What did you do a year ago?

21 02 2011

Ys, what did you do a year ago? I just realised that it was exactly a year ago that we had our last visitors in Puerto Rico: my parents and Mrs N[eighbour]! The weekend of the 19-21st February, the five of us went to the island of Vieques, off the East coast of Puerto Rico.

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We stayed in the cosy guesthouse Casa de Amistad (I have to remember to show pictures of the guesthouse in a separate post!) and despite some rain, car trouble, and almost missing the boat back to the main island, I think we all thought that it was a great weekend!

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A sweet old couple that walked along the beach hand in hand and then went into the water also holding hands. I hope that O and I will have the privilege to grow old together like that…

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Car trouble! O had put the car key in his “water proof pocket” in the swimming shorts and apparently just a hint of humidity was enough for the car key to stop working for a certain amount of time (we were told this afterwards by the rental company). But the men, my father and O thought that the car battery had stopped working so some friendly Puerto Ricans helped us with jumper cables.. It didn’t work of course but all of a sudden the car [key] worked again!

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There are so many beaches on Vieques and some of them are “secret” while others are more official… Until 2003 the US Navy used most of the island’s beaches as practising ground but after violent protests they had to withdraw.

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It rained… But at least not as much as the first time O and I went to Vieques, exactly two years earlier, with my Finnish ex-colleague P – then we only had one rain-free day.

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We had one of the best dinners ever in Puerto Rico that weekend. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the quite new restaurant!

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The restaurant that was quite empty as we arrived late… Can it have been El Patio? I have to ask my mother if she wrote down the name!?

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Most of the beaches were not very crowded…

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The horses roam freely on the island…

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We did a kayak excursion at night to the famous bio-bay… Read more about our first bio-bay adventure in Fajardo here!

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The kayaks that we used to reach the bio-bay… Fortunately the paddling experience was much more calm and easier than the first time in Fajardo!

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The main town is Esperanza, but we stayed in Isabel Segunda which is where the boat arrives from the main island.

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Another beach…

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Island life is relaxed…

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To the extent that you never really know WHEN the boat to the main island will arrive and depart. We almost missed it… And had to rush to return the rental car, get the luggage from the guesthouse and find something to eat!

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Back in San Juan we stopped at our favourite La España bakery where Swedish B joined us for a fika and the guests tried some guava juice.

What did you do the weekend of the 19th-21st February 2010?

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Los faros de Puerto Rico

10 12 2010

And now for something a little more exotic than public transport and snow in Brussels:

I wrote this post in November but then realised that O had brought all the photos with him on his business trip (in the computer and on the external harddrive), so I never published it. But here it goes: Since When O is was back in Puerto Rico for the first time since we moved, I started to reminisce about the beautiful island we left at the beginning of April…

Our Swedish friend B in Puerto Rico often talked about the cycling race La vuelta de los nueve faros and every time we would start to discuss which are the nine lighthouses? However, I finally googled to solve the mystery of the Puerto Rican lighthouses and found this link: the 9 lighthouses on the main island. We saw six of them:

  1. San Juan (El Morro)
  2. El Morro

  3. Arecibo (Los Morrillos)
  4. P1020387

  5. Rincón (Punta Higuero) – actually the only one that looks like the lighthouses that I am used to 😉
  6. El faro (lighthouse) in Rincón

  7. Cabo Rojo (same name as the one in Arecibo, i.e Los Morrillos) that can be seen from our favourite beach in Puerto Rico
  8. El faro, Cabo Rojo - view from la playa Santa

  9. Guánica (Cana, inactive, no photo as we didn’t stop and actually just saw it by chance when passing by) and
  10. Maunabo (Punta Tuna, blog post)
  11. El faro de Punta Tuna

The missing ones are: Cabo San Juan (Fajardo), Punta Boriquen (actually two; one inactive in ruins which was destoyed by a tsunami in 1918 and one active. Located between Aguadilla and Isabela) and Punta de las Figuras in Arroyo.

