** Puerto Rico **
First, I'd like to share how important I think vacations are. Just to get out of town, out of routine, out of work. See the world, and forget yours. I personally do not enjoy sitting on a beach for hours. I prefer seeing everything a city has to offer. While I love being a tourist, I also like the way it doesn't allow my mind to wander. I don't stress about work. I don't think about problems I might be having. I simply don't have time. So while my body doesn't necessarily rest, my mind certainly does, and that's what vacation is all about to ME. And I think everyone should take the kind of rest that is necessary for you.
After a long flight, that Katy and I completely slept through, we were picked up by Katy's parents with gifts. They brought us various Puerto Rican food, including fried plantains, pork kabobs (PRs LOVE pork), rice, and various other goodies. And rum. And fresh-cut coconuts with a straw. YUM! They drove to the condo we were staying at, and I was mesmerized by the cloud-covered mountains that hold the rainforest. It was majestic. I couldn't wait to get up there! We also saw random horses on the side of the road - sometimes tied to a post with rope, sometimes not. We saw very few fresh vegetables, but there were several roadside stands and trucks selling bananas, weird colored oranges, and breadfruit (which we found out is a starch). You won't believe how much we packed into 5 days - here are the highlights:
The view from our rented condo was amazing. While Puerto Rico touts some of the most amazing beaches, I had a hard time spending time in the car, or paying for a ferry ride, when we had one right in front of us! When we arrived we ran down to the beach and into the water. There was not a soul in sight. Palm trees, soft sand, and freakishly hot water. Super salty, and great for the skin. We played in the waves at least once a day.
Katy is kind of a health nut. So what little fruit we found, supplemented with juice from the store, supplements brought from home, and coconuts we found on the side of the road, Katy made us smoothies daily, sometimes twice, or three times!
The Rainforest (and La Mina falls)
This was the highlight of my time in Puerto Rico. I've never been to a rainforest before, and this one did not disappoint. The air was warm and muggy. The ferns grew as tall as the trees. There were amazing tropical flowers. And while the wildlife sightings were slim, we could hear birds, coquis (the national tree frog), saw a couple of lizards, and a woodpecker. I would have liked to see more lizards, birds, parrots, and is it too much to ask for a monkey or two?
I had a bad cold, so the hilly terrain was tough, but it was worth it. We finally made it to mid-destination, which was La Mina Falls. Amazing. Spectacular. Cascading. I actually swam in a WATERFALL in the RAINFOREST! How cool is that? We also climbed down some rocks into another pool (even though Katy thought we were going to hurt ourselves), and also stopped at a few pools along the waterfall while we were literally hiking up the mountain, alongside that same waterfall. I wanted to go back and camp overnight, which apparently is allowed with some kind of permit, but after realizing I have no tent, or sleeping bag, or survival skills, I was convinced to sleep in a bed in the air-conditioned condo.
Next goal: A rainforest full of monkeys and wildlife. Anyone know of one? Or want to come with me? I read online that St. Kitt's is one of the best.
Short version of the story: a mini mall of restaurants, all with bars, all displaying a case of fried foods at the entrance. Good mojitos. Bought my baby sister a necklace from an American chick at the Tattoo place. Actually, it's a bar. But they do tattoos there too. Obviously sanitary.
Our resort had daily iguana feeding. BIG iguana feeding. They were in cages - just wild iguanas who knew where and when to get fed. Makes me miss Izzy.
A-MAY-ZING. I didn't know what I was doing, and they didn't really tell you how, but turns out there's not much to know. Strap on the mask, put on your fins, blow out hard if water gets into the snorkel. I loved floating around and seeing the super colorful fish, more types of coral than I've ever seen in my life, and I almost ran into a blue iridescent jelly fish! When we saw each other, I tried to back up, which if you've ever tried to do in water with flippers on, it's not easy. Apparently he had the right of way, because he just kept going. Yes, He.
I can't wait to go snorkeling again. Maybe some day I'll learn how to scuba dive.
One of the coolest things I've never heard of. Taking a kayak down a pitch-dark canal and out onto a lake. Apparently there are dinoflagelattes (micro plankton) that glow when they are disturbed. You can't see them, and you can't feel them, but when you put your hand in the water, your whole hand looks like it's covered in glow in the dark blue paint. If you splash the water, it looks like you sprayed paint in front of you. If you quickly let it trickle down your arm, its a tiny bead of blue running down. And when fish swam by, I could see them glowing under the surface with their movement. The coolest thing was when they flicked their fishy tails and swam away fast - it left a trail of blue behind them like a cartoon. And then the blue was gone as quickly as it was visible. If anyone ever gets a chance to see this, you'll be speechless. I couldn't take any pictures because of course it was pitch black. And with a flash the glow factor went away. You'll just have to believe me when I say it was the coolest thing EVER.
I wanted to learn to dance like the Puerto Ricans (hips baby hips!), and apparently Im an old dude magnet. But at least I got to dance. I've been told Im not half bad! Salsa, anyone?
We went to a small village called Pinonos to see how the locals live. We drank coconut water, had some shrimp & octopus ceviche, oysters from a really dirty cooler (GO ME!), learned a little bit of Spanish, drank beers, met a Puerto Rican soldier for the US Army, and some people watching.
On our way back from Rincon, we stopped at a random bar blasting a reggae band that looked like they were having fun. We had a couple of beers and I won a Limbo contest. Free shots. Good times.
Old San Juan
Old San Juan was cool. With 2 forts, multi-cultural restaurants, an amazing cemetery (I know it's weird, but I love cemeteries ... I think they are beautiful), and blue cobblestone streets to roam, we just didn't have enough time to see it all. But at that point in our trip (on our way to the airport), I don't know if we had much energy left anway. We had a $3.55 huge breakfast served with french fries (weird, but tasty), a tour through one of the original forts that protected the island of Puerto Rico, toured the cemetery where I swear something walked through me (EMF meter), and had a very good lunch at the birthplace of the Pina Colada (of course we tasted them ... I think they were from a mix now), bought a couple of souvi paintings - MOM! They had door paintings just like in Ireland! We also bought fake designer purses off of a cart. But it's ok, there were cops nearby so we're not worried about being arrested.
I didn't mention the no-English karaoke bar that we came across, made friends with a Puerto Rican English teacher, and her friend that we're pretty sure won the karaoke contest, but we didn't stay till the end. The coconut trucks. Carlos making mojitos at the Burger Bar, Men with crabs (dirty mind - they were on a stick!) Killer dinners at the condo. Driving around looking for coconuts that had fallen off trees (I think we collected about 40). Borrowing a machete' for the coconuts. Rainforest yoga. Almost crashing a spanish party (more karaoke). The rum house. Bad grocery stores. Buying bananas on the side of the road. Speed bumps. No, just drive through the speed bumps! How many showers does Serene need to take? Handstands on the beach. Handsprings in the surf. Fried plantains. Co-kee. Co-kee. Co-kee.
Whew. Wouldn't trade it for anything. Maybe more dancing, snorkeling, and rainforest. Next time.