Pedro gave us a warm welcome at the airport and brought us to the biggest mall in the Caribbean. More because we needed breakfast/lunch than anything else and he needed to buy Christmas presents. We had sandwiches with mayoketchup (mayonnaise, ketchup and a bunch of garlic) and sorullitos. We hung out at the mall and later saw Rogue One in the mall's cinema. We spent the night at Pedro's aunt's hotel because Juan would arrive the next day in San Juan (yes, Juan in San Juan :) He was in Finland with Pedro and me, we had a Christmas Toas Building Reunion). We watched a football game and then I slept 10 hours straight. I cannot remember the last time I slept so much. We took Juan from the airport the next day and Pedro brought us to a food chain called Los Pinos. I had Mofongo, which is mashed plantains with garlic and garlic sauce. It tastes like heaven. You just need to prepare yourself and the people around you for disgusting garlic smells for approximately 72 hours :) we went grocery shopping and then headed back to Isabela to meet Pedro's family and had a very warm welcome at his parents place, where we met Edna and José, Pedro's parents, and Edna, Pedro's grandmother. His parents had organized a beach house for us which belongs to friends of the family. It was a really great place, cozy, well equipped and right in front of the ocean. And they also gave us plenty of groceries as a start up. Pedro's family is unbelievably generous. The first day at the beach house we relaxed, Pedro's dad came around and made us Piña Colada and we went to the beach. An undercurrent once took me away from the shore really fast and Juan and Pedro were ready to rescue me (Marc was not at the beach yet) but then the current changed and I was taken back to the beach. A good lesson in not to underestimate currents. The next day was full of food, drinks and board games. We played Modern Art and Domino. I never knew that this was a game except from building a path with the dominoes that you can push. Although I had a feeling :) The beach house had a great old Domino table and we played outside. It was a very relaxed day. The day after Juan and Marc wanted to check out the surf spot while I needed to do our laundry. Pedro, Dalina and I left Juan and Marc at the beach and drove to Pedro's parents to do laundry and pic up Pedro's brother Alexis, who had arrived the day before. Pedro's mum prepared vegetarian lasagna especially for Dalina and me. That was so nice! We would have it and vegetarian rice and beans from his grandmother (seriously this family is overwhelming!) for dinner. We spent some more hours at the beach, Dalina took pictures, we watched Juan surf (Marc was not in the mood), threw the football for a bit and then got back to the beach house. Pedro's mum, dad, grandma and Alexis godmother Myriam came for dinner and also brought cake. I mentioned that these people are overwhelming right? :) we planned to get up early the next day because Marc and I wanted to go diving one last time this year. Pedro took us to a dive shop and the owner immediately suggested that we try out the DPV (Diver Propulsion Vehicle). A device that drags or pushes you under water so that you don't need to move on your own, which saves you a lot of air and therefore you get more bottom time. We had a dry introduction and one in shallow water and then went down. It was really much fun to just get pushed through the water. You can get a real good speed with those devices but I only tried a higher speed once for a short time because we came to enjoy diving not racing :) in the end our bottom time was 62 minutes. I guess we could have had even more but I had some ear problems for a while and that made me nervous and breath heavier. We saw a bunch of new fishes (still need to ask the shop owner for the names), two rays (spotted in some way), a manta ray and green turtles.The shop owner (he and a dive master had come with us) brought us to the nearby beach where Pedro, Dalina, Alexis, Juan and Pedro's mum as well as Pedro's cousin were. We stayed for some hours and then had an early dinner to go out afterwards. Marc and I were not really in the mood so we didn't stay long.
On the 23rd we drove to Mayagüez and went hiking in a desert like environment - the Bosque Seco de Guánica. On the way there my left eye began to burn as if I got sun screen in it or something. This continued and got worse so I think it was an allergic reaction of some kind. My nose ran and I had a bad headache. Pedro gave me pills against allergy related symptoms and it got a bit better for a while. But then it got worse again. Anyway, we did a great Biolumniescent Bay Tour in the evening and the guys went into dark water filled with illuminating plankton. That looked really cool and I wanted to go in there too but I didn't feel healthy enough. After the tour we went to Pedro's grandparents and the guys had a shower while Pedro's grandmother prepared Cuban coffee for us. Best coffee ever!! Very sweet and a Kitkat with it makes it perfect. :) Pedro, Dalina, Juan and Alexis went to a house party and Marc and I went straight to bed. And then it was Christmas. The 24th in Puerto Rico is not the main Christmas day to come together, it is the 25th, like in the United States. However Pedro's parents invited us on the 24th for dinner and there was veggie rice, plantain veggie lasagna and traditional lasagna. Unbelievable delicious food! I stuffed myself until I got cramps :)
Later that night we played some board games and Andres - a friend of Pedro - visited us. We played the first time ''Funemployed'' and had some really good laughs.
