Jun 2010
04

Puerto Rico : Luquillo Beach & Old San Juan

Let’s get back to fun in the sun, shall we???

One of the very best things about the resort we stayed in was it’s location. In a single day, we were able to spend the morning and lunchtime on Luquillo Beach and in their famous Kiosks – then drive over to Old San Juan for the afternoon to explore a bit while watching the sun set.

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We were jazzed to try out Luquillo Beach (just a 10 minute drive) after I read that Frommer’s listed it as their Best Family Beach in Puerto Rico. It really was lovely, tranquil and easy. Public restrooms, public showers (for $1.00), and white sandy beaches made it REALLY easy to spend the day there – playing. I like easy.

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We also managed to make, in my humble opinion, our very best sand castle of the entire trip there.

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On the back side of the beach, and where we had our lunch, are the Luquillo Kiosks (or Kioskos). These were very interesting to me. EVERYONE said we HAD to visit these. To have fried foods and coconut milk.

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However, we were fairly shocked by the mixture of upscale, medium-scale and downright – um – garbage-heap that were all lined up right next to each other, one by one, down the row of the kiosks.

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Having said that, EVERYONE, and I really mean EVERYONE this time, said to go to Kiosk #2 (La Parilla) for the mofongo – which happens to be my favorite Puerto Rican food. They were absolutely right. Ab-so-lutely the best meal we had all week.

Vegans avert your eyes.

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So, with a full belly, no more sand in our you-know-where’s after our $1 showers, and the afternoon to kill – we headed back west to the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan. Specifically, to the historic district of Old San Juan.

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I reminded me of what maybe Cuba looks like… -?

And also the Miami art deco areas.

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Old San Juan is particularly famous for it’s blue cobblestones. Which I kept explaining the coolness of to Declan over and over again and he kept disagreeing; he thought it was silly that they had not paved over them yet with a “real road.”

KIDS.

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We walked around, took in the architecture, had a lovely ceviche dinner…

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The only thing we did not fully explore were the ancient forts of El Morro and San Cristobal.

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There’s always next time, right?

P.S. All the photos from this day are here.

May 2010
24

Puerto Rico : El Yunque Rainforest

Our second big adventure in Puerto Rico was visiting El Yunque rainforest, which is the only rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. To give you an idea of how much we enjoyed El Yunque, Declan turned to me at one point and said, “This is the best day of my life.” This is AFTER we experienced the Bio Bay!

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All our activities at El Yunque took about 6 hours, given we had Declan (and me) with us. Meaning we did one small hike and one more extensive one (details below) as well as drove up and down the main road, stopping as we saw fit. But for those who are into hiking, there are several longer trails, especially along the peak, several of which take several hours. Point being – you could spend a lot of time in El Yunque alone, never mind the rest of Puerto Rico.

El Yunque Map
El Yunque Map

We came into El Yunque and stopped at the Forest Center. If you feel comfortable with what you are doing, you can skip this, but we got good advice on the trails (such as learning how long the ones at the peak were and OBTAINING THIS MAP!).

La Coca Falls
Right by the highway, very easy to get out and walk around. And gorgeous!
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Yokahu Tower
Stop here. Walk to the top of the tower. Take in the view. Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. As someone commented in my Flickr stream, it’s like looking out and seeing Jurassic Park.

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And there is a little shop in the tower, where people can buy batteries for their child’s camera, not that THAT happened to US or anything. You can also buy ponchos there. Which I did. Since it’s a RAINFOREST. People we met on the BioBay trip said they got poured on, and used the ponchos ALL DAY, but I have to tell you we never even opened the pack. Good to have, though.

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Juan Diego Creek & Falls
I had read on the Puerto Rico Day Trips website – a goldmine of Puerto Rico information, by the way – to go walking back to Juan Diego Falls, that is was El Yunque’s “best kept secret.” LISTEN TO THESE PEOPLE. THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY CORRECT.

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As they mention, the trail is poorly marked, so look around – but it is about a 5-10 minute walk back along the creek to the waterfall you see above. In retrospect, I wish we would have had Declan swim in *this* waterfall. It was much more secluded and smaller, less powerful than the more famous La Mina Falls (below). Point being, if you have children with you – THIS is the waterfall to let them play in. But still be careful, of course, a waterfall is dangerous no matter how small. But smaller is better than huge like La Mina.

