Named Isla Del Encanto (Enchanted Island) by locals, Puerto Rico cast her siren’s song over me for months. I devoured every article, photo and video I could find on this breathtaking island. It took 10 long months, but finally, FINALLY it was time to prance my way on to the plane. I did in fact prance my way up the ramp, much to the delight and confusion of the flight attendants. The entire 3 hour flight was spent gazing out of the tiny window. The first sight of clear blue water had me in fits. My elbow may, or may not have had a part to play in Pete waking up just in time to see the first hint of land. We collected our rental car and set off to find the local hotspot of Cabo Rojo.
Cabo Rojo, or “Red Cape” is on the South Western corner of the mainland of Puerto Rico. The main air gateway to Western Puerto Rico is Aguadilla (BQN), which is roughly a 45 minute drive away. San Juan (SJU) is roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes by car. There is no real public transport in Puerto Rico, so a rental car really is a must. Cabo Rojo is popular with Puerto Ricans for weekend getaways and vacations. This seemed the ideal place to start!
Two hours after we landed, a torrential rain moved in. Water roared into the streets at an alarming rate. Flash flooding is completely confusing and terrifying!. Having never experienced anything like this before, we watched in horror as we saw a Jeep slowly blast through the flooded road with water over the hood. The OShitery was at maximum levels when we realized that our own car was also underwater almost to the windows and making noises we surely felt were death throes. Ten minutes later the rivers of frothy red water were gone, leaving only a filthy car and wet floorboards behind.
As a native of Florida, I have been to countless beaches. Nothing prepared me for the quality of the feathery sand and calm waters of the small beach literally steps from our rental in Joyuda. The water was rather shallow and had rock formations, but it was nice to just watch the sun slowly fade. We enjoyed the solitude and marveled at the storm that had so surprised and worried us only 2 hours before.
Pete got the Mofongo with pork, onions and peppers. I got the pork chops with rice and beans. The garlic bread was fantastic! It seems that Joyuda Restaurants really excell at garlic bread. The salad was just iceberg lettuce and a slice of tomato. The dressing was vile mayo and ketchup concoction that the locals seem to adore, as every salad we had in Puerto Rico had this dressing.. Needless to say, only intense hunger emptied those bowls! The pork chops were ok, a bit over done I think. The beans and rice were excellent though. They were a very good choice. The mofongo was something that many people had told us to try. It was ok, but it was obvious that it wasn’t done well. It just seemed that it should have been great – it was just way too dry- like a dry cake. The pork was obviously a leftover from another day. It was tough and had been cooked at least twice before would be my guess. My husband left most of the pork on his plate and opted for one of my pork chops instead.
The waiter had very little English, but was friendly and eager. We were the only ones there, so he stood in the corner looking at us – seeming never to blink for our entire meal. That was a bit creeptastic for our tastes, but there didn’t seem to be any sort of ill-will behind it. Our meal was $37.00. It seemed rather high for such mediocre food.
Keep driving about a mile on 102, and you will come to far superior establishments.
We finally found the long and lonely dirt road leading to Playa Sucia and the beautiful lighthouse. The secluded gem is no place for the faint of heart, you have to really work to get there! The rain of the previous day hid the true depth of the many potholes. We bounced our way down this long and ever narrowing road, desperately hoping to not fall into the center of the Earth. Some of these holes were bigger than our car. On one occasion my head literally slapped the dashboard, in the most graceful of ways. We met a lovely couple named Giselle and Joe along this lonely road. Worried about their own rental car, they had decided to walk the rest of the way. They had greatly misjudged the distance and after declining a ride, jumped into the bed of a truck a couple of miles down the road. We had about a half hour hike up the windy cliffs with the hardy plants clinging on tightly. We met up with them again on the wind swept cliffs of Faro de Los Morillos. We talked for a few minutes and exchanged photo taking skills before setting off on our own adventures.
