Destin(ation) Wedding – Part II

So after we left New Orleans, by this point it was nearly lunchtime, so we hopped on the road and figured we’d stop on the way to Pensacola (which we did). Traffic ended up being more of a consideration on this leg of the trip, though. There were tons of cars, all over the place, so we could just feel the population in the region swelling.

It was Memorial Day, after all, so we could tell folks were either heading back to Georgia from Louisiana/Texas, or going in the other direction. All roads led through Florida, apparently.

Now, the original plan was to get to the beach that day in Pensacola, but that beach we were heading to was on an island! Apparently, the bridge to that island was crazy, though. It could easily take an hour to cross the bridge due to all the traffic. The Baumann Clan struggled to get dinner the night before because of how long it took to get off the island to the mainland, and then get back again to where their condo was.

In the end, though the kids were disappointed, we just went to our hotel on the outskirts of town. This hotel, again, wasn’t ready when we arrived, so we had to go to a grocery store nearby to get some food and such. When we got back, the kids went swimming and I went for a run….around the hotel… There were no go running areas around where we were and I was trying to keep my miles up, so I did what I could. And it was rather boring.

This hotel room was pretty nice, though! It was actually a suite, so two rooms that were connected, each with their own balcony, bathroom, and TV. It was a nice break, for sure! So yeah, the room wasn’t that bad compared with other things, but it just took a bit to get in there.

The next morning, we got breakfast downstairs and then left to go to the condo. We got down there soon enough that I could go for a longer run along a trail close to the beach. It was pretty nice, but the wind was brutal!

We mostly hung out at the beach for the rest of the day, then! The crowd had mostly subsided after Memorial Day was over, so it really wasn’t all that busy down there. It was kind of cloudy and it wasn’t particularly hot, per se, but we were pretty comfortable. The sand was nice to work with and Brooke’s Dad made a very convincing alligator.

That evening, we went to Peg Leg Pete’s restaurant a short walk from the condo. They apparently wanted to go there for a few nights, but it was always crazy busy. We had to go down in person to get on a waiting list, then they called when we needed to be there to actually claim our table. The food was great, the atmosphere was very “you’re eating at an open-air restaurant right near a beach,” at overall, we had a good time!

It was so busy, in fact, that we even witnessed three people try to sneak in and claim a table without being seated, so they were politely asked to leave. Again, it was nuts down there!

The next day, we made it to our condo in Destin. This drive also took forever because, apparently, Destin, FL is like the Lake of the Ozarks times a million. Cars everywhere. Stoplights everywhere. People making U-turns where it should probably be illegal.

And, wouldn’t you know it, we got there and our rooms weren’t ready yet. To be fair, this time we were actually pretty early. The condo we were staying had 3 rooms, so the kids got a room, Brooke and I got a room, and Brooke’s parents got a room. The rest of the Baumann Clan got a separate (and similar) condo in a different building on the same premises.

Still, it was a really nice place! The living room area and kitchen were all connected; there were three bathrooms; the balcony wrapped around the main space, so there was plenty of room out there; it was within walking distance of a private beach. Pretty cool! They also had a rec room in our building that I visited a few times to use their treadmill, so that helped. There were multiple swimming pools around the resort, though we didn’t use those and mostly stuck to the beach.

Our room was a good size and had its own bathroom and balcony. It was nice to be able to spread out for a few days, where the kids could go to bed at a reasonable time, and the rest of us could get up and come and go as we pleased. Overall, it was a nice set-up!

The one downside is that there wasn’t much food within walking distance. One night, we stopped for ice cream at the complex next door to our condo, but if we wanted to get dinner, for example, you had to drive somewhere…and turning left out of that condo was mostly a nightmare. We had to take a right and pull a U-turn multiple times just to get to where some things were.

The beach attached to the property was also pretty nice. White, sandy beaches abound, for sure, and a tiki bar of sorts nearby with reasonable prices on drinks and food, so once we got to the beach, we could mostly just hang out there.

The serious downside was the economics of how this beach operated. We had access to the water, of course, but all of the chairs and umbrellas present were at the front, while the “riff raff” like us had to set up in the back

…and as you can see, the view wasn’t exactly “spectacular” from back there. Chairs were $35 a piece (I think?) and you usually couldn’t pick-and-choose the one(s) you wanted. It was first-come-first-serve, so to speak, so some folks would come down early that day to secure their seats, then not even show up until later in the day.

