Category Archives: Puerto Rico

Best + Worst // Puerto Rico

I know, I know, I live in paradise! It’s amazing! And, for the most part, it is.

But… there are some things that I can’t stand. And some things that I love more than others!
I thought it would be fun to share my favorite and least favorite things about living in Puerto Rico (so far).

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Best

5. Mangoes. Casey and I are totally obsessed with them and have at least one almost every night for dessert. They are so fresh and sweet and delicious!

4. The People. In general, Puerto Ricans are some of the friendliest, nicest, most open people I have ever met. I can’t tell you the number of times someone has stopped us – on the street, on the beach, at the store – just to strike up a conversation. They are so inclusive and joyful!

3. The Coffee. Admittedly, the coffee in restaurants here has not been the greatest (someone was telling us that it is made with condensed milk? Gross). But the beans! They are so fresh and local and gloriously inexpensive – we’ve been giving our french press a workout! I’ve also been cold-brewing iced coffee which is super delicious too. I barely even miss Starbucks – which is truly saying something.

2. The Beaches. Oh man, there is something about spending Sundays at the beach that is so relaxing and vacation-like. I love ending/starting the week in such a zen-like state of mind.

1. The Sun. We’ve been here for two months and it’s only rained maybe a handful of times – always in the afternoon and never more than an hour or two at a time. We can’t get over it! I’m soaking up as much vitamin D as possible – I’m sure I’ve been deficient most of my life. :) 


Worst

5. Driving. It’s the worst! Everyone is totally unpredictable and completely erratic. Brake lights and blinkers rarely work. No one drives the speed limit… and even those are not definitive as speed limits are changed for construction and then never changed back – so you’ll see signs that say 65, 50, and 40 within a mile or two of one another and have no idea which (if any!) is correct. There are no rules – the left lane is sometimes the slow lane, people pull off the highway unexpectedly and randomly gun back on without so much as a glance at oncoming traffic, you have to fight to merge when you enter the highway. If you have someplace to be, prepare to give your gas pedal a workout and weave like a NASCAR driver with a chip on his shoulder. 

4. Gas Stations. There’s no such thing as pay at the pump here. I didn’t realize exactly how convenient and amazing that tiny feature is until it was not an option. I guess I am showing just how spoiled/young I am – I never even remember my parents having to go inside to pay for gas! It’s like the dark ages! :) 

3. The Library. I’ve been reading like crazy (going to the beach every weekend demands a good novel or two!) and so procuring a library card seemed like an excellent idea (if for no other reason than the detrimental effects of Amazon’s horrible wonderful “One-Click Purchase” on our budget). However, after browsing the (admittedly and obviously limited) English book section at the library and bringing my books to the circulation desk to check them out, I was informed that, “Oh no, books can’t leave the library.” Um, what?!! 

2. Groceries. After reading a lot about other Caribbean islands, I don’t think that Puerto Rico is that bad. However, after living in Vermont, the Kale Capital of the East and all-around healthy/whole/non-GMO/all-natural/farm-fresh/CSA/Hug Your Farmer-land, I am shocked by the lack of green vegetables and “all-natural” options at the store. I didn’t think twice about having ketchup free of high fructose corn syrup or peanut butter made from only peanuts and salt or low-sodium chicken stock when I lived in Vermont (or even when I lived in CNY and had a Wegmans!), but now, now it’s like, pick the least evil of them all. Peanut butter with hydrogenated oils but no high-fructose? Perfect. Ketchup with high-fructose as the last ingredient? Well, at least it’s not the first. OMG THEY HAVE KALE TODAY BUY IT ALL!!! 

1. GPS/Google Maps… does not work here. Sometimes you’ll get lucky, but most of the time, Google tries to send me somewhere near San Juan. It’s like the rest of the island doesn’t exist. 

EL Yunque // The Rainforest!

Our friend Brian came to visit last month. We love hanging out with him – he’s always up for an adventure. So we spent a lot of time driving around the island and exploring while he was in town.

One of the places we made a priority to visit was the rainforest – El Yunque. For a small(ish) island, Puerto Rico has insanely varied climates – deserts, rain forests and everything in between. It’s pretty wild. We were excited to check out El Yunque – none of us had ever been to a rain forest before! 

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The road into the forest is crazy, twisting, turning, and narrow (we were alternately impressed with the effort it must have taken to carve out and annoyed that they weren’t able to make it just a little bit wider – there were some sketchy parts!). As the car climbed deeper into the mountains, we began to glimpse some incredible vistas off the steep cliff to our left. We started to get really excited and pulled off the road at one of the first parking areas to explore a well-publicized waterfall and grab some lunch. It was really beautiful, and totally reminded me of camping in Ithaca in college (Ithaca is Gorge-ous, after all!). Isn’t it funny how despite the size of the world, certain landscapes inevitably remind you of other places you’ve been? 

