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Archive for the ‘Puerto Rico’ Category

I was of course disappointed to leave the comfort and luxury of  the El Conquistador Resort, but I had another nude beach on my itinerary (and money to save), so I traded down to the Fajardo Inn and on my last day headed out to Seven Seas Beach, where the path begins.

I should point out right now that neither Playa Colora (see below) and Playa Escondida are “official” nude beaches.  But like most unofficial nude beaches they are fairly off the beaten track (even though both have trails leading to them) and, at least according to the Internet, seem to be known for occasional nude bathers.  Really it’s a matter of it taking so long and too much trouble for any tattle-tales to leave, find some authorities, come back, and site you that you should encounter no problems should you decide to use either as such.

This site gives a pretty good guide to both beaches, but they get the name of the second beach wrong.  It’s Playa Escondida, not Convent Beach. From Seven Seas Beach you can see the mountain/hill that blocks both Playa Colora and Playa Escondida from prying eyes:

It costs $4 to park at the Seven Seas Beach, which is a far cry less than that to get to Palomino Island.  There is (free) street parking as well. The day was a little less cloudy when I made my way to the beaches, but there were still only a handful of people at Seven Seas that day.  I bypassed the park and beach and headed towards the mountain above.

Along the way I ran into a man who was on his way back.  Seeing the direction I was headed in, he approached me and asked me in broken English if I was headed to the beaches that way.  I told him I was.

“You know, es nude, no?”

I laughed and nodded. “That’s why I’m going!”

His eyes brightened and he smiled, “Good! I’ll go with you!”

I wasn’t particularly thrilled about this.  I love being on nude beaches, but prefer anonymity and still get a bit self conscious.  Apparently there was already a nude couple at Playa Colora, but they were much older and he didn’t have much in common.  He was on his way out when he ran into me and decided to join me instead. I was even less eager when I found out he was a professional trainer and male “dancer.”  Not an ounce of fat on him:

If you are big on hiking, you can make your way around the mountain.  You will find yourself walking over mounds and mounds of hemp-like material:

Fortunately there are nicely cleared paths leading you towards both beaches.  It begins a little while after you turn the corner from Seven Seas Beach.  I missed it the first time around so be on the lookout for an unmarked path entrance.

You will run into Playa Colora first, which diverts off to your right:

Although I would have loved hanging out with other nudists, I was curious to see both beaches.  My original intent was to check out Playa Escondida and then head back to Playa Colora.  My impromptu partner didn’t entirely understand me once we got to Playa Escondida and we ended up setting up shop there instead.

The opening in the distance:

 

The beach:

 Video (es, I mispronounced the name, but only because I didn’t feel like hiking all the way back to get the correct one):

You can see the difference in sand in the photo above. That’s why I had to get two bottles.

We spent the next few hours conversing in Spanish and English, sitting in the water, reading, doing crosswords, sleeping, etc.  He jealously remarked how great my coloring was.  That’s no news; my coloring rocks! It was once remarked that many sunbathers spend days trying to get what I have naturally.  A healthy mix of genes and the occasional upkeep from the sun.

At one point he wanted me to take a video of him doing one of his routines for his girlfriend back home.  I found it slightly more amusing than sexy, especially when he faced forward and began whipping his penis around like a lasso. 

See? What other than a nude beach can you have this sort of fun?

There were a few couples who had made their way down there.  For the most part they left us alone and we them.  It helped that we had set up shop at the far south end of the beach instead of just in front of the path.  Only one couple immediately left after seeing us. According to my partner, most Puerto Ricans are pretty conservative.

As the hour for me to leave neared I told him I wanted to at least see the Playa Colora. 

When we got there the other couple was packing up in a distance.  They had found an area that was somewhat cut off from view by any visitors to the beach (just behind those rocks there:

Video:

It was actually a somewhat prettier beach.  I was tempted to spend at least a half hour there, but it started raining.  By the time I got back to my car it was actually pouring.  I gave him a lift to his motorcycle.  He thanked me with a free bottle of Boost from his backpack and we parted ways.

All in all, another wonderful day of nude sunbathing.

