Friday, August 31, 2012


The day before our cruise we planned to go to the island of Viegues home of the worlds brightest 
bio-luminescent bay.  (I'll explain what that is later)

It was only a $2.00 a person ferry ride from Fijardo to get to Vieques and we booked a stay at a bed and breakfast once we were there so we would have enough time to enjoy the island. 

Here are the kids waiting for the ferry....we actually lucked out because we lost track of time while we were at El Morro and then raced Mario Andretti style through the hour plus drive to Fijardo to try and catch the Ferry. The ferrys don't come very often so we would've been looking at a 3 hour wait if we missed it!

We got there just in time as they actually held the ferry for us as we bought tickets (they took pity on us when they saw all the kids)

This ferry ride was much too bumpy for Ashley's taste. I told her to look around and see how relaxed everyone else was, they weren't worried so obviously the bumpiness was normal. 

She made me fish out her life jacket from our stuff and seemed much more comfortable hanging onto it during the ride. (Other people are sleeping in the background!)

We were told we would get free transportation to our bed and breakfast. The guy said he would come in a blue van. I saw a blue minivan like mine at home but that guy wasn't for us. 

Our van was this one. Pretty beat up inside, no air (I found out that lots of places had no air even though it was hot and humid everywhere) our driver even asked us if we could wait for him while he went over and bought himself a smoothie. He then proceeded to drive us through the narrow, twisty streets holding his smoothie and stopping to say hi to people he knew along the way. 

When we got to the Seagate hotel we found it to be an eclectic group of buildings tucked in right off the street on the top of a hill. We had the "cottage" which was supposedly the only one big enough for our family. It was a 2 bedroom place again with no central air conditioning. Our room was stifling. I saw up close the Puerto Rican version of a "window". It's to the left of Taylor's head. Its a screen and on the outside is slats that open and close to let the light and breeze in....or the blazing sun and hot air in. The 2 bedrooms had a window unit for air conditioning right above the beds. (I guess that's pretty common here to have a unit just for when you are trying to sleep at night) 

The boys were going to have to sleep in the living room that night so we had to turn on the air in the rooms and then shut the slats in the rest of the house to try and cool it a bit.  They don't shut tight so even with them closed all the hot air came in, they made it through the night though.

Our "cottage" was decorated very interestingly with lots of floral and mismatched things. There were things that looked like they were pulled off the beach and off palm trees, pictures right out of a Florida estate sale, old falling apart craft projects on the wall and then Egyptian art. Interesting.

Ashley was just happy that she had her own room. 

Taylor loved that there was a hammock on top of the roof. He enjoyed that for a bit and even considered sleeping on it that night. Good thing he didn't because it poured in the morning and he would've gotten soaked...just like all the things we hung out to dry got soaked.

This was the view from the roof. It was amazing...but it made me a little nervous to be up there with the kids because there wasn't even a lip around it, it just dropped off and I kept imagining someone falling off the roof. 

After getting our room and changing Jeff and Joel decided to rent a van for our stay there.

We found directions to a good local beach called Red beach and started on our way. While you drive you have to watch out for horses and their fillies. They are everywhere! They are wild and there are 40,000 horses on the islands but only 10,000 people. 

We got to the beach and it was beautiful. It was a local beach, not built up and touristy with people trying to sell you stuff. It was relaxing and the water was like bathwater with mild waves. 

(Our kids get spoiled and then don't want to swim in our ocean after)

It's nice that everyone can easily get out past where the waves were breaking to enjoy swimming in the ocean. 

Look at those manly boys. 

Getting their feet stuck in the sand.

Joel actually had his friend, traveling companion, and fellow adventurer Paul out in Puerto Rico at the same time as us and was looking for a way to hook up with us on our trip. He was visiting his brother Eric and his two daughters who live in Puerto Rico and they all decided to come to Vieques too along with Eric's girlfriend and son to stay at our hotel and go on the bio-luminescent bay excursion with us. 

