Cuevas de Camuy: the K-Mart of Puerto Rico Spelunkholes

Especially during summer months, it’s common to arrive at the famous Camuy Caves to find they have already sold out for the day. In such cases, turn that frown about halfway upside-down, kind of into a straight line across your face, because there’s something half as good just around the bend.

Note the lack of dissatisfaction on my face.
Note the lack of dissatisfaction on my face.

Unlike the traditional Camuy Caves, the Cuevas (or “caves”) are not on a main highway, but quite a ways off a smaller one along winding roads. While it may not be conveniently located, at least the unauthorized directional signs are.

From the real Camuy Caves, just head back north until you start seeing signs for it, which you’ll see almost immediately. Follow them from there, and be ready to party it kind of in the general direction of up. I mean, I had fun, but I’m pretty easy to please.

cuevas2Left – Outside the cave, you can still see that I am not what you might call unhappy. It’s a pretty good second choice for the day, assuming you’re too late to see the real caves.

 

 

 

 

 

Once you get there, the first thing you notice is that it really isn’t a cave observation park, like the other one, but more of a birthday party fun-plex next to a hill with a hole in it. Not one to split hairs, I just committed to having fun, and it wasn’t hard to do.

But let’s start with the cave since that’s what we did. You stand in line for a while at the mouth of what looks like, I don’t know, some kind of creepy cave or something. Once inside, the tour guides rush you through, practically jogging, quietly murmuring the history of the cave in a rich, regional dialect of Spanish.

Right – Dominic, not one to let an opportunity pass him by, found great interest in his tongue while inside the cave. Life  cuevas3gives you lemons, play with your tongue.

We didn’t get to learn much about the cave that way, but we did get to see bats flying around the top of the place. They love their stalactites, I’ll give them that. If you’re here to see amazing caves, this ain’t going to do the trick for you. From the back of it, you can see all the way out to daylight on two sides. It’s more of a macaroni shaped tunnel than a cave really.

Doesn’t mean it wasn’t fun though, because it definitely was neat for us, just wasn’t the sort of unforgettable geological experience we had hoped for. More of a cuevita than a cueva, but I’m little, I know how it goes so I don’t mind.

Luckily, they do have a playground outside.

The park outside has a pool with water slides, the longest, largest Go Cart track I’ve ever seen, pony rides, a playground and a pretty darn good snack bar (with the cheapest, tastiest smoothies you could ever hope to have on a hot day), and they’ve got more stuff too.

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Above – The playground, while very old-fashioned, had a really interesting variety of brightly colored, exceptionally rugged things to play on, in and around. A really unique and high quality play area.

I can’t remember it all right now, but there’s more. Maybe tennis or basketball courts? Birthday party staging areas? It was hot that day, I can’t be expected to remember it all.

The really striking fun for me was the playground. It’s very different from anything I’ve seen before, full of custom toys that were obviously built in place.

If you’re looking for an unforgettable experience, this ain’t it. It was fun, and it’s a fine second choice for an afternoon but don’t feel like you simply must go there because, as fine as it is, it’s not a destination. More information at this tourism website.

Above - The concrete dinosaur makes for great up-climbing, down-sliding, and necki-up-checking-out. Don't try kicking the cement ball, though, that's a no-no I can support. Fun at the OTHER set of Camuy Caves
Above – The concrete dinosaur makes for great up-climbing, down-sliding, and necki-up-checking-out. Don’t try kicking the cement ball, though, that’s a no-no I can support.
Fun at the OTHER set of Camuy Caves
Above - The ominous entrance to the natural cave, er sorry, "cueva."
Above – The ominous entrance to the natural cave, er sorry, “cueva.”

 

Puerto Ricans Unwilling to Exchange My Money

I knew when we landed in Puerto Rico we’d need money, and we’d need it equal parts “bad” and “fast,” but what I didn’t realize was that nobody would exchange my money for the local currency. The obvious snag in the nylon would be that Puerto Rico isn’t a sovereign nation and uses US currency just like back home, and what I’ve experienced points to a very different problem.

My dissatisfaction with the so-called money I held was palpable, to say the least.
My dissatisfaction with the so-called money I held was palpable, to say the least.

