Stay and Play in El Yunque Rainforest at Phillips Country Cabin and Noelia’s Bar
Editor’s note: A rustic, ultra-exotic stay in the heart of a Caribbean rainforest is a dream I’m sure most uncommon travelers would share. One of you, Lily Pollak, recently lived it. Here’s her story…
Phillips Country Cabin is a great option for travelers looking to rough it with a roof over their heads.
Elevated about 900 feet from the owner’s residence, the one-room cabin has a screened in porch and sits on stilts. There is no electricity, though there is a toilet… downstairs… on the outside of the cabin; sort of an outhouse without walls.
In order to flush the toilet, you have to fill a bucket with water from a nearby hose and empty it into the tank. Being that my modesty was already preserved by the seclusion, I found it easier to use nature’s facilities…
Having lived in Brooklyn for a couple of years at that point, the only jungles I was familiar with were made of concrete, and my plumbing and electricity standards were pretty high. Needless to say, what I found so amicable about the cabin wasn’t its minimalist charms, but rather the story behind it.
Robin Phillips and his wife, the owners, expatriated to Puerto Rico many years ago and bought the property. They built the cabin and lived in it for some time before they were able to build a larger, more functional house down the hill. The couple has since had two children and, as an ode to Robin’s Filipino wife, turned their land into an exotic fruit farm. Apparently the conditions in and around El Yunque are very similar to those in parts of Southeast Asia, which fostered the growth of the many fruit trees that dotted their property. There was one particularly giving star fruit tree just outside the cabin, and let me just say, fresh-picked star fruit is good.
When my tiny hatchback rental and I finally made it to the property (upgrading to an SUV when exploring mainland Puerto Rico is never a bad idea), Robin put a “guest machete” in my hand and took me on a hike up the hill to the cabin. He showed me around the place and casually mentioned that if I saw or heard any wild goats not to be frightened, they were harmless.
Now, I’m not particularly superstitious, but the legend of the Chupacabra does have its origins in Puerto Rico, and so his parting comment definitely hung in the air. Nonetheless, I pushed it from my mind, settled in, and made my way down the hill toward El Yunque National Forest.
Famished from an afternoon exploring the park, I drove around in a nearly fruitless attempt to find a decent place to eat. Leave it to me to find the only bar in a rainforest, but I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Noelia’s, an adorable restaurant in Naguabo on the way back to the cabin.
Named after its owner, bartender and all-around matron saint, Noelia’s is a local haunt complete with jukebox, pool table and a host of regulars who immediately greeted me upon my arrival. The restaurant, built on the edge of a cliff, has a stilted back patio overlooking the rainforest. It was on that very patio that I ate the best mofongo and drank the strongest sangria I had in all of Puerto Rico. As I ate, drank, and took in the view, the Noelia’s regulars slowly congregated around me, curious to meet the strange Brooklyn girl who came out of nowhere.
We bantered back and forth for a while, they repeatedly apologizing for their Nuyorican counterparts – “we’re not like them” – before inviting me in for a game of pool. I spent the next couple of hours getting schooled on the pool table, learning the ins and outs of a Puerto Rican jukebox, and drinking, although I switched to beer promptly after I discovered Noelia’s secret sangria ingredient, Bacardi 151.
Then, just before my departure, Noelia brought out the hooch.
Now, I’m not usually one to accept random bathtub liquor from strangers, but I trusted Noelia, and I got the feeling that she only brought out the white lightning for special guests, so I accepted a few sips of it. Noelia’s moonshine was flavored with local fruits and actually quite good, but alas, I had to get back up the hill, and I had to get there in one piece. Reluctantly, I bade my farewells to the gang and headed back toward the cabin.
On the way back, thanks to a malfunctioning flashlight and a general lack of direction, I lost the path. Luckily I had Robin’s cell number, and by some miracle, I had service, so he was able to guide me by voice back on track.
Once back at the cabin and feeling more like a city girl than ever, I lit my candles and opened up an old cabinet filled with abandoned guest items from over the years. Among the sorted contents of the cabinet I found an old book of ghost stories. Decidedly, I spent the rest of the night in a hammock reading the stories by flashlight, all alone, save for the sounds of the coqui frogs and the faint rustling of the Chupacabra in the distance.
This was Lily’s first guest post for Uncommon Caribbean, though judging by her adventurous spirit I’m sure we’ll be hearing from her again soon.