PUERTO RICO: SAN JUAN + PLAYA FORTUNA

NIGHT ONE: SAN JUAN

*if you haven't read the intro, go do it!

LIFE WITHOUT WHEELS

We landed in San Juan around 5pm, so we went straight to our AirBnB to freshen up and drop our bags. We didn’t have a car for the first week in Puerto Rico. It wasn’t always the easiest or most convenient, but I’m glad we were able to save some dough this way, and it also forced us to get creative and put ourselves out there in some instances. I must say: we quickly discovered that Puerto Rico isn’t exactly the easiest island to get around on without your own wheels. It’s doable, but be prepared to spend some time planning and waiting and spending a little money on rides. Aside from the obvious walking, we found our way around the island by:

TAXI : Yep, just a good ol’ taxi. At the airport, you stand in a line to snag one (just like most places), and when you’re in a city like San Juan or a busier town, you can keep your eye out to flag one down. You can also text or call them, which unravels a somewhat comical chain of communication in order to get a ride – but more on that when I talk about night 2.

Here’s the thing about taxis: it is totally up to the driver if he/she feels like driving you. You can surely ask for a ride to XYZ, but they may reject you pending any of the following reasons:

1)    They don’t want to drive you to your desired destination. Maybe because they don’t know where that is, maybe because they want to only stay in a certain area in order to make more profit, maybe because they only go from point A to point B and back and never, ever, under any circumstance stray to point XYZ.

2)    They simply would rather drive someone else. It could be based on the fact that you’re a gringo tourist, or maybe because they see someone that would be more worth their while up a block ahead.

3)    They are busy. They are on their way to pick someone else up, they are waiting for a phone call, or they just saw a friend up ahead and would rather stop to visit with them.

4)    They may roll down their window to talk to you and then simply give you the silent treatment when you ask them if they can take you somewhere.

5)    It’s too rainy.

6)    It’s too dark.

7)    They just don’t feel like driving you, but their wife will be along shortly who will (true story!).

In no way am I putting down the taxi drivers in Puerto Rico. In fact, we kind of enjoyed the crazy adventure of finding - or not finding - a taxi ride (see BE PATIENT in Part 1), and everyone we encountered was always very kind and transparent with us whether they ended up giving us a ride or not. One thing that I did really like about the taxis is that not even one of them ever used the mile/time counter. They simply stated a flat fee and we paid them this fee upon our arrival.

UBER : Uber was a fantastic, cheaper ride than the taxis in most cases. Typically, we found the Uber rides to be about half to 2/3 the cost of what a taxi ride would have been for the longer rides. The only thing about Uber is that they are only available in larger cities and aren’t as abundant as you may be used to in your home town. It’s still a growing entity in Puerto Rico, so before you make concrete plans that involve you saying, “oh let’s just get an Uber,” pull up your app and check on the availability around you. We were able to snag them easily in San Juan and a few of the more populated communities around it, but outside of that it was pretty darn quiet on the Uber front.

PÚBLICOS : The públicos. The slow-moving community vans that are dirt cheap. Theoretically, you can travel the entire island in these privately owned and driven vans. They are the closest thing that Puerto Rico has to an island-wide public transportation system (as far as my understanding goes, at least). They run between major hubs, at different frequencies and times depending on where you are. Ask around at a local store or bar or pick up a guide book like the one we used to get the low-down on meeting places and times. We only used them a couple of times, but if you have time to spare (it may take about 3 hours to get to a place that is usually a 1 hour direct drive), are on a tight budget and have a little bit of Spanish communication skills, this will be a fantastic option!

In general, here’s how they work:

-  You arrive at the meeting place, usually a central location in the town like a plaza or transportation hub

-  You speak with the público drivers, find one that is going to your preferred destination and confirm the price (we found prices ranged from $3-$5 per passenger, depending on where you were going).

-   Load in the van with other people who are traveling to the place you are going or to a stop along the way.

-   RIDE! ENJOY! MEET NEW PEOPLE!

