accommodation

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 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 

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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. 

The evolution of the hostel and why you should start staying in them!

What do you think about when someone says they are staying in a hostel? Do scary images come to mind about a sorted building in a dark, foggy city where no one speak English which is filled with 20 something backpackers making their way around Europe. Well, when I tell people I am staying in a hostel I can see it on their faces, confusion, which is most likely followed up by questions like, “ Why do you stay in a place like that?” or “Aren’t you to old to be doing that?”. This past year I have been petsitting around the world, but there have been times when I needed a place to say for a few days or wanted to see other parts of a country but didn’t want to break the bank. 

There has been an evolution to the hostel experience; still budget accommodation, hostels offer up common spaces for strangers from around the world to gather, talk, and rest. Now with the internet and cable tv you can find free Wifi and in some cases computers are available for public use. It’s like your living room but shared with people from all walks of life. While staying in an independent hostel in Cornwall, England, the age range was 18-81 years. The guest were literally from all over the world, a virtual revolving door of culture. We chatted around a fire pit at night and I had the ultimate pleasure of introduced the grand old American tradition of making s’mores. Hostels aren’t just for 20 somethings anymore! 

I am currently in a hostel in Washington, D.C; yesterday, upon my morning arrival I was greeted with a complimentary breakfast of pancakes, cereal, toast, tea, orange juice, and coffee. The kitchen is fully stocked with all utensils needed for cooking, two refrigerators, 3 dish washers and two sinks. You can go to the store up the street, bring back your groceries, and keep them safe in the kitchen, which will save you loads on food cost while traveling. While this hostel has a kitchen others may have a restaurant and bar for their guest. Depending on what you want to get out of your stay, there are so many options. 

Traditionally, hostels have multiple rooms with a lot of bunk beds filling the space. This still holds true but now you have more options for your stay. There are mixed bunk rooms with male and female guest, but you can also get rooms that are just for females or males, there are also private rooms with ensuite bathrooms that compare to hotel rooms but at half the cost. Also some hostels even have family rooms, so cut the cost of family travel in half by staying in a hostel. 

My absolute favorite thing about hostels is the location. Hostels in big cities are most likely located near the city center, public transport, and close to the tourist attraction. Instead of spending $150 or more for a hotel room or $50 on an Airbnb you can spend as little as $10 a night; this was the case for me when I had an early flight out of Shannon, Ireland. My hostel was near the airport, $10,  shared with two lovely girls traveling through Ireland together, and the bathroom was in the room. 

Hostels have evolved from dodgy budget accommodation to places that have a life all their own, they can enhance a persons travel experience by providing fellowship and a safe, comfortable place to lay your head and rest before discovering a new city.