Puerto Rico

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 Inner Bravery

 

     On the first night of our arrival to the Grand Meliá Golf Resort in Río Grande, Puerto Rico, some twisted deity drew a string of rainclouds over the beach. Back home, in Maryland, a storm shackles its suburban citizens to their homes. This storm, however, cinched my restraints, and freed me. Every one of the sky’s thunderous eruptions was a siren’s call, one that lured me into beautiful discord. Accompanied by two family friends, I flew onto the grounds, and leapt into the pool. Much to my chagrin, we had, quite literally, plunged into the deep end. We swam there, though I lack the ability to swim, and have nearly drowned on two separate occasions. The pool, illuminating rows of monstrous, cavorting palm trees, glowed blue against a world of muted grays and blacks. The scene was a dream in every sense of the word. The incessant sky showered my face with warm, round drops. I wondered aloud if someone had swept me off to the heavens, in a carriage of uncertainty I found I loved so much.

     A few days later, we reached Luquillo Beach. Describing it in its entirety would be an insurmountable task, like painting a picture of an unexplored realm. It is the Caribbean incarnate, a stereotypical picture of soft-sand shores, distant mountains, and turquoise water filling the expanse between the two. I found the kayak stand, and determined I would glide over these translucent waters. The last time I kayaked in an inflatable vessel, a current entrapped me, and denied my absolution. This time, when the continental shelf plunged into bleak abyss, no fear plagued my heart. King Midas graced the surface with the golden touch of sunlight. Seagulls circled overhead, and lounged on buoys within arm’s reach. I listened to the sound of the sea, a composition no orchestra, in my mind, could ever rival.

     I bounded over many more hurdles on this trip of a lifetime. I scaled a thirty-foot tower, unharnessed, and lingered in a line of lost souls for my turn to brave the course’s tallest zip-line. At Ponylandia, I mounted an unsettled horse, and on Big Tree Trail, the path to the legendary La Mina Falls, I battled my own physique. On the right side of the trail, a wall of dirt and foliage stretched upwards into the canopy. The left side resembled Luquillo Beach’s continental shelf. Often times, we encountered a group returning from the waterfall. The path was so precarious that one group would befriend the clay to allow room for the other.

     The flight home was, undoubtedly, the most arduous part of the odyssey. As we landed, lightning strikes, those poetic prison guards, wreaked havoc upon the horizon. From this day forth, I told myself, every new place I explore will become my home. I will find happiness in temples honoring Gods I know little of, languages I will strain to interpret, and currencies I’ve never before handled. I will forever remember Río Grande, Puerto Rico, as the unspoiled land of wildlife, waterfalls, and sweeping panoramas, which spurred the inception of my adventures, and unleashed my inner bravery.

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On the one hand, all I need to do is let myself go. On the other hand, I’m 900 feet over the forest floor.

“Ready?” the tour guide asks.

I hesitate. “Maybe?” I say.

The guide sighs. He watches tourists go zip lining in Toro Verde Adventure Park all day, so he doesn’t think flying over trees while you’re suspended from a cable is a big deal.

“Remember that you need to lean back to make yourself go faster, otherwise you’ll get stuck,” he says.

Besides my harness unhooking itself from the cable mid-flight, this is my biggest fear. If you don’t get up enough momentum, you’ll stop partway across the cable and have to pull yourself across to the other side, hand-over-hand.

I tug at the leg straps on my harness. They keep sliding down and it’s making me nervous. “Can you tighten these?” I ask. We’ve been warned not to tamper with our equipment ourselves.

The guide sighs again. “They’re fine,” he says, but he unhooks me from the cable and tightens my straps. My husband and brother-in-law are waiting behind me along with an entire American family. Like me, the Americans are pale, sweaty and unevenly sunburned – ill-suited for the Puerto Rican climate.

The guide hooks me up again and I know there is no turning back. He instructs me to lift my legs off the wooden block that I’m standing on, and suddenly I’m hanging with my stomach facing up to the sky, the guide’s hands holding me in place. My own hands, which are protected by yellow gloves that are damp with sweat, grip the hook that is attaching me to the cable.

“Ready?” the guide asks again. Before I can answer, he lets go and so do I.

The wind rushes in my face and roars in my ears, drowning out everything else. The trees below pass by in a green blur. I feel like I’m falling. Or flying. Maybe a little bit of both. I’m not in control of anything, and it feels wonderful.

And then I start to slow down.

The trees come into focus. I try leaning back to pick up speed, but it’s no use. Soon I have stopped completely, and I’m still at least 100 feet from the next platform.

