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?
I’ve had friends and fellow travelers ask me about various diving experiences, and as I was recently transferring info into the new PADI app, I was trying to recall the places I have dived around the world. I don’t have super extensive diving experience, but I have been diving in about a dozen places around the globe. For some of these trips we took an underwater camera, but our underwater photography leaves something to be desired, so any suggestions on underwater pics is appreciated. Read on to see if any of these dive locales interest you:
Cote des Arcadin, Haiti
I did my first Open Water dive class here, in 2004. At that time, there was only one dive master in Haiti, he spoke French, and the only textbook available was in Spanish. It made for an interesting course. The hotel at Wahoo Bay was only open on the weekend so I wound up finishing the course while staying on the couch of my instructor- always an adventure to be had in Haiti! The water was clear and warm- no wetsuit needed- and even the parts of the course sometimes taught in a pool were taught in the ocean, in a warm shallow bay area called “the bathtub”. Over the next year or two I returned to the same area to dive a few more times and the water was always amazing.
Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras
In 2007 my friend Hunter and I went diving off of the island of Roatan. The Bay Islands are one of the cheapest places in the world to dive, and purchasing a dive package generally comes with a free, albeit somewhat crappy, single or double room. But it’s a party island so most people don’t care too much about the accommodations. We dove with Captain Morgan’s Dive Company, so that pretty much says it all.
Sao Tome, west coast of Africa
In December of 2007, Chris and I flew from Angola to visit the island of Sao Tome so that we could take a dive class. Chris was certified from his childhood but had no paperwork, and I figured I could take the class again (maybe in English this time). But on our way to Sao Tome, the plane we were on had a small depressurization incident and I wound up with a terrible ear problem for the better half of the week. I couldn’t hear and had vertigo to boot. Chris wound up diving there and I just swam or snorkeled, and we got to visit the equator, so at least we still had lots of fun.
Port Sudan, Sudan
Our first year in Sudan, we visited the east coast of the country, which sits on the Red Sea. Port Sudan is a big departure point for people who have traveled overland across Africa to take a boat to Saudi Arabia to go to Mecca. The waters off of Port Sudan are ones that were selected by Jacques Cousteau for his underwater living experiments. In addition, there are two wrecks nearby, one an Italian war supply vessel from 1940 and one a cargo ship carrying Toyota cars that sank in 1977. There is only one dive shop out of Port Sudan, at the Red Sea EcoSafari Diving Adventures.The small city next door, Suakin, is actually constructed out of blocks of coral that were cut from the bottom of the Red Sea to make the the harbor deeper for the larger ships. Definitely off the beaten path.
Chris and I visited the city of Alexandria in May 2010 and went diving in the bay of Alexandria, which was simply amazing. Our dive instructor gave us hand signs for “Greek”, “Roman”, and “Egyptian”, and we were able to identify statues, urns, and columns on the bay floor relating to the three cultures. We saw parts of the famed lighthouse of Alexandria, felled by an earthquake in the 13th century. We also stood on the marble floors of what was perhaps Cleopatra’s palace- certainly a piece of history, even if it was not her actual living space. Egypt has long been talking about opening the world’s first underwater museum here to see the underwater sights in the bay. Very cool.
Unawatuna, Sri Lanka:
In the spring of 2011, we won two plane tickets at a ball and decided to use them for a spring break trip to Sri Lanka. While we were there we went diving off the southern coast of Sri Lanka at Unawatuna beach. We went diving there and explored a large rock sunken into the ocean floor, and also a ship that wrecked in 1869. Also, I have to say,the beach town of Unawatuna is relaxed and fantastic. Highly recommended.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador:
It was more than two years before I went diving again, which might have been a little too long in between dives to feel comfortable. While in the Galapagos, we wanted to go diving to see the hammerhead sharks, which are typically fairly deep dives. Unfortunately I got a bit spooked, by maybe a combination of the dozens of sharks swirling around me and also the depth, and didn’t feel comfortable going down for the second dive that day. We did lots of snorkeling around the Galapagos, including in an area with tons of baby seals, which was really fun also.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
In October 2014 we started our year-long tour of SE Asia, and we started off in Australia. I decided to take the Advanced Open Water course in order to get more comfortable with diving, as I had not felt too comfortable the last time in the water. We did a four day live-aboard and completed the course and had a great time. The water was amazing, the flora and fauna were excellent, and the atmosphere on the live-aboard was great- fun but we were all there to take a very demanding class, so it wasn’t just one non-stop party. I know the Maori Wrasse in this photo looks terrified, but actually he came and visited our boat every day and loved swimming near all of us, so don’t worry about him.
El Nido, Palawan Island, Philippines
Six months later, still traveling around SE Asia, we were up in the Philippines and wanted to brush up on our diving skills again. We went diving in the beautiful water of the Philippines, which were warm (quarter-length suits were fine here) and full of fish.
