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Puerto Rico Adventure

By on October 2, 2013 in Caribbean Travel, U.S. Travel with 1 Comment

A few months ago, I saw this great deal in my weekly Travelzoo Top 20 email. It was for a 4-day/3-night hotel and airfare package to Puerto Rico for $299. So, what did I do? I forwarded it to my friend, Leann. She’s never been interested in going to the Caribbean, so you can imagine my excitement when she responded, “Yes, let’s go.” To be quite honest, I was shocked.

We were scheduled to leave on Friday, April 12th. On Wednesday, April 10th, I received a text from Leann saying her credit card was flagged for fraud. She needed my mailing address so she could have a new card overnighted to me. Awesome.

Thursday, April 11th arrived, and so did Leann’s credit card. What’s a vacation without a little bit of craziness? I knew we were in for a ride… I texted her to let her know I received her card. She texted me back, saying her flight was delayed. Fantastic.

Her flight got in so late that we ended up staying at a sketchy, little hotel in Ft. Lauderdale. I think the guy behind the counter was on the phone with the police reporting a crime. I asked him what was going on. He ignored me. Instead the drunk guy behind me responded. I didn’t notice. We got our key, and off to our room we went in a fit of giggles.

4:15 a.m. the alarm went off. I hit the shower, and off we went… to Paradise…

Day 1: Cocktails. Lunch. Beach. Island braids. Fairy dust in the water.

After the sun bronzed our skin and the ocean rejuvenated our spirits, we went kayaking… at night… under the moon… through the mangroves… in the bio bay… (Thanks, Brian, for the suggestion!)

Expectations and realities can be so extreme sometimes. The description we read said, “One of Puerto Rico’s most astonishing sights must be seen only at night. The Bio-Bay at Las Croabas is home to millions of dinoflagellates, microscopic organisms that release energy in the form of light. An unforgettable adventure!” Our fantasy was lots of little lights in the sky, similar to fire flies. Our reality was beyond what we could have imagined.

We kayaked through the mangroves until we got to an open space of water. Darkness was descending. A sliver of the moon and stars were above us. We patiently waited for the lights in the sky. They never came. Instead, we were told to look at the water. To move our hands around in it. To paddle through it. We did as instructed, only to feel a little disappointed. Nothing happened.

Our guide told us the water would glow when it got really dark. By this point, we were a little skeptical, even though we relished the experience of kayaking at night. This was a first for both of us. Then, all of a sudden, we saw the water glow as we paddled through it. The darker the sky, the more vibrant the glow. The water began to sparkle. It was like seeing fairy dust in the water.

The more we played with the water, the more it sparkled and glowed. We were giddy with excitement, such as little kids are as they wait for Santa’s arrival. I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, and I’ve seen many cool things. By far, this ranks high on my list as one of he most amazing phenomenons I’ve seen on this planet…

Travel tip: If you go to Puerto Rico, do NOT leave the island without kayaking through one of the bio bays.

 

Day 2: Secluded beach with new friends. Tropical fish. Fufu.

Blue Beach, Ilsa de Vieques

 

We woke up super early to catch a cab to the ferry. Our plan was to go to the Ilsa de Vieques. I had read about it in the book, 1000 Places to See Before You Die. Leann had heard about it from a few of her friends. We had to choose between Vieques and Culebra, the island of the fifth most beautiful beach in the world, Flamenco Beach. We chose Vieques because it was the road less traveled.

The lines were horrendous. We arrived around 7:30 a.m. for the 9:00 a.m. ferry. We ended up taking a ferry around 10:45 a.m., which wasn’t included on the schedule. It was very disorganized and everyone had given us different information.

Onto the ferry we went, and we talked about the people around us. We chatted about the couples we met kayaking theBlue Beach, Vieques, Puerto Rico night before. We had both thought they were oddly matched. We noticed the same people on our boat. We wondered if we were the only ones aware of those around us. Was anyone wondering what our story was?

Blue Beach, ViequesWe noticed the European family, the little girl with straightened hair, and the Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt couple. We termed them that because the girl had long, brown hair, tattoos on her arm and and edgy air to her. The guy had brown hair, blue eyes and was clean-cut. They didn’t really look like the Hollywood couple, but it was fun to people watch and make up stories.

And so we arrived at the island– with no plan. Where to begin?
We walked around a bit to look for food and information. We asked what there was to do. We asked for cab numbers. We asked about food. We chose a little restaurant across the street. To our dismay, they only took cash. We called the cab, and they only took cash and were a little more expensive than we realized. We forgot to calculate transportation on the island into our budget. We realized fast that we might be short on cash… Awesome.

The great thing about traveling with Leann is that we don’t get mad at each other. Most people in this situation would have probably started fighting. But, we are both pretty laid back. We figured we’d figure it out. We just needed to decide what to do.

We wanted to go to Blue Beach. We were told it was closed. The next best option was Red Beach. We wanted to go snorkeling. Since we were going to the beach, we brought limited money and a credit card. Our debit card was back at our hotel in Puerto Rico.

Lucky for us, we always find a way. One of the guys who worked at the restaurant heard us talking. He made some
calls, and got us a cheaper cab. The Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt couple was sitting outside and overheard our conversation. They wanted to drive with us to split the cost.

The four of us traveled to Blue Beach together. (We learned to ask more than one person, as sometimes the information you are given is incorrect.) Our new friends’ names were Lauren and Andrew. We spent the day with them at this beautiful, secluded beach. We rented snorkeling equipment and took turns looking at the fish. What could have turned into a disaster ended up being super fun!

