Friday, March 22, 2013

San Juan 70.3 Trip Report

Last Thursday, Amber and I headed down to San Juan Puerto Rico for Amber's opening race of the 2013 triathlon season. I was excited to explore this island with a lot of history and geographic diversity. Rainforests to hike through, lagoons for swimming with manatees, caves for exploring, reefs for snorkeling, and plenty of beaches to relax on were just some of the attractions that I was planning on.

We arrived Thursday night and after a very smooth rental car pickup we checked into our hotel, the Conrad Condado. Condado is a district of San Juan which was to host the swim start of Amber's race. We walked over to the Hilton Caribe(the location for T1/T2 of the races) which is probably most well known to be the bar where the Pina Colada was invented. We met with fellow Concord area triathletes, Gina Whipple, John Rymes, Ryan Kelly and Keith Shields for probably the least memorable dinner of the trip not because it was terrible but rather because all of the other ones were so great.

The next morning we headed to the El Yunque National Forest. As Puerto Rico is a US territory, this is part of the National Parks Service and is the only subtropical rainforest in the US.  If you go to Puerto Rico expecting to see leopards, gigantic snakes, monkeys etc, you will be disappointed with the Rainforest-that's Costa Rica. If fact, except for bats, there are no native mammals to Puerto Rico. And just like in Hawaii, it appears someone had the brilliant idea to use mongooses to eradicate the rats that came from European sailors. It didn't work in HI and it didn't work in PR as mongooses are diurnal and rats nocturnal so now there are two rodents Islanders have to deal with. If you're not so interested in fauna but more so flora and if you're looking for a lush forest with nice(albeit paved) trails and great waterfalls, then Puerto Rico is the place for you.

 As with almost everything in Puerto Rico, the rainforest was packed. But the trail thinned out the herds enough that there were at least a few times that we had it to ourselves. However, on our way home from the rainforest we stopped at this little hole in the wall and found this great local vegetarian juice bar(is there any other) and had a made-to order salad that Amber is still raving about.
The next day, while Amber and the gang did pre-race stuff, I headed out west to explore some more of Puerto Rico. I was originally going to head over to the Caves in Camuy but after reading more about it, it sounded like most likely half of the tourists end up there on any given day resulting in long lines and little fun. So instead I headed out  towards the town of Arecibo. I had read that there was a pretty cool lighthouse out there but also that there was a less-traveled cave, Cueva del Indio Cavern, that had Taino petroglyphs and was pretty fun to explore. The trip out of San Juan is unpleasant at best if you travel on PR-2. Traffic, stop lights and fast-food is the highlight of the trip. Arecibo was about 50 miles away but took over 1 1/2 hours to get there. On the way back, however, I took PR22 and it took me less than 45 minutes. So if you want to go to Arecibo, stay on the toll road :) The lighthouse was okay but I'm partial to New England lighthouses which in my opinion are far cooler, but the cavern was awesome. You have to scale a large petrified sand dune then descend a 40 foot ladder down into this cavern. In it there are drawings estimated to be 400-500 years old and there are also many
A private beach all to myself

A bad quality picture-but in this cave there were petroglyphs estimated to be over 500 years old

Light House in Arecibo
I arrived home just as the crew was finishing up their triathlon related activities and we headed into Old San Juan for dinner and coffee. Cafe con leche is kind of like a latte but has a 1:1 ratio of espresso to hot milk. Boy is it delicious! Ryan introduced us to this great coffee shop where we all had pre-race drinks.

The next morning was race day! The good thing was that unlike most races where I have to get up at an ungodly hour to drive Amber to the race start, we were staying at the race start. I put on my eye pillow when her 4am alarm went off, wished her well and slept for another 2 1/2 hours. I got up, went up to the balcony and filmed the race start.

After taking a couple more pictures, I ran to the bridge then to the bike transition area.

Amber giving me the stare down after making it out of the swim.
Amber came out of the water in 28:31, which is pretty impressive considering it was not a wetsuit legal swim and it was her first open water swim in 5 months. A little less impressive is when she got on the bike, she stopped and asked me for directions. Seriously! The fan support was a little sparse at that point but to take the time to stop and ask if she was going the right way? Just makes it all that much more impressive that she biked a 2:27 split.

Amber slowing to a stop to ask for directions

Amber coming in on the bike
 Amber the proceeded to head out on the run. It was a very hot day and I was struggling just to jog from place to place to cheer her on so I can only imagine how it must have been to have to run 13.1 miles after the swim and bike. She did still manage to run a 1:34 which brought her in at 4:35 for 11th place. Her race report can be found here.

After the finish, we cheered on John, Gina, and Keith(Ryan had already finished) then spent the rest of the day alternating between the pool and the beach.

The next day we all piled into John's rented Jeep(Keith had already flown out that morning) and headed out to Loquillo. Loquillo is home of La Monserrate Beach commonly known as simply Loquillo beach.

Amber all by herself in the water
We spent a couple hours there but then headed out to the real goal of the day: the food kiosks! These roadside shacks abut route 3 and provide traditional Puerto Rican food choices. Fried fish, fried lobster, fried chicken, mofungo, fried plantains, plantain wrapped chicken etc. After getting my fill at various vendors(each food selection was between 2 and 4 dollars) we headed over to Farjardo to see if we can sneak on a biobay tour. We had called ahead and every one of them was sold out until at least Thursday(it was only Monday now) but we figured we'd head over the to see if we could sneak on. No such luck. It was nice to see the town of Farjardo which is a fishing community.

On our last day in San Juan we spent exploring one of Old San Juan's forts, coffee shops and restaurants.



A view of the city wall

This was actually part of Amber's run course!

Steep steps going from one level to the next in San Felipe del Morro 

Two salads for Amber? Too bad she only found this place the last day

This was how Amber felt about leaving Puerto Rico
 Have no fear though! In less than 2 weeks, Amber will be again competing in a IM 70.3, this time in Oceanside California. More details to come!

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