On the 26th we were invited to Myriams lovely house along with 30 other friends and family of Myriams. It was a feast. José had prepared a whole pig, seasoned it and then it was on the self constructed BBQ for 10 hours. I've never seen a whole pig roasting before. Before the pig was ready there were appetizers which could easily stuff you if you were not careful. My favorite was a vegetarian version of Cielito lindo: Cream cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and more cheese sprinkled on top. There was also a great selection of drinks. We had Coquito - Dalina called it the Puerto Rican version of eggnog :) - and ate from Juan's sausages and the cheese he had brought, had corn chips, fresh coconuts... Everything you could wish for was already there. At least that's what I thought at this time. Then the pig was ready. José brought it to the terrace and then he chopped the whole animal with a machete. I swear my arm would have been numb after 5 hits. It was fascinating to watch him. He gave Marc and me a first plate to try right away. It was soooo delicious. Very soft meat and the seasoning was amazing. No wonder after José was done and the pig was on the buffet it was gone in no time. For the pig there were a lot of more side dishes, rice with sausage, pasteles de yuca and pasteles de guineo, batatas con manzanas and fufu - the Cuban version of Mofongo. And if you think that it was over now - nope. Dessert. Four different kinds to be more specific. Tembleque (a coconut pudding), arroz con dulce, a vanilla tart and a Christmas cake. The Tembleque was my favorite and I was lucky to get a second :) After this astounding feast we relaxed a bit at Myriams place and then got back to the beach house for some more board games and Alexis and Dalina told us a lot about Puerto Rican culture.
The 26th was reserved for the parranda. A tradition which involves instruments, singing, food and drinks. Sounds good right? So here is what happens at the parranda: a group gathers with instruments (drums, rattles, tambourines, we even had a snairdrum and big percussions) and goes from house to house. As I understand it, originally the owner houses you went to had no notice of the event and were surprised by the people. Therefore they had no food prepared and made what was in the house, which was most certainly rice and chicken. So the traditional food for a parranda became rice and chicken soup. The group of people goes to the house and starts to play and sing songs. It can be traditional Christmas songs or modern versions of it. We heared songs specifically written and concerning the event of the parranda. Anything that is good to party seems to be fine. There is also a thing called ''la bomba''. The people singing call for la bomba and then the music stops. One person of the group is required to rap some short lines and when it was a good performance everybody cheers and the song continues. If it was a bad performance the group sings in response something like ''he/she has no idea how la bomba works'' and continues with another song. That is amazingly funny. Even if you don't understand every word in Spanish. After the performance - which lasts approximately 10 minutes - the owner of the house gives food to the group. Traditionally it was a surprise but now at least one family member knows about the parranda and has time to prepare food. Which is still chicken soup but for example I also saw chocolate and olives. After the meal the group goes to the next house which is now chosen in advance. After the second house we've been at we went to pick up Abdiel and Justin. Their flight had been delayed and they arrived one day later than expected. Abdiel and Pedro know each other since high school and Justin is Abdiels friend. When we arrived at the third house, which was also the last one - the people ate already and I was afraid that Justin would miss out on the great music. But the group started to play again for another 10 to 15 minutes in the end. Abdiel and Dalina danced in a circle of musicians and Justin was dancing in the front row. So everything worked out fine. After the parranda had come to an end we stayed a bit to talk to friends of Abdiel and Pedro and then went back to the beach house.
