Tuesday, August 10, 2010

We're Baa-aa-ack

We just flew back from Puerto Rico and boy are our arms tired. Ha! I just had to write that. We did just return from PR though. It was another rather whirlwind trip but was nice to get off island a bit.

Thursday, we headed to the airport about 1 1/2 hours before our flight only to stand in a check-in line comprised of huge families, their in-laws, and closest friends all flying with every single thing they owned in their closet. After waiting an hour in that line, we then waited in line to pay our departure tax. We then moved onto the immigration line where we waited another 20 minutes only to realize that our flight was leaving in 10 minutes and we still hadn't made it through the security check point. Uh oh. Someone in the same predicament mentioned it to an airport official, who then made the mistake of asking if anyone else in line was going to Puerto Rico. He was quite shocked when just about everyone that was supposed to be on the plane came rushing at him. He called ahead and told them to hold the plane and then let us all go ahead of the Miami travelers. No problem!

An hour later, we were on the ground in Puerto Rico, got our rental car, and promptly drove to a restaurant, Alquimia, in San Juan we discovered on our last trip. It's in this neat little plaza.

We about broke our noses when we discovered the doors locked - it wouldn't open for another 10 minutes. Aye Caramba! Ok, well, that we could handle. So we just ran across the street to the supermarket and bought some sodas and snacks for the apartment. I promised I wouldn't take pictures of supermarket aisles anymore, but I couldn't help myself. Avacodos for 97 cents? Really?!! We pay up to $3US for them in St. Kitts and they grow the darn things here.

After wandering up and down the supermarket aisles, we were now starving so ran back to Alquimia and yelled "Abierto ahora?!" and they happily led us in. We had a great meal as always (first course por favor!).

We then managed to find our way to the apartment in Fajardo a friend was nice enough to let us stay in for a good price. It was a bit out of our way for what we had to do, but to save $200 made the extra drive worth it. What was really crazy was that we were up on the 24th floor. I can not remember how long it's been since I've been in a building that high. We were in the high-rise to the right.

Inside was cute with a kitchen about the size of the galley on our ex-boat, a living room with a nice comfortable couch, and a little balcony (and a bedroom & bathroom of course).

We had a great view of the Villa Marina. I was a bit worried about noise, but all we heard was the water lapping along the docks. Very nice. The best part was the lack of mosquitoes. We have a nice balcony and view at home too, but can rarely enjoy it because of the nasty little critters.

While we were waiting for the elevators, we could see Culebra (of the Spanish Virgin Islands) off in the distance - Mamacita's!)

We got up early Friday ready to shop. And shop we did. We hit the Canovanas Outlet, Plaza Las Americas Mall (the biggest on the island), and any strip mall we ran into on the way back to the apartment. I can not tell you how crowded everything was. Every store was packed (even Brookstone! - someone needed nose-hair clippers), each with long lines, and each with huge families shuffling along with full carts. Recession? Ha!

We were literally going from 9am until 10pm (subsisting on a soft pretzel and some Wendy's french fries), so after that really long day, didn't appreciate getting pulled over by the policia. Why single us out? Because we'd never been in a car that had automatic lights and had ASSumed that the rear lights were on too. As it turns out, they weren't so we were unwittingly driving without our tail lights on. Oops. We explained we were in a rental car only to have him tell us this was going to be a really expensive ticket, was going to cost us a lot of points, etc, and watched him go back to his car. Luckily, he sauntered back and told us he was letting us go. Whew. Needless to say, this was a very exhausted Michael relieved to be home.

This was me the next morning. We still hadn't found hiking shoes, dress pants for Michael, and quite a few other things we needed. Time to hit another outlet way on the other side of San Juan. Whaaaa - I don't wanna!

Once again, we shopped until late (this time fueled by Burger King hash browns). The northern coast of Puerto Rico literally has a Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, and Walgreens every 3 blocks. They just alternate sides of the street. Jeez. On our way back, we didn't get pulled over but did get caught up in a sting where the highway patrol tried to nab drunks and non-registered/inspected drivers. That caused quite a back-up, so it took us forever to get to our intended meal destination (something new and non-fast food). Ay, ay, ay.

I must make an aside here. Puerto Rico has a lot of highway police. I mean, mucho. They may be facing increasing crime like all the other Caribbean islands, but at least the freeways are safe! The cops drove everything from mustangs, to pick-up trucks, to armored hummers - some marked, most not. Every officer was wearing a bullet-proof jacket, and in one case we watched what looked like an officer escorted by a military dude with full gear (including M-16 or something) taking info from a distraught woman in a parking lot. It was crazy! You do not want to speed in Puerto Rico - day or night.

We finally made it to Lolita's Mexican food and were shocked when the place was packed. And not just full, but with tables accommodating huge groups. We got there just in time - look at the line. Seriously - we just aren't use to this anymore.