We hung out by the waterfall and ate some sandwiches and took some pictures and climbed around on the rocks. Then we packed up, got back into the car, and continued further in – we wanted to hike! 

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We climbed the El Yunque trail – one of the most popular, I think – and were immediately transported into another world. Although the waterfall felt familiar, this hike felt like something otherworldly – like a scene from Jurassic Park. There were these huge oversized ferns and short leaning palm trees and trickling streams around every turn. We half expected dinosaurs to run out of the underbrush at us. 

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Although the scenery was really cool and different than anything we’d ever experienced before, there was an odd lack of wildlife. Sure, we could hear coqui frogs and every once in awhile catch a glimpse of a bird, but there were no wild, jungle-y animals that our childlike minds picture in a rainforest – no jaguars, toucans, monkeys, sloths, etc. I think we were all a little bit disappointed – especially Casey who apparently really wants to see a toucan? Must be all of those Froot Loops he ate as a kid :) 

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Near the top we took a little side trail to an exposed rock cliff and could see for miles – all the way to the coast. It was beautiful and amazing – the forest definitely looks more wild/jungle-y from above. You could tell it was different than the deciduous forests our New England eyes are used to. 

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After soaking up the views from the cliff, we continued up to the top of El Yunque peak. A little stone building – a church? – marked the end of the trail and offered more 360 views of the area. The air was cooler, like you would expect at the top of a mountain, but with much more humidity. It was almost like walking through fog, although it wasn’t exactly foggy. 

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We had an awesome time exploring the rainforest! Thanks for being up for an adventure, Bri! Casey and I can’t wait to go back and explore some more. 

Our Current Favorite Beach

guanica-1We’re about two months into our Puerto Rican adventure and easily the best part (besides the amazing weather!) is hitting the beach every weekend. Sitting by the ocean, reading a book, bodysurfing, snorkeling… these activities are so relaxing and totally make every weekend feel like a vacation.

guanica-7Although the island isn’t big (you can pretty much get anywhere within an hour or two), we haven’t done a ton of adventurous beach scoping. We fell hard for this amazing stretch of beaches in Guanica and that was that! I’m sure we’ll pick up the exploring again soon, but for  now, here’s the scoop on our favorite beach!

guanica-3Guanica is about a 30 minute drive from our house, to the west. There’s a large nature reserve that hugs the coast and is full of cacti forests, wild palm trees, rocky outcroppings, and many awesome beaches. Our two favorites are Palm Tree Beach and End Beach (nicknames are totally ours – I have no idea if they have official names).

guanica-2guanica-6Palm Tree Beach is a long, curved, untamed beach, ringed by (you guessed it!) tall, rattling palms. The sand is soft, and there is almost always a breeze. The waves are usually a fun size – perfect for bodysurfing – and because the beach is so long, it’s great for exploring. It’s also home to tons of adorable crabs – they are hilarious when they think you’re not paying attention to them.

guanica-4 guanica-8End Beach is – wait for it! – at the end of the road (we are so creative with beach names it’s not even funny) and boasts a calmer bay with an off-shore reef – perfect for snorkeling. It’s wider and brighter (less shade) than Palm Tree Beach, and boasts some rocky trails that end up at some very secluded beaches/outcroppings.

guanica-5Besides the vacation-like zen, the best part about these beaches is that they usually aren’t super crowded. Casey and I both suffer from minor loner tendencies, and these beaches offer plenty of peace and quiet. We love spending time here!

Las Justas

A few weeks ago, we hosted our first visitor! Our best friend Brian came down for a little over a week and we spent lots of time exploring and went on several little adventures around the island.

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When he first arrived, our city was gearing up for a huge celebration called “Las Justas,” which is basically Puerto Rican SPRING BREAK WOOHOO! My understanding is that the Justas is actually an athletic competition between all (many?) of the Puerto Rican colleges, and then on the weekend, everyone hits the town to celebrate. We walked a couple blocks into the square to check it out, and it was unreal.

justas-2 $1 beers. DJs/bands on all sides of the plaza, and on many street corners in the couple blocks beyond. Every bar was blasting music. Hundreds of people drinking, dancing, and hanging out. And we were pretty much the OLDEST people there. It was a little disconcerting – I mean, in my head I am not that far from college, but in reality… senior year was four years ago. And since the drinking age here is only 18, that meant that Casey and Brian were almost a decade older than the majority of the people partying. Which wasn’t the best feeling.

justas-3justas-4In spite of that, it was really fun! We wandered around and drank cheap beers and they smoked cigars and made some friends and we decided that we would have been all over this if we had stumbled upon it 5 years ago. It kind of made Casey and I fall in love with our city a little bit more. Puerto Ricans definitely know how to have fun!