If it was just turning dollars into a different form of local currency, it would be pretty easy since I’m told four quarters for a dollar would do the trick. The problem is that I’m not trusted with dollars, not even the ones I earn myself. Something about college funds and preschoolers not being trustworthy with money, infamously known for the inability to reconcile the accounting or displaying responsible purchasing habits, whatever all that means.

puertorican-money2Left – The look on my face is real, even if the motivation I was coached was something less than authentic. Here you can see me (at least pretending to be) lamenting over my dicovery that these strange, plastic novelty coins are not in fact the currency of Puerto Rico. I would later learn that they aren’t even currency in Ireland, nor an Irish Pub, not even on St. Patty’s fabled day.

 

 

But this wasn’t a simple matter of trying to convert dollars; I was trying to convert novelty St. Paddy’s Day tokens made out of plastic with the emerald sheen already flaking across the entirety of my pocket. What, is my money not good enough for these people?

The exchange rate is always difficult to master when traveling, but understanding dollars to dollars is exactly the limitation of my abilities, and trying to think about these tokens is that much harder still. It’s worse than trying to get money out of the ATM when all you have to deposit is Monopoly money.

There are two lessons to the story here. First is that Puerto Rico uses United States Dollars as the local currency, which is awfully convenient if you’re visiting from America, which more than 5-million people are. Second is that no matter how politely I ask, nobody is willing to exchange cheap, Chinese, plastic tokens for money, or anything of value aside from a kindly smile, and it doesn’t matter how politely you ask.

There are many “kind of American” benefits you’ll enjoy in Puerto Rico, but charming your way into free money isn’t among them. Don’t worry though, we’ll keep trying to swap our tokens for toys, candy and whatever else it is that we want to get. For now just rest assured that we’re doing our best to solve this monetary mystery.

Above - Whether this is a look of frustration, anxiety, careful parental framing, or just an abundance of gassy buildup, there's no five way about it, it was one of the four previously mentioned possibilities.
Above – Whether this is a look of frustration, anxiety, careful parental framing, or just an abundance of gassy buildup, there’s no five way about it, it was one of the four previously mentioned possibilities.

 

Cabo Rojo Lighthouse Coolest Thing on Puerto Rico’s Southwest Corner

Of all the things to do on the Southwest corner of the conspicuously small spit of land that is invariably Puerto Rico, one of the — if not the — greatest things to do is check out the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse. Now, I’ll admit I’ve spoken highly in the past on the virtues of the tourist center and the saltiest flatlander areas, but the lighthouse at the tip of it really takes what little cake there is to be had.

This is my older brother, looking tan or burnt by means of PhotoShop, at the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse
This is my older brother, looking tan or burnt by means of PhotoShop, at the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse

Now, in all fairness, there ain’t a whole lot cool on the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. Amongst the things that are cool, you’ve got basically the tree fort thingy and this and that’s about it.

Still, the reason this place is cool isn’t just because it’s cool (though trust me when I say it is) but it’s cool because the curator of the attraction is a double stud and a half.

We showed up about an hour before they opened, wandered the grounds as ones do and even teetered unto the edge of land’s end to the greatest chagrin of that most pessimistic and protective Daddy-Man.

Then the place opened and we were first in a line that consisted of just us and, once we wandered in, we were freely offered the royal tour of the place. The manager of the site embraced us as only family should and took us up (without request) the very tippiest top of the lighthouse to look out upon the waters as only the Coast Guard (and manager) have done before us.

cabo-rojo-lighthouse2Left – There were easily a dozen or so of these taken, what with me looking back at the lighthouse, but it was this one with the back of my head that somehow made the cut.. I should talk to my editorial staff about these things, I know.

 

 

 

 

He knew there were three of us Juniors and that one of us was autistic, and he had to personally lift Patrick into place to enjoy the view; and he was happy to just to come up, join us, give us the whole historic story of the place, and then carry most of us back down to safety. Now that’s great customer service!

And here’s the kick in the jerky; he didn’t even know who we were. At the end of our visit he asked the kiddocentric Daddy-Man to sign the guest book, but that very same Daddy-Man just handed him the business card. You should have seen the look of jackpot-gold in his eyes when he realized that he had gone so far above and beyond, as he surely must at least a few times a day, only to come up on journalistic gold as he did.

The guy was floored, but in all fairness, we were floored for him having given us the VIP treatment without any idea of who we were.

Now, I can’t say that you’ll enjoy the same sorts of VIP treatment, but I can tell you that the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse was in sad shape ten-years ago, and that a mix of public and private funding has since restored it far beyond its original glory and that the curator of the place wishes nothing more than that each and everybody who visits it understand and enjoy the place to its very fullest.