La Mina Falls
There are two trails to La Mina. Big Tree, which is through the rainforest or Palo Colorado, which is along the river. We chose Palo Colorado – and it was an amazing, almost spiritual experience. Not to mention, HOT, WET and STICKY.

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It takes about 30 minutes to walk down the trail – and it is stairs and rocks and steep the whole way. We made sure we had water, snacks and our bathing suits. I have to give my son such credit here – he was SUCH a trooper. Later – not so much, ha. But by then we were ALL on the train to Crankyville, so I can’t blame him. Point being – Bryan and Declan were waiting for ME most of the time.

Puerto Rico Fern On Tree Closeup

Of course, I *was* stopping often to take pictures.

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Finally! We made it to La Mina Falls!

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And La Mina Falls kicked my booty.

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Seriously friends. I am a strong swimmer. I am a big gal. If you go into this waterfall, BE CAREFUL! I really did get turned around in there for a minute until the waterfall had enough of me and literally pushed me out. Yes, LITERALLY.

But is was so worth it.

Amazing.

Until we had to walk back up.

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That’s OK. The resort had this waiting for me.

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Blogger Disclosure: This trip was partially sponsored by the Wyndham Rio Mar Beach Resort. They graciously provided accommodations for my family while we were in Puerto Rico.

May 2010
18

Puerto Rico : Bio (Bioluminescent) Bay

If you go to Puerto Rico, you MUST visit one of the Bioluminescent Bays, also called “BioBay.”

YOU. MUST. GO.

The photo below was only lightened up a little in Photoshop.
It really happened.
I took this photo.
My family swam in glowing blue water.

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Here is the deal.

There are 15 bioluminescent bays of this sort in the entire world. Three of them are in Puerto Rico. The brightest of which is Mosquito Bay on the island of Vieques, right off the east edge of Puerto Rico.

Guess which one we went to?

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The thing you *can’t* see in the photos is that when you move *slowly* – the Bio Bay sparkles on you. Seriously. Bryan dove under the water and came up looking like Edward in Twilight. There was no way to capture this with my camera, you can’t even see it from the boat. You have to get close to the water to see the sparkles. And then when you move faster, the light turns into a blue glow like above. I really wonder where James Cameron gets his ideas. Hmmmm.

How Does The Bio Bay Work?
This is from Wikipedia, but it is also an abbreviated version of exactly what our guide told us: The luminescence is caused by micro-organisms (dinoflagellates) which glow whenever the water is disturbed, leaving a trail of neon blue. A combination of factors create the necessary conditions for bioluminescence: red mangrove trees surround the water (the organisms feed off the dead leaves); a complete lack of modern development around the bay; the water is cool enough and deep enough; and a small channel to the ocean keeps the dinoflagellates in the bay.

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How Do You Get To A Bio Bay?
We took a tour* that brought us over to the island, fed us dinner, and puttered us around the bay on a pontoon boat. Many people also kayak through the bays. We chose the pontoon boat because we had Declan with us and I had all my camera equipment. There are tons of tours that go to all three BioBays, internet search was easy for this one – and the resort had folks to help too.

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When Should I Go To Bio Bay?
At night. Ha. That was pretty obvious. The other thing to pay attention to is the moon phases. It is best to avoid a trip a week before a full moon, and in fact, if an operator is touring during that week – you may want to look elsewhere. Seriously. This excursion is so special, I will book my entire next trip to Puerto Rico around the moon + best BioBay viewing.

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This is Bryan doing the breast stroke past me.

Is Swimming in the Bio Bay Scary?
A little. They warn you about jelly fish, and all the blue glow and the sparkles and the dark is so overwhelming that I about swallowed my tongue. My 7 year old son was flip-flopping the whole way there about whether he would get in the water, but I was so proud of him when he did it! He got in and swam with us for about 5 minutes. Champ!

This is something NONE of us will EVER forget.

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Was It Only About The Bio Bay?
No! Actually, the guide was very knowledgeable about astronomy as well. He had a green laser that looked like it was actually touching the stars (thank you for the clear night, Mother Nature) and he pointed out constellations, told us stories and folklore about the skies as well as the seas throughout the whole trip. We even saw the Southern Cross!

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To see all my photos from
our BioBay day,
click here.

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*Thank you to East Island Excursions for providing a discount and an amazing adventure!