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There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule out there that “real” travelers avoid 4 star hotels and all the luxuries that go along with it.  I suppose it makes some sort of sense to spend money wisely and if all you are looking for is a place to rest your head then why not go for the $20 a night hostel as opposed to the $200 a night Hilton?

But sometimes the splurge is oh so worth it!

My only intent in making a reservation at the El Conquistador Resort & Spa in Fajardo, Puerto Rico was to visit Palomino Island, which I had been assured both (unofficially) through rumors on the Internet and (officially) through employees at the resort had a clothing optional beach. The bonus turned out to be the hotel itself.

I arrived later than intended after a late start in San Juan, GPS misguidance, lunch, and visiting other beaches.  So it was dark when I finally arrived and there was a long wait to get my room.  From there things went wonderfully.  I had pondered whether to visit Palomino Island, where the nude beach was,  the day of check-in or the morning I checked out. Each option gave me a limited amount of time on the beach as the island operates from 9-6 and check in is at 4pm, check out at 11 am. I probably shouldn’t point this out since I’m not sure if it’s standard procedure but the man checking me in offered me an extended stay until 2pm for free even though it normally runs $60.  You should just try asking at check-in. So I ended up paying “only” about $370 (which includes the taxes and “resort fee”).

The resort is so big that you literally have to use the services of a bell boy to take you to your room, lest you get completely lost.  We passed by several high end shops, bars (where I had a delicious pizza and mai tai later on underneath an umbrella in the rain), a casino (where I later won $5!), and a Starbucks (which is another supposed traveling no-no but screw it…I’m addicted). 

The room itself was quite a bit more chic than any hotel I’ve been to…not that I’m an expert.  But it felt delicious sleeping there, especially knowing that in only a few hours I’d be lying nude on a beach.  It was dark when I took these so forgive the quality:

My room overlooked one of the pools and the ocean:

 

I could also see Palomino Island from my room:

In the morning after my Chai Tea latte (shut up!) I packed everything I thought I’d need and headed down the tram to the catamaran dock.

The catamaran takes about 5 minutes to get to Palomino Island. 

At 10 we had to wait a bit while they loaded food and supplies up.  Note: none of the restaurants on the island open until about 11:30, and generally it’s really in your best interest to bring your own food and liquids.  I and one other guy had to plead with the bar tender to sell us bottled water early, which he generously did.

I checked with the guy in charge of horse rides to get directions to the “nude beach.”  I was disappointed when he informed me that I really couldn’t go right now since the trail was full of bushes.  I told him I didn’t care and he shrugged and pointed me in the direction of a trail leading up a large hill, making sure to point out that I was going at my own risk. Little did I know then that “bushes” meant spike infested DEATH TRAPS.  But more on that later.

This is the point at which I tell you exactly what you need to bring with you to Palomino Island:

  • Bottled water: for some reason nudism brings on the dehydration. Maybe because it’s usually such a trek to get to nude beaches, or because you have more pores exposed to the elements. Trust me…you don’t want to depend on the good graces of a bar tender opening shop early.
  • Food: not really necessary, especially if you are only sunning for a little while. But if you get the munchies it’s a long and treacherous trek back to civilization.
  • Towel: The resort offers you your own which is good enough.  Bring it.  If the bushes are as overgrown as they were with me, you can use it to cover them and push them away like I did. Plus, you don’t want to lie on the dinky abandoned chairs offered on the nude beach without one. Who knows who else had their nude ass on that very chair.
  • Thick soled, close-toed shoes:I wore these flimsy flats from Payless and one of the spikes from a branch on the ground went right through the sole and into my foot.  So make sure you are protected!
  • Entertainment: When I got there I was alone for a good 2 hours. If you enjoy the quiet and solitude then fine, otherwise you’ll get bored.  So a book, puzzle book, newspaper, magazine, ipod, etc. may come in handy.

The path up:

There was a small little chapel and altar at the top, obviously meant for wedding ceremonies.  I thought about the stories I’d heard of nude weddings and had a chuckle.  Still, how ideal would it be to have a nude wedding and then make your way down to a nude beach right there!  Something to consider should I ever take the leap. 