We haven’t met a whole lot like him in Puerto Rico, but this guy goes way above and way beyond the call of duty to make darn sure everybody gets the whole experience out of this place. So if you’re in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico or plan to be, be a pal and at least extend him the honor of letting you understand what’s so great about his place.

Above - This is absolutely NOT the lighthouse at Cabo Rojo, but on the drive from Guanica west towards the coast, within a couple miles on Highway-2 you'll come across this odd spectacle to your left (south). Some clown who must apparently love the sea thought it wise to build his whole home to look as if it's a tugboat and lighthouse.... the tugboat I get, but nobody can live in the lighthouse, so I'm confused a bit... am I the only one who is a child here or is it just me? Hey, isn't that redunpent?
Above – This is absolutely NOT the lighthouse at Cabo Rojo, but on the drive from Guanica west towards the coast, within a couple miles on Highway-2 you’ll come across this odd spectacle to your left (south). Some clown who must apparently love the sea thought it wise to build his whole home to look as if it’s a tugboat and lighthouse…. the tugboat I get, but nobody can live in the lighthouse, so I’m confused a bit… am I the only one who is a child here or is it just me? Hey, isn’t that redunpent?

 

Arecibo Lighthouse Pirate Cave Worth the Trip Itself

Every once and so often there comes around a noun that leaves such an impression on me that it deserves a double-review. Last year, Remlinger Farms got that much and more. The Boudin Bakery in San Francisco got two. For our stay in Puerto Rico not much was deserving of two reviews except for Fun Valley Park and the amazing Pirate Cave at the Arecibo Lighthouse, which is just that good and it gets a second review too.

Sunken ship behind, deadly sting ray in the front. This place is amazing!
Sunken ship behind, deadly sting ray in the front. This place is amazing!

The Arecibo Lighthouse Museum is a tad over 45-minutes west of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s a bit out of the way for many visitors and maybe that’s part of the reason they work so hard to make it a special place. It’s common for travelers to go to the famous Camuy Caves or the Arecibo Radio Antennae, but by the end of those days, many don’t bother going back in that direction again.

I have to tell you, with my brothers and stuffed bear as my witness, this place is absolutely worth your time. They’ve got a variety of interesting attractions, but forget all that for a minute, they also have the Pirate’s Cave… or is it “Pirate’s Cove”… I’m not sure which, the translation seems to get a bit muddled, but either way, it’s an exceptional attraction and my personal favorite.

The entrance looks haunted and forbidding, so much so that none of us juniors would go through it. I made an executive decision and assigned the Daddy-Man to take a once-through without us. I figured that if it was safe, he’d let us know, and if it was as scary as it looked, we’d at least still have Mama and each other for the rest of our lives.

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Above – In case I wasn’t appropriately spooky about it, this is how very scary the creepy entrance to the Pirates Cove at the Arecibo Lighthouse Museum truly is… it’s a skull.

Ten-minutes later he came back and was so excited we all had to go through it together.

It’s a long, winding maze of dark, animatronic pirates. Some stealing gold, others digging graves and still others zonked out in the veritable rummery that is the darkest bowels of a pirates cave, or cove if you prefer.

There are things that jump out at you for their uniqueness and others that just jump out at you literally, but it’s all very interesting and delightfully air conditioned which, on the average day in Puerto Rico, is reason enough to venture inside.

Part way through it though the visitor comes upon a spectacle most unusual. There’s an aquarium in there, and I’m not talkin’ just a tank with a few fish in it, I mean the real deal. Sure, there are lesser fish tanks at the periphery with all sorts of Nemos and Doras, but the heart of this pirate cave is a 40,000 gallon sunken pirate ship complete with sand sharks, sting rays, puffer fish and an assortment of fish I couldn’t have imagined.

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Above – From here you can peer in through the rocky port at the sunken vessel, bow-matron still intact, if not a modest bit barnacley, with the terrifying likes of sand sharks et al all around.

The place was so good that, after our whole group went through, Daddy-O went through a third time just to enjoy it for himself. Patrick went through with Mama after that, and Daddy went through yet another time with me, just because I insisted (having nothing to do with the air conditioning, though I certainly did enjoy it.)

The last room before you exit into the gift shop is a large bridge through what I’m told is a typical pirate hidey-cave. To one side you’ve got pirates burying gold, to the other you can see out towards the ocean, and beneath you in the real water is actual fish that actually swim around all day beneath your feet.

