International Travel

Yunquiyu: Paradise in Puerto Rico

I live on ‘The Enchanted Island,’ Puerto Rico, but I still have to make money. I had been sitting in front of the computer for almost 6 hours. My eyes were tired and my back hurt. I can see the blue-green waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the kitchen table, and I can hear the white caped waves crashing on the beach. A storm is coming. I get up to shut the windows. To nap or not nap…that was the question. My phone dings, the text reads, ‘Let’s go’. My mood isn’t what it should be especially for someone who lives in this paradise, and for someone who’s office has million dollar views. I pull up my big girl panties, put on my sandals, and walk out the door. As the door closes a voice in my head whispers, ‘get your camera.’ Seriously…this happened. 

We are in the car headed to into Rio Grande a town between San Juan and Luquillo. PR-3, the main highway is jammed with traffic. You never know how long it will take to go 5 miles on an island, and never trust google. It could be 10 minutes or 30, such is island life. My friend who is driving arrived in town just a few days ago, she  moved back to Atlanta a few months ago with hopes of coming back to Puerto Rico one day. I haven’t noticed, but she is impressed with the amount of new business that have opened up since she left; she has only been gone a few months. A year after Hurricane Maria people are still rebuilding their lives. 

We make a left at El Verde aka machete chicken. A local restaurant that would make Anthony Bourdain (may he RIP) antsy with anticipation. You can buy a whole roasted chicken that is cute up with a machete, hence machete chicken, or get ribs that fall off the bone, and melt in you mouth. The sides are local vegetables that put southern cooking to shame. I may have to go there for lunch after writing this. 

So yeah, it’s a left from Luquillo, past El Verde up into the rainforest. The roads become more narrow, drivers dodge pot holes that look like black holes; if you hit one you may disappear without a trace. Sharing the road is just a thought; a concept lost on many drivers here. On coming cars whip around the turns like it is their own race track. At this point I still have no clue where we are going. All I know is we are going to see my friend’s friend, whom she refers to as the bushman but his real name is Fire. We make a left and a right; we are climbing higher and higher into the jungles of El Yunque Rainforest. I asked my friend how the hell she found this place she said, “Girl, with step by step instructions”

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Out of nowhere the land opens up and we are there. I notice the sign it reads ‘Yunquiyu’ which is the native Taino’s God of light and life; which is totally understandable after seeing this place. We park and walk down a grand palm tree lined path. A sweet German Shepard mix follows us, he is the care takers dog, the man we are coming to see. 

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At the bottom of the hill there is a wooden cabin. It’s tucked away, almost hidden by the palm trees. The view is stunning. Mountains rise behind the tiny building, there is green foliage at every turn. Lemon grass taller than me lines trails down to the river. Flowering plants and trees cover the ground all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. There is also a garden spread throughout: banana trees, passion fruit, avocado, just to name a few. This scene is overwhelmingly beautiful. I can’t believe a place like this even exist. 

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A man walks up, his white shirt is covered in soil, his work boots in wet grass. His dreadlocks wrapped tightly in a black scarf.  He is quite but has smile could melt the heart of an Ice Queen. For 10 years he has been helping build this landscape, and taking care of the cabins. We are introduced, without saying much he starts to lead us around the property. We stop for a second and he pull a frown off of a plant. He crushes it between his fingers, hands it to me and says, “Lemongrass”.  

This is not the Lemongrass you find in the botanical section at your local Walmart. This plant is about 5 feet high with a massive circumference, its everywhere. There are plants that I have never seen before. Tiny green flowers with white in the center; they look as if someone took a paint brush to the center and just swept it across. There are large red plants with thick leaves that line the base of the palm trees; these plants will eventually climb the tree like a vine. The Elephant Ear plants here look pre-historic, something out of Jurassic Park. 

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Fire takes us to each cabin. The cabins are one room with a full bed, stone floors, and a mini kitchen; they smell of freshly cut wood. The back walls are double doors that open up to a small porch with a table and chairs and a breathtaking view of the rainforest. You can hear the river below, birds in the distance, and the native frogs singing their songs.  The bathrooms are connected by a waist high bridge opposite the main room. The shower comes from the ceiling with more views of the rainforest from the window which are half the wall and open up to the outside. There are no screens in these windows, making it feel like you are showering under a cascading waterfall.  


Fire leads us down the carefully laid path, under fern trees, past colorful flowers such as Birds of Paradise and Hibiscus to the deck that sits on the bank of the river. At the bottom a massive deck with tables and chairs is low to the ground. A stone path leads you to the river where the water rushes over massive boulders then slows down to form a small pool, where I am sure you can float for hours uninterrupted. High above the river you can see the cabins dotting the landscape above. 