That night, we ended up picking up Mexican from a restaurant nearby (that we had to drive to), which was pretty good. I won’t say it was mind-blowing or anything, but Brooke and I went and grabbed it and brought it back to the condo. When we got there for pick-up, apparently there was plenty of space in the facility, so we could have all gone and just eaten there, but ah well.

The next day was the start of more craziness, though. Stay tuned!

Yellowstone NP Vacation – Part I

Last year, the plan was to go camp at Yellowstone National Park in mid-June, and then stay at an Airbnb near Grand Teton National Park for a few days after that. As you know, last year kinda became a whole thing, so our reservations were canceled and we couldn’t go. We’ve still got a vacation timeline planned for the next few years, so if the Yellowstone trip was going to happen, we had to fit it in this year along with a trip to Florida in June.

I’d never been to Yellowstone, but Brooke went many times over the years when she was growing up because her grandparents worked there for multiple Summers. Brooke did the research for this trip and decided that early May was probably our best bet to see things without having to deal with ridiculous crowds. The country is opening up and a lot of folks are ancy to get to vacationing, so Yellowstone (among other places) is likely to get all kinds of crazy as the Summer progresses. Therefore, we opted to leave the day after graduation and take the kids out of school (which, by the way, Meg wasn’t all that excited about because she’d miss MAP testing…that kid is ridiculous….).

We packed up the car on May 1st and hit the road around 6:00 am on May 2nd, planning for a pretty lengthy car ride to get out there. It’s a ~20 hr drive and some of the entrances to the park were still shut down for the Winter, so we had to drive to the Western side of the park in order to even get in. Our ultimate destination was West Yellowstone, MT, but we stopped in Rawlins, WY at the end of Day One to maintain our sanity. That only left a 7 hour drive on Day Two, though we took a bit of a detour into Grand Teton National Park for part of the day. We didn’t get to see all that much in Grand Teton, but at least we can say “we went.”

The only thing we did in Grand Teton was stop off at an old cabin near the foot of the mountains. Granted, it wasn’t all that exciting, per se, but the view was excellent and we got our first taste of the region.

After that, we opted to stay at the hotel in West Yellowstone rather than dip into Yellowstone. We had the time, but figured checking out the swimming pool would be good for the kids’ morale.

The next day, we first hit Old Faithful. It was pretty snowy and cold, though we were prepared for the weather. We weren’t necessarily prepared for the lack of visibility, though. Old Faithful went off like clockwork and the crowds were minimal (like, 20 people? Shockingly minimal….), but because the geyers was hot and the surrounding air was cold, the steam was pronounced and difficult to see through. It was still pretty cool, though! We took a walk to see some of the other features around Old Faithful and tried getting used to the smell of sulfur.

After Old Faithful, we went to the Grand Prismatic Spring. When we arrived, it actually started snowing pretty heavily, so we folded the chairs down and just ate lunch in the car. The snow only lasted a few minutes, so we were able to get out and walk around just in time for lunch to be over. Again, while it looked pretty cool, the cold air caused all the steam to be extra thick and hard to see through. I wouldn’t say it was disappointing, but it wasn’t ideal.

The last thing we did that day was to visit Norris Geyser Basin. By this point, the sun had come out and the weather had improved dramatically, so visibility got better along with it. This basin wasn’t as exciting as the other features we’d already seen, but we’re glad we went because it gave Meg a chance to read the map and describe multiple other features along the basin to us. Both kids were pretty tired of riding in the car by this point (it’s a solid 20-30 minutes between different sites in the park, and it can easily take hours to traverse the whole thing, so two days of driving kind of turned into three. Meg’s mood wasn’t….great….so giving her a job of reading geyser descriptions to us ended up making things better. Again, there weren’t all that many folks there, so we were able to take our time walking around the boardwalk, so it turned out to be a good way to end our first full day in the park.

Stay tuned for more!

Puerto Rico Vacation – Assorted Musings

That’s a dude on a horse. This was not the only horse we saw in the middle of the road…

Brooke and I have noticed some trends while we’ve been here and figured we should record them for posterity. These aren’t necessarily things that seem relevant to a particular day of the trip, so we thought that putting them in their own post would make most sense.

