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The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Besides from the huge island, it includes several smaller islands, such as Mona, Culebra, and Vieques. In total, they covers 9.104 km2 and are the home of 3.195.153 citizens of which 75.8% are white, 12.4% black and 3.3% two or more races. 90% are Christians.
Puerto Rico was colonized by Spain following the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493. It was contested by French, Dutch and British, but remained a Spanish possession for the next four centuries. In 1898, following the Spanish–American War, the United States acquired Puerto Rico.
The climate of Puerto Rico is tropical rainforest. The biodiversity is large with many species endemic to the archipelago. Here are 239 endemic plants, 16 birds and 39 amphibians/reptiles. The most recognizable endemic species and a symbol of Puerto Rican pride is the Coquís; Eleutherodactylus sp, a group of small frog easily identified by the sound of its call, from which it gets its name. Most Coquí species (13 of 17) live in the El Yunque National Forest, a tropical rainforest in the northeast of the island previously known as the Caribbean National Forest.
The flight is almost on time, and they manages to do some serving on the 55 minutes flight. I watch Puerto Rico as we passes it, and it is significantly more flat and populated than I thought. San Juan is looking like any other bigger American city. It is a huge natural harbour, and the coastal highline is high.
I am the first at all counters in the airport, and passes it in ten minutes. Then I have to call for a shuttle-bus to take me to the car rental office. I am in luck, it is already here, and it is a three kilometre drive. But then things slow down; it take forever to get my new Hyundai Accent delivered.
I finally hit the road, and aim straight for the home. On the way, I find a grocery, and as I have a kitchen, I stock a lot of food for the coming week. I drive straight to the right house, and here are actually someone. It is young American, painting the house. He have not travelled much, but started in Mauritania!
Then I start cooking: Pasta, black beans, olives, Italian
spices and sprinkled with cheese: Best meal for a long time! I don't have
many photos, nor things to write about, and I catch up on the Swedish WRC.
8. It seems like I will be doing quite some
driving in Puerto Rico, as I will be sleeping in the same place. I test the
possibly to by visiting a sight, not too far away: Arecibo Observatory. It
is the massive disc, known from an old 007 film; Golden Eye, 1995. And one
of the few iconic locations from these films I haven't seen - yet.
It is not really interesting, as most of the sides of the road is more or less towns. I am actually amassed how little it cultivated. I see a few grass fields for cattle, that is it. It start up at big city, but pretty soon, it is only towns and two-story houses. It seems like Puerto Rich is made up by limestone. Here are several of the typical pointy hills, and one even got a lift to the top! The main vegetation are bushes, mixed with some trees and meadows.
Arecibo, I turn inland on some real narrow roads. They wind their way
through the low limestone hills, offering some great views. However,
it seems like here are small houses everywhere. Every time I want to park,
it will be in someone's front yard or garden - or I can't park. I manages a
few times, and find quite some interesting plants.
do a short walk along a little river, and see some of the impressing
flowering trees. Some of the larger trees have their stems covered in
Monstera deliciosa, and they all seems to have quite some yellow parts
of the leaves.
At first, it does not really look as big as I had expected. Then I notice the men, hanging over it: They are tiny! It is 305 metres in diameter, 70.000 square metres, and the three towers, holding the centre construction, weighing 900 tons are 265 to 365 metres tall. I see the film they are showing, and then avoid the hundreds of school children invading the place.
My next target is nearby: Parque De Las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy. That should finally give me a chance to experience some undisturbed nature. Well, it is that undisturbed, I can't get to it. The gate is closed, and when I try to sneak in, a choppy mother's-boy of a rent-a-cop, pushes his pilot-sunglasses up with left hand, while he open the holster to his gun with right. I decide; I don't have to see that park at any cost!
That conclude my north-western Puerto Rico, but I have time to improvisations. I find some minor roads, heading west. I first aim for a lake, but it is dammed and rather new - and fenced in as well. I see some interesting plants flowering red, but I fail to find a place to park every time. Another time, I see some Begonias with supper-dish sized leaves. I recon I will see both again, and don't do too much to get a photo.
Here keep being small houses along the roads, and it seems like the view I got on the in-flight was right: Here are no bigger patches of untouched nature. It seems like the landscape flattens a bit out towards the west, and here are a few more cattle fields.
reach the northern coast, but it seems like most of it is a 30 meter
vertical cliff. I reach a beach in Rincon, and it is fare from as developed
as I had expected. My GPS have a "sight of interest" way out west, and I
give it a go. It is along another nice beach, and this is surfers home.
Several old bread trucks are their base, and surfs up!
It have turned three, and I have around 100 miles - 161
kilometres home. I figure, I better make it by the bigger roads, but the
first 50 miles is on road 2, with hundreds of light signals. And they are NOT
synchronised. To add to the fun, several road-works have one-lane roads.
9. As it is Saturday, I keep clear of the beaches, but a tour out to El Yunque National Forest, named after the Taíno god; Yúcahu must work. It is a hours drive across the capital; San Juan, but the traffic is light. El Yunque have a huge visitor centre, and it have it all - except open. Well, the forest is open, and a small shelter provide a map with all the trails, falls, viewing-towers and alike.
They do warn: Due to a storm a year ago, some trails might be closed. And then some! Only one of 18 tails are open. Further more, the parking lots for the closed ones are firmly closed too. That give some parking problems at the few remaining parking lots. And it seems like the only personal on duty, are the guys, writing up parking tickets. Out of the lines, on the road, too long: Only 15 or 30 minutes each place.