As they say, “spontaneity is the spice of life.” Yes, we could have planned better, but we wouldn’t have made new friends. We would have spent more money. We would have still had a great time, but it wouldn’t have been quite an adventure. And, so, I am glad we went with the flow, and just let our day unfold in the most unexpected way…

After an amazing beach day, we cabbed it back to the ferry. The four of us stopped for food, and when the waiter handed me the menu he said, “The Spanish version is on the back.” That’s how tanned I got… Between my braids and my skin, I was beginning to look like a native. We ended up not eating though as the ferry was pulling in….

As we were staying at the same hotel, the four of us shared a cab. We stopped off for a quick shower before we went into San Juan with our new friends. We grabbed some dinner, and walked around the city at night. At the restaurant  I tried fufu, a Puerto Rican dish. We had a fantastic day and evening. We couldn’t have planned such a wonderful day had we tried…

Day 3: Mofongo. BJ win.

The Fort of Old San JuanOn Sunday, we got up slightly later to catch our tour bus to Old San Juan. We toured the fort, which was absolutely beautiful.

We then walked around town, exploring the little shops. We also found this amazing restaurant, Inaru, where we stopped for lunch. This is where I tried mofongo, a Puerto Rican dish. (Thanks, David, for the recommendation!) I thought I would only eat the shrimp, but oh my, the whole dish was just so flavorful. I loved it! We also stopped for a sampling of pina coladas from the house where it was created in 1963.

After a wonderful day in the city, we returned to our hotel for a nap and a shower before heading to the kiosks for dinner. We then went to the casino in our hotel. Leann was tired, so she retired early. I sat at the Black Jack table. An hour later, I walked away $120 richer. I stopped after losing two hands in a row– my golden rule when gambling. It’s what keeps me out of trouble…

The Fort of Old San Juan The Fort in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico San Juan, Puerto Rico

Mofongo in San Juan, Puerto Rico  Fort in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Day 4: Knocking on some Texans’ door to get deeper into the rain forest. Ending our vacation the way we kicked it off in China. Hearing our names over the loud speaker.

El Yunque Rain Forest, Puerto RicoI have never been to a rain forest before, so I was very excited to check out El Yunque Rain Forest. Our hotel was right across from the rain forest. Who knew we’d have such a hard time getting to it?

We got waitlisted for a tour to the rain forest. In the meantime, I had talked to some folks who lived on the island who had told me I could have a cab drop us off. However, when we asked the cab drivers if they could take us, we were told they were not allowed to drop people off. We negotiated a deal with one of our cab drivers to bring us to the rain forest on Monday morning. He was scheduled to pick us up at 9:00 a.m.

We weren’t sure what the food situation would be, so we got some breakfast at the hotel. Leann was able to negotiate takeout for us at a discounted price.  Breakfast in hand, we looked for our cab driver. He was nowhere to be found, so I called him. He told us he couldn’t come because he didn’t have the right permit, and there would be extra cops. He offered to take us on Tuesday instead. Of course, we would be long gone by then…

We started to walk, but figured that probably wasn’t the best idea. We went back into the hotel, had our breakfast, El Yunque Rain Forest in Puerto Ricothen found another cab. (We had also looked into renting a car for the day, but they were all sold out.)

When the cab dropped us off, we couldn’t understand what the big deal was. The information desk was a two-minute walk from the entrance. Until we spoke to someone. That is when we found out the hikes were a five minute car ride up the road or a two mile hike. Great. The time was now 10:30 a.m., and our transfer was leaving at 1:30 p.m. What to do?

El Yunque Rain Forest in Puerto RicoWe were determined. The last thing either one of us wanted to do was call the cab driver to come pick us up. So, we made our way back to the parking lot, where we scoped out the people. We saw this one couple sitting in their car. I knocked on their window and asked them for a ride. They were tourists just like us, so we felt safe.

Luckily, they were going to the same hike that we wanted to do. They gave us a lift. They were visiting from Texas. Once we got to the hike, we parted ways. Leann and I went to see the waterfall, then hiked back. We weren’t really sure what we would do for our ride down, but we figured that we would figure it out.

The couple who drove us up got done at the same time as us. So, we hitched another ride with them. They dropped us off at the gas station, where we called the cab. We made it back to our hotel with a half an hour to sit by the pool.

What an adventure! Again, had we planned a little better, we could have had this all mapped out for ourselves ahead of time. But, we wouldn’t have had quite a story to tell. We also ended up saving a lot of money, too. The tour would have cost around $100 for the two of us, whereas we spent around $35. My advice to you would be to rent a car to see the rain forest though. We lucked out. But, then again, we always do…

After a quick swim, we changed in the bathroom. It reminded us of our trip to China. After touring the Getty Villa andEl Yunque Rain Forest, Puerto Rico taking a 13-hour flight, we wanted showers. Our hotel room wasn’t ready, so Leann got the hotel staff to let us shower in the spa. It was awesome.

Off to the airport we went, got some yucky lunch, then looked at the shops a bit. Our plane left early, so luckily I heard them call our names on the loud speaker.

El Yunque Rain Forest, Puerto RicoPuerto Rico was definitely much more fun and beautiful than I had imagined. Maybe I’ll go back again one day…. It was an amazing trip!

To see more pictures, click here and log into your Facebook account. Enjoy!

Travel tip: Skip the transfers, and get a cab. You will save a little bit of money, and you will have more flexibility. Need a good cab driver you can trust? Call Henry at 787-208-9392.

Pictures:

Check out some fun, beachy bracelets to wear on your next Caribbean vacation.

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  1. Harry Starlin says:

    Great blog post.

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