Making my way down to the beach is where I began to encounter trouble…in the form of nasty spiked bushes blocking the way.  It was even worse because I also had to watch my step considering the incident with my shoe. 

But eventually I saw the opening and was happy to find the beach was all mine. 

There were a few well used lounge chairs that looked as though they’d been brought there at the opening of the resort and left alone since then.  Half of them were unusable (causing one couple later on to give up and go back). But I found one that was in decent shape and dragged it away from the others.  I had heard an exchange between two men on the way in about “hiking to a beach” and had no desire to be the object of a couple of oglers up close and personal.

Clothes off!

For several hours the beach was all mine and I wandered around collecting sand, sea glass, and shells (I found a very big one in perfect condition), and walking in the water.  The water itself was not very swimmable, being quite shallow and filled with rocks.  There was another level to the beach further on above some rocks with sand that was a bright red color.  I nearly broke my ankle collecting some.  You can see the contrast here:

Later on as I was turning on my stomach a couple came down the path.  The man was holding a video camera and I think he was surprised to find me as he panned around.  I gave him a hard stare until he realized he still had the camera up and brought it down giving me a wave.  I was far enough away and had sunglasses and a hat on so I wasn’t too upset, especially since he obviously wasn’t expecting to capture me on film when he made his way around the corner.  So I politely waved back.  Something fun for the folks back home I guess. Still, it’s a well understood rule that cameras are a big no-no on nude beaches.

Of course both of them stayed in their swimsuits, but they at least left me alone.  Eventually it was nearing my 2pm check out time and I still had to get back to the mainland, shower, change and pack, so I called it a day and left the two textiled indivuals on their own.  Despite it all it had been a gloriously nude day!

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After dodging my way around frustratingly slow drivers on the 3, my coworker and I finally made it to Fajardo. We took the 987 exit and were surprised to find it a fairly straightforward shot to El Conquistador Resort & Spa (where I would be spending the night), Passion Fruit Bed and Breakfast (where she would be spending the night), and Seven Seas Beach.  El Conquistador and Seven Seas Beach are both located right off of the 987 (there is a Seven Seas camping site you get to before the actual beach, skip that one if you are looking for the beach) and Passion Fruit B&B (a reasonably priced hotel with complimentary breakfast) was on a road right off of it.

The marina:

 

We were both tired and hungry so we parked by the marina and ate lunch at a place called Blue Bahia. I had coconut shrimp and a lobster turnover.

The shrimp was so-so, the lobster turnover to die for.  The beer (a Puerto Rican brand) was terrific…but I’m a sucker for booze from south of the border.

Then we headed to the beach.  It was a cloudy day so there weren’t too many people around.

Later that night I had scheduled a kayaking trip into the bioluminescent bay.  My coworker bailed on me so I was paired with another girl. Unfortunately neither of us was any good at kayaking and spent the entire first leg of the trip turned around or slowing down the single file formation. It got so bad that one of the guides decided to tie our kayak to his and tow us to the cove.  Actually this turned out just fine since we got to experience the whole thing without all the work.  Going through the mangroves to the cove was like floating through a rain forest at midnight. 

The luminescence started gradually enough with what looked like foam appearing each time the oars hit the water.  At some point the guide shouted that the glowing had started and I figured it out.  In the bay they gave us a little spiel about the ecosystem there and let us play with our hands in the water.  It was surreal watching as you dipped your hand in, shaking it all about and watching the water glow around it.  Definitely worth the $45 I spent.  Of course my partner and I had to be towed back since our rowing skills had not improved.  This time around he asked us not to help him out by rowing…yes we were both that bad.  Unfortunately it was dark and my camera was not water proof so I didn’t get any pics.  Supposedly the luminescence doesn’t show up anyway.

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There are a couple of ways to get from San Juan to Fajardo in Puerto Rico.  I’ve seen and considered the following:

  • Bus (cheap but more complicated and limiting than I wanted)
  • Publícos (same benefits and problems as the bus)
  • Taxi (ridiculously expensive)
  • Flying (pointless expense)
  • Rental Car

Ultimately I chose a rental car.  I borrowed it from Avis for the three days and it came to  $109.  But I got 50 Continental One Pass points per day(which I had to pay a tax on!) and it allowed me the freedom to come and go as I pleased.  Being a native of Los Angeles and now living in Houston, both of which are definite car cities, I’m most at home on the road behind the wheel.