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Above – As many pictures as were taken nothing did justice to the final room of the Pirate’s Cove attraction. In the center is the “exit” to the cave, which is a projection screen, and below is a large, well stocked live fish pond. Also there’s a bunch of gold around the room, and how they can afford that, I’ll never know.

Never mind how great it is that all the while you’re regaled with conspicuously borrowed theme music from Pirates of the Caribbean. This small, understated portion of the park alone is entirely worth the visit, even if the rest of the amusement park was just so-so, this would be the thing that would sell you on the place.

And maybe the best of all was that in the area around the aquarium was a bilingual fishologist who spends his free time hanging out near tourists to answer any questions you may have. This isn’t even on the brochure, he just does it because he’s not busy balancing the PH in the tank and because he loves his job that much. He’s there, time permitting, to answer any of the many questions you have about his exhibit.

The mood and ambiance are set perfectly, the attraction is molded with Disneyesque perfection, and the overall experience was so singly the highlight of the amusement park that it truly deserves its own article… that and I’m sure my brother Brendan would have got it wrong but don’t tell him I said so.

Above - For fun, brother Patrick points out the puffer fish (not pictured) and tells the tall tale of that one from Finding Nemo that was so darn funny.
Above – For fun, brother Patrick points out the puffer fish (not pictured) and tells the tall tale of that one from Finding Nemo that was so darn funny.
Above - It's a lousy picture, and I'll admit it, but here you can see us kids checking out the fish as viewed from the far side of the aquarium.
Above – It’s a lousy picture, and I’ll admit it, but here you can see us kids checking out the fish as viewed from the far side of the aquarium.

 

When in Puerto Rico, Check out the Camuy Caves

Assuming you are in, or shortly going to be in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and you have enough time to pop out of town for a jiffy and check out whatever sights there may be to see, a not-to-be-missed attraction is the Camuy Caves. They’re rich in bio-diversity (despite the tourists), fun enough for all to enjoy (despite the hike) and well worth your time (assuming you can get in on your first or last try).

Me looking casual on the trolley ride down, despite the gorgeous New Jersey Goldilocks behind me.
Me looking casual on the trolley ride down, despite the gorgeous New Jersey Goldilocks behind me.

Color me cynical a tad, but we drove more than two hours to get there the first time, only to be turned away at the gate due to over-capacity attendance. Many were camped out by the entrances, and for no good reason (since they don’t get in, statistically), but we knew better, and went on to other attractions that actually wanted us there.

More than a month later, once the peak season had died down, we came back for our overdue excursion into the mouths of caverns most majestic, only to find that their thirst for publicity had pulled an aboutface in light of the shift in seasons of tourism (not to mention rain, which became a bit of a problem, but nothing worth mentioning).

Left - The elder folk (both from our tribe and others) thought at first that this was just another wooden prop for the tourists to enjoy, based in no small part on its fake-looking exterior. It wasn't until it began to recede into its cubby-hole that we all could agree that it was real. What can I say, it had a camouflage sufficient to disguise its actuality even from tourists. Plus, I mean, really it was a land-crab in a sink-hole. How cool and unique is that?
Left – The elder folk (both from our tribe and others) thought at first that this was just another wooden prop for the tourists to enjoy, based in no small part on its fake-looking exterior. It wasn’t until it began to recede into its cubby-hole that we all could agree that it was real. What can I say, it had a camouflage sufficient to disguise its actuality even from tourists. Plus, I mean, really it was a land-crab in a sink-hole. How cool and unique is that?

So let’s crank up the positive on this review real quick, forgetting all of the negative things for a minute, and tell you just some of the many things that make this place really exceptional. If you want to avoid the long lines and prohibitive wait times, regardless of the day of week or time of year, all you have to do is show up early. Get there by 8:00 a.m. and I don’t care if it’s Constitution Day, you’re getting in and down into the dankest glories of the caves, and I promise you as much from the heart of my bottom.

Here are just a few of the wonderful benefits of this attraction:

  • Playgrounds. Yep, for those of you stuck sitting and waiting to get in, even if hour after hour, there are exceptional playgrounds to enjoy. And the busier it is, the more kids there are to play with on these playgrounds.
  • Legitimate Antique Trains. I know it sounds crazy but Puerto Rico was the first Caribbean island to have a fully functional train system, and although it’s long gone, there are still many cars and locomotives around the island, and this state-operated, historic park has one of the very few that remain, and it’s free for the around-playing, on-climbing and imaginary woo-hooing.
  • One of the best value cafeterias around. My loyalty is divided, because this place had pretty awesome food at pretty fair prices, but was run by the son of the clown who runs the El Taino Restaurant, which was flat terrible. If you’re here for the half-day (which is the most you should be) and you’re hungry eat here, not at that other clown-owned place. This place has got good food, fair prices, and they’re uncommonly kind and accommodating.
  • They also have the Gold-Panning Expedition attraction, which I’ll cover in another article, because it was that good. It wasn’t earth-shattering or anything, but it was cheap, fun and left us with more than we paid for in souvenirs, so those good folk get their own whole article.

