Puerto Rico: El Yunque and Fajardo

Day 3:  We are set to go to the Foothills of El Yunque. We booked an ATV tour with a company who used to be known as Hacienda Carabali but nowadays, they call themselves, Carabali Rainforest Park. If you are not into ATV-ing but still want to explore, they also offer horseback riding tours.

It was in the middle of the week and it wasn’t quite summer yet so we were the only ones on the tour. It’s like hiring our own guide! Manny, who was the guide assigned to us, was amazing! He was born in Jersey and goes back and forth from Puerto Rico to the Garden State every winter.

One thing I was anticipating on this ATV-ride is the need for speed – and they delivered! Although ATVs do not go as fast as cars or motorcycles, going up and down steep hills and going through puddles at a faster speed than a bicycle is definitely exhilarating!

This view showcases the ocean and you can actually see the Wyndham Rio Mar here.

After about an hour ride, we stopped and rested at the Mameyes River. This place reminded of the rivers I have seen along Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.

Since it was still early in the day, we decided to check out other places. In our quest to find a beach with clear water and white sands, we ended up at the Seven Seas Beach in the town of Fajardo. It is a public beach and there’s a parking lot conveniently located next to it, which we paid a flat fee of five bucks. You can easily miss it because the signs are not so obvious. When it comes to the water, this one is a little better than the waters of Rio Grande. It still ain’t all that. It is not well maintained. There were no shower rooms or bathrooms where you can change your clothes.

Although, this isn’t one of the prettiest beach I have seen in my entire life, it surely is one of my unforgettable places. Let me tell you a story. When I travel and visit unfamiliar places, my guard is always up. I am always cautious and I do not trust anybody even though they seem nice. As someone who grew up from a third world country, this was instilled in me. I can still be friendly but I do everything with caution.

As we headed back to our car, getting ready to leave the place and call it a day, a very unfortunate incident happened, which could have been avoided. We locked ourselves out of the car and left the keys in the trunk. Luckily, we have our cellphones, wallets, IDs and some cash with us. If you have traveled with me before, you probably know that I do my homework before every trip. A few days before we set foot to our trip, I called up my credit card companies and AAA if I will be covered for car rental insurance and roadside assistance in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, I did not get a clear answer on this and the policies of the car rental place was not so clear either. It was already late in the afternoon and people were starting to leave. I took a chance and called up AAA. To my surprise, the operator said I was covered and they will send assistance within 40 minutes. I have had AAA since the moment I received my drivers license. I have only used it once and that was when I had a problem with my batteries. Oh and I also love that I was able to get free maps from them during the pre-GPS days.

We hung around the parking lot fearing that we might miss the Mr. AAA. 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 50 minutes have passed. No sign of the AAA truck. We had put on a bet on every car that passed by. I bet that the person will be coming in on a van, he guessed they will be coming in on a car.

It was almost dusk and there was only a couple of cars left on the lot. The parking attendant, who can barely speaks English, is about to leave for the day. I can feel fear and panic slowly creeping inside me. For the little Spanish words we know, we tried to communicate with him and explained our situation. We pleaded to let the AAA vehicle in. A smartphone app translator could have been perfect for this situation but alas, reception was poor.

An hour has passed and still no sign of the AAA. A black car had pulled over by the parking lot entrance and talked to the attendant. It looked like it was the attendant’s ride. The nice lady who was driving the car talked to us. She knew more English than the attendant. She took out a wire hanger and explained to us that her husband – the attendant – would want to try to unlock the car. Though the offer was very tempting, we did not agree because we have no idea how he is going to get it done. The attendant and his wife understood our situation and decided to stay until AAA arrives. This reminded me that these are angels, roaming the earth, disguised as people. This reminded me that not all people are genuinely bad. I barely knew this man and woman and they barely knew us and yet, there they were, keeping an eye on us as if we all have been friends for a long time. There is still good in humanity.