The small half moon stretch of white powdered sand sparkled in the morning sun, and the bits of kelp that had washed up on shore made it feel like we had stepped back in time. There were less than a dozen people on the entire beach. The only sounds were of the calling birds and gentle lapping of the warm water. The secluded crescent of glittering sand was surrounded by mangrove trees that looked rather festive with towels, bags and clothing draped haphazardly over them. We joined in and hung our own gear from a nearby tree and waded into the delightfully warm water. Before long the need to explore took over and we made our way to the rocks. The cliffs encircling the small beach were rugged and ever so treacherous. According to Giselle, they nervously kept an eye on us climbing the rocks for fear that we would fall in. This part of the island is arid and mostly desert like, and the feeling of being at the very ends of the Earth felt rather intoxicating. We really regretted not hiking back up to the lighthouse to explore it once it opened, but we were beat after all the scrambling over rather slippery and jagged rocks, and cautiously eyeing the grumbling sky.
Sadly enough, we actually chose to stay in this area of Cabo Rojo because of the proximity of a highly rated Mexican Restaurant. The place was just great!! Roberto was our server, and was very attentive and patient with us! He spoke excellent English and helped us with our pronunciation of local areas and names.
We got the flautas and enchiladas and fajitas, they were mouth wateringly good! The steak was thick and tender, and seasoned to perfection! We were so engrossed in shoveling food in our face holes, we forgot to snap photos before we demolished the plates. We ended our meal with fried cheesecake served with Guava sauce and fresh vanilla ice cream. I was thinking fried chicken with cheesecake shoved inside, so was wary of it. It turned out to be the most amazing thing we had ever had!!!
The portions are huge – we had enough leftovers for dinner the next day. The prices are pretty standard for what you find in the States at a Mexican Resturaunt. The food had a Puerto Rican twist to it and was ever slightly exotic tasting. The place was kept ice cold and the locals we saw coming in had sweater and jackets draped over their arms. It was enough to make it a little uncomfortable, but getting into the sultry heat after was fantastic! The margaritas were good and strong, and I made the winding drive back to the condo with a red faced Pete grinning happily in the passenger seat. He really is an obnoxious drunk.
Pika Pika was a little hard to find in the winding streets of Boqueron, but well worth it! FYI – AT&T mobile GPS is pretty much useless in Puerto Rico. If you find a great place – save the location if you want to get back!
We were surprised that we only saw one person walking in the distance the entire time we were at the picturesque Playa Combate. The camel colored sand was not as fine as Playa Sucia, but was soft underfoot and nice to dig your toes into. We were sad to see there was a fair amount of litter further up the beach. It appeared that there may have been a party of some sort the night before. The best thing about having this beach all to ourselves? Yeah – we jumped around and engaged in general dorkiness.
Tino’s was a great little restaurant that really excelled at chicken and mahi mahi. Pete was too busy shoveling in his fish to snap any pictures. The yuka was lightly covered in olive oil garlic. It really was divine.
Boquerón is a glorious beach that was a delight for us, and the one with the best facilities. It was the only beach we paid to get into. A fee of $3.00 covered use of the facilities and ample parking. We apparently were not the only ones with the idea to spend the day at this beach, as there were loads of high school aged kids there as well as a few families. We were perplexed by a group of kids swimming in a bit of a circle. Imagine a bunch of puppies running in circles…. down a hill…. that is wet. This is pretty much the level of gracefulness that was on display. The dude bringing up the rear was swimming with one arm and dumping Ruffles into his mouth with the other out of a rather large bag. Just give that a second to sink in. We really got a good cackle out of two kids strutting up and down the beach carrying a car battery and a cooler turned makeshift boombox blasting music. You have got to love the ingenuity of youth! This is a cautionary tale – A boombox is not a toy.
We took a rather humble ferry to Gulligan’s Island and spent the day snorkeling the mangrove surrounded small ‘islands’ that boast a current that gently sweeps you along as you watch small fish and crabs. We discovered later that the outer parts of the island cluster is surrounded by a beautiful coral reef. We saw tons of broken coral that had been swept in by the current, and wondered where it had all come from. FAIL ON OUR PART. Complete and utter fail.