HITCHHIKING : Okay, we did not partake in this, but it seems to be an accepted way of getting around Puerto Rico. We had a couple of our hosts mention getting around via thumbs-up. Of course, be smart and aware of your surroundings, and I would probably NOT recommend doing it if you are a woman traveling on your own (unless you’ve got some serious self defense skills), but if you’re feeling adventurous, why not give it a try!?

SAN JUAN – CALLE LOUIZA

We stayed with a most gracious AirBnB host, Antonio, in his San Juan home with his wife and two dogs. We were in an area Calle Louiza (Louiza Street), which was alive with bars and restaurants and night life. We had a great time walking around that first evening, basking in our “fuck yeah we’re on vacation!” mode. We started acclimating ourselves to the slight time change, the humidity, the generosity of complete strangers, and the unpredictability of drivers on the roads.

One of our favorite meals of the entire trip was actually the first meal we had in PR. A fresh tuna poke salad from Panuchos. We also stopped in for a few Medallas (if you drink cheap beer, you will quickly learn to say, “una Medalla por favor”) at the luchador-themed bar La B de Burro.

I also really wanted to step foot in the ocean on our first night there, so we walked down to the Parque Barbosa and the nearby beach so I could wet my toes. Vacation had officially begun.

 

FIRST FULL DAY: THE JUICE BAR

The sun rose in San Juan and we headed down the block to a café that is a local favorite called Kasalta for breakfast and coffee at. And it was delicious. Well, it must be because Obama ate there, and as Matt said, “well if it’s good enough for Obama, it’s good enough for me.” According to signage in the shop, Obama ordered the Medianoche sandwich on his visit, which prompted Matt to do the same. We were in sandwich heaven. The breakfasts at these locally-run bakeries reminded me a lot of the breakfasts I ate in Brazil – meat, cheese, bread, fruit and coffee (well, actually it was espresso – I’ll save my coffee confusion for another entry). I’m a savory-over-sweet kinda gal, so this was right up my alley.

But enough about food. Back to the plan. Or lack thereof. We actually were flying by the seat of our pants here. We knew that we needed to catch the ferry in about 36 hours in the city of Fajardo, so we at least knew that we needed to start drifting eastward. After reading in our travel book and having a lovely conversation with Antonio about a beach with a string of restaurants we should see, we settled on the area of Luquillo, on the northern coast, east of San Juan. By a stroke of luck, a private camp site that was behind a juice bar opened up last minute so we packed our bags, hopped an Uber, said farewell to Antonio and his dogs, and headed towards Palmer, just outside of Luquillo and near the entrance to the El Yunque national forest.

We were camping at a juice bar! I was really excited about this.

Bananas that Charlie was growing behind the juice bar, used in his smoothie and acai bowls!

Bananas that Charlie was growing behind the juice bar, used in his smoothie and acai bowls!

CHARLIE THE JUICE GUY

Degree 18 Juice Bar is run by Charlie and his sweet pup. Charlie is another fantastic human we met, and he was more than happy to impart his own knowledge upon us about Puerto Rico. He is originally from the NE United States, and grew up traveling between there and PR to see family that lives there. He’s lived in PR for a number of years now, and started Degree 18 a year or so ago, incorporating the AirBnB campsite (complete with air mattress) for people like us who were looking for some affordable and easy camping on the island.

Charlie gave us some helpful nuggets while we sipped on some of Degree 18’s delicious nectars:

-       You should really go into El Yunque National Forest when you have your own car

-       The bakery down the street from the juice bar is delicious

-       Playa Fortuna is a little bit of a walk, but doable and a fun place for drinks and beach

Our campsite behind the juice bar. Charlie had an air mattress for us which was SO nice.

Our campsite behind the juice bar. Charlie had an air mattress for us which was SO nice.

THE LONG WALK

We settled into our tent behind the juice bar and decided to adventure to Playa Fortuna since now Antonio, our Uber driver AND Charlie had mentioned it. Charlie guessed it was a 30 minute walk, so we laced up our tennis shoes, packed our swimsuits and headed out.

