April where we live is a little unpredictable...warm spring sunshine one day and then a stormy grey day the next. The cherry blossoms emerge in all their glory and some years you have to be quick to capture them in photographs before they all get blown away in a rain and wind storm. This year, I was lucky and on a few visits to Garry Point, I was able to capture the cherry blossoms from different perspectives.
And looking very closely...
And one of my accidental favourites...I used the fish eye lens instead of my macro lens on my olloclip but love how this turned out.
Last week I was fortunate to visit New Orleans for three days to attend the big (like 8000 people big) annual NCTM math educators conference. I was presenting a session on Friday morning and attended sessions on Wednesday evening, Thursday and Friday afternoon. I filled in any free time with exploring the city.
First impressions of New Orleans...unique, lively, very rich in a deep, historical culture and beliefs. New Orleans has always been on my bucket travel list and I am so glad I was able to go - only wish that Neil and the boys had been with me to experience it!
My first night there I got talked into going to a Haunted History tour of the French Quarter. The history part was fascinating...the haunted part, not so much!
I had my first beignet at Cafe du Monde for breakfast on Thursday morning before I headed to the conference. I hopped on a street car that took me along the Mississippi River to the French Market area of the French Quarter. Such historical and beautiful streets and archictecture.
On Friday evening, some colleagues and I did our own little tour of the Garden District, stopping first at Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Fascinating.
The houses and gardens (mansions, former plantation houses, etc) were stunning.
Being mathy types, we got kind of fixated on arrays in the doors and windows of these historical homes.
After this, we decided for a full-on juxtaposition and headed for Bourban Street. We walked down a block and decided that was enough. Beads hanging from lamp posts, lots of celebrations going on...quite the experience.
I tried my best to try all sorts of regional cuisine, so along with beignets, I tried...
chicken and andoullie gumbo
catfish po' boy with remoulade sauce
And what kind of regional treats do you bring home for the family? Well, Cafe du Monde beignet mix of course as well as Voodoo Hot Sauce and Pralines (there are praline candy stores and kitchens all over town).
It was a great conference in a great city with lots of great food!
I have lived in the Vancouver area all my life and I realized today that I have never been to Maple Ridge. Colin was registered for a fencing competition at 1:30 at Meadowridge School and we left at 11:30, thinking I had lots of time. Well, mapquest and the Mary Hill Bypass led me astray and we ended up at the end of Fern Crescent with no way out and fields all around us. Hmmm...thank goodness for lovely people walking their dogs and Siri. We got there just in time...it was a long haul and we took a very different route back, over the Golden Ears bridge and along the new 17.
There were 16 youth in Colin's Y14 Foil event so we started out with two poules. Colin started out strong and then things unravelled as he got two yellow cards, one of his foils broke and another failed. I was able to borrow a foil from the host club and he was able to continue but he had three losses before rallying and winning his last two bouts in poules.
It wasn't Colin's best first round and we didn't realize that it would affect his ranking later on as it usually just determines your ranking going into direct eliminations. Oh well...I am always learning new things about the fencing world.
He went into direct eliminations facing a fencer from Dynamo and easily won 15-5.
The next direct elimination was "intense" (Colin's word) and then disappointing. Colin fenced a very tall and talented female fencer that he is not familiar with and her dramatics threw him a bit off. He got down 5-0 and then stayed in it at 10-5 and then just pushed through, tied it at 11-11 and then went ahead 12-11. His opponent had a bit of a meltdown at this point and stopped fencing, just as Colin had gained momentum. In Colin's 6 years of fencing, I have never seen this kind of behaviour before during a fencing match. Again, the fencing world is alwyas interesting.
Colin lost 15-12 and was eliminated, ending up in seventh place. Not what he had hoped for so he was disappointed. This competition had medals for everyone in the top 8 which we've never encountered before. Colin didn't really see it as a "real" medal so didn't feel the need to stick around for the formal medal presentation. Our day would have been 10 hours away instead of only 9 if we had stuck around!
So, always a learning experience. Colin has two more competitions this June - one in Coquitlam and then the Provincials in June. Colin knows that if he wants to feel better about his results, he's going to need to put a bit more training in, finding time around volleyball practices and games!
