Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Puerto Rico Getaway

In the summer, Ray booked a work flight to Seattle. That's one of my favorite cities and located in one of my most favorite states in the U.S. I was totally jealous, but the thought of a very short visit and dealing with two long flights with Benjamin just didn't appeal to me at the time. I also think I was still feeling icky and exhausted from pregnancy that it was just not happening.

But man did I want to go. If we had local relatives, I'd have been on that plane in a heartbeat. When he arrived home, we declared a trip needed to be planned because it's rare we don't have something travel-related on the books. That night, we booked flights. I had been researching flights to Puerto Rico and round trip they were coming up under $300. You read that correctly. They climbed above $300, but not by much when we booked our tickets. They were to be our last flights with Benjamin during my pregnancy with Claire. It's really discouraged for me to travel much at this point with all my pregnancy issues, so this was it. And in case you're curious, Benjamin was a perfect gem on the 4-hour flight there (thank you iTunes downloads of Daniel Tiger, raisins and M&Ms!) but received an F for the 4.5 hour return flight. Such a bad baby. Though he did learn how to say sorry after hitting so much on that flight. Silver lining? Ugh.

While we love traveling with the wee one, we're excited to travel back someday (we never say that!) to drive through the island and hike through the rainforests-- you know, without a needy toddler and big ol' belly that inhibited us from really getting into things this go around. If you've ever traveled with us (sorry parents!), you'd know we're not the type to just sit around. We are always go-go-go because we want to see everything. Perhaps that wasn't the best method to travel through Europe with our family, but we really wanted to share as much as possible. A little zany, but the husband and I are good together.

We did see the city, a rainforest and even did an island hop with the locals. Here's our trip in days:

Thursday arrival: We grabbed a taxi to our hotel. We checked-in and headed out to the beach and dinner immediately. We didn't really intend to go to the beach, but to walk near it and maybe touch the water. Except, that didn't happen. Once B got sight of that water, there was no turning back.

Clothing had to be removed because it was soaked after our toddler decided he had no inhibitions.

Consulted Yelp for a walking distance local food joint and found Bebo's. We had Mofongo-- meat/veggies topped on mashed yucca and covered in sauce. Good and super heavy.

Friday: Our hotel room was insanely small and if both Ray and Benjamin put out their hands, they could be touching from their beds. Needless to say, sleep wasn't optimal. But... it's travel and we already assume that possibility. But what we don't assume is our son waking up with a fever (101.8) for the first time ever at 3:30 in the morning. And staying up. But, like we always do, we treated the baby who was in good spirits after some liquids and meds and carried on about our day. We decided to head to Old San Juan because we thought that day would be the safest to avoid the big crowds from cruise ships. We were right. Other than the humidity and heat being so intense, it was a nice day of exploring. We explored two parts of the fort (located about a mile from one another), had lunch in the middle of a big quad area where B was able to roam, and took the city bus from our hotel with the locals for $.75-- costing us a grand total of about $3 for transportation as opposed to a $20 cab each way. Not to mention having to schlep the carseat through the city with steep inclines and cobblestone streets. The bus proved to be a fantastic decision because Benjamin was thrilled to be on one and repeated bus over and over again with sheer joy on his face. You'd have thought we gave him a pony. When we arrived back at our hotel after a long stroller nap, we headed out again to the beach (this time with proper clothing) and for a dip in the pool before grabbing dinner.

Castillo de San Cristóbal
Empanadas for lunch in the open square near the fort. Bought from another locals joint. Bus ride back and more water fun.
Saturday: This day started off interesting. We decided to rent a car because we wanted to get to this port area and it would've been so much more expensive to do so by taxi. Ray took a morning jog to the rental car agency and unfortunately, they were sold out for some big event. The morning consisted of some local park time and in the afternoon, we took a taxi to the airport where we finally rented a car. We then did some exploring and traveled to the El Yunque Rainforest. We brought B's carseat and this was the first (and last for awhile) time he had ever been forward-facing. It was just easier because we forgot the floor strap/latch which makes the carseat rear-facing safe. He was in the center seat and saw everything... including the chips in the front seat of which he requested every 2 minutes.

Unfortunately, we arrived at the rainforest just a couple hours before closing (though free for Veteran's Day weekend!), so we didn't get to experience all we could've if the sun remained high longer. But really, this pregnant lady and her toddler were not making any major hikes this go-around... so it was fitting. We walked around the visitor's center and drove to see a waterfall. We drove a bit more to see if we could get a glimpse of the other waterfall, but were told it was a 30-minute hike. It had just rained, so the ground was slippery and there was just no way we could make it with the sun setting. It was a beautiful drive, but definitely didn't meet our full quota of rainforest credit. We'll just have to go back. :)

Park right on the beach.
El Yunque Rainforest walking...
This was our big adventure day. We read on Trip Advisor that there are a few accessible islands just off the coast of Puerto Rico. And of course we wanted to check that out! These islands are heavily visited by the locals and since it was a Sunday, we knew we had to get there early and be diligent. We visited Culebra as it was well documented by past tourists and the beach sounded great!

