April 26, 2019

San Juan, Puerto Rico

April 26, 2019

San Juan, Puerto Rico

  • 8 Geocaches found
  • 1 Event cache hosted
  • 1 DNF (did not find)

In preparation for an eight-day cruise, Deban and I flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Friday, April 26. Our friends Scotty and Dawn traveled with us. They had spent Thursday night at our house since our flight left early on Friday morning and we live much closer to the airport. We offered to let them stay in our guest bedroom, but they opted to sleep in our driveway in their “mobile mansion” as another friend calls it – their new Mercedes RV.

Our flights on Friday were uneventful, which is always a good thing when flying. We had plenty of time to have breakfast in the Atlanta airport. By the time we arrived in San Juan, we were all hungry again. We checked into our hotel and then walked a short distance to have an early dinner at Olive Garden. After dinner we parted ways. Deban went to the casino, Scotty and Dawn went to their room, and I went geocaching.

Across the street from our hotel was a travel bug hotel – a medium sized geocache meant to house trackable items. I had looked at this cache on the map before my trip, and was puzzled to see that it was in the middle of a grassy field. I couldn’t imagine the coordinates being correct, and assumed that it was probably at the edge of the field among the trees. But, as I walked along the sidewalk I could see that in the middle of the field was a mound with a couple of large rocks on top. This was where my compass was pointing, so I walked to it. Nestled next to one of the large rocks was a pile of smaller rocks, and I could see the geocache peeking out from under them. There were a couple of young adults nearby talking, so I nonchalantly sat on the rock and uncovered the cache. They did not seem to notice or care what I was doing so I pulled it out and opened it.

There were four travel bugs inside with the log book. I had brought a few along with me, so I traded two for two. I logged the other two as “discovered” indicating that I had seen them in the cache. One of the travel bugs I dropped off had a goal of hiking. I had picked it up during the winter while hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail, and it had been on a few hikes with me since. When dropping it off in the cache I noted that I had “hiked” over from my hotel to find the cache and provided the following photo in my log to show just how long that hike was.

I took plenty of time doing all this and taking a few photos. More young people had gathered soon after I arrived, and they stood in a circle stretching. They then discussed some game rules and made their way into the middle of the field to play. I am not certain what they were playing, but it was some sort of chasing game. Pairs or groups of players held hands while solo players circled, stalked and then chased them. Of maybe the groups were chasing the solos. I’m not sure, but they appeared to be having fun.

I eventually finished with the cache, hid it back under a pile of rocks, and walked a few blocks to a park area next to a small man-made lagoon. Along the way I encountered an interesting looking tree with lots of green fruit hanging from it. I believe it is a mango tree.

Before my trip I had planned and submitted a geocaching event for 7:00 pm. It had published on the geocaching website a couple of weeks before, and a small number of people had logged that they would attend.

I had planned this event in hopes of seeing some of the Puerto Rican friends I had met on a geocaching cruise in 2013. I was happy to see that two of them had logged that they would attend. As I walked over to the location of my event, I noticed that the sun was already setting even though it was only 6:25 pm.

There was a geocache hidden near the spot where I would hold the event, so I spent several minutes looking for it. Unfortunately, it seemed to be missing. I assumed it was hidden under a small wooden dock, but all of the wood seemed to be brand new. It appeared that the cache had been discovered and discarded by the workers that rebuilt the dock.

At about 6:40 I saw a couple of people approaching and was excited to see that it was ellinas (Emma) and omarcelli (Omar). These are two of the friends I had met on the cruise years ago. I had seen them both a few years ago when Geowoodstock, a mega geocaching event, was held in Waynesville, NC, but had not had the chance to see them last year when Geowoodstock was in Cincinnati. I had kept in touch with them for a few years via Facebook, and had reached out to each of them after Puerto Rico was slammed by Hurricanes Irma and Maria within a two week period in September 2017. Fortunately, they and their families survived the storms and have since repaired the damage to their property.

We greeted each other and talked for several minutes. Emma gave me a geocoin that she had had made, and we exchanged pathtags. I then told them that I had not been able to find the geocache that was hidden nearby. Since they had both found it in the past, they helped me search again and confirmed it was missing. Since the cache owner is Emma’s friend and has moved to Texas, she had come prepared to replace it so that I and others could log it.

We soon saw a man with two young girls approaching, and Emma greeted them. This was a new geocacher named Evillegas_pr that she had met recently. Emma had given a short description of geocaching during an outdoor fair, and offered to talk afterward to anyone who was interested in learning more. He had approached her afterward. She gave him a quick Geocaching 101 class, he created an account and immediately went to find his first geocache. He had found others since then, and had began teaching his twin seven-year old daughters about the game. I gave him and each daughter path tags, and we exchanged travel bugs. One girl was excited to receive a small stuffed frog that I had just attached a travel bug tag to before the trip, and the other excitedly took a small car that I had also just activated.

As I talked with their father, Emma took them with her to rehide the cache that she was replacing. It was fun to watch their eagerness, especially when Emma told them that they must be very sneaky so that muggles would not see them.