Okay, so it was about a 50 minute walk (“Island Time” is really a thing!). But luckily we split it up by stopping a small outdoor bar/horseback riding venue called Ponylandia (how could we not stop!?) for a couple of brewskis.

This walk was our first experience with the flash rainstorms of Puerto Rico. I’m fairly certain that Rupert Holmes was referring to his experiences in PR when he wrote about piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. Luckily, the rain storms are nothing like Oregon’s, and so the short bursts of warm falling water were a bit of a welcomed refreshment on our long, hot walk.

PLAYA FORTUNA : YOU CAN CARRY ALCHOHOL ANYWHERE

Playa Fortuna was described to us by Antonio, our Uber driver and Charlie as the following: a line of about 60 restaruants/bars that are open-air to the beach where you can get a ton of seafood and strong drinks. This is EXACTLY what Playa Fortuna is. So we ate conch (my first time having it!) and Matt’s favorite, sweet plantains, and drank mojitos and slushy fancy drinks. We swam in the ocean, read our books on the beach, and then drank more slushy fancy drinks. It was here that we learned something that we would utilize on the rest of our trip: you can carry an open container anywhere. After learning this, we truly looked like one of the locals: strolling down the chain of bars, sipping on whatever was in our hand, ducking inside when one of the rain storms rolled through. Ahhhh, vacation.

Playa Fortuna and one of our fancy slushy drinks

Playa Fortuna and one of our fancy slushy drinks

Playa Fortuna - our first time swimming in the Puerto Rican ocean!

Playa Fortuna - our first time swimming in the Puerto Rican ocean!

TAXI? I’LL CALL YOU BACK

The sun started to go down, and we had decided that we wanted to grab a taxi home since we were full of fancy slushy drinks and the walk wasn’t exactly safe in the dark (the entire walk is right next to the highway).

And so began our first foray into getting a taxi in Puerto Rico. Matt flagged down one that was cruising the “strip.” He didn’t want to drive us, (please refer to above: reasons why taxis may not drive you), but gave Matt a list of about 8ish numbers that we could text or call. So as we sat under a cover, sipping a Medalla amidst another flash rain, we sent out a text to these people. About 2/3 texted back, saying they were busy.  We called back the remaining people who said they were available. Two answered. Both listened to our request for a ride. When Matt hung up the phone, I said hopefully, “Well? Did we get a ride?” He looked at me puzzled and a bit amused and said, “they said they’ll call me back.” So we waited. We had no place to be but in the moment, so we enjoyed people watching and rain watching and each other’s company while we waited for a phone call back. And then – ONE person called us back! A no-nonsense woman (who, by the way, was NOT anyone we had contacted) who was there within minutes to give us a ride back to Charlie’s juice bar.

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” I think that’s a fitting quote to end this section on.

Me at the entrance of Degree 18

Me at the entrance of Degree 18

 

Next up, my favorite part of our whole trip: NYE on the island of Vieques.

 

TRAVEL BUG : PUERTO RICO : INTRO

I’m sitting here typing this while the 12” of snow keeps accumulating around our house in NE Portland. It’s hard to believe that a mere 48 hours ago we were finding every opportunity to jump in the ocean to cool off, but at the same time, it’s pretty neat to think that I’m lucky enough to have been in such drastically different climates with only one day of travel between. Gratitude is the attitude as I sit snuggly with my pup, sipping hot coffee, reminiscing about the past two weeks in the paradise known as Puerto Rico.

I had every intention of journaling every day while on the trip. I wasn’t expecting to record anything too deep or poignant necessarily, however, I did want to at least document our goings-on so that I could remember each place and experience long after we returned home. I was diligent about recording the days in my handy little red notebook for the first two days. And then I got “busy.” “Busy” in quotations because the true meaning in this situation is that I was sleeping in, making new friends, taking in the beautiful sights and getting out of my comfort zone, so truly I was “busy” being present in each moment. As I sit here going through photos of our adventure, everything is still fairly fresh in my mind, which is why I’m documenting now. I’ll most likely split up this documentation into a few posts/writing sessions, so here goes!

