Monday, 23 March 2015

On wasting away in Cheesesteak-a-Ville

The mobile version of US Airways' website didn't want to check me in as my flight connection in Philly was only about 70 minutes. It took a phone to the airline to determine my best course of action was to go to the airport and get checked-in manually this morning. This worked but it robbed me of the chance of getting an aisle seat. Instead, I got window seats.

Ironically, my flight landed at Philadelphia about half an hour ahead of schedule and then had a very short taxi to the terminal. This early arrival and quick taxi may have been due to an inflight medical emergency, which delayed disembarking as paramedics examined the patient and then removed him from the plane.

Once in Terminal A, I found out that my flight to Montreal was in Terminal F which involved a shuttle bus ride across the tarmac. Then I found out that my flight to Montreal has been delayed by about an hour!

I had loaded a Jimmy Buffet album onto my iPhone for this trip. The last song on it is called "Volcano" and features the line "I don't want to land in no San Juan airport". This was written a long ago (in 1979 in point of fact). This can be determined by the presence of Air Margaritaville Restaurant and Bar once past security.
Margaritaville is the name of one Jimmy Buffet's most famous song and the name of a chain of restaurants he licensed. I can't help wondering if changing the lyrics in live performances was part of the airport's conditions! ;-)

"So I'm wasting away in Cheesesteak-a-Ville/
but I know it's US Airways' fault."

With apologies to Jimmy Buffet.

On my current location

On board my plane out of San Juan.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

On my last days in Puerto Rico

As previously mentioned, yesterday's final section was fairly short and ultimately sweet. I might have done better to include some more coastal sections, but as I would have had to go back inland, I opted to stick to to the main road of urban sprawl until route 688 which took down to the coast. I was surprised by a relative lack of beach bars and the like though perhaps I shouldn't have as one of the municipalities I went through was called "Dorado" and had that feel of wealth about it. There was a long stretch near the ocean untouched by significant development. One the inland side, iguanas had burrows in the sand. Evolution seems to have worked faster here as there were far more live than dead iguanas around and live ones seemed more readier to flee than elsewhere. Either that or the local government was faster at road kill removal! ;-)

Somewhere, I failed to make a turn that would brought me past a Bacardi museum which would have been fun, though potentially dangerous! ;-) I found the ferry terminal and thereby closed my tour around Puerto Rico. As previously mentioned, I arrived early by about two and half hours. Viejo San Juan is many things but it is not much of a place to explore with a laden touring bike on a nice Saturday. I found some lunch from a street vendor that allowed me to keep an eye on Leonardo and the bags. My Puerto Rican readers should not think that this is any form of prejudice against them, merely my standard practice in large, busy cities, especially in tourist areas. I wouldn't leave a laden bike out of sight in Old Montreal.

Anyway, I eventually made my way to my hotel in Contado. By that time, I was sufficiently hot and sweaty that all I really wanted was a shower and a toes-up.

Today was spent doing various touristy things, especially the fort system. On odd thing I noticed in the Museo de las Americas was a very inconsistent policy regarding language. Some exhibits had signs in Spanish and English, others were Spanish only. If there was a logic to it, it escaped me. As well, in at least one gallery, the Spanish signs were about twice the size as the English ones.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

On the benefit of having not worn the red shirt

If I had the advantage of the insight into Puerto Rico that I have now at the beginning of this trip I would have spent two nights in Arecibo instead of the nights in Hatillo and Manati. This would have allowed me to leave a significant amount of weight behind on the trip into Karst Country as it is known. If I recall correctly, and doubtless Father will correct if I am wrong, karst rock formations are limestone upon which time and water have had time to play. Depending on the region, they can take on pretty spectacular forms. In Puerto Rico, this means sinkholes and related structures.

As my skin was at the bubble stage of sunburn, I wore my long-sleeved jersey to protect my forearms. Otherwise, it would have been the turn of the red Star Trek jersey I wore in the Mango Cycling interview.

I set off up hill along relatively gently rising farm roads before joining a slightly bigger road which had the advantage of more carefully thought out hills and a wonderfully wide paved shoulder. This brought me to the Cavernas de Rio Camuy. At the gate there was a list of vehicle fees which only got as small as motorcycles. When I rolled up, the man jokingly inspected Leonardo as if searching for stowaways. There was no charge but he handed me a numbered ticket the significance of which I wasn't altogether clear on.

