START HERE: PUERTO RICO: Thursday, July 28, 2005
Our trip started out a day earlier than planned. Our flight was scheduled for 7 AM Thursday morning, leaving out of Indianapolis. We had planned to leave home about 3 AM to get there in time for security delays, parking, and all the associated travel things. Wendy’s voice teacher reminded us that there is an hour time change (which would have made us an hour early to the airport; a nuicance rather than a disaster). During our pre-trip grocery shopping, our pharmacist happened to mention…
…which gives you a hotel room near the airport, a shuttle to the airport, and you just leave your car at the hotel for the duration of your trip. It’s available all over the country, so instead of leaving early Thursday morning we packed up and drove to Indy on Wednesday evening so we could sleep in a bit on travel day. We met a little yellow cat at the hotel whom the desk clerk said had been hanging around for a few days. Kitty was hungry and rather boogery and covered with soot. Realizing that in the hurry to pack Wendy had forgotten a few critical items, we checked into the hotel and made a side trip to K-mart, where we bought the necessary items and two little pouches of cat food. We gave our little furry friend some dinner (and had one left over for his breakfast the next morning), had our own dinner at the hotel restaurant (Andrew had a pork tenderloin sandwich that was pressed out flat and fried up to be bigger than his face), and went to bed.Â
The next morning we fed the other pouch to the little yellow cat before breakfast. While doing so, we met a couple from Florida who were interested in him… they were considering buying a carrier and taking him to a nearby vet for a health certificate so they could take him home with them. Reassurred about the little cat’s future, we quickly grabbed a bit of coffee cake and some juice from the hotel breakfast bar and loaded up our gear into the airport shuttle.
The shuttle to the airport was without incident, as was the flight to Miami. There we were delayed 20 minutes as there were no flight attendants for our next flight. When we finally took off, we were next to a very nice lady from Monserrat (their national bird is the oriole, which is all we know about Monserrat) and her seatmate who had brought along about 5 little bags of things with her (we don’t know what these things were) which she insisted on holding in her lap the entire flight, rummaging through them at various times, much to the curious scrutiny of the lady from Monserrat.
We landed in San Juan at 4:20, just a little behind schedule. Our bags were on the baggage carousel, along with those of 3 other flights — all jumbled together. We changed clothes and washed up a bit in the grimy airport bathroom to be ready for the rehearsal dinner (we knew we’d miss the rehearsal, which was supposed to begin at 4:00). There was a phone to call the rental car shuttle, and unlike Mexico and Punta Cana airports, nobody was trying to carry our luggage for a dollar’s tip here. The shuttle rocketed us through San Juan’s Thursday rush hour across the highway to the renal car office. There were approximately 8 employees behind the desk, but only “Johnny” was actually working, so that it took nearly an hour and a half for us to actually get our car, a newer Toyota Corolla. The car was beaten to tatters, the white paint on the front & rear bumpers looked speckled with black. This was a premonition of the driving situation in Puerto Rico.
We headed out into traffic, following Doug’s directions and our trusty map out of San Juan toward Dorado 40 minutes west of the city. This was our first experience with Puerto Rican driving, and it was an education. Puerto Ricans apparently don’t believe in turn signals (even less than in the states), they use the shoulder as an extra lane, and the lines in the road are just there as a suggestion… if they can fit another car in between the lanes of traffic, they’ll just drive right through. It’s not a speed contest; since there are so many cars jammed into the lanes nobody can go very fast. The middle lane seemed to be the slow lane, and the right or left lanes were used for passing at random intervals. Most of the major highways are toll roads, and again, the lane lines are meaningless heading into and out of the toll booths.
Our directions to “Daddy Garrity’s” home took us into Dorado. The roads are not named, but numbered… is it 696? 6696? 694? Somehow we found the correct road and turned into the gate surrounding the community where the rehearsal dinner was being held. At the gate (the one with the anchor out front) we were instructed to tell them we were there for the Garrity wedding, which we would have been happy to do had anyone been in the guard booth to tell. The gate was deserted, and even pressing the button and yelling “HOLA!” into the speaker elicited no response. This is when we learned that my cell phone service does not work in Puerto Rico. The only signal I could get connected me with a Spanish recording which was saying something about my credit card, but didn’t actually let me place a call.