Top of the tower in El Yunque National Forest

Top of the tower in El Yunque National Forest

TRAVEL STYLE

My hope is that people reading this (hi mom!), will feel inspired to travel.  Maybe to PR, maybe elsewhere. I think an important question to ask yourself and anyone you are traveling with is: What is traveling to you? To Matt and me, traveling is finding unique experiences that are different than our everyday way of living. Our travel style is to shy away from all-inclusive resorts and big box chains (truly, McDonalds and Subway were EVERYWHERE in PR), and instead strive to find something a little more local, more meaningful, and more true to what the people of Puerto Rico find dear about the place they call home. We searched for (and stumbled upon!) some of the most generous souls in our travels around the island, and subsequently some of the best food, lodging and experiences that either of us have encountered.

WE DIDN’T PLAN

Not out of lack of preparation or because of time constraints. We purposefully left a handful of days free of any lodging or schedule so that we were free to blow where the wind took us, so to speak. If you are a serious type A planner, this style of travel may be more stress-inducing than it’s worth, but it worked quite well for Matt and me. I’m a bit more of a planner than he is, but it was a good balance between us. We could wake up most mornings and just decide then and there what we felt like doing or where we felt like going. If you decide to travel this way, I do have a few pointers that I discovered:

-       BOOK LODGING FOR YOUR FIRST AND LAST NIGHTS. This will ensure that you have a landing pad when you arrive and a launching site before you need to catch a flight back home. It will make things less stressful to have a place to re-organize your luggage and rest your head upon your arrival and departure -- trust me.

-       BE OPEN TO THE UNEXPECTED. Maybe all the rooms in the area are booked. Maybe the weather is really bad and you have to change plans. Maybe the ferry is 4 hours late and you don’t get to do that one thing you thought you would. Shit happens. Life happens. Just roll with it and be positive. Things will work out, one way or another. Besides: you’re on vacation. You don’t have anywhere to be except in the moment!

-       BE PATIENT. With people. With your partner/travel buddy. With the fact that organizations, processes, and people simply run differently in different countries and cities! Breathe in. Breathe out. Enjoy the ride for what it is.

-       SIGN UP for the AirBnB app and Hostelworld, or other short-term rental apps. These work great for booking last minute places, and will surround you with locals + other people who can give you recommendations for things to do in the area you’re staying. Hostelworld also has a very flexible cancellation policy, allowing you to change plans and use your credit towards another hostel if you so choose. Download them to your phone before you embark on your journey!

-       PACK LIGHT. I tend to over-pack, and this trip was no exception. Find a nice travel backpack that is easy to carry (I love mine from REI), and leave things like a hairdryer and your fancy heels at home if you can.

-       CAMP IF YOU CAN! Depending on where you are traveling and during what season, it’s easy to bring along a backpacking tent! We used ours a few times on this trip, and bonus: it was FREE lodging! Puerto Rico has some incredible camping opportunities that we didn’t even get to try out – more on that later.

-       DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK AROUND. For some reason, it is terribly frightening and stressful for me to speak up and ask people for favors, or how to get from point A to point B, or if they know someone that can help us with a taxi ride, etc. I think it stems from me never wanting to be a “burden” on anyone and not wanting to appear like a dumb tourist (yeah, yeah – I’ve got some internal things I’m working on). Enter Matt. He is genius at this. There were so many times that I felt anxious when he asked for a favor or a recommendation from someone. But to my surprise, every time he did, we found ourselves met with such generosity. People helping people. It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of when you’re traveling.

