Category Archives: Tropical Plants and Food

8 Tips For Traveling to Rincon/West Coast Puerto Rico -Post Maria


Posted by Cassie

Most travel guides to Puerto Rico focus on the immediate San Juan area. And for good reason. San Juan is huge and has a lot to offer from the Morro in Old San Juan to the Bacardi Rum factory and El Yunque rainforest is just down the road. However, anyone who plans to make the west coast of Puerto Rico part of their journey might need a few tips. Since we have recently been renting out our cabana to guests, more and more questions have arisen. I thought I would take the opportunity to answer some of them here.

Rincon from the airRincon peninsula from the air in a Cape Air flight

1) How should I get to Rincon?
Air tickets.  
When you check the airfare, you will almost undoubtedly find that flights to San Juan are the cheapest and most plentiful. But how are you going to get from San Juan to the west coast? There are a couple of options. You can get a rental car in San Juan and drive the distance. Or you could hire a shuttle or taxi ($$). The trip could take anywhere from an 1 1/2 to 3 hour drive plus toll roads and some gnarly traffic.

AirplaneSmall plane of Cape Air’s 

Or you could skip San Juan and just come to west coast directly. If that is your plan there are basically two options. BQN (Aguadilla airport) or MAZ Mayaguez. BQN  is about $100 more per ticket and you usually fly straight from the states in. The biggest drawback to BQN is that nearly all of the flights are horrible red eyes landing and leaving somewhere between mid-night and 3am. Our preferred arrangement and the one I always recommend is Cape Air that lands and leaves from the tiny airport in Mayaguez. You will first arrive in San Juan and then take this little puddle jumper small (8 seater) plane to Mayaguez. Not only is it about the same price ($100 round trip) you will arrive at a reasonable time of day. And the added bonus is that you will fly low to the island and see some amazing views!

2) How do I get around in Puerto Rico?
Getting around. All of Puerto Rico is sorely lacking in public transportation, but it is even more so on the west coast. There are basically no trolleys, trains or buses at all. Sure there are taxi services and Uber has even been branching out, but anywhere outside of San Juan is euphemistically called “la isla” by locals for a reason. That means it is just much more rural and with fewer amenities than the big city. Therefore, it is HIGHLY recommended that you have some form of transportation while here. There are a lot of fabulous things to see on this island with decent distances between, so a rental car would be the best option. Walking of course is always an option, and hitch-hiking is not unheard of, but it is much more limiting. So get a rental car if at all possible!

rincon-curvy-sign

3) Will I get lost?
Directions
You may get lost when driving in Puerto Rico. There are many unmarked roads and not everything is found on the Tom Tom/Google Maps systems. Many houses have the same address as their neighbors (ours included), so you will have to go old school and often use visual landmarks as clues. Many time directions will include old things that locals will know about (the old cockfighting rink) but don’t exist anymore, especially after Maria took down some huge trees and even buildings. They will also almost always be given in Spanish unless you luck out with a bilingual person. Also keep in mind, that kilometer markers are often used to give directions. For example, Km 4.8 on the 413 is the EcoMaxx gas station.

Cassie Rincon Beach Resort
Rincon Beach Resort

Horned DorsetAt the Horned Dorset

4) Where should I stay?
Places to stay.

There are many places to stay from mid and high-end hotels like Rincon Beach Resort, Rincon of the Seas or even the elegant Horned Dorset. There are also very low-budget options including sleeping in a hammock at the beach (no, really!). Most people want something in-between and there are lots of options available on Craigslist, HomeAway, VRBO and AirBnB. I would suggest looking for one of these types of places if you want to have a local perspective and a “homey” feel. If you want a more hands off approach and a lot more amenities like room service, check out the wide variety in hotels and professional guesthouses.

Remember that power and water outages still affect all locations due to the ripple effects of Maria, aging infrastructure and lack of funds. Most of the time they are resolved in a day or so, but if this is a big concern, check with the establishment to see what kind of back up services they have (generators, water cisterns, etc).