The One With 8,905,438,297,000 Pictures of Our Apartment

Lots of people have been asking to see pictures of our new place, and I have totally been brushing them off (sorry everybody!). It’s just that… our place is still kind of… bare. So please, please do me a favor and consider these “before” photos. Everything is very white and the scale of our stuff is kind of off and well, you’ll see what I mean.

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Welcome to Aragon!! Fun fact – our building was built in the 1920’s and used to be a hospital. We love the tall ceilings, shuttered windows, and arched doorways – the Spanish colonial style really hits home the fact that we are not living in the Northeast anymore! Plus we get a great cross breeze through the entire apartment.

Here’s a sketch of the floor plan of our place so that you can kind of see how everything fits together:

aragon-floorplan I don’t think it’s to scale. But roughly, that’s what we’re working with.

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When you walk into the apartment, you are greeted by a ginormous, loooong hallway. I was facetiming with my friend Meg the other day, and when she saw it she said something like, “OMG you could have a party in that hallway!” Yep, it’s huge. And blank. What would you do with this space? I was thinking freestanding bookshelves (like this or this), but we don’t really have anything to put on them. And although it would be a great place for a great big gallery wall, we didn’t bring enough art with us to make that happen (and Casey will kill me if I try to buy enough new stuff to fill it up). Any other ideas?

aragon-kitchen-1 aragon-kitchen-2 aragon-kitchen-3 aragon-kitchen-4 aragon-kitchen-5The kitchen is immediately to the right of the entry, and it’s been working out pretty well! There is plenty of storage, although the majority of it is wayyyy above my head (#shortpplprobs). There is a washer/dryer/utility sink in the closet on the left side, and small pantry next to the fridge on the right.

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Pitstop – let me take a minute to try to explain our crazy windows. I mentioned before that we have no screens or glass, just these built-in wooden shutters. They have two options – open (left) or closed (right), and you basically just flip them up or down and put that little metal pin in the side to hold them in place. Pretty wild, huh? Suuuuper authentic. We are obviously living the Caribbean dream now. We’ll see how they fare during the rainy season…

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Okay, back to the tour. The living/dining room is on the left side of the hallway, through the big arched doorway. It’s huge! On one side of the room is the living room stuff – couch, TV, etc. Our couch is new – it’s the Karlstad from Ikea, and we loooooove it. It’s big and comfy, but still clean-lined. Plus it transforms into a full sized bed (come visit!). It’s in need of some festive throw pillows, but so far, we are obsessed with it. I know – our rug is hilariously small, and that wall between the couch and TV is sooo blank. I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually! On the opposite side of the room is our dining table and buffet. I think we need something in between the two spaces – not literally in between but maybe some club chairs or a bench to sort of make the living room space more conversation-y? More seating is always a good thing…

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Before we move on down the hall, here’s our little entry nook. At this point, the jackets are entirely for show… although I have a terrible suspicion that I am quickly losing my tolerance for cold weather (case in point, it’s 78 degrees right now and I am wearing longsleeves).

aragon-br-1 aragon-br-2 aragon-br-3 aragon-br-4Back into the (massive) hallway, where we left off, the next room is our bedroom, on the right. The bedroom space itself is teeny tiny – just enough space for our queen sized bed. Those sconces are from Urban Outfitters and are an awesome (and affordable AND renter-friendly!) solution to not having space for nightstands. We plan on mounting some small shelves below them so that we can have a place to charge our phones and set a glass of water down, but we haven’t gotten to it yet. How cute is that little gallery wall above our bed? I am in love with those monster postcards. Past the bed there’s this weird walk-in closet/pass through (that luckily our dresser and nightstand fit into kind of perfectly) which leads to our small master bath (on the left). Even though it’s pretty small, it’s really nice having an extra bathroom all to ourselves.

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Next door to our room is the guest room. It’s currently pretty… sparse. We have a queen sized air mattress (currently deflated and tucked into the closet) which has gotten good reviews so far, but other than this empty dresser, there’s not much happening in here.

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At the end of the hall is the guest bathroom – it’s nothing crazy or special, but we are definitely thankful to have two full baths!

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Finally we have the office. It doesn’t exactly look like an office right now, but picture it without the bikes and with a big table in the center of the room, painted in a really bright color (Casey vetoed hot pink, so now I am thinking a lemony yellow or tomato red… definitely something warm). Then, under those bookshelves, a big comfy chair for reading all the books (multiple times, of course!).  I was hoping there would be room for a hammock, but I don’t think we’ll be able to swing it.

And that’s it! Our new place. When are you coming to visit? We’re dying for everyone we know to come hang out with us and drink rum and get suntanned and go snorkeling and learn to surf and eat mofongo and salsa dance. Seriously, come on down!