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Surrounded by the river, trees, and mountains it is easy to forget that we are only 25 minutes to the ocean and “city” life; the best of both worlds. I can easily see myself living here (Puerto Rico) the rest of my life; creating an oasis of my own, just like Yunquiyu. The tour isn’t over; the three of us head back up the path; winding back through the palms, and low hanging leaves, passing the tropical flowers; stepping carefully on the strategically places stones. Fire shows us the newest cabin. It has high ceilings, granite counter tops, and will eventually have two porches that will lead you down to the trail and the new restaurant, which is set to open sometime in December 2019. The menu will have vegetarian options, locally sourced food from the surrounding area, and a garden on site.  

I am grateful to have learned of the existence of Yunquiyu and I am thankful for having the opportunity to meet Fire and gain some of his insight on the local flora and fauna. Call Yunquiyu what you will, paradise, or an oasis. To me it is magic; a place in Puerto Rico that calls to you to stay, rest, and relax. I am looking forward to my next visit and I hope that you will be able to experience Yunquiyu very soon. You never know what will happen when you leave the house

Why go to Quito?

Why go to Quito?

It's a simple question,  why go to Quito, Ecuador? The capital of Ecuador is located high in the mountains over 9,000 feet above sea level. The community is sprawling over the mountain range like sand on a beach. When hiking up to one of the many parks or mountain peaks you can see how massive this city is. Looking down you feel a bit insignificant in this place, realizing you are one of over 2 million people enjoying the spoils of what Quito has to offer. 


10 things you need to know about Puerto Rico

10 things you need to know about Puerto Rico

Traveling to a new place can be scary. Especially if it's to a region of the world you have never visited. Coming to Puerto Rico is no different. Since Hurricane's Maria and Irma things have changed just a little bit, not much, but you need to be prepared for your visit! The following is a quick list of things you need to know before you visit Puerto Rico. 

When I broke my foot in Rome.

When I broke my foot in Rome.

I have been an accident prone person aka a klutz my entire life. There have been many  hours where I ended up in the emergency room with: a broken foot, sprained ankles, broken arms, head lacerations... well you get the point. You would think, as someone gets older their balance and depth perception would get better. This is certainly not the case for me. Let me tell you a tale of about breaking a bone in Rome and how it was handled. 

While traveling the world in 2017 I found myself in Rome, Italy. A place I never thought I would have the opportunity to visit, let along live for an entire four weeks. The apartment was a loft outside of the hustle and bustle of Rome, but a quick 20 minute bus ride would drop me off in the city center, with and outstanding price of 2 euros. This apartment was precious it had all the amenities I would need to live a comfortable life for a few weeks; there was even a washing machine. A luxury I haven't seen the likes of in 5 months. After living in Thailand and traveling in Cambodia for months, a washing machine was an invention I couldn't wait to use it. Too bad it would be my downfall, literally. 

Luquillo, Puerto Rico: 5 things to do

Tucked between mountains and the sea is the tranquil town of Luquillo, Puerto Rico. The community maybe small but it's packed with plenty to do. Take the morning and drive up to El Yunque National Forest; here you will find over 145 different species of fern, colorful flowers, and tiny creatures scurrying along the trails. The rainforest is the only one of it's kind in the National Parks System; with over 29,000 acres it is home to endangered bird species such as the Puerto Rican Parrot, which is on the top 10 most endangered bird specie list. Not only are the creatures of the rainforest simply amazing but so is the scenery; majestic waterfalls can be viewed while driving, and the ocean can be seen from over looks. 

When you are finished exploring the rainforest head to the beach for rest and relaxation. Here you can learn to surf or just enjoy the sun and sea. There are several beaches in Luquillo each has a different personality. La Pared is a place to test out your surfing skills with private lessons or rent a board if you are a seasoned surfer. The Balneario offers a quite place with peaceful waters, no surfing here, just a restful place to take it all in. 

All of this activity really works up an appetite. Head to the kioskos for some food, drink, and entertainment. There is always something going on here. A strip of restaurants and bars that offer food and taste for every budget. You can enjoy items from ceveche to NY style pizza; the music will get you going for a night out on the town. 

Like all communities there are opportunities to get involved, Luquillo is no different. In march join the Turtle Patrol to help monitor the endangered Leatherback turtles as they come to shore for nesting. The time of year for this activity is march. A place that always needs a helping hand, especially since the hurricane's of 2017 is the rainforest. The national forest service is looking for helpful hands to clear trails. 

Luquillo is a community for everyone. Once you are here you will feel at home. So come, stay, play, and visit. We can't wait to have you here. 

 

 

"Why go to Puerto Rico?", they said.

