I decided I couldn’t stand to be in Virginia or even the United States for my birthday this year, but after our two-week European vacation earlier this year and summer trip to the mountains of North Carolina, Mark was low on vacation time and our vacation fund was low on cash, so I needed to find something exotic I could do in just a few days. I did some googling, looking for cheap, close-but-not-that-close, vegan-friendly places and soon found something rather unexpected: a vegan B&B in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico wasn’t really near the top of the rather-long list of places I want to go. In fact, I’d been trying to make Ireland happen, but Ireland was just too much for a few days. I quickly realized, however, that Puerto Rico was genius. It’s a U.S. territory, meaning no Customs hassle – and Mr Best Friend with the expired passport wouldn’t have an excuse not to accompany me – yet not like the U.S. at all. It’s only a 3 1/2-hour flight away. I’d been lamenting the fact we never made it to the beach this summer and Puerto Rico would more than make up for that grievous wrong. It’s inexpensive. According to my adventure map pretty much the entire island is a wildlife refuge. There was someone willing to make me three vegan meals a day in a very meat-centric culture. Puerto Rico it was!
One small drawback is although the flight from the East Coast to San Juan is short, which is great, we had to immediately follow it up with a 2 1/2-hour drive across the island to get to Maravilla Guesthouse. If you make the same trip, follow Margo’s directions instead of your GPS because the route our GPS took us was a tiny, treacherous mountain road that was over an hour of constant hairpin turns and, though hopefully this won’t happen to you, it’s a common occurrence on the island – I had to drive it all in a raging thunderstorm. Was I ever happy to finally arrive at…
We dashed inside out of the rain and Margo showed us to the second floor, our home for the next four days. There are two bedrooms, which four of us were sharing. This was Mark’s and my bedroom. That’s a king-sized bed, which was super comfortable. The other bedroom is nearly as cute, but this one was my favorite.
The hosts, Margo and Mark, are artists, and made much of the furniture and art. It’s an adorable, very comfy, and charming place. Here is the living room. Not shown is a large DVD collection of quirky titles that shares about a 90% overlap with our own collection.
There are also games and books, although we had absolutely no time for any of them!
After we dropped our bags, Margo opened the balcony doors…and our harrowing drive was instantly forgotten. Even in the rain, the view was amazing. The balcony peeks out over a canopy of tropical trees, beyond which stretches hills punctuated by pockets of civilization, the lights of which twinkle bewitchingly at night. Margo showed us how to hang hammocks on the balcony but had just one request…that we keep quiet out there so as not to disturb…THE NESTING HUMMINGBIRD in an eave just next to the balcony!
Staying in the cottage is just one option at Maravilla. Also on the large property is a cabin. I didn’t choose the cabin because it doesn’t have electricity, but if we ever go back, I think I’d like to try it out for a night or two. Yes, there is a cabin in this picture, in the midst of the tropical forest.
Not only does it not have electricity, but parts of it don’t have walls! (And the top floor doesn’t have a roof!) (This is actually neater than it probably sounds!)
I think it’d be fun to cook outdoors…sometimes. There’s propane in the kitchen, so despite the lack of electricity in the cabin, the kitchen is actually more functional than the small one in the cottage, which only has a microwave and toaster.
The cottage kitchen may not be very expansive, but that doesn’t matter because Margo is a great chef! We requested “DIY” breakfasts and lunches and full-service dinners. What that meant is upon our arrival, our refrigerator was stocked with homemade waffles, bread, muffins, pastries, ginger tempeh, fruit, empanadas, bean burgers, cookies, and beverages, all of which we needed only heat up if we wished, and all of which packed well to take with us on adventures. Then at 7 each night we sat down to a 4-course meal by candlelight. I didn’t take my camera down to dinner the first night, but I did take (somewhat crappy) pictures the second two nights. Friday was my birthday. That dinner started of with a green salad (grown on site) with orange fennel dressing:
Followed by walnut soup …
… and vegan cheese cilantro quesadilla with guava topping:
This picture does NOT do the main course justice AT ALL; it was MUCH tastier than it looks here. It’s spinach-stuffed seitan in a wine sauce served with cassava with onions and peppers:
Oops, started on the chocolate cake with orange-chocolate sauce before taking the picture!
Saturday night began with a chayote-apple salad with orange-fig balsamic dressing and cold coconut cilantro soup …
… and breadfruit tostones with Puerto Rican dip (we scarfed these down so fast Margo and her helper felt obliged to make us another serving…soooo good!):
And a main of coconut-fried tofu on rice noodles with vegetables.
