September 11, 2014

Puerto Rico.


It seems like forever ago now, but three weeks ago Ken and I took a trip to celebrate our anniversary.  To Puerto Rico.  Without the kids.  {gasp!}

The first time I've been out of the country, well...technically does Puerto Rico count if it is a territory?  I don't know.  But we had to fly over a lot of water, okay?  And the first time we've been away more than an overnight (that's always been for a baby!) and the first time in 15 years.

The view from the hotel elevator.  That is the airport and El Yunque masked by clouds behind it.  To our dismay, it was pouring rain when we arrived in PR.  Honestly, we were a little under-prepared for this trip.  Verizon had assured us that our phones would work in San Juan so we were just going to plan on the fly.  We would have the internet.  We would have Google Maps.  Um, yeah.  Not so much.  We were roaming so the only time we could do anything was on the wi-fi in the hotel room.  

Anyway, Friday night, we arrived.  A little lost, unsure of what to do first, where to go, dinner? where?  And then the headache that had been bubbling to the surface all of the noisy flight flared into a full blown migraine.  We were tired, we had an appetizer and then decided to take a nap and then go out to dinner.  Only Excedrin wasn't helping when we woke up.  Ken ran down to the hotel lobby for some Advil to see if we could knock it out.

He brought back Advil PM.  And I zonked.  My husband ended up going to the grocery store and eating snacks for dinner on the balcony while watching Dr. Who on his phone.  I didn't hear a thing.

So, the funny ha-ha part of all of that is that when Ken went to the store, he left the car lights on.  Requiring us to ask the valet to jump the car.  Ken asked him if he had to jump cars often, just being conversational. The valet regaled us with tales of little old people who would leave their cars running, lights on, doors open, windows down....all because they were in a hurry to get to the casino!  He said it happened several times a week that he would have to go get gas or jump a car.  I can't even imagine being that much in a hurry to get to a casino of all things!

So, anyway, we finally got underway on our Saturday and headed to Old San Juan and the fort of El Morro.  I am totally a history geek.  And, guess what?  I totally read all the signs!  ;)
This photo looks pretty benign.  Looks like it will be a beautiful day!  Um, beautiful but maybe not in the way most people would think.  Shortly after this...we walked up that long walkway back there and just inside the walls and bam! pouring rain.  For the rest of the day.  We had no jackets, no ponchos, no umbrellas.  It was all good.  We still had a blast.
The view down the coast from El Morro.  You can see the rain coming.
That red dome is dedicated to Mary Magdalene.
There is a very ornate cemetary there, if you can tell.
Big cannon.  Ready to fend off some Dutch invaders.
Our Lady in the chapel.

One of the interesting things I found interesting was the proliferation of images of Mary throughout PR.  But since El Morro is a US National Park, they didn't explain this image at all.   There was a collection box in front of it, obviously they had problems with people paying homage to the image and instead of leaving money, they put a box.  With a sign that the money would go towards upkeep of the park.  I just thought that was an interesting paradox of one country's culture that flourished for 300 years that isn't recognized by the country which holds it in possession.



A sentry box.
Me walking in the rain to go see St. Barbara.
I was already drenched, it didn't matter much!
Ken and I hiding out in a sentry box waiting for the tram to come.

We explored both sides of the fort and took a ride on the tram through Old San Juan (it was free but ahem, not dry...our backsides were thoroughly soaked after sitting in puddle-filled seats).  The tram was actually great because we were able to take in the sights and sort of get our bearings on street names and landmarks.
Still braving the rain, we walked around Old San Juan and looked at the architecture.  I love architecture and stained glass.  And plants.  So there.  Geeky.  I could take a zillion pictures of buildings, plants and stained glass.   Well, I did but I won't dare try to upload all of them here.  I digress.   Check out those blue cobblestones!  I will tell you, it doesn't seem like there is a whole lot going on in the streets (and there wasn't on this day--rain.  Apparently, Puerto Ricans don't like rain.)  Inside all of these buildings there are courtyards.  Gorgeous.  Most of them are homes so I didn't take any pictures--violation of privacy and all--but it was really exciting when you got to peek through one with open windows.

About 3, realizing we were too wet to go to a restaurant, hello unpleasant!, and hadn't had any lunch, we headed back to the hotel--hot shower! yes!  dry clothes! yes!  umbrellas from the grocery store! yes!

If you don't have the app Open Table yet, and you eat out often (or sometimes), I highly recommend it!  We were able to view restaurants near our location, food pictures, menus, reviews and book a reservation.  We chose The Parrot Club (which, I guess has multiple locations?) in Old San Juan.  The waiter recommended some local favorites.  It was all delicious.  Clockwise from top left:  I had some sort of steak with risotto and chorizo, spicy!, Ken checking out the menu, Ken had sea bass on a sweet potato cake--delicious, I had a frozen mojito (Ken said it smelled like I was drinking grass, lol!), Ken made me laugh, and empandillas for an appetizer.  A friend of mine suggested we tried mofangos while in PR and we never went anywhere that had them.