We met up with them at the beach and then hit this little local place to grab some food. 

One of the favorite places to eat were the roadside stands with meat on a stick. I forget their name but they were great for a quick protein fix. 

This place had other local food that we saw a lot off, beans and rice and chicken...and empanadas. 

I was trying to take a picture of this little downtown area and as I'm taking the picture I see the lady across the street taking a picture of us!

I have to say on the trip our family got a lot of looks and attention. There were people on some of these islands that had never seen a dwarf in person before. Ashley seemed to get the most attention. One lady in a store was a little too close for comfort and she kept getting in Ashley's personal space, asking her tons of questions, offering her gum, trying to invite her to her church and talking to her about Jesus.

We ended up waiting quite a while on the dock for our bio-luminescent bay excursion. Since Paul's brother Eric is a business owner in Puerto Rico he did some haggling on the price and promised to sent clients over so in the end we all got a great deal that night. 

While we were waiting the kids were playing "Ninja" they even got Paul and his nieces in on the action. 

Here is most of our group ready to go.

While we were waiting we talked to a lady who was a long time resident of Vieques who told us the story of protesting the American military occupation of their island. I guess Vieques used to be rented out by the American military to various countries for millions a day to be used for bombing practice! She said their island would be bombed over and over it's beautiful beaches destroyed and only a fraction of the money would ever make it to Puerto Rico none to Vieques. She said in the records at the UN the island of Vieques was listed as only having animals as residents, when actually there were 6,000 people living on the island. 

Protesting started after a person died and agent Orange, uranium and other bad stuff were found in the environment and in the residents. Protests finally changed things. After 2 to 3 years of camps and sit-ins finally internet broadcasting and the support of celebrities helped make the US soldiers leave. 

She told us of the months that she would live in the camps trying to protest. She got arrested a couple of times but then would come right back. The soldiers would ask her "Why do you keep coming back, you need to leave." Her answer was "We aren't going anywhere, it's you that needs to leave"

Eventually they did and now the abandoned marine base has become the biggest nature preserve on the island. 

The bio-luminescent bay was amazing! Probably the highlight of the whole trip.

We didn't bring our camera so I had to swipe a couple of pictures off the internet to give you an idea of what it looked like. 

We traveled over a bumpy road through mangrove forests to get to the entrance to the bay. We put on life jackets and paired up in canoes in the pitch black following our guide who was wearing a glow stick around his neck. 

Pretty soon after we pushed out from shore you could see as your paddle cut into the water it would glow. 

With every stroke the water glowed bright. When you picked up a handful of the water it sparkled over you like pixie dust. When you looked into the water lights flashed as well, about as big as the reflection of the stars reflected in the water. It's when the water was moved that you really saw it glow. 

I guess the best displays are when it rains and the whole surface lights up. Fish swimming in the water look like shooting stars!

Our guide explained that the entrance to this bay (shaped like an S), the salinity of the water, it's depth and the mangrove trees all provide the perfect environment for hosting these bio-luminescent creatures called  phytoplankton. When the Spaniards came they thought the bay was haunted with the spirits of those who have passed before so they tried to block the bay with rocks. This actually kept it more protected!

I guess there are phytoplankton in the ocean as well, about 35 per gallon of water. In this bay there are millions to a gallon!

At first I thought I was killing them by pulling them out of the water to admire them glowing on our skin. We learned that the glow comes from a chemical reaction that is set off when they are agitated or moved. They can only glow 2 or 3 times in a night but the next day when the sun comes out they are recharged again and can glow the next night. (I was glad I wasn't killing them)

You used to be able to swim in the bay and make glowing angels in the you aren't allowed but our guides said "If you fall out of the boat for a minute or two I can't do anything about it."

Taylor "fell out" first and then the rest of my family followed just to experience it. I stayed in the boat and watched them, ha ha. It was an awesome experience I would love to do it again some time. 

