Christmas in Puerto Rico

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.

A view of El Morro, the San Juan defensive fortress, from the waterline
Old San Juan, the colonial cemetery, and new(er) San Juan in the background
The flags of Puerto Rico, the United States, and the Cross of Bergundy (flown over forts built by Spain)

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)

Fajardo

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.

Watching the boats in our harbor
A Merry Scuba Christmas!

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

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.

Chris at the beach in Luquillo
Deah reading at the beach
An afternoon rain shower over the rain forest

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?

Why you should visit Mexico City and Puebla, and what to eat while you are there

After 18 months of staying in the US, Chris and I decided to dip our toes into the international travel scene again for my fall break. We chose Mexico for several reasons: direct flights, cheap prices, and easy entry requirements. As of November 2021, Americans do not need a Covid test to enter Mexico- just one to re-enter the US. We booked our tickets on Volaris airline, a Mexican carrier, and we were ready to go.

Plaza Constitution: the heart of Mexico City

Leaving your car at the airport for more than a few days can be expensive, so I looked up some cheaper parking options. We went with parkingaccess.com, which wound up being $35 to park our car at a nearby hotel for the duration of our trip. Be sure to read the fine print when choosing where to leave your car- try to pick a hotel with a free airport shuttle option (otherwise you’ll up your costs by having to take an Uber the last mile), and some local options provide covered parking, while others don’t.

Continue reading “Why you should visit Mexico City and Puebla, and what to eat while you are there”

Chris Hikes the PCT- part 2: the Sierra Nevada

Small wisps of smoke rise from a fire near Yosemite National Park California

“The mountains are calling and I must go”, John Muir wrote in a letter to his sister in 1873, and after being in the Sierra Nevada mountains for the last few weeks, I can understand how he felt.

Although some of the toughest hiking, the Sierra Nevadas are also some of the most scenic

By mid-June, Chris and his hiking bubble had completed 25% of the trail, ending the “desert” portion of the trail. Starting June 14, he hiked out of Kennedy Meadows South, and began traversing the southern Sierra mountains. This part of the trail included the longest stretch of the trail with no access to resupply points, and no cell coverage. I camped with him at Cottonwood Meadow Campground, up in the Alabama Hills just west of Death Valley and the little town of Lone Pine on 395, and brought him a giant Subway sandwich and enough dry foods for eight days of hiking. Which makes a really heavy pack! When he left the next morning, he began the trek to get to the top of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental US.

Continue reading “Chris Hikes the PCT- part 2: the Sierra Nevada”

Chris Hikes the PCT-part 1: the southern desert

wooden sign on the Pacific Crest Trail

Chris set off in late April to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, hopefully in its entirety (2,650 miles). Visiting some friends and family along the way, he was able to leave our car with our friend Touch in San Diego, and arrived at the start of the PCT on the night of May 3rd. Months before, he had applied for a PCT permit, and had a start date of May 4 at Campo, on the California/Mexico border.

Chris at the start of the PCT

The PCT starts off hot and sandy, with moderate hills and few water sources in low-rainfall years. Chris hiked his way past small towns such as Julian, Warner Springs, and Idyllwild, and up and then down mountains such as Mt. San Jacinto (10,883 feet). Taking a long weekend, I flew to San Diego, picked up our car, and drove to the point where the PCT meets I-10 near Palm Springs. Thanks to the Garmin InReach GPS/SOS Chris’s parents bought for the hike, we actually timed it really well, and Chris arrived at our rendezvous only 15 minutes after I did. Having just hiked 20 miles down a mountain ridge, in an extremely windy area (known for its wind farms), he was happy to take a “zero” and a “near-o” to spend some time together, resupply his food pack, and rest his feet. We also visited Joshua Tree National Park (although, he was not interested in hiking any trails there… I wonder why).

Continue reading “Chris Hikes the PCT-part 1: the southern desert”

The Texas Panhandle

A barbed wire fence demarcates a dry wheat field in the Texas panhandle

While flat, grassy plains may not sound like an interesting place to take a vacation, the panhandle of Texas actually has stunning physical nature, a fascinating history, and great food and wine options. Visitors can easily spend a few days touring this part of Texas and exploring the delights of the “llano estacado”.

If rusty windmills and dusty oil rigs is how you picture west Texas, there’s been some changes in recent years

Lubbock

With a population of around a quarter million, Lubbock is perhaps most famous for being the home of Texas Tech University, and Buddy Holly. Even if you’re just passing through Lubbock on the way to somewhere else, it’s still worth a stop at the Buddy Holly Center, and a pass through the American Windmill Museum– the largest windmill museum in the world. And, you can’t leave town without passing by George Bush, to see what holiday costume he’s been dressed in. After a quick tour of the grounds of Texas Tech University, founded in 1923, it’s worth the drive out to the Llano Estacado Winery for a tour or a tasting (currently only open for curbside pick up due to Covid-19 restrictions).

Amarillo

Advancing farther north into the panhandle, the city of Amarillo has its share of quirky delights as well. For starters, the historic Route 66 runs right through town, and the shops and restaurants along that stretch of road reflect the architectural styles of the Route 66 heyday, ranging from vintage 20’s motels to 40’s service stations. The 13 blocks downtown are part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic 6th Street, Amarillo

If you’ve driven along any stretch of Texas highway, then you’ve probably seen signs for The Big Texan Steak Ranch. Yep, home of the 72 oz steak. Free…..if you can consume the entire meal (including shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, roll, and the steak itself) in under one hour. Otherwise, you gotta pay for it, at a whopping cost of $72. For a list of winners, click here.

The 2nd Amendment Cowboy serves no purpose, really. But it’s fun to take a picture of

Just like the 72 oz steak, everything else in Amarillo is big too. You can visit the 22′ tall “2nd Amendment Cowboy”, just down the road from Cadillac Ranch. An art project born of a strange union between some hippie artists in San Francisco and a billionaire from Texas, Cadillac Ranch consists of ten classic Cadillacs, buried nose-down in the Texas dirt. The art installation is free of charge to visit, and is open every day of the year. Littered with discarded half-empty cans of spray paint, visitors are welcome to add their own tag to any of the vehicle and photograph them to their hearts’ content.

If you come back next week, it will look completely different

Palo Duro Canyon

After seeing some of the somewhat questionable works of man, it might be time for some nature. Just a few miles outside of Amarillo is the entrance to Palo Duro State Park, the second largest canyon in the United States. You can spend days wandering the trails by foot, horseback, or mountain bike, and camp under the stars at night in an RV, tent, or cabin. Spot deer, fox, longhorn cattle, and coyotes in the hour before dusk. In the summer, a musical titled “Texas!” has been entertaining crowds since the early 60’s. Preceded by a nightly barbecue and followed by fireworks, the show is definitely not something you want to miss if you are visiting in the summer months. If you know anyone who grew up in the state of Texas, you can bet they attended this show at least once as a kid (I know I did).

The High Plains

The Spanish called this region the “llano estacado”, which has frequently been translated to “staked plains”, but actually “stockaded plains” is referencing the high cliffs that form the boundary of the region. If you get off the highway and find yourself chasing down little-known sights such as the Texas-Oklahoma-New Mexico border monument, you’ll find that the Texas High Plains has a rhythm and a beauty all it’s own, no matter the season you visit.

With a little time on your hands and a GPS, you, too, can find this great monument at the end of a country road