• United States!

    United States: Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Go Now!

    United States
    Explore the vast openness and wildlife found roaming in the western United States, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park (pictured) in North Dakota. Begin Your Journey!

  • Trinidad & Tobago!

    Trinidad & Tobago: Beautiful Coastline. Go Now!

    Trinidad & Tobago
    These Caribbean islands mix Indian, African, and European cultures alongside beautiful beaches. Go Now!

  • Cuba!

    Cuba: Sandy beach. Go Now!

    Cuba
    Many people fear the unknowns of Cuba, but the history, culture, food, and impressive beaches lure many visitors every year. Explore Cuba!

  • Panama!

    Panama: Panama City skyline. Go Now!

    Panama
    Panama is best known for the Panama Canal, but the beaches draw tourists, as does Panama City (pictured), a modern capital quite different from most nearby cities. Explore Panama

  • Mexico!

    Mexico: Sunrise over the mountains in Puerto Vallarta. Go Now!

    Mexico
    Although many people just go for the beaches, Mexico offers impressive mountain vistas (pictured in Puerto Vallarta), great food, and historic ruins that compete with the best in the world. Begin Your Journey!

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    Jamaica: Pristine beach. Go Now!

    Jamaica
    Jamaican culture is about relaxation, great foods, friendly competition, and so much more. A good place to start is on the beach. Begin Your Journey!

Puerto Rico

A Garitas outside of San Cristobal in Old San Juan

Ceiba & El Yunque

April 14, 2012
Arrival & El Yunque

After a couple flights I arrived to San Juan's airport at about 7:00pm. After picking up my bags and Cindy (who caught an earlier flight), we got a rental car and headed east to the Ceiba Country Inn. After some rain and a quick stop at the not-so-authentically-Puerto Rican Wendy's we arrived to our small hotel and checked in. The last couple miles were the most exciting and frightening as the roads wound up and down the mountains, regularly narrowing, but the trip was worth it for this "quiet" hotel in the mountains.

The coqui frogs were already active when we arrived and we were serenaded to sleep with their distinctive croak.

April 15, 2012

After sleeping in, we grabbed some breakfast, packed, got an unwelcomed phone call, then headed northwest to El Yunque National Forest. Our trip to Vieques Island and "Mosquito Bay" had been cancelled due to eight foot waves so we scrambled a bit to find an alternate tour of a "bio bay," which we did with some persistence and a short delay on the day's trip.

Once on the road, we stopped at a beach for a few minutes, then made a second stop at a small gas station to pack snacks for the day's hike and happily stumbled upon both "Bueno" my addiction from Europe, and garlic-infused plantain chips.

We decided to drive straight to the Britton Tower Trail Head and hike to the peak. The trails were well paved as some areas were steep, but much of it was a steady incline. Here we felt like were we in a rain forest as a river rushed past us for much of our trek and the plant life was thick and felt exotic to a northerner like me.

After a couple hours of hiking we struggled to translate one of the maps so guessed which path to take, a guess we later realized was incorrect. After another hour or so we knew we were on the wrong trail, but continued on up the mountain eventually reaching and accidentally summiting Mt. El Yunque. The views from here were incredible though as you could see south to the Caribbean Sea, north to the Atlantic Ocean, and east to the cities of Fajardo and the coast.

After returning to the trail head, we made a couple more stops, including one at a water fall. On our trip back to the hotel we discussed the evening's plans and dinner. It didn't take long before we were inhaling the garlic-infused plantain chips, but our dinner conversation went in the direction of Mexico as Cindy had a strong urge for tacos.

After playing a few games and getting better acquainted with my new Kindle Fire we found a local Mexican restaurant called Lolita's, which was packed with locals, so it had to be good. It didn't disappoint as the food was excellent and after our meal we again settled into our hotel with Kindle Fires in hand. We also borrowed a couple games from the hotel, to help pass time in our TV-less hotel as the sun set and the coqui frogs dominated the atmosphere.

Caguas

April 16, 2012
Full Day Adventure in the Mountains

We got an early start to the day as we ate, checked out, then drove southwest to the city of Caguas to begin our all day adventure. We made it to our meeting place, bought more garlic-infused plantain chips and shortly afterwards our tour guides from Rocaliza arrived.

Our drive, with our two guides and ten other people, began into the mountains as we climbed mountain after mountain until we arrived to San Lorenzo and stopped off at a small building in a little village. We each got equipped with hard hats and harnesses then began our hike into the mountains.

The forest here is dense and the mountains prevent ease of movement so most of our hike was through the shallow stream, which at times was as deep as our thighs, but generally didn't reach much above our ankles. We also added a third guide at the trail's base as this land was private and the family that owns this land offered their son as our third guide. All three guides led us through the stream, which at times was based with slick rocks. At some moments we had to climb a small hill, waterfall, or rock, but the trek went slowly.

The hike was worth the trip itself as the scenery was beautiful, the water was cooling, and the adventure was intoxicating. However, the highlights of the trip hadn't yet arrived as the "adventure" was sold as a rappelling and zip lining adventure. The rappelling went first as each of us strapped up and began the descent. We rappelled down an eighty foot waterfall, beginning with a dry spot, then into an overhang, and finally into the waterfall itself. The rappel was fun and exciting, but once at the bottom you could see the waterfall's beauty from an undistracted position. Being welcomed with a slice of fresh pineapple, I just stood mesmerized, enjoying the waterfall from a short distance away.

After everyone had finished the rappel, we gathered together and after a short hike began the zip line portion of the tour. We went on three zip lines, each taking us further down the valley. At the bottom we had another short hike to our day's starting point, but met an interesting plant in the process. As you tap the small plant it curls up and changes from green to brown as a defense mechanism. Shortly after our stop we made it to our third guide's family's house for a late lunch.

