Thursday, October 2, 2003

Now that it's light, we can see how Parador Vistamar got its name. The hotel offers a superb view of the Atlantic. We can't see it from our room, but you can see it from the pool, where I began this lovely day with a lovely swim.

View from el Parador Vistamar, Quebradillas

After my swim, we left the coast and drove south, where in just a few minutes we were in karst country again. We meandered through jungle-covered hills and valleys to Lago Guajataca, a four-mile-long splash of blue set against the dark-green countryside. Then we wandered around the back roads (maps of the interior are lousy) into the terrible traffic of San Sebastian, where we had lunch at Subway. We were pretty impressed that the staff at Subway speaks better English than we do.

Lago Guajataca

A little piece of paradise

Puerto Rican roads are for the most part narrow and have no line painted down the center. People drive down the middle of the road until they meet someone, then they swerve over and barely have enough room to pass. And stop signs are just a suggestion. Every time you round a curve, you don't know if you're going to meet a car coming right at you. It's a real gut check sometimes. On the worst of the blind curves it's common to honk your horn to alert potential oncoming traffic of your presence. Not that any of that is going to slow the drivers down any! And in every town it seems there are a number of one-way streets, many which are marked such that you can't see the signs until you are already on the street, and others which you won't be aware of until you notice that all the traffic on the road is headed straight for you! Our description of Puerto Rican driving is not a complaint however; it is just an observation. As opposed to the drivers at home in East Tennessee, at least most puertorriqueños are paying attention!

Pastoral Puerto Rico

On our way to the west coast city of Rincón we drove through Aguada and then up to Pico Atalya, a.k.a. La Bandera, where we had a great view of Desecheo Island, a federal wildlife reserve located 13 miles offshore. One of our guidebooks, "Off the Beaten Path," said we would have great views of Mona Island from here. But since Mona is 40 miles offshore and Desecheo is 13 miles offshore, we think this crummy book is wrong once again (and not for the last time).

Desecheo Island from Pico Atalya

Everything we had read about Rincón led us to believe it was just a small, laid-back, beach-bum town in one of the most pleasant parts of Puerto Rico. It sounded idyllic. We did not find it so. Really, we thought we'd spend the night here, but we couldn't leave fast enough. It was hot and dusty and congested. With Tom driving and me navigating, we almost had a major meltdown. We switched drivers and quickly bailed out of there for Mayagüez.

The port city of Mayagüez is the largest city on the west coast, and we kind of like it. Our hotel is in the city center tonight, for the first time of our trip. The Hotel y Parador El Sol is a block from Plaza Colón and City Hall, where we parked while we sought out the hotel on foot. We spent $80 for a room. They had cheaper rooms, but they were all taken. They did the $5 service charge thing here too, but at least they included it in the price we were quoted. El Sol seems like mainly a business hotel. It has an indoor pool, but we like outdoor pools better when the weather is so nice! They gave us an automatic gate opener so we could park our car off the street.

Plaza Colón, Mayagüez

We relaxed a bit and then went for a walk. We stopped at a supermercado for provisions, then picked up some Chinese take-out at El Fenix Restaurante. The name really threw me because it's the name of a favorite tex-mex place my family used to frequent when I was a kid, but it turned out all right. There are less English speakers here in Mayagüez than on the north coast. The guys at the supermercado and the ladies at El Fenix were monolingual, but it wasn't a problem.

We walked back by Plaza Colón after dark because we'd read that drag-queen hookers hang out there at night, but alas, all we saw were policía. There were a couple of lively bars across from our hotel, and we could hear very drunken, Spanish, Phil Collins karaoke drifting over to us well into the night.

Continue to Day 4

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