Tuesday, April 23, 2013

- La Playa

As I sit here watching the snow melt from my third snow storm in three weeks...I find it really easy to remember how insanely wonderful the beaches of Puerto Rico are.  After San Juan we headed to a resort (El Conquistador - meh.  Overpriced and overhyped.) on the northeast coast of the island.  We took the scenic route and followed the coastline all the way which meant that the ocean was never out of sight, and we got to see more of the authentic local culture of the island.  There were also parts where the canopy of palms and other tropical trees would extend over the road, so between the ocean and that you weren't likely to forget that you were driving through a tropical paradise.  I drove our rental car and I will say that driving in Puerto Rico is not for the faint of heart.  If you are following the rules of the road, expect to be treated as if you are one of the worst people in the world.  But we still managed to have a good time!
The advantage of wearing sunglasses is that you can't tell that I never took my eyes off the road

Our first stop in Fajardo was to head to the marina for a trip over to the bioluminescent bay.  This was the first of two tours we took with East Island Excursions - a power catamaran company that offers sailing, snorkeling and island trips.  There are three year round bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico, where the water "glows" when disturbed due to the activity of dinoflagellates.  Our excursion took us to Mosquito bay on one of Puerto Rico's sister islands; Vieques.  The power catamaran ride over there is about 45 minutes...and you get to drink all the rum you want on the way.  Because it's Puerto Rico and if you're not drinking rum there's probably something wrong with you.  Leaving the marina we saw this boat - which will be Blackbeard's vessel in like Pirates of the Caribbean 7 or 8.    
They'll just CGI the missing parts in.
This guy is totally camera ready though.

Once you dock at the pier on Vieques you take a taxi over to Island Adventures Biobay Tours which has an associated restaurant where we all ate dinner.  We all chose mofongo because mofongo is amazing and we tried to eat it every day during the trip.  
Bellies full of mofongo.

There was also a gift shop and we made the super smart decision to buy a long sleeve tee for two reasons: 1. because it was one of the cooler nights during our stay, and we still had a boat ride back and 2. because it had a glow in the dark design and we are all basically kids at heart who thought that was the coolest thing ever.  
From the boat ride back

After dinner you all load up onto an old-school school bus and drive through the nature reserve to get to the pontoon boat.  While the bumpy wildness of it all was cool, the screeching of branches scraping the rooftop of the bus (think nails on a chalkboard x infinity) was something we could have all lived without ever experiencing.

The pontoon boat drives around the bay and during the first part they use an argon laser pointer to show off all the visible constellations.  I've only been to a handful places where I could see that many stars so for me this one of the coolest parts.  And just as you're still reeling from the majesty of nature and the world and the galaxy...they start to pull up buckets of water onto the boat for you to play around in.  It's so hard to even describe what the bioluminescence looks like - it's like sticking your hand into silky water (yes!  It even feels different) and as soon as you move it all of these little points of light start to glow and dance around.  It's almost like the stars are suddenly in the water.  A poor man's description would be that it looks like glitter swirling around and glowing.  Photographically it is nearly impossible to capture but I did get this very blurry picture (you have to use like a six second exposure time) of Christine off the back of the boat, and this one of what the trails behind the boat look like.  
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Suffice it to say that you don't go there to take pictures to brag about later.  You go to see something very rare and special that can only be shared with those that have also seen it for themselves.  

Our tour didn't get back to the marina until 11pm and since it was a bit of a later night, we gave ourselves the luxury of being lazy the next day and spent the whole day at the resort.  Normally this wouldn't really be my style...but this resort had a private island.  It's on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean which means that there's no beach, but you can't be a resort on the coast of Puerto Rico without one.  So they just bought an island right off the coast, and you take a water taxi over to paradise.  
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Resort on the bluff; view from the infinity pool that shows Palomino island in the distance
On the water taxi
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Views from our lounge chairs
We tried swimming but the water was a little cool after the clouds rolled in, plus there were a lot of hidden mini reefs that were pretty sharp and hard not to step on.  So we spent our time spotting lizards...
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Diggin' a hole; Posin' under a pretty bush
climbing trees...
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It was way harder to get up that tree than you'd think