I take a deep breath. Without the roaring of the wind in my ears, the forest starts to come to life. I hear tropical birds chirping over each other, having a conversation where no one is really listening. Looking down, I notice a river running below me that snakes through a break in the trees.

This could be worse, I think.

The guide on the platform is motioning for me to move. I turn myself around and begin pulling myself backwards. I’m going slowly, but it’s working. There is something deeply satisfying about

moving myself across this vast space with one hand over the other, little by little. I’m convinced that I’ll be able to get myself to the other side – until I feel a weight pulling on the cable.

I turn my head and see that the guide has lost his patience and is coming out to rescue me. I want to tell him to turn back, that I can get there by myself, but he has already attached his harness to the cable and is gliding towards me. There are other tourists waiting and I’m holding them up.

He gets to me and hooks his harness to mine without a word. “Thank you,” I say, because I know I should be grateful. He leans back without responding and starts pulling us both in. I have no choice but to go along with him.

It isn’t long before we reach the platform. He unhooks me from the cable and I watch as my brother-in-law take his turn on the zip line. He sails towards me, the cable humming as he picks up speed, until he too slows down. And stops.

Hay otra!” someone shouts through the guide’s walkie-talkie. There’s another one. The guide hooks himself back up to the cable and heads out over the forest again. Meanwhile, my brother-in-law is hurriedly trying to pull himself back in. Like me, he still wants to believe that he’s in charge of his own adventure.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

When Richard Bangs invited me to travel to PUERTO RICO to film with Orbitz and the Puerto Rican Tourism Board: I SAID YES! Please enjoy Richard’s article about our journey and the many videos from our visit! Lisa


Iguana
When Christopher Columbus made landfall in Puerto Rico during his second trans-Atlantic voyage, in 1493, a young Spanish nobleman, Ponce de León, some scholars believe, was on board.

Rumors of hefty quantities of gold brought Ponce de Leon back, in 1508, where he found an islet with an excellent harbor he named Puerto Rico, or Rich Port. This would become the name of the island, while the town was renamed San Juan. He didn’t find gold, but was named first governor of the new territory, and when he heard stories from Taino Indians about a magical fountain whose waters would rejuvenate those who drank from it, he decided he would seek immortality. Can we fault him?

Today, locals claim the mineral-rich waters at Coamo, about 10 miles east of Ponce in the south of Puerto Rico, are in fact the Fountain of Youth Ponce de Leon sought, though perhaps he didn’t soak long enough, as an arrow squelched his eternity in 1521. But that the belief of the fountain’s powers still exist is evident in its current pricing. Anyone over 65 is free, the theory being, I suppose, that if the wayback waters work, the free-soaking seniors will soon be back as paying customers.

There is something persistently youthful about Puerto Rico. It’s not just that 30 percent of the population is under 25, but rather its potion of nutrient-rich volcanic soil, crisp, clean water, its perpetual June, its healthy outdoor activities, its food, art, and its spirit of dance and celebration that make almost everyone who comes here feel happy and young.

Recovering from a surgery a few weeks back, I find myself feeling a bit broken by time’s wheel, a little superannuated in a sharp winter, when I speak with my friend John Jessey, who offers up an antidote. “Go to Puerto Rico. You’ll feel ten years younger.”

Rather than slouching toward oblivion, or doing a deal with the devil, John’s recommendation seems the enchanting choice, so I book a ticket from Los Angeles for a week-long soak, with my family, including 6-year-old Jasper, and our friends Didrik Johnck and Lisa Niver. We leave passports behind, because Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, a sort of grey-area status where it is not officially a State, but Puerto Ricans enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, save one: Puerto Ricans who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. President in the general elections. And, the currency is the U.S. dollar, which saves all those calculations, and exchange fees that usually end up on post-trip credit card statements. And you can drink the water.

I’m a sucker for touching history, and sought to book the Caribe Hilton Hotel, for its storied past, but it was full, so instead we make way to its sister, the Condado Plaza Hilton, just seven miles from the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. I take a room overlooking the aquamarine Atlantic, and with a view of the Caribe Hilton Hotel. View from CondadoIt was Hilton’s first hotel outside the continental United States and made Hilton the first international hotel company. It was the first in Puerto Rico to offer radios in every room and individually controlled air conditioners, and claims to be the birthplace of the Piña Colada. In 1954, bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero spent three months creating a medley of rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice, which launched a Noah’s flood of tropical refreshment, and at least one catchy song. To celebrate, I order one up in the lobby bar. Maybe two. Or four. To be honest, I can’t remember, except that they were yummy.