The Cavernas de Rio Camuy is run by a profit-oriented company which is a pity as it could be done so much better. After buying my entry ticket, I found out that the numbered ticket was they order in which I would get on the trolley to go to the actual site. At the time I arrived, this involved an hour's restless waiting, thankfully in the shade. Had the company been more enlightened, it would have some panels explaining the geology of what we were about to see.
My turn came and I got on the trolley (two trailers of seats pulled by an airport luggage tractor). My unasked question of why don't they have a walking path was answered by the sheer depth of the sinkhole we went down surrounded by lush vegetation with mostly unseen birds crying out in the background.
 We got off and entered the damp and cool cavern. I had brought my rain jacket with me and was glad of it. The entry tunnel was relatively low, only slightly higher than me but it soon opened up into easily the largest cave I have ever been in. Moreover, it was a cave of stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone. It also had a population of bats, crickets, spiders and crabs. It was lit by artfully located lights, though I wished I had brought my headlamp in order to inspect some the details. Our route led to another sinkhole, deeper and with much steeper walls than the first. There were tremendously long roots hanging down from the trees above. At a guess I would say at least 400 feet.
Our guide was enthusiastic, but to me he was undereducated in the subject matter. For one thing, he said cavern was about twenty million years old. My impression as a geologist's son is that such caverns are ephemeral in geologic terms, a notion reinforced by a very large rock that had fallen from the ceiling in relatively recent times. The guide said it was before his time which meant little as the cavern was only fully explored in 1958. For all we really know, there could a crushed conquistador under that rock.
A trolley ride later, I was back on Leonardo and heading of to the Radiotelescope. It clearly isn't as popular as the roads weren't as well laid out. It was cattle country. (Hatillo has a sign giving the population as thirty-eight odd thousand and thirty odd thousand "vacas"!) I came around and down a bend to see a large bull with some very large horns. The horns were thick and went up rather than sideways like a Texas longhorn. I stop to take some pictures of the nearly motionless beast. As I watched it chew its cud, I had the silly thought: "It's a good thing I didn't wear the red shirt today as I would've it to charge me!"
The road that led to the observatory was tough with steep up hills and downhills. I had to push Leonardo several times. On one such incline, my phone rang. It was a call from the place I was to spend the night in Hatillo. The timing was unfortunate as I was out of breath, tired and being barked at by dogs. Consequently, I didn't get as much information from the people as I should have leading the trouble finding the place later on.
The observatory was very impressive. One more surprising uses they have put it to is to radar image asteroids! The short film they showed us made me suspect that new uses for it will be found in the years to come.

My trip back to Route 2 led me onto quite a small road that apparently doubled as a dump for the locals. I could hear a car behind me as a big truck appeared in front of me. I decided the best course of action was to get off the road and into the concert gutter as there was barely enough space for the two of them! The truck and car sorted themselves out. As he drove past, the young man in the car gave me an appreciative thumbs up in thanks.

On finishing

Finished! Too early as well! Admittedly, I cheated slightly by taking a ferry across San Juan Harbour but given that meant I avoid a lot of traffic and industrial areas, I think I am justified! I came across a cyclist who had read about me just before I left Route 3 for Route 688. I am waiting for my hotel room to be ready in a plaza nearby.

Fidel Ramirez later made a comment which I may have accidentally deleted.  It read:
"Nice to heard that everything was ok .....the ferry you just mention is the " lancha de cataño " so famous in PR .

Hope you like[d] your ride around PR

Friday, 20 March 2015

On a long tough day

Warning: short entry as I am physically and emotionally wiped.

The first is from having ridden a laden Leonardo up to the Cavernas de Rio Camuy and to the Arecibo Radiotelescope then ridden like mad to get to Manati before the sunset.

Then my bed for the night proved to be very hard to find which was draining as the sun set and I had to dig out my headlamp. I was doing what I really didn't want to do: ride at night in Puerto Rico, especially on a Friday when drivers are more likely to be tired and/or possibly drunk. All the while hindsight was telling me "I told you so."