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When I left Boston 4 weeks ago it was 20 degrees with 6 feet tall snow drifts on the ground. With very little sleep the night before; I get up at 3am so I can catch my 5 am flight. My clothing is laid out and I don a brand new pair of waterproof boots, fleece leggings, a long sleeved t-shirt, and my wool coat; something that I picked up in England weeks before. Still in a sleepy haze I check out of my hostel and contact Uber. 

I arrive at the airport so early that TSA isn’t even open yet and neither is DD (Dunkin’ Donuts) or Starbucks; it’s like a virtual ghost town. There is one store open so I grab a coffee and a danish that cost me $10. There should be some sort of rule about airport price gauging. I take my over priced goods, have a seat on the floor and stretch out. It’s going to be a long day. 

A few hours later I am boarding a plane to Puerto Rico. The question I have gotten for a year is, “where are you going to next?” This time, when I tell them Puerto Rico, looks of dismay come over their inquisitive faces. The follow up question is, “Oh are you going to help with the hurricane relief?”. I immediately say no and begin to explain. 

I have nothing to offer Puerto Rico. I am not an electrician, or skilled laborer but what I do have is time and a little bit of money. This is what I can offer Puerto Rico. My accommodations are a local airbnb, I can take Uber, I drink, eat, and shop local. The biggest thing any of us can do is come to Puerto Rico and spend money. 

After being in winter and in Europe for so long I forgot what humidity is and what it does to my hair. Waiting on my ride at the San Juan airport I begin to sweat and realize how inappropriately dressed I really am. Unlike yours truly, there is not a pair of long pants to be seen, and no one is dressed in black. Color is everywhere, along with smiles, happy greetings and controlled chaos at the arrivals pickup. 

At that moment it was easy to forget that just a few months ago two category five hurricanes roared across this island, causing havoc in it’s wake. Massive amounts of damage ensued, power outages, and water shortages. A lot of the island is up and running but there are still areas that can not be reached and they are still without power, a luxury that my never return; if it does, it will be years. Talking to the people of Puerto Rico you can hear the stress in their voices as they relive the trauma of waiting out the storm.

Luckily where I am, Luquillo Beach, is in order. The power may go off for an hour or two, you drink bottled water but there are restaurants open and airbnb’s ready to welcome guest. When I first arrived I ventured down to a local restaurant which sits by the water. The bartender, whom I found out later was actually the manager; after the storm, the restaurant went from 30 employees to 10. He asked me if I was on vacation. I explained my lifestyle. With a smile and emotion behind his voice he said, “Thank you for coming to Puerto Rico”.

At this very moment I am sitting in the same bar, eating french fries, drinking a cold local beer, and watching the surfers. Last night I went to the local pizza place for take-away, and on Saturday went to the local farmer’s market. When a place depends so heavily on tourism a natural disaster can hurt the local economy so much that it may never bounce back. When I decided to come to Puerto Rico I asked the right questions: do you have power, access to water, are roads clear, and are grocery stores open? Because that is all you really need. Don’t shy away from a place because of what others say or what you see on the news. Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean need you, they are waiting for you, with open arms, smiles and warm greetings. 

I began this writing last week. The next phase was to head to Germany for the month and continue the journey of traveling, pet sitting, and teaching English. The plane ticket was purchase; on the day of departure I woke up early, and with a heavy heart began to pack. There are other guest where I am staying, American’s running away from the northern winter. I am telling them how much I really don’t want to go to Germany and my thoughts of living on this island have consumed me. 

About that time my friend and guest house hostess text me. She is wondering if I truly want to go to Germany. In my head I don’t want to exhaust my welcome in her lovely guest house, Love. Soul. Beautiful; I need to make more money which can be done more easily Europe. Even with this, I just did not want to leave. Molly comes up and says we can make a deal for me to stay. So, with that, I don’t get on the plane. 

Today is Monday, I was suppose to leave on Saturday. Since then I have been looking at apartments, figuring out logistics for some things that are in South Carolina, and powering back up the photography business. I have also been offered paid house-sit/pet-sit jobs for the future, the Bougie to Budget: Travel Guide business has picked up, and lastly I have started a gofundme campaign to help upgrade equipment so Wander Woman will sore. I can’t believe I am writing this from my new home, Puerto Rico. Never in a million years did I think this would happen. Come to Puerto Rico, you just may never leave. 

5 budget friendly travel tips!

Budget travel has never been easier. The internet along with social media provides you with everything you need to learn or know to put together an amazing trip all on your own. The down side is, it takes time and a lot of it. Since I have been traveling I have learned so much about travel, planning, and resources that fit the way I want to see the world. Here are 5 ideas for the budget conscious traveler. 

 

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budget 

travel 

tips!

1. Flights: If you are flexible with your dates you will find cheaper more accommodating flights. I booked a direct flight from San Juan to Frankfurt last minute for $200 every other day was over $500. Try using the +/- 7 days filter to find less expensive offer. 

