Puerto Rico, You Lovely Island

Hello, friends! I’m back! And just in time to go away again… but this time, I’m taking you with me.

And because it’s chilly and grey up north, let’s head further south. Maybe somewhere tropical. Perhaps a place where we can go to the beach? Or to the mountains? Or visit a rainforest? But let’s not spend too much, and let’s not leave the US.

DONE. Because this week, I’m coming at you from Puerto Rico, US territory since 1898. AND I AM SO EXCITED.

About a year and a half ago, my boyfriend Bobby and I traveled through the San Juan airport en route to another destination. As we were descending into the airport, Bobby and I took a few quick looks out the window, and both agreed that San Juan was too beautiful, and we should try to visit if we could ever get the chance.

Months passed, and every so often, I would come across an ad that screamed JOIN US IN PUERTO RICO. I stumbled across pictures on Instagram of sparkling lagoons and bright blue waters with mountains in the background, with little captions reading, “FAJARDO, PUERTO RICO.” On one of my favorite travel blogs one December day, I saw a stunning guesthouse in San Juan called The Dreamcatcher, which, to my shock when I looked it up, was affordable.

Still, it was a pipe dream — tickets and hotels and food all add up quickly, and there was never time in my schedule.

That is, until Bobby and I were taking a closer look at our schedules this year. Bobby’s still in school, so we were plotting out what our calendars would look like… when he mentioned he’d likely have a week in February after he finished an exam. “We should take a trip!” he said. “Use some of those points I have from my credit card.”

Half-jokingly, I mentioned we should go to Puerto Rico, because I had just seen these ads on the Metro that were advertising “cheap” flights to San Juan.

We started browsing destinations and adding up figures… and lo and behold, those “cheap” San Juan flights really were cheap.

And the more we looked, the more excited we got. And things started to fall into place: hotels booked through points and work bonuses. Flights handled from our travel fund.

And that is why on February 5th, we woke up at an unnecessarily early hour to catch a plane, and then another plane… and by lunchtime, this was our view.

We’re HERE! From the airport, we went straight to our hotel — and yes, this is the very same guesthouse I saw a year ago on that blog. It’s called The Dreamcatcher, and they had ONE room available for our first night in town, so before we head out of San Juan to do some exploring, we’ve made this our home base.

The Dreamcatcher is SO BEAUTIFUL, guys. We walked in and were ushered into this fabulous living room waiting area, with fresh iced tea and Puerto Rican coffee and a gentle smell of incense. There were fountains. Outdoor showers. And… an outdoor… kitchen?

YES INDEED.

After a short while, our rooms were ready, and we rushed up the stairs to the suite. And THIS WAS THE VIEW. 

A very happy Bobo takes in the sights in his fun shirt.

The PORCH with an outdoor shower (yes, fully private, and not something we have to share!), and TWO swinging seats.

After we’d had some time to settle in, we decided to take a good look at the map that the guesthouse owners had made for newbies in town. We found a sandwich joint nearby and headed that way for Cubanos.

Funny enough, the restaurant that we stopped into was none other than Kasalta. This bakery has the distinct honor of being the place where President Obama had lunch on his trip to Puerto Rico in 2011 (the island’s first presidential visit since 1961!). They take great pride in this fact, as evidenced by their giant banners… and the large plaque on one of their tables.

While we were waiting for our sandwiches (one Cubano and one of the “president’s choice!” sandwich), we got lucky, and the Obama table opened up. So naturally, we sat right down, and got the chance to sit where HISTORY HAD BEEN EATEN.

Plaque roughly reads, “On the 14th of June, 2011, President Barack Obama ate at this table.” Wow.

After lunch, it was time to take a walk towards the beach. The Dreamcatcher is only TWO blocks from a semi-public beach.

Not having worn swimsuits to the restaurant (I mean, we didn’t want to offend the memory of the president’s sandwich!), we just decided to walk the beach, shoes in hand.

IT WAS SO NICE.

In the background here, you can see the larger buildings of the “downtown” area of San Juan.

The beach was crowded but not terribly so. Most exciting was the abundance of unleashed (and VERY well-behaved) dogs.

After the nice beach walk, it was time for a nap. (Especially for those of us who woke up before 4 to catch a stupid plane….). Luckily, those hanging chairs were just the ticket…

After the nap, we didn’t plan for much, so we got to watch the sun set as other inn guests did yoga in the main common area outside our windows.

