Today was the day to visit the northeastern part of Puerto Rico. We were going to do the Yunque Rainforest, Luquillo Beach and Fajardo and decided we'd come back a different route to see something interesting.
To get there, if you are coming from the Condado area, head east towards Old San Juan. Traffic will not be great no matter what time you go, so have patience, as it gets better. Highway 26 is about 2 blocks from the hotel, so for us it was fairly simple. Follow the signs to Fajardo - drivers here are courteous most times and observe the speed limit - I didn't see too many weavers. Highway 26 becomes Route 3 which is fine, as you will stay on there; it's a limited access highway, so you will have to contend with stop lights, but there's lots of stuff to see along the way.
We passed Plaza La Carolina Mall and the Carolina Shopping Court . Then there was a huge semi-circular stadium on the road, a municipal court house and a Lilly Drug manufacturing plant. Drug Manufacture is Puerto Rico's principal export, to our surprise. Then comes another huge strip mall with Kmart, Home Depot and all the stuff you can think of. Mountains in the background are the only "anomaly". The weather will change drastically as you get closer to el Yunque . We also passed by the Belz Outlets , which is advertised everywhere as it is fairly new. It's around Cavanovas . The neighborhood starts to deteriorate at this point, although it remains fairly clean. Houses turns to shacks. A sign indicates that the Rio Grande Plantation Eco Resort is here, so note that the National Forest is coming up and as Route 191 sneaks up on you, so stay alert, as it will take you to el Yunque.
Luquillo Beach is a stone’s throw from the Forest, and we went into the Park area which precedes the beach. As it was a week day, the grounds and beach were fairly deserted. We were not terribly prepared for the beach, as we had no towels, no change of clothing, no bathing suits. What is most striking about Luquillo is the cleanliness of the huge park, and of the beach itself. All of the beach eateries were closed except for one souvenir shop that remained opened. There were less than five bathers as the weather was quite fickle, but the expanse of sea, sky and sand was intoxicating. There was one woman sunbathing and reading; a family with 2 children where I found anchor and threw down whatever I had brought along. Chuck was already in the water; I made a bold move and removed my tee shirt and decided to go into the water with my bra and shorts! The water was amazingly warm with shreds of algae floating by with the tides. Imagine having Luquillo Beach almost to yourself? The sun was really not hot enough to dry my clothing, so I had to improvise a bit.
We are now making our way to Fajardo which is a lovely little resort town at the tip of Puerto Rico's northeast coast. We never find the beach, instead, we get out to see the town square where men are busy putting together Christmas decorations. There is a promenade with some apparel shops and shoe stores. I spent quite a bit of time in the women's shop as they had the type of dresses I love to wear, long and flowing with spaghetti straps. Chuck had already toured the rest of the shopping area in the meantime. Back in the car, we are trying to find a restaurant to have a bite. This will not happen until we reach Humacao which is south of Fajardo actually. In our desire to find the shore, we hit on the Marina which is incredible. There are so many boats here that they are parked 3 high; there is a hotel on the premises. But no vehicles can go past that point so we turn around. We are on Route 53 and making our way to Humacao which is a major city, around all small and poor villages. The mountains are truly majestic around them. We go through the towns of Ceiba and Naguabo , and somewhere between those two, we hit a dead end at the Roosevelt Roads Naval Reservation Golf which is for military personnel only. Dinner at Chili's is quite welcome and tasty. Chuck goes for the beef sirloin fajitas and I have a hamburger. After dinner, we go into Sam's Club because Chuck wants to check out their prices. It’s no big deal really although it's quite large and the locals here apparently like to shop. We are asking people at the door for directions and we get 3 different versions. Night is falling and this will be our first solo ride in the evening in Puerto Rico. It turns out to be quite rapid and efficient; the roads, signs are well maintained and if you are alert, you will not miss your exits. We actually get back on Route 53 which will dump us on 30 west which you take all the way up and back to San Juan. Speed limit varies between 60 & 55, and when you get closer to Bayamon, you'll get a 4 lane highway instead of 2. A long day, indeed.