Life, LIBERTY, and the Pursuit of a Sweet Vacation – Back in San Juan.

All good things must come to an end.

Sunday morning, and I awoke to a ship that didn’t feel like it was moving. The distance between St. Maarten and San Juan not being that great for the ship to cover overnight, we had made port very early.

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Getting out of bed was easier than I had anticipated. I knew the cruise was over and the general attitude around the ship would be a little sour. There isn’t much really left for me to do but swap my clothes, get breakfast, and wish everyone a good time before stepping off the ship. Getting around, I had pretty much stirred my roommates. They didn’t get up with much of a grudge though as I was sure they too knew it was all over. After I set all my stuff aside, I did a quick walk of deck 9 and 10 aft. I hated to leave the ship, but I had plans for the day that I was looking forward to. I ran into some of the others at the usual table in the lido cafeteria. We talked about some of the memories and said some good-byes. During this time, Felipe the cruise director came over the intercom to announce the debarkation process had begun with self-assist. That was sooner than I expected.

After a small breakfast, I headed back to the room to gather my stuff and say goodbye to Amberly and Stacy. They had been really great roommates. They had only taken a few photos of me while I had passed out, and I had only thrown pillows at them a couple times. Outside in the hall, I said a few more goodbyes before leaving for the main theater lounge.

I had booked a tour of El Yunque Rainforest the night before on the ship. My flight wasn’t until roughly 7pm so I was looking to kill some time without having to haul all my stuff around. Part of the plan was to meet up in the main show lounge with my stuff to leave the ship. We would leave in groups for the transfer excursions. The night before, the shore excursions department had left a note in my cabin about when and where to meet. I don’t remember the time, but I was there when I was supposed to be. On either side of the show lounge, they had local (to Miami) news while we waited.

After what was a fairly short time, we were called by some of the shore excursions staff to debark the ship as they were ready for us. Stepping off the Liberty felt awkward. Obviously not nearly as awkward as my last debark on Breeze, but it sucked to leave. Making my way off the ship for the last time was fairly quick. Instead of debarking through deck 0, we were able to debark deck 3. Walking back down the gang way I had crossed a week prior. Right inside, a customs officer asked us all if we were Barbadian while passing through. Down an escalator, we went, past all the zoned luggage. I  had no headaches with customs this time on my way through.

Outside were the tour shuttles and an open box truck. The box truck would take luggage to the airport. I gave them my larger carry-on, kept my backpack, and then found my bus.

Our driver and guide for the day was a woman named (going on pronunciation here) Litza. She asked us to wait briefly while she started the bus and turned on the AC. Once it started to become more comfortable inside we took our seats and I moved all the way to the back. We had to wait about twenty minutes for some german speaking guests before setting off for the tour. Pulling away from Liberty was a little depressing.

Litza gave us a little bit of a guided tour while passing through San Juan. Most things I knew, however there were some things I didn’t. The sides of the highway with the dots… its actually really-really big braille with a message (of what, I forgot. sorry). No tour of a city would be complete without some name-dropping and of course as we passed a building, she mentioned that Ricky Martin used to live there.

It wasn’t a terribly long drive before reaching the side roads that would take us to El Yunque Rainforest. We’d pass through a rather rough looking town. Before climbing the mountain, Litza informed us we’d need to open the windows and turn the AC off as to not strain the engine on the bus. We sat there by this one house that had this humorous street art of a robot playing with his nuts… hah. With the windows open, we continued and the air flow wasn’t that bad.

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Arriving at our first stop, we pulled into the visitor center. It reminded me much of Jurassic Park. There were all sorts of interesting plants. Breadfruit were the first things we saw off the bat. Litza told us we’d have roughly an hour to check things out there. She’d park in the upper lot and meet us at a designated point at a certain time. I took no delay and set off for the visitor center. The open-air building was really cool. There was a bridge that took you to it and passed through the tree level of the rainforest. If you weren’t careful though, you could easily slip on the damp floor of the main area though. To one side were restrooms and the other a gift shop. In the middle were exhibits or diagrams with different types of information. I read through some before stopping in the gift shop to buy a magnet.