The view from our balcony, looking over at one of the windows, with the night sky in the background.

Then, once the sun had really set, we got a quick dinner (ceviche and a chimichanga) and strolled back to read and swing in the hammock and luxuriate in all this ridiculously warm weather.

(And also try not to go crazy with the coqui frogs singing their INCESSANT songs, all afternoon and night. It’s cute and definitely gives us that tropical vibe, but it’s also driving me batty.)

It’s kind of crazy to me to be taking a trip just for the sake of relaxation and fun. Usually, I’m ALL SYSTEMS GO, so this will be a test of my ability to let myself chill. We’ll see what comes of it! (:

Tomorrow, we’re heading off to the East Coast of Puerto Rico. We’re also taking an adventure there that I can’t even describe, but I will HOPEFULLY get good pictures to share. STAY TUNED!

Kelsey

The Impossible Trip to Paradise

Ever been invited on a trip and thought, “No, there’s no way I can do that”?

This summer, I got the IMPOSSIBLE CHANCE to visit the British Virgin Islands, thanks to the incredible generosity of Bobby’s (my boyfriend’s) family. They were renting a boat (a catamaran!) for two weeks—and though they had people to fill all the rooms on the boat for the first week, there was space for a few extra people for the second week. All I had to do was find a way to pay my way, and the space was mine.

WHAT.

We had a year to decide. So Bobby and I talked. And we planned. And we budgeted. And we found some reasonably priced tickets…

And thus, the trip of a lifetime was reality.

—-

For months before the trip was to start, I researched like crazy. The British Virgin Islands are a grouping of several islands in the Caribbean, immediately east of Puerto Rico. The main islands, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, and Anegada (da vida), are all relatively close to each other (within about an hour’s boat ride).

On our trip, we would set foot on three of the four main islands (leaving the farther away Anegada for another time), and many, many of the smaller ones. (For a map of our travels, check the bottom of this post!).

There was so much to pack. So much to decide on. (Should I get a two-piece bathing suit? How many towels should I have? Should I wear jeans on the plane? Can I bring my outrageously large sun hat? Are 3 pairs of sunglasses enough? Are 2 bottles of sunblock enough?) I wasn’t actually supposed to plan anything, as our itinerary was already planned for us by the BVI experts in Bobby’s family. But I could be prepared, couldn’t I?

And before we knew it, July rolled around… and Bobby and I were on a plane to the BVI. WHAT.

On Saturday, the 18th, we woke up at the crack o’ dawn, and made our way to the airport for our nonstop flight to Puerto Rico. 5 (surprisingly uneventful) hours later, and we were sitting at a gate, bound for the BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS.

THIS WAS NOT A DRILL. And it was about to get even weirder.

I had thought it was strange when I didn’t get a seat number, so when we found our gate, I wandered up to the desk with my backpack and my carry-on bag and my Bobby and asked for my boarding information.

“Yes, you’re in the right place. Place your bag here,” said the attendant, gesturing to a scale.

I stared blankly at her. Scale?

Yeah, it’s because our plane sat TEN. Including the pilot.

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And WHAT A RIDE we had. Puddle-jumpers, is what they’re called. And all our luggage fit in the nose of the plane, and on the wings.

Our flight took about an hour, and then BAM, we were suddenly in the BVI. Just like that.

(And to answer my question from earlier, NO, do not wear jeans on that plane flight.)

When we got in to the airport, we took a taxi to the BVI capital city, Road Town, which was a 20 minute ride over hills and past clear ocean views. We were let off at our hotel/docking marina, called The Moorings.

AND THEN WE GOT TO GET ON THE BOAT

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AND IT WAS ALMOST SUNSET

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Bobo, sittin’ on the sunbathing deck on our boat.

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My bedroom for a WHOLE WEEK!

The next morning, we headed out on the water! (And I didn’t even fall overboard!)

Boats are unreal, guys.

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The final view from the marina as we set sail. (We didn’t actually set sail… we had a motorized catamaran. But nautical idioms are too fun to pass up.)

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Bobo reluctantly takes us out on the open sea.

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SCREAMING

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Our beautiful boat!

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Eric (Bobby’s brother) takes in the view as we set sail for real.

THIS WAS REAL

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Our first stop was just past DEAD MAN’S CHEST ISLAND (NOT joking; that’s the actual place—it’s the inspiration for Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island). The rock formation that’s above is called The Indians, and had some awesome snorkeling (which I could do!) and scuba diving (which Bobby’s extended family could do).