After we were done we went back to the city (one main street) and got some drinks at an outdoor eating place/bar.  The night life is interesting in Vieques. Again they liked really loud music...especially coming from cars. People would have little cars,  old cars, even a golf cart rigged with the biggest, loudest speakers I've ever experienced. They would race down the main street pumping their music louder than I've ever heard before. I thought the music in the lobby of our last hotel was loud (it was hard to talk in the lobby and it always felt like it was a party) but that was nothing compared to this. 

I thought the funniest thing was the people that didn't have cars would trot their horses by the bar to show off instead. It cracked me up to see some young guy thinking he was hot stuff...trotting his horse down the street behind some car with pounding music. Hillarious. 

After a good nights sleep we came down for a breakfast that was just as eclectic as our room decorations. The office was cluttered and food being offered...interesting. I think most of it came off the property (someone said they still saw a feather stuck to the hard boiled egg). I didn't eat too much after a cat was walking over the food offerings. 

We ended up saying good bye to our Seagate hotel (and horse farm) early because we found out that the only ferry we could take that would get us on the cruise in time was the first one in the morning. 

So we rushed off and said goodbye to Vieques. 

Since it was Sunday we were planning to go to church, but the church was the same time as the ferry ride. :(

We got back to the mainland and had to feed the family. 

Jacob said this place could be our replacement for church, crazy kid. 

After waiting for Jeff and Joel to return the rental car and long lines getting into the ship we were excited to explore our accommodation for our first ever cruise. 

Right at the beginning Jeff bought drink cards for him and the boys. You couldn't get soda with your meals or on the ship unless you payed by the drink or had a drink card. I was fine with just lemonade or water but the boys were happy to have unlimited soda whenever they wanted it. 

Actually I think they all took advantage of the free ice cream more than the soda. I think the record was 8 ice-cream cones in one day. 

Our cruise was on the Carnival Victory.  

The closing ceremony for the Olympics was playing on the big screen and helped add to the festive atmosphere. 

Our view of Puerto Rico from the dock. 

That night we got a big table for 10 and had a great sit/down dinner where everyone could get exactly what they wanted off the menu. Nobody had to share, nobody had to worry about the bill or the tax and tip. 


The kids ate tons. 

Us parents went to a meeting telling us about the kids club after dinner. Jeff was whistling to get prizes but Ashley ended up getting on on her own...just by being cute :)

10:00 at night, getting ready to set sail.

Some of us danced on the deck celebrating with everyone else the start of our cruise. 

I was a little worried about feeling sea sick. We all ended up being fine except for Ashley. She felt a little dizzy and queasy for the first couple of nights and then she was fine. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

San Juan, Puerto Rico

To my blog readers...sorry if my posts are long and rambling. I decided to document our trip by location to split it up some so it won't be so long and rambling...

This year we were planning for months to go on Vacation with the Oleson's. We started our tradition years ago to vacation together as a way to get cousins together and see stuff at the same time. 

Joel proposed a trip to Puerto Rico with a cruise (which neither of us have been on) as a way that the kids could hang out but we could have time to sight see as well. After Jeff got over the fact that he would be gone almost 2 weeks (he doesn't vacation that long) we started looking forward to it. 

Of course like all long awaited things, once it got here it seems to sneak up quick. 

We got to LAX with all our luggage waiting for our red eye to take us to Florida and then 2 1/2 hours to Puerto Rico. We've found that when we take red-eyes and nobody will be sleeping in a bed that night it's better if we take a dose of Benadryl just to help us relax and sleep on the plane. 

So right before our time to board we did. 

Then our plane was delayed for over 2 hours with electrical problems. 

So we all sat around the terminal in front of our gate falling asleep. 

The TVs in the plane didn't work because of whatever the electrical problems were....oh well we wanted the kids to sleep anyway. 