May 2010
14

Puerto Rico : Arrival

Friends, the word I have been using to describe our trip to Puerto Rico is… “magical.”

I don’t know if Declan is just getting old enough to handle things better, or we are just learning to do it better, or if we’re just lucky, but first Ireland, and now Puerto Rico – we’re on a roll.

Clearly the magic ingredient for us is mixing up exciting excursions + downtime. We had 4 major days where we did “exciting” things (for which you’ll get ALL the details, DON’T YOU WORRY) and the other days were relaxing by the beach and pool. We even had an evening that involved a few hours of kid TV that maybe not *all* of us appreciated as much as Declan – but, again, for us, the key word to harmony on vacation is BALANCE.

Declan was definitely overwhelmed at points. Heck, Bryan and I were overwhelmed. They don’t call Puerto Rico “The Island of Enchantment” for nothing.

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Just a few overarching thoughts first…

Ease of Travel

Flights
Dudes. It was SO easy to get to Puerto Rico. Like I mentioned in my prep post, you do not need a passport. I have been so surprised how many people do not know this. YOU. DO. NOT. NEED. A. PASSPORT. TO. GO. TO. PUERTO. RICO. And we read that Declan needed his birth certificate, but they never once asked for it. No customs. The only minor inconvenience was a USDA scan on the way back for tropical poaching, same as you when return from Hawaii.

Money
Currency was easy, seeing as it is US DOLLAR. ATM’s were plentiful – and here’s a great tip from friends who have been burned: Whenever traveling off the mainland, only get money from a *bank* ATM. Apparently this a real source of theft around the world right now… hooligans setting up real-looking, but crooked, ATMs.

Language
Everyone spoke English. We traveled pretty much every tourist destination on the east side of the island, and 99% of the people we encountered spoke better English than I do. Sure, when we were more rural, we met a fisherman who didn’t speak English. But he let us play with his net, so I forgive him.

Safety
Puerto Rico is in transition. Up until recently, it has been a powerhouse in pharmaceutical manufacturing. For various reasons, they are shifting the economy, and tourism is emerging for sure. But they have a ways to go, and some parts of the countryside definitely needs a bit of cleaning up, much like what we have seen in other Caribbean trips. This can be a little off-putting, the clash of highs and lows – but in general, we felt very comfortable. In fact, many people went out of their way to be extremely friendly, to make us very welcome.

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The Resort

Relationship
I also mentioned in my intro post that this was a partially sponsored trip for us. The Rio Mar Wyndham Beach Resort was kind enough to provide our accommodations while we were in Puerto Rico, and we thank them heartily. This relationship worked out perfectly for us, allowing us to stay at a resort we were very interested in to begin with, and have the freedom to control the rest of our vacation ourselves.

Location
The Rio Mar Wyndham is located right on the beach, about 10 minutes west of Luquillo, and about 10 minutes north of El Yunque Rainforest. It is about 30 minutes west of Fajardo, the launching point for most snorkeling and Bioluminescent Bay adventures. To top it off, it is about 45 minutes east of the airport, a very easy drive. Speaking of, I suggest you rent a car when visiting Puerto Rico – the cost was about twice what a cab from the airport would be for the whole week and well worth it. Although we only visited the east side of the island, we were ALL over the east side.

Accommodations
The resort is HUGE. So, if you want a small bed and breakfast, Rio Mar is not for you. There is a golf course (we didn’t use), a casino (we didn’t use), a country club (we didn’t visit), a spa (I wish I would have visited)… but trust me – we made full use of the beach front, the pools (there is also an exclusively-adult pool available), the hot tub, and the multiple restaurants on site. Basically, we were still discovering little corners of the place up until the last day. I can say without a doubt I would consider visiting Rio Mar again.

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Arrival Day
Our first afternoon in Puerto Rico was about getting our bearings. We played on the beach, had churrasco for dinner, and watched my glasses fog up from the humidity. Our four main “big” excursions over the week were to the BioBay, El Yunque Rain Forest, snorkeling, and driving the southeastern Rt. 901 coastal scenic highway to Mauanbo. I can’t wait to share all our adventures with you.

To check out all the photos from our
first day in Puerto Rico,
click here.

In the meantime, check out my filthy and hilarious son.

