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February 25, 2005
Puerto Ricans love Sunday drives. That much I know. Ever since the first batch of Model Ts hit our gravel in the 1920s, Boricuas fell in love with cruising the curvy dirtroads. (These first cars to put the average Juan on the road were also known as "Ford de patitas" because you changed gears with your feet; "patitas" means "little legs.")
Taking off to some sweet spot on "La Isla" on Sunday is still very much part of our family subculture. Its how suburbia keeps the Puerto-Ricanness flowing. Its when the city folk get a taste of the "pan de teta," the "queso blanco" and the "chicharrón volao." So, what better way to keep feeding the Boricua vein while you live American style than to flee the San Juan concrete.
This time lets head east, along the coast, circumnavigating the ominous El Yunque with its mysterious flat head stuck in the clouds. Youre now rolling the pavement smooth on PR-3. As soon as you pass El Comandante racing track in Canóvanas you start seeing green and your breath slows down. Thats it. Youre back in the present. Real life flows in these less hectic parts.
Now you pass the uber iconic Kioskos de Luquillo on your right, a.k.a Fritter Nirvana. Try #57 for some kick-ass tacos de chapín or #46 for mean crab alcapurria. If you wish you can also stop by the Luquillo Beach for a dip. This is an emblematic beach to boot, a classic of Puerto Rican shoreline. The grounds are nicely kept, clean and secure. It sports as nice, wide band of beige, grainy sand. Theres even a nifty area for the physically impaired. You can either dilly dally here all you want and never hit Fajardo, or towel up, pick up after yourself and head to an unforgettable, ecologically friendly experience.
Las Cabezas de San Juan is a superb au naturale encounter, guaranteed to unwind the most wound up. Assuming that you made reservations first, youll get to see a neoclassical lighthouse (El Faro de Fajardo) built in 1882 by the Spanish to monitor traffic near Vieques and Culebra, amble on a trolley some, and then snake your way through the mangroves full of fish, birds and crabs. Dont forget to amaze yourself with the majestic Ceiba tree in the entrance. In the restored and historic lighthouse theres a small acquarium where you get to see specimens of the local sea inhabitants. The guides are especially knowledgeable and will answer any question you have concerning this fragile ecosystem. Dont forget to take a peek at the sea lapping the rocks below, and oversee the Laguna Grande (which is bioluminescent and you can kayak through there at night), and the different shades of azure so typical of the Seven Seas beach in Fajardo.
After getting your fill of this well-kept natural reserve, head to Las Croabas, the picturesque fishing village near the Wyndham El Conquistador, old king among the Caribbean mega resorts. Make sure your appetite is stirred because a fine catch of the day is bountiful and the good "criollo" food spills over the menu. Try a nice sit-down dinner with the "criollo" works at the well-known El Bohío, the family-oriented Tropical Paradise, Iremar Restaurant with live music or the nicely appointed La Conquista on PR-987. Ask for a fresh, fried red snapper, or "chillo frito," and of course a nice meaty mofongo with broth on the side. There is also the more informal Blue Bahía Sea Food or Ocean View near the park, where you can get your alcapurria and bacalaíto fix in a jiffy.
Finish the day off at the Parque Las Croabas delighting in a stately sunset with a view none should miss. The kids can waddle safely to the rocks in the middle of the bay, while the less daring can sit on the cement benches by the parking lot that look out to the great East. Its also quite a snuggle spot for the lovestruck. Nearby is Seven Seas public beach if you must have one last dip.
And now, recharged, with the kids appeased in the back seat, and everyones bellies satisfied, drive off into the western sunset. Watch the mountains become the backdrop for a most amazing view of the suns rays spilling out from the clouds -- simply heaven sent. Makes you forget about the red lights, beeping horns, and all the unpleasantness in between. Well now, back to life as you know it.
Las Cabezas de San Juan Natural Reserve in Fajardo
On PR- 987 near Las Croabas in Fajardo. It is open Friday through Sunday. Reservations are required. Tours in Spanish are at 9:00 a.m.,10:00 a.m.,10:30 a.m., and 2:00 p.m. English language tour is at 2:00p.m. Admission is $5 adults, $2 children. For reservations call the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, weekdays 787-722-5882 or weekends 787-860-2560.
The Fajardo Inn
If you feel like staying. Great rates, clean, spacious rooms for the budget conscious. One of those inns that grows on you; soon to include a small water park.
Brenda A. Mari is an editor/reporter for The San Juan Star, an accomplished web copywriter and a fan of everything unusual. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org