Taylor sat next to a stranger on the flight out. I guess the guy bumped Taylor on accident with his leg...and Taylor in his sleep smacked the guy on his leg really hard. He woke up as his hand is hitting the guy next to him, hard enough that his hand hurt. He was so embarrassed. Ha ha!

Jeff and I were worried the whole time we were going to miss our connection. We missed it time wise but we found out as we were landing that the plane we were on was the one going to the next leg so we didn't miss it after all. Whew!! But now we were stuck with a plane with no TVs again and everyone was awake.

Once we got to San Juan we rented a car (too small for all our luggage and us but we squeezed some how) and headed to our hotel. 

Joel and Virginia got in within a couple of hours of us. 

Once we were all there we checked out the hotel pool. It was an infinity pool with a great view. 

Our view from the pool. 

The pool had a pretty good set up too. On the other side there was a hot tub where we could hang out right next to a kiddie pool with a waterfall where the younger kids could hang out. 

Dean ...

and Ashley liked the waterfall.

The boys liked playing chicken

Pretty impressive Taylor...Jacob is a boulder.

But I have to say this is more impressive.  Jacob barely has his head above water holding onto Jacob. 

That night as we were leaving the hotel to go find dinner we were met with pumping music and these girls who were contestants for Mrs. Universe. 

It seemed like there was always a party going on in the lobby of our hotel!

One thing I learned about Puerto Rico is that everyone likes LOUD music!!

Taylor was more than happy to meet one of the girls. 

He commented on how tall they were!
 (And the fact that he wouldn't mind posting this picture on facebook ;)

We checked out Old San Juan at night and it reminded me of Europe. The whole place reminded me of a cross between Spain and Mexico. 

We found this restaurant where we ordered some chicken and rice and beans, and some fried plantains. 

The only bad thing was it took like an hour and 1/2 or 2 to get our food. 

Try telling a 3 year old that he will have to wait a couple hours for his food, let alone sit at a table quietly. 

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a local grocery store for some stuff to buy for snacks and breakfast the next morning. 

It's always interesting going to grocery stores in other countries. Along with snacks and produce we've never seen before we were checking out the fish display that looked like a fishy horror movie with all kinds of sea creatures clawing and eating other sea creatures!

The next day we took a drive to the interior of the Island to visit El Yunque which is technically the only rain-forest in the United States. 

Some of the roads were like our freeways...then we turned on to a road that was slower with more stop lights then we turned onto local roads that twisted and turned and didn't have a lot of signs. We finally made it to our destination. 

Taylor checking out starfruit.

We climbed this tower in the middle of the get a better view. 

This was the view from one side....

and here is the can see the city way in the distance. 

Walking up lots of steps in the sticky heat. 

Afterwards we hiked down a trail for about 1/2 hour to try and get to a waterfall. 

Everyone did pretty good on the hike and even Dean and Ashley walked by themselves the whole way. 

Finally made it to the waterfall. 

It was crowded with tons of people!

It felt refreshing to get in and enjoy the cool water after all that hot hiking. 

Standing under the waterfall was hard. There was a deep spot right before you get to it and you had to scramble your way close to it to try and stand under it. The water was flowing down rocks and pounded you pretty good. 

Joel had to help Jeff get there...

Whoo hoo!

Taylor went back for round 2 to try out his rock climbing skills. 

He made it about this far with the water pounding on him...

then he jumped/slid down. 

Taylor was excited to meet a contestant on American Ninja there. 

(He had been climbing the rocks before Taylor did...probably his inspiration)

Joel and Scott

Virginia and Dean are smart and just enjoyed wading in it. 

Trying to get Jared up...

We'll just wade in the water too thankyouverymuch.

We hiked 1/2 way back (about 20 minutes) when Taylor realized he left his vans back at the waterfall. So a couple of us waited for him to go back and get them!

On our way out we stopped at a local place for lunch and tried some empanadas.  They were like fried pizza and meat pockets. We all like them. 

Joel also got a fresh coconut for us to try. You drink the coconut milk and then the guy splits the coconut so you can eat it fresh. 