Ahhh…. Isla Ratones, or Mouse Island was the absolute best excursion of our trip. We took a small boat to this tiny island, populated only by birds and lizards. There were a few grills, picnic tables, and a couple of bathrooms. That was it. It really was amazingly secluded and peaceful. We brought a very light picnic of fruit and snackables. Had we realized there were grills, we would have brought something more substantial. A family was grilling something that had our mouths watering and apples just weren’t cutting it. The island is surrounded with tiny mangrove trees in bits of pipe, in an attempt to reestablish mangroves that were lost for various reasons. I was fascinated by these little man made areas, as there were lots of fish and various sea creatures darting around. Pete was about 100 feet away waving frantically to me. I naturally looked around for sharks or kraken. The coast looked clear, so I headed out to him. Suddenly I saw brilliantly colored corals and fish everywhere! The corals were as large as cars in many places! The water was clear and warm with a bit of a rocking current; it felt magical. I heard whispered in my head, “Keep it secret. Keep it safe.” Apparently being underwater doesn’t cancel out dorkiness. After a couple of hours exploring this underwater marvel, I encountered a small rather fat fish. He was dark colored and sparkled in the rays of sunshine cutting through the clear water. He looked as if someone had taken a handful of bright blue glitter and tossed it over his back. He glittered and shone as he darted in and out of his hidey hole towards me aggressively dozens of times. He was roughly the size of my hand and never got close enough to put himself into imminent danger, but he wanted me out of his yard. I was delighted to realize that fish could be jerks, and tried not to choke on water as I cackled. He was moving far too quickly to get a decent photo, but he pretty much looked just like the photo below. It seems that this breed of fish is typically aggressive. This little Jerkfaced fish is the inspiration for the name of this blog.
Towards mid afternoon, the day sort of went to shit. FIRE CORAL- Ever heard of it? I never had, so I was just happily drifting along watching the underwater world. The coral had grown so large in places it was around 18 inches from the surface of the water. Not wanting to damage the coral by striking it or standing on it, I tried desperately to paddle myself away from the shallowest areas. Lovely looking branches of coral were all around me. Burning, stinging- FIRE! My arm and leg brushed against a branch of coral and it felt like I was literally on fire. I tried rubbing the area and it only got worse. I felt hot all over and I swear I was sweating. After about 15 minutes I began to feel really ill. I found Pete and told him I had to go back to the condo. As we finished packing, I was relieved to see the boat heading in bringing in a small family. We were back in our condo 20 minutes later and I felt like I was going to faint. My throat was raw and closed up, my sinuses felt like they were packed with cotton and I had a fever. I showered and fell into bed. Pete got me some cold meds, as we thought this was just some nasty cold that had caught ahold of me. I suffered through 18 hours of complete misery, then suddenly felt totally fine. It was the most bizarre “cold” I had ever had. I wanted to throw a fit than an entire gloriously sunny day was wasted in bed. The only bright spot was a Star Wars marathon on one of the only English speaking channels. Return of the Jedi makes most things better. The two places I had brushed against the coral were angry with welts and felt warm to the touch the following morning. It wasn’t until two weeks later, when I noticed the same areas had gotten itchy and had raised up again that I thought about the coral I had brushed against. I started doing some research. I found out what it was called and that it isn’t actually coral and has micro organisms that can cause allergic reaction ranging from flu like symptoms to DEATH. “Coral sickness” can kill, and I was too ignorant to even know to be worried. I do not snorkel now without the recommended ‘kit’ consisting of a bottle of unopened water, vinegar, a new and unused toothbrush and Neosporin. The key is to clean the wound thoroughly (and painfully) after an encounter with this deceptively beautiful organism.
Our last full day was dark and rainy. The gloom seemed a mourning for the upcoming end of our trip. We loved the scenery while driving around the island, and a dreary day seemed the perfect opportunity to explore. Not all of the above photos were taken on this day, as brightness would indicate.
We had a midmorning flight to catch, and sadly made our way down to our little stretch of beach for the last time. We saw a sign for a beach called Crashboat near the airport in Aguadilla, so decided to stop in for a few minutes to walk along the water. The waves seemed to be a little higher on this side of the island, but still were considerably calmer than most of the beaches in Florida (at least on the Atlantic side).
As we made our way to the Airport, I was already planning our next trip to this glorious island.
10 months later, we made it back. *insert 80’s hairband ballad here*
Our very favorite song from this trip was Lutan Fyah’s Is this love. He was a new artist to us and we instantly fell in love with his sound. Follow the link below for the song.