The next day, in the first blush of pink light, we translate to the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar Beach Resort, to the east, to play a little golf. Golf here dates to 1958, when Laurance Rockefeller, a pioneer in barefoot elegance, built a resort in Dorado and hired Robert Trent Jones to design its fabled East Course. Now Puerto Rico has 23 courses designed by legendary golf pros, and Rio Mar has two, the Ocean Course, by Tom and George Fazio, and the River course, by Greg Norman, both 18 holes. It’s on the 16th hole of the Ocean Course I meet Jesus Rodriguez, younger brother to Chi-Chi, who is the groundskeeper and resident merry prankster. He shows us how to putt a coconut, and mimics the famous victory dance of his legendary brother. And he offers to arrange a meeting with his brother, over at the St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort & Golf Club, with its 18 holes by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., set along two miles of private beach, a former coconut plantation.

I meet Chi Chi on the lushly manicured lawn beyond the lobby, and he looks dashing in a fierce blue jacket, yellow tie and signature Panama hat. His eyes are quiet as a pond; his grin electric. He’s 78 years old, but has the spark and energy of someone half his age, yet another testament to the youthful stylings of Puerto Rico.

Chi Chi says he was born into a dirt poor family, one of six siblings. They struggled to put food on the table. When he was seven, he worked as a water carrier on a sugar plantation. One day he wandered onto a golf course. When he learned the caddies were earning more money than he, he decided to switch careers.

Chi Chi would take a branch from a guava tree and turn it into a golf club. Using a metal can as a “golf ball” he would practice what he had seen “real” golfers do. By the time he was 12 he scored a 67. He went on to trophy scores of tournaments, including 22 wins on Senior PGA Tours, and became the first Puerto Rican inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

After mahi mahi tacos with Chi Chi at Seagrapes it’s time to undo time, so we head back to the Wyndham, where we take a jungle walk on the grounds, and end up at the estuary of the Mameyes River, where paddle boards and kayaks await. We scull about, among the mangroves for a sweet hour or so, and then walk the beach back to the pools for a mojito (this island is, after all, the largest producer of rum in the world) before thinking about dinner.

The sky lightens slowly the next morning, and time pours like treacle as we linger through breakfast. Afterwards, we travel just a short ways to the earthy embrace of El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System. The air seems to be made of a different and more fragrant substance than at home. Everything is pungent and moist.

This is where the wrinkles wash away, with over 200 inches of rain a year. We set off on a short hike through a tangle of trees that look as though they awoke in the middle of the night and didn’t have time to fix their hair. We pass orchids, giant tree ferns, oversized snails, gushing waterfalls, all the while cupping ears to the two-note chanting of coquí tree frogs, and the squawks of unseen parrots.

We next head over to the small town of Fajardo and the mega resort El Conquistador (a Waldorf Astoria property), which mostly sprawls atop a 300-foot-high cliff overlooking the Atlantic. It takes a tall pile of words to convey this 500-acre retreat. A tram trundles down to a marina and the 2.4-acre Coqui Water Park, a font of wading pools, slides and water rides, a jungle-type rope bridge, and a lazy river where Jasper and I grab a tube and float and splash and cachinnate for an hour. If ever a kid’s paradise, this seems it, for children from two to a hundred and two.

As the evening tips over into darkness we leave Jasper, exhausted and sound asleep in the Wyndham, and head into the city, which puffs up like a sail with its nightlife. We hit a few bars, boîtes and clubs, where the reggaetón and salsa swirl around us in a fluid ribbon. The outfits on parade are meant to make eyeballs explode, tropical tornados of cadmium and cobalt, magenta and marigold…the full rainbow of humanity struts here.

Puerto Rico is a kind of crossroads of the Caribbean. Its forts, castles, walls and batteries were originally designed to protect the island from invaders, but when the residents felt secure, it became a way station for seafarers bringing new ideas, art, lifestyles and food. It was a place to share experiences, and embrace diversity. And tolerance was the mortar that held it together. Today it is an island of hospitality, safety and open-mindedness. And one vivid indicator of this is the vibrant LGBT scene.

We meet Mr. Gay World Puerto Rico, Juan Ortiz, visiting from New York, who shares how Puerto Rico has such open arms and opportunities for all lifestyles. We meet a few lesbians who agree, and even a gay couple from New York on the eve of nuptials, which have been elaborately designed by one of the top wedding planners in one of the best hotels.

In the bath of morning sunlight, before pointing the needle of curiosity to the west, I step through the heavy wooden door of one the many specialty coffee shops, and order up a cup of arabigo Pomarrosa. What a brew! All other coffees drip with envy. I ask its origin, and am told it is from a small farm in the middle mountains of Puerto Rico, in the shadow of the island’s highest peak, Cerro de Punta, some 4,357 feet above sea level. I vow to find this place.

