Sunday, March 21, 2010
Pure Pleasure in Puerto Rico
Our next trip was the most wonderful vacation. Right after Christmas, our whole family (four generations from 8 months to 81 years old) went to Puerto Rico for a week of warm weather, sunshine and relaxation. Eight of us (Grandma, Ross, Richard, Kara, Paul, Naomi, Bob and I) stayed at a hotel near the airport, boarded a crowded and very cold shuttle for a five hour flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Why Puerto Rico? I was asked that many times and really didn’t have a good answer. Last year Bob and I took a Caribbean Cruise and really enjoyed spending a week in the warm sunshine during December. We talked about a cruise, but didn’t find anything that fit our schedules. We also talked about getting a condo or something in the Keys, but didn’t find anything reasonable. So we looked at NWA World Vacations and found this air, hotel, and rental car deal that was really good—so we booked it!
Naomi did really well on the flight—she fussed a little when we were getting ready to take off—she was hungry and Kara wanted to wait to feed her until we were actually taking off—so she lets us know she didn’t like that. But then she slept and played the rest of the time.
We got to San Juan and walked out of the plane into a balmy 80 degree heat. We had two rental cars at two different places—so it was interesting to try and met up again at a restaurant.
Ross and Richard’s conversation when something like “We’re on the south side of the freeway—right by the big sign that says ‘Cockfights’”. We had asked at the car rental place for someplace to get real Puerto Rican food. So we dined on rice and black beans and baked plantains.
We were in a really nice Hilton hotel in Ponce about one and a half hour from San Juan. All our rooms had balconies that faced the beach. Mom and I loved to get up early and sit on the balcony and watch the sun come up. We even left our sliding glass door open several nights so we could feel the breeze and hear the ocean crashing against the shore. That is so relaxing!
As part of our package, we had breakfast at the hotel every morning. It was a huge buffet (we saw that it would have cost $19.99) and they had chefs making special orders, plus lots of fruit, eggs, meat, rolls, salmon and lox, and lots of other really good stuff. We ate very well every morning.
Ross and Richard’s Christmas gift to the family was a snorkeling trip out to Isla Caja de Muertos, a nature reserve that’s near Ponce with a diving company called Caribbean Images Tours. This was such a wonderful day—the people who have the company were very interesting. Dave is an underway photographer very knowledgeable in marine life and his wife, Lynn is a producer (one she mentioned was the Dr. Phil show).
It was a beautiful day with crystal clear turquoise waters. Naomi fell asleep on the way out, so Mom and Lynn were able to look after her and the rest of us were able to snorkel. Dave and his deck hand, Juan, led us on a guided tour so they could point out the wide variety of marine life on the coral reef. The reef was 3 – 10 feet deep and full of beautiful tropical fish and coral. We saw blue tang, four eye butterfly, damsel fish, and sergeant major fish—plus a lot of coral. We also saw a conch with a crab in it and then Juan gave us several empty conch shells.
Mom enjoyed spending the day on the boat. Naomi woke up just shortly before we got back—so the timing was perfect. When we got back, Kara put Naomi in the water with Paul—she wasn’t sure quite what to think about it. I wonder if Kara had gotten in the water with her, she wouldn’t have been a lot happier. Her lifejacket had a handle on the top, so when Kara took her out of the water, she just lifted her by the handle.
That evening we went to a restaurant that Dave and Lynn recommended in downtown Ponce. We got there around 4:30 pm and it was totally empty. We had a really good meal—we had a lot of seafood and sweet plantains. Later in the week, we drove past that same restaurant at 8 pm and it was packed.
Kara and Paul’s gift to everyone was massages. Ohh, how relaxing! It was interesting because there were two massage therapists so they did two people at a time. That evening we went to a Sushi bar and ate raw fish—yummy!
One evening, we drove around the downtown area. They really do a great job of decorating for Christmas. Every light standard had a decoration on it and then there were some hanging over the road. The town square was full of colorful angels made from Christmas lights. It was a visual explosion of color and lights. We also drove up to the castle which was all lit up. From up there, you could see the entire town. We also saw a lot of stray dogs—there are tons of them wandering around the town—mangy, skinny, and hollow-eyed.
On Dec 31, Ross and Richard went to San Juan to visit the sites there. Naomi, Kara, Paul, Bob and I drove over to the El Yunque National Park—which is a Rain Forest. It was really pretty, but rained hard the farther we went into it—it is a rain forest after all and rains a total of 240 inches every year. They estimate over 100 billion gallons of rainwater fall on the forest every year. The forest has a lot of rare wildlife including the Puerto Rican Parrot—we didn’t see any. We did see a lot of bamboo trees, waterfalls, and tropical flowers.
We stopped in a little roadside café. I got a coconut drink—they just chopped the top off a coconut and stuck a straw in top. It was a watery liquid and OK, but not delicious. We also had some beans and rice and more plantains.
Since it was New Year’s Eve, we decided to get some party food and Puerto Rican Rum to have a family celebration. We chose not to pay the $70 per person for the buffet. Although Mom and Paul went gambling for a little while—they didn’t win anything. We wandered around and saw a lot of fancy clothing—even on little kids.
It was fun when New Years came around. There was a party going on in the Hotel lobby and we heard them start to count down, but our cell phones didn’t match their time. All around the city we could see fireworks going off. As midnight approached it got more and more until it was constant. Really awesome!
The next day (New Year’s Day) we had to head for home—which turned into quite an experience. Since we didn’t leave until 5 pm, we had a leisurely day driving from Ponce to San Juan—even had some time to wander around San Juan for a while—talk about narrow streets and winding roads. Ross and Richard had spent the day there, so knew their way around a little bit.
We got on to the airplane and were getting ready to leave when we heard—‘there’s a mechanical problem—someone is coming to fix it’. A while later, ‘we’ve been told someone is coming within 30 minutes to fix it’…and later ‘the maintenance people are on their way to fix it’……Three hours later, we finally take off. I was upgraded to first class, but let mom sit up there—so she could get first class service. Naomi slept or played most of the way, so she was very good.
Our flight had been changed so rather than flying directly to Mpls, we went to Detroit. Needless to say, when we were so late in leaving, we missed our connecting flight. They put us up in a hotel and gave us vouchers for $100 off our next trip and $15 for food. But it was really late when we got there and we had to leave very early in the morning. We did eat breakfast at the airport after we arrived.
This time both Bob and I were upgraded—and what an upgrade—because this was a 747—it was huge. Bob and Paul took the first class seats because they were going to run and get the cars, while we got the luggage. Those seats big bubbles around the heads with full reclining seats—pretty plush—too bad it was only a one hour flight.
We got back to Ross and Richard’s, sorted out some things and Kara and Paul headed for Owatonna because Naomi was baptized there on Sunday—the rest of us headed down there on Sunday. All most all of Paul’s family was there and they were able to celebrate Christmas—which they missed because of the snow storm and Paul’s birthday.
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