Miami + Puerto Rico

Ahh... a vacation to the tropics, just what the doctor ordered, and with doctor I mean moi! :)

After a turbulent month, or even these past nine months, my body was craving a VACATION vacation. This will be my last year in my twenties and my bucket list has only been growing, it's time that I start knocking it out. After all, I teach about living in the present moment, about living each day to the fullest, and right now I'm in a position in my life where I can live exactly the way I want, do exactly what my heart desire. It's time for me to finally focus about self care, to follow my heart. And for the past seven years I've been craving to see and experience Miami and Puerto Rico. Seven years are too long to wait for anything. With a lot of the things that've been going on, I have really had an eyeopening on how fragile and uncertain life is. Not in a depressing, Debbie Downer way, but in a live life to the fullest way. To be excited and grateful about the time we have here. I was planning on going skydiving for my 30th but why wait, I might as well do it sooner! 

Anyhow, back to my vacation mode. Miami and Puerto Rico was just what I had expected and more. I absolutely LOVED both. Miami was so much fun and beautiful, and I completely fell in love with Puerto Rico. It was hard to come back to LA, not going to lie. I know, poor me, have to go back to the City of Angels, the city of endless opportunities and beaches. But it was something about Puerto Rico that caught my heart. The people, the nature with endless lush and scenery, the climate, the food, the music. An island just pulsating with life, and happiness with life. The simplicity of island life, not needing much but having so much at the same time, naturally. 

Isla Verde, Puerto Rico.

Isla Verde, Puerto Rico.

I got a little carried away so lets take a step back. My first stop was Miami, we arrived late at night so our first stop after dropping our luggage at the hotel was to visit Ocean Drive. There was people from all over the world on the streets, music, restaurant with patios on the sidewalks, people eating, drinking, talking, laughing, singing... it was an experience just to be an observer of everything going on around me, I loved Miami already. 

As a traveler I enjoy exploring, I don't like staying at the same spot the entire time without seeing everything else that is around me. I did some research and found a company that organizes airboat tours in the swamps to watch the alligators in their natural habitant. While I was doing my research, I found that many of these companies are also alligator farms where they host "shows", presenting the alligators that they have captured. For my own personal values, this is something I didn't want to promote or support, so I was happy to find a company that did none of that and only offer the airboat tour, Airboat in Everglades, thank you for that.  

The tour was amazing. It was incredible to see the alligators on their own turf and how they live amongst each other, the "nursery" where the baby alligators live, and the mangrove where the big boys and girls live. After watching them move and just being in their own existence, I definitely have a new fascination with alligators and even love for them. Not the warm and cozy love you have for a dog or a cat, obviously, but the love and respect for being such an incredible and complex creature. 

The rest of the days in Miami was spent enjoying and exploring South Beach, the different food and drink spots, as well as the beach and hidden streets. A lot of walking, just how I love it. On my next trip to Miami, I'm adding a boat ride, a bike ride, and a visit Key West on the list! 

Next stop- PUERTO RICO! 

I don't even know where to begin, fell in love with this place, missed it before I even left. 

First day we arrived late. We stayed in El Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan), and the city was full of life, so of course we had to take every opportunity to merge right in- helps when you are hanging with a local! We went for a walk around the city, listening to the street musicians, people dancing and singing along on the streets (me included), street vendors and that amazing warm tropical climate, no sweater necessary, I was in paradise. Thumbs up. 

The streets were narrow, the buildings and houses colorful with a mixed flavor of the Caribbean and Spanish heritage, with every part of the city, even the cobble stones we walked on, with the strong presence of history. A history and culture dating back long enough to be telling stories of what once was.  

Picture of Old San Juan taken from El Morro. 

Picture of Old San Juan taken from El Morro. 

Growing up, my mother and all my family on my mothers side, grandparents, aunts and uncles etc, were all speaking Spanish. Being from Spanish decent and born in Chile, my mother and our family stayed close to their heritage and language. When I was young my two languages was Swedish and Spanish, but after moving to the USA, Spanish landed on the shortlist and got "replaced" with English. It's funny to me to think that at one point, I barely spoke English and actually spoke Spanish. Being away from my family I've lost touch with the Spanish language, even though I live in LA, there hasn't been the same opportunities to nurture my second language. But as I've been getting older, I've found a new passion to come back to my Spanish, which is why I absolutely loved every opportunity to speak with the locals on this trip. Now since I got back, I call my family to speak only Spanish (Swedish is forbidden, lol), watching Spanish news and tv, and reading a book in Spanish. I've also started taking up French, one of the other languages spoken in our family, but that's a separate quest... 