Thursday, 19 March 2015

On coco frio and reef fish

I had planned to withdraw some more cash today (it being payday and all) but didn't give too much mind. I left Mayaguez on route 2 before leaving it at Aguadilla. I rode along the waterfront observing surfers and their antics. I left what I think of as Aguadilla proper by a lovely, but climbing twisty road shadowed by lush vegetation. It made for a cool but slightly humid climb.

Not too far from a slightly sleepy airport, I found a Banco Popular with a ATM. For some reason, it rejected my debit card. I tried my credit card as well and got the same result. I headed off hoping I would come across a more international bank such as Scotiabank (they have them here) or Santander. However, as I was down to less than $10 USD in terms of hard cash, I was a bit nervous.

I had turned the corner into the metaphorical home stretch along the North Coast. The trade wind was now in my face and progress was slower. As well, the sunburns on my arms began to bubble so I slathered on quite a lot of sunscreen. As well, I opted for a coastal bike path for a bit. All this combined to leave my legs with a lot of dust and sand on them by the end of the day!

The bike path ended at Isabella (named I assume for the back half of Ferdinand and Isabella).  I had steep climb and push to back on top of the bluff where the town center was. There, in a square surrounded with neatly painted buildings I found a Santander ATM from which extracted lovely money! I celebrated with piña colada sherbet at Rex Cream.

Later, I stopped to try coco frio at a roadside stand. I wasn't expecting the coconut juice to come in a half gallon plastic jug!

I found my hotel in Hatillo. (The "h" is silent.) The desk clerk knew me nearly on sight as she was the one who had taken my reservation the day before in which there had been mention of my bike. ;-) She tried to sell me on the hotel's pool though I was rather more interested in the (public) beach beyond the stand of mangrove trees behind the hotel.

After doing the day's hand washing of clothes, I set off in bathing togs, mask and snorkel in hand. There was a lovely sandy beach in a small lagoon with a little barrier reef of its own.  I waded in, then swam with my head down. The bottom was sand for a bit with little to see, until I noticed a fish foraging on the bottom. Your genuine, real life, wild, tropical fish. For someone brought up on a regular diet of nature documentaries, this was muy cool. And as such a person, I knew there would like be more fish nearer the rocky bits. Which indeed there was. I even think there was some "brain coral". The fish were of an assortment of about a dozen species, some with bold yellows and blues, others drab silver. They were mostly shaped a bit like spades from a deck of cards of their sides. The exception was one fish about a foot or more long that was long, slender and had a lean and hungry look about it. I can't say for certain but it looked a more actively predatory fish than the others, possibly something in the barracuda family. Unlike the other fish, it hung near the surface.

That swim was a definite highlight of this trip!

On reactions to the interview

En primer lugar, muchas gracias a mis amigos puertorriqueños.

Firstly, I would like thank all the people in Puerto Rico who wrote to me today.

The interview was published last night and I got a number of emails and comments from readers. I have yet to answer all of them. My apologies for any tardiness. Please know that I am very touched by your good wishes.

I must confess that I have not had the time to read the interview in full as my Spanish is limited and the screen on my iPhone is small. ;-)

I did note I had made an error in stating my daily mileages. I have checked my spreadsheet and to date the range of distances I have ridden (including getting lost, side trips and the like but excluding the rest day) is 74 to 92 kilometers with three of the five clocking in at about 85.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

On being interviewed

I left Ponce on Highway 2 which had become an autopista whilst I was relaxing. There was a nice wide shoulder for me. The choice was that or a very circuitous squiggle of roads well inland. It wasn't a bad choice though the presence of circling turkey vultures was disconcerting. ;-) One choice I did regret was doing a "whee" on the shoulder in an area where rumble strips separated me front the regular traffic. A patch of gravel on the pavement came into view and I had a nervous few seconds as I slowed down as much as I could then released the brakes and lifted myself up slightly to better take the impact of the debris. No harm was done and I continued on. I later found I had been doing about 66 km/h before braking.