We have also seen the lighthouse of Vieques (Punta Mulas in Isabel Segunda):

El faro en Vieques

The smaller islands – Culebrita, Isla Caja de Muertos (Coffin island, south of Ponce) and Isla de Cardona (also south of Ponce) also have lighthouses.

And what do you think about this double lighthouse?

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Actually, it is not a real lighthouse – O was trying to make a panorama picture by merging photos he had taken of the Punta Tuna lighthouse and somehow ended up with a double one 😉





Islands No 4 & 5: Antigua and St Kitts

4 03 2010

It is now already 3 months ago that we went on the cruise but I still haven’t published anything about the last islands we visited. I always seem to forget to write about the last days of our holidays*, but since I have been working this week on a photo book (My Publisher via Costco, of course) to chronicle our travels 2008 – 2009, I thought it was time for a cruise blog post as well.

So, the first islands we visited during the cruise were St Thomas (read more here), Dominica and Barbados (blog post here), and on day 4 we woke up in St Johns, the capital of Antigua (pronunced without the “u” so something like this: [Antiga]). I was feeling really bad as I seemed to have caught a cold and during the whole day I was a little (?) cranky and miserable  😦

Tourists at the Blockhouse, Antigua
Tourists looking at the view from the Blockhouse look-out… This is what I don’t like about group tourism; “5 minute photo-ops”

Our plan from the beginning was to do a combined excursion of “historical Antigua” + a beach visit but it was cancelled, and since I didn’t feel like spending a whole day at the beach with my cold, we decided for a “Best of Antigua”-tour instead.

View from Shirley's Heights, Antigua

Antigua’s slogan is “Land of Sea and Sun” and we had some spectacular views over the sea from Shirley’s Heights. However, it did actually rain a couple of times during our day on the island. At Nelson’s dockyard we saw historical colonial buildings – in stone, not wood which most private homes seem to be built of. The marina at the dockyard was full of  huge yachts, almost like St Tropez!

Restaurant in St Johns, Antigua
We didn’t have the curried goat at this local restaurant… Conch which is also listed, is the creature living inside the big sea shells that you can find in the Caribbean. In some parts it is endangered and protected, but in Puerto Rico you can also find conch (carrucho) salad on menus.

Since it was pouring down with rain when we returned to St Johns, we had lunch lunch on board the ship and then had a quick nap. Afterwards I felt a little better and we strolled around St Johns for a while. It was a pretty town with lots of wooden houses and we even saw two British red telephone boxes!

House in St Johns, Antigua
Beautifully decorated house in St Johns, Antigua

In the evening it was the second “formal night” and we dressed up for dinner. We had realised already before leaving for the cruise that the formal nights are not very strict so O decided not to bring a suit but just a nice pair of trousers and shirts. I wore a nice dress but nothing too fancy. I guess that for Americans the dress code seems stricter as they are used to going to a restaurant in shorts, flip flops and caps… (sorry for the generalisation!). We actually saw some people wear that in the restaurant on the formal night so so much for that dress code!! I am not too fond of dress codes in general but common sense for me is to not wear beach wear in a formal restaurant and when do you ever need to wear a cap indoors??

Slogan on minibus, St Kitts
Almost all minibuses on the different Caribbean islands we visited had messages on the front…

Day 5 in St Kitts was definitely the worst day for me, health-wise and I was quite disappointed that I didn’t have the energy to discover the capital, Basseterre. However, we did another excursion with a sweet driver and guide who told us to “Be kind on your knees” everytime we got out of the minibus. He told us lots of fascinating facts about the island, for example that St Kitts has a lot of foreign, mostly American, students who study medicine at the University of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Batik factory, St Kitts
The Batik factory

Our first stop was a place called the Batik factory, which has a lush garden and a shop selling batik clothing. O and I were more interested in the gardens than shopping and thought that it was interesting to compare the plants and trees with the ones we are used to in Puerto Rico. The palm trees were the same and some cacti we recognised from the Puerto Rican dry forest of Guánica. However, in Puerto Rico I haven’t seen palm trees and cacti growing in the same locations.

