We made car reservations with Hertz in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We then took our Amazon parrot, a Blue Crowned Mealy, to board at the vet. We drove from our home in Guilford, VT to the base at Westover ARB, MA, and I took my wife, Yana, to the PAX Terminal and dropped off our luggage. We waited until we knew the flight was going and I then took our car to long term parking and walked the short walk back to the PAX Terminal. We waited from 1020 until 1630 hours with other passengers who wanted to go.
The flight was to go to Charleston AFB, SC. It was a C-017 that had broken down at Andrews AFB, MD and needed a part for an oil leak on one of it’s engines. We left at 1720 for a two-hour flight. We watched Medical Units from Charleston and Westover train on the flight down to Charleston AFB, SC! While at Charleston AFB we remained on the C-017 and picked-up four passengers. We couldn’t help but notice the trucks/trailers bound for Kandahar, Afghanistan.
We soon left for Luis Munoz International Airport. San Juan, Puerto Rico from Charleston AFB, SC at 2011 and arrived in San Juan at 2300. There were about 34 medical personnel/crew plus the eight PAX on the flight. It was a 2 1/2 hour flight. My wife, Yana, and I got a free ride in a van to Hertz rent a car and got our Nissan car at 2330. We headed for Ft. Buchanan, Puerto Rico with no GPS. That’s where the real fun began!
We drove around, basically lost, until 0400. We took Route 26 to Route 22 but had to ask the Catana Police to help us, and even then they took us to the back gate at Fort Buchanan, which was closed until 0500. So we still had to find the main gate of the base! We called the billeting office at El Caney Lodge and got some basic directions to billeting. We made a left by the prison (Route 28) and went two lights, then made left and finally found Fort Buchanan. What a nightmare!
We had made reservations at El Caney Lodge for two days for $128 ($64/night). They have a free Continental Breakfast from 0600-0900 in the morning. Since we got to bed so late, we slept in and left the AC on all night. We woke up just in time to take showers and get the free breakfast! We took some photos of the banana trees in front of the hotel. It reminded me of my years in Panama while serving in the U.S. Army.
We got gas on base and we then went to the Bacardi Rum Distillery Tour very near the base. We parked our car and then took a tram around the grounds, followed by a movie on the history of Bacardi, which started in Cuba. At the gift shop, we got two free tickets for drinks! Although they say the tour takes 30 minutes, it actually takes much longer. The Coconut/Peach Bacardis were incredible! Although I got a free glass in which you get a drink refilled, we later found out the glass had cracks in it! We felt ripped-off on that. So I spent $58.55 for three bottles of Bacardi and cap. Not bad at all!
I should mention that Charleston AFB, SC had a rare flight to Jamaica, but it would have involved us driving from Vermont to South Carolina and arrive by 0455 hours! Then we still would not have known how we would get back. We checked on flights from Jamaica to Puerto Rico and it was $700 each just to Puerto Rico and then we still would have to get to Florida (Key West/Jacksonville) for a HOP to get anywhere! Also I should mention we saw a HOP to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, from Texas when we went to Rota, Spain!
Anyway, when we left the Bacardi Distillery in Catana, we made a left and passed a metal boat and were in Catana. We continued until we saw the ferry and parked our car for five dollars for all day Although we heard about free parking, we sure did not find any! The ferry was 25 cents each for Seniors, as the Space-A magazines said. We just made the ferry to Old San Juan and started the long, steep walk uphill on the old cobblestone streets to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, “El Morro”. It’s a U.S. National Park, so we bought (or were talked into) a ($10.00) pass good for a year at any U.S. National Park.
We took photos and could not help but notice all the people flying kites on the grass around the fort from the winds coming in off of the Atlantic Ocean. It was very hot and humid. There was a lighthouse inside the fort, too. It was a long walk from the ferry to the fort, so be prepared for it, but it’s worth it! On the way back down to the ferry, we browsed through the different gift shops and we stopped at the famous Ben & Jerry’s (Vermont’s Finest)–we’re from Guilford, Vermont! We were tired and thirsty and got something to drink and ice cream! We paid $7.23 for soda, juice and ice cream.
We continued our downward walk to the ferry and I bought a cap and my wife Yana continued to look around for good deals. You could not help but notice that several shops were closed, and one was burned down. Why–who knows?
We took the ferry back to Catana and got our car and headed back to Fort Buchanan. We went to the commissary, which is just right across from the El Caney Lodge and got some food and went back to our room to relax. I should mention that the TVs are old and the reception and TV Channels are not good at all. Be prepared that TV is a waste of time at the base! We left the A/C on all night. I had bought famous Puerto Rican coffee for $5.56 on base. We ate at the mall, similar to ones in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks and Kanehoe Bay. I met a guy from Texas who just got back from Iraq! I met an Australian who is in the Army in Hawaii. He says that there are thirty Australians in Hawaii!
The next morning we had a free continental breakfast and drove to the Luis Munoz International Airport in San Juan. I made a couple of mistakes and had to turn around a couple of times. It’s hard without a GPS device. We turned in the car to Hertz. It cost us $49.60. However, we must mention that things have drastically changed in renting a car from even a year ago! A “HOLD” is now put on your credit/debit card until the charge clears! Be prepared for that; it was a shock to me!
When we got to the airport we had to go through an agriculture check where they put your baggage through scanners. They took some apples from us and started to eat them right after we said we could only eat two each! They put a tag on your bag after you go through the agriculture check. We waited around until 1200 and then we realized a “nightmare” was about to start! Although we saw the C-17 on the tarmac at the airport, we were told (who knows why?) to go to Luis Munoz ANG Base. That cost us $45 for nothing! Then we had the taxi driver take us back to the regular international airport! Finally, we connected with Airport Aviation Services and a black van pulled-up to take us out to the C-017. We were mad! We wasted $45 for nothing! But I told my wife, Yana, that at least we still got the flight!
The other two passengers, Natalie from Puerto Rico and her boyfriend, got on the C-017 with us for the 3 1/2 hour non-stop flight to Westover ARB, MA. Actual time was three hours and 54 minutes! I walked to get my car in long-term parking and then picked-up my wife Yana with our bags just outside the front gate. We drove home to our home in Guilford, Vermont and arrived home about 2030. We got our parrot the next morning. What a trip!
SSG Dan Sheldon USA (Ret.)
& Yana Sheldon
Reprint from R&R Travel News™ Jan-Feb 2012 • Volume 42, No. 1