Camping on la caya in Esperanza

Camping on la caya in Esperanza

OUR PATH

Here is the route we took around the island:

 

1)    Flew into San Juan; spent night 1 there

2)    Taxied to Palmér, just out side of El Yunque National Forest; camped there

3)    Ferried to Vieques; spent 4 nights there

4)    Ferried back to the main island; spent one night in Ceiba

5)    Drove into the mountains; camped one night on a farm near Aibonito

6)    Drove to Isabella; spent one night

7)    Drove to Rincón; spent 3 nights

8)    Day-tripped south briefly, then drove back to San Juan for our last night

We only had two weeks, and we both felt like we were able to see SO much of Puerto Rico. We met a handful of other tourists who were staying in one spot while they were there. Of course, everyone has their own travel preferences, but I HIGHLY recommend getting around to see all that you can! There were still some spots that we wished we could have explored (i.e. the southern coast!), and some we wished we would have seen more of but we’ll just have to go back, right? ;)

I'll pause there for now. Work is calling my name. Up next: our first two nights spent in San Juan and Palmér, including our visit to the vegas strip-esqe Playa Fortuna!

Until then,

The Rooted Nomad

NOMADDING

So I made THE LIST and then split. I know, I know. I’m slapping myself on the wrist right now for not keeping this site updated. I could give you a list of excuses, but instead, let’s move forward with some better and more exciting things :)

It seems that I’ve actually been doing a bit more nomadding than rooting lately (I realize the former is not actually a word, but flow with me here).  After Christmas, I flew to New Mexico to bring in 2016 with one of my most favorite gal pals, and shortly after that big sparkly ball in NYC dropped, I jetted off to Brasil. Yep, BRASIL. I KNOW. It was incredible to say the least. During my two weeks in the southern hemisphere, I was in the world’s 10th largest city, ate incredible amounts of beans, rice and steak, swam in 6 different waterfalls, had coffee with caimans, and most importantly, visited with long time family friends, and an amazing “sister” who was an exchange student with my family whom I haven’t seen in 11 years. Phew! And the trip seemed just as crazy as that run-on sentence was!

I also did A LOT of writing in my notebook on this trip. I’m sure some posts will come from those musings at a later date, but for now, here is a visual compilation of some of my Brasilian adventures.

So, you may ask, what have you been doing in PORTLAND?

I ask myself this question every day, but usually PORTLAND is replaced with MY LIFE.

Truth be told, I can actually cross a few things off of my original Rooted Nomad list, and I’ve been able to experience some other spots and events that weren’t originally in my queue – be spontaneous, right??

In short, this means I’ve been saying, “yes” to many more invitations and experiences. Want to go to the winter ale fest? Duh. Should we take the dog to 1000 Acre Dog park today? You betcha. Feel like exploring the Audobon Society today? Of course! Want to go walk across the Tillikum bridge at 10pm and shout across the water in the middle? Definitely. Want to stay out late, forego dog-parent duties and get ice cream from Salt and Straw? HECK YES. Okay, I’m sure that last answer was a little TOO enthusiastic, but if you know our dog, you also know that I’m keen on taking breaks from her (sorry, Emma).

So really, I’ve been accomplishing what I set out to do originally, which is fantastic. I’m also developing a more visual way of representing everything I’m doing so all you readers (hi mom!) can easily follow my findings. More to come…

Always onward, ever upward,

The Rooted Nomad

THE LIST

I’ve gotten really into lists lately – handwritten lists, post-it lists, Excel lists (shout out to my amazing accountant pal who has opened my eyes to the Excel budgeting sheet), grocery lists, lists on my phone, and shit-I-gotta-get-done lists. Hell, I even have a list of lists I need to make (I wish I was kidding!). I’ve been incorporating them into my work routine, my household cleaning routine, my coaching business, my financial planning, and even into my vision board. Yep – I’m officially a list girl.  Took long enough, right?

And so, in keeping with my recent theme of lists, I will begin my Portland adventures with – THE LIST.

I’ve compiled a list of places and experiences in Portland that I want to see and do. Some of these things I’ve done, some I haven’t done in 15+ years, and some I have never even tried to do. But if I’m going to truly come at this city from an entirely new angle, then I gotta include everything, right?

