Trip to Puerto Rico, Part 2

In part 1 I shared the first 3 days of my trip getting to San Juan, exploring the bio bay, hiking in the rainforest and flying to Culebra. All amazing. Except for getting sick. As a paranoid person, I got back to the airport on Tuesday an hour before my flight which was about an hour too early. In between flights the crew work by painting walls and doors and also taking naps. A chicken came in and just wandered around looking for crumbs.  No one really cared.

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About 10 minutes past our flight time, the guy behind the desk called out my name and I got on the flight back to Ceiba, one of 2 passengers in a tiny plane. This was my view.

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Once again we had a fantastic view of the islands below:

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Thankfully it was a short flight (approx 15 minutes) and I soon had my rental car and was off to Rincon on the west side of the island. The trip was pretty quiet though there were pockets of traffic and road work. Driving in Puerto Rico is a challenge. Lots of pot holes, terrible signage at times and drivers who don’t really obey laws. It’s common to see someone pull off the road, park on a sidewalk and then do a U-Turn in the middle of the street. I had my cell phone with maps on the steering wheel in a holder and would hit pot holes so deep my phone would go flying.

I got to Rincon in the evening and immediately picked up some dinner on my way to the latest AirBnb stop because I was so exhausted going out again seemed silly.

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Rincon is beautiful and I was just up the road from the light house there and some of the many surfing beaches. I, however, went to my villa-style room and slept. Outside little iguanas and lizards ran around:

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and inside the room was… oddly decorated:

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But the very reason I booked this place was right around the corner:

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Wednesday was designated as a day of rest so I picked up some meds at Walgreens, swam in the pool and laid out for awhile, then went and got a massage.

Unfortunately, I also cut my leg on the car door leading to a nasty bruise and the next morning slammed my finger in a gate, bruising up my thumb nail.

I’d intended to explore Rincon a bit on Thursday but with a busted nail and bad headache, I packed up and headed to San Juan with my hand stuck in a cup full of ice the whole 3 hour drive.

Determined to make the most of my last full day, I checked in at the Sheraton in Old San Juan and hopped on the free shuttle that goes around to all the stops. This post was super helpful to knowing where to pick up the shuttle and which one to get on (there are 4) but OMG the number of little old ladies from Florida sitting outside the cruise harbor freaking out about the shuttle was amazing. They didn’t trust my source so every time a car came around the corner they’d rush over thinking it was the shuttle.

Once on the shuttle it was easy enough, I went right up to the El Morro Fort, passing some fantastic architecture along the way:

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The Fort was one of my favorite things to see in Puerto Rico:

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Well worth the $5 entrance fee. Outside I was back on the shuttle and just down the road to the Castle which was included in the cost of the Fort. Win.

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One of the coolest things was the patina on the walls here, changed over decades of decay and the impact of a tropical environment plus the ocean. So beautiful:

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another one:

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Oh and that floor:

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speaking of floor tiles, this one:

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I jumped back on the shuttle which went up to the Fort again and waited for 5 minutes for new passengers. Which was brilliant because we were treated to the most amazing sunset:

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This is, by far, my favorite photo from Puerto Rico and perhaps of 2016. Even better, it has no editing on it and is “straight out of the camera” in photography lingo.

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There’s not much else to tell, Friday morning I had breakfast at the hotel, returned my rental car and flew back home, leaving San Juan around 2pm local time and getting home at 9pm California time (about 11 hours in transit). It felt like 1am to me so I went to bed, unpacked the next morning and took the weekend to settle in before going back to work on Monday.

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South of the Equator

December, I decided, was a great time for vacation.

Before schools let out for the year or the holidays were in full swing would be a fantastic time to get out of town and explore some place new. 2016 had already been a good year for travel with trips to Toronto, back to Cancun and Tulum, San Diego and Texas/Louisiana.

In the end I decided that tropical was the way to go and booked roundtrip flights to Puerto Rico. If you’re thinking PR is in the Gulf of Mexico you’re mistaken, it’s actually in the Caribbean east of Florida, Cuba, Haiti and the US Virgin Islands. One hour ahead of the East Coast, PR is a US territory so no passport is needed and US dollar is the currency.