Steps always beautiful beachSteps Beach (great snorkeling!)

5) What should I do while I am there?
Things to do.
Puerto Rico is a jewel of wonderful things to do and the west coast is brimming with them. Many people are beach connoisseurs and love the spectacular beaches of the area. There are beaches for all kinds of beach-y people as well. Beachcomber beaches (for sea glass, shells and other treasures), social beaches, private deserted beaches, white sand beaches, golden sand beaches, hidden beaches, rocky cove beaches, snorkeling beaches, surfing beaches, walking/jogging beaches, beaches near restaurants/bars/shops, etc.

GozalandiaGozalandia waterfalls, a must see on the west side!

But there is so much else to do on the west side of Puerto Rico including visiting amazing waterfalls, rivers and lakes, caves, museums, lighthouses, uninhabited tiny islands/mangroves and agrotouring coffee and other types of tropical farms. You can read about some of our many adventures to various places throughout this blog. Nearly all of the sites in Puerto Rico are back up and running after the hurricane.

Hatillo Mask Festival Parade in Puerto RicoFestival de las mascaras in Hatillo

Weekly/ seasonal events.
In Rincon there are two main weekly events: Art Walk every Thursday night from about 6-10 (then the party extends to the local bars afterward) in the plaza and the Sunday Farmer’s Market also in the plaza. Seasonally there are many festivals including the Festival de los Bueyes in Rincon in December as well as the Fiestas Patronales in September normally held in the Plaza Amistad. There are many other festivals all around celebrating various things like the bees in Lares, the Chinas (oranges) in Las Marias, the coffee in Maricao, the pineapple in La Parguera and many others. Ask around if there is a festival going on while you’re visiting.

Pepes Pizza StellaPepe’s Pizza in Stella is waterfront and only $1.50 for a slice of pizza or a cold beer

6) What’s there to eat? Where should I eat?
Where/what to eat.
There are so many great places to eat in Puerto Rico, especially in Rincon. I personally love eating at places that have some sort of ambiance/view and this would be extra special when just visiting for a short time. Some of my favorites include Casa Islena, Tamboo, Calypso, Pepe’s Pizza in Stella, Harbor, Villa Cofresi, Picoteo (Anasco), Olajas (Aguada). Drive up into the steep hills and you can have a meal overlooking the entire peninsula such as at the English Rose.  A good money-saving technique is to eat/get some of your food at the grocery store as well. It’s kind of fun to visit grocery stores of different parts of the world too.

pasteles

While you’re in Puerto Rico, to get a taste of authentic Puerto Rican food you should definitely try locations that offer “Comida Criolla”. This simply means traditional cuisine. Try mofongo relleno de camarones, empanadillas, pasteles, arroz con gandules o habichuelas, cuajito, pinchos also try  limbers (like an icee) and Malta (a non-alcoholic drink). For alcohol, chichaito is a favorite shot (anise flavored rum), rum is the favorite liquor, and Medalla is the beer of Puerto Rico. Pitorro (ron de cana) (moonshine) is also much beloved a favorite and everyone will have a way to make it/get it

BarLittle bars like this are found all over the island

Where to drink.
Let’s face it, travelling to the tropics is often better with a cold drink in your hand. Puerto Rico is well-known for the little hole-in-the-wall bars called chinchorros or barritas. You will often find a pool table, a jukebox (bellonera) and sometimes even live music. You will nearly always find cold beer and basic tragos but probably not a full bar to make you a mojito or pina colada. For those, you’ll need to go to a larger restaurant/bar. Also, drinking straight from your cooler (neverita) is a welcome passtime at the beach or just in the parking lot. Just don’t get caught bringing in an outside drink from your car into a bar; finish it before you enter. 

