Day 3 – Rainforest Tour


11/6/15 – We went to bed so early last night, that we’re both awake around 5AM.  Well, that gives us plenty of time to get ready and have breakfast.  We went to the hotel restaurant again.  They have a buffet for $20 – a little more than I really want to spend on breakfast, but the a la carte menu is kind of pricey too.  Ok, fruit, eggs, toast and juice.  I’m ready for the tour.

We’re downstairs right at 7:45 for our tour.  We’re told it’s going to rain so we get umbrellas from the front desk.  Never used them – just something extra to carry around.  While we’re waiting, one of the bellmen asked what tour we were doing.  Half day rainforest – he says, they’ll be here at 8:05.  Sure enough, our guide showed up right at 8:05.  We had 4 more hotels to stop at before we really get on our way.  That’s the main reason I don’t like organized tours.

Our guide is Lismal.  She’s very knowledgeable and entertaining.  The last 2 hotels were in Condado and as we were driving through she pointed out a couple of good restaurants.  Then she pointed at Subway and said “No Subway!”.  Then Chili’s – “No Chili’s!  You are in the Caribbean!  Eat local food!”

We continued on through the countryside with Lismal pointing out little towns and the mountains we were headed to (the Sleeping Giant for the formation).  I always love getting to see some of the countryside of the islands I visit.  We arrived at El Yunque National Rainforest, which is maintained by the US National Parks Service. 20151106_092508We drove into the lowest level of the park, then continued on up to the 2nd level where we parked.  We had a chance to take a few photos and Lismal found this snail on a tree.  

She said there are brown and green ones.  We then took a walk up a little into the forest to Bano Grande

which was built as a swimming pool by the CCC in the 1930’s.  It’s very scenic up here.  

After this we walked back down to the road and had to walk in the road for awhile to get to the Caimatillo Trailhead.  Apparently during the last big storm, there was a lot of damage and some areas of the trail washed out.  They are working on repairing it now.  We went up this trail and Lismal pointed out different trees and told as about the flora and fauna in the forest.  We stopped by a stream and she got down and got a couple of rocks which she rubbed together.  Doing this made a mud ink/dye.  She explained that the Tainos used this to paint their faces, and she demonstrated on those of us that would let her.  She mostly did faces, but with me she used my upper arm.  She made 3 different colors using different combinations of rocks.  Very interesting.

From here we got back in the bus and went down to an observation tower which is 75 feet tall.  It has incredible views.  I took the stairs up and there are windows at all the landings.  You really get a great variety of views.

Our last stop was a La Coca waterfall.  It is right on the road so very easy to get to and take pictures.  

Then we headed back into San Juan and, of course, we were the last stop.  We rested up a bit when we got back and then headed out for lunch.  While waiting for the tour I had asked the bellman where to go.  He pointed down the street in front of the hotel entrance and said go a block, then up the stairs and there is a whole block of restaurants serving Puerto Rican food.  Ok, that’s where we’re headed.

We come out of the stairway and sure enough, across the street is a row of restaurants.  We’re kind of looking back and forth when I see Raice’s.  20151106_140719This was one of several restaurants a friend of a friend had recommended, and Lismal and recommended it as well so we decided to go there.  There was a short wait, and finally we got a table – right next to the cash register so we constantly had wait staff standing almost on top of us.  I was a little disappointed when I looked at the menu because it was more of a dinner menu and most of the food looked heavier than I wanted mid-day.  But after getting a beer, I was getting a little more into the mood.  

Finally we each found something that sounded good.  Frankly, I thought the food was so-so.  Their menu on line here looks better than the choices we had, and there were no $6.95 specials.  My feeling about this restaurant is that it has gotten well known and maybe lost some of it’s original charm.  The employees, for the most part, did not look like they were happy to be there.  Not my favorite on this trip.  Oh, well, it filled us up.  

After lunch we took a little walk around Old San Juan then back to the hotel.  Pam hadn’t been feeling real well since the bumpy bus ride back from the rainforest, so she decided to rest in the room.  I took my book and headed up to the pool.  It was failry cloudy, but still nice and warm.  After about an hour, it started to rain so I checked on Pam – still resting- so I headed down to the bar where the bartender made me a Puerto Rico Sunset. 20151106_180828 Yummy!

Pam showed up after a bit and we had some dinner and an early night again.

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My First Cruise (or When I Fell in Love with the Caribbean)


When I was growing up traveling consisted of camping, usually near my grandmother’s summer place in Central Oregon, but sometimes at the Washington coast.  Our one big family vacation was when we rented a small travel trailer, packed up the station wagon, and met up with some cousins at Yellowstone.  We thought that was really exciting!

My Grandmother did travel, however.  She went on cruises with some lady friends every so often.  I really don’t remember how often, but I do remember hearing her stories and seeing her pictures.  She was a very refined lady, very into the arts and very well read and I admired her.  I decided at an early age that a cruise was the ultimate vacation (it must be if Grandma Thompson went on them) and that someday I would go on one.

