Some days things just do not go how you plan them to. Yesterday Michal and I planned on visiting the island of Culebra. This island is said to have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. To get to the island you can fly ($100 round trip) or you can take a ferry ($5.00 round trip). We arrived about 45 minutes before the ferry was scheduled to leave. The line was literally a mile long. We waited for close to two hours only to find out that the round trip ferries had sold out for the day. We were advised to not even bother coming back this week unless we planned on arriving around 5:30 AM to wait in line for tickets on the 9:00 ferry. While we are disappointed that we will not get to see Culebra on this trip, we ended up having a very fun and memorable day.
While standing in line we met Pablo and Julio. They are both from Puerto Rico and had never been to Culebra. After an hour and a half of non-stop conversation and finding out that none of us would be getting on the ferry, they invited us to spend the day with them. Pablo and Julio are from Caguas. Caguas is known as the heart of Puerto Rico because of its geographical location. In Caguas they introduced us to mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish that is made from mashed plantains and filled with different kinds of meat. It was very filling!
After that we travelled through the mountains to the South side of the island to the city of Ponce. Ponce is known as “the pearl of the South”. The main square in Ponce looked like a picturesque European city. We wandered around the city admiring the architecture, visiting a firehouse museum, and attempting to visit a castle and a large cross. Unfortunately the castle and cross were closed. We were still able to enjoy the views of the rolling mountains and the sea from high up on the hill.
We left Ponce and drove to La Guancha Beach by the Caribbean Sea. We strolled along the boardwalk that had so many pelicans sitting on the railings. I’ve never seen anything like it! I finally got to see a sunset last night too. There is nothing like watching the sunset over the water. While we were there we were introduced to alcapurria. It consists of a dough made from mashed vegetable roots with a center of seasoned meat. It’s then fried and incredibly tasty!
Once it was dark out, Julio drove us to a bioluminescent bay. These bays have microorganisms that glow when the water moves. We took a boat ride out into the bay. There was no moon last night and the sky was glittering with stars. The night sky was breathtaking. The stars shined more than the microorganisms. The microorganisms were like small white sparks that cascaded across the water when the boat passed through. I enjoyed seeing them even though it wasn’t as magical as I expected (you had to really look to see them). Pablo, on the other hand, was quite disappointed that the water itself wasn’t glowing.
Michal and I learned a lot about Puerto Rican culture yesterday, tasted new foods, made new friends, and discovered places we didn’t know existed. It was the best day of our vacation so far. We also learned a lot about the Puerto Rican school system from Julio who is an elementary school teacher. Public school teachers here make around $14,000. Health insurance is not provided, there is no social security for teachers, their retirement may be taken away, and the salary you are hired at never changes. There are no raises or costs of living increases. And I thought things were tough in New York…
Today we went to the Bacardi Factory. It consisted of free drinks, a tropical view, and one of the best mojitos I’ve ever had. I’m also adjusting to island time. I stopped wearing my watch (this is a big deal for me), I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired. Life is pretty relaxing this way.