After dinner, I was desperate to find the Cathedral.  Not only did we need to walk off all that food, but we were now armed with umbrellas.

We found it.  Isn't it beautiful?  We arrived to find that a wedding had just ended a short time before and that there was a vigil Mass coming up.  We had time to look around, run to a nearby hotel to use the bathroom (the hotel was gorgeous inside btw--courtyard and art and architecture AND the just-married bride and groom!), and come back for Mass.  In Spanish.

I don't ever think I've posted my conversion story here on this blog.  But, the one thing that drew me to the Catholic church was the universality of it.  That every church all over the world is essentially hearing the same things and that the Mass is the same every where.  Maybe we couldn't understand the words, but we knew exactly what was happening.  Very cool.  And the music--oh the music!--so joyful, so unique.  Standard hymns, Puerto Rican flair.
Our Lady of Divine Providence.  One of the patron saints of Puerto Rico, along with St. John the Baptist.  Isn't this beautiful?  I love the idea of Mary playing with baby Jesus on her lap.

The tomb of Ponce de Leon is also in the Cathedral.  I have one very blurry image of it, lol!  But, if you'd like to see it you can go to the Wikipedia page here.


Sunday broke bright and beautiful.  
View from our balcony to the left.
View to the right.

All weekend El Yunque National Forest had been closed due to the rain and risks of mudslides.  I threatened to cry if I didn't get to go to the rainforest.  But, alas, tears were not needed!  It was open Sunday so off we went.
These little huts were everywhere along the coastline.  Food stands, selling local favorites to beach-goers.  Some of them offered mofangos.  I wasn't daring enough to try them from one of these places even though some looked popular.

The rainforest was amazing.  Hot and humid but not unbearably so.  Palms and birds and water running everywhere.  Impossible to catch on film.  Best to just experience.  OF COURSE, I took too many pictures and here are a few.
Palm trees. 
Just growing.  You know, not artistically planted.

Interesting flowers.  Gorgeous colors.
Air plants of all shapes and sizes.
When I went to the beach as a kid, I always bought air plants, I thought they were the coolest things.


We hiked a couple of the trails.  Essentially, we drove as high as we could on the mountain and hiked the highest trail first.   We started the trail to Mt. Britton and then decided to not go all the way to the peak (because we might run out of time and not get to do any other trails).

This is the view from the road to the tower.  The teeny tower way up there.

The way up.

Arrival.

One view.
Where the land stops ocean begins, it is kind of hard to see in this photo because we were suddenly being overtaken by a cloud!

Selfie.
My amazing husband.
He says this is going to be his Facebook profile pic.  Only he isn't on Facebook!
I really really wanted to see the green parrots that El Yunque is populated with.  No such luck.  However we did see lots of birds (very hard to photograph but pretty), lots of ordinary looking salamanders (though boy could they jump!), and snails.  I was actually amazed by these snails.  They were nearly the size of the palm of my hand.
Things were a bit larger than life in the rainforest.  You don't notice until you pick up a palm frond or a leaf--I made Ken hold things up for reference!  Surprisingly, the palm fronds are very heavy!
We also hiked down to La Mina falls hoping to cool off.  It was so rocky and slippery, it wasn't that appealing to get in once we got there.  As you can see behind me, others did but you could tell they were fighting the current.

Late in the day, we were once again a little unsure what to do with ourselves.  So we drove an hour in the hopes of hitting a beach on the Caribbean ocean (our hotel was on the Atlantic).  We went into a little town and there was a festival, very crowded and the only water we saw was crashing onto some breakers.  So, we reqrouped, decided to head back to the hotel, bought some quenepa from a street vendor, cleaned up and went out to dinner.
Food, food, food pictures!  At one point Ken said, "I thought we were going to eat and sleep more on this trip!"  Funny!  Top left:  breakfast at the hotel beachside, quenepas, two of us a dinner, the inside of the La Concha restaurant--eating dinner in a shell!
We only had a couple hours before our flight on Monday morning so we just hung out on the beach.  Swam in the ocean, sat in beach chairs and ate our breakfast muffins (Ken's "blueberry" had exactly zero blueberries, ahem) for all of 10 minutes.


My husband, always the romantic.  I was still getting ready in the bathroom and he said, "Look over the balcony in 5 minutes!"  Perfect ending.

It was a little surreal, not totally perfect but a lot of fun and memories we will cherish for a long time. 

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