Puerto Rico Journal
June 27- July 4, 2011

(The Wagoner's, Aunt Karen and Gramma Bev)

SLIDESHOW (3:48min with music)

The Plan:

Prior to having children, Alan and I liked to take pride in our exploration of the world as travelers rather than tourists. We preferred to live as a local when possible and rent an apartment (Brussels, Germany, Amsterdam, France, Venice, etc).  After kids, we took a little hiatus with this approach opting for convenience, pre planned entertainment and ease.  For a couple of years we have both had the old "exploration traveler bug", but didn't think the kids would adapt. Now that the kids are a bit older, we decided to give our exploration bug a little test.   I am so wanting a 2 week trek in Peru, but thought that was a bit much for the kids on their first venture out of main stream. I thought we would start smaller and a little closer to home to test the water's. Are the Wagoner children tourists or traveler's? Finger's crossed.

We decided to rent an apartment in a small local town in Puerto Rico, off main stream tourist path. In fact, I don't even think there was a hotel in town to be seen. We were going to live as best we could like a local, walk the streets, eat in town and for the kids to befriend the locals and just naturally play. We had just a couple of rules to follow during the trip, okay maybe more than a couple but who is counting?  #1- Don't assume locals speak English, try your best to at least greet and use manners in Spanish. #2- No Whining or complaining. #3 - Try new things. We did our best and I have to say it was a complete success. The kids passed the traveler litmus test and are HOOKED!  YIPPEE, the world is once again our oyster! 

Monday - Wagoner Arrival 

We left Raleigh in the morning and flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico via a flight change in Ft. Lauderdale. We arrived in the late afternoon, rented a mini van and headed East to our little town of Luquillo. On the drive along the coast, Lars asks "Mom, how many stars is our hotel?". My thoughts "Oh goodness we are taking this trip just in time. How many kids actually ask that? Have we sheltered their view of the world that much? They have been to Jamaica twice, but yes at Beaches Resort safe and sound. Are we past the point of no return?" My reply was "this is an apartment not a hotel, thus no stars. We are going to live here just as we would at home."  Phew!

As we approached our Apartment, it was very reminiscent of my little beach village in Tijuana. All of the little homes were very weather beaten and run down with decorative bars on windows etc. I was thinking "Oh my goodness, what did I just do to my family?". We pulled up to our gated secure high rise apartment and it too was a little weather beaten. In the parking garage we went and then up to the 18th floor to our apartment. Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised. The place was clean and the breeze and view were perfect. We were going to embrace this and go with the flow. We went out and grabbed some dinner then a little TV and bed. The Apartment  (Rule #4 - shoes off in the hall and wipe your feet on the towel, to prevent sand from getting all over the apartment.) It worked like a charm.

Tuesday - Aunt Karen and Gramma Bev Arrival
The morning began as it does at any of our beach destinations, the kids and I are up at the crack of dawn and off for a walk on the beach. We had a great time and became familiar with our surroundings. Directly out back of the building was nothing but beach. To the East was miles of beach on a nature reserve and to the west were some big dark rocks, the local surfing spot and town. We opted to explore to the West. We found crabs creeping around all over the big rocks, a few tide pools and washed up coconuts. Of course Lars was determined to crack open one of the coconuts and kept trying without success. On the surfing beach there was loads of driftwood and surprise, more coconuts!  We were gone about an hour and headed back upstairs. Alan was still catching some zzzz's and it was about 8am, so we decided to explore the neighborhood. We could see a bakery from our kitchen window on the town square, so off we went to get food.

Walking around this place made us warm up to it. The people that were out and about were extremely friendly and they all had their little places fixed up as best they could. We arrived at the bakery only to discover it was closed down. We ended up buying a few snacks at the little mini market and continued with our exploration. About an hour later we again returned to the apartment and Alan was up. We all hopped in the car to get some breakfast and do some grocery shopping. Had to stock the fridge if we wanted to attempt to be locals.  After returning from shopping it was just about time to head back to San Juan and pick up Karen and Gramma Bev. The boys opted to hang back and took a 2+ hour walk to the East along the nature reserve. Anya and I headed to the airport and returned a couple of hours later with the rest of the family.  I tried to forewarn them that our little town at first blush reminded me of my Tijuana beach apartment and they too had the same 1st impression. I must say we all ended up really liking it there and agree you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover.

After unpacking Mom was a bit tired, so we took Karen for a walk along the beach. A bit later we all went out to explore the strip of "kiosks" to see if that would work for dinner, but Mom decided she just wanted to sleep. Without a doubt, this is not where we wanted to eat. Place after place, fried food in an enclosed glass case with flies sampling the goods. We walked the entire strip, ventured out back to the beach and then drove around looking for a different place to eat. We passed this Mexican place along the main road that looked clean and decided to check it out. OH MAN! Were we glad we did?  You bet ya.  So much so, we ate here 3 times during the week!  Lolita's  Nummy for the tummy. All of us loved it. Then back to the apartment for a little TV and bed.

Wednesday - Rise and Shine it is a walking and shopping day
Morning routine is to wake up early and enjoy the sunrise from the balcony. Lars noticed that there was a proposal in the sand last night. We don't know the answer, but cute idea. This was a day for us to "get our feet wet" with the culture. We headed to San Juan as the city, as most cities are, was familiar for us. We walked all over Old San Juan and explored Castillo de San Cristóbal . Then out and about for a little souvenir shopping and admiration of the buildings and town.  So full of life and character, we loved it.  
Old San Juan Back to Luquillo to have dinner at Lolita's again!