I made a mental note to use a traffic lane the next a "whee" came up on an autopista morph of a Puerto Rican highway.  The same highways can go from quasi superhighways to narrow streets laid out more than a hundred years ago to winding "jungle mountain" roads. These multiple personalities are typical of Puerto Rico where the speed limits are in miles per hour, but the distances are in kilometers. In much of the Island, addresses are determined by the kilometer signs. For example, the hotel I will be staying in tomorrow night has the address of Highway 2, km 84.6.  I am not sure what they do when they change the routing of a road which might shorten or the lengthen the distances from "km 0.0" of a particular highway.  A further complication emerged when I saw a series of signs giving conflicting distances!

I left the 2 at Guayanilla. I took the quieter and more picturesque 121, through hills, forests and small cities. At the intersection of 121 and 332, I stopped in a shady spot opposite a plant nursery to check my map. I knew that I was going continue on the 121, but I wanted gauge my progress as well as work out what I would do when the 121 came to an end. A voice called out with an American accent asking me "Why use a map when you can talk to someone?" One of the people at the plant nursery was evidently offended at my "snobby" behavior. Or at least pretended to be.

I rolled on to San Germán (pronounced "San Hermán"). This town was founded in about 1511. Its original location was on the coast, but after a few too many raids by French pirates, privateers and the like, in about 1573, it was moved to its present location. One of its church, Porta Ceoli dates from 1606. I visited the town's museum.

As I was leaving it to go to Porta Ceoli, I was approached by a group led by a fit looking man who I believe was older than my parents. He asked about my trip in unaccented English. He wanted to know if I would be going to the mountain bike race in Boqueron that weekend! His wife(?) revealed that he was a doyen of triathlons and such. She then invited me to spend the night with them! Unfortunately, it turned out that they lived somewhere up in the mountains well out of my way. Nice though. I asked them where a good place to have lunch would be. They directed me to Punto Frio.

It was muy frio inside, almost too cold for comfort in hot weather biking togs. I ordered a turkey sandwich which took a bit too long. I chatted a bit with one of the employees. Just as I was about get up to go, he gave me a desert on the house which took the form of sherbet, sliced bananas and strawberry with a touch of chocolate sauce and some seeds on top. (It was a yuppy place.) The confection went down well.

I rolled along highway 114 which was in need of some weed whacking as the vegetation was encroaching on the roadway. A little before Hormigueros, a car pulled alongside me. The driver called out and asked me if I was prepared to be interviewed!!!

He was involved with an organisation call Mango Cycling (website which I understand is a local cycling group. (I have looked at the website a bit but it isn't iPhone browsing friendly.) Apparently, he had seen Leonardo in San Germán and was curious as to who was bike touring as this form of tourism is fairly rare in Puerto Rico. Anyway, he recorded the interview on a tablet computer. He noted that I didn't use a GPS. He asked a question about how I found the roads and the heat. I gave a bit of groan and said I didn't know how the locals coped as I have been finding the heat a challenge. He laughed and pointed out that this is winter in Puerto Rico! I agreed but did add that my body is acclimatized to a particularly cold Montreal winter. He asked about mileage per day. I revealed that I keep track in kilometers, but that I had been doing about 60 or 80 kilometers. He enquired about my reaction to Puerto Rican drivers who aren't used to cyclists. My honest reply was that I hadn't any issues. He then warned me about "rush hour" drivers who supposed to be particularly bad. He (Fidel) took a picture of me (slathered in sunscreen) and said the interview would on the website in a few days.

I feel a bit chuffed!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

On the South Coast

The trade winds blew me along quite merrily along the South Coast which is drier and somewhat flatter. As I have already got too much sun, I donned my only long sleeved jersey, the bright yellow one I am wearing in my portrait at the right.

In Guayama, I stopped to buy a banana from a street vendor. When he saw that I only wanted one, he refused to take my money in return! I was a bit embarrassed. We chatted in Spanglish and mime as neither of us had much mastery of the other's language. I think he wanted to know if I was afraid of being hit by a car. I tried to convey my philosophy on the matter which that if you worry too much about having an accident, you don't get to live life to its fullest.  He seemed to get my point and gave me a second banana!

Having stated the above, I find myself sounding a mite hypocritical as I am a world-class worrier. My defense in the matter is that I am rarely worried about traffic. Also, while I do worry about some things, I do go out and do them. As well, one can have an ideal and still fall short of it. Douglas Adams wrote after finding himself going gorilla watching with a dozen porters worth of stuff: "I believe in traveling light. I also believe in shopping early for Christmas and giving up smoking."

