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Scottish Daily Record
Rum Fun In The Sun
By PAUL ENGLISH
For a slice of island life, Caribbean style, PAUL ENGLISH went to Puerto Rico for pino coladas and rainforest walks
August 30, 2003
AS power showers go, they don't get much more forceful. Dancing under a raging waterfall thousands of feet up in Puerto Rico's El Yunque Rainforest, I swear I got to thinking about installing one in my flat back in Glasgow.
Talk about blowing away the cobwebs. The force of this relentless cascade was almost enough to blow the skin right off my bones.
There really could be no better way to wake up in the morning - being blasted awake by the power of nature.
Sure beats lumbering awake to Fred MacAulay on Radio Scotland.
Nothing against Fred. I actually like his show, but given the choice of stripping down to my shorts and crashing into a tropical waterfall - it's no contest.
And that's before drying off under the vast, leafy canopy surrounded by the incessant melodies of tree frogs chirping merrily for miles around.
I know where I'd rather be.
Puerto Rico's 28,000-acre Caribbean National Forest is truly unforgettable. Wandering through the dense forest floor beneath giant ferns, mountain palms and orchids, visitors can take a guided tour, or ramble along by themselves, looking for the elusive Puerto Rican parrot, the anole tree lizard and Puerto Rican boa.
The ceaselessly chirping, yet truly elusive coqui frog is also worth looking for, so-called because of the charming two-tone whistle it emits. You'll be hard pushed to find him, but after wandering for several hours through the forest floor, you'll come away addictively whistling his call.
Another term liable to work its way into your vocabulary is that age-old denotation of a two-week break on the Costas, "Uno pina colada, por favor."
Countless bars across the Caribbean island lay claim to the accolade of serving the best pina colada in Puerto Rico. Nice as it would have been to sample them all, I finally decided the versions made by the chilled staff at the bar on Loquillo Beach were tops.
Sweet, creamy and zesty - with a strong undercurrent of rum - they were the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon spent lounging on white sands, in the shade of huge curving palms, while dipping in and out of water so clear you could see your toenails even when submerged to your chest.
Next up, was a visit to the Bacardi Cathedral of Rum - an informative and interactive visitors' centre that explains the history and growth of the brand.
It even going as far as to explain why the black bat is the official trademark.
It seems that the first Bacardi warehouse was home to hundreds of bats.
But as well as learning all about Bacardi Rum, there's fun to be had on the narrow cobbled streets of Old San Juan - drinking and dining on obscure local food. They like their deep-fried scran in Peurto Rico and while battered Mars Bars weren't on the menu, there was plenty of other calorie-laden fare.
Plantain - a sort of bitter, unripe cousin of the banana - is the staple accompaniment to many meat dishes. It's either mashed and fried with butter, toasted and served in crisp strips, or stuffed with a filling.
Each variation gives rise to dishes such as empanadillas or the fantastically named cuchi-cuchi mofongo, which - it was suggested - sounds more like the name of a local porn star than a downtown restaurant main course.
The town of Old San Juan is a bizarre mix of Spanish Mediterranean culture - with the medieval Spanish conquests reflected in the language, forts and colours - and the gauche marks of contemporary Americana.
My hotel for the whole week was the beautiful El Convento, a small, much sought-after former convent in the heart of the old town.
Watching the sky turn from blue to red to pink from the Jacuzzi with a cool drink in hand, we prepared to follow the bright lights of downtown San Juan.
But there are another set of incredible lights that are also worth seeing.
Mosquito Bay, on the tiny satellite island of Vieques, is one of the best locations in the world to encounter the phenomenon of bioluminescence.
The effect is caused by tiny, single-celled creatures which give you an emerald glow if you dare to take a dip with these tiny beasties twinkling all around you in the sea. It's incredible.
If a waterfall's too much to ask for, maybe my landlady will agree to let me add a few gallons of those little green beasties to my bathtub.
Maybe then I'd be happy to lie there listening to Fred MacAulay all day.
But only maybe.
British Airways fly to Puerto Rico, with connections from Glasgow, from £842.
Call: 0845 850 9850, or log onto: www.ba.com
Hotel El Convento. Rooms from £135 per night, including breakast. Visit: www.elconvento.com
Check out the Bacardi Cathedral of Rum visitors' centre by visiting: www.bacardi.com
For information on Puerto Rico's premier tourist and travel attractions, visit: www.gotopuertorico.com.