Because it was a trip that resulted in a lot of pictures, I’m breaking this up into 2 posts. First: Sacramento to San Juan, Fajardo and Culebra. Part 2 is here.

Here we are somewhere off the coast of Florida:

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and getting ready to land in San Juan:

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I arrived midday Saturday, picked up my rental car and headed east to Fajardo where I checked into a condo by the beach. Situated on the 24th floor, it had a nice view of the ocean but an amazing view of the mountains:

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Although, the morning sunrise from the condo wasn’t too shabby:

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I settled into the condo and then left before it got too dark for my 8pm kayaking tour in the nearby bioluminescent bay. I have zero pictures because a) it was pitch black and b) I was trying not to fall out of my kayak.

Still, it was an amazing 2 hours on the water, my wristband kept the mosquitos away and it was super cool to see. We also spotted crabs in the mangrove roots, iguanas and a giant termite nest.

Sunday I slept in a bit and then headed up to El Yunque National Forest, part of the US National Parks service and also the only rainforest. Here’s what I didn’t know: the visitor’s center (while nice) is completely unnecessary. It’s $4 per person which isn’t bad unless you’ve got a van full of people but all they do is give you a paper map and answer questions. The trails do not start at the visitor’s center and you can bypass it completely. There’s a great big map just a few feet up the road:
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In fact, you can drive 13 km up, all the way to the observation tower at the top of the road. There are several places to park along the way and then hike trails to observation towers and waterfalls.

The road is pretty rough in places so watch out for potholes and cars parked on the shoulder if you go.

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The whole rainforest is pretty shaded so I didn’t need to worry about getting a sunburn. This turnout about 5km up had the most fantastic view of the valley and east side of the island:

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See those two white towers on the far left? That’s where I was staying!

About halfway up is the Yokahu tower:

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It’s pink and pretty awesome. A little further up are 2 trails leading down to the same waterfall. These are treacherous. They appear easy at first:

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Stairs! Railings! Easy. Ha.

Very quickly you realize that most of the path is narrow, slippery, missing hand rails and steep.

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It’s beautiful but that caution side should really be at the beginning of the trail.

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The waterfall at the end is amazing though the water is freezing and once you get in you could amuse yourself by watching people scream when they got their feet wet. Also: it’s not a “walk in by a sand beach” type waterfall. You’re going to be climbing over rocks and slipping and hopefully not looking like a fool.

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The trip back up was treacherous – partly because I forgot to eat lunch so was tired/hungry and climbing out and everyone knows the ascent is much harder than the descent. But I made it out and back to my Airbnb in time for an amazing sunset:

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That night I also treated myself to a cool restaurant for dinner and had this seafood thing that I can’t explain but was very tasty:

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So that was my weekend in Puerto Rico.

Early Monday morning I was up and off to Ceiba airport (about 10 min away from Fajardo) for a flight to Culebra. We had some mix up with the reservation which meant I ended up on a private flight on a tiny plane. It wasn’t all bad, I got to see a rainbow from the plane and the flight only lasted about 12 minutes which is much preferred to a 90 min ferry.

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Flying into the island is a little like Lost and you go directly over Flamenco Beach, one of my next stops.

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Yes, that’s a tank in the water.

After landing at the airport, I went across the street for my rental Jeep and then right to the beach. It was beautiful and completely deserted.

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The water was crystal clear, the beach had white sand and the sky was clearing up.

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I did walk the mile down the beach to the tanks, which the US military left behind after using the island for training. Tank #1 was up on a little hill a ways back from the beach:

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While tank #2 was right in the water:

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The locals spray paint them for fun but as you can see they’re also rusting quite badly.

This is the point where my amazing trip started to go a bit bad – I’d woken up on Monday with a stuffy nose but by mid-day I was congested, had a killer headache and was starting to feel really ill. My place in Culebra wouldn’t be ready until 2pm so I ended up driving around the island for awhile and then sleeping in the Jeep at Zoni beach while it rained outside. Soon enough I was able to check in and get some sleep. I did venture out for dinner but the taco place left a lot to be desired, even if this sign made me laugh:

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The service was just really slow and it took the guy ages to bring out my check so I could leave.