Brimstone Hill fortress, St Kitts
Brimstone Hill Fortress – a very windy place!

Already when we walked off the ship in Basseterre we noticed that St Kitts was a very windy island, and up on Brimstone Hill fortress, it was extremely windy. One fellow tourist lost his cap and O’s almost met the same fate**. The fortress and its surroundings is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage, and was built by the British over the course of 100 years, starting in 1690. The British used the fortress in their struggle against the French to control the islands of St Kitts and the sister island Nevis. Brimstone Hill fortress used to be known as “The Gibraltar of the West Indies”.

Political slogan, St Kitts
We saw lots of political billboards with this succinct slogan by the ruling party: “Sport / education etc – it’s working”

Next time: The split island of St Maarten / Martin, which was the final island we visited on the cruise…

*) I still haven’t written about the Niagara Falls and Canadian part of our November 2008 holidays! I wonder if there is any point in writing about it now?
**) Instead he lost it on the island of Vieques two weeks ago when he forgot it in a restaurant – maybe because he took it off when entering the restaurant! 😉





Puerto Rican street life

22 02 2010

I shouldn’t really publish another post before answering all your comments in the previous ones, but here are some photos from the last week’s excursions with the Swedish visitors:

A cat in the OSJ
One of many cats in the OSJ

A sleepy accordion player in OSJ
A sleepy accordion player in OSJ

Selling stuff on the road in PR
Selling muffins at a traffic light on the way to Ponce

Walking with an umbrella in Ponce
Walking with an umbrella in the sunshine in Ponce

Walking with an umbrella in Ponce II
Another pedestrian hiding from the sun in Ponce

A hen and her chicks at the ferry terminal in Vieques
A hen and her chicks at the ferry terminal in Vieques

A man and his horse walking home in Isabel Segunda, Vieques
A man and his horse walking home at night, Isabel Segunda, Vieques. Why oh why did it take me so long to get the camera up??

"Wild" horses on the road in Vieques
Semi-wild horses on the road in Vieques – suddenly 5-6 horses just crossed the road in front of us

An iguana at the side of the road, Vieques
An iguana at the side of the road, Vieques. Not always easy to take photos from the car window…

Today my mother and Mrs N[eighbour] had a two-hour Spanish lesson in Starbucks with my Spanish teacher, then they headed to the Old San Juan for some sightseeing (the fortress El Morro probably) with my father while it was my turn to have a Spanish lesson. The visitors are “entertaining” themselves tomorrow (the Bacardi factory), so hopefully I will have time to blog some more after I have finished the piles of laundry and ironing… O didn’t have any ironed shirts this morning, opps!





Show & Tell / Friday theme: Cars

12 02 2010

Wow, I have published something every day this week – that doesn’t happen too often! Since O and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, I am especially pleased that Anna didn’t choose that boring old subject for this week’s Show & Tell. Instead we should write about CARS:

USVI license plate
US Virgin Island (St Thomas) license plate – America’s Caribbean (what about Puerto Rico?)

What’s my relationship to cars? Well, I have never owned a car – shocking to people on this side of the Atlantic where you usually get / buy your first car when you pass the driving test! I have had a driver’s license for 16 years on the 24th February (I am a sucker for remembering dates 😉 ) but I haven’t driven regularly since I lived at home for one year in 1999! I never drove in Brussels, as I didn’t have a car and O’s company car was off limits until we officially lived together (February 2007) and then I was just so used to O driving us everywhere. I have driven two or three times in Puerto Rico but not since January 2008. It is just too scary for me here, in particular since I don’t have much experience of driving in heavy traffic and with multiple lanes. I do drive occasionally when we are in Sweden, but hopefully I will get into the habit of driving regularly again once we move back to Brussels.

