A Travellerspoint blog

The Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon

9-11 September 2016


Initially I was supposed to be on a field training exercise this weekend but when it was moved to October I quickly grabbed the opportunity to run the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon. It is a Saturday race so we hauled the RV and all the kids to Townsend, Tennessee on Friday. Townsend is considered the peaceful side of the mountains, about 12 miles from Pigeon Forge and all the tourist traps.
I hurried to the race expo shortly after we pulled in to the Big Meadow campground. This race is part of a currently nine race series from Vacation Races with the National Park Service. The goal is to get people coming to the National Parks. The runs don't actually pass through but get people close enough to spend the rest of their weekend enjoying America. They are beautifully organized and are cup less. Runs either bring their own water carrying source is use the hydration pouch you are given at registration. They report producing less than one bag of trash at each aid station which is pretty significant.
I had my pasta in the RV that night so the next morning I had plenty of energy to walk 0.5 mile to the start at one of the Inn's. This was the only snag of the race because we had to be bused to the start 11 miles away. The buses were a bit late but I still had plenty of time to get ready before the gun went off.
Most of the race was on a little utilized road that ran along the river dotted with adorable cabins. At the end of race medal was huge and each finisher got a box full of replenishing snacks for running or hiking. One thing I had never seen before was fruit leather..?
While we waited in line for our free picture with the race sign we got to enjoy some banjo music.
After being replenished with eggs at the RV we went to the park and took a little hike. Not far in to the trail we came across some scat that we were hoping belonged to a bear. Curt got down to use the identification skills he learned in Yellowstone but as it turns out it was probably just from a horse.
By the end of the day I was beat so we had burgers at the RV and brought our TV outside to watch the Bristol Bowl - Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech with all the other people in the park. Mother Nature had other ideas and not long in to the game she forced us all inside. Sunday meant packing up and returning to the real world :(

Posted by ErinDriver 14:06 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Back to San Juan

3 September 2016

overcast 80 °F

In order to eke out my last few hours on the beach we check out of the Travelling Palms early and pick up some quesitas at the bakery. It isn’t great weather at Sandy Beach today but we enjoy our last few medallas on rented beach chairs before going for some more Red Snapper at La Cambija.
Our lunch experience at La Cambija isn’t as great. There is no more red snapper but there is still the awful shark soup. Curt orders a Johnny Walker Black because it is the daily special. However when the bill comes they explain that if you order it on the rocks it is not the same price. They got us again!!
Last thing to do was drive back to San Juan to our hotel at the airport. The best thing I reserved of the whole trip was probably this hotel which is the first one I have ever seen located right inside the terminals. The walk from the car rental place was simple and the place had a restaurant for one last snack before coming back to reality.

Posted by ErinDriver 10:01 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)


2 September 2016

semi-overcast 80 °F

I discover a new favorite food called the quesita for breakfast today. The La Paz bakery a short drive from our house serves these sticks of greatness along with eggs and thick toast. A quesita is a light pastry with cream cheese inside and I could eat an entire pan full.
Next up is a quick stop at the lighthouse for photos but not too much else going on there so we quickly move on the Sandy Beach for some rest and relaxation after yesterday’s activities.
Our black cloud follows us but waits until lunch time to rain down on us. A few blocks down the road is Tamboo Restaurant and Bar which Lonely Planet names one of the best bars. I’m not that impressed but have some awesome pasta. The drinks are miniature size and Curt has to return his food to the kitchen but after that it’s a decent lunch.
A few more hours back at Sandy Beach before we clean up for one last attempt at sunset observation from Villa Cofresi. The good seats are taken this time but the weather doesn’t cooperate anyway.
We weren’t overly impressed with the food so we decide to move on to La Cambija for dinner. Now this is good food. They bring out shark soup as a free appetizer and I’m sad for the shark that was sacrificed to make this because it smells and Curts says tastes awful. The red snapper filet and fish tacos are on point though. The atmosphere is nice with alfresco dining.

Posted by ErinDriver 13:27 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Surfing in Rincon

1 September 2016

sunny 80 °F

Clemente gave us a heads up on where the Rincon Surf School was but unfortunately he was unaware that they had moved. We end up late for our surf lesson but delve right in to the land based training. The instructors teach us how to paddle and then “pop up” on the surf board. When all five of us have that down we head to the water.
No one mentions the drive to the water is going to be 45 minutes to Surfers Beach in Aguadilla. We show up a bit aggravated at the stressful drive. The beach looks rocky at the shoreline and I’m a bit nervous but before we know it we are “popping up” with the waves. Surfing is actually a really exhausting activity because you have to paddle yourself around. Our group had two instructors and one was a bit better than the other who seemed to give us a shove in to the wave just as we were trying to stand up. It’s a challenging activity and we had just enough time to get our feet wet and find out that I would be interested in taking further classes at some point.
After class we drove back to Rincon to Steps Beach because they had a small shack for lunch. Homemade empanadillas fill our tummies before we spend some time snorkeling. The water has elkhorn corral but there is quite a current and I’m nervous because I’m tired from surfing.
We come in and go home to hang out by the pool for a few hours. For dinner the Beach House offers a mediocre Cuban sandwich and fish tacos for Curt.

