Sunday, March 21, 2010

Vieques y Culebra – we like

Well, now that we’ve been back a few weeks…going back through these photos was my escape back to these little islands. Island life is amazing, it doesn’t matter if you are in Hawaii or these little islands off the coast of Puerto Rico, there is just something in the air that makes people happier. They just have a different perspective on life. On these little islands where there are no resorts, or even hotels to speak of…just guesthouses and the homes of the locals. There is an absence of materialism, they have a roof over their head, some sort of livelihood that keeps food in their cupboards, but beyond that they have these incredibly pristine beaches to themselves. Vieques has a population of about 10,000 and Culebra about 2,000. Both islands in some sense were controlled by the US Navy until fairly recently – which has allowed them to stay rather secret and pristine. We found ourselves exploring from one beach to the next, whether it was bushwacking, cruising along on a little scooter, or a beat up old Suzuki 4x4 and as we arrived on these beaches we were either alone, or you could count the people on them with your two hands (10 or less). Then there’s the whole feeling of just sitting there, surrounded by this incredible beauty and thinking how incredible the Creator is. I mean, look at these beaches, we just kind of wandered from one to the next.

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The little port we rode in to on the ferry on Vieques.

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Sun Bay on Vieques. You walk onto this beach, and you know you’re officially in the Caribbean.

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On to the next beach, crystal clear and calm.

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Black sand (well, kind of half black sand)

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In Esperanza, the little tiny town on the island we found these awesome pastries for breakfast each day. Below is the bay in Esperanza with a little row of tasty restaurants right on the water.

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We read that there was a relatively small number of rental cars that were hard to come by unless you reserved in advance. We thought we’d take our chances, should have listened to what we read as no cars were available. After walking and bushwacking from beach to beach the first day (on the way back to our guesthouse one of the days, these two nice teenage looking girls pull over on the dirt road connecting the beaches and offered a ride, in Spanish first then after the confusion on my face, she looked and said “ride?” so we jumped in their car and said Esperanza, and they nodded, then pumped up the Puerto Rican Rap and took off. We quickly noticed that the girl in the passenger seat had a 24 bottle box of Heineken in her lap, most of which were empty. Her and the girl driving both had an open one they were drinking with one hand, and a cigarette in the other. It was awesome. We crossed our fingers and luckily we made it back to town in one piece). Anyway, as we were walking back to the beach closest to Esperanza, we noticed some scooters sitting outside of a little shack. We asked the guy about them, and ended up getting a deal on renting one for the day, and going on a kayak tour of the bioluminescent bay that night and some snorkel gear. So we jumped on and rode all over the island. Which would explain why Julie is wearing a helmet in the picture above.

We went to the Bioluminescent Bay that night. It was one of the most incredible/bazaar things we have experienced. We went to the bay before the moon rose, so it was really dark…we got in kayaks and went out into the bay. Anytime that you moved your oar, or there was any movement in the water, these little micro-organisms light up. The best was to describe it was magic pixie dust. An amazing phenomenon. We jumped in at the end, and as you moved your limbs around, you would just start glowing. So crazy. Our tour guide asked us not to take pictures, so here is one I found on the internet.


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We rode to the other side of the island which was more heavily wooded, including this tree that was supposedly hundreds of years old. This was also where a lot of the navy stuff was, including tons of these hidden artillery storage units from WWII.

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And of course more insanely beautiful beaches.

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After a couple of days on Vieques, we rode the ferry back to the mainland, and then jumped on another one that was headed for Culebra. Culebra is home to Playa Flamenca, probably the most beautiful beach you’ll ever see. According to some travel magazines, it is one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world. Literally a mile long half moon with the most beautiful blue water and powder white sand. The best part, you could camp right there on the beach. We brought along our tent (thanks to Shawni and Dave (wedding present)) and camped there for three nights. It was our first time camping together, and all things considered it was quite nice. We rotated nights on who got to sleep on the blow up pool floatie that Julie smartly bought (they one had one), so the other one got have numb hip (sleeping on your side when it is kind of hard and your hip goes numb). This beach was incredible though, pictures won’t do it justice. But I will try.