2. Accommodations: There are an assortment of places to stay from hostels to hotels and airbnbs. There are places to stay for fee. I have been petsitting around Europe. I take care of peoples houses and pets while they are away, in return I get free accommodation. I must say some of the houses have been spectacular. There are also places like workaway, where you help around a farm, hostel, or with a family for free accommodations. 

3. Public Transportation: Learning the public transport system will save you so much money. Think $2 one way instead of $20 for an Uber or Lyft.

4. Entertainment: There are so many ways to entertain yourself. From parks to museums you can get away with saving a ton of money. By using Groupon you can cut the price of eating out in half along with theater and tours. I paid $6 for a 4 hour walking tour in London. 

5. Food: Book a place that offers breakfast and sneak an apple or a banana in your bag as a snack. Find a street vendor for lunch and splurge on a good dinner. 

Bougie to budget: Travel Guides made for you

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I love the word bougie, it just has a ring to it. We all can be a little bougie at times, you know, when you hangout with your girlfriends on a Sunday and you drink all the bottomless Prosecco. But then just 12 hours later you are shopping at Target because, you know.... budgets. I totally understand the balance of having a good time but also being financially responsible. This past year has been a learning experience and I want to give you all of my knowledge. 

Travel Guide books are wonderful believe me, I have several. What seems to happen is, I buy it read a few pages, and usually forget to pack it when I go on my trip. So I just wasted about $20 and Goodwill gets another book. When I began traveling I wish I had someone there to guide me through the planning. I have decided that is what I want to do for you. I want to provide you will all the knowledge I have learned while traveling the world for over a year in a guide that is dedicated to what you are interested in. 

Depending on how you travel and your budget we can make an itinerary that fits who you are as a traveler. Do you want to sail around the the boot of Italy, hike through the mountains of Nepal, or just be a tourist in London; we can plan the adventures. With a personalized itinerary the planning is left up to us and all you have to do is book your tickets, pack your bags, and go. 

We are really excited to take this journey with you. This will be an adventure of a lifetime so let's get started! 

 

 

Clearing up the confusion on extended EU travel!

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“How the hell were you able to stay in Europe for so long, don’t you need a visa?”….this is one of the many questions I received about my 8 month stay in Europe in 2017. In all honesty, I was so confused about the visa laws that I contacted several people and read a ton of blogs because I didn’t want to be hauled off to some foreign prison never to be able to return home again. Well…they probably would have just put me on the next plane to the U.S instead of jail. First things first, as of now, American’s do NOT need Visa’s to travel throughout the EU, this may change.  

So how did I do it?  There are a few key terms that you need first: Schengen and Non-Schengen ( still have no clue how to say these words). The EU is made up of a lot of countries. Some of these countries are part of what is known as the Schengen agreement. Members of the EU can travel throughout these countries without trip interruption and if you are an American you don’t need to get a visa, but you can only stay in these countries for 90 days out of 180 days. There are countries that ARE part of the EU but are NOT part of the Schengen Zone known as the non- Schengen Zone. These countries have their own laws when it comes to stays. 

Now, you can only stay in the Schengen zone for 90 days! After the 90 days you MUST leave the zone for up to 90 days. After 90 days you can return to any of the below countries and the 90 days starts over.  There are EU countries that have their own visa rules. The below non-schengen countries have their own visa laws. For instance, Ireland is 90 days ,UK is 180 days, Croatia is 90 days along with Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania.

26 Schengen Zone Countries

Austria

Iceland

Poland

Belgium

Italy

Portugal

Czech

Latvia

Slovakia

Denmark

Liechtenstein

Slovenia

Estonia

Lithuania

Sweden

Finland

Luxembourg

Switzerland

France Malta 

Germany Netherlands

Greece Norway

Non-Schengen Zone Countries

Croatia

Bulgaria

Cyprus

Romania

United Kingdom

Ireland  

Allow me to give you some examples to make it more clear. This is what I did for 2017:  Italy (30 days), Croatia (30 days non-schengen),  Germany (60 days), United Kingdom (90 days non-schengen). Once you leave a schengen zone and go to a non-schengen zone like I did (Croatia) the time ends but DOES NOT start over, it is just paused until you return to one of the schengen countries.

Another example…Iceland ( 10 days), Sweden (10 days), France (10 days), Ireland (30 days), United kingdom (14 days), Croatia (14 days), Italy (20 days).

Now with the above example you have stayed in a Schengen Zone for 50 days. You still have 40 days to travel through other schengen countries or just save those days and go to a non-schengen area. 

If you want to bounce around Europe you know have the knowledge to do it without the risk of being deported. If you play it right you could stay Europe for a really long time!