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Tangling With A Coral Reef The Best Of Puerto Rico's Great Outdoors
Tangles With A Puerto Rican Coral Reef
March 30, 2004
New York Post
IN our family, its not vacation unless we have a near-death experience to remember it by.
Puerto Rico never disappoints.
The weathers great, the people friendly - and we can always count on getting lost. And injured.
Our last snorkeling trip to Desecheo Island, 12 miles off the west coast, had us feeding the whales as Taino Divers tiny boat bobbed upon the rocky sea.
This time my son Sam and I took Dramamine - and signed on with Oceans Unlimited, which promised a bigger, safer boat and a free shuttle bus to the marina.
Alas, the marina was an hour away; the "bus," an un-air-conditioned van. By the time we dropped anchor off Desecheo, we couldnt wait to hit the water.
We were following a school of dories when the current picked up. I looked up for a second, while a wave slammed me into the coral.
Cut and tingling, I surfaced - just as another wave sent us spinning. Where was the boat? Where we left it: a quarter-mile away.
"Swim, damn it, swim!" I yelled, bleeding copiously.
"I cant believe we paid all this money to be scared to death!" Sam choked, paddling furiously.
At last we reached the boat and I heaved myself aboard, still bleeding.
"Have fun?" my husband, Bruce, asked when we returned - then blanched as he saw the dried blood.
The next day had to be better. We were bound for Gilligans Island, a magical place someone told us was a ferry ride away from Guanica. The Copa Marina nearby, he added, served the islands best martini.
Off we went, driving up and down narrow roads, looking for the ferry - or even a sign. Nada.
So we pulled into the Copa Marina. At its dock were motorboats, kayaks - and a great view of the island across the way.
"Take us to Gilligan!" we cried.
The man shook his head.
"Closed," he said. "For cleaning."
We envisioned people dusting palm trees. "Closed?" We felt like the family in "National Lampoons Vacation," denied Wally World.
Bruce dragged us to the caf and ordered a martini. Afterward, Sam and I poured him into a lounge chair and rented a double-kayak.
I figured wed paddle out and slip onto the island.
"You cant," the man said, reading my mind. "The currents too strong."
So we kayaked along the coast, collecting shells. Not that we needed souvenirs, because Ill have my snorkeling scars forever.
Looks easy, right? Think again.
Jungle Fever - From Mile To Wild, Lisa Keys Takes On The Best Of Puerto Rico's Great Outdoors
March 30, 2004
New York Post
GOOD old Puerto Rico. Sun. Beaches. Rum. Ever dependable, easily doable, it's the place we go to laze away the days while sipping frothy cocktails. Outdoor adventures? You must have the wrong island. Try Dominica, a few doors down.
Wrong! This 3,515-square-mile island is packed with bountiful nature reserves that offer endless outdoor activities, from leisurely hikes and bike rides to multi-day trekking experiences.
Next time you're headed south, break away from San Juan, say hasta luego to the Westin Rio Mar and explore the following destinations. Just do some advance planning, rent a car and then get ready to hit the ground running. We guarantee you won't miss that day on the beach.
What to do: guided tour
Yes, the gift shop, paved roads and tram tour all smack of commercialization, but no matter - a trip to northern Puerto Rico's Rio Camuy Cave Park, home of the world's third-largest underground river, is not to be missed.
Just check your cynicism at the park's entrance, pay your $10 and sit though the short safety movie. Then take the tram tour down to Cueva Clara, an astounding 170-feet- tall cave.
For some 30 minutes you'll wander through the tastefully lit cave, gawk at enormous stalactites and stalagmites and visit some impressive sinkholes. Before you leave, don't forget to wash your hands - unless you'd like to take some bat guano home.
Nearby is the Arecibo Observatory, home of the world's largest radio telescope.
How to go: From Route 2, the highway that circumnavigates the island, head south on Route 129 to the park entrance. Open Wednesday - Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-3:45 p.m. ( 898-3100).
What to do: hiking, spelunking
Northern Puerto Rico is known as karst country, a spectacular geological oddity of limestone cliffs, caves and sinkholes.
A highlight is the peaceful, 2,357-acre Bosque de Estatal de Guajataca. The product of a recent upgrade, this state park boasts the island's most extensive trail system, with 27 miles of pathways meandering across rocky terrain that resembles dinosaur skulls.
A must-hike is the trail to La Cueva del Viento ("the cave of the wind").
Be warned: The trailhead says it's a one-kilometer hike to the cave, but your watch - not to mention your legs - will tell you it's more like two.
The slightly hilly trail ends at a wooden staircase that leads visitors to the mouth of the cave. The cave is scary in a dark, damp basement kind of way, but bats aside, it's a thrill to spend some time exploring. (Don't forget your flashlight.)
Trail information may be hard to come by. Some days, the visitor's center is inexplicably closed and the only available information is a map carved in wood that lacks descriptions or distances.
But the trails themselves are well-marked. Allow plenty of time, and bring a watch and an intrepid explorer-type attitude - or, contact the visitor's center in advance.
How to go: From Route 2, take Route 446 south until you reach the park's headquarters. ( 872-1045).
TORO NEGRO FOREST RESERVE
What to do: hiking, guided tour
Central Puerto Rico's Toro Negro is home to stunning tropical flora, the highest, most remote mountain peaks on the island and a large concentration of coquis, a tree frog known by its "ko-kee" call, which serves as the island's unofficial mascot.
Toro Negro's trails are well-marked, making it easy for hikers to spend the day exploring the trails near the popular Doa Juana Recreation Area.
But for a truly remarkable experience, hit the central mountains with an experienced adventure guide, such as Raymond Sepulveda of Acampa Tours. Sepulveda is knowledgable about everything from the island's history to its native flora. He will lead hikers up Cerro de Dona Juana, which reaches 3,529 feet above sea level, and will explain every detail of the panoramic view, followed by slices of his mother's banana bread.
Depending on the tour, guests may be provided with lunch at a local family's home. Afterward, Sepulveda and his machete will guide you through a series of waterfalls that most day-trippers never find. You'll spend the afternoon bushwhacking, dipping in crystal-clear waterfall pools, free-climbing rocky cliffs and picking grapefruits from the trees. It's the perfect day.
How to go: Acampa Tours does customized outdoor adventures throughout Puerto Rico; prices from $75.00 for a 3/4 day tour to $479.00 for a four-day expedition, all included, to Mona Island ( 706-0695; www.acampapr.com).
GUANICA DRY FOREST
What to do: hiking, biking, swimming
Cacti in the Caribbean? You bet.
Guanica's landscape is dramatically different from the rest of Puerto Rico. Instead of tropical rainforests and coquis, in this southern region you'll find cacti, dry scrub forest and the island's largest bird habitat.
A United Nations Biosphere Reserve, this state park has over 9,000 acres of protected land and offers 36 miles of trails, some with stunning ocean views and world-class beaches.
The Ballena trail offers a good introduction to the park's diverse flora. Just steps away from the visitor's center, the two-kilometer hike passes through deciduous forest, a mahogany plantation and agaves. A spur trail leads hikers to Guayacan Centenario, an enormous, nearly 1,000-year-old tree.
Head east once you hit Route 333, and a short walk will bring you to spectacular, underpopulated beaches with calm, clear water deep enough for swimming. It's hot, hot, hot in the desert, so bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.
How to go: From Route 2, take 116 south and turn left at Route 334 to the forest headquarters ( 724-3724). Porta del Sol Tours offers bike tours from local resorts ( 360-9398).