Photo Feb 26, 11 38 39 AM.jpg
Inside El Morro/ Al dentro El Morro

Inside El Morro/ Al dentro El Morro

On my first "full" day on a trip, I like to spend it on adventures, exploring my new destination. 
So off we were to El Yunque, a rainforest located on the east side of the island. At the base of the mountain we saw a restaurant, which was also someones home, off the road. We were hungry and decided to stop for a bite. The food took over an hour but it was worth it, it was homemade, everything fresh and tasted amazing. Had some arroz amarillo (Puerto Rican yellow rice), catch of the day fish, soup, tostones (fried plantains), so good!! 

El Yunque was gorgeous. All the lush nature, the sounds of coqui, the local frog of Puerto Rico, sounds like the word "cookie" when it's making its sounds. It was amazing to hike through this beautiful nature, with waterfalls and rivers, and the tranquil sounds of the jungle. 

Photo Feb 26, 11 24 02 AM.jpg
Photo Feb 26, 11 31 17 AM.jpg

When the sun started coming down, it was time to leave, although you basically had to drag me out of the jungle, I did not want to leave. 

I quickly found another destination for us. I found that just 20 minutes away, a little further east, was the Bioluminescent Bay. This bay is one of the three places to see bioluminescent in Puerto Rico, but the only one with a mangrove that leads into a lake from the ocean, as opposed to the other two who are actual bays. The website said you have to make reservations before but we were out in the last minute and couldn't get through on the number provided, so we decided to just drive out there. We didn't even have an exact address but we figured we would be able to find it anyways, between my brilliant orientation skills and one of us being local, nothing could stop us. 

As we got to the approximate area, we drove through a neighborhood by the beach that was absolutely locals only, not a single tourist in sight, just the way I love it. I know, I am tourist too but that doesn't count. Friends were out on the streets and the beach, families were out, everyone mixed together, playing live music on the beach by the palm trees, coco frios, food vendors spread out along the street. So much life. I realize I am repeating myself, but it was incredible! I was already sad knowing that I would have to leave this island in just a few days. 

Somehow we found this company that does the tours that we had tried to get a hold on, and with no problem, they added us to the group. We were all assigned a tandem kayak, the ocean was pitch dark, only lit up by the stars, and in the water we went. Kayaking in a row, following each others small lights located at the back of the kayaks. There was only one entrance and exit to this bay/lake with the bioluminescent, and that was through a mangrove, similar to the one in Miami but more narrow and a jungle version. The mangrove was long and we heard the sounds of the animals surrounding us, our only light was coming from the stars above as they peaked out for us in between the tree branches. As we made our way deeper through the mangrove, we started noticing the glittering sight of the bioluminiscent lighting up as our oars hit the water. I reached my fingers in and created a trace of light in the water along the kayak. The experience was already more than I had hoped for. Soon enough we made it out of the mangrove, into this lake that was so dark, you could only see the contours of the trees around us, and as I laid down on my back in the kayak I saw the stars clearer than I have ever seen them back home. We were told each little bio particle is only able to lit up once, then it needs to wait for the sun to recharge it before it can light up again during the night. 

I didn't take any of my own pictures as I was nervous my camera or phone would get damaged with the water, but I found some photos by my friend, Google.

The mangrove entering and exiting the lake

The mangrove entering and exiting the lake

The biolumniscent in the lake

The biolumniscent in the lake

 Depending on each day and the visibility of the moon, the amount and the strength of how much you will see and how bright it will be is different. If I understood it right, the best time is "moon less" nights. I heard one of the other tourists complain that it wasn't "as glowy as in the pictures". To me, the whole experience was one of my best experiences I have ever had. It saddens me when people can't appreciate that this is nature, it will move and live perfectly just in its own way, with no consideration to your entertainment. Have people become so numbed by television and manmade effects that they have completely lost the appreciation of what our nature and all other living creatures around us are capable of just on their own, just in their own existence? Can we take this even further and relate it to our relationships with each other, to ourselves, and our unrealistic views and pressure to be more than just ourselves? 

Anyhow, as long as I keep my own gratitude for everyone and everything around me, I'm happy and content. The only thing I would've wished for this experience was to have done it without the other tourists that were too busy making jokes and listening to their own voice, rather than listening to what was around them. Going back through the mangrove we actually distanced ourselves from them, letting them go ahead and then continued on our own far in the back, so we were able to absorb the silence and the magic around us. Next time I would love to get my own kayak and go there after the tours are over. 

As we got back to land, we changed in to some dry change of clothes, jumped in the car and headed back to San Juan where we grabbed a quick dinner before turning in for the night. 

The rest of the time in Puerto Rico was spent on the beaches and exploring the different neighborhoods such as Isla Verde, Carolina and Condado. 

I'm already counting down until I get to come back to this incredible island.


TRAVELMandy MartiniComment