With ever-changing airline restrictions and countries closing their borders due to Covid, we decided to play it safe and travel mostly domestically for the time being. For our winter holiday, we chose to fly to Puerto Rico, which, being technically part of the United States, meant that we wouldn’t have to worry about finding and taking a Covid test to arrive or to return back to the US.
Old San Juan
We spent the first few days in Old San Juan, enjoying colonial-style architecture, rich history, and delicious food. Between a walking tour of the small old-town area, and the two remaining fortresses, we learned a lot about the explorers, pirates, traders, and soldiers who have made San Juan their home over the past five centuries.
Favorite dish in old San Juan: the Puerto Rican Sampler at Deaverdura
Where we stayed: Hotel Casablanca (which features 4 stone bath tubs on the roof terrace)
From Old San Juan, we took an Uber to the outskirts of Fajardo, a smallish town on the east coast of the island. We stayed at a high rise condo just beside a marina, and attempted to do something we rarely do: nothing. Our condo was a mile away from the nearest restaurant or small market, and two miles from the nearest grocery store. We loaded up on some provisions, had a delicious mofongo dinner out the first night, and then hunkered down for a few days. We did wind up booking a scuba diving excursion for Christmas Day, but other than that, we stayed put and watched the sea birds, the boats, and the water from our 9th-floor balcony.
Favorite dish in Fajardo: Mofongo relleno de Camarones en Crema de Cilantro at Sal y Pimienta
Where we stayed: A studio condo listed on AirBnb in the Dos Marinas Tower
Luquillo is a laid-back beach town in the north of Puerto Rico, a perfect place for swimming, surfing, and drinking rum. We took a taxi from Fajardo to Luquillo, and arrived at our AirBnB apartment just a half block from Playa Azul. On our first evening in town, we walked over to the famed Luquillo Kioskos, a row of 30 or so bars and restaurants stretched out along the curve of a shallow bay. We drank beer and ate fried seafood and enjoyed the warm evening. For the rest of our time in the town, we tried out each of the other restaurants and cafes- Luquillo has just enough to try out two a day and not have to repeat, all without having to walk more than a mile. With views of the El Yunque Rainforest behind us, and the ocean in front of us, we were content to stay there and rest, relax, and toast the end of 2021.
Favorite food in Luquillo: Drinking a cold, creamy coquito. Here’s the recipe. I’ve already made two batches since we’ve been home.
Where we stayed: possibly my favorite Airbnb apartment. This one’s a gem, and under $100 a night
Of course this is only one small corner of Puerto Rico- there’s still so much to explore on this beautiful island (and the smaller barely-populated islands near it). Have you been to Puerto Rico? What was your favorite city or area?
On September 1st 2019, a category five hurricane passed through the northern Bahamas. For 24 hours, the hurricane- the strongest to EVER hit landfall there- stalled out over Abaco Island in particular, pummeling the island with 185 mile-per-hour winds and a 25 foot storm surge. By the time the hurricane passed on to other parts of the Bahamas, more than 80% of the buildings on Abaco Island were damaged. An untold number of lives were lost- as much as 25% of the population of Abaco are Haitian refugees, who are not counted by the Bahamian government- and an estimated $3 billion of infrastructure was damaged.
With a week off for Spring Break, we hopped on Air Canada for a flight down to Trinidad and Tobago. We spent the first three nights in Buccoo, a small fishing village in Tobago. Buccoo is very laid back; our days consisted of coffee and buns at the local bakery, hanging around the pristine beach, and watching the fishermen bring in their catch and the goats get ready for goat racing (yes, it’s a thing).
We stayed at Miller’s Guest House, which was an ideal location for us. They have an on-site restaurant, Luvinia’s, where we sampled a few wonderful dishes, but they also have a communal kitchen, where we cooked some freshly-caught cavalli fish with potatoes and carrots and mixed our own Angostura rum and Cokes. Also in Buccoo is the Sunday night party called “Sunday School”, an open-air forum where a steel band plays from about 9-10 pm, then a dj plays and the crowd, both local and tourist, dance until the early hours. A small bar sells Carib beer and rum drinks, and local vendors set up food stalls so you can try Tobago’s traditional treats, such as shark and bake (a fried fish sandwich on local bread), callaloo and saltfish, jerked chicken, macaroni pie, and beans. All of which is, of course, delicious.
From Buccoo, there are options for sightseeing. Pop’s Tours will set up a fishing expedition, a glass-bottom boat to the Buccoo Reef, a swim in the Nylon Pool, or an island tour to see some waterfalls. Healing with Horses is a local stable that will take you on a horseback ride along the beach to the popular Pigeon Point. We decided to take the local bus (always an adventure) into Scarborough, the biggest city on the island. There we visited the library (I’m a librarian, and I always like to see local ones- this one was really nice!! and air conditioned!!) and then we walked up to Fort King George to see the view and tour their museum, well worth visiting. We had a local lunch in town and then took the bus back (another adventure!).