Postcard palm trees

7) How do I prepare for Puerto Rico?
Mindset.
This is probably the most important thing when preparing for Puerto Rico! Traveling in general takes an adventurous mindset. This includes traveling to Puerto Rico. There are very few all-inclusive resorts in Puerto Rico, and for me, that was part of the appeal. You can really start to feel a part of the culture and the vibe of the island right away when you aren’t sequestered away behind a concierge desk, security guards and all your meals and drinks at a hotel.  Puerto Rico has a pretty laid-back mindset and that means that, especially when traveling for the first couple of times, you should just go with the flow and keep your mind open and interested in the differences instead of judgmental. Out in the west coast on “la isla” (the countryside) there is an even more distinct feel than San Juan.

That is why traveling is so important and fun! You get to see how diverse the planet and the people who inhabit it really is! Be ready for things that will be uncomfortable and even a little scary. There are bugs including cockroaches and spiders, loud noises especially speaker trucks and reggaeton music, people speaking quickly and slurredly in Spanish, power and water outages and foods you may not enjoy at first. Go with it! Laugh at the absurdity of the situation and take a look at yourself. You will not only learn something from this place, but also about you and how you handle stress. I think the best advice I ever received was that before you make a commitment to be with another person (like getting married), travel with them first. You will get to see their true essence.

UV-Scale

8) What’s the weather like?
Weather.

Well, this is a tropical island! The weather is almost always nice and sunny. You certainly won’t need a winter coat, though a jacket might be good in some ultra air conditioned places. When outside please wear sunscreen or stay in the shade. I have seen so many tourists come here and become red lobsters after their first day of sun bathing. The UV index is often in the 9-11 range midday which means YOU WILL BURN! Be careful.

There are “seasons” of dry and rain, and there are even microclimates on the island from the dryland forest of Guanica near Cabo Rojo to the rainier areas in the mountains to the in-between of the Rincon peninsula. Make sure that you have some back-up plans in case of aguaceros (downpours) like maybe seeing a movie or going to a museum. And of course, there are occasionally hurricanes and tropical storms. Prices generally go down during the hurricane season/summer months but just keep this in mind.

Beach

Well, that’s a lot of information in just a few tips, and there is always more. I hope it helps! Feel free to ask questions to make this guide even more useful! Bienvenidos a Puerto Rico, enjoy your time!

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An Agricultural Weekend -Ag Fair and Vivero Anones


Posted by Cassie

This was a busy weekend with a lot of activities to choose from. There was the Festival of Sweet Oranges in Las Marias, the Corona Surf Contest here in Rincon and an Ag Fair in Moca. We decided to not head down to the crowded Corona Surf event at Domes Beach that we have enjoyed in years past and instead went out to an Agricultural Fair in Moca. So many people descend on Rincon for the Corona event that it becomes crazy crowded, and we opted to mostly avoid it (though it is sort of unavoidable when 5000 more people are in a town of 15,000).

Corona Surf Sunset
We just drove past some of the Corona crowd and slooowly thru the traffic jams

The Agricultural Feria in Moca was actually held at the Labadie Mansion which I adore. I love the architecture and how it magically transports you to a villa in France.

Cassie LabadieMe and the mansion

The actual agricultural part of the fair was pretty small. Mostly it was like the majority of fairs and festivals in Puerto Rico. Lots of carnival food, carnival rides, people watching, and music.

Ag FairMoo watching over the festival

But there were some small aspects of agriculture to it. For example there were vendors giving out samples of chocolate milk and pony rides. There was a small tent of farmers and farm products and we found what we were looking for and that has overall proven to be difficult to find and acquire: some heliconia starts.

Horse Rides
Pony rides

Speaker carsIt’s not an event in Puerto Rico if you’re not blasting music from your car

Cows
Cows

Britton Pineapple tops
They were making fruit juices with fresh pineapples so we asked for the crowns to plant for free!

On the way out of town after the fair we also stopped at a small vivero and found a few more plants for our collection.