Here goes:

  • First of all, Brooke found this link on, like, Day Seven of our trip and it would have been helpful on Day One. It totally explained much of what we’d already experienced.
  • There are tons of Hyundais and Mitsubishis here on the island. It’s kinda unreal, relative to the distribution of car brands we normally see. We see lots of Toyotas, but not quite as many as those other two. Also, we’ve seen relatively few VWs. Pretty sure we saw more Scion xAs today than we’ve seen VWs total this whole trip…
  • It seems like all of the houses out here in the more rural parts of the island have dogs as their security system. It makes it hard to go for a run…
  • People don’t speak as much English as we expected! Sure, there’s frequently at least one person around that speaks enough to get the job done, but I guess we thought more people would know English. We’ve run into multiple situations where it’s very clear the person we’re speaking with has no idea what we’re saying.
  • The tourist information we’ve looked for online largely focuses on San Juan and not the rest of the island, making it kinda hard to find specifics and ideas for things to do in other regions.
  • It has rained literally every day we’ve been here, mostly in the mid-to-late afternoons. It’s been plenty warm in the mornings (mid-80s) for beaches and other things, so it isn’t a big deal: it’s just worth the time to think about things to do in the event of rain.
  • Seriously, why are there so many pizza places in Puerto Rico???
  • For this trip, cooking meals for dinner made life so much easier and probably maintained our sanity for most of the trip. We could go out to eat for lunch easily, but this way, we had a grocery store nearby to stock up and we could leisurely schedule meals for dinners and eat leftovers, saving some cash for other more fun things. Plus, the dinner options in Quebradillas were available, but realistically, we would have driven 20-30 minutes to get to places we wanted to have dinner. Ultimately, it was a good call.

Puerto Rico Vacation – Part VI

Our last full day in Puerto Rico was mostly made up of a car ride, in all honesty. The drive from La Parguera to El Yunque rainforest was a little under 4 hours, so we hit the road relatively early after our donuts. We had the Switch and tablets along, so the kids were entertained well enough. We left soon enough that we made it to El Yunque close enough to lunchtime, so we didn’t have to stop.

A note on El Yunque: it’s the only rainforest under the US National Forest Service’s purview, so it presented a unique opportunity for us to check out a different environment than we’ve seen elsewhere in the country. We hit the visitor center first, which is in a temporary building outside of the forest because the old building still needs repairs after Hurricane Maria came through. Benicio del Toro narrated the 18 minute video we watched. It was glorious.

Stepping back a minute, we drove in through the western part of the park and stopped at a few waterfalls, all of which were right along the road and frankly weren’t all that impressive relative to what we’d seen elsewhere on the island. We found a small grocery store on the way in and picked up Lunchables, so the kids were plenty satisfied.

After we visited the aforementioned visitor center, we drove into the eastern part of the park where all the other tourists were. First, we stopped at a waterfall that had tons of people at it, so we didn’t stay all that long. Second, we climbed up a watchtower that was built in the 1960s, so while it wasn’t particularly old compared with other things we’d seen, it was still cool to look out over the island.

Other than that, we didn’t do all that much in the park. There were more hiking trails to visit, but as it was our last day on the island, we weren’t in the mood for a 1.5 hr hike up a mountain. It was cool, but we figure we probably would have done more in the rainforest had we visited it sooner. Next time, maybe!

We drove another 30 minutes or so to our last Airbnb of the trip, dropped off our stuff, then headed off to a nice seafood restaurant within walking distance. The night was beautiful, we were seated next to the ocean, and we got to watch the sunset from the boardwalk. You couldn’t ask for a better evening!

The next day, we picked up pancakes a mile or so away from where we needed to drop off the rental car, took the shuttle to the airport, and waited for the plane to get there! We had 6 hrs of flights that day that the kids handled as well as they did the first day. Returning to St. Louis, we found ourselves in a hailstorm, so that was fun…

It was a great vacation! We’d definitely go back, but will probably wait a few years to check a few more boxes off the vacation list!

Puerto Rico Vacation – Part V

After I went to two places labeled “car wash” in Google (the first was defunct…), I vacuumed out the sand castle Calvin had tracked along into the car, after which we finished packing up from our Quebradillas Airbnb and headed off toward La Pargueras on the southwestern tip of the island.

The trip itself was only supposed to take maybe an hour and 40 minutes, but we took a detour into Cabo Rojo for lunch at Papa’s Pizza (it’s amazing how many pizza places there are in Puerto Rico…), which killed about an hour of the day.