Sunday morning, neither of us were up for any shopping whatsoever. By the end of the prior day, Michael was already dragging me out of the car, so it was time to switch gears. First we watched the hordes of people take off from the marina and head to outer islands.

Another aside. There were lots of water police too. In the 5 days we were there, not a single boat violated the "no wake zone." That's amazing.

Then we got dressed in our new clothes and struck a pose.

We debated jumping on a ferry and going to Culebra but didn't want to deal with the crowds. So we headed for Old San Juan instead. We just love that place. I mean, look at these quaint streets. The brightly painted buildings. How clean it is!

Fun, quirky stores. Courtyards. Out-door restaurants. Even the ever-present fast-food companies tucked into cute little buildings; supermarkets where you least expect them. Just love it.

I decided I wanted to live right here.

Until I saw the parking signs and realized having a car here would really stink.

Of course, there's old stuff. The city is surrounded by a wall that apparently had only 5 gates to let people in - each used for different purposes. After dusk, the gates were closed and if you were late getting home, you were locked out until morning. Wonder if something like that would work today?? The wall had lots of minuets with views. They seem to be used as toilets these days, as Michael's nose can attest. Not sure if the view was worth it.

Statues and other odd pieces of art.

No seriously, what the heck is this (we didn't understand the sign)?

Mike got the munchies and pulled some seeds off the seagrape trees (I wasn't sure if this might be my last picture of him as what if those things were poison -??!)

In the midst of all this, my feet starting hurting as I knew they would. I was wearing shoes that have the thing between your toes (I hate those - yes, I think flip flops are the scourge of the earth), but had bought them out of desperation. They worked for 1/2 hour, but then I was quite pleased to put on my new sneakers (of course, these weren't any sneakers - they work your hamstrings/gluts and correct your posture). Ah, much better.

On to the old churches.

And of course, the huge fort. We had been inside it before, so didn't go in this time. Still impressive though.

People were flying kites all over the place.

Can you see all the kite strings inter-webbed across the roof of the Interior building?

We found a great little restaurant off the beaten path (just before we got poured on) and had a fantastic focaccia sandwich with home-made chips. And microbrewery beers...on tap! Even the staff was friendly. Heaven.

On our way out, we passed all these families coming in bringing chairs and getting ready for a night out listening to music in the streets. Awesome.

Well, it was until it took us 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot, onto the main street, and back on the highway. There was traffic everywhere!!!

This time on the way back, highway construction slowed everyone down to a crawl, which gave the cops a makeshift check point where they once again checked everyone for whatever offense they could muster. Scary!

The next day (Monday), we decided to hit the Yunque rainforest. Unfortunately, we never did find any hiking shoes, so had to stick to the manicured trails. And boy were they. This trail was concreted all the way to the waterfall 1/2 hour away. Only in the U.S... Mikey breaking in his new work boots (I was tip-toeing around puddles in my new sneakers).

This was a "wildlife" trail - and by wildlife they meant insects, frogs, lizards, and snails. Whoopdie doo, but we did see a snail (and heard the frogs).

At the end was a nice waterfall with a pool you could swim in at the end. I was wet enough, thank you. With 120 inches of rainfall each year, we were pretty guaranteed to get soaked - and were.

There were waterfalls on the side of the road too. This was the biggest, but there were many others along the street, much like in Alaska.

The roads were enveloped by tall tubes of looming bamboo.

Part way up the mountain was a tower built by a forest ranger so we could take in the views. Which we did.

The place was pretty crowded with bus-loads of tourists, so normally we would have taken the tougher trails to get away from them. We decided we'll just have to come back some other time - prepared....

Afterwards, we finished some loose-end shopping, got some dinner stuff to make, and headed back to pack.

That little bag to the right is mine. The 2 huge duffel bags are Mike's. Hrmph. Everything for Mike was on sale for $10. Everything on sale for me was $30 and up (or incredibly cheaply made or just plain ugly - who the heck is designing shoes these days - eeeew!). I had to be pickier, so bought less. No fair! There's still plenty we couldn't find, but Michael might be visiting family in October, so he can pick the stuff up then. What a pain!

We were definitely ready to go though (plus I missed the kitties). Although we liked having access to stuff, we won't miss the traffic and toll booths. Bleh.

Tuesday, we watched some nasty clouds roll in and hoped we'd get out on time. How do plane windows get scratched anyway?

Our arrival over St. Kitts was interesting in that the little plane just kept speeding up and speeding up. We came flying toward the airport at record speed, with the landing taking place so quickly that the flight attendants didn't even have a chance to make an announcement, pick up trash, nothing. What the? I'm guessing the pilot was trying to beat this.

A serious storm was rolling in with these water funnels forming all over the place. Can you see how dark the water is in this picture? I really wish I had video taped the thing. We'd seen a few water funnels from Jacumba in the past, but had never actually seen the water going up the funnel. It was like watching a snake eating an animal with the full sections moving up up the trunk. It was really weird.

Welcome home! (Guess we're not in Kansas any more)