But let’s talk about the actual expedition. Getting there early is important, not just because of the quick-building lines (which is a very real problem, considering they limit the capacity to protect the caves), but also because once the afternoon rains start falling (which they do during roughly half the year) it quickly becomes unsafe to run the trolley into the sinkhole where the mouth of the caves is located.

So you go into a theater where you learn all about safety (in two languages) and get a quick (and conveniently air conditioned) intro to what the caves are all about, when they were discovered, and what they mean to the local culture.

From there you hop onto a trolley where a tour guide talks you down into the sinkhole, as to ease your mind as your mind eases its own elevation.

Then he (or perhaps she, I suppose) walks you quickly through the cave, presumably telling you things about its history, though I can’t know for sure since I’m a member of a lollygagging gaggle, and we always dilly-dally daily and lag behind far enough to miss out on all the most important points.

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Above – As the caves draw on (and the seasons change in kind) there isn’t a whole lot to hang on to that isn’t slimy, save for rock crabs and tank-tops of brothers.

What’s most remarkable is not that they “say” they protect the wildlife habitat in the cave, but that they actually do. On the way down we saw a pretty interesting variety of birds and bugs, but once in the sinkhole we saw what must have surely been fake animals… nope, not fake at all. We saw a cave crab clinging to the rocks that was fully the size of my fist.

Down in the caves there are stalagmites, stalactites and even a freshwater waterfall, so fresh you can drink right from it, assuming you don’t gag from the sight of the algae from which it falls… hang on, trying not to barf real quick… gimme a minute… nope, I’m okay… WAIT! No I’m good.

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Above – As curiously (potentially) photoshopped as it may look, this is me in the belly of the sinkhole looking up from a shoulder of man or mama, as if refusing to be put back down (because I’m frankly sick of walking and the hundreds of feet of altitude change disagree with my preschool constitution).

Biggest thing is that for a half-Disney fare you get easily a half-day of enjoyment, and without lines or rampant pacing that makes it suck. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t saints by a mile, but they are fair people and, for a government run attraction with painfully limited admissions, they do a pretty exceptional job of keeping it running, fun and perpetually worth recommendation.

Honestly, this is one of only two attractions in Puerto Rico that doesn’t need my endorsement and still gets it. No matter what I say, good or bad, you should (and probably will) go there (assuming you are in Puerto Rico or planning to be). The attraction is unparalleled, the food is spectacular (and cheap) and the while-you-wait distractions are second-to-none.

And if you still doubt how good they are, just you try to find their website. They have one, but it’s a geriatric GeoCities account that’s usually down and doesn’t work very well. Even with that as their best foot forward they’ve still got so much business they routinely turn tourists away by 10:00 in the morning.

Go early, if not often, but get there and check it out. You won’t be sorry, though you may come out a bit damp and bewildered.

Above - As you can see here, one of the coolest attractions for spelunking fans-in-wait is plainly the antique Choo-Choo Train. By the way, these things cost like $200,000, even back when bread was a nickel, so give them plutocrats their due when you can, because they invested in this island so heavily, even if it was just a locomotive or two, that their recognition of things needing to be moved from one side of the island to the other was really something spectacular, even if they did lose their chubby backsides in the equation.
Above – As you can see here, one of the coolest attractions for spelunking fans-in-wait is plainly the antique Choo-Choo Train. By the way, these things cost like $200,000, even back when bread was a nickel, so give them plutocrats their due when you can, because they invested in this island so heavily, even if it was just a locomotive or two, that their recognition of things needing to be moved from one side of the island to the other was really something spectacular, even if they did lose their chubby backsides in the equation.
Above - I know I said it already, but I'm not above saying it again: I love choo-choo-trains, even if they haven't choo'd nor choo'd in fully a half century or two. Oh Thomas the Train you ruin me for any other.
Above – I know I said it already, but I’m not above saying it again: I love choo-choo-trains, even if they haven’t choo’d nor choo’d in fully a half century or two. Oh Thomas the Train you ruin me for any other.