After the pizza place, we went to the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse, which was a part of a protected wetland named Playa Sucia (named because it was quite dirty…not as in “trash,” but as in “plant matter”). Apparently, sea turtles and manatees call this area “home,” but we didn’t see any. Saw plenty of hermit crabs, though!

Aside from the lighthouse (which was cool, but as you couldn’t go inside it, we could only take in the view from the cliffside and watch the ocean a bit), we also visited some sea salt fields where we learned a bit about “Puerto Rico’s First Industry.” It looked like a sizeable operation, though we didn’t see anyone actually working at the site (aside from those in the interpretive center). It was a nice little unplanned diversion on our trip to La Parguera.

A brief aside: the southwestern part of Puerto Rico is really reminiscent of the American mainland south west. Seriously, we were there last summer and the plant life was more desolate and dry, there were few trees (and those that were present were far shorter), and we saw cows and horses all over. It was really interesting!

The reason we were heading to La Parguera was that we had reservations for the bioluminescent bay for 6:30 that night. Brooke found another Airbnb in the town (that was decidedly less impressive than our previous one…) so that we wouldn’t have to drive all the way back to Quebradillas for another night. We also figured this would give us an opportunity to check out the southern end of the island more than we’d initially planned, so win-win.

La Parguera itself was interesting. It felt like a place I’d go for a bachelor party, in that it had lots of restaurants and bars in close proximity and…that’s most of what there was to do there. It was loud, sounded like a party was happening much of the time, and it wasn’t the cleanest place we’d been. Still, you could get a piña colada and walk around the streets with it, so good times.

Regardless, we hit the boat for our 6:30 appointment and headed off to an island in the bay to wait for the sun to go down.

Lemme tell you about this trip. It was about $180 for the four of us to do it, lasted 2 hours, had complementary chicken empanadas, and a cooler of water, soda and beer. Oh yeah, and you got to swim with dinoflagellates that glow when you disturb them. It was really cool. Calvin only got in for a bit, but Meg, Brooke and I swam for about a half hour in ~10 ft deep water. It was difficult to take pictures of, so there’s not much I can put here, but the best I can describe is that it’s like seeing the waves generated from your arms when you swim, but strangely you can see them even when it’s mostly pitch black out (because of the obvious “glowing” part). It was most definitely worth it – can’t recommend it enough.

Now, that night was probably the worst night of sleep we got. The Airbnb we stayed at was…okay…but less than ideal… There were two bedrooms, but one of them was a futon with a TV that didn’t get cable and didn’t have a way to run Netflix on it (though, thankfully, we brought the Chromecast along).

The worst part was that we lost power for 1.5 hrs when “the party” was happening elsewhere (including music…all the music…), and when you don’t have an air conditioner running and have to have windows open to let any ventilation in, you…hear…everything. So yeah, the power came back on and things got better, but it wasn’t ideal…

Anyway, the next morning, we got some donuts down the street and they were awesome. Then we headed off to the other side of the island!

Puerto Rico Vacation – Part IV

The next day was Brooke’s birthday!! We got up a bit more slowly than we had the previous few days, giving me a little more time for another run on Monday morning (went better than the previous day, but still not as good as I’m used to) before we headed out to Rincon for the morning. Rincon is a “surf town,” so mostly we were just going to check it out, as it was likely to have a different “feel” than we’d experienced in other communities.

The town itself reminded me more of “old” Lake of the Ozarks, though Brooke didn’t agree so much. It was obvious more people travel through the region, as there was more traffic, more folks on the public beaches, and definitely more trash in various parts of the community. At the same time, they also had more souvenir shops and cafes available to accommodate the tourists coming through. The main public beach looked really nice, though we didn’t stay long enough to play. After checking out the beach, we hit a souvenir shop to get bracelets for the kids and a sticker for the car-top carrier we couldn’t bring with us on the plane.

After stopping in Rincon proper, we hit the lighthouse, Faro de Punta Higuero. Honestly, there isn’t much to see there, but the passionfruit mojito Brooke got was worth it, so everyone was happy. We also got to observe some surfing from that vantage point, so everybody won!

By this point, it was after 12:30 pm and we were all hungry (and the rain was coming in), so we headed off to Guayabo’s Sea Breeze seafood restaurant for a nice birthday lunch for Brooke. The only seafood we got was shrimp, but we got a sampler full of fried pork, chicken, cheese, corn sticks, and plantains…all of which were excellent.