Posted by ErinDriver 13:02 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Arecibo Observatory

31 October 2016

sunny 85 °F

We say goodbye to the Ceiba Country Inn and point our tiny rental car toward the west coast and Rincon known for its good surfing. In an attempt to find something to do enroute I find the Arecibo Observatory that is the largest radio telescope in the world. Or it used to be before China opened an even larger one. It was a 2 hour and 15 minute drive from hell to get to this place. Even my Lonely Planet book mentioned it was only a nine mile drive off the main road but it would feel like 90.
But it actually turned out to be worth it and pretty interesting. The huge telescope has been the setting for several movies to include Contact and James Bond’s Goldeneye. The guided portion includes a short movie on the making of the observatory and a talk by one of the guides. She informs us that Pierce Brosnan was unable to do the stunts on the catwalk over the reflector due to his suddenly realized fear of heights.
This radio telescope is different because it is the only one with researchers concentrating on three aspects of science; radio astronomy, atmospheric science and radar astronomy. It took over three years to build in the 50’s and currently goes strong 24 hours a day. The biggest damage to the dish comes from falling branches, leaves and the maintenance workers have to wear a special pair of shoes to ensure they don’t damage the panels. The whole dish is made up of hundreds of connected panels.
Puerto Rico was chosen as the site because it was being built with DOD funds and thus it was still in the United States, the crater in the limestone was already there so money would be saved on construction and it was as close as they could get to the equator.
After the tour there are some interactive exhibits and pieces of Mars, the Moon and asteroids you can have a look at. Luckily they also have a small food stand selling chicken strips and fries because the drive on to Rincon was another two hours.
By the time we pulled in to Travelling Palms Villa we were ready for a drink. Clemente and his dog Gidgie were ready to provide just that in his tiki bar by the pool. By far these were our nicest digs so far. I found it on VRBO and rented the large apartment but we happen to have the whole house to ourselves for two nights.
He gives us some nice dinner recommendations and off we go to Villa Cofresi for sunset and cocktails. They are famous for El Pirate or a special concoction of alcohol within a coconut. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t great for sunset watching even though we had a front row seat over the ocean. For dinner I try the asopoa with lobster which is a stew popular for helping hangovers.

Posted by ErinDriver 12:51 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

El Yunque National Park

30 September 2016

sunny 85 °F

After a quick bite of cereal with Lucy Curt and I are off on the 45 minute drive to El Yunque.
I have not heard a single bad thing about the park which holds the only rainforest in the United States. First stop is the visitors center for map, info a short hike and a take-out sandwich for a picnic later on.
We see this tree that appears to be growing over or out of this tree.
These huge snails are on many of the trees, branches, and leaves.
Our first of several stops is Coca falls. It is right along the road and we would have photos just as good if we had stopped the car for a few seconds right next to it.
The next stop was Yokahu Tower for a lookout over the rainforest from the top of the tower. From here it is possible to see lower as well as the highest peaks.
The Big Tree Trail is one of the routes to La Mina Falls which seem to be one of the hot spots for the northern section of the park.
There turns out to be a ton of people all over the rocks and in the pools around the falls so we just reverse direction and take the hike back to the car.
A little further down the road we find a picnic spot in what seems to be an abandoned shell of a building with picnic tables and an old fireplace. It feels like we are in an Indiana Jones movie as we eat our club sandwiches. It was advertised that there would be nothing to eat once we truly entered the park but this turned out not to be true with several options along the way.
Next up on the agenda was the trail to Mt. Britton lookout. This is a bit more uphill and starts to get real. The lookout here gives us a view of the other peak that looks not that far away 
We decide to attempt going all the way to El Yunque Peak. By the time we get to the lookout the clouds have moved in and we don’t get much of a lookout. It now feels even more like an Indiana Jones movie. For the return down we end up behind three other people who don’t seem to want to let us pass. Even when we were in the middle of their little pack they still just chattered on and failed to notice our attempts to get by them. Eventually we succeeded and we ended with a time of 1.5 hours up and 1 hour 10 minutes down.
By this time we are ready for some beach laziness and El Yunque is not far from Luquillo beach so we spend a few minutes cooling off in what feels like bath water.
The beach was right behind the kiosks so this time we went in search of something with lobster in the title. At La Yola we were charmed by the guy sent out to lure in customers. I think we both agreed that the two pound lobster stuffed with shrimp and skirt steak with their special sauce was the best of the entire trip.
The most ironic part of the whole day is that we spent it in the RAINforest and it was the first day of our whole trip that it DIDN’T rain.