But first we set out for the far coast, the surfing, kite-boarding and watersports capital of the island. It’s a stunning drive through the folded complexities of the island, through tropical parklands and by wild seascapes, through towns humming with optimism, past the dance of life that is Puerto Rico. Come late afternoon we pull into the Royal Isabela, a sprawling resort and golf course at the edge of a 300′-high bluff overseeing the crashing Atlantic, looking more like a link course at the edge of Ireland than a tropical fairway.

Here we meet Charlito Pasarell, co-founder of the resort along with brother Stanley, who bounds over to meets us by the clay tennis courts. Charlito was the No. 1 ranked men’s singles tennis player in the United States in 1967, and was last year inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He practically gleams with a ruddy vitality and mental crackle that belies his 70 years.

Charlito gives us a grand tour on a golf cart, rolling by native grasses, sod-faced bunkers, and wind-twisted trees. He says he discovered this stretch of rugged coastline while overpassing on a helicopter in 1989, and envisioned creating “the Pebble Beach of the Caribbean.” He set about buying the land, piece by parcel, until he patched together some 1,800 acres. Every aspect of Royal Isabela’s design has evolved out of the land itself, and he has gone to great lengths to protect the existing contours, natural features and native flora and fauna along the way. Conventional rules of golf architecture did not apply. Even the 20 freestanding luxury casitas, terraced into a hillside, blend in. They are around here somewhere, he assures.

Charlito takes us to an overlook at the 12th hole, and points out a prominent rock that juts from the steep cliff below. It’s the profile of a Taino Indian warrior, he says, though its well-defined angularity is softened by the afternoon light. As Charlito traces the features with his hand, the aspects come into focus, unbroken and ageless, as though forever dipped in the fountain of youth. Below is the hurtling seam where water bashes stone, and to the side a long stretch of native dunes, and beyond the white lined surf where Humpback whales are fleeting by.

He also shares that he and his brother own a river plantation just across the road with organic farms that produce food for the restaurant and staff. It also has facilities for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, with a network of paths and converted rail trails, plus stand-up paddle boarding and other water sports on the Guajataca River, all conspiring to keep guests fit and young.

We dine that night with Charlito at an outside table at The Restaurant at La Casa, on a patio that wafts with the fragrance of the nearby higuerillo trees. Over fine wine and something called “airline” chicken (not because it comes from United or American, but because the breast comes with a drumette attached and protruding, which could be described as looking similar to the tail of a plane). Charlito seasons the plate with tales of his great grandfather, Dr. Manuel Zeno Gandía, who published the first novel by a Puerto Rican author in 1894, and was an early champion for Puerto Rico independence. So, Charlito’s blood mixes literature, politics, sports and recreation, a concoction that seems to be a drink well-served in Puerto Rico.

It’s dark when we finally bid goodbye…one of the consequences of the locavore and slow food movements is a deep-into-the-night dinner…and we hit the road to our next stop, the town of Guánica on the south side of Puerto Rico. It’s midnight when we pull into the Copamarina Beach Resort, and with a welcoming chorus of coquí frogs we make our way down salty paths to our rooms and collapse.

A honeyed light gushes in when I open the shutters next morning, and for a second I have to shield my eyes. Just beyond a powdery beach the deep blue Caribbean laps, a graceful swooshing sound mixed with the sounds of children skylarking. Ponce de Leon first landed near here, and it’s easy to see why he stayed. This is a place that slows down the thoughts, and perhaps the aging process. It’s a popular place for destination weddings (as are most of the resorts in Puerto Rico), and we bump into a handsome couple from Ohio, where it is nine degrees and snowing, who just tied the knot here, and are over the moon about the experience, and the grouper mofongo at the café.

Lisa, who has dived all over the world, but never Puerto Rico, decides to head out and plumb The Wall, a cliff of coral some 22-miles-long dropping down to a depth of over 1 500 feet, with a local firm, Aqua Adventure. I decide to go and hike the nearby Guánica Dry Forest, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and State Forest, and considered to be the best example of subtropical dry forest in the Caribbean. How could this island harbor so much diversity? A couple of enormous days ago we were wading through the theatrical vegetation of El Yunque, and now we’re in a desert festooned with Spanish dildo cacti, natural Bonsais, and tangles of scrub and vines glowing in the long tapers of sunlight. It’s not that dissimilar, though, to how the Sierras split California, with fertile valleys on the western side, and desert in the eastern rain shadow. Here the Cordillera Central is the Sierra Madre.