After the restaurant, we came back to finally actually watch Pirates of the Caribbean, but were interrupted by a poor internet connection, so we took a break in the hot tub again for a bit before returning to the movie along with some popcorn and other snacks. It was a nice, relaxing evening!

The next two days were “beach days,” of sorts. The weather was consistently “no rain in the morning, then rain starting around 12:00 or 1:00 and going into the late-afternoon.” Thus, on Tuesday, we went to Mar Chiquita Beach, about an hour away from Quebradillas. The beach itself was really cool in that it was something of a cove off the northern edge of the island, where a calm, blue pool formed off the ocean.

Sadly, the water was crazy choppy that day, so getting in the water was a definite no-go. Still, watching the waves crash against the rocks was really cool, and the kids still had plenty of fun playing in the sand, continually moving their sand “stadium” up the hill to keep it safe from the crashing waves.

The rain came in as we expected, though it hit a bit faster than we planned, so we got the interior of the car a bit more “sandy” than we’d intended. Brooke gave the kids some more snacks for the back of the car and we took off in the rain. That afternoon, we got back to the Airbnb and got in the hot tub again between rain showers. Like ya do.

The next morning, we went to Crash Boat Beach, which was about an hour in the other direction from Mar Chiquita. This one was probably my personal favorite because you could go out relatively far into the water, the water was much calmer than Mar Chiquita was, it was easy to see in the water, and there were a lot more people there to enjoy it with us. The kids played in the sand some, but because the water was so much better, we spent a decent amount of time out in the water with me holding Calvin while Meg would jump up as each wave came in toward the coastline.

And like clockwork, just after 12:00, more rain came in. This time, we were a bit more prepared and started on lunch before it rained too hard (we could watch the dark clouds set in), so we were in generally better spirits on the drive home. Again, like the previous day, we got back and the kids got in the hot tub for another 45 minutes or so while Brooke and I slowly go to packing up the house.

Our last night there was spent doing laundry, eating some chicken and bowtie noodles, and killing off the ends of various snack bags and lingering drink cans we had lying around. We bought a cheap styrofoam cooler on Day One, so we could bring our milk and such with us on the next leg of the adventure!

Puerto Rico Vacation – Part III

Day Two in PR kicked off with a trip to the interior of the island, where we found Gozolandia Falls. We didn’t know what to expect, as the description of the place almost made it sound like some dude had waterfalls on his land and started charging people parking to leave their car in a field so they could go swimming. Thankfully, it was much better than that.

For $5 a car, you could walk down to two different waterfalls on a concrete sidewalk and stay as long as you wanted. Honestly, if it was just the one waterfall, it was more than worth it, but having two to go explore was even better. The water wasn’t particularly warm, but the lower fall was shallow enough for wading, so the kids mostly focused on that area rather than the falls themselves. I finally dipped in for the second waterfall after walking around enough and getting kinda hot. Still, it was definitely worth the visit and we’d recommend it!

After that, we drove another hour to Sandra Farms Coffee to check out a coffee plantation. Getting to this place was a bit more sketchy, as the mountain roads weren’t particularly safe and the oncoming traffic wasn’t all that patient with the idea of “staying on one side of the road.” We eventually got there and initially struggled to find where exactly we were supposed to go (small operation…), but after calling the number on the sign, we could hear the voice on the other end speaking up at the house on the nearby hill, so we trekked up there.

The gentleman we spoke with, Israel, reminded us a lot of Heinrich from Heinrichshaus in St. James, MO: an old school dude who’s been doing this for years, knows what works for their product, and is happy to talk your ear off about just about anything. A group of relief workers also showed up for the $15 tour, so we headed down the hill toward their operation to see some of the machinery as a storm came in, keeping us in a relatively small building talking about everything from coffee to Puerto Rican statehood. It was scheduled as a 2 hr tour and, based on what we saw, it probably didn’t need to be that long, but with how much Israel talks about…everything…it’s understandable! We learned a lot and had a great time! Unfortunately, they didn’t have any coffee for sale because Hurricane Maria decimated enough trees that they don’t have anything ready and likely won’t until October. Still, the coffee he made us at the end of the tour was probably the smoothest we’ve ever had, so we’ll definitely be buying whatever we can once it’s available. They’ve also been putting some of their coffee in some chocolate candies, so we bought some of those to bring back home (the kids were big fans of that stuff).