Of course each new city I’ve ever driven in has given me cause to think the natives are horrible drivers.  Those in Puerto Rico were no different.  They actually obey the speed limits! I should also point out that their 50 MPH (the highest I saw) speed limit is a good 10 miles lower than most places I’ve seen in the states.  So it was rather frustrating for me, being so used to driving amongst drivers who use the speed limit as minimum.

But that was on the highway.

Once you get into the winding side streets with wicked turns and lanes of varying widths, drivers treat the lines on the road as more of a suggestion than a rule.  At least that’s how it was in Fajardo.  Be careful on those turns because you never know if you’ll get some guy speeding around the bend halfway in your lane. It was not at all uncommon to see so many cars parked facing the opposite direction on my side of the road that I began to think I was going the wrong direction on a one way street.  One tourist told me that the woman at the front desk of her hotel told her that after midnight you could drive through red lights.  Thankfully I was safely in bed by then during my stay there.

But I’m being unfair.  I have no doubt that anyone visiting either LA or Houston would have a lot to say about the driving standards of individuals in either of those cities.  Luckily both places have honed my driving skills enough that Puerto Rico was no problem for me…aside from the frustration of being surrounded by law abiding drivers. 

Anyone who is comfortable driving will have no problem getting around there…with certain caveats:

  1. GPS systems:I brought my Garmin with me and it was perfectly useless.  The voice does not pronounce Spanish at all, which is a problem if you know how to read the street signs correctly.  Half the time I couldn’t get a signal, and when I did, it led me in the wrong direction.  At one point I found myself going 15 miles in the exact opposite direction of where I wanted to go.  In Sum: Get a map, it will help immensely. There are also magazines entitled ¡Que Pasa! lying around in most tourist spots.  That alone saved me many a headache as it has maps galore and (cheaper) hotel listings I was unable to find online beforehand.
  2. Road Signs: Many streets, especially small ones, just don’t have them.  I live in Houston so I’m used to this annoyance. Again, use a map to help you out.
  3. Spanish:Words to know: Oeste = West.  Este = East. Norte = North. Sur = South.  Everything else either has the same visuals (the big red octagon for a stop (pare) sign) or is self explanatory.
  4. Gas: They measure in liters (I think) not gallons.  So don’t get too excited at the $.45 you see listed on the sign in front of the station.
  5. Toll roads: They spring up on you without warning (at least in my experience).  They generally run from $1-2 so be prepared!  Fortunately there weren’t too many of them and I’m sure a bit of preparedness will help you avoid them.
  6. Airport.  They seriously need better signage for how to get there.  I ended up wasting $4 paying a toll by going the wrong direction. I’m sure this is some sort of evil trick for tourists.  Note: take exit 8a but NOT exit 8b.

If you are used to driving in your city, driving around Puerto Rico will be no challenge at all, even if you don’t speak a lick of Spanish.

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 I love hotels, especially cushy ones with “signature” beds and room service. However, I get rather antsy staying cooped up in my hotel room all day and night, so I usually go for walks around whatever city I’m in.  It’s always enjoyable to see locals in their element, where they aren’t catering to or being annoyed by tourists.

So I spent at least an hour a day walking around San Juan and Old San Juan.  I was staying at the Caribe Hilton, which is quite nice and right on the beach.  Interesting note: Caribe Hilton is the birthplace of the Piña Colada.  Additional Note: they now sell them for around $14.  Fortunately there is a liquor store right across the street so you can probably make your own cheaper.

view of Caribe Hilton taken from the bridge across the lagoon

view of Caribe Hilton taken from the bridge across the lagoon

This is some of the neat architecture around San Juan. As you can see there is a definite Miami vibe there.

 

While in Israel I was fascinated by the graffiti I saw along the high wall surrounding Bethlehem, most of which was understandably quite political, which made it that much more interesting.  The graffiti around San Juan is just as political and just as fascinating. Apparently there is a lot of local angst against the development of hotels and condos along the beaches, thus limiting the access that the public has to them.  These were sprayed along the barriers dividing the street from the construction:

 

It’s hard to read but my (limited) Spanish read it as:

“walkways(?) and beaches are of/from(?)  the city. Access is our right.”