Shortly before entering Aguirre, I saw what looked like green parrot with a length of vegetation fly overhead. Subsequently, I have read that the endemic and endangered Puerto Rican parrot doesn't live in that neck of the woods but that other species of parrot have escaped to form small colonies.

I made a side trip to a nature reserve next to the old town of Aguirre. This had been a thriving sugar refining and exporting centre until the bottom dropped out of the market in about 1960. There was evidence of an old railway complete with a small cranes at the edge of fields to lift the sugar cane onto railway cars. The old section of the town was full of older wooden buildings with high peaked roofs, as opposed to the newer flat roofed concrete houses. The old houses looked sad and dingy. On the edge of this was a coastal ecosystem reserve something or other. There is a herd of manatee in the waters offshore and a mangrove swamp to visit. However, the only company I saw were a trio of feral dogs.

Puerto Rico has a lot of stray/feral dogs. They are fairly sorry-looking lot, especially the bitches. Thankfully, they are generally pretty leery of people. The dogs that bark are usually pets!

I stopped for lunch pollo asado y yucca at the edge of Salinas at a roadside stand. Before me in the line was a Puerto Rican National Guardswoman who was apparently about to bring lunch back to her buddies. A mongrel lurked in the shade of a lamppost nearby watching casually in the hopes that something would come its way. Sure enough, one of my table mates eventually threw it a bone.

As I was leaving Salinas, I came across Bertos Bicycle Shop. It was a very low-key establishment run out of Bertos garage. I stopped to see if he had a proper inner tube as the Walmart bought one was slightly too small. Despite the language barrier, we managed and I got a proper replacement. If I am any judge of bike shops, then I think Bertos caters to the local population's everyday bikes. Puerto Rico has a significant population of low-end, going around the pueblo cyclists. These tend to be male. One sign of this was a ordinary refrigerator with a hand written sign giving the prices of the soft drinks therein. To me this suggested that the locals would hang around and chat as per the Puerto Rican custom. Bertos wanted to know what I was up to, so I pulled out a small map sketched out my travels and planned travel in broad strokes. He was interested. He also admired Leonardo.

Between Santa Isabel and Ponce, there was a long stretch of fairly straight road with bushes on either side and a depressing amount of road kill. Iguanas, dogs and mongooses were all present. Possibly the dogs were killed trying feed on the road kill iguanas. I saw one live dog looking as if it was about to eat a freshly killed iguana.

Ponce is named after the famous/infamous conquistador Ponce de León. The City has drawn the emblem of the "Lion" from his name to use as a civic symbol. Currently there are a dozen or so lion statues at two corners of the main plaza each painted differently by various local artists. (This sort of thing goes on a lot across the world. I wonder if it is a named art form?)

Today, I rode out of town a short distance to the Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tides. This archeological site was discovered in 1975 after flooding from a tropical storm revealed the site. It consists of a series of ceremonial plazas edged with stones. The culture has been dated to the period of about 600 to 1200 AD. It seems to have been one of the more elaborate cultures in the Caribbean though nothing is known about it outside of the archeological remains.

I have spent the rest of the putzing around the city centre. Ponce has kept much of its Spanish colonial architecture.

One weird bit is the Parque de Bombas which sounds rather alarming to English speakers until it is remembered that Bombas refers to fire trucks. It is an eccentric red and black stripped building and houses a small museum to volunteer firefighters and a tourist information office.

Next to it is one of the most surprising things I have seen in this trip: a bike repair estacion. There is a pump for tires and a selection of bike tools attached to metal cables. I didn't see anyone use it, but I must inform Vélo-Québec that Ponce has one upped them! (Outside Vélo-Québec's office in Montreal, they have pump which gets much use.)

Part of me regrets that I didn't take two full weeks off for this jaunt as there are some places I might have gone but for a lack of time. Such is life.