 

Finally I was able to for my 40th birthday.  I told my sister a couple years ahead of time to start saving – about 8 months before my BD I said “I hope you’ve got some money saved – we’re really going”.  My sister and I chose an Eastern Caribbean cruise sailing out of San Juan.  This was long before I got into the travel business – we booked the air and all through a TA and ended up flying a red eye the night before we sailed, something I would never suggest to anyone.  By the time the ship sailed we were pretty worn out – but adrenaline kept us going.

 

We had 5 ports on our 7 night cruise on the Carnival Inspiration.  We sailed out of San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Our first port of call was St. Thomas.  What a thrill it was to wake up and be in this beautiful Caribbean port!  (We were a little too excited and exhausted to really have noticed anything in San Juan.)  We did some shopping and took some photos around town and looking back to the pier with the 3 ships docked there (this was 11 years ago – a bit different than it is today).

After shopping we took a boat tour with snorkeling.  Now this is the life!  The sun!  The sand!  The bath-water warm, clear, blue water!  Seeing the fishies up close and personal!  The people that we met – I loved every minute of it. 

To digress a moment, I had been to Hawaii to visit a friend a couple of times.  I’d visited both Oahu and Maui.  They are beautiful, and back in the early 80’s and 90’s much less crowded than today.  But I didn’t get the same feeling there as I did sitting on that beach in St. Thomas. Our second port of call was St. Martin.  We had to tender in at Phillipsburg – and again we spent our morning shopping, sightseeing and chatting with the vendors we met.  After shopping, we caught a taxi to Orient Beach.  Now this was really beautiful – white sand and blue water as far as we could see (or so it seemed).  Even a naked person or two – unfortunately none that probably should have been parading proudly down the beach.  Another wonderful day. 

The next day was Dominica.  We knew there was no shopping or beaches to speak of so we took a ships tour.  There were about 10 of us in the van with our guide Rupert George.  I’ll never forget him – he was so cute, sweet, charming and knowledgeable.  We went to a viewpoint overlooking Roseau, then hiked through the rainforest to the Emerald Pool.  We also went to a lookout where we could see Trafalgar Falls.  This island is incredibly beautiful.  During our drive we passed several rivers (supposedly there are 365 of them) and beautiful flowers and of course the rainforest.  During our stops we met many of the locals who took pictures for us, sold us some wonderful soaps and other souvinirs, a little band when we came out from the Emerald Pool who insisted we take our picture with them.  I really do feel that the best asset of the Caribbean Islands are their people.  As we were heading back down toward Roseau we saw several small guesthouse type hotels – I leaned over to my sister and said “I could be very happy here for a very long time!”

Next was Martinique.  Very French – we walked around town a bit, but I didn’t get the same feel here as I had at our other stops.  We took a ferry over to a beach and spent most of our time there.  It was beautiful – many, many sailboats anchored off shore.  We did some swimming – the Caribbean Sea is so healing to my soul – I just can’t get enough.

Our last port was Barbados.  Unfortunately it was a holiday there and almost everything was closed except for a few craft vendors near the pier.  Supposedly there was a parade, but we missed it.  We walked around town a bit, then decided to take another boat tour.  It was lovely – we got to see a lot of the coast and did some more snorkeling.

The cruise experience itself was everything I had expected and more!  The service, the food, the people we met, the entertainment and the ship itself.  The only bad things I could say about this was that the Travel Agent we used should have suggested an Oceanview cabin rather than Inside, we had early seating for dinner which made us rush, and that red-eye to San Juan – we really should have come in a day early.  Also, 5 ports on a 7 night cruise is a lot!  I prefer to have at least 2 full days at sea.  But, it taught me valuable lessons on how to interview clients and get them the correct arrangements.

And the very best thing!  On the last night we played Bingo and won a free cruise in a Verandah Suite.  I’ll tell all about that in another post.

I apologize that I have no pictures.  I tried scanning some but they did not come out very well.

Puerto Rico Downloadable Video


The Puerto Rico Tourism Company has a new online video, “EyeTour Puerto Rico”, and island guide that can be played back on your computer or downloaded to your I-Pod. 

 

The video includes tours of 40 of Old San Juan’s sites of interest and will be adding attractions around the island in the future.  It will also offer the opportunity to download videos on cooking Puerto Rican dishes in the future.  I checked this out and there is a lot of information.  You can watch and listen to the video and they also have the text of the description – a fun way to take a tour without actually leaving home. 

 

Puerto Rico is a great vacation choice – a wonderful Caribbean destination where you don’t need a passport.  There is much to do there beyond Old San Juan – you can visit the El Yunque Rainforest, or Ponce in the south section of PR, or one of the islands – Culebra and Vieques.  There is so much history in Puerto Rico, and it is exotic but at the same time still tied to the US.   

If you are interested in Puerto Rico, you might want to catch Christmas in Paradise, a 2-hour feature comedy/drama movie filmed entirely in Puerto Rico. The movie will premiere on Lifetime, Saturday, December 15 at 9 pm EST.  In fact, you can register to win a trip from Lifetime Network to Puerto Rico to “Explore Beyond the Shore” as well as some other great prizes.  There is a link to the prize section on the Go To Puerto Rico website listed below.

You can see the video tours at www.gotopuertorico.com.