Too often people have been really confused about how we can possibly travel for months and months. "Did you win the lottery?" one friend asked. I told him no way. Valine and I saved up for over a year and besides, it's not like we're going to stay in resorts the whole time.
Sometimes we really find ourselves longing for such cushy travel. There was that night in southern Florida during which we learned that late December was peak travel season, and we learned the hard way. After striking out on reasonably priced hotels for several hours both online and going door to door, we ended up sleeping in our car outside of a Holiday Inn Express. Lucky us a bunch of kids were having a party inside and we were intermittently awakened from an already uncomfortable night of sleep by drunken 20 year olds. What could we do? Tell them to keep it down in the parking lot because we were sleeping in the car?
Travel on the cheap also equated to our spending the first two nights in Puerto Rico in a hostel, a topic for another blog another day. We figured that we could use that time to learn about how to travel within Puerto Rico on the cheap as well. The information we were seeing online made public transit seem pretty bleak, but we were determined to find some underground way that people were getting city to city without spending a bunch of money. Nope. We would learn that the public transportation system really does stink. Within San Juan, sure, you can wait for hours on end and get a cheap public bus to anywhere the city. If you're lucky, a "publico," which is essentially a taxi van with a regular route, will pop by the bus stop and offer you a ride to some predetermined location for a couple of bucks more than the cost of the bus. There are publicos that go city to city as well, but they're divided between intercity publicos and intracity publicos. The cheapest way to get to Vieques Island, a very common destination for tourists in Puerto Rico, would be to take two city buses that would eventually get you to the San Juan publico terminal, hope there's room on one of the publicos heading to Fajardo, exit the publico at the Fajardo publico station, then find another publico that goes down to the ferry terminal, and finally take a fast-filling ferry over to Vieques. If you dont make it to the ferry on time, no problem! There's a hostel right near the terminal with 12 person dorms for only $30/night.
Screw that business. We rented a car.
That seems to be the common solution in Puerto Rico. This isn't Panama. There are no Diablos Rojos that'll take you clear across the countryside for a few bucks. Taxis run at American prices. That's okay. I like the freedom to explore as we'd like. Without a car, we couldn't have explored the town of Loiza which was established by freed slaves back in the mid-to-late 1800s. We couldn't have spent a morning swimming in a waterfall in El Yeunque, the only rainforest in the US National Park system. Nor could we have found ourselves camping on a beautiful beach called Seven Seas on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico.
We were both a bit tentative about simply popping a tent any ol' where on the island, so when we discovered that many of the beaches were fenced and guarded we felt pretty good about our first night of camping in the tropics. The areas are called "balnearios" and usually come with bathrooms, camping areas, life guards, and the aforementioned security guards.
Seven Seas is adjacent to an active neighborhood, and by active I mean it seemed like everyone there was exercising through the balneario during the evening. No one else was camping. We decided we'd wait until nightfall so as to not draw any attention to our solo tent. Better yet, we decided to fall asleep on the rainfly right on the sand with the waves lapping at our feet. We set up the tent next to the lifeguard tower that was raised just high enough that we could squeeze our tent beneath it at the first sign of rain.
That's where we fell asleep first, beneath a blanket of stars and next to the ocean a few feet away. We were sound asleep when that blanket of stars was covered up by rain clouds. A few drops was all it took to stir us to attention, scramble up to our tent, and move it to shelter beneath the life guard stand. We fell right back asleep to the sound of raindrops and crashing waves.
The sounds of the teenage lovers who unwittingly planted themselves above some sleeping gringos later on were much less euphonious. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but I could tell it was unaccented English and that made me think they were some tourists. I could hear the smooches in between hushed chatter. Val and I sat there quietly hoping they'd go away. There are a 1/2 a dozen towers there, such luck these kids would pick our rain cover.
In the distance we heard an atv heading towards us, getting closer and closer. Eventually, it'd stop right behind the life guard tower and we heard a very official sounding voice speaking rapid fire Spanish. It was far too fast for me to understand, as was the perfect Spanish fired back by the kids above us. I did what I always do when conversations are going on like that. I tried to pick up on some of the words to guess what's being said. When I heard "arena," or sand, I knew we were shot. A few exchanges later, Valine jumped up and said, "permiso!"
She would explain to me later that the security guard was telling the kids that they couldn't camp in the sand. The kids were flummoxed because they had no clue what the hell he was talking about, what tent? When she sensed it getting a bit heated, she jumped up to talk to the security guard. I'm sure those kids were shocked to learn that a couple of gringos were beneath them the whole time.
The guard told us we had to camp in the grass. So we dragged our tent over to the grass and somehow fell right back asleep again. This being the tropics, another rainstorm struck later that night. This time, rather than being gently awakened by a few drops, we were hit by a torrential downpour and heavy gusts of wind. We'd spotted a gazebo earlier and decided that be our best bet. We had to place the tent all the way to one side to get out of the rain that was pouring at a solid 45 degrees at that point.
Somehow, we found ourselves going in an out of sleep, often waking up with no feelings in our limbs because of the hard surface. Once the rain died down and we realized we'd not be getting any sort of extended sleep there on the cement, we decided to strike camp and spend the rest of the evening sleeping in the car.
We'd gone from sand to grass to cement to cramped car seats. Yeah, a resort would've been pretty nice that night. Still, somehow, we both fell asleep one last time.