It start out raining, but after all; it is the only US rainforest, and it was expected. As all the trails are closed, I am forced to walk along the road; 191, crossing through the forest. The nature is absolutely awesome! Here are large amounts of Bromeliads, tree ferns up to fifteen metres, orchids, Anolis, great views, odd looking plants, huge flat snails, numerous waterfalls, steep mountains, green walls, huge green canyons and much, much more.
I find the single open trail, a narrow concrete path, heading all the way up to the top of Mt. Britton. Here, one of the viewing towers are found. The other one gave a great view to the fog, and I can't be bothered here. I find another blocked road, heading down again, and get a great detour back to the car.
Just before I get out in the other end of the park, the road is blocked, and I have to drive back. Guess I have done that anyway. The sun breaks through, and I get some way better photos of the views and plants. The Anolis are getting active, but I fare from see as many animals, as I had expected. I hear some birds and see a few.
four, I find another way out of the forest, and chooses the minor roads
home. I want to find a supermarket with black tea. I find a huge Walmark,
and they have. Then I have to head home and sort out the close to 400
photos, which more or less look just alike: Green.
10. My original plan was to use the calm Sunday to see the capital. However, I just learned yesterday evening: It will be the last day of the Carnival, and it will be packed! Plan B is to see the Bosque Estatal de Guánica, a real rare subtropical dry forest, and one of the best examples of it. Well, only one percent have survived the last 100 years. Here are over 700 different species, most close to extinction.
It is a long drive, more or less across the entire
island, and I get an early start. Then I head south on the great
highway. After I have cleared the city, it turns into first green hills,
the pass, more brown ones. As I get closer to the south coast, it turns even
more dry. Then I reach Bosque Estatal de Guánica.
Here are really dry, although it is in the beginning of the dry season. I had expected a lot of Acacias and other thorny buggers, but only the few, and surprisingly suffering cacti have thorns. Here are more dead than living Spanish Dildo Cacti; Pilosocereus royenii, and the one I can't find a name for, is even worse. Only the epiphytic Pitaya cacti seems to do fine. A single Opuntis is small and not too dry.
Here are more bushes than trees, and I don't recognises a single one. Among the trees, it is only the lovely Gumbo-Limbo; Bursera simaruba I recognise. I try to make some images from the forest, but they all look the same. It is a limestone world, and here are no traces of water. However, some of the trees and bushes are lush and green. Others have fruits, some in a shape I never seen before, others are Fabaceae for sure.
Here are some lightning fast lizards in the dry leaves, and I more hear then, than see them. The birds are a bit more easy, especially the vultures, passing real fast. I see a golden bird with black wings, some doves and sparrows or alike. I reach the viewing spot; El Vigia, and here are a huge valley with only little settlement visible.
I head back by another route, and see a few more familiar plants. Here are several Bromeliads and Tillandsias and a Mistletoe. Then I see some Vanilla, but it is hard to determine if it is one of the many wild species, or the one brought in from Mexico. They are real dry! A few Agave sisalana-like plants are suffering too, but I can't find out if it is native plant or the sisal agave. Bosque Estatal de Guánica
After two hours, I have seen a good part of the huge forest, and most of the pants - I think. Then at the office, there is poster of some Melocactus intortus subsp. domingensis. It turns out; there are a costal part, reachable by a long drive. I head out to the coastal plain to find them. On the way, I pass some limestone cliffs, a bit of mangrove and costal desert and limestone hills.
The coast is partly nice beach, and here are some locals, but not many. I start with lunch; a huge cinnamon role with cheese, icing and jam. Sticky but filling. I was recommended a walk along the sea, and here are some great views over the blue sea, the perfect beaches, the barren lowland and partly overgrown limestone hills. The two type of Cereus are doing better here, but the candelabra Opuntia are rare and suffering.
I find a Green Iguana; Iguana iguana, as she is leaving her nest in the dunes. Again, I hear lizards, but hardly see any. At the beach, I find a single sea snail, crossing a dry rock. Guess its pool got too warm? I get to do quite some walking, but the Melocactus intortus are a bit illusive. Then I find them on the flat limestone along the sea. Here are also some Discocactus sp. and some succulents. I was told to turn around at a certain point - and I actually do!
try to explore the limestone hills, but I don't find much new, and they are
hard to negotiate in flip-flops. It is only two, and I figure I can see the
most south-western part. Only 90 minutes drive - my GPS claims.
The landscape dry out even more, as I reach the corner of the island, and then it turn into mangrove and salt lakes. A viewing tower give a good view, but here are none of the flamingos I hoped for. The last bit of the road is in the mangrove, gravel and pretty busy. At the end, there are a light tower and a beach. I give up finding a place to park, and it is getting late anyway. The South Coast
My GPS say 130 miles home (210 km), and three and a half hour. I guess it chose to ignore the hundreds of traffic lights! As both the southern and northern road is pretty much the same time/length, I figure I might as well can see the western coast. It turns out to look so much like the northern, even the amount of traffic lights. It start to rain a bit, but I drive quite fast. Most drive 45 mi/h despite the limit is 55 mi/h, and 55 mi/h despite the limit is 65, when we reach the highway. And most in the left lane. They have no problem driving slow and aside for miles, way too slow, and none bothers - except me. Eventually I make it home at six, and do a stop at the local grocery to stock water. Bosque Estatal de Guánica and the Southern Coast
It is time to go to Diary 2.