We gather again for dinner, and compare notes over plates of mofongo stuffed with grouper in garlic and lemon sauce. Lisa, the jaded diver, is all sparkle and grins, describing the reefs, the brain coral, the caves, the green moray eel, the angel fish, the porcupine fish, the lobster, the reef sharks, and the sea turtle named Lola, and all else that brushed past her in the 100′ dive. “I’ve dived in six continents. This was the best dive ever,” she blurts.

We decide to divide for the next day as well….Lisa will check out the Fountain of Youth (not that she needs it…she has more energy than a nuclear power plant), and split the wind at the highest and second-longest zip-line on earth at Toro Verde Nature Adventure; the family and I will visit Puerto Rico’s second-largest city, Ponce. Founded in the late 17th century, the city experienced a commercial boom in the 19th century, then declined so quickly no one had time to tear anything down. The center of town is crowded with wedding-cake colonial mansions, strutting with balconies, balustrades, and bas-relief. Then there is the whimsical Arabesque confection, the Parque de Bombas, a bright, red-and-black striped wooden firehouse, amidst the neoclassical and Spanish-style buildings. It is the most attention-grabbing site in Ponce, and maybe all of Puerto Rico, and where, on the Plaza las Delicias, we decide to picnic and gawk.

After Ponce we wind into the mountains to the recondite Hacienda Pomarrosa, where the unspeakably good coffee I had in San Juan is produced.

Stepping from the car the air is so fresh it makes me dizzy for a moment. We meet up with proprietors Kurt Legner and his son Sebastian in the tiny tasting room, where Kurt gives a rattling good history of coffee, from Ethiopia to Arabia to 18th century Puerto Rico, when its coffee was the favorite of European courts.

And then Sebastian takes us on a walk through the farm, showing off the healthy plants and the shiny little beans, and the various steps he takes to harvest, clean, and roast the coffee. All of the coffee is processed in small batches. Once the picked beans arrive at the little processing plant, they are peeled by environmentally friendly machinery.

After the coffee is peeled, it rests for about eight hours in a water bath. From there it goes to the hot-air drier (no sun drying here…too much rain). After about 24 hours, the coffee beans are stored in a humidity controlled warehouse for safekeeping. The final stop: back at the tasting room, where a cup of joe for the road fills my head to the brim, like a honeybear, with some sort of transcendence. “Life is beautiful. Coffee makes it even better,” outpours Sebastian.

We all rendezvous at the Best Western Condado Palm, a value hotel (with the largest bedrooms we’ve seen yet) just steps from the beach and walking distance to the trendy shops and restaurants of Condado. At the bar Lisa shows up looking younger and more effervescent than ever, as though years had drained away in a few hours, like water from a punctured container. It is all the result, she offers, of combining zip-lining with her soak at Coamo, a thrilling and effective concoction.

For the final day we make our way to Old San Juan, the 500-year-old Spanish outpost designed to fend off pirates, buccaneers and privateers. They were all looking to pilfer the gold, silver, gems, spices, and furs from Mexico, Central and South America, stashed here for the final trip to Spain. Stepping through the San Juan Gate today is like stepping into a magic glass. It is hard to preoccupy with the concerns of the world once through this gate, for concerns are always about what will happen in the future, and in Old San Juan the future will never come, and the past will never disappear.

This seems a world where everything fits together. I thread through narrow streets cobblestoned with the ballast from early ships. On one side there are thick, outward-sloping walls, dotted with cannon embrasures; and on the other, neat pastel blue, yellow, and pink façades. Street cats curl and uncurl around the doorways. It’s hot in here…the sun seems to reach through my skin to my bones… so we stop at Caleta de las Monjas 9 and have a few limbers¸ frozen fruit cups, that are instant refreshment.
Jasper is inspired, and standing at an overlook to the sea, he recites a poem he composed about his experiences in Puerto Rico:

Birds chirp, lizards run
Coconuts roll, fish splash
Crabs skitter, frogs hop
Sometimes, all of them make a band

It’s getting late, and we have to head to the airport, but first I insist we stop at a little shop called Olé, where they sell hand-crafted Panama hats woven from fine-textured paja grass. There are hundreds on display, and I try a score before one seems supreme. Feelings of contentment are woven from fine and unexpected filaments, and there is a joy when I gaze into the mirror. The saleswoman blocks the hat to fit the shape of my head. Then she fastens a customized band around the rim, and snugs the finished product in place. Finally, she steps back, and with a broad grin says, “It makes you look ten years younger.”

 

Condado Plaza Hilton
Condado Plaza Hilton
Condado Plaza Hilton

I am on location in Puerto Rico filming with Richard Bangs and White Nile Media! This week we are creating videos for PRTourismCo and Orbitz Originals.