Our meal was authentically Puerto Rican, our first Puerto Rican food thus far. After some dough and mashed plantain dipped in ketchup mayonnaise, the main course arrived. We had chicken legs, rice, and beans. The meal was simple, but good and much needed after our long hike. For dessert we were served banana flan, which was without a doubt the meal's highlight.

We got back to our car earlier than expected so instead of rushing off to our "bio bay" tour, we went to San Juan to check into our hotel. At this time traffic wasn't too bad so we made it into town without much trouble or wrong turns. However, our stay was short as we soon were headed off to the Fajardo area for a kayak tour on a "bio bay."

Laguna Grande (Fajardo)

April 16, 2012
Bioluminescent Bay

We arrived to the "bioluminescent bay" and found our tour company, but had to wait as the path to the bay is narrow and there seems to be a slow distribution of kayaks and boats so the path doesn't get congested. We set off about a half hour late, got our kayak and headed to Laguna Grande. Our trip took us through the harbor, past a few docked boats and into the mangrove forest.

The night sky was dark as the moon was nearly new, but the mangrove branches reached over the path making the trip even darker. There were numerous times when I could literally see no further than the front of the boat. Luckily each boat was equipped with a small glow stick so we simple followed the glow stick on the boat in front of us, hoping it didn't lead us into a low branch or into a sandbar as the path was, in many places, not deeper than about four feet deep and multiple times our paddles actually hit the bottom of the river bed.

As we moved closer and closer (the trip was about one mile each direction) we began to notice the glow of these small organisms called dinoflagellates. As we moved further and further into the laguna the glow got brighter and brighter. These microscopic organisms glow a bright bluish-green when they feel threatened so only glow when the water is distressed. Around the kayak and in the water where our paddles would push the water the glow would appear and as soon as the foreign object had left the water the glow disappeared as the water again appeared dark.

As we got further and further the glow got brighter and brighter. I soon became obsessed with putting my hands in the water to see it glow. Then as I would pull my hand out of the water there would be sparkles that flickered until most of the water had fallen back into the laguna. It was one of the most interesting and awe-inspiring things I've ever seen. There are few natural wonders that are as impressive as this since it's so unique. As far as I'm concerned only the mud volcanoes of Azerbaijan truly compare as this seems to be a truly unique experience and cannot be found nearly anywhere else (there are only seven "bio bays" in the world, three of which are in Puerto Rico).

The kayak trip out of the bay was sad as with each paddle we the glow diminished and we were one row further from this wonder. The highlight on the trip back though was when a fish was swimming close to the surface and we would see it glowing. As it was so close to the surface, we could see the glow of the micro plankton surrounding the fish. Soon after, the glow had diminished enough that our focus had shifted from the water to getting back to the harbor so we can make our way back to San Juan.

San Juan

April 17, 2012
Working & Old San Juan

Today was mostly work for me as I had a few things to get done, including a trip to Office Depot. The traffic was brutal on this path and I realized that I was now driving like the Puerto Rican's do. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at another Wendy's for lunch; it seems that fast food chains are as common in Puerto Rico as they are in mainland U.S.A.

After finishing work late in the afternoon, Cindy and I made our way to San Juan's Old Town. Our walk was relaxed and our first stop was San Cristobal, the old Spanish fort that sits on the north side of the city. This fort was quite impressive and we took about an hour just strolling around the fort. There were few people in the fort at this time so at many times it seemed we had the place to ourselves.

After seeing San Cristobal, we got lost in Old San Juan. We put the maps away and just wandered around enjoying the architecture and feel of the city. In all of North America that I've seen, only Quebec City has such a European feel. This begins with the architecture, some of which is authentically European, such as the Baroque cathedral on the city's west side. However, the European feel stems from the people, their culture, and their language, which makes a non-Spanish speaker truly feel like he or she is abroad.

For dinner we made our way to Raices, which was voted best Puerto Rican food in Old San Juan. It didn't disappoint as we got two different dishes and shared. Cindy got "Mofongo Rellena de Churrasco al Chimichurri" and a mojito while I got "Pechuga Rellena de Yuca Envuelta en Tocineta al Escabeche" and a sangria. The mofongo was mashed green plantains topped with steak and chimichurri sauce; it was incredible, but I actually liked my dish better. Mine was chicken wrapped in bacon then topped with an oil and vinegar sauce containing onions, red peppers, and whole black peppercorns called escabeche sauce. Naturally we both over-ate, but dessert was authentically American and too much to pass up. We shared the brownie topped with ice cream, caramel, and Oreo cookies. As soon as we had left we wanted to return, but instead just took a taxi to our hotel.

April 18-21, 2012

For me the rest of the week was work, up at about 6:00 each day, at work by 7:00am and returning to my room at about 11:00pm. I tried to get outside a couple times a day to enjoy the ocean, which hits the hotel's boundary, but rarely enjoyed the setting. Throughout the week I continuously tried new Puerto Rican foods, such as their take on fried chicken and paella, however nothing lived up to the dishes from Raices.

April 22, 2012

Today was my last day of work. I worked until about 1:00pm, then had the rest of the day to relax before my flight leaves tomorrow. As much as I wanted to get out and visit Old San Juan one more time, I simply didn't have the energy so relaxed on my balcony overlooking the Laguna until dinner time. For dinner I headed back to Old San Juan with a co-worker for a meal at "el Convento." This former convent was hosting a wedding in the courtyard, so we headed to the bar for a meal of tapas. Again, the food didn't disappoint as we had a number of dishes to share and more sangria. The sangria was excellent as was the food, but the highlight was most definitely the chicken coquette. After the meal, we caught a taxi back to the hotel and called it a night before our early flight tomorrow.

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