Superman Joins Big Brother Program

I was lucky enough to join a big brother program at birth, not the official one but I have two older brothers, so thar ye go. But now it gets better, check this out.

Itty me jumbo flying.
Itty me jumbo flying.

One thing I’ve always wanted to learn is how to fly. It wasn’t until I saw Brendan getting ready for nighty night that I discovered his secret identity. Brother Brendan is actually Superman. Do you have any idea how cool that is?

This is my big shot at learning the tricky craft of machine-free human flight. Who better to teach me than my own brother, Superman? The only thing that could stop my lessons now would be kryptonite or maybe him getting grouchy from veggies or either of us getting sent to bed.

My lessons would go better if I could spend less time focusing on my footies. I can’t help it though, they’re so tasty and the towel-cloth makes them hard to resist. Still, I think I have a pretty good start here.

Most exciting part was that I got to fly without anyone spotting me. Right up in the air without anyone holding me up. Those aren’t hands in the picture, me don’t thinkest, methinks that’s a popsicle illusion. I think Brendan had one earlier so, as a junior Superman it can easily overflow onto camera.

This is just the most exciting thing to come my way. I’m a wiggling enthusiast but would much rather fly than crawl. I look forward with glee to my new mentor, super-brother, and promise to keep all you good people posted on any new lighter-than-air experiences as they come true.

This is just great.

 

Arecibo Lighthouse Museum Is Freaking Awesome

Puerto Rico doesn’t have a lot for kids to do. I’m not being mean I’m being honest and, with as long as I lived there this past summer, I’m sure I’m qualified to say it. One thing it does have a mere hour outside of San Juan is the Arecibo Lighthouse Museum. It’s not really a museum but it’s well run, exceptionally maintained and all kinds of fun like we could hardly believe.

The Lighthouse at Arecibo. Pretty pretty, ain`t it?
The Lighthouse at Arecibo. Pretty pretty, ain`t it?

In the area there are two kid-centric family attraction parks, with the other one being Fun Valley Park. In terms of what they are, they are miles apart. In terms of where they are they’re about a mile apart. Any comparison would be apples to bananas, both in terms of fun and value, so I won’t even try. I’ll say that if you’re looking for a fun day with your kids an hour west of San Juan, spend your morning at Fun Valley Park (and have lunch there) then spend your afternoon at the Arecibo Lighthouse Museum.

The biggest and best attraction at the Arecibo Lighthouse Museum is the Pirate Cave & Aquarium, but that’s so amazing it gets a whole, separate article just to explain it. I’ll cover that one soon enough, but there’s plenty else to keep you and yours occupied in the meantime.

The coolest thing there was easily the pirate ship and replica of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria. These 1/3-scale ships were so much fun, with ladders to climb, windows to look in and all sorts of wooden sailor men hanging out for you to poke and pretend around. They even have dolphins in the grass (which looks like water) for you to check out too. The ships were what we kept coming back to between moments of checking out all the other stuff.

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Above – From here I could see land-ho, sea-ho and heave-ho, but I still can’t tell you what any of that means.

The next striking thing was the playground. It had enough space and toys in it I imagine it could easily handle 200 kids at a time. It has countless forts, swings, and all kinds of things to play on, in and around. Just like the tall ships, we kept coming back to this area. There was also a vintage 1964 helicopter (I think they called them Hueys back then) for even more make-believe.

The playground even has shaded areas for the parents to rest and recharge for the next round of play, which is nice, but I’d rather just spend my time playing.

At the top of the hill is the lighthouse and museum. This is a real, working lighthouse maintained by the Coast Guard and you can go right up to it and inside, where they have all kinds of historical items with placards explaining it.

And if the parents aren’t feeling up to the hike, they can hang out on the decks. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the view is spectacular and the decks are huge enough to handle hundreds on a bad day.

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Above – The view from the lighthouse down on the decks. As you can see the view is sweeping and spectacular and there’s plenty of room to take a load off while your youngsters are busy being pirates, explorers, zoologists or helicopter pirates… wait, helicoptor pirates? Maybe I should look into that one.

Those are just the highlights. The lowlights include an odd, kind of creepy Taino Village, complete with an oddly naked Indian woman, (and yes, that’s brother Patrick with an odd paw to the booby) modeled after the traditional Indian tribe villages, a mockup of original slave quarters, some old horse & buggy things, a statue ensemble representing the Spanish American War, and a “Jibaro” House, which I was never able to identify or even locate… something might be lost in the translation right there.