Without further ado, I present: THE LIST.

   

 

 

Since this picture has been taken, the list has grown. I’m devising a system that can be updated here on the site, but, like most things I’ve got my hand in, it’s taking some time ;) 

I also have a series in the works based on other people’s Portland reccomendations. I’d like to keep it going, so if you’ve got some Portland things for me to do – send them my way! rootednomadpdx@gmail.com.

Keep exploring,
The Rooted Nomad

ANNOUNCEMENT: I'M NOT MOVING!

If you know me even a little, you’re probably saying to yourself, “wait – was she supposed to be moving?” No, you didn’t miss some big Facebook announcement or Instagram blast in which I announced any sort of relocation. It was more of a scenario I had played out in my head over the past year or so. A scenario in which my guy and I would spin the globe, hold out a finger with closed eyes and carelessly move to wherever our little pointers pointed. I’d get a fresh start in a brand new place – I’d start my own business and have a life full of adventure, exploration, clarity and unicorns shitting rainbows while dancing to the soundtrack of The Sound of Music. Okay, that last part I just added now, but honestly I had this utopian idea of what my life could be if only I could get the heck out of Portland. I mean, I had PLANS!

Well, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the past 10 years since being in the so-called Real World, it is that the universe ALWAYS sees your plans. It studies them, understands them and even makes you feel really, really good about them. And then sometimes, it takes your plans, crumples them up, chews them into a fine, gluten-free paste, washes them down with a gulp of organic microbrew, sticks a bird on it and says, “ha-HA, how do you like that, human?!” 

So yeah, my plans didn't pan out. Of course, it's all for very excellent reasons that I'm officially rooted for the time being-- after all, even if your destiny doesn't happen the way you envision, the universe always makes some sort of magic happen. I'm beyond lucky to have an incredible career, to be surrounded by positive people and to have a successful landscape designer at my side as my forever partner. Seriously, my man is TA-LEN-TED! Check out his biz -- whereisthegnome.com. He is SO talented, in fact, that his new business is growing like a weed (get it? Landscape design? Weeds?), and about a month ago he informed me that he will be expanding. I was (and still am) beyond ecstatic for him -- for US. And through the hugs, high fives and elation, I heard a crack, and then a crumble. There went the last part of my dream to get out of the City of Roses. As my guy's business has grown some serious roots, so have our lives to this place.

At this point, I found myself at a metaphorical crossroads: I could either feel sorry for myself, throw up my arms in defeat and simply get through my day-to-day, OR (and trust me this other side of the OR is much more exciting), I could create a MAJOR shift in perspective. I could stop feeling stuck in this city, stop dreading hearing yet another joke about hipsters from out-of-towners, and stop feeling like I’ve “been there, done that.” Because the truth is – I haven't even seen close what this city has to offer! I have everything I need and crap ton more to live out every dream I can imagine, right here in this very place. I can take my nomadic mindset and apply it to my current life, in my current location, with a whole new attitude. You get me?

So here I am, starting a blog. “What in the hell does that have to do with the scenario you just told me about, Mallory?” is I’m sure what you’re saying (I'm quite good at reading your mind, no?). My answer to you is two-fold. One: accountability. If I have even the smallest of audience (hi mom!) checking in and seeing that I am in fact following through on this new way of living, then I am about a thousand times more likely to actually follow through. Two: this is the perfect forum for me to combine a few  endeavors I’ve had going over the past year. If you haven’t noticed already, there is a “creative things” tab and a “mindful things” tab – both of which are outlets that I’ve been actively pursuing when I'm not at my desk as a designer. I’ll be posting more on those in time and adding content, so I promise that part of The Rooted Nomad will become much more exciting over the next few weeks. Until then, raise a cold kombucha with me and CHEERS: to new beginnings in the same place, to doing things you've always wanted to do, and to finding inspiration in life that you're already living.