Thursday, March 14, 2013

Anniversary Cruise! Puerto Rico, Day 2

After a more than adequate and actually pretty delicious and plentiful breakfast at “our” place, we were collected by Bob and Karen (Thank you, Bob, for doing the driving. And thank you, too, Karen, for being you. Always gracious. Always fabulous). We loaded up the snorkel gear “just in case” and headed eastward on PR-3. [Eastward, ho!... Never mind.]

Bromeliads. Lots of them.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
Our first stop was El Yunque, the rain forest. What a tropical treat! Birds. Waterfalls. Vines Tarzan could use for locomoting. Bromeliads galore. Rain. Well, of course there was rain. They don't call it a rain forest for nothing.

The weather was surprisingly cool and comfortable. By cool, I don't mean as in San Francisco. I mean cool for the tropics, which is an entirely different thing. You won't need a sweatshirt. And the humidity felt okay, too. But perhaps I was comparing it to Dominica and Grenada [see previous posts].

Naturally, it's generally cooler at El Yunque, but it was also cooler than I expected in Fajardo, where we used to live when my husband was stationed at Roosevelt Roads. We drove up one street and down the other looking for our former abode. We did find the subdivision (Baralt), and we found the right street. The exact house (there were actually two of them), we can't be sure of, but it'll do The streets weren't signed very well, and the houses weren't necessarily numbered. So, we went by feel. Man! The homes were so close together, they must have built houses between the houses or something. And the neighborhood was a little sketchy. Perhaps it wasn't the greatest back then, either, but I guess we didn't notice. Memory is a funny thing. Strange how “off” it can be. It was a bittersweet experience.

A couple of the pools at the El Con.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
Next, we drove up to the El Conquistador. It was considered luxurious when I worked there many years ago, but that was nothing compared to what I saw today. Wow! Huge. Spread out. The tennis courts, golf courses, and swimming pools had multiplied. If you stayed at the El Con on your vacation, you would not have to venture off the grounds. But you really should.

Oh, the swankness.
Photo by Chris.
All rights reserved.
I took a deep breath and made my way to the reception desk, where I was greeted very cordially by a businesslike yet friendly young lady. That gave me the courage to explain our situation. That is, I was a former employee, many years ago. My husband and I had come from California to revisit our old haunts, and would they give us a tour? Well, why not? You can't blame a girl for trying. I held my breath. Almost instantly, a young man appeared. Our private tour guide was accommodating and solicitous and proud to show us around. What a treat! I felt like a Very Important Person. [Back in the day, when a VIP arrived at the hotel, we would deliver flowers, a fruit basket, and/or a bottle of Piper-Heidsieck to the room. Unlike the bell boys, the “girls” from the Activity Desk who delivered those never seemed to get tips, even though we made the same minimum wage as the guys. Yes, it was irritating. But we did get to go to the welcome party, the coconut bash, and the farewell party. So, all was not lost.]

The view from the restaurant.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
We rode the funicular to the bottom level (from the top of the cliff to the water's edge, by the marina, water park, and classy condos), where we had lunch at the dockside restaurant/bar. Delicious, and not outrageous at all. We were pleasantly surprised. The weather was beautiful, and we relaxed and enjoyed the gorgeous, restful environment.

Old haunts.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
After lunch, we made our way back up to the main hotel parking lot, found our car, and drove out to Ceiba in search of NAS Roosevelt Roads. It wasn't hard to find. We'd been told the base was closed down and privatized, but that is apparently not entirely so. The guard would not let us pass through, because neither Harry nor Bob had identification indicating they were retired military (That is to say, retired from a life in military service, rather than having simply served in the military for four years). I couldn't believe it, and Harry was so disappointed. I may have cried. Harry may have seemed despondent. We explained how far we had come, how many years it had been, and how we had driven all the way to this part of the island for the express purpose of showing my husband's brother the areas where he had worked when stationed here during the Vietnam War. It was our anniversary trip. Please? And the guard did relent, but only barely. He looked at his watch and told us it would take exactly ½ hour to get to the marina and back if we didn't veer off the main road. He told us we had better be back in exactly ½ hour, or the military police would come looking for us. Military police? On a closed base?

We drove through the “downtown” area where the buildings showed signs of having seen activity long, long ago. It was kind of sad, really, and I remembered the hustle and bustle of the old days, when we were young and came on base to go to the movies (25 cents) or get a Denver Omelette at the diner. We were not allowed near the airfield, so we couldn't see the building where Harry had worked. Perhaps it is in the process of being converted to private use. That would explain the concrete roadblocks, right?

We were very, very good and didn't stray from permissible areas. Not even for a moment. We were grateful to have been allowed through the gate, and we weren't taking any chances. So, there were no misadventures to report. Yet.

Luquillo Beach
Photo by Chris.
All rights reserved.
It was close to 6 p.m. as we headed back towards San Juan, but we decided to stop at Luquillo Beach anyway. It's one of those coconut-tree-lined affairs with a long, long stretch of sandy beach. We remembered it fondly from our Navy days, when we had friends who lived in the town. On days off, we often went to Luquillo Beach to hang out and swim.

Luquillo Beach (a small part of it)
after yesterday's storm.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
On this particular day, the beach wasn't nearly as pristine as we remembered. Then again, it had been raining quite a bit, so there was lots of run-off, and the surf was stronger than usual, stirring things up. The little food kiosks were still there, lining the entrance to the beach area, selling food and drinks and souvenirs, looking somewhat less enticing than they had in days gone by. And then there was the mangy-mutt, wet dog that hounded us up and down the beach, biting at my white gauze skirt and made a fabulous impression on all of us, especially Karen. Ah, the memories we were making!

Sunset at Luquillo Beach.
Photo by Chris. All rights reserved.
Though it wasn't late, we were all very tired by the time we got back to “our” place, so Bob and Karen dropped us off and went back to the Conrad to get some rest. Once again, I regretted that we hadn't had an opportunity to snorkel. It is what they enjoy most, and I was grateful for their sacrifice of their own desires in order to please Harry and me. And I was determined to make sure some snorkeling got done, one way or another!

The El San Juan is across the street from the Hampton Inn, so Harry and I walked on over to see what it looked like. Back in the day, it was a beautiful “sister” hotel to the El Con. Again, wow! It has grown up, too, and I felt out of place among the city ladies who were all dressed up for the evening. So, we enjoyed a gourmet meal at Wendy's. And then we went back to the Hampton Inn and went to bed.

1 comment:

  1. Does indeed sound like a bittersweet day. But very special. I didn't realize you had worked at such a fancy resort. Must have met some interesting people--and probably some not so interesting.


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