Plant store
Britton at the garden store

One of the reasons we decided not to go to the Festival de las Chinas in Las Marias was because we had made plans to meet with Sherry Ballester again at her Vivero Anones in Las Marias on Tuesday and didn’t want to drive up there twice in one week. She gave us a deal we couldn’t pass up: precious heliconia and ginger starts in exchange for some help around her farm. She and her husband Carlos are getting older and are having a hard time keeping up with the work at the farm, especially with the destruction from Hurricane Maria. There was still a lot of debris everywhere and she couldn’t even access whole sections of her farm. Well, we know all about cleaning up a property! We packed up the chainsaw, digging stick, loppers and machete along with rubber boots and pants and made our way up to the farm.

Britton and Sherry
Britton and Sherry with one of the tall heliconias

I helped a little moving some debris from the paths and bringing supplies and water to help, but Britton did the bulk of the work of chainsawing, clearing, digging and hauling while I wandered around looking at her gorgeous collection. Sherry knows all of the scientific names to these plants, but I can’t remember them all.

Heliconia (2)
Hanging pendant heliconia

Heliconia
Bright upright heliconia

Rabo de gato
This one is rabo de gato -cat tail

Palm tree
Huge palm tree making a comeback

Hummingbird
Hummingbirds abound

Cassie jungleHanging out in nature

Dirty B
It’s dirty yet beautiful work!

Vivero Anones
Sherry took this picture of us after a long sweaty morning session

Britton was so dirty we actually had to go out and buy him a t-shirt before visiting with our friend Missy later that afternoon.

Water jugMoving the water tank with our new friend Ryan -look how dry the grass is!

We have been wanting to expand the flower gardens but have also been hoping for more rain because new transplants need a lot of water. It has been sooo dry lately that we have to give a little extra water and hand irrigation to the plants. The problem is that the water has been off and on (along with the power). We had some guests staying with us this past week and they helped us move the water cistern to the top of the cabana so that everyone  -plants and people can be wet down. We also installed another water spigot on the other side of the bridge to have easier access to water. There is always some sort of challenge around here, but we’re up to the task!

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Aguadilla Treehouse and Parque Colon


Posted by Cassie

Living in little rural Rincon it is nice to have two fairly large-sized cities to both sides of us: Aguadilla to the north and Mayaguez to the south. Both of them serve different purposes and have different vibes to them. Aguadilla has the military base and a bit more hipster/surfer feel whereas Mayaguez has the major university of the area and has a more family/career feel to it. When we go to Aguadilla we often stop at the mall on top of the ridge that overlooks the ocean and go shopping at the Pueblo grocery store. Get your food with a view!

Shopping with a view
Grocery shopping with a view in Aguadilla

Another nice stop in Aguadilla is the malecon area near the ice skating rink and we often stop there to have a drink, meal or picadera (finger food). One day we drove near the Parque Colon and I saw that the huge Aguadilla Treehouse was open. (Not that it can really be closed right now since the fence around it was completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria.)

Plaza Colon
Parque Colon -Aguadilla is one of many cities that claim to be Columbus’ first stop in Puerto Rico

This treehouse is amazing, mainly because of the tree. I was so happy to see that the tree hadn’t suffered too much damage from the hurricane. That couldn’t be said for the rest of the area however.

Cassie tree
In the roots/trunk of the tree

Britton in treehouse
Britton climbing around the fort/treehouse

I’ve always thought it would be fun to build a treehouse of some sort on our finca. We have some massive trees on the property, but nothing like this monster one that is actually kind of like a few trees that have merged together as it sends down roots from its branches.

Hola como estas tree
The tree is a 200 year old Laurel!

Cassie Treehouse
Under one of the arching branches. Watch your head!

Cassie climbing tree
This tree is incredible!

Treehouse wide view
Here is a wider view angle. It’s hard to really capture the magnitude of this tree and structure around it!