After a great time in the Dorado/San Juan area, we packed up and drove East to the town of Fajardo. Fajardo is a coastal village with an "old town", the ferry docks and a more modern developed neighbourhood. We stayed at the Fajardo Inn which is high up on a mountain top with views of tropical rainforest and the ocean.
Our first adventure on this side of the island was to visit El Yunque rainforest. We headed inland and drove up a lush, humid, very tropical mountain. Sounds of frogs and tropical birds filled the air and there were so many colours of green! We checked in at the visitors' centre and the drove up a bit to our first stop at Coca Falls.
We then walked up an observatory tower to see some amazing views of the rainforest valley.
We then hiked to Mira Falls, a good 30 minute hike in, up and down terrain. The boys said swimming under the waterfall was one of the highlights of their trip. After watching two adults have bad falls on the rocks, I decided with my shoulder that it wasn't worth the risk. Adam helped splash me with some of the cool refreshing water though!
We hiked back out and stopped for some yummy pinchos and snacks on the way down before heading back to our hotel.
The next day we made our way to Luquillo Beach, a quintessential Caribbean beach with white sand, turquoise waters and coconut palms providing shade. The water was incredibly warm and clear, perfect for swimming.
We ate at the beach kiosks having delicious (virgin) pina coladas, pinchos and empanadillas. And the boys added some ginormous frappes for dessert.
One of the things I knew that I wanted to do in Puerto Rico was to kayak out to the bioluminescent bay. I had read several reviews online and the reviews were mixed. My analysis of the poor reviews was that people often had a combination of false expectations around what bioluminescence is and had little experience kayaking. We had an amazing experience. I booked a kayak tour before we left and was happy to have a marine biologist as one of our guides. We learned a lot about the area before we headed out. We kayaked through a mangrove-lined canal and then came into Laguna Grande, the bay or lagoon that would become bioluminescent upon darkness.
The bioluminescence is caused by plankton in the water that when moved or agitated, glow. The effect was magical and sparkly. A light blue glow surrounded our hands and paddles when they moved in the water and beads of water sparkled as they fell from our fingertips. Paddling back throught the darkness was an interesting experience. The boys got stuck in a mangrove tree's roots for a bit and it was easy to get disoriented. The overall experience was amazing and was a highlight of the trip for us.
For our last full day in Puerto Rico, we enjoyed the sun, the sand and the water. We went to Seven Seas beach and hung out at the hotel pools.
We had a very long travel day on Thursday...driving to the airport, flying to DC, making our connection and flying to Seattle and then driving home. We got in at 1am exhausted (4am PR time) and just dropped our bags in the foyer and headed to bed.
I love the days after a trip, reliving the memories and things we did together, talking about our favourite adventures and feeling so connected as a family. We've already started a list of places we might like to explore next spring break...
We flew into San Juan on Tuesday morning, picked up our rental car and drove to Dorado, just half an hour west of San Juan. Here, we stayed at the Embassy Suites for five nights. Lovely hotel and grounds, great pools and beach. A big buffet breakfast was included as was a happy hour with drinks and snacks. It was very quiet, in a gated community and a great family place to stay.
The boys spent a lot of time in the water. Adam had a bad sunburn experience last spring break, so he was a little cautious about sun exposure this year!
We went into Old San Juan, the historic part of the city, three times. Twice driving and once taking the communter ferry across the bay. OSJ is very European/Spanish and the roads are very narrow, many lined with blue cobblestones, originally brought over the Atlantic as ballast in Spanish ships. The homes, stores and restaurants are all very colourful with beautiful iron and wood details.
We tried some great restaurants in OSJ, visited historic sites, did some shopping and came across a political protest at the capital building.
Most of OSJ is walled, as part of a fortress to protect the port from invaders. We visited the historic sties of El Morro and San Cristobal to get a closer look at what life might have been like in Puerto Rico a few hundred years ago. El Morro is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The boys were fascinated by the stone walls, structures and cannons and the history of the US invasion and takeover of Puerto Rico.
One day, we headed out to drive southwest and inland to explore the Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy. This underground cavern system is 135 million years old and is one of Puerto Rico's natural wonders. The caverns (we learned the difference between caves and caverns...caverns have an entrance and an exit) were carved from the Camuy River, which we saw flowing still. Some times with heavy rains, the river rises and the caverns flood. The caverns are filled with stactites and stalagmites and it was like walking through some other wordly movie set. Amazing to find out too that it takes a thousand years to form one square inch of a stalactite, through mineral deposts. Some of the stalactites we saw were metres long and many centimetres thick. And thousands of bats live in one of the areas of the caverns. A little smelly.