Several more minutes have passed the AAA truck finally came. Neither of us won the bet, by the way, but that’s the least of our concerns now. The AAA guy was able to open the car in no time. In less than five minutes, we were ready to get out of Fajardo. But not without thanking and hugging the attendant and his wife. I wish my camera was with me during the whole ordeal but it was locked in the car. Everyone was ready to go home, that it did not occur to me to take a souvenir photo of our guardian angels. I hope our paths will cross again some day. I will never forget them.

Lesson of the day: do not entrust car keys to someone who is forgetful. Bigger lesson of the day: people who do good still exist, not expecting anything in return.

Puerto Rico: San Juan and Rio Grande

You will know if I had a great time from a recent travel if I blog about it. Well, I should write something about the ones which didn’t turn out the way I hoped for too. This is supposed to be my travel journal, right? Someday I will. I …. just …. could …. not …. get …. the …. motivation …. for …. it!

Back to the subject. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I just concluded a trip to the La Isla del Encanto (The Isle of Enchantment) or popularly known as Puerto Rico. It was a last minute decision. We were supposed to head out to Jamaica but bad information were passed on so we decided to cancel that trip a week before we were supposed to go. There was not much choice left that would not cost us an arm and a leg but would still enjoy the beach activities. I was pissed! First, I just got a brand new passport and thought that this trip will give its first stamp. Second, I have planned that Jamaican trip for months. My research, efforts and time, all for nothing. If you know me, I plan my trips at least three months out. Third, I did not hear good feedback about Puerto Rico from the people I know. They said the place is boring and there’s not much things to do. But man, they are so wrong! I had a blast during my week stay on the island.

We arrived the city of San Juan, which is the capital of Puerto Rico, very late at night. We were anxious because according to the travel forums online, it is not so safe to drive around the city late at night. We confirmed this by asking the nice lady at the Alamo Car Rental counter if it is true that we can run a red light during the wee hours at night. She simply replied, “with caution.”

Luckily, we did not hit a red light during our short drive from the airport to the Condado Plaza Hilton so no traffic rules were broken.

The next morning, we drove to our original destination, which is at Wyndham Rio Mar in Rio Grande. It was about an hour’s drive from the city center. Driving around Puerto Rico reminded me my experience driving around Montreal. It made me wish I had learned the Spanish language better.

El Yunque National Forest is the only rainforest maintained by the U.S. government. Although, we were not planning to hike this beauty, I’m excited to go ATV-ing at least at the foothills of it. I’m glad it was close proximity where we were staying at.

We arrived too early for the check-in time at Wyndham Rio Mar so we decided to check out the nearby area of Luquillo Beach. There were kids hanging out by the beach but I did not see anyone getting in the water. To tell you honestly, I have seen better beaches. Let’s just say, in my opinion, the place ain’t so pretty.

There was a line of kiosks of shops and restaurants but most of them were closed. I was not sure if it was too early in the day and if the place comes alive at night. I did not dare take my camera out as I am still wary about my surroundings. There was not a lot of people in the area. I have seen a few tourists It was almost two in the afternoon and we haven’t had anything since we had breakfast that morning. So, we decided to check out one of the food kiosks by the beach.

Before I go further, I would like to remind everyone that they use the U.S. currency here and the prices of products and services are pretty much like in the mainland.

I was so fascinated by these soda cans maybe because I didn’t realize they are now slim and tall (wish I was too). I haven’t had soda for a while so I’m not sure if these are exclusive in Puerto Rico or I’m just living under a rock that I haven’t really notice what the soda cans look like nowadays.

At every place I visit, I make sure to try out a local dish or two. One of the reasons why I’m not all for multi-city organized tours and cruises is because they pretty much set where you are supposed to dine. I would like to have the freedom to go off the beaten path and check out where the locals go.

This one’s called Carne Frita, seasoned fried pork chunks served with mamposteo and fried plantains.

This one’s Chicken Mofongo, traditional mashed plantain stuffed with chicken.