I didn’t sleep well Monday night with my fever breaking about 3am and alternating between huddling under the thin blanket for warmth and hugging an ice pack from the mini fridge to my head.

Tuesday morning I was luckily able to get a flight back to Ceiba instead of taking the ferry and arranged to keep my Jeep an extra few hours. I went right back to the room and slept for a couple hours before departing.

Part 2: Rincon, getting injured, Old San Juan and heading home

It’s beginning to look…

I’m just about done decorating for the holidays and planning to get a bunch of photos for the blog soon. But right now I’m just enjoying it – there are comfy blankets laid out and extra pillows, candles lit up all over the house and a pan of apples, oranges and cinnamon boiling on the stove making the whole house smell fantastic.

While I have projects galore on my mind, I am also loving the quiet days this week with less work and more downtime.

Packages are wrapped, dogs are wearing embarrassing sweaters, the house looks great and I’ve got wine. What else do you need?

Travel to Louisiana – Part 2 of Travel to Texas

While I was in Texas for my friend Melissa’s wedding, I decided it was high time I went to New Orleans. You know, experience new things and such. When I told my awesome client and friend Alyssa about this plan she got so excited all the Southern came out and she began planning my trip for me! But, as things happen, regional flooding in Louisiana devastated her small town outside Baton Rouge and there was a hurricane on the way.

So instead of spending 2 days together we carved out a couple hours beginning with lunch at Parrains Seafood, a local staple with the best oysters I have had in a long while:

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After catching up over lunch we crossed the parking lot for coffee and I convinced Alyssa to begin putting her amazing stories online because the photos she takes and the stories she tells are powerful (this is her blog) and I am so excited that she’s sharing again.

We linger over coffee for awhile and then Alyssa agrees to a selfie but for a photographer that means 10 minutes to set up her cell phone on auto, even as other diners offer to help. No, this is how a photographer works 😉

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Too soon I was back on my way and pulling into New Orleans in time for dinner. I stayed at a fantastic yoga studio up in the loft and while it’s small it was also perfectly situated on Magazine Street and in the middle of everything I want to see.

Wednesday morning I was off to the plantations, starting with the one that everyone knows: Oak Alley:

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It’s gorgeous, the house tour is fantastic and so, so photogenic. I could string a hammock up between these trees and nap for hours:

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At the end of our tour I was looking down to the back lawn where another tour guide was waiting to meet her next group. With a few photo filters this seemed to me a picture that could have been taken a hundred years ago:

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I talked with a few tourists in from Australia and they recommended the Laura Plantation, just down the road and I loved my stop there.

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While a much different plantation, this was a quieter stop and I had a nearly private tour (there were 2 of us plus the guide) and the history of the home and family that lived here was brilliant.

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Brilliantly, we got to discuss a lot about history and I shared recommendations for my favorite new book (America’s First Daughter) and musical obsession (Hamilton) neither of which the young tour guide had read or seen. It was a beautiful place but I wanted to get back to town before traffic picked up so I skipped the swamp tours on my way back though I did stop at a beautiful cemetery.

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Thanks to the elevation, floods and proximity to the Gulf, cemetery plots are all above ground here and, though different, they are beautiful.

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There was a lot to explore so I made sure to try jambalaya, beignets and of course fried green tomatoes:

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In the midst of my trip, I got some horrible news from a client in one of our group programs so while I was mostly “off line” and not working, I needed to be there despite my vacation. Without going into all the details, our client was in an accident where she was badly hurt and her infant son was killed. It’s still horrifying and tragic to think about and I’m glad that we could surround her with love and support as soon as it happened.

I was definitely feeling very raw and found myself crying when I thought of her loss so I took advantage of one of the perks of staying in a yoga studio and signed up for the evening ‘restorative yoga’ class with the studio’s owner. As it turned out, no one else showed up so I had a private lesson!

Friday brought a long drive back to Dallas for my flight home, made longer by the fact that my rental car did not have cruise control. It did, however, have a total of 7 miles on the odometer when I picked it up.

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Friday night I stayed with my aunt, uncle and cousins in Dallas before returning the car and catching an early flight home Saturday morning. Not too bad of a trip to Dallas, Austin, Baton Rouge and New Orleans in 9 days!