We hung out a while in the area and noticed an old playground of sorts. It looked as though there had been some sort of small child’s train system and a very sad, dilapidated and almost haunted and spooky looking section of children’s rides. Nearby around Parque Colon there are also ball courts, gazebos and other areas to make a picnic or hang out. And of course, the beach is right there!

Toy story apocalypseDestroyed playground equipment and look how many coconut palms had to be cut!

Skateboarding car
And of course there is always some sort of shenanigan going on -skateboarder catching a ride

If you are in the Aguadilla area, I highly recommend checking out Parque Colon and the awesome treehouse!

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Projects Around the Property


Posted by Cassie

There is always something to do around here. With four acres of land, two small casitas and a couple of bird coops we are always busy maintaining and trying to move forward with new goals. We try to do as much as we can ourselves with occasional outside help. Here are a few of the projects we have been working on recently.

ChainsawBritton sawing what I think is a fallen Indian bay leaf tree

Chopping up downed trees
Hurricane Maria brought down a lot of trees everywhere and our property was no exception. One of the many things we did right when we built the jungle cabin was to bury the electric line even though it was 500 feet away from the main. Otherwise, we would have been struggling like the electric company to get the poles up and the trees off the lines. We still had (and have) a mess to contend with however. The problem is that there is nowhere to bring all this wood. So we have a huge pile of wood debris in the quebrada.

It does open up our jungle area to a little more light and we have plans to plant more heliconias and gingers here as we expand our flower business. Britton mainly runs the chainsaw because I am a little afraid of the kickback when I’ve used it. I lopper some of the smaller brush around until we have an area that we can replant. We have a whole section of property (about 3/4 acre) by the Magic Mango and Camino de Pobres that we haven’t even touched and is still impossible to cross without scrambling over huge fallen trees that jut every which way.

Flower Truck Load
Truck loaded with flowers to bring to the market

Flowers and plants
This is one of the more enjoyable tasks around the farm. We go out and find plants -either dig-ups or at nurseries- and then the next day or so we plant them. When we plant a tree it’s really a tough decision because we know that some of them can grow to be huge and we’d rather not transplant too much. With the other plants that grow from rhizomes like bananas, eleplant ears, heliconias and gingers we’re not so picky because they are easily transplanted.

Cassie and bambooThis bamboo is bigger than me and weighed more too!

MonsteraI love monsteras and they look great in the flower bouquets too

Some plants are very difficult to find and/or transplant like the giant bamboo we recently planted. This probably deserves a post of its own because it took 2 days of digging and a full day of moving and transplanting. I love how the plants and flowers transform the place. The jungle is beautiful on its own, but the broad-leafed plants bring a certain classic paradise look that I just love.

Cabin in the woods
Our cabin in the jungle

The jungle treetop cabin
While there is always something to do with a structure, I would say that the inside of the jungle cabin is now complete. We finished the kitchen and our final touch this past month was to have screen doors installed. Now it is so fresh and breezy that I almost always have to have a blanket on at night! We have more plans for the area around it such as finishing the lower area as well as adding some railing.

Trim for doors
Trimming the screen doors

Mango cabana
Cabana
Cabana at the top of the property

The concrete cabana got hit worse by the hurricane than our jungle wooden cabin because it has the ocean view and therefore the winds are stronger. It lost all of its upper railing on the rooftop and the front of the house got blasted like a water pressure treatment for 24+ hours. So we have some projects for it especially as we are now renting it out to guests. We are planning on repainting the outside areas that got blasted as well as the interior.

We also just recently finished sealing the roof again. This is a product called Crossco that is basically a plastic paint that prevents water from slowly seeping through the concrete into the house. Britton also refortified the small bridge crossing since it doesn’t have the other cabana rails as support for it anymore/currently. And I have a couple of ideas for interior decor.

Powerwashing
Powerwashing then resealing the roof of the cabana

Cabana Roof Sealing roof
Before and after sealing

Of course there is always more, but these have been the current projects around the property. It’s hard work but keeps us busy and I love seeing the ever-changing beauty of this magical place.

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