Outside the visitor center was a path that took you through a section of the lush forest. Right at the beginning was a banana tree. Along the path were all sorts of cool trees. Heliconia were everywhere as were breadfruit. Along many of the trees were these cool looking snails. I examined one that had fallen on the ground. At certain points on the trial, there were signs explaining wildlife and plants. I had been hearing an owl which one sign later explained. It was a beautiful section of forest, and honestly the path was too short. I wanted to see more.

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After time was up at the visitor center, we headed up to the second stop on our tour, the waterfall. As we rounded a corner we could see and hear it. Definitely one of the more majestic ones I had seen, as it was cascading down the side of a rock face. We parked next to a couple other tour buses and set off to take photos. I enjoyed the sound of the water rushing down the mountain. There were a good amount of others there taking photos that made it a little difficult to get a decent photo myself. Some people were climbing on the rocks to get a better view and have photos taken of them. On the side of the road opposite from the falls, was another area where water was running down the side of the mountain. It was a beautiful location for sure.

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Our last stop on the tour was closer to the base of the mountain. There was a river that ran through the rainforest. Litza parked the bus while we set off for some more photos and to look the place over. Some of us wanted to see if we could find some crabs or fish. It wasn’t actually that nice of a place though. I had been more impressed with some rivers back home. For the 3rd stop, I was hoping to see the tower, but I suppose it was too deep in the forest and we’d not have time for it.

After the 3rd stop in El Yunque, we headed out. Across the highway were some souvenir shops and bars that we stopped at briefly. I enjoyed a cold Medalla and looked at the hammocks that were for sale. They looked handmade and comfortable, but I had no room in my luggage to bring one back home. Nor did I really want to spend the money at the time.

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On the way to the airport, Litza was asked if she could take us to Old San Juan by some other guests. After checking with her boss, who ok’d it, I decided I may as well too. I still had several hours to kill before needing to be at the airport. I figured I’d have some lunch there too. We dropped off most of the guests at SJU, some hotels, and then we were taken to the middle of Old San Juan were Litza dropped me off. To my luck, she had dropped me off in one of the town squares. There were vendors, one of which was the guy with the parrots.

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After taking some photos with the birds, I wandered back down to the ships. I wanted to get a photo of the MSC Divina that was making port there that day. I couldn’t help but notice that rain was approaching. I set off to see about getting some lunch but before I even made it to the good restaurants, the sky opened up. I ducked under an awning where an MSC crew member was having a cigarette. We had a little conversation about his work (photographer) I gave up on trying to stay dry. I darted over to a souvenir shop where I bought a cheap umbrella to last me the rest of the time I was there. Looking through the restaurants, they were all pretty-much packed with wait times. The place where I had the really good burger the year before had closed for good as well. Crap… I gave up and decided to find a cab and head to the airport.

My time at the airport was not short. After passing through agriculture and security, I had some lunch at the only bar on the JetBlue side of SJU. When I arrived at my gate to charge my phone I learned that my flight had been delayed. Dang. This would really turn into a shit-show too. As time went on, the delays kept increasing. There was a medical emergency on our flight and it wound up having to return to Boston. It spent a lot of time there taking on more fuel again before the crew of the plane timed-out. They then found some crew to fly the plane to SJU before they too timed-out. Our relief captain didn’t show up to fly our plane until 10pm when his flight arrived from Orlando. I was in a pretty foul mood boarding and even once into the air. As we departed San Juan, I could see a break in the clouds long enough to see a cruise ship sailing East. It looked like Carnival Liberty from the lights. I glanced as much as I could before the ship disappeared into the clouds again. It was a fitting end to my vacation, the cross on the T and dot on the i.

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