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May 2010
04

GUEST POST: Have Kids, Will Travel

Jason, also know as @meatflag on Twitter, is one cool dude. He is good friend here in Colorado and not only do our kids get along famously, they have the gumption to present at Podcamp together. And whatever Jason says about being organized when traveling along, let’s all remember that HE is the one who videotaped himself falling on the DIA escalators. Truth.
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Have Kids, Will Travel
by Jason Janelle from LilBiker

When Aimee asked me to write a guest post my first reaction was excitement confusion. I mean has she read my blog? It’s a travesty of inconsistent posts filled with my thoughts on computers, photography and kids. OK, maybe it has to do with our common interest in those last two. Well I’ve never written a guest post and I am honored to be asked so let’s begin torturing you, the reader.

With the Greeblemonkey clan headed down to Puerto Rico, I am reminded just how challenging it can be to travel with kids, especially young ones. When I travel on my own I am a machine of organization, I know where my stuff is, I know where I’m sitting, I move with purpose. I end up staying quite calm due to the OCD amount of organization involved. When I board the plane I’m out of the aisle, bags in the overhead bin, ass in the seat. My kids, however, don’t seem to enjoy the hurried walk through the airport filled with purpose. Why should they? An airport is kind of an amazing place filled with new people, shops, sometimes trains and, eventually, an airplane ride. I mean, now that I’m sitting here typing it ( in an airport ), how can I not get excited? The end result of a trip to the airport is amazing. You. Get. To. FLY!

Flying with kids, while amazing, isn’t always easy. The first time we flew with my daughter, K, she was 6 months old and we were all going to Hawaii. That was when I learned that something 1/10th my size could have 10 times as much luggage. After the car seat, stroller, and playpen/crib there was somehow a full suitcase of clothes and that’s just was just for the baby. It was like all those years of traveling light were some sort of gift and the luggage gods wanted their sacrifice. About 1 hour after we left the San Francisco airport K was sleeping peacefully and the airplane did a 180 and the pilot explained to us that the long range radio wasn’t working and that we would be headed back to San Francisco. As we went to land, the plane changed direction again and we were redirected to L.A. After 3 hours sitting on the plane it was determined that the plane could not be fixed and that we would be spending the night in L.A. K was an angel through the whole thing. The trouble came with all that luggage. By the time it was hauled off the plane, loaded into to the van, pack mule’d up to the room, and the crib set up there was only 3 hours until we had to wake up, break it down, and take it back. We did make it to Hawaii and it was wonderful to see my little girl playing on the beach.

The next time K and I flew was to Florida to see my parents. This time it was a year later, just her and I, no more crib and by now I’m a pro at the car seat, what could possibly go wrong?. The flight out was great and the trip was wonderful. It was on that trip that she fell in love with horses. It was also on the flight home that the skill I had finely tuned for business trips became my kryptonite for flying with kids. While doing cross country business flights I trained myself to fall asleep as soon as the plane took off. On the flight home the plane took off and I felt the sleep coming on. I fought it as hard as I could but the sleep was coming. I got K set up with water, a snack, and a movie and let her know that I might ( would ) fall asleep. And then two things happened. First, I fell asleep. Second, I was shocked awake buy the ice cold bath my man parts were taking. The water that I had set up for K had “somehow” spilled on me. Refreshed and a little cleaner we finished the flight home, wide awake.

The last time we flew with the kids was, oddly enough, to Puerto Rico for vacation. This time we had both kids, K and R. Queue the car seats and infinite luggage and bright and early we headed to the airport. It was so early that I had just enough time to grab breakfast for everyone and bring it on the plane with us as we boarded. My hands full, I threw the food into the seat, the bags into the overhead, strapped the car seats to the plane and the kids to the car seats. Flustered, tired, and under-caffeinated I plopped down into my seat. Plopped down onto the large orange juice that I placed in my seat. Orange juice proceeded to soak my pants and seat as well as pour down my leg. The airline stewards did what they could to help but the fact was that I needed to sit down and would be sitting in OJ for the next 4 hours. Puerto Rico turned out to be worth every minute of it. The El Yunque rainforest is beautiful and swimming in the middle of the night in the bioluminescent pools was an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life.

So yea, flying, traveling, living with kids is an adventure. One I wouldn’t trade for the world.

NOTE: K and R are not my kid’s real names, they are the online pseudonyms that we use for them until they are older.