Thursday - Nature Day
The day started with the standard morning sit on the balcony to see sunrise and do a weather check... the rain forest isn't looking to cloudy. Daytime destination decided! Now just need to wait for everyone to wake up, and ta da within moments they did. Off we go for the brief 15 min ride to El Yunque Rain ForestFollowing the advise of the Lonely Planet Guide, we drop up to the top and visited the 3 visitor center and then worked our way back down. Brilliant idea, as we also missed most of the crowds.  We hiked the Cascada La Mina and it was spectacular. The foliage was so lush and monster big. Your ordinary house plant was as big as life. It felt like we were in a Honey I shrunk the kids movie for a bit. The trail goes down, down, down into the rain forest. After about 25 minutes you can hear the Cascada "waterfall" and after going down a hundred stairs or so you turn the corner and see the beauty. Of course we all had to take a dip and get a beating, I mean a massage from the waterfall. It was so refreshing and exhilarating. This was another Lars screaming "this is awesome" moment. Grin from ear to ear, you just can't beat that! Now remember what goes down, must go up...or something like that. Up, up, up we went. Believe it or not, it seemed faster and easier to go up. On the walk down we were all trying not to slip and also soaking up all of our surroundings. Going up, it was determination to make it! :-)

We hopped back in the car and explored every little stopping viewing area down the mountain. The entire way, Gramma Bev kept saying "Look for a vine, I am just dying to swing from one."  After a few attempts and lots of laughs, we found some vines that people under 10 feet tall could reach. The first attempt to swing from the vine was a riot! She pulled on the vine and it came out of the tree. Turns out, they all did, so we did a good job of making it appear the swing was happening. It was legit for Anya and that was about it. Time to wind back down to the town of Luquillo and head back to the apartment to walk along the beach or rest for our exciting evening planned.

The day was a workout for our legs and the evening was meant to work out the upper body. Time for the Kayak tour of Laguna Grande Bioluminescent bay. There were several tour groups to choose from, but we made reservations with Pure Adventure PR. After signing our lives away with waivers, we hung out and the guides played with the kids. Anya got to giggling so much that it was contagious and great fun.  We then had a quick instructional session, we were experts on how to paddle, stop and steer. How to make calls to pass messages back in the line of kayaks etc.  We then partnered up and in a single file line to board our vessels for the evening. Gramma, Karen, Lars and I were in the back of the line. Javier, our guide, walked all the way to the back and told us to move to the front so he could keep an eye on us. He thought we may be "crazy kayakers" (out of control). Us? no way! The kayak tour began in an ocean cove and we quickly made out way "single file" (kinda) to the entrance into the mangroves. We zigged and zagged through the mangroves, a canopy of trees closely overhead and the current helping to push us along. The sun was setting and nature was signing. It was a ride full of laughs, our line was all over the place and it didn't take too long for us to finally get the rhythm.

After about 20 minutes we exited the mangrove into a beautifully protected lagoon (Laguna Grande). Our group met in the middle of the lagoon and tied up together to get our lesson on our the surroundings. Once it was dark, in the no moon sky, we swooshed around the water and there was a glow. As you would paddle, it would glow. So cool!  Play time was over and now back through the mangrove in the dark of the night. Do you recall the beautiful canopy of low hanging trees on the way in?  They weren't so wonderful in the dark on the way back. Gramma Bev became close and personal with one on the return and ended up with a bruised eyebrow and minus a pair of prescription glasses. Also, remember the current that helped us enter the lagoon?  Well, not only was it dark, but you had to work hard against that current. We made it back safe and sound and all had a blast!  They had some fresh fruit, water and orange juice for us.  There was also a street vendor grilling chicken kabobs. I was in shock Gramma Bev and Karen wanted to give it a try. We won't go into too much more detail here, but let's just say they won't take that leap again anytime soon. :-) saved your stomach on that one Karen. It was approaching 9:30 or so and we headed back to the apartment for the night.

Friday - Local day at the beach and around the neighborhood.
We had such and active day yesterday and a long driving day planned for tomorrow, so today was a good beach day.  We headed over to the popular Balneario de Luquillo. This was a nice clean beach in a cove with very little waves. It was almost as if we were at a lake. Just to our left was El Yunque, so it was neat having that as the backdrop to the beach.  We stayed here for a couple of hours. We ventured over to the little snack shack and ta da... they have pina colada's.  Sold!   The kids met some local children in the water and played for a while. Exactly what I was hoping for!  :-)  that made my day for sure.  After the beach, we all explored the local neighborhood and checked out the adorable little houses. These are the same one's that at 1st blush looked not so inviting.  After our afternoon walk we headed once again to Lolita's for dinner. 

Saturday - Driving and Exploration day

Sunday - Take it easy

Monday - Happy July 4th! departure
:-(   Time to go home. Fortunately, we were all on the same flight out of San Juan.  Anya wrote Carson a quick little note and with a little negotiation, we managed to switch out seats so we were all together. Just about time to land in Atlanta and the pilot comes over the loud speaker "Ah folks, we have some news. We should be landing in Atlanta, but they are closed due to inclement weather. We are about ready to use our reserve fuel and will need to land elsewhere to refuel. We are heading to Alabama to refuel and wait for Atlanta to reopen."  Needless to say, no one was thrilled.  About 10 minutes later, he hopped back on to tell us that Atlanta opened and we would land there instead with top priority.  We did finally land about 1 hour late. Of course, only to find more delays.  We all left about 2-3 hours after we were supposed to and it was a long long journey home. Karen and Mom missed the last shuttle from Vegas to St. George, so Eric was kind enough to drive the 2 hr each way to pick them up.
  13 hours door to door for the Wagoner's and about 19 hours for Mom and Karen to get to Utah.