Monday, 16 March 2015

On a quick entry

I don't feel like writing something elaborate right now so a short summary of the day. It was a good day and I am now in Ponce where I will spend two nights. I may have seen a parrot.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

On a day of firsts

Some firsts for the day:
Swam in the Caribbean;
Saw a live wild iguana, as opposed to the much more easily seen road kill iguana;
Snorkeled in the Caribbean;
Tried Medalla Light, a Puerto Rican beer of no particular merit but suitable for hot humid weather; 
Chatted with some Puerto Rican cyclists of the Weekend spandex subspecies;
Had flat tire in my brand new rear tire caused by a large piece glass (I could have done without that one);
This caused me to shop at Walmart for the first time in order to get a second spare inner tube;
Wrote a blog entry in a hammock strung between two palm trees with the Caribbean breaking on a reef to my right.

The peloton of Puerto Rican cyclists passed me with cheery shouts shortly after leaving Fajardo. I caught up with after they had stopped in the shade of an overpass. I chatted with them and asked them to verify which of the several possibilities in sight was Puerto Rico Highway 3. (Puerto Rico has a shortage of proper signage and it is sometimes quite easy to lose ones way. I have been using the map functions on the iPhone a lot.) Anyway, I started to chat in a mix of English and Spanish. They were fairly impressed by what I was planning to do today and warned me about a pass on Highway 3 I would have to face. One of them said it would take me until 5 or 6.

A little later, at about Ceiba, I heard the sound of a loudspeaker. I went around a corner to see a baseball game about to start. It was sparsely attended with fewer spectators than players in the elaborate stadium. I later passed another better attended baseball game. 

I went through a beach town of Playa Húcares with some old and quite elaborate old houses (Victorian era). One was a burnt out stone shell, whereas the one across the street was immaculately painted in pink with white trim.

A little around Playa Naguabo, I witnessed a parade of tricked jeeps making a lot of noise under police escort. Thankfully, it was going the other way. Puerto Rico has a car culture that I hope I am undermining by my example and that of large group of ordinary cyclist including lots of kids I saw riding the other way about 10 minutes later. They waved and cheered at everyone in general and I think me in particular.

Not too long after lunch, the Route 3 pass out of Yabucoa valley into Maunabo valley came looming up. There were several blessings associated with it. The first and most important was that an autopista with a tunnel had been built so traffic was relatively light and trucks were banned from it. The second was that the sun was nearly on the other side of the ridge so there was much more shadow than had been going the other way. (I discovered that going down.) Thirdly, there was a roadside drinks stand about two thirds of the way, which is an admirable arrangement. Fourthly, the road rose consistently winding its way up a mountainside covered with luxuriant tropical vegetation complete with lianas handing down. It was not for the faint of heart as there was little in the way of roadside barriers and I was on the cliff side.

The descent was fun though not full blown "whee". Disc brakes would be good here.

Beyond was a small valley with another ridge beyond. Thankfully, Route 3 bypassed it by going next the sea on a cliff road. This had a roadside bar where I stopped and checked my time and distance coordinates. As it was about 2:30 PM, I had less that 9 kms to go and check-in was only after 3 PM, I decided it was Medalla Light time.

One beer later, I ventured forth and found my beach side destination. It was barely past 3 PM so phooey on the cyclists I had met this morning. ;-)

Saturday, 14 March 2015

On a mountain road

There are bad places to discover that two of the bolts holding your front rack on have wandered off but thankfully going up a mountain road in El Yunque National Forest is a much better place than going down such a road. However, it is a not a good place when you discover that your supply of spare bolts was accidentally left on your living room floor. I took off my third bottle cage and used those bolts to secure the rack. My theory is that I had been in such haste to get out of the firetrap hostel that I assembled Leonardo in too much haste and failed to tighten the bolts sufficiently.

I used the opportunity to get use a zip-tie to secure a bike computer wire that was too loose. I then noticed my sunglasses were missing. I rode back down the road for less than a kilometer before finding them intact.

It was a poor road choice brought on by bravado felt necessary by the previous days events. Also, the ride out of San Juan had been very nice with bike paths along the coast and through a mangrove swamp. I passed a couple being photographed for their shotgun wedding photographs. I saw a number of spandex cyclists going the other way including a fully supported tour. At a gas station in Loiza, the first town East of San Juan, I was surprised to see biker munchies on sale along with CO2 cartridges! I suspect it catered to wealthy cyclists out of San Juan.