Dominica car
Car in Dominica – note that it is written “left-hand drive” on it to warn other drivers… In Dominica you drive on the left, so most cars (?) are right-hand drives

Ok, so I am going to stop with quoting dates and show you some car-related photos instead – from our cruise in December 2009! Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of cars / license plates in Barbados, but all the other 5 islands + Puerto Rico are represented…

Antigua license plate
Antigua license plate with the country’s slogan “Land of sea and sun”

St Kitts license plate
St Kitts license plate… no comment 😉

St Maarten license plate
St Maarten is the friendly island…

St Martin (French) license plate
In St Martin, which is the French part of the same island as St Maarten, the cars have French license plates – bien sûr!

Puerto Rico license plate Isla del Encanto
Puerto Rico is the enchanted island…

I don’t care much about what car it is I am driving, even if I come from a SAAB family and my grandfather, my parents and my brother have Saab cars and O had a Saab when I met him! I prefer smaller cars, and I loved the green Golf my parents used to have as a second car.

3 Saabs in a row
3 out of 4 Saabs that we used to have in the family…

I will try to check out the other Show & Tell bloggers as soon as possible, but I am quite busy preparing for the guests arriving on Sunday.

Anki, Anna, Anne, Anne-Marie, Annika, Bejla, Christel, Desiree, Ebba,
Erica, Helena, IamAnnika, IngaBritt, Mais-oui,
Musikanta, Nilla, Norrsken & Stjärnfall, Olgakatt, Petra H, Saltis,
Sara, Simone, Sparkling,
Strandmamman, Taina, and Under Ytan.





What have you done for Haiti?

21 01 2010

It has now been almost 1½ weeks since the earthquake struck Haiti on Tuesday the 12th January. I can’t even imagine how even more terrible life in the already very poor country has become for those who survived but have lost everything; family members, friends and their homes.

Make a difference
Make a difference!

The disaster has felt especially close to us for a number of reasons;

Geography
– Hispaniola, the island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic is the closest island to Puerto Rico in the west.
– We didn’t feel this earthquake, but I felt an earthquake my second week in Puerto Rico in November 2007. The epicentre was close to Martinique and it did measure a magnitude of 7.3, as strong as the Haitian earthquake. We were woken up by another one in October 2008 (magnitude 6.1), where the epicentre was just 155 km from San Juan*.

However, the most pertinent reason is that last Monday (11th), when we were waiting for US Immigration at Miami airport, a plane from Haiti must have arrived at around the same time. We saw several Haitians being ordered to queue for a second immigration interview / interrogation, and I was hoping for their sake that they would be granted entry to the US. Ever since I heard of the earthquake, I have been thinking about these persons I saw at the airport, and wondering if it was decided to send them back to Haiti and if they were sent before the disaster struck. If not, they must be frantically trying to get in touch with their families and friends back home on the island.

Donations for Haiti at Costco
The box in the supermarket looks empty, but another one by the exit was almost full… Donations of cans, water and medicine were accepted at Costco

Last Thursday we went shopping – our kitchen was quite empty after 2½ weeks in Europe, and we also wanted to buy provisions for Haiti. O’s company was collecting food, water, diapers etc to be sent to Haiti. They were not the only ones – in almost every shop, bank and supermarket here in Puerto Rico have I seen signs that they are collecting provisions and / or money. I think it’s great that for example the pharmacy / convenient store offers the option to round up your purchase with x amount of money to be donated to the Red Cross Haiti relief. Many people probably want to help but never get around to actually log onto one of the web-sites to donate the money, but if it can be done at the same time as shopping for yourself – a “two birds solution”!

So, back to what we bought – first of all, I have to say that it felt a little weird to buy actual food, instead of just donating money. However since the harbour in Port-au-Prince seems to have opened today, I hope that all the donated food from Puerto Rico can reach the area fairly quickly by boat. We stocked up on beans, chickpeas, tuna, small sausages etc in cans, anything that could be eaten without cooking and was nutritious, and I could see that most shoppers around us were doing the same thing. I was a little worried about how people will open the cans, and O said that the company had said that can-openers could be donated as well. In Wal-Mart we checked for can-openers but they were completely out, so I guess more people had had the same thought.

Donations for Haiti
Some of our provisions for Haiti – a few of the cans actually could be opened without a can-opener!

