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!
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.
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!
The Rooted Nomad