Saturday was booked for a tour, “Full-Day West Puerto Rico Tour” from Viator. The web overview read: “A unique tour of the main and most beautiful attractions of the Northwest side of Puerto Rico. It is a complete tour and full of awe inspiring views starting with the Guajataca Tunnel, going through Isabela, a refreshing stop at Crashboat Beach, and arriving at Rincon. You explore fully the town of Rincon to see the local lighthouse next to a power plant, and Domes Beach. We end up at Tamboo Tavern beachfront deck restaurant in time to experience the marvelous sunset at the westernmost corner of Puerto Rico.”
The voucher and the email said I’d have a 7:45am pickup, so I awoke at 7 to the alarm and began getting clean and ready to go. As I stepped out of the bathroom after the shower, my phone rang and I was told the driver/guide and van were ready and out front for my 7:15 pickup.
Rushed, I grabbed water and the baklava from the night before, and with my camera in my backpack, locked up and got into the van. The driver/guide was named Roberto, and he had a colleague, Carole, who was accompanying him, as part of her marketing position. We drove to Isla Grande and, after a bit of confusion, picked up 63yo Susan. With just the 4 of us in the van, social spacing was easy, and Susan, who came from Florida (but was from NYC originally) was sent to the back. She had lived on Puerto Rico 30-years back, was a single mother of two adult daughters, and rarely was quiet whenever the tour paused. [Yes, she drove me crazy.]
Roberto, at age 22, was certainly the youngster in the group by at least 10 years. Carole had very little to contribute, but Roberto had somewhat of a spiel which he gave while speeding down the roadway. He admitted to being ADHD, and hence would stray off topic, return, and repeat anecdotes. He tried to engage his two patrons, albeit Susan contributing most of the time. We took off through Bayamon and Arecibo while Roberto spoke about the 78 cities/municipalities/counties that constitute Puerto Rico. We heard about how to differentiate whether a flag favored statehood versus independence: the shade of blue in the triangle along the pole.
After about 90 minutes, he pulled off the highway and began working towards the beach. After parking under trees and checking out the beach, we strolled up to and through the Guaiataca Tunnel. An old sugar cane railway tunnel connecting Quebradillas to Isabela, a slight bend kept our view from seeing through from one end. The construction, blasting through rock, was evidently quite frugal, as there was barely any excess space between the rock walls and the track bed. On the far side, we saw large boulders which had rolled down the mountain into the surf.
Once back in the van, we headed towards Isabela, stopping briefly at a turnoff where a large carved head faced out from the mountainside. Roberto explained that La Cara del Indio had been created to honor the indigenous people of the area. Passing through Isabela, we were traveling much faster than Kodak speed, with no stops, so I have no pictures to recall anything about Isabela, which has an interesting history, per Wikipedia.
Ninety minutes later, we arrived at Crashboat Beach, Aguadilla for a two hour stay. Susan headed to change for the beach while I sought shade and a beer at one of the beachside bars. Roberto and Carole disappeared once they found a spot for the van. There was a landmass island off in the hazy distance, which was probably Isla de Descheo.
Leaving the beach (finally,) we drove through Aguadilla, the location of the former Ramey Air Force Base, which was closed in 1971. We drove past officer and enlisted men housing which has been refurbished by the Puerto Rican government. As subsidized housing, it is offered on a “rent to buy” program, to encourage home ownership. We went past the old airfield as we continued our tour.
Still in Aguadilla, we pulled into the Restaurante Cinco, where we had a delicious lunch. I had Dorado Empanado en Plátano: mahi coated in plantain chips, with shrimp in a carbonara sauce on top, with a scoop of momposteao rice. Unable to get the group to split a bottle of wine, I had a delicious glass of Leira Pondal, an Albariño from Galicia. My main was stunning good, with the picture just not doing justice. Probably one of the best meals of the trip.
Following lunch, we headed southwest to Rincon, which is the westernmost point on the Puerto Rican main island. Roberto is originally from Rincon, still weekending with buddies there. A very colorful town, we spent a little time in a park overlooking a cemetery.
Proceeding on, we went to the lighthouse, which overlooked a beach and a dome for a defunct nuclear power plant. Waves were sufficient that a good number of surfers were getting decent rides. It was getting close to sunset, and the suggested Tamboo Tavern beachfront deck restaurant setting. Both Susan and I were ambivalent about staying for the sunset as there were serious clouds on the western horizon. Offering a last “pee break”, we boarded and Roberto announced that the narrative portion of the tour was completed. He set off south towards Mayaguez for the return trip. This was decidedly counterintuitive to me, as we were still along the northern coast: Mayaguez, and subsequently Ponce, would make the trip at least a half hour and 65km longer. As it was dark and the driver would be silent, it wasn’t like we’d be seeing anything as we headed to the southwestern and southern coast.
Once I determined that we’d travel by Ponce, I asked if Roberto and Carole would consider deviating briefly into Ponce to allow me to take a night shot of the cathedral. Susan was sitting in back of me, happily looking at YouTube videos and chatting with family on the mainland. Carole determined it would take an extra 30 minutes (which was what we’d saved by not staying for sunset) and they declined.
It was past 9:30 by the time we reached my flat in Santurce. I was tired and a bit anxious after almost four hours on the road in the dark. I downloaded the 80 pictures, looked at email, started organizing for packing in the morning before “checking out”. Not needing any food beyond the rest of my cheese and wine, I tucked in for the night.