There is also a Mini Zoo, but be advised that when they say “mini” they aren’t kidding. It’s like a scaled down petting zoo, except scaled down a bit further. There are chickens, ponies and not a whole heck of a lot more… then again, it’s another bonus feature of the place, and not the actual attraction, so I didn’t mind it one bit. Along the walkway, however, I did manage to spot a giant iguana wandering the foliage. That was pretty awesome.

The only downside to the Arecibo Lighthouse Museum is the nickel-and-dime add on costs once you’re inside. The admission is only $9 adult, $7 children and $2 for parking, but the concessions are mediocre and far too costly. We had two hot dogs and two raspberry smoothies, and it came out to $14. We left broke and far from full. The gift shop is also absurdly overpriced with dollar store trinkets and the sorts of things we buy from catalogs for a buck all priced around $5 each.

You’ll have more fun at this place than you can believe, and I recommend it highly, but if you’re not careful you’ll also spend your pockets inside-out.

The Arecibo Lighthouse Museum is located about an hour west of San Juan on the coast of Arecibo. You can follow the signs easy enough, or check them out online at www.arecibolighthouse.com for current rates, hours and detailed driving directions.

Above - At left you can see the entire exhibit commemorating the Spanish-American War... can't we all just get along? Arecibo Lighthouse Museum Pirate Ship Dungeon
Above – At left you can see the entire exhibit commemorating the Spanish-American War… can’t we all just get along?
Arecibo Lighthouse Museum Pirate Ship Dungeon
Above - The deck of the pirate ship had everything you could want for play. Ropes, wooden men, exhibits for learning, lookout points, cannons and pretty much anything else you could imagine a pirate to want.
Above – The deck of the pirate ship had everything you could want for play. Ropes, wooden men, exhibits for learning, lookout points, cannons and pretty much anything else you could imagine a pirate to want.

 

Fun Valley Park Café Cuts Visit Costs by Half

One of the most enjoyable things we did in Puerto Rico was our visit to the kooky amusement park near Arecibo called the Fun Valley Park. I guess it was in a valley and I’m pretty sure it was a park, but what I know without a doubt is that it was fun. Only thing that could have made it better was the café, which did make it better, both by price and quality.

The fried chicken and fries was fresh, made on-site, and amazing.
The fried chicken and fries was fresh, made on-site, and amazing.

Fun Valley Park is a family owned and operated amusement park where the staff are uncommonly friendly, the rides are perfectly fun and the people in charge are wholly responsible for making it the joy to visit that it is. It should come as little surprise then that the café is so spectacular as to deserve a whole, separate article just about how great it is.

The fried chicken is hand-battered, not bought ready to chuck into the fryer. The pizza has fresh-made dough, hand-tossed, with a private recipe for the sauce. Even the French fries are whole-cut, rather than the much-more-common reconstituted variety.

So now you should believe me when I say the food is good, so let’s talk about the price. The chef salad is $1.50. A hot dog and medium drink meal is $2.25 as of our visit. The 7′ pepperoni pizza is under $3.655. The 3-piece chicken with fries and a 16-0z drink is about $4.75. Show me values like this anywhere else in the first-world.

And if you’re even less hungry than that, they’ve got juice boxes, fruit cups, candy, cookies, and far more than we expected… and let’s face it, we’ve got some pretty high expectations around these parts.

Way we figure it, if you’re going that way for the day spend your morning at Fun Valley Park, spend your easy-on-the-wallet lunch in their café and then decide if you’re moving on for the afternoon or not. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with the food and you’ll be shocked by the value. We stuffed ourselves to the gills and came out at maybe $12 for the five of us. That’s unbeatable anyhow you slice it…

Mmmmm, slice… that reminds me of the tasty pizza!

Food from the Fun Valley Park cafe Above - Fried chicken, fries, fancied-up hot dogs and hand-tossed pizza all await you, and at prices you just can't believe.
Food from the Fun Valley Park cafe
Above – Fried chicken, fries, fancied-up hot dogs and hand-tossed pizza all await you, and at prices you just can’t believe.

 

Game of Logic Defies Just That

As all readers must know, I am a man deeply entrenched in logic. Concise, measurable, verifiable matters of fact are my bread, butter and jelly. This silly game defies all that, even the jelly.