I joined Highway 3 where a flashing sign warned of possible congestion ahead and aforementioned bravado led me to take the suggested alternate route. This was a narrow, twisty mountain road with poor altitude economy, i.e. it went up and down for little reason. It was also very steep and I got to push very often. When the road entered the National Forest, the only "American" tropical rain forest, it became much better with more altitude discipline and the vegetation cut well back from the road. It also began to rain fairly firmly which led me to take off my sunglasses and let them hang on their strap.

I had thought to go further up El Yunque, but by the time I got to the turn off to the really exciting bits, I went the other way.  I was damned if I was going to do any climbing more unnecessary climbing today. Also, I had started at sea level and the road would go up into the 2000 foot range.

Going down wasted the climb as there wasn't the whee factor as the road was too winding to allow me to let loose. I alternated using between front and rear brakes to avoid the rims overheating. I also stopped a couple of times.

I got Luquillo for slightly late lunch at a kiosk in a long line of beach restaurants. While maneuvering Leonardo, I became aware there was some weird with the front brake. Upon examination, my heart sank: I had put on the zip-tie in such a way that it was compressing the front brake cable. I scrambled to grab my jackknife and cut it off. I shudder to think what it might have caused.

The rest of the day went fairly smoothly. The hostel in Fajardo was very nice, safe and friendly. I managed to locate a bike shop in town that had more bolts. They gave them to me for free. I returned the favour to Universal Bike Shop, A-51 Ave. Conquistador, Monte Brisas, Fajardo, owned by Antonio (Tono) Rivera, by getting the Moon Light Bay Hostel to include it in their list of local services. They didn't have a bike shop listed this afternoon.

A better day, all the same. Oh, I saw a frigate bird.

Friday, 13 March 2015

On the last twenty-four hours

I was the first one out of the plane in San Juan.

Things went badly after that and involved a relatively expensive change of plans on account of the hostel being a dangerously cramped firetrap. An alternate solution has been put into effect at some effort. I am too tired, grumpy and embarrassed to go into details.

On the trip down

The flight attendant on the YUL to PHL called the aircraft a "Canada Air" CL 65. As we taxied along, she walked past my seat whereupon I pointed out that the name was "Canadair" and she should get it right as "the factory was right over there" and gestured vaguely to the left hoping my geography was right.

Now that I reflect on the matter, I hope that she was even more wrong as Canadair is now deeply a part of Bombardier and has been for a while. While I was studying aircraft engineering, Bombardier already had its paws on Canadair. The point of my fear is that the plane might have been old enough to vote or even buy booze in the U.S.!  I might have sat in it when it was being built the weekend Denise F. died.

On further examination of the data, Bombardier refers to the planes as CRJ-200's.

Then again, Bombardier is still building Regional Jets whereas Boeing is no longer building 757s like the one I am currently sitting in. This jet could be older that the "Canada Air".

US Airways/American Airlines makes Air Canada and WestJet look very good. In flight entertainment is an overhead screen showing a movie I have no interest in and there are no power sockets for recharging electronic devices. Then again the age thing might be at work. One of the panels in the lavatory near my seat was held in place with masking tape and it took them nearly two hours of flying time to turn off the seatbelts sign.

The online check-in process for the second flight initially put me in a "B" seat, i.e. a middle seat, neither window or aisle. There didn't seem to be a free (using two senses of the word (no cost and available)) aisle seat for me to pick. Then I began to wonder what the red seats near the front were. They were exit row seats which didn't have an actual cost attached to them but were reserved for people who could meet the physical and mental requirements. The first was being able-bodied. The second was two-fold: you had to be smart enough to operate the door properly and be fairly fluent in English. * As I met these requirements, I leapt at the opportunity to get an aisle seat. As well, it was near the entry door.

The plane loaded in good time and the doors were closed and armed. Then we waited for a time before it was announced that some one hadn't serviced the lavatories and we would have to wait a bit. We ended up taking off nearly an hour late. In theory, clement weather patterns mean the plane should be able to take up for some lost time. However, we will still be late and there is something of a cut-off time for check-in at the hostel. Originally, I had about two hours after arrival. Now, it is a darn sight tighter.

The cheesesteak I found was very tasty, though ultimately an exercise in beef, fat and salt. Unexpected pleasant surprise was the Yards India Pale Ale.