Then we took the 30 minute flight (at just $25, it’s really a much better option than the 4-6 hour ferry, which is often late and one of which caught on fire this week) to Trinidad, where we stayed in the capital city Port of Spain for three days. We stayed at the Inn at 87, a small inn by the Queen’s Park Savannah. Port of Spain is….well, it’s a big city, by island standards, and like all cities it has its high points and its low points. Arapiata Avenue, called “the Avenue” by locals, is where Carnival happens in February and where the bars and restaurants are located. The Queen’s Park Savannah is a large park which features a sporting stadium, and most nights (or at least weekends and festivals) there is a set up of local vendors and food stalls. There we were able to try the Trinidadian specials we had been on the look out for: doubles (a kind of Indian fry-bread topped with chickpeas, hot pepper sauce, sweet chutney, and coleslaw); roti (chapati with meat and aloo and pepper sauce); corn soup; and pholouri (a kind of dough ball, fried, and dipped in mango chutney or tamarind sauce).
Along the western edge of Queen’s Park there is a row of the “Magnificent Seven”, some historic buildings that date back to the 1800s, when Trinidad was a British colony. Along the northern edge of the park is the zoo, and next to that is the Botanic Gardens, nice to stroll through. South of the park (which some say is the largest roundabout in the world, 3.7 km), around the Woodford Square area, you can find the Old Library (a lovely building, being restored), the Red House (the prime minister’s office), the Old Police Station (much nicer than the current “Hall of Justice”), and a museum. We used my GPSMyCity app to go on a self-guided walking tour of these buildings. Unfortunately for us, all of these were closed for the Good Friday/Easter weekend, but we did get to see the gorgeous facades. Happily, Bob’s on Marli (street) was open during the holiday so I didn’t starve (although not much else was open- Trinidadians take their public holiday VERY seriously).
For my last day in town, I hired a driver and explored out of Port of Spain a bit. He took me down to the Pitch Lake, the largest tar lake in the world. I got to walk around the spongy tar surface- don’t stand in one place too long or you’ll start sinking!- and I visited the museum there, which I thought was fascinating. Most of the world’s roads are made with pitch (tar) that comes from Trinidad! There’s another tar lake in Venezuela (actually it’s the same as Trinidad’s lake, as they used to be connected millions of years ago) and one in Southern California. We visited a hot pepper sauce stand with some amazing sauces (so of course I had to buy a bottle to take home for Chris), and then we went by the Temple by the Sea, a Hindu temple in village of Waterloo (there is a large Hindu population of Trinidad, which greatly influences their cuisine). We also drove along the Caroni Bird Sanctuary, but it started to rain so we didn’t see many birds (there are over 480 bird species in Trinidad, many of them quite rare. They are known for their Scarlet Ibis).
I flew home overnight on Air Canada, and had Sunday to rest up before heading back to work, ready to finish the last quarter of the school year. Chris had left Trinidad the day before me, and is visiting St Lucia for a few days before heading home. Here’s a shot he sent me from his hotel.
*A note on visiting Trinidad and Tobago: currently, you pretty much have to land in Trinidad first and then fly on Caribbean Airlines to Tobago. However, a possible deal with JetBlue is in the works to get a direct flight into Tobago from some US cities. If I were to visit again, I’d skip Trinidad altogether. But, I am glad that I visited it this week, because that way I can give you all the facts about both islands in this interesting country. (okay, maybe not all the facts but you know what I mean).
Questions/comments about Trinidad or Tobago? Let me know in the comments section:
What a fun two weeks! And yet exhausting! We flew down to Colombia, landed in Barranquilla, and stayed at the Puerta del Sol hotel for one night- very nice! Then a bus ride to Santa Marta, where we prepared for our hike to the Ciudad Perdida. Previously in territory that was dangerously close to the FARC rebel group, this hike takes hikers to the remnants of a hidden city deep in the jungle. The hike itself was 46 kilometers over four days, and involved hiking up – and then back down- three large mountains and crossing six rivers- or the same river six different times, I’m not sure. Between the rain each day, the intestinal discomfort that eventually reached every single one of our group, and the heatstroke that took out one of our group, it was very challenging and at times absolutely exhausting, but I made it and getting to see the ruins of a 7th century city was amazing. And I learned that sleeping in hammocks isn’t so bad.
After the hike and a day of recovery in the quaint town of Santa Marta, we went to Cartagena de Indies to enjoy the beach and the old walled city. I liked the cobbled streets from the old section and seeing how it’s been revitalized and still retained its quaintness. Home to writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a visitor so taken by the charm of the city once remarked to the famous author “You’re just a notary without imagination”.
Ready for some ocean action, we signed on to take a sailboat to Panama. We loaded up with supplies, met our captain and the other couple sailing with us, and set sail. The first two days were ocean crossing, and a bit rough, but we made it through and the last two days were blissful sailing and swimming around the beautiful San Blas islands. Snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, sailing, and lobster to eat- what more can be asked of a vacation? Plus a bottle of Medellin rum, shared four ways.
Finally we left our sailboat and made our way in to Panama City, where we went to see the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal. We enjoyed staying at the Central Park Hotel and Casino and especially their shower and their bed that did not go up and down with the swells. We toured the museum at the Canal, and watched several really large cargo container ships pass through. They are building a second set of locks that will accommodate boats up to three times bigger! That is incredible. All too soon it was time to head home, although to be honest, this time I think was ready to get back to normal life for a while.