Speaking of which, the kids did such a good job during this day that we took them by a grocery store in Quebradillas to pick out a treat to have later that evening. By the time we got back to the house, there wasn’t much time for leisure, so we watched some TV, got dinner going, and hung out for the rest of the night!

When we decided to come to Puerto Rico for our vacation, especially giving us as much time as we have available to us, I made a push for us to visit the Arecibo Observatory. It’s more centrally-located on the island and isn’t trivial to get to, so it isn’t exactly “on the way” to all that many other sights in Puerto Rico, but the sheer scale of the thing made me think it would be worth it. Also, they appeared to have a museum, of sorts, with some kid-centric activities that would hopefully hold the kids’ attention.

Ultimately, we weren’t disappointed! It cost a bit more than the previous day did, but we got to watch a brief video on the history of the radio telescope, as well go on the VIP tour that took us down to the control room where real live scientists were studying solar flares. It’s obvious they’ve made some upgrades over the decades, but for the most part, they’re still using a lot of the same equipment that has been on-site since the 1960s. Definitely some impressive engineering!

After that, we went to a restaurant in Arecibo called El Buen Mofongo to try some more local-ish cuisine. Mofongo is, I guess you’d say, “mashed plaintain,” so it has the consistency of mashed potatoes (kinda…), but a distinct flavor. I had mine with a flank steak while Brooke had hers with fried pork. It was very good, though the service could have been a bit better! It seemed like the wait staff needed more than just two people attending all of the tables in the place. Still, we were glad we went!

By the time we got home, it was 2:00-ish and we were ready to chill, so we went down to the beach that’s about an 8 minute walk from our house to kill some time. I came back up the hill and tried running (in short, there are a ridiculous number of hills up here, as well as loose dogs…no bueno…). After another stint in the hot tub, it was time for dinner and another relaxing evening!

Puerto Rico Vacation – Part II

The Airbnb rental was exactly what we needed for this trip! It had 3 bedrooms (one king, one full, one with twin bunk beds), an open living space with a small kitchen, washer/dryer, hammocks, hot tub, and plenty of deck space.

Oh yeah. And it had a great view!

The house is kinda off the beaten path, so we had to drive to get to beaches, but no more than 10 minutes. First thing’s first, though: Walmart trip.

There were a few Walmarts close to the house, but the nearest one was about 20 minutes away in Isabela. That place was packed, and not just with people. There was also just a ton of stuff packed into a Walmart that wasn’t really large enough to handle it. We were able to find most of the stuff we needed and spent less than we thought we would (though, in retrospect, we should have grabbed more snacks…). The kids were difficult to deal with, mostly because they’d been cooped up in a car and were tired of shuttling from place to place, so there was a challenge to lock them down. After we got back to the house, we had to tell them to stay in their rooms for a bit and leave us alone……..

Brooke picked up a rotisserie chicken and some rice for dinner that night and it was really good (though we were so hungry, it probably didn’t matter what we ate…).

After dinner, we hopped in the hot tub for awhile as it rained lightly. Overall, it was a really lovely evening!

The next day, we got up and headed to Playa Hermanita, a beach rumored to have harbored pirates centuries ago. It was a relatively small beach, but we were the only ones there, so it was nice to just chill and let the kids play in the sand. Meg has been to a beach before in Mississippi, but that was before we had Calvin, so it’s been a long time. The closest Calvin has been to a beach was on Madeline Island, and the water temperature on Lake Superior just isn’t quite the same as the Caribbean…

After spending the morning at the beach, we knew rain was coming for the afternoon, so we went back to the house to rinse off and otherwise chill for the afternoon. Brooke took a drive to a nearby Walgreens for a few other incidentals (read: snacks) before coming back to make spaghetti for dinner.

And because we visited a pirate beach and kept making “the rum’s gone” references, we had to rent Pirates of the Caribbean so the kids could see it for the first time. 🙂

Puerto Rico Vacation – Part I

I think it’s safe to say that Brooke has something of an obsession with Lin-Manuel Miranda, so after he (and many others) implored people to visit Puerto Rico (as tourism is one of their major economic drivers) to help support the island’s constant hurricane recovery, we seriously considered it. Late last year, we started watching for cheap plane tickets and looked at Airbnb options for the island, and things sorta fell into place. We were looking at late-May as it would avoid hurricane season and the kids and I would be out of school, so we bought tickets and made reservations for May 22nd through June 1st.