and lounging.
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The next day we went back out with East Island Excursions - this time for a snorkling trip.  Having never been snorkling before, I was really excited about this excursion.  Plus, it was going to take us to over to the other sister island, Culebra, which consistently scores a top spot on lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  But, we never made it.  Unfortunately the weather was against us and a high seas advisory kept us from straying too far from the coastline...but it gives us a really good reason to go back next year.  And the company did a great job "making do" because despite never making it to Culebra, this was my FAVORITE day of the vacation.  Because this is where the trip really changed me.  I know that's a horrific cliche to use, but spending a full day on a boat, surrounded by salt water...totally made me realize that at heart, I am a beach person.  Every minute of this day I was doing something I totally loved.  
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Like snorkeling those reefs
Or riding on the top of the boat...
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So we could enjoy the view more (Side note: The color of the water is my favorite thing)
We enjoyed the sun
And I jumped off the top of the boat into the deep water at our last snorkeling destination.
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I was a little worried we wouldn't see anything because of all the other people out (note the snorkeler soup in the first pic) but we saw more here than anywhere else - including squid!  Also, this is the island that Johnny Depp left Penelope Cruz at the end of whatever Pirates of the Caribbean movie that was.  It's called Palominito, because it's a very small island of the coast of Palomino, the private island we enjoyed the day before.

This is the day I keep going back to when I remember the vacation.  It was my quintessential Puerto Rico day and the one day more than others that makes me want to go back again and again and again.  I think that's saying something considering how insanely perfect the rest of the vacation was.  There was one more really great day, but I think that 31 pictures is enough for one post...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

- 7 Years Young

Yesterday was Emma's 7th birthday.  I usually don't really remember her birthday beforehand or do anything special for her...because even though she's my baby, she is still a dog.  I'm like 99% sure that to her it's just another day in the life.
Flush with fetching options.

Minneapolis celebrated with a 2 day snowstorm, but Minneapolis is a real beotch.

We celebrated with popcorn because she loves popcorn.  Like loves popcorn.  So she got her own bowl.
Waiting oh so patiently.

But she didn't just get to eat that bowl all willy nilly.  I made her catch each and every piece, and because we've done this a lot...she's gotten quite good.
3 out of 4 ain't bad.

For whatever reason, this year I was quite nostalgic about boo bear's birthday.  I didn't get her as a puppy, but knowing that I've had her for five and a half years now seems really monumental.  It's a long enough time for it to feel like I've always had her.  And yet, I very much remember life before her, and how much more full it has been since I brought her home.  Side note: Hey Mams - remember when you begged me not to adopt that dog?  Because I wasn't ready and she probably had all these problems?  Aren't you so glad I didn't listen to you?

She was such a fuzzy wuzzy back then.
Christmas 008
Before her first scottie haircut.

Emma makes my day pretty much every day.  Like when she stays in bed sleeping while I get ready in the morning...until she hears the hairdryer, which she's learned is one of the last steps of my routine.  Then she will come greet me in the bathroom and roll over for a belly rub.  When we go out for walks I'm so proud of the way she behaves.  I rarely ever put her on a leash because I taught her to "heel" - even though I didn't realize that was what I was doing when I taught her to respond to me when I said "wait".  If she gets too far in front of me, I say wait and she stops and waits until I get catch up with her.  If we see another person or dog, I say "no" and she will stop, rather than run up and approach them.

She used to be pretty bad with separation anxiety when I left for work...remember this?
But now after I leave she gets her treat ball, and since there's food in there she's pretty excited about it.  Sometimes I feed her her dinner in it as well and then I get to watch the technique she's developed to get that food out.  
I just realized Emma is right handed!

She can also pick it up in her mouth and carry it somewhere else so if it gets on the hardwood floors or close to going under a piece of furniture where it would get stuck.  Instead, she just picks it up and moves it back out into the open.  I also hide carrots in certain places and sometimes I'll just throw one out.  After she eats that one, she will run through the apartment and check all of the places where she has found carrots before, so lately I've been getting more creative with the hiding spots so she really has to use her nose.  Which leads me to realize that she is so much smarter than I usually give her credit for.

And she loves to spend time with her "brother".  I know her interest in him is largely due to an innate desire to find out what he tastes like - but it's amazing how calm she can be around him.  Especially when he's "free ranging":
I haven't really talked about the fact that Tweety moved up here with us after Christmas.  It's happened...and I'm still not sure how I feel about it.  Most days I find him to be infuriatingly annoying.  But Emma is the yen to his yang.  He is high spirited and loud and Emma is calm and quiet.  He stresses me out and then Emma does something so cute and sweet that I can't help but laugh and not be mad anymore.  This is our crazy mini zoo life and Emma is the glue that holds us together.  I feel so lucky to have her, and look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with my little boo bear.