Cardamom banana ice cream with chocolate truffle cookie for dessert.
Eating all of this delicious food was probably the highlight for me, but there are plenty of non-food-related things to do on the grounds. One of my favorite activities was chasing lizards.
Friday morning while waiting for the boys to wake up, I took a walk by myself. So lush:
Lemons and limes all OVER the place. And bananas!
In fact, I ran into a sweet couple picking bananas; they very kindly obliged when I asked with gestures to take a picture. I wish I spoke better (read any) Spanish so I could ask them why they were burning the leaves.
Yeah. The tropics.
It started to get hot and humid, so I headed back to the cottage and rounded everyone up to head to the beach. We drove towards Rincon and stopped at the first beach we found, Tres Hermanos. There was NO ONE there but us. The water was close to 80 degrees. It was SOOOOO serene and peaceful. I happily swam for a couple of hours and can’t imagine a better birthday!
Margo and Mark also have a beach house near Rincon, although we didn’t go there so I don’t have pictures. But if we go back, I’d definitely spend a couple nights there as well. I’ve never had an entire sea to myself before!
Saturday we found Gozalandia waterfall, which is about an hour from Maravilla. We had to pay $5.35 to park, although that’s apparently a lot better than how you used to have to access it, which required trespassing on private property, GPS coordinates, and a lengthy hike. Now there’s a parking lot just a 2-minute hike from the falls. Two minutes if it HASN’T JUST RAINED, that is. Of course, it began pouring as soon as we arrived, so we got back in the car and ate our Maravilla empanadas until the sun came back out. The rain had made the very steep trail extremely slick, so we had to be very careful not to break our necks or my camera equipment. It was very much worth it, however. The only bad part was we hadn’t brought our swimsuits, which sucked because the falls pour into a gorgeous swimming hole and the people in it looked like they were having a blast.
How cute are Fortinbras and his boyfriend Stephen??
The SECOND I packed up my camera, the skies opened up again and there was a HUGE downpour. Completely unprepared (although I do very fortunately carry a protective rain cover for my camera bag everywhere I go, so my camera was prepared), we got DRENCHED. And I do mean DRENCHED. I was more wet after walking back to the car from the waterfall than I had been stepping out of the sea the day before. Probably because we had TOWELS the day before! Despite looking and feeling like drowned rats, we headed off to the Arecibo Observatory. A still-drenched Renae:
Arecibo is home to the largest radio telescope in the world. Mark wanted to see it because of its connection to SETI and the X-Files. I wanted to see it because I like astronomy and physics. Fortinbras and Stephen wanted to see it because Science, and it’s been in a lot of movies and even a video game. It was really neat and worth the scary drive that Stephen’s GPS once again tortured us with (we took a more road-like road back home). It looks like alien technology to me! (Please note: I do not really believe aliens made the telescope at Arecibo. Or the pyramids. Or anything else the History Channel insultingly thinks humans are too stupid to have invented.)
Whew, still with me? I’ll let you go in just a sec, but in conclusion, I had a FABULOUS birthday and I highly recommend Maravilla Guesthouse for a vegan, Caribbean getaway. Puerto Rico is an interesting place. It’s quite lovely, although I was disconcerted by the number of dogs on the side of the roads. You can’t drive 50 feet without seeing at least one dog – and perhaps a horse, and often some chickens – lying on, sitting in, or running along the side of the road, which I find terrifying, although only one of them got too near my car. (Well, two if you count one of the dogs at Maravilla, but I was in HER driveway!) You also can’t drive 5 feet without seeing the face of a political candidate stuck on a tree or post. They apparently take their elections very seriously. Although by “seriously” I also mean they drive around in parades, honking horns, with giant flags poking out their car windows, shouting over enormous loudspeakers, encouraging you to vote for their candidate at all hours of the night and day. Between the dogs and horses and chickens and ad hoc political parades and narrow mountain roads without guard-rails and oncoming traffic driving in the middle of the road and 10″-deep rain gutters and rain spilling out of those gutters and constant switchbacks…well, driving in Puerto Rico is an experience. Totally worth it though! Even if the one cat I managed to get near HATED MY GUTS. Look at him run from me!
Aaaand finally, it’s almost over, but today is Mark’s birthday! (Yes, our birthdays are very close, and our anniversary is next week!) Happy birthday, handsome husband!