At the time, little did we know that Winter was going to hit Marshall particularly hard, leading to the kids’ school year to be pushed back a week! So technically, they missed their last week of school, but most pre-K and 3rd graders aren’t doing all that much at the end of their year. Missing a few field trips, I suppose. Oh well.

We stayed at Mallory’s house in St. Louis Tuesday night and took a Lyft to the airport Wednesday morning to catch our 7:51 am flight to Charlotte. It was the kids’ very first ride on an airplane, so they were pretty excited! Then, they got bored when they realized that flying on a plane isn’t really all that fun… Still, we brought plenty of entertainment (read: tablets and the Switch…), some snacks, and had just enough time at the Charlotte airport to grab a few more provisions before boarding the plane to San Juan. The second flight was over 3 hrs long, so the boredom really set in, at least for Meg. For both flights, we were in rows back to back, with Brooke next to Meg and Calvin next to me.

Brooke rented a car when she booked the flights so we’d have a means to get around the island, so our first task was finding the rental agency. Little did we know that the agency wasn’t actually located at the airport, so we found some other “mainlanders” who told us that there was a shuttle coming by to pick us all up and take us to where we’d get the car(s). After a relatively lengthy paperwork process, we had our blue Hyundai Accent and we were off to find our hotel in Old San Juan!

The room at the Casablanca Hotel was very nice, including a king-size bed and a futon the kids could sleep on (Calvin ended up joining us in the bed because Meg rolled around enough in her sleep and effectively took over the bed). We went to a pizza place called Pirilo just down from the hotel and that was awesome. The sauce was a bit sweeter than we expected, but the kids didn’t notice, so oh well. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and were crashing around 9:00 after a long day of traveling.

The next day, we ate breakfast at Cafeteria Mallorca, where we were hoping to get donuts. Apparently they only have mallorcas, which aren’t exactly donuts. They were a flaky pastry of sorts that you could just eat with powdered sugar and butter, or get sliced in half with ham and cheese in it, among other things. They were quite good, though the kids were unimpressed.

Brooke and I also had some coffee before we got started on our long walk to El Castillo de San Cristobal, which has been there for about 500 years and has changed hands from multiple countries in that time period.

The kids very much loved going through the dungeon, but other than that, we took the opportunity to see the city from a higher vantage point and see some old architecture. We also walked to another fort, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, passing lots of folks flying kites in the ocean breeze. It was a beautiful day!

After finishing up at San Felipe, we quickly walked back to our hotel to check out, then struggled to find our car in the parking structure (seriously, it took 30 minutes to find…dunno what to tell you….) before heading out of town toward Quebradillas, where our Airbnb was. The drive took about 1.5 hrs, the majority of which was divided highway driving, so it was a pretty uneventful trip. Eventually, we left the highway and took a few narrow, paved roads to our final destination.

More on that next time!

Grand Canyon 2018: Part IV

Navajo Bridge in Marble Canyon

We left the North Rim on my birthday, a Wednesday this year.  The kids played with the neighbor kids for awhile as Brooke and I packed things up, which was mostly uneventful.  We weren’t necessarily in a rush to get out of there by a certain time, but getting on the road close to 10:00 am was certainly a goal.  We planned to get to Albuquerque, NM that first night and had to contend with at least one time change on the way there.  We also had a few stops planned on our way out, neither of which did we expect would take a ton of time.

The first stop was Marble Canyon, specifically the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River.  In the picture above, the one on the left is a walking bridge, while the one on the right allows passage of Highway 89A across the river.  We thought the site would involve a cultural center for the Navajo reservation that we were passing through, but there wasn’t much there aside from bathrooms and a gift shop.  It was nice to get out of the car after a few hours on the road, though.

Another reason to stop there was because California condors have been sighted in Marble Canyon in the past, but we didn’t get to see any.  Had to try, I suppose!

A whole lotta nuthin’…

Most of the drive that day was very much like you see above.  Flat and desert, with the assorted mesa showing up occasionally.  The kids did fine during this entire portion, as they were ready to be back in consistent air conditioning with their electronic devices, but for the grown-ups in the car, there wasn’t a whole lot to look at.  I-40 made life easier once we got there (we had quite a few state highways to hit before making it south to I-40), but until that point, it was desolate reservation land and not very many places to stop.  Thankfully, we didn’t really have to.