I didn't like it. 

I guess I only think of coconut in it's sweetened version.

Driving back into San Juan (not the old part)

That night we ate at Sizzlers. I couldn't believe the crazy lines to get into that place! It's Sizzler!

We ate the salad bar but it took almost an hour to bring our Malibu chicken and a burger! Seriously. 

(You can see that the kids are getting sick of picture taking already. Notice my children doing everything possible to block their faces)

The next day we got up and checked out more of the Old San Juan. 

(Did you know the whole island was originally named San Juan for the guy who colonized it and San Juan the city was called Puerto Rico. Some person got it backwards on a map and it ended up sticking)

This cemetery was very interesting. 

The city had a wall surrounding it by the ocean, to protect it. There were two castle/forts as well. This was Castillo San Cristobal. We just saw it from the outside but you could go on a tour inside. 

We took a free trolley ride around the town. I loved all the vibrant colors and the beautiful buildings in Old San Juan. 

Some of the places felt like you were in Europe, some in Disneyland.

Here was the fort we were going to visit...El Morro. 

It was a loooong walk from the street to the entrance...luckily the tram brought us right to the entrance. 

This picture is on the licence plates in San Juan. Now I know what its from. 

An inside view of the turret.

We crossed this bridge that spanned a moat to be able to get into the entrance. 

El Morro was built up and added on over the years. They  built it to protect the port from attack by sea. San Juan was the first good harbor to help sailing ships en route to the new world. After a one to two month journey ships could be refueled with water and food. 

Spain started this fort in the 1500's to protect their investment. For over 350 years the fort protected San Juan from attempts at take over from the English, Dutch and others. 

When the US came in World War II only 28 of the 40 cannons worked, and those that did were no match for modern warships.  The US warships came and in 2 1/2 hours they had taken over Puerto Rico and were sailing on to Guam. 

The 3 flags that fly over El Morro are the US, the Puerto Rican flag and the flag for Spain's military. 

The stairs were steep but the ramp that they had to push the cannons up and down was much steeper. 

Most of Old San Juan is surrounded with a wall that looks like this. 

From the 1500s till now. Pretty impressive. 

Here is a view of the fort after you descended into it and turned around. 
(The staircase in the background is what I just walked down) 

The fort had lots of levels, staircases and secret places. We just explored the basics quickly because we had to catch a ferry to our next destination. 

Here are one of the giant cannons...impressive until you realize they probably wouldn't do much of anything to any of our modern warships. 

Jacob and Ashley were hating the whole El Morro experience. They were hot, tired and didn't want to walk around. 

They pouted and I heard "Why do you spend money on stupid stuff nobody wants to do!"

At the very last lookout we saw this big Iguana. 

They didn't say anything but I could tell they at least like that part of it. 

There were things I learned in Puerto Rico that I never knew before. 

The residents are considered American citizens, though they see themselves as Puerto Ricans.
They vote in our Primary elections but aren't allowed to actually vote for our president. They had their own delegates to the Olympics, but admitted that they don't get very far, so then they'll root for America.
They have their own delegates for the Mrs. Universe pageant (which we met), there were lots pretty girls in Puerto Rico...I'm sure lots of potential contestants.
Only those who work for the federal government have to pay federal taxes.  
If you run a service oriented company that you bring to Puerto Rico your taxes in all are a flat rate of 4%. Pretty nice incentive to bring your business out. 

We asked residents at different times what they thought about America making them a state. Some of them said things like...

"If they really wanted us we would already be a state by now. Look at Hawaii"

"It might be happening soon. But if it doesn't happen soon it won't happen at all"

"About 1/2 of the people want to become a state and about 1/2 of them don't want to"

"I don't think it will happen"

"I think it will happen"

Basically we got a different opinion from everyone we talked to.  Whether it's a state or not its a great place to visit. People speak Spanish but enough people speak English that it's no problem communicating and getting where you need to go.