Wondering what we are doing? I will be sharing social media with the tag #RBQuests. Use this link to the TagBoard or see below to follow along.

My first night in Old San Juan, I was honored to have with Mr. Gay World Puerto Rico, Juan Ortiz, as my guide. Want to learn more about the Mr. Gay World Competition? My interview with Juan will be on YouTube soon!

We began our evening at the NuYoRican next to Da’House with sounds of salsa. We went to meet one of Juan’s fans and eat a top 10 tasty pizza at La Foccacia. This bright restaurant beckons all types of people and acts as a gallery for many local artists and writers. I highly recommend you enjoy the art and the food.

Our next stop was the local favorite, Lupi’s Mexican Grill, which has two locations, one in Old San Juan and boasts 60oz Margaritas! Owned by Eduardo Figueroa, of the NY Mets, San Francisco Giants, and the California Angels, this fusion restaurant is lively, friendly and authentic.

Wyndham Grand Rio Mar2
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar, Puerto Rico

Mr. Gay World Puerto Rico and I then went to Santurce which he called the “gayborhood!” Our stop included Circo, a club renown as the top Saturday night hot spot for drinks and dancing!

Our first hotel was the Condado Plaza Hilton and my room on the 7th floor had outstanding ocean views! For the next two nights, we will stay at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar. More news, photos and video from the road coming soon!

Do you have any Puerto Rico favorites? Share them in the comments below! Maybe we will film there next!

Thanks for following along! Lisa


photoThe chill and moisturized sea breeze brushing through your face, giving you tingly sensations all throughout your body, the splashing of waves crashing against the soft moist sand, giving a wooshing sound as they retreat back into the ocean. The sound of little kids running around and laughing; all while you sit in comfort of your yellow and orange striped beach chair. This alone makes a person feel at peace, with tomorrow’s problems nowhere in sight. San Juan, Puerto Rico brings in over a million tourists a day because of this amazing atmosphere it has to offer. This alone inspires people to spend countless hours reading novels, writing, and other activities that would be difficult to fulfill anywhere else.

Throughout my life I have always wondered what it was like to live in a stress free environment, being that I come from a broken home and have faced many difficult situations in my life. Whenever I think of such a place I imagine myself away from the world. Not in a depressed manor, but in a way that I can be in a controlled environment that allows me to think clearly without having to fight off the thousands of thoughts running around in my head. In life I realized that such places are hard to come by, and thought that in order to discover such an unimaginable place I should try finding the answer to my problems the way everybody else does: Yes, that meant searching on “Google” to find my solution. Though this usually only works out for people that are trying to find answers on schoolwork, I figured I might as well give it a shot. After typing in “ ways to find piece of mind” in the search engine I came across a link that displayed “Relaxed Vacations”. After clicking the link, I was brought to a virtual tour of San Juan Puerto Rico. At first, the tour seemed a little misleading as it showed people drinking and partying but as the video went on it geared toward a more calm and romantic time displaying a couple sitting on straw beach. Though I didn’t have such a beautiful significant other as the male in the video had, let alone any “other” in my life at the time, it interested me to see such a calm atmosphere in the video. As my curiosity took the best of me I ended up purchasing a ticket to travel to San Juan for three days. I mean life is all about risks right?

With my body full of nervousness, like the kind you get when it’s your turn to give a speech in college, I boarded the plane. After 3 hours of practicing my Spanish through “Rosetta Stone” I was finally at my destination. As soon as I walked off the plane I was confronted by a dark skin man who seemed to live up to the expectations of the video that involved drinking, as his beer belly supported this claim. However, it came to my surprise that I didn’t need the help of my Rosetta Stone software, as the cab driver spoke very good English. After 10 minutes of driving in a cab I reached my hotel. The astonishing view I had of the ocean was unimaginable. As I paid the cab driver I couldn’t help but walk towards the beach before checking in. the crystal blue water splashing against the shore, the bright yellow sun in the sky that reminded me of the “Sunny D” commercials covered the entire beach with light. After an hour of starring at such a spectacular view I decided to check into my room and begin my three-day journey.

In order to make a long story short, my three-day journey consisted of nothing but sitting on the beach and reading “The Wolf of Wall Street”. I sat on the beach for over 6 hours a day not even noticing the time passing by, or the color of my skin turning into the same shade of the cab driver. However, not a day goes by that I don’t think of the magnificent splashing sound of the waves hitting one another or the soft beige sand covering my feet. My whole life I have tried to find such a place that would provide comforting and relaxed environment that San Juan Puerto Rico had to offer. Since the day I left San Juan, Puerto Rico, I find myself always completing my college course work at a beach. Though I have yet to find a beach as soothing and relaxing as San Juan’s, I find that working in such environments inspire you to read, write, and can make you think more clearly. With that said, I would say San Juan, Puerto Rico is an island full of inspiration and relaxation.