Here are some web-sites for donating money (from the US):

Doctors without Borders

American Red Cross

UNICEF

Puerto Rico sent their own team of rescue workers to Haiti, and their photos and stories can be found on Facebook (in Spanish) – just search for Rescatistas Puertorriqueños en Haiti.

PS I file this under my category for Challenges, which is usually something light and fun, but I challenge you to do something for Haiti!

*) The strongest earthquake measured in Puerto Rico struck in 1918, on the day exactly 90 years after the one which woke us up. The 1918 earthquake had a magnitude of 7.3, caused a tsunami and 118 people died.





Island No 2 & 3: Dominica & Barbados

17 12 2009

Wow, the cruise feels so far away already, and I have almost finished packing for the next trip – maybe a little premature, but it was good I made a Christmas present inventory, as I discovered that some presents are missing for BIL No 2, FIL and NIL*…

Debarkation, Dominica
Leaving the ship in Roseau, Dominica

So, day 2 and 3 of the cruise brought us to Dominica and Barbados, where we had two very different experiences – in Dominica we did a guided tour of the island and then strolled around the capital Roseau for an hour or so, and in Barbados we just relaxed on the beach and then walked through Bridgetown on our way back to the ship.

Cruise ship, Roseau, Dominica
Roseau and the ship from above

My short summary of the two islands:

Dominica – reggae, rastas, British, small, independent, beautiful nature, election flags and question mark clouds (see photos on my Flickr page), minibuses, extremely clean and “no littering” signs everywhere. Known as the “Nature island of the Caribbean”.

Trafalgar Falls, Dominica
Trafalgar Falls, Dominica

Barbados – turquoise waters, very clean beaches, many British tourists, friendly people, taxi drivers everywhere wanting to drive us despite it being walking distance to / from the ship, reggae versions of Christmas songs…

Carlisle Bay, Bridgetown
Carlisle Bay, Bridgetown, Barbados

The guided tour was intense (5 hours), but interesting and our guide was very knowledgeable. However, some of the participants were not as fascinating [to listen to] but that didn’t stop some of them from talking non-stop, and I got the worst seat in the bus, a fold-out uncomfortable one in the middle, in the back while O was up at the front. And contrary to what O believed, you do keep your seat during the whole tour…


Tourists in Dominica

Roman Catholic church in Roseau, Dominica
Roman catholic church in Roseau, Dominica

I understand that not everybody is as interested as I am in studying the holiday destination before departure, O read the LP chapters just before arriving to every port. But if you go on a guided tour with local guides, please try to get your basic facts straight, or maybe just pay more attention to the guide before asking questions like: “Is this the only French island we are visiting?” Dominica is not French, is an independent country in fact and used to be British – and that’s exactly what I answered the talkative woman behind me!

Wooden house, Roseau
Wooden house in Dominica

Quite fittingly I watched “My life in ruins” in our cabin on Friday evening when O was having dinner in the restaurant (the worst sick day), not a great movie but extremely accurate when it comes to typical tourist behaviour!! This is probably one of the reasons why cruising is not for me, the whole travelling in a group of strangers is not how I want to explore new places. Of course we could have done excursions on our own, but we were stressed about getting back on the ship on time, and that was the second reason – it was just too little time in every destination!

Pink building, Barbados
Pink building, Bridgetown, Barbados

I kept thinking of my Finnish friend A who used to say “don’t be a sheep” – because that’s exactly how I felt, like a sheep being herded around the different sights on the islands! The problem was that since we were pressed for time in every harbour, we did feel that the tours were the best way to see as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time during the cruise, but I am not sure that I want to do it again. Or maybe, if I just decided to ignore the urge to explore and experience some of the local culture and nature, and just focus on relaxing on a beach…

Steel pan band in Barbados
Steel pan band in Barbados

Port of Bridgetown, Barbados
Three cruise ships in Bridgetown, Barbados – there was actually a 4th ship in the port…

*) Brother-, Father- & Nephew-in-law