Monday, September 17, 2012

Puerto Rico: Great for Honeymoons and Professional Development

It's been a whirlwind since I have come back from my honeymoon almost three weeks ago. I have finally found the time to sit down and reflect about my trip to Puerto Rico.

My husband and I kicked around many different ideas for our honeymoon, but we ultimately decided on Puerto Rico. There were many reasons why we booked the trip there. One, it was a place neither of us had been to. Two, I had a friend there I wanted to visit. Three, it's easy to get to, and finally, it's a place where we can speak Spanish. Of course, being who I am, I was not content with just the typical tourist stuff. I also wanted to visit places off of the beaten path if I could. For that reason, we decided to spend our first few nights in Vieques, a little island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. (It also helped that we had gotten points for having had our reception at the Westin which we could use for our honeymoon.)

Vieques

The W Hotel, Vieques

Getting to Vieques was the beginning of a great adventure. I have never been in a Cessna before. There were only 7 of us in the plane not including the pilot. The trip only took about 30 minutes, and we got a great bird's eye view of the Caribbean Sea.

Our plane to Vieques
After we landed, we headed over to the W lounge where we could relax while we waited for the hotel van to come pick us up. We also met Carmen, the 19 year old Viequense, who welcomed us to her island. She told us where we should go visit and where the good places to eat are. When we got to the hotel, we were very impressed.

the lobby

Our room had a view of this pool

Relaxing on the terrace

the entrance at night
It has only been on the island for 2 years, and it's the only international hotel chain on the island since the island has only recently opened up to tourism after years of being owned by the U.S. Navy. We also got well taken care of by the hotel manager who had just spent her last year working at the Sheraton in downtown Boston. Before we left the island, we got a picture with these two wonderful ladies. They truly made our trip special.

Thanks, W Hotel!

Bioluminescent Bay Tour

When I was deciding on which to do first, Vieques or San Juan, the deal breaker was the Bio Bay Tour. I had read about it in my previous textbook, "Avancemos", and since then, I knew I had to go there. Vieques for having been so underdeveloped for most of its history has one of the best Bio Bays in the world. The conditions there are just right to see these little organisms light up the night.

It is recommended that you go on a night with little moon. When I looked at the moon calendar, it seemed the first night of our honeymoon would be the best time to go. I booked it two weeks in advance of our trip as a precaution. I'm glad I did, because we did not anticipate Tropical Storm Isaac to affect our trip like it did. I would have been upset, if we made it all the way to Vieques and didn't see the Bio Bay.

We went on Abe's Snorkeling and BioBay Tour. We got there, signed a waiver, and slathered on their special bug juice - a homemade concoction made of Bay Rum, baby oil, and menthol. It smelled so much better than Off. It also helps preserve the environment so that these organisms can continue to thrive. Best of all, it kept the mosquitos away.

We boarded a rickety old bus that got us to "Mosquito Bay". We got into our kayaks, and within a few paddle strokes, we could see the water sparkle. It was so much fun to run my hand through the water and see it light up. We were told it does not hurt the organisms. It's like tickling them. I've seen some pictures that make it seem as if it is neon blue. In my opinion, it was as if someone had just thrown THOUSANDS of sparkles into the water. It was truly magical. Nothing that can be captured on camera unfortunately. However, my husband and I will always have those memories. My hope is that the people of Vieques will continue to protect this treasure so when I return again, it will be there for me to visit.

Beaches

We spent our first full day at the hotel enjoying everything it had to offer. We needed it after all the craziness of getting married. By Wednesday, we were ready to tour the island. Since there is no public transportation, we had to rent a Jeep which is recommended if you plan to drive to the over 40 beaches on Vieques. We were lucky that we went when we did because Tropical Storm Isaac hit Thursday.

video


The Jeep at the beginning of the day
The Jeep at the end of the day
We decided to go to Playa de La Chiva which is also known as Blue Beach. The U.S. Navy had given the beaches names like Red Beach, Green Beach, Blue Beach etc. They were places where they tested out missiles and other military weapons and practiced amphibious exercises. Now that the island is back in local hands, they have returned to the original names of the beaches. 

We had rented an umbrella, cooler, and chairs from the hotel since the beach we were going to was going to have no facilities as you can see from the video. It was practically deserted when we got there. It was as if we had it all to ourselves. The best part was the chance to go snorkeling. It was a first time for me, and I absolutely loved it. 

Snorkeling
Playa de la Chiva aka Blue Beach
After a few hours, the skies started to get dark, and we knew that our time at the beach was over. We picked up our stuff and ran for cover. Just as we got into the car, it started to downpour. We decided to go get something to eat while we waited for the storm to blow over. The sun never did come back out again, but we decided to keep visiting other beaches even if it was overcast.

Puntarenas aka Green Beach, supposedly great snorkeling

Imagining how much more beautiful it would be if it wasn't overcast

Not really sure what it is...remnant of the US Navy?
Heading to San Juan

Because of Tropical Storm Isaac, we couldn't leave the Island until Friday which is a day later than we had planned. We were going to take the ferry back, but it never happened. So, we flew back to Puerto Rico and rented a car in Ceiba and then drove to San Juan. I could not not believe how many American chains there are in Puerto Rico. Vieques is still untouched by large American businesses, but the mainland is another story. It was like being in Florida. On a positive note, the roads were well-maintained, and it was very easy to drive there.

Walgreens, Walmart, Marshalls, and TMobile just to name a few
Viejo San Juan

We made it to San Juan late on Friday night. It was enough time to see a bit of Old San Juan as the sun was setting. We ended up staying in hotel that used to be a former monastery. Da' House also is an art gallery. After dropping off our bags, we went to get a bite to eat. I just had to stop in those little shops to check out what art work they had.

At Da House
Appreciating the artwork

video

We went to Raices, a restaurant recommended by my friend which has traditional Puerto Rican food. We ordered mofongo which is mashes plantains filled with whatever you want. I got mine filled with mixed seafood. It was very tasty, but I couldn't finish it all. We headed back to the hotel. We were serenaded until 3 in the morning with salsa music from the cafe below our window. Sanjuaneros know how to party.

Mofongo
The next morning we went to Caficultura, a great little coffee shop at the end of our street. We had mallorcas, which was grilled sweet bread filled with whatever we wanted. Of course, my choice was guava paste. We washed it down with jugo de acerola and jugo de parcha. I love tropical fruit juices. We still had some time before check out, so we checked out (jaja) the fort in our part of the neighborhood. It was called Castillo San Cristobal. The bigger fort, el Morro, is further down the coast, but we didn't make it to that one. It was still interesting to tour the smaller fort. It was like stepping back in time.

Mallorcas

Caficultura

Old San Juan

Heading to the dungeons
Beautiful

I love the architecture of Old San Juan



I'm in Puerto Rico! :)
Heading to Mayaguez

The last leg of our trip was heading to Mayaguez on the west coast of the island so that we could see my friend. Despite all the American chains, we did see two things that you would not see in the States.

Women selling hammocks on the side of the road

WHAT?!? 

It was a beautiful drive to Mayaguez. It wasn't as touristy, but just as nice as any other part of the island. It was great being able to see my friend and go to the places where locals go. I think this last picture sums up our experience in Puerto Rico - It's definitely La Isla del Encanto.