Puerto Rico Day 4: Guanica Dry Forest Reserve

On our last full day in Puerto Rico, we knew we wanted to drop by Guanica. Why? Because if a 700-year old cactus and some really nice beaches don’t get you going in the morning, I don’t know what will.

We got up at sunrise (again) to start our trip from Ponce to the small(ish) town of Guanica. From there, we hoped to find some nice signs directing us straight toward the reserve. Instead, we spent 2 hours backtracking between the same dang papaya plantation and hilly neighborhood in search of the appropriate road. Finally, we found a road that let us keep driving until we hit succulents. The area looked promising.

Turns out we took the south road instead of the north road, which led us to Guanica’s beaches on the edge of the area. We weren’t complaining, just glad we didn’t somehow wind up back in Ponce.

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For what it’s worth, the views were stunning. We traipsed along one of the smaller beaches in a little inlet while one amorous couple snuggled up to each other and another snorkeled in the shallows. We, child-like as we are, stalked crabs and investigated limpets adhered to the rocky outcroppings around the small cove.

We were only there for a few minutes before we left, eager to move on to see what sights awaited us down the road. Of course, on the way back, I had to pick up a small critter scurrying through the fallen leaves.

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Yes, it is indeed a hermit crab who wasn’t very shy at all. Added bonus: it was the first hermit crab the Other Half had ever seen, so we of course had to take about 3,000 still frames of him moving in and out of his shell in his quest to discover who or what had picked him up.

After a harrying adventure getting the car stuck in beach mud (totally not all my fault. Who knew that what looked like hard-packed earth was really just three inches of sun-dried soil over a bunch of muddy sand? ) and backing smack into a tree (okay, this was totally my fault. But at least it didn’t damage the car or the tree?), we finally made it back onto the road.

From there, we drove until the road ended at a sign saying “Closed due to endangered toad breeding grounds.” We disappointedly parked and wondered where exactly we could go to see the supposed cactus trails. As we milled around, a lovely gentleman popped out of a shady path right across from us and told us “There was a great, wonderful, awesome beach just through the trees and after a short walk. We shouldn’t miss it; we should just leave the car and walk around the breeding grounds. The tide was rough, but the fishing was good.”

As I write this, yeah, it sounds kinda shady, but it really wasn’t; it was just a really well-appreciated friendly gesture to the two lost Gringos wandering around the beach. Besides, at the other side was this:

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I mean, can you really go wrong with that? And to make things better, a fisherman immediately started yelling down the beach at us “Ven aqui! Miralo! Ven! Ven! Tengo un–” His last words were lost to the wind, and the Other Half stood bewildered. We looked at each other, and I said “Let’s go see. He’s got something cool!” So we ran down the beach, only then catching his final word “–pulpo!”

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Okay, so he had already pulped the pulpo because he was spearfishing, but it was still a really cool find, along with the crab and other fish he’d hauled out of the reefs with his buddies. He offered to let us hold it for a picture, but I politely declined, hoping sincerely that the cold tentacles wouldn’t sucker onto my hand as they had to him. In broken Spanish (I know, I know, I’m supposed to be half-fluent by now), we had the typical fishermen’s discussion:

“That’s huge! Where’d you get that one?”

“Oh, you know, around the area.” *gestures vaguely to keep from revealing his prized fishing hole*

“Well, has the fishing been good lately?”

“It’s been a little slow today. A while ago I caught *insert monster fish here* in the area.”

Come on, you know that conversation. You’ve treasured that memory of your father when, after the other boat leaves, he cackles gleefully and says, “Good thing I told him about the spot with lots of tiny fish. We’re sitting right on top of the best spot in the lake, and he’ll never know it.”

Anyway, after begging leave of the fisherman who was all too happy to teach us about the local fauna of the area, we continued down the beach, where we found what I had been looking for the last 4 days: an epic tidal pool. I mean, traveling during the full moon has to have some perks, right?

Wading waste deep out into clear turquoise waters along the area where the sea grass meets the white crystal sand was probably the highlight of my morning. I pointed fish out to the Other Half as they swam around my toes or hid behind rocks in the center of their ‘meadows’. All I had to do was watch as the life teemed around me.

Heck, we even found a bit of coral washed up on shore. (As an aside, no, we didn’t bring it home, just a picture of it.)

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Of course, from there it went downhill (or rather, uphill). We left the reserve around lunchtime and found a sandwich and a mango smoothie before attempting to find the Bosque Estatal de Maricao, which has a great reputation for hiding the rare Elfin Woods Warbler. What. An. Epic. Failure. After an hour and a half of searching for the state forest and winding up on not one, but three people’s farms, we decided to just cut our losses and go visit Cabo Rojo, an hour’s drive to the west, to find some shorebirds.

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