San Juan, Rio Abajo Forest
It’s the first time I’ve flown with Virgin for 20 years and my expectations are high. It’s therefore disappointing that the food is awful, the seats are old and the entertainment screens keep breaking. Worst of all, a member of staff is late which means I was sitting on the plane for two hours before it even takes off.
Most people get off the plane in Antigua, and following some security checks it takes off again for the final 50 minutes towards San Juan. After 13 hours, I’ve finally arrived in Puerto Rico.
Following a successful year, my company rewards staff (and their ‘plus one’) with a holiday. It tends to be a beach resort in the Caribbean, so Susanne and I are extremely lucky that this year is Puerto Rico, where there are dozens of things to do aside from sitting on a beach. There are a couple of dinners and a day of company-organised activities, but I’ve added four days to the beginning of the trip to explore the rest of the island.
As a US colony, I don’t get to tick off another new country, but I’m still surprised at how American it is. Once we collect the hire car, I’m shocked at the number of chain stores and restaurants. We drive west and there’s a burger place almost every single kilometre. It’s built up and a bit dirty, but aside from the road signs in Spanish, it really feels like the US.
The road gets less busy the further from San Juan we travel. About 80km along the motorway, we take a turn towards Utuado, which means we’re heading south into the rural centre of the island. It’s pitch black outside, but the headlights illuminate the twisting road into the jungle. As we reach the Casa Grande Mountain Retreat, it feels like we’ve suddenly been transported into Latin America. Locals sit by the road with friends, food and drinks; the bamboo trees hang over our heads and the dogs sleep in the middle of the road without a care in the world.
I couldn’t ask for a better setting: The only thing separating me from the thick, forest trees and plants is the mosquito netting. The jungle noises make me feel a million miles away from home and I’m asleep the moment my head hits the pillow.