About the author: My name is Victor Berrios, I’m currently a freshmen at the University of Central Florida (UCF). I’m majoring in Hospitality management and minoring in Business. I have a great interest in traveling the world one day along with some other personal goals that I have.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

West Side Story made me want to be Puerto Rican.

I discovered the show in my 7th grade musical theater class and listened to the soundtrack obsessively. My favorite character was Anita, the fiery Latina with short hair and frilly skirts that she shook around her knees when she danced. For our final class project, I performed the song “A Boy Like That” as Anita with a friend playing Maria.

“A boy like that, he keel your brrrother,” I bellowed, trying to compensate for my white Long Island-ness with extra sass. Puerto Rico seemed exotic but in a comforting way, like mashed potatoes with a hint of chili.

I didn’t go Puerto Rico until eight years later when I went to visit my boyfriend Adrian’s family who lived in San Juan. I had long outgrown my West Side Story obsession, but I still got a rush when I stepped out of the airport and the humidity draped over me like a warm, damp towel.

Adrian spent that week showing me some of Puerto Rico’s most popular attractions. We toured the Bacardi factory, swam in a waterfall in the El Yunque rainforest and walked the cobbled streets of Old San Juan. What I enjoyed most, however, were the regular, everyday aspects of Puerto Rican life that he showed me, things that I would have missed if I came as a tourist. For example, I liked going to Pueblo, the supermarket where the coffee was kept in a locked case.

“When the economy is bad, coffee is the first thing people will steal. We can’t live without it,” Adrian explained.

I liked going to the gas station to pick up pan sobado, a sweet, soft bread that’s perfect for fried egg sandwiches, and battling crowds of women at the Plaza las Américas mall who dressed better to go shopping than I dressed ever. I liked sitting outside at night and drinking red wine while I battled the mosquitoes with an electric racket, delighting in the satisfying sizzle it made when I got one.

“Soy borracha,” I said. “No wait…estoy borracha.” The difference is an important one. Estoy borracha means that you’re currently drunk, while soy borracha implies that you’re always drunk.

My Spanish wasn’t very good anymore. I had studied it in high school but hadn’t used it much in the past few years. That didn’t stop me from reading every sign we passed with enthusiasm.

“Hatillo. Aquadilla. Mayagüez,” I shouted as we drove down the highway. I loved the way the words rolled around in my mouth and jumped off my tongue. It was as though they were begging to be said dramatically.

In many ways, the tropics didn’t really agree with me. No matter how much sunscreen I put on, I always missed some spots and ended up with red, angry-looking stripes across my body. I sweat constantly, even when I wasn’t moving. My wavy hair quickly became frizzy. But there are some things that are more important than unblemished skin and nice hair, like being able to drink out of a coconut that you just cut down from a palm tree with a machete. The machete is considered a weapon in some places, but here it was a practical tool, no more out of place in the kitchen than a bread knife. One carefully-laid crack was all it took to split the hard shell of the coconut and expose the sweet, slightly sour water that was hidden inside.

Adrian and I are married now, and I have been to Puerto Rico at least half a dozen times. Each time our plane lands in San Juan everyone claps. No one ever claps when we land in New York after our return flight, but there is something about Puerto Rico that makes you want to show your appreciation for being there. I join in with the rest of them, clapping my hands together until they’re stinging and red. Gracias, my hands say. Gracias, gracias, gracias.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Katie Lee is a web content developer from New York who now lives in Scotland. When she’s not traveling, she’s writing short stories, cooking vegetarian food and running around at the gym.

puerto-rico-writing-contest

This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Diego G. Aviles Acostas from Puerto Rico. Thanks for your entry Diego!

I open my eyes and still see the blackened sky, with dozens of scattered stars looking down on me. The trees move violently with the wind uttering sounds that resemblewaves wrestling the rocks on a stony shore, with eyes closed it was almost like you were there. On and off all night, I couldn’t quite grab a stable sleep that lastedmore than two hours, the stone floor was merciless on my back and the only shield, a sleeping bag, didn’t offer much protection. I looked to my right and my companion seemed to be fast asleep, I searched in the darkness for my phone, anxious to see the sun on the horizon, but discovered that it would probably be a few more hours till I have that pleasure.  It’s crazy that we were sleeping here in the first place.

puerto-rico-writing-contestTwo days before the fantastic idea sprung out of my mind, “Let’s camp out!” Originally we had about 5 volunteers, but by the time the moment of truth was upon us, only my good friend, Gabriel, or as everyone calls him “Dude”, pulled through. Gabriel and I readied our belongings for the endeavor,to a stone house up in the mountains of Maricao. Allegedly, according to my aunt, the house was owned by Luis Muñoz Marin, first elected Governor of Puerto Rico, back in the year 1949.