All of the information we read said we needed to be there at 7 a.m. (our hotel was an hour away by car... which means we got up at 4 a.m. Chicago time!) to be in line for ticket sales. The ferry sells out and if you're not in line, you may have driven an hour to get there for nothing as there are limited ferry boats. What's awesome is that the ferry was something cheap like $2.25/adult for an hour ride over. It was just a matter of getting there. And so we did. We were there, in line by 7 a.m. When I asked a police officer if I was in the correct line (with at least 100 people already in front of me), he told me that once the ticket booth opens, I would have priority because I am pregnant. Thank you, Claire! Belly for the win! We knew we were safe even 100 deep in line, but it was sure nice not to stand in the hot sun with our toddler waiting to buy tickets.

And then, when we got into the waiting area building, we even had a special seating area and didn't have to wait in the line to board the boat-- either direction! Serious score on the belly bump. While we waited, we had some local fried pastries for breakfast and then endured the boat ride that had me feeling a bit woozy in the end. Benjamin was not in happy spirits either, so we're assuming he was feeling a little seasick.

Once off the boat, we grabbed a taxi and were off to Flamingo Beach for the day. It was beautiful and we had a great time. It was definitely the highlight of the trip and also the only place Benjamin ate an actual meal other than raisins, peanut butter spoons and granola bars. He had a sandwich and tangerine sitting on the beach and a beach nap to complete the day. It was full of sand castle making and ocean enjoying. I even had a chance to write down Andrew's name... since we don't live near the beach anymore, it's always something I try to do while we're on vacation. The boat ride back was SO much better, quicker, and the boat was crazy-nice! Trip Advisor also tipped us off that we needed to run back to the parking lot and get in line to pay for our parking ticket, as some people had to wait over an hour to pay their $5! We were the first ones there and had no issue. Great day.
Line we were able to skip out on due to the belly - happy Benjamin on a boat - Dad drinking a local beer - Benjamin drinking some 7-Up... cured that seasickness right away. Of course.

Ferry boat - Andrew - pina colada helado while waiting for the ferry back - sand castles with Dad
Monday - Final Day: We spent this day packing, walking and relaxing. We headed back to the park we spent some time at before, walked the beach, and checked out this great deli/bakery I found on Yelp. Even the President has eaten there! It did not disappoint.
Cute beach boy - playing at the beach park - eating more helado (tried all three: passion fruit, pina colada, coconut-- coconut was the best) - Mallorca sweet bread roll - breakfast at Kasalta was carb heaven - independent toddler on a (Hertz) bus back to the airport for our flight from hell
Video was taken at a splash pad next to our hotel. B managed to find an elevator nearby and required I come assist him in pressing the buttons. He managed these steps up and down because they were so shallow.

We enjoyed this trip thoroughly and totally recommend it for a quick (and cheap) getaway. Even with a toddler who was way less-than-pleasant on that last flight, it was worth it.

Some things that surprised us about Puerto Rico:
  • They're on Atlantic time! That's two hours ahead of Chicago.
  • Lots of police in high tourist areas. It makes you feel both safe and skeptical.
  • While not a foreign country (yay, no customs!), they did have an agricultural check for all of our luggage before we were allowed to go through security.
  • The humidity, even in November is out of sight!
  • Prices are on-par with mainland. It was really no different price-wise than traveling in the U.S. In fact, our hotel was really inexpensive!
  • Rent a car. They're quite cheap compared to taking taxis everywhere and you can find self-park at most hotels or hotels near yours.
  • If you don't rent a car, figure out local transportation because it is cheap!
  • Buy helado from street vendors-- it's the same company for each vendor and it's quite clean.
  • Hit up the local grocery store (we had one across the street from our hotel) for quick deli meals and basics. We even hit one up for some local candy to bring back. We always visit the local stores on trips to save a little cash on water/snacks and also to taste some local fare we may not have mainland.


Laura Jane said... [Reply to comment]

That very first photo of B & E is sooooooo adorable- totally a framer.

And such a cute belly you have there Mrs. Wilson.


Glad you had a great time, and that C got you some priority attention.

Brooke said... [Reply to comment]

Your travel style sounds just like D & me. We like the active vacations so we go-go-go and see as much as we can see. Our do nothing but hang out on the beach honeymoon was actually our least favorite vacation. Looks like a fun trip.

Ben and Katie said... [Reply to comment]

Next time a Seattle trip is in the works consider me a relative...geesh! Ha!
B fits quite nice on that baby bump...like being close to his sissy!
So much fun for yall on this trip, fun to see B and his personality!

Darcey said... [Reply to comment]

Love seeing pics of your super cute family. So glad you enjoyed PR!!

Caroline said... [Reply to comment]

I think our families would travel well together. What great pictures, love B looking up at you on that last collage.

Belly perks?! Yes please! Love that.

katie illingworth said... [Reply to comment]

Pretty adorable. I love the video of B in the surf.

Tiffany said... [Reply to comment]

glad you had fun in PR. D is from there, and has ton of relatives that still live there so we always stay in the "country" with his aunt/uncle. we hiked el yunque one year and swore to never do it again. man, it was a definite work out. i also broke my ankle there in 2009 while in town for his cousins wedding. i would not recommend ever needing to use the hospitals there. while their docs are definitely well qualified, the wait to be seen is ungodly.

we also swore to never drive there. it was scary. and we are glad when we go we have someone drive us lol.

haven't been since 2009, but D is itching to get back there, so that the baby can check out where daddy is from. it's a total PR pride thing lol.