Now it is growing darker. We don’t know the name or location of our hotel (Doug promised us he’d get us there after the party, and we shouldn’t worry about it). We can’t get into the gate, we can’t call Doug or anybody else for that matter. We decided to go up the road a bit further to see if we could find a pay phone to get through to Doug and Kelly. At next gate, we told the guard where we were trying to go. He called someone on his radio, and directed us to wait on the path ahead. Soon, another car arrived and led us down a golf cart path (really!) to another gate, which he clearly had the opener to activate. We scooted in behind him and found ourselves just on the other side of the first gate which wouldn’t open for us in the first place. So now our directions led us around to the Garrity house, which we knew by the “Villa Daddy” sign on the gate.
(Let us digress for a moment to mention that EVERYTHING in Puerto Rico is gated. The houses are gated within the gated communities. The driveways are gated, and the little houses without driveways are barred over the doors and windows, right up to the third floor. We think this is supposed to make us feel safer, but somehow it does not.)
There is no parking on the path outside the gate to Villa Daddy, but fortunately after we have turned around to try to find parking, we noticed Doug’s brother, Vince, just inside the gated yard. Andrew called to him and he opened the gate for us to drive in and park on the lawn, which seemed rather quieter than we had anticipated. Doug came walking around from the beach and seemed very surprised to see us. It seems that the rehearsal dinner had been changed from Thursday to Friday night, but we had not been informed, and though I had sent them our flight information per their request, Doug and Kelly didn’t realize we were arriving on Thursday at all. Kelly was having a quiet night away from the Villa, but Doug was heading out with the boys. Andrew was far too tired from flying all day to go out on boys’ night, and all we wanted was to find our hotel and check in. Doug promised to lead us to our hotel, which is called Costa De Oro.
We followed Doug down the main road to the Hyatt, which is where most of the wedding guests were staying (it is a lovely hotel, but three times the price of our little guesthouse). He was picking up the rest of the guys there, and gave us directions to our hotel, which was suppsed to be “left out of here, left at the Gulf station and you’ll see it“. So we left Doug and his boys and headed out to our hotel. It is around 8:00pm. We turned left at the aforementioned Gulf station and drove on down until we ran out of road. Indeed, we did not see it. We prowled back more slowly, thinking we must have missed the sign. Tired and frustrated and not seeing the sign, we stopped at the Gulf station to refuel and ask directions. Wendy’s Spanish is rusty at best and Andrew’s is mostly there to ask for more food, but Wendy managed to get across to the cashier what we were looking for. She said she wasn’t from around there (and completely missed Wendy’s humorous retort, “I’m not from around here either!”) and didn’t know where it was, but directed us to another man who told us that the guesthouse was indeed down that road, but we also had to turn left at the second street down (unnamed) and that was actually the street is was on. So we turned left at the unnamed street, and finally found our signless guest house at the end of the cul-de-sac.
They were expecting us, and check-in was uneventful. Our room was tiny but clean. The cold water taps did not work, but fortunately the hot took more than 10 minutes to heat up, which gives one time to use the cooler water out of the hot tap. The bed was firm and the pillows were so thin as to be useless, but at least it was ours. The manager brought us our ration of two towels and half a roll of toilet paper, turned on the AC, and left. And there we were.
Doug had told us about a restaurant he liked in Dorado, and since we had not eaten anything since Miami (expecting a rehearsal dinner, remember), we headed out. Our first meal in Puerto Rico was Chinese, at a tiny little roadside place called “Jewel of Gold” (as opposed to “Jewel of China” which is what Doug had thought). The service was slow but the food was quite good, which remained true for most of the vacation everywhere we went. On the way home we stopped at the 24 hour Walgreen’s and bought an alarm clock and a 4 pack of Charmin Ultra. We looked in vain for better pillows, but finding none, returned to the noisy poolside room at Costa De Oro and fell asleep, ending our travel day.
To view all the pictures from this trip, click here.