From there, we went to Peter Island, and I got to go snorkeling FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.

Here I am, too excited to handle it:

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Snorkeling was SKDGJ{SDIUGH{SIUDG SO GOOD

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(Bobby’s brother’s girlfriend had an underwater camera and this photo was so nice that I stole it.)

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PIRATES.

The rest of the trip passed in a blur of beaches and books and card games and sun. I did drink a lot of piña coladas, but I usually asked for them to go easy on the rum. (Why spoil a perfectly good drink with something that tastes awful? All respect to rum drinkers; Belgium has a girl ruined for drinks.)

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You’re not really supposed to feed the birds, but…

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CHEESIN’ in this MAGICAL SUNSET

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First night out on the water. Celebrating 24 hours off land!

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When we got to Cooper Island the next day, we went back onto land. I made friends with this bird.

He’s almost more of a burd than a bird, to be honest.

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MORE CHEESIN with the whole gang!

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SDJGS{GH{SGSDOUHG

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Another catamaran! Sunset? Sunrise? WHO KNOWS

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SCREAMING. How can a place like this exist?

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I liked Cooper Island.

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We were big into photos on this trip.

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A few days later (or the next day? Can’t remember what day things were!), we stopped by the famous Baths on the island of Virgin Gorda.

Usually, when we wanted to go ashore from the boat, we would get in the boat’s dinghy and motor on over to the dinghy dock that was inevitably on one side of the beach. But because of the way this beach works, there was nothing to which to tie our dinghy.

And so we had to swim to shore.

I GOT TO TAKE MY GOGGLES AND WATCH THE LITTLE FISHIES UNDER ME AS I SWAM TO SHORE

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Bobo and I like the Baths. Didn’t feel very clean after them, but hey, that’s what it feels like to be in a giant saltwater bath with a bunch of strangers.

Our next stop after that was Leverick Bay on Virgin Gorda, where we FINALLY SHOWERED. (There were showers on the boat, but they were about as large as a chimney.)

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This was the free island resort shower, available to anyone who either 1) was staying at the resort or 2) was staying on a mooring ball overnight, and had paid the mooring fee.

LISTEN TO ME I SOUND SO SEAWORTHY

(I realize that I can’t BE seaworthy. I’m not a boat. BUT FOR A LITTLE WHILE, I WAS ON ONE.)

We spent all our nights on the boat, listening to music and telling stories. And after one night, we woke up to this little guy, who had jumped up on our boat. Tragically, he didn’t make it. But I SAW A SQUID.

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We saw a lot of other fun guys, too:

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Jellyfish…

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A handsome pelican…

And my personal favorite….

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MISTER TURTLE. One time, we saw THREE AT ONCE

After making our way around Virgin Gorda, we motored over to the north shore of Tortola, where we visited Cane Garden Bay.

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Our fearless captain Pat (Bobby’s father’s cousin) stands on the end of the dock, tying up our dinghy.

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We find Bobby things EVERYWHERE

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Solar paneled boat!

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Cane Garden Bay was uncomfortably picturesque.

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Bobby and I did manage to take a few selfies, don’t you worry.

And on our last day out, we traveled to the island of Jost Van Dyke, where we saw a REAL PIRATE SHIP.

If it wasn’t for sure, could it maybe be one? I think so.

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The last day was called for celebration, so we all took turns jumping off the top deck of the boat. I made sure to get a timelapse of a few:

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While docked at Jost Van Dyke, Bobby and I kayaked to shore and back. (Because we can’t lose out on the chance at ocean kayaking and getting even MORE sunburned. WHEN WILL I GET TO DO THAT AGAIN?)

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To commemorate the last day, we took a few all-group timed photos, and a few smaller “family” photos. But rather than show you one of the final versions, I’ll show you the one where we all look ~~so put together~~. (And you can see my uneven tan!)

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Onto the next sunrise?

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——–

And now I’m back, and not as sunburned as I could be (but still pretty sunburned), and trying to piece days together via photos.

To help you imagine, I made a map:

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To see the full wild ride we took (in zoomable detail!), check out this interactive Google Maps map! (Note: we went in counterclockwise order from the green star, if you’re curious about that sort of thing.)

What a trip. I feel so incredibly lucky to have waltzed into a trip like this. I keep having to remind myself that I didn’t dream everything—this was real life.

Or was it?