It had grown quite dark by now. When I planned the event for 7:00 pm I had not taken into account that Puerto Rico is much farther east than Tennessee. No one seemed to mind, and we used the glow of a nearby light to read tracking numbers on travel bugs and to occasionally take photos of ourselves and each other.

Soon we were joined by two more people, a married couple. He was a geocacher named Isleño-Jones, and she was his tolerant wife. When he had logged that he would attend, he said, “NO MATTERS RAINS,SUNSHINE,TORNADOES, HURRICANES AND….SNOW?” He apologized that they were late arriving and told us that he had failed to take into account the bus which was running late. After introductions were made, more travel bugs were exchanged and discovered, and many stories were shared. All of the adults were very kind to mostly speak in English, since I know only a few words of Spanish.

Eventually the father and daughters were ready to leave, and the girls surprised all of us by making the rounds, hugging each of us goodbye. One of the things I love about geocaching is how it brings people together that never would have met otherwise. I have met so many wonderful people because of this game. Some I may never see again, but others I have stayed in contact with over the years.

Eventually, the couple also said they needed to leave as they had a part-time job to go to that evening. Emma and Omar were talking of geocaches in the area that I needed to find, but I said, “But I have only my feet to take me there.” “We will drive you!” they said in unison. Since I knew that Deban was still playing in the casino, I gladly accepted their offer.

We first drove to the pier where my ship would be docked in the morning. The cache there had not been found recently, but Omar knew exactly where it was supposed to be. It was indeed missing, so once again Emma provided a container to replace it.

Omar then drove us to the Capitol Building so that I could find his cache nearby. It was across the street from the courthouse and required us to go down steps to the beach. The sea was enveloped in blackness but I could hear the waves rolling in to the sand and occasionally see the glimmer of white caps and foam. We used the flashlights on our phones to light our way as we walked across the sand and then climbed across boulders. The exposed rocks had previously been covered with earth, but the hurricanes had eroded away 15 to 20 feet of shoreline.

The cache was hidden above the waterline, tied beneath bushes on the bank above the rocks we were crossing. It was a large wooden container that blended very well, especially in the darkness of night. The lid swiveled open and a plastic container with the logbook, swag and trackable items was inside.

I signed the log and took photos of the trackable items so that I could later discover them. We then carefully made our way back across the rocks to the sand, and then up the steps to the street. This was a fun cache to find in the dark. Omar told me that he had had to replace it after the hurricanes since the storms had completely washed away the earth and the bushes it was hidden in.

Back at the street I took a couple of selfies of the three of us with the historic Capitol Building in the background to share with our mutual friend Trixxie, and geocacher who lives in California.

We walked a short distance to the top of a dune to look for another cache. This one was hidden beneath beach-grape trees. All three of us searched for about 20 minutes without finding this cache. When we emerged from under the bushes, I noticed that Omar’s dark shirt was covered in pollen. I looked down to see it on my clothing as well, and did my best to dust it off.

Back in the car, Omar drove us along the narrow streets of the old town so that I could find more caches. I had sent the picture of us to Trixxie and she replied, “Is this NOW!?” I told her it was and she immediately started a video chat so that she could talk to all three of us.

As I was chatting with her, Omar pulled to the side of the street and Emma and I jumped out to find a cache while he drove around the block. A policeman approached us to see what we were doing, so Emma distracted him while I logged the cache. It was a tiny container hidden behind the metal “blanket” of a statue. I had Trixxie on video chat the whole time which made it even more fun and exciting.

Omar circled back around and we jumped back in the car with him. We jumped out at two more locations to find caches. One was at a monument commemorating 500 years since the discovery of Puerto Rico in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. The other was in a park outside the Children’s Museum next to a very interesting sculpture of a dolphin/giraffe/cat. It had the body of a dolphin, the neck of a giraffe, and the face of a cat.

I was glad that I was not driving my truck on these narrow streets. There was barely enough room for the SUV Omar was driving, and at some corners he had to pull forward and back up a few times to make the sharp turn. He assured me that I would be fine because he has seen UPS trucks and garbage trucks on these streets. Of course, he said that they usually drive on the sidewalks as they make the turns. I told him that the drivers of those vehicles probably aren’t worried about scratching them.

Omar and Emma discussed something in Spanish and he pulled over again. We got out and I looked at my phone to see where the next cache might be. Emma told me we weren’t stopping for a cache. Omar had requested a treat so we were stopping to visit Señor Paleta for ice pops. These are freshly made ice-cream bars on sticks in a wide variety of flavors. They serve them with a small cardboard box between the stick and the pop to keep drips from getting on your hands. It reminded me of attending a candlelight service at church and having the little cardboard circles around the candles to keep the wax from dripping on your hands and the floor.

We made one more stop for a cache. This was at a monument for police officers killed in the line of duty. The father of the cache owner was listed on the monument. He was shot and killed by the driver of a vehicle he had stopped for a routine traffic violation in 1974. After signing the log, I paused for a few moments to send up a prayer of thanks for the sacrifice of all those listed on the monument, and a pray of peace for their families.

Omar and Emma dropped me off at the front door of my hotel a short time later and I joined Deban in our room. It had been a busy day of travel, but I was thrilled to spend time with friends doing something I love – geocaching and learning about the places I visited. It was a great start to our vacation!

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