Puerto Rico is a densely populated island, so it’s rare to find yourself driving among lush vegetation, but up in the mountains it was generally the case, it’s a great change of picture from the urban streets down below closer to the coast. Leaving the car out in the open road would had stirred worry in my thoughts, so I hid it behind the cover of some bushes, next to what appeared to be an abandon nursery or orphanage.

Before we headed out, we climbed to the roof of the building to get a look at the staggering view to inland Puerto Rico, which was mostly mountainous and dense jungle, and of the west coast. I could see my home town of San German off in the distance and even the ocean, the sunlight reflecting off it, resembling an ocean of light, rather than water.

After a walk, that was longer than anticipated, we reached the house.It had a medieval feeling to it with a big fireplace in the middle, but no roof. The green moss was slowly overpowering the stone. Plants finding refuge on its cracks and crevices, nature reclaiming what is rightfully hers. Two pillars used to stand inside, but only one remained, holding up the little foundation that remained of the roof. With a wasp hive on one of the windows, we hoped to coexist with them on this one night that we planned to sleep here.

writing-contest-puerto-ricoWe walked around the surrounding area for a couple of hours, and we stumbled into a ravine full of pines and acorns scattered all over the place. The sunlight peered through their branches like daggers, the fresh pine smell, elevated out of the ground and into our lungs. It almost felt like we weren’t in Puerto Rico anymore, the vegetation felt so different from what you see below; it felt northern, and the chilly temperature further complemented the feeling.

The sun was setting and we took full advantage of our location. We sat and watched, on a cliff overlooking the western coast, including my hometown. The crimson sky on the horizon got slowly eaten up by the creeping tendrils of the night sky.The creeping blackness soon had bright eyes that peered below, first a dozen of them, then hundreds, enveloping the sky. A blanket of darkness fell over my hometown, but right before it became consumed, an orchestra of light came to life, lifting the veil and creating a stalemate between two armies.The lights of the city and the starts of the sky would stare unto each other, until the rising sun overpowered them both.

We got back to the cottage and tried to start a fire with one miserable lighter I brought, but to no avail, we eventually gave up. We sat on the little cushion our sleepy bags provided, ate the provisions we brought, and talked of our failed fireplace and the uplifting feeling it would had brought us to sit there among its heat, observing it for the night. Much to my surprise, in the morning, I would discover that it was a fortunate thing we failed at lighting it up. The wasps weren’t our only housemates, with a young sun on the sky; a humming bird sprang out from below the chimney. It hovered over the mess we had made and I watched thankfully, that we failed.

 About the Author: Diego G. Aviles Acostas: I was born in New York, but lived most of my life in San German. Being in one place for the entirety of my life, I’ve developed a hunger to see the world and other cultures that I hope to one day placate.   http://www.facebook.com/Die.Go189

 

Our year journey in South East Asia started July 2, 2012. When we were gone for eleven months in 2008, one of the common questions was, “How can you spend so much time together?”

We were recently  interviewed about Traveling as a Couple by Travelinksites:

Today we have the fine pair behind the super blog We Said Go Travel.  With well over 100 countries tucked away in Lisa and George’s repetoire, these guys are experts!  Their blog is full of videos, info and tales from far flung places so make sure you check them out. But first, let’s hear how they travel successfully as a married couple…

 

1.  Could you briefly introduce yourselves and your site?

Hello! We are a traveling couple. I worked for seven years at sea for Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Renaissance Cruises in the youth program and as cruise staff and went scuba diving and traveling on six continents. My husband George lived in Paraguay as part of the Peace Corps Program and traveled around South America. Both of us had been to nearly 100 countries (by Traveler’s Century Club count) before we met.

2. Tell us the story!  How did you guys meet and what made you choose to write a travel blog?

George found me online—and we started traveling together almost immediately. Our first journey was to Fiji and Vanuatu. In Vanuatu, we went to a village, met a Peace Corps worker and I had my first bucket bath. When we started our first year-long journey, we wrote a newsletter every month. After we got married, we went from our “He Said, She Said” to our website: We said Go Travel.

READ THE FULL INTERVIEW

Thank you to Travelinksites.com for choosing us as a Traveling Couple for their site! We hope to share more about how we do it while we are gone this year!

Happy Independence Day! We hope you find a way to make all your dreams come true and feel INDEPENDENT this year!