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This is an old military tank that has strangely become one of the icons on the beach. It was a pretty cool sight.

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Our little camp site.

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A little hike to the other side of the island was Carlos Rosario Beach which had some some beautiful coral reefs and lot of fish – and even some mine that you could see down deeper. The lonely planet book said some of them are still live, so we opted not to go down and see if that was the case.

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This is that laid back island mentality I was telling you about.   

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From atop the island you can see all of the little islands surrounding Culebra and St. Thomas in the distance.

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Playa Zoni on the other side of the island. 

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Julie enjoying her Pina Colada at Playa Flamenco. Something she had been talking about doing constantly, and what helped her survive the big huge snowstorms that came through here…she just kept saying “in X days, I will be drinking a pina colada at Flamenco Beach”

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It was quite hard to leave these islands and come back to reality. Hopefully you got a little taste of the beauty though. Wow! Take a trip down there, it is awesome! We went back to the mainland and spent some time in El Yunque tropical rainforest. We hiked down to a waterfall. It was pretty amazing to be on the beach on Culebra in the morning, and then in this dense rainforest hours later.

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To make it a little easier coming home, the weather here in DC has been Beautiful. The cherry blossoms are on their way. We went for a walk today and enjoyed the spring beauty (and encountered plenty of protestors with the healthcare vote taking place). Spring rules.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Old San Juan

Well, we’ve been back a week now, but this is the first time I have had to sit down and write something. We spent a week in Puerto Rico and it was fantastic. The weather was perfect, we got over the winter blues, and explored as much as we could.

The trip started with an awesome automated call from American Airlines at 6am telling us that our flight was cancelled and that we’d been rebooked for the following day. No weather problems in DC, but the best we could figure out was that our plane was stuck in Boston or New York…or maybe American Airlines really just does stink. The best part was that they rebooked us on a flight that went from DC to Boston and then to San Juan. The problem being that Boston was storm central. Luckily after 45 minutes of hold music I found a great lady that helped us transfer to a direct flight from Dulles (the other DC airport) the next morning. Even though that airport is not near as convenient, we decided it was worth the 40 bucks for the shuttle out there.

So finally we made it, and first enjoyed Old San Juan. Don’t you love the feeling when you’ve been in a really cold place, and you get off the plane in a warm place, and the burst of warmth/humidity that hits you when step off the plane onto the jet-way.

Old San Juan was amazing. A really cool Spanish Colonial town dating back to the 1500s. It felt like we were in Europe with the beauty cobblestone streets, then the Caribbean flare of bright multicolored buildings. We just walked around the city and soaked it in, and explored El Morro and San Juan Cristobal – two old fortresses that protected the island for many years and was even refortified and used in WWII. It was amazing to read the history and see the history in the walls of these fortresses and in the buildings throughout Old San Juan.

Below are some of my favorite shots. Sorry, there’s kind of a lot, but I can’t narrow them down. Too cool of a place.

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This is La Iglesia de San Jose in the middle of old San Juan. Built in the 1500’s. We happened to be there right as couple was getting married.

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The interior of one of these old buldings (the facade still looked great, there was a whole in the door that we poked our heads through and saw this. Looks like they’ve been waiting a while for the big remodel).

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The path that leads around the outer wall of the city and El Morro.

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El Morro for the front.

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The cemetery attached to El Morro.

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I could have spent the entire day just taking pictures of the cobblestone and the doors.

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Finally Fuerte de San Cristobal. Another beautiful fort with so much cool history. This person did a great job of actually getting the fort behind us in the picture.

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The view from the top of the fort with modern San Juan in the background.

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We finished the night walking the then dark and quiet streets and found an awesome little hole in the wall, family run establishment for some awesome Puerto Rican food. Stay tuned for the next installment of the trip as we headed to Vieques and Culebra (two little islands off the East Coast of Puerto Rico).

Friday, March 12, 2010

we went here

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Any idea where this is? The details coming soon. It has been a crazy whirlwind week with Julie starting her job and me trying to catch up on what I missed while we were gone. As soon as weekend hits, I will put some more pictures up and let you experience our adventure vicariously through the blogosphere. Happy Friday.