Thingvelier National Park, Iceland
Okay, this one is cheating a little bit, because technically we weren’t diving, but anytime I have to shove myself into a wet suit I am going to count it. We went snorkeling at Thingvelier National Park, where you can see the North American and the European continental plates at their closest points- and it is just a couple of degrees above freezing. You have to wear a wet suit and a dry suit and even still your face and hands are numb for the duration. But the water is so pure you can drink it and it really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Wouldn’t miss this one, for sure.
Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras:
This past Christmas I returned to the scene of some of my earliest diving, when Chris and I visited the Bay Islands, ten years after my first visit. We were smarter this time- managed to get a slightly better free room with our dive package PLUS two free tank tops- and although the dive prices have gone up, at $35 a dive, the diving is still cheaper in Honduras than almost anywhere else. I saw my first green moray eels here, and some really huge gliding eagle rays. There are so many choices for diving in Utila and Roatan, so my suggestion is to go with a dive shop that actually pay their reef fees- some of them are quite unscrupulous. Really, it’s worth the extra $4 per dive to treat our oceans right.
If you have questions about which dive shops we used or where we stayed, let me know, and I’ll try to check back through my dive logs and let you know. Happy diving!
We’ve been through the El Salvador airport several times, but never actually visited the country itself, so we decided on El Salvador and Honduras for our winter break (number 92 for me, and 130 and 131 for Chris). Not really interested in Continue reading “El Salvador and Honduras”→
Chris and I spent a wonderful month in Australia. Many of the things we did, and the sights we saw, we knew about before we travelled here. The lovely Sydney Opera House, the Harbor Bridge, Bondi Beach. Visiting friends in Adelaide and Melbourne. Seeing the outback and Uluru, and of course diving in the Great Barrier Reef. But so much more! The convict sites that tell the history of settling Australia, the free parks and museums, camping….
Once we disembarked from our repositioning cruise and started talking to people and tour guides, we saw so much more of Australia. After a few days in Sydney, we rented a camper van for a month and started off. We visited the Blue Mountains, named for the blue haze that arises from the eucalyptus oil catching dust particles. Very pretty (and fresh smelling!). We visited the fashionable parts of Melbourne with my friend and local Melanie, trying new eateries and going for walks around St Kilda. The Great Ocean Road, along Shipwreck Coast, was incredible. The effects of wind and waves on sandstone cliffs is beautiful. There are more than 1200 ships under those waves!
We visited our friends Ben and Jo in Adelaide, that we had met in Galapagos over our Christmas break, and staying at their house and tried some Vegemite. Ben took us to visit the fairy penguins, feed kangaroos, and hug koalas. Jo took us to four wineries to sample southern Australia’s wines, and we had a lovely picnic. While we were there we actually saw a koala in a tree in their front yard- a sight that they assured us they had NEVER seen before (koalas usually do not come too close to towns).
We drove out into the outback, staying a night in an old opal mine in the mining town of Coober Pedy. Then we made it to Uluru, the ancient red rock in the center of Australia. A very sacred place for the aboriginals. We stayed in Alice Springs for a couple of days, then headed east to Cairns. We stopped off at a place called Devil’s Marbles along the way and played around on the huge boulders. We watched the stars, the eclipse, the full moon, and the international space station from the moon roof in our campervan. Sleeping in the outback is awesome.
Before settling in at Cairns, we went to the Daintree National rainforest….. The oldest rainforest in the world. This place has a staggering abundance of animals and plants that are found nowhere else. We did some driving bits, some walking bits, and a crocodile-spotting cruise. No beach time, because of the crocs and the jellyfish.
Finally, Cairns. This place is like spring break year round. Fire dancers! Pools! Nightclubs! Concerts! Our hostel is a bit wild. But for three days we went on a live aboard dive trip to the reef, and loved every minute of it. We saw massive turtles, heaps of fish, about a dozen sharks, and my personal favorite, the Maori Wrasse- it’s called that because the markings on the fish look like tribal tattoos. And they’re huge! Like four feet long. Friendly, and curious about us humans.
So…… Now we leave Australia, headed to New Zealand. Check back in 3 or 4 weeks for details!
Another one crossed off our bucket list! From DC, we flew to Quito, then to the islands. We met another couple, Ben and Jo, right off as we were checking into our guest house. We wound up spending most of the next week doing day tours with them. As we had not booked anything in advance besides our a few nights at our guesthouse, we found it fairly easy to roam around town and see what options were open, and then book on the spot. On our first day on the island, we snorkeled off of San Cristobal island, and swam with baby sea lions (so cute!).
The next day, we took a ferry over to Isabela Island and visited the underwater lava caves and saw white tipped sharks, equatorial penguins, and flamingos. It was super hot that day, even though it was December, and I wound up getting a sunburn. Ouch!
We visited two turtle breeding hatcheries, part of the national park, and saw ancient land turtles as well.
We went diving at Gordon’s Rocks and saw a huge sunfish, several manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and giant sea turtles.
And everywhere we went, we saw blue footed boobies, tons of playful sea lions, iguanas sunning themselves, and frigate birds freewheeling in the breeze.
It was a great vacation and words don’t do it justice, so I’ll just add some photos- they speak for themselves. The best part? Making two new travel friends. We can’t wait to get together with Ben and Jo again soon.