 Power to the people.

The construction itself:

 

There was a structure which looked like  it used to be a booth of some sort that had some rather interesting imagery.  I think you can get the gist:

The cloud above the standing sign reads: Bonito lugar para un negocio (Terrible and probably incorrect translation: Beautiful place for a contract?):

Crossing the bridge over the lagoon I came across this public beach.  Notice how tiny it is.  No wonder they’re crying foul:

I chose to get my bottle of sand here rather than that in front of the Caribe Hilton since their sand seemed a little too clean.  Plus I had to observe my respect to the public. The shells are from the lagoon which was chock full of them:

  

I thought this was funny: I’m not sure if this means only women should call or only women are on the other end.  I’m guessing the latter. I’m still debating whether or not to dial it.

More:

A mural underneath an overpass:

I finally stopped here which was open to the public and had some interesting sculptures and a nice view of the ocean.  It didn’t have much of a beach to speak of but was a nice place to rest.

While sitting there I saw a couple of boys race in.  They began taking off their shirts and shoes, tossing them into the bushes. 

My first thought was that they were going to try and take on the treacherous rocks and waves of the ocean.  But they had different ideas in mind.  This is them having a grand time doing flips into the pool of a hotel after skirting a wall that had to be at least 8 feet high.

I thought the whole endeavor was hilarious.  At one point they all made  a run for it back over the wall to where their clothes lay.  I guess security caught on.

Later crossing the bridge back to my room I ran into them again.  Once again they were avoiding the tiny Playa Pública in favor of more adventurous fare.  One of them had climbed the railings and was about to dive.  Naturally as the only responsible adult around I had to intervene with what i remembered from high school Spanish.

“No lo hace” I scolded.  Apparently I didn’t remember well enough because the others laughed and one mockingly told me “no hablo ingles.”   Oh well, one could only do so much.  But I did stand there and watch them in case emergency services needed to be called.  And not being one to miss a memorable opportunity I snapped photos:

I suppose the city of San Juan should take note…thi s is what the rapidly depleting access to playas públicas is forcing it’s youth to!  Naturally I felt a twinge of guilt as I sat in one of the beach chairs at the Caribe Hilton later on during my vacation…

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Confirmed!

Yesterday I got a call form the Conquistador hotel informing me that my credit card had not been authorized. I called them back to clear it up.  It turns out that the numbers were wrong. Problem solved!

While I had her on the phone I made sure to follow up on the rumor I’d seen floating around on the web about the nude beach on Palomino island.  I wanted to make sure this was true before forking over [insert obscene amount here] a night to stay there.  Because I sure as heck don’t care about the “resort services” that jack up the prices.

She laughed and said she had actually had to ask the head of that part of the hotel because even she hadn’t been aware of that. But yes.  Palomino island does in fact have a nude beach.  She made very sure to inform me that it was on the other side of the island away from  the beach chairs and bar.  Duly noted.

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Image by ChickenBog via Flickr
Image by ChickenBog via Flickr

On Tuesday I finally booked a hotel to stay at in Fajardo for one night.  I managed what I thought was a fairly thorough search and still couldn’t find anything below the $200 mark.  So I sighed, sucked it up, and booked a room at El Conquistador Resort & Golden Door Spa….to the tune of $294!  That doesn’t include the taxes and “resort fees.”

Instead of bemoaning the price I decided to give it to myself, without worry!, as a birthday present.  This fits perfectly since my birthday is less than a week beforehand anyway.  Prior to getting horsewhipped financially last year (long story involving trying to sell a condo during the mortgage crisis), I used to treat myself to a mani/pedi/massage, chocolate covered strawberries, and a stay at a luxury hotel here in Houston.  Since I’m forgoing the mani/pedi/massage and chocolate covered strawberries, in reality I’m saving money!

The good news is, this may push my total number of nude beaches visited up to two!  This is because, supposedly, on Palomino Island there is in fact a nude beach.  The lengths I go to….

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