Whenever snow is predicted, I scroll to my photo album “Warmer Places.” Increasingly I turn to my photos from Puerto Rico. With five inches of snow predicted to fall in Chicago, let’s jet for Luquillo beach, just outside of Fajardo.
Every article we read advised to get to the ferry office a few hours before it opened to guarantee a spot on the boat to Culebra, considered one of the most beautiful islands in the world. Our hotel echoed the advice. Despite all those warnings, I couldn’t fathom we would have to give more lead time for a boat than for our flight to Puerto Rico.
Leann and I looked at the ferry schedule, discussed what time we should wake up to arrive at the ticket office. The boats leave every two hours, which throttles how many people can enjoy them at a time. The ticket office opened at 7AM and I thought an hour would be plenty of time. For the record, Leann suggested we go earlier. We got directions from the hotel staff and opted to walk instead of driving the half mile.
Spending the majority of my life in an area that has painful winters has confused my mind and body when I go somewhere warm during the cold months. It was a foreign but welcome feeling when my skin tightened under the plentiful sunlight as we walked from the hotel. Wearing sandals, swim trunks and a sleeveless shirt in December? This must be a fantasy.
We found the ticket office.
Well, we found the line for what we guessed was either the ferry ticket office or the entrance for Disney’s “It’s a Small World.” One of us stood in line while the other went to confirm we were in the correct place and line. After that confirmation, we started counting heads. The line grew behind us, but all that mattered was the number of people in front of us.
While Leann held our spot in line, I ventured off to the Fajardo post office. This was one of my other brilliant ideas during this trip. Rather than check a bag and wait for it at the airport, I thought we could mail sunscreen and other fluids to the hotel ahead of our trip. In theory this was a great idea. In reality this was a horrible idea for two big reasons:
- This was intended to save us time. It took far more time chasing the package compared to simply checking a bag.
- Ever the frugal fool, I figured it would be more expensive to get sunscreen in Puerto Rico than back home. They can’t give sunscreen away in December in Chicago. I was right. Sunscreen was more expensive, but not enough to cover the cost of mailing the bottles. It was a few dollars more, but we spent $10 mailing bottles of lotion and aloe.
There is one post office in Fajardo. It has a few P.O. boxes. Despite addressing the package to the hotel, the post office didn’t deliver it. We tracked the package and confirmed it was in Fajardo. The hotel asked for the package when they picked up their mail, but the USPS couldn’t find anything. I was comforted to know the post office doesn’t just misplace packages in the U.S., that joy extends to U.S. territories as well. The post office was right by the ticket office, so I was able to pop in to see if they could track down our anti-lobster lotion. Once they opened, I shared the confirmation code with the postal worker and he disappeared to search among the other orphan packages. He appeared with our small box of fluids and I returned to Leann.
The line started moving. We had sunscreen! All was right with the world.
The line split for Culebra and Vieques, another island off of Puerto Rico’s east coast. We inched forward. A family of four was in front of us. We had our cash ready. As soon as they finished their transaction, we started to walk to the window. The teller put up a closed sign and a voice announced that the ferry to Culebra was sold out. I asked if there was room for just two more. We don’t take up much space. She said they were sold out.
Someone informed us that the normal, bigger boat was being repaired, so they couldn’t sell as many tickets. Turns out we were in line for “It’s a Small Boat” after all.
Dejected, we walked back to the hotel. We had a kayak trip planned for that night and the other ferry departures wouldn’t allow us to make it back in time. I couldn’t help but take responsibility for us missing the boat. It was my fault we didn’t leave earlier, or drive instead of walk. We may be cursed with traveling by boat.
Back at the hotel with our box, we asked if there were other ways to get to Culebra and we explored taking a private plane to the island. The hotel hadn’t heard my logic on shipping the sunscreen to know my stance on splurging. The plane was about $80-100 and the hotel told us it wasn’t worth it. Instead, she said we should go to Loquillo.
We grabbed a few things from our room and ventured out. Luquillo was 15-20 minutes from the hotel. We had to pay a few dollars to park. As we walked toward the water this is what we were greeted with:
Looking around the beach, we had the place to ourselves. Contrast that to all the people who crammed on the ferry and had to compete for sand space. We had a private beach for the day! We lathered up our sunscreen and immersed ourselves in Island Time. After all the hustle in the morning, it was time to zen out to the sounds of the waves and birds, soak up some vitamin D and enjoy the moment.
Flipping through the photos and reliving this day reminds me of the surrounding beauty (possibly even in snow). First plans don’t always work out and often that’s where the best memories are created.