conversation brief. Alone once again, I sighed and happily settled into my new found identity as a woman of leisure.
Longing for a night on the town, I asked a cab driver where the tourists don’t go. I must have miscommunicated, for I was dropped off at Old Town’s tourist strip, crowded with other blonde travelers. Peeking in the window of the recommended restaurant, Raíces (Rye-EE-says), I noticed that the staff sported elaborately colored outfits and kitschy hats. Wary of touristy restaurants where waiters burst into song, I decided to find a quieter spot. Deliciousness was soon found at El Caldero Sabroso, a one-woman kitchen turning out savory mofongo (mashed green plantains) dishes in an intimate setting. Old San Juan has a certain mystique in the evening, especially when its lamp-lit cobblestoned streets are traveled by fancy clubgoers. I followed the sexy crowd to San Francisco Street, where I danced the night away at San Juan’s legendary salsa club, the Nuyorican.
Having had my fill of sunbathing, I rented a car and drove to Fajardo. Adventure destination: an evening kayak trip through Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent lagoons. Joining a young group of Spanish-speaking outdoorsy types, we kayaked through a mangrove forest, eventually emerging into a starlit lagoon. When dipping our kayak paddles into the water, a flurry of microorganisms caused the water to glow an eerie green color. The same fluorescent blaze was created, whether I stroked with my paddle or circled my hand in the water. Fortunately I shared a kayak with Nestor, our superb guide from Island Kayaking Adventures. When returning via the mangrove forest in the dark, he knew instinctively where to maneuver our two-person kayak, so as to avoid disaster. The other group members were not so lucky, paddling themselves into mangrove “roots” dangling from overhead, and entangling themselves in snarls of flora.
After safely reaching shore, I drove the two hours back to San Juan, still mesmerized that I had spent the evening in a glowing lagoon. I knew that my next adventure would have to involve water as well, and I couldn’t wait for it to begin…