The first part of our trip was a great balance of relaxing by the pool and being explorers!
Leading up to spring break, when everyone is talking about their plans, we often got the question, Why Puerto Rico? Many factors went into our decision to try Puerto Rico for this year's spring break family vacation: 1) we could get 4 free tickets to PR through our Aeroplan miles, 2) we wanted to go somewhere we hadn't been before, 3) we needed family time, ie. not running into lots of people we know on the beaches of Hawaii ;) and 4) we wanted a bit of an adventure. We wanted new experiences for the boys, and for us, and to explore somewhere new. Puerto Rico did not let us down.
We've had lots of questions and wonderings about what travelling to Puerto Rico might be like so over a few posts, I will share some observations and highlights from our trip.
First of all...Puerto Rico is a LONG way from Richmond, BC! I kind of thought it was like going to the tip of Florida but when you look at a map, you realize that PR is almost at the equator and very close to the coast of South America. We flew out of Seattle, first to Chicago and then on to San Juan. On the way back, we flew through Washington, DC. Note, there are often winter weather events on the east coast still in March! We had to delay our departure by a day because of a storm and delays that could cause us to miss our connection to San Juan. Luckily, we were able to extend our trip on the other end.
on the people in PR: friendly, helpful, lovely, proud, tried their best to communicate with us
on driving in PR: distance signs are in km, speed limit signs are in miles, signalling seems to be optional as does stopping for pedestrians, or if you are a pedestrian, stopping for cars; we encountered many speedbumps and trenches and grates in the roads which makes driving a little bumpy
on eating in PR: not "spicy" as some might expect, very pork-focused and lots of plantain-based dishes, lots of road side food stands and fruit and vegetable markets; they love their rum in PR
on the animals in PR: iguanas and lizards running everywhere as are packs of dogs and lot of cats (especially in Old San Juan) and the air is always filled with the sounds of tropical birds, coqui (tree frogs) and crickets
on the place and climate in PR: varied and lush, from deep tropical rainforests to coconut palm-lined white sand beaches, turquoise blue waters, hot from morning til night with humidity inland and breezes near the ocean
on the buildings in PR: so so colourful, like Easter eggs, both in Old San Juan and in the various neighbourhoods we drove through; mostly all Spanish-style homes with wrought iron fencing, balconies and windows; diverse neighbourhoods/barrios from rural mountain homes, to "innercity" rowhouses to extravagant, modern condos
I attempted to use Spanish whenever I could, but the boys thought I sometimes confused things with my mixture of Spanish and English. Neil managed to get "gracias" figured out. In the hotels we stayed in and at all the touristy places, there was fluent English spoken but when we ventured out to more local neighbourhoods and restaurants, we encountered very little English. All the signs and newspapers are in Spanish. The American fast food and store signs pop up along main roads (McDonalds, Burger King, Walgreens, etc and Church's Chicken is very popular) and that and using American currency are really the only indications there are that PR is an American territory.
On safety - we never felt unsafe. Apparently there is a drug trade problem is PR with the associated criminal activity. We avoided areas at night that were likely to be unsafe just as we would when visiting any other major city. There are definitely some areas of poverty in PR that may appear "unsafe" to suburban Canadian eyes, and cause some uncomfortable feelings, but that doesn't mean those areas aren't safe.
Other than hotel breakfasts, we tried to eat at local PR restaurants and food stands. We tried mofongo (a very unique traditional PR dish of fried and mashed plantains with garlic and meat or shrimp added), lots of chicken and pork dishes including pinchos (kabobs), rice and bean dishes, fried plantains (tostones) and sweet potato and yucca. The kiosks at the beach had lots of fried handheld pastries filled with meats, fish and vegetables. The pollo empanadillas were particular favourites. Mango and coconut were prevalent flavours and the sherbets sold on the streets of Old San Juan were so refreshing.
Overall, our trip to Puerto Rico was a great cultural experience full of unique opportunities. We are all glad we went.
The next two posts will focus on the things we did and places we explored - the area around San Juan and then the north eastern part of the island.