This doesn`t make a lick nor a bite of sense.
This doesn`t make a lick nor a bite of sense.

Chess came to earth over two million years ago when aliens built the pyramids to anchor their space yachts. Ever since, chess has been praised as the greatest game of strategy ever to plague mankind. With the plague part alone, I fully concur.

I’m an expert of very little, (only screaming I think) but my introduction to chess tells me it’s even more complicated than checkers, another game that totally escapes me.

We’ve got horsies, plus-heads, castle tops and about a hundred other pieces. No human could memorize what they all do, of that much I’m certain.

The rules are elaborate and restrictive. No eating the pieces, only use one hand at a time, don’t knock pieces on the floor and don’t remove an opponent’s piece “just because.” How else can the game be won?

If a rook challenges my queen, shouldn’t I steal it and run off to another room? Pawns are just pawns in my game, can’t I make them do anything? They aren’t powerless just mindless. Pawns, people, not prawns.

I’m writing this from the bathroom. I’ve locked myself in here with a couple borrowed pieces from that silly board. They’re coming in soon to reclaim them, I just know it.

No logic, no fun, and now I’m living as a fugitive. Silly, I say, mean, illogical and just plain silly.

logic-wide

 

Staff Videographer Struggles w/ Basic Principles

We all have our jobs to do around the Perplexing Times offices, and we all do them, time permitting, to the best of our ability. Well, maybe not the best of our abilities, but certainly to the best of our interest in doing so. This staff Videographer we hired, however, is really mooking up the works with his inattention to detail.

Patrick really likes to stuff that long-focus lens into the faces of his subjects, no matter how blurry of a macro it may make.
Patrick really likes to stuff that long-focus lens into the faces of his subjects, no matter how blurry of a macro it may make.

The most basic principles, technically, include holding the camcorder in your hand, pressing the “record” button and pointing it in the right direction. He usually manages at least two of those three things, but from there, it’s anybody’s guess.

He gets so darn excited he bounces like a Tigger, which doesn’t ruin the recording but it does push the capacity of the Anti-Shake protection to its limits and usually a bit beyond. I get excited too but the bouncing has got to end.

From there his struggles get a bit more peculiar. As you can see from the pictures, conveniently taken by another staff member dedicated to locking the moment down for history, he’s got the basics all misunderstood.

videographer-struggles2Left – This is a fine example of almost everything, except for how to actually use a video camera. Here you can see Patrick holding it not just unimaginably close to my head while bouncing up and down, but also sideways.

 

 

 

You can’t turn a camera sideways and expect a decent video. It’s not like photographs where you can present them in portrait or landscape modes. I know the finished image may look right on the screen, but our television doesn’t allow playback in sideways mode unless we climb up above the mantle and manhandle the whole, 100-pound contraption on its side. That’s no good for a clip that only lasts a couple minutes and unpredictably switches from wide-to-tall.

Then comes the whole zoom issue. I know I’ve opined on the matter of zoom before, but I think he was out the day we had that meeting. Word to the unwise: Back up a bit. You can’t put a long-focus camera four-inches off my face and expect to get anything other than a sharp shot of my pores. They’re clean and closed and that is in and of itself commendable, I know, but let’s try to focus on the bigger picture if at all possible.

At this point he’s been reprimanded, but not in writing or verbally and I’ve made up a handy pamphlet for him to study on the common art of not ruining family videos.

Has he learned his lesson? No. Sadly he can’t read my squiggles, and once scribbled neither can I. I think the lesson implied is implicit, even if just by definition so I’ll count this as a victory all around.

When traveling, it’s okay to let the youngsters handle the video camera, especially if you aren’t doing it. At the very least you’ll get more footage than you would have otherwise (and tape is cheap), also you’ll probably catch some candid moments you never would have thought of… even if it does end up being pretty terrible footage.

Above - Even with the handsome smile of at least one of the junior journalists in this most uncommon place, Patrick still can't be bothered in all his pre-third-grade wisdom, to hold the camera straight. No matter, we love him all the same and that much more for it.
Above – Even with the handsome smile of at least one of the junior journalists in this most uncommon place, Patrick still can’t be bothered in all his pre-third-grade wisdom, to hold the camera straight. No matter, we love him all the same and that much more for it.
Above - Despite the fact that we never got much more than a few seconds of useful footage, this is a fine example of Patrick using the camera properly.
Above – Despite the fact that we never got much more than a few seconds of useful footage, this is a fine example of Patrick using the camera properly.