We got back to the hotel and my disappointments keep adding up when we were assigned with a room with this view. I mean, it wasn’t bad but it could have been better. We were supposed to get a rainforest view but due to its renovation, we got this instead. Nothing wrong with the beach view, right? If only we got in a few more floors up. I was standing at the balcony when I took this photo. As you can see, I am almost at the ground level. I don’t mind staying on the ground floor if we were only staying for a couple of days – we were there for five. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the sunrise.

My heart sank as I got closer to the beach. I was expecting for clear, green water, with a few or calmer waves. In my head, I was hoping for the Bahamas-type of water or Boracay, minus the algae. I am not sure if it’s because we got in late in the season that’s why the water is dark and murky or is it because of the geographic situation of this part of Puerto Rico. For now, I will never know – until I go back around the earlier part of the year.

The hotel is well kept but I have seen better. It is clean, it has your basic necessities and the staff are friendly and would go above and beyond if to make sure your needs are met. It’s not all inclusive but they have restaurants inside. They have a pool, a golf course and I think I have seen a tennis court as well. I don’t recommend this place if you are looking for other activities. Two days stay here would be enough for me if I were just to stay in the property. Anything more than that, I would be so bored. You have to go out if you want to do snorkeling, kayaking and those kinds of stuff via a rental car, shuttle buses or taxis. You can also book tours and activities with the concierge. Most touring companies have shuttle buses and they will pick you up at the resort if you don’t wish to rent a car or take a taxi.

One thing I notice in and around Puerto Rico, especially near the rainforest, is the large presence of iguanas. I have been told that they are not native to the island. They were imported from South America many years ago and they became house pets. When the people got tired of them, they released these creatures out to the wild. Since they thrive in vegetation and the warm weather, they overstayed their welcome. Now, the growing number of iguanas on the island is a concern to the agricultural crops that the locals would hunt and terminate them. Thank God for zoom lens. Otherwise, I would not be able to get a good shot of this little green thing.

We hit the beach and the pool area and decided to retire early that night. Nothing much to see and do in this area. Tomorrow’s another day for more adventure.

Julie and Julius: Elkton Wedding

It was a cloudy morning with a hint of drizzle. But nothing is going to dampen on the spirits of these two, committed hearts. You see, they have been waiting for this day for more than a couple of decades.

The heavens aligned when they met in college and since then, they knew they were destined to be together. They knew they are a perfect match. Even their names sound perfect together, right? It was a long but sweet and honest courtship. Together, they made plans … they dreamed big … they thought they were inseparable. Until life threw a curve ball at them. It wasn’t an easy journey, as they recall. But their love and commitment to each other saw them through and kept them strong.

They became husband and wife in a civil ceremony ten years ago. But he felt his wife deserved more so he made a promise. A promise that one day, they will solidify their union with the church’s blessing. Today, is the fulfillment of that promise.

Julie and Julius, thank you for letting me capture this special event in your lives. I am a sucker for a good love story and I was stoked when you asked me to shoot your wedding. I just couldn’t say no. Congratulations and my best wishes!

Ceremony: Immaculate Conception Church. Reception: Chesapeake Inn Restaurant and Marina.

He waited twenty long years to see her walk down the aisle.

The bride and groom with their flower girl and ring bearer.

Their little family.

The couple’s pride and joy (left); The story of their journey (right).

I love the ceiling of this venue!

It’s like seeing them dancing under the stars.

Maybe too young to give a toast but he prepared a great speech on his folks’ wedding.

See more from Julie and Julius’ wedding by clicking here.

Laura and Abby: Old Town Alexandria Family Portrait Session

Here are some photos from a recent photo shoot that I had in Old Town Alexandria with an equally-beautiful, mother and daughter team, with their buddy dog, Chico.

 

Mandarin Oriental Wedding :: Assistant for Julie Socher

Another great opportunity was given to me by Julie Socher, by letting me assist her once again on one of her gorgeous weddings. This one was held at the Mandarin Oriental in downtown Washington, DC.