Beeeeeeeeer…

We made it into Albuquerque after 7:00 that night and before heading to our hotel, we stopped at Ponderosa Brewing Company.  It was apparently “open mic night,” which wasn’t our first choice, but it was late and we were hungry and I wanted beer, so we suffered through it (it really wasn’t that bad and reminded me that I should play more mandolin…).  The food and the beer were great, but the service left much to be desired.  The receipt was a bit confusing, but we think they knocked some money off when we bought a growler to take back to the hotel, so that was a plus.

Now, back in Part I, I neglected to mention that we stopped at Rockslide Brewing Company in Grand Junction, CO for lunch before heading into Utah (because it’s 2018 and they don’t have real beer in Utah…).  That place was great.  The food was great, service was great, and It was tough to pick a beer for the growler that night.

After a restful night in the hotel in Albuquerque where the kids stayed up until around 10:00 pm (time change is difficult, people…), we hit the road.  It was going to be another long one, but this time, we were stopping at the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum in Amarillo, TX.  Which seems like a thing you should visit when you’re in Amarillo, TX.

That’s an old Airstream!

It was actually pretty neat!  It’s actually a retail RV lot, but if you go in and ask at the front desk, they’ll lead you back through all the new ones to a warehouse with all the old ones, each with a sign that gives you some idea what’s there.  We ended up seeing a 1970s-era pop-up camper that looked quite a bit like the ones Brooke and I grew up with, and that particular camper was donated by a couple from Columbia, MO!  Small world.

Meg and Calvin really liked seeing campers, as we’re used to staying in tents when we travel like this.  We had to explain to them that the towing capacity on our Subarus isn’t really up to snuff to carry many of these campers, so they’re slowly devising a way to get us to upgrade.  I don’t expect they’ll win this battle…

From Amarillo, it was another 4 hours on I-40 until we got to Oklahoma City.  This time, we were going to get there a bit early, hopefully giving us time for a nice dinner and some swimming at the pool at the hotel we got.  This time, I picked the restaurant: something that would satisfy the four different mouths in the car without leading to arguments about what kind of food we were getting that night.  I found this place called Shorty Smalls that looked like they had a wide swath of options that we hadn’t had on the trip so far, including seafood.  When we got there, they advertised an all-you-can-eat catfish deal and $0.99 Coors Lights.  Sounds great, right?

Well, we sat there for 15 minutes and no waiter visited us.  The kids finished their placemat activities and were already ancy and various servers had walked past us with nary a word.

So we left and went to Waffle House next to our hotel.  It wasn’t my first choice, but the other three in the car were happy, so it was fine.  I left them a review on Google Reviews and got a response the next day apologizing and saying they’d pass the experience on to management.

So. Much. Root beer.

After another late night staying up (with some swimming this time), we hit the road one last time for the home stretch.  This time, we were going to stop about 30 minutes outside of Oklahoma City at Pops Soda Ranch, which advertises over 600 different types of soda and other Route 66 kitsch to buy.  Meg had never seen this many root beer varieties, so she was pretty excited.  We didn’t stay long (and didn’t get gas there, as the price was at least $0.40/gal higher than everywhere else around there), but grabbed a six pack of different glass bottled sodas.

A McDonald’s over I-40? Kewl.

After another few hours, we stopped at the former “World’s Largest McDonald’s” in Vinita, OK, which runs across I-40.  It’s a McDonald’s, so not much to report on that, but it was neat for the kids to have a Happy Meal while cars passed under them.

A note on Oklahoma vs Kansas driving.  Kansas is a terrible, desolate state that is horrible to cross.  A definite black hole between Missouri and Colorado.  And while they do have toll roads, they certainly don’t milk you for everything you’re worth like Oklahoma does.  I think we spent maybe $2.50 to go on I-70 in Kansas, but it was $9.00 to get from Oklahoma City back to Missouri.  Ridiculous.

All tuckered out…

Finally, the heavens opened up and we crossed back into good ol’ Missouri.  Granted, it was relatively far south, so we still had hours to go, but it was certainly more familiar territory as we got closer to Highway 65.

We had a fun trip!  ~2800 miles covered and 25.6 mpg average overall.  Gas prices really weren’t all that different than they were in Missouri, though we ran into some more expensive stations due to their isolation from other populations.  We’d still like to hit the South Rim eventually, but may do that on a “Tour of the Southwest” trip when we hit Mesa Verde, Arches, and other locales in a few years.  We’ve got other plans for the next few years, though, so that’ll have to wait!