We woke up after a few hours, cleaned the beach house and left for the Canales de Riego. Andres came, too, with his brother Pedro and some other friends. After a superlong search Pedro had finally found tubes some days earlier in Kmart so we had cozy transportation on the canal. We entered the canal not very graceful because there is no entrance :) The first hour was a bit wearisome. A landslide had blocked a part of the canal and we had to get us and our tubes out of the canal. We walked a bit until we found a good spot to enter again. The canal is sometimes wider and sometimes so narrow that the tubes barley fit. In narrow parts the water flows faster (physics! :)) and in such a part there was a bridge which we couldn't pass because our tubes were to high. So Pedro, who was in front, stopped and we all followed. But because the water pressure was so high we were pressed against each other until our tubes flipped over. I lost balance and fell into the canal. One of my feet got stuck in a rope that surrounded the tubes so I had one foot in the air and I lost track of the directions for a moment and the other tubes over my head blocked me from the surface. But I got up after a couple of seconds and Justin and Abdiel came to the rescue. Justin grabbed me and pushed me up on the side of the canal where Abdiel was already and pulled me up. I lost my 10th pair of sunglasses, one of my flip flops and my scarf during the incident. We took a moment to recover and then started over again after the narrow bridge. The view from the canal is astounding. You are in the middle of the jungle and there is no way out of it but down the canal. Sometimes the canal is up to 20 m or so and you have a great overview. We went through 22 1/2 tunnels. The 1/2 was more a bridge but it was marked as ''2 1/2'' :)
After the canals and a shower we went to a restaurant called Atlantico. They have great local food and Pizza. You get a family sized pizza which they call ''medium'' for $ 11. After this stuffing with Puerto Rican treats we got to another beach house which Edna and José had rented. An amazing view over the ocean! We were really tired and therefore went to bed early. The next morning I had the leftovers of my pizza on the terrace in front of the ocean. Life is good. Abdiel and Justin came and brought Limbers. This is ice cream in plastic cups which origin only from one store in Puerto Rico. The family is in business since 1970 and never gave their recipe for the original flavor ''Mantecado'' (which simply translates to ice cream) away. An unforgettable taste. I had plenty of them during the next 36 hours. Then we joined Edna, José and Alexis at the beach with our tubes. The boys had some fun with those because there were currents at the beach which is surrounded by rock formations. Dalina and I mostly relaxed in the sand. In the evening José prepared an awesome BBQ dinner with chorizo wine sauce, rips, steakes, veggies burgers, three kinds of potatoes and what not. Marc and I went to bed early and the rest had a fun night playing board games. Marc was getting a cold unfortunately. The next day we brought our stuff to Abdiels father's house and drove to Rincon. We found a surfing beach and Juan rented a surfboard while the rest of us relaxed in the shade. In the evening we went to a restaurant called Mahi Mahi were Marc had the same called fish and I had Mofongo with veggies and tomatoe sauce. We all shared a Mojito pitcher and I honestly cannot remember if I ever had one before but it was delicious. After dinner we went to a place with bars which also had some kind of art flea market on the market plaza. It was a nice evening. We slept at Abdiels place and drove to San Juan the next day to see the old town and the Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a citadel built in the 16th century. They excepted our annual pass for the US National Parks there. Yeay! Unfortunately we had a bunch of problems with the owner of the flat we had booked and Pedro and Dalina lost some hours with organizational crap. :( Marc meanwhile was struggling with his cold. Even the steps in the Morro were hard to take for him. After we had a nice walk back to the car (and a snack at the food stands in between) we relaxed in the apartment for a bit. Pedro, Dalina and Juan got out to party in San Juan. Abdiel and Justin ordered Pizza and we called it a day. In the morning we got up relatively early to see the Yunque National Park. Marc stayed in the apartment for some extra hours of sleep. We had sandwiches and treats at a bakery on the way. And after some confusion we found the path to the waterfall Pedro and Abdiel had been looking for. It was a nice walk down to a great waterfall. The basin was filled with people who were not afraid of cold water. I skipped the experience because I had it before :) then all of a sudden there was pouring rain and people fled from the waterfall to their ponchos and under the trees. My only concern was Marc's camera which I protect like one of my own. Haha. It was not harmed in any way. We decided to go back early because we were all soaked and it was cold in the rain forest compared to everywhere else in Puerto Rico. We took Marc from the apartment and headed back to Isabela. We made a quick stop at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. We had never heard of it but Justin and Abdiel recommend it with passion. The donuts are freshly made and you can see the process. The glazed ones are their specialty. As I don't favor glazed donuts I just took one and two others which I came to regret. Holy shit!! Those are delicious.
For the evening (New Years Eve) we were invited to Pedro's aunt Claire. There was another pig waiting but already chopped :) and different rices, plantains, salads, a lot to drink and a great chicken soup after midnight. It was a really nice New Years celebration. We hang out, danced, played pool billard and dominoes. A good way to start the new year. On New Years Day Edna and José invited family and friends over. We had a bunch of food (also vegetarian for Dalina and me), dominoes and great conversations. Even one completely in German with a young man who studies German for 5 years now and wants to study in Germany in the future.
The next day we took Juan to the airport and had lunch in San Juan. In the evening we drove to Rincon to see the sunset at a bar where they serve rum in Coconuts. Pedro, Alexis and I played a bit of ping pong and afterwards we drove to Mayagüez, Pedro's college town to visit the campus. It was great to see where he and Dalina had studied and lived. The town plaza was full of people and colorful decorated. We liked it a lot. Later we said goodbye to Dalina but we would see her again because she would come to bring us to the airport with her family. But Pedro said goodbye to her because he would leave the next day. To say goodbye to Pedro the next morning was especially sad - after all he is the reason we chose Puerto Rico as a destination for this year and made our stay an unforgettable experience. But it is fair to say that his family and friends did a great job and much more than that to make this adventure perfect. We are very happy to have met all of them, to get to know them and to have spent some time in their lives.
Yesterday was the last day in Isabela. We prepared a meal for Edna, José and Alexis. Today Dalina and her family borught us to San Juan, where our flight leaves in the morning of January the 6th to New York City. Thank you Dalina for the great ride and for all the great pictures.
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