Update: at 8:45 it was announced we will only be about 15 minutes late. Still not impressed.

* On the safety card, there was a full panel devoted to exit row procedures which began with a warning blurb to this effect in English, Spanish and French. The rest of the panel was in English only.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

On the American wing of Trudeau Airport

After a "beware of spring break travel" article in the news, I opted to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. Robin was happy to oblige, so he and Benjy the dog showed up at 10. We drove out, Robin making his now traditional joke about how Benjy would be coming with me.

Security seemed particularly slow, partly because only about three of the dozen or so slots were open. However, the real cause was a family ahead of me who didn't seem to know how to get through security efficiently. The unused lines amplified the sense of delay.

The Americans let me through into the preclearance area with what turned to be about two hours to spare.

Trudeau seems quiet at this hour. The effect though is an illusion as the American wing doesn't have a runway view. It also looks out at the International Wing which sees most of its traffic in late afternoon and evening. The planes in sight have mostly been Canadian- or Brazilian-made regional jets. This meant that when I saw a larger Air Canada jet being towed in, I took it for a twin aisle plane rather than the little Airbus 319 it was.

My plane to Philly will be a Bombardier Regional Jet made right here at the airport or at least assembled as the parts are made all over the World.

I am feeling much calmer now.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

On a near miss

My cousin Kristine posted on Facebook that she and her family were taking a cruise to the Virigin Islands this week.  Out of curiousity, I looked up where those islands were and was surprised to see they are the next islands to the East of Puerto Rico.  I inquired of her if her ship was going to stop in San Juan on Friday.  Alas, it stopped in San Juan today (Wednesday)!  It would have been so much fun to see them in such an outré location!  To my knowledge, this is the only time the two of us have been or are going to Puerto Rico and we miss each other by less than 48 hours!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

On planning how to spend time in Philadelphia airport

To my vast lack of surprise, there are no direct flights between Montreal and Puerto Rico.  As far as I know, the only direct flight from anywhere in Canada to Puerto Rico is a weekly Air Canada flight out of Toronto. The flight is timed so as to be able to go out and back in one day. This means that it leaves early in the morning and gets back late. Aside from the inherent fact that six days is too short a time to do what I want to do, the timing of the flight means I would have to spend one or two nights in Toronto in order to catch the flight.  This very quickly led me opt for an American airline.

The choice of airline involved a surprising amount of fiddling around with various American airline websites.  The experience involved some rather baroque itineraries being proposed by their computer algorithms.  One was flying from Montreal to Miami, then changing planes and flying to Philadelphia, changing planes again, then flying to Puerto Rico.  That wasn't even the worst proposal! One airline wanted me to go through Dallas. Another Chicago O'Hare which I am reliably informed is an airport worth avoiding at all cost.  As well, my sources tell me that if possible, when travelling with a bike, it is best to fly with as few airlines as possible. Ideally only one.  This was actually a bit of a benefit as it meant I was spared having decide whether to use a website travel agent like Expedia (which I am of two minds about) or book directly through an airline website (which I prefer to do).  One thing I found frustrating about Expedia was that while there is a "direct flight only" filter option, it isn't useful when there aren't any direct flights!  While I accept this, I would rather not have to scroll past "multiple change" flight options in order to find the "one change only" flights.

I eventually settled on US Airways. Strangely enough, it is the only American airline I have flown on. It used to be called USAir.  It featured in the Montreal to Miami leg of my trip to Bolivia back in 1992.  (Lloyd Aero Boliviana (a.k.a. LAB, a.k.a. Llamas Are Better) didn't fly to Canada and Air Canada didn't fly to Bolivia.)  It won't be around for much longer as it is in the process of merging with American Airlines.  The resultant airline will be called "American Airlines."

Anyway, my flights involve changes of planes in Philadelphia. On the way down, I have a three-hour pause which should be enough for Leonardo to change planes.  I idly wondered what I might do in that time. I came up with the notion of partaking of one of Philadelphia's culinary delicacies, viz the Cheesesteak. At lunch time at work, I decided to look up where one might acquire one in Philadelphia airport.  A quick Google search revealed that I was far from the first person asking that question!  What a time to be alive!