Posted by ErinDriver 12:33 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

To the mainland for more food

29 August 2016

sunny 85 °F

Cookies are for breakfast and there is no plan other than to hang out waiting for our 1230 flight. I sit out on the patio reading and end up watching what was either a courting demonstration or a fight for territory. Two little lizards put on quite a show.
Before I knew it Curt was coming to tell me he got a text from the airline wondering if we could come at 1100. That worked perfectly for us so we strolled the five minutes over to the airport where they weighed our bags and off we went.
The thirty minute flight on the mini-plane was over quickly and we were at the Budget rental car place getting ripped off again. Of course most roads in Puerto Rico are toll roads and we were told we would get a bill in the mail when we got home for our tolls. We would also be charged $19.75 for a started card to go through the speedy lanes.
My goal in booking the Ceiba Country Inn was that on the map and on the website it advertises being close to El Yunque. After finding it I realize that it is close to the Eastern side of the park but there is not entrance there and we would have to drive back nearly to San Juan to get to the entrance. Oh well, it was a nice place with a beautiful view, breakfast and some cute dogs.
Instead of going to the park today we decided to hit Luquillo Beach and the kiosks for dinner. Luquillo is a flat and hot beach. The water is very still and there is no breeze. But it is about 2 minutes from about 60 kioskos or food kiosks. The goal was to sample a bunch of Puerto Rican favorites but were stuffed after an alcapurrio with beef, lobster taco and pinones (a plantain wrapped like a cinnamon roll with beef inside. It was washed down with a few medulla and good conversation with the kiosk worker.

Posted by ErinDriver 12:03 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Culebra Island

28 August 2016

sunny 85 °F

Palmetto Guesthouse had a little breakfast snack provided each morning and that was all we ate because I was eager to get to Tamarindo Beach where turtles can be found. This is another rocky beach but bathwater calm surf for snorkeling. As soon as I put my mask on I was treated to a view of six squid just hovering in a line. They didn’t seem bothered by me and I watched them for awhile until a ray took over my attention. Several times we saw a ray skimming by and eating off the bottom.
Before long we found a couple turtles and it was actually kind of sad. The larger turtle was missing his front fin/arm and seemed to have something attached to his right eyeball. Then another smaller turtle was missing a part of its front arm.
A short break was in order to watch some of the other wildlife of the beach.
After all the excitement of turtles I needed fed again so this time Heathers Pizza place was calling our name. Curt thinks this was the best calzone he ever had and it was certainly loaded down with meat. It may be so good because they make their own crust. As it turns out the owner of Heathers was one of the locals we saw at the Dinghy Dock last night. Small world!
The last part of the afternoon we spent back on Flamenco Beach before we had to turn the car in at 1900.
This lifeguard may me feel really safe about going in to the water!
Of course just like any rental establishment the vehicle is required to be filled with gas when you return. They failed to tell us that on Sunday the gas station closes at 3:00 in the afternoon and by the way one of the two gas stations is actually out of gas. So we return the car and are promptly charged $16 for the 1 gallon of gas we used in the past day. We should have ran to the gas station like this guy on the tsunami sign.
Trying not to be too upset about being ripped off yet again, the only thing we can do is eat again! Since it is Sunday there are few choices and we settled on Mamacita’s. This was also along some water but we were very distracted by the incredibly loud Puerto Rican’s from New York at the table next to us. One actually interrupted us to talk to the waiter while we were trying to place our order. The shrimp mofongo was the best sampling of Puerto Rican food I had to that point.

Posted by ErinDriver 13:24 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Onward to Culebra Island

27 August 2016

sunny 85 °F

Sadly we leave Vieques today. The Seagate has breakfast that we eat outside under an umbrella. This was partially very lucky for us when we heard a huge splat sound over our heads. It appears that a large bird has tried to poop on us. When I look over a Curt though, I see something brown hit his right shoulder and roll off. He jumps up just before another large turd hits the pavement next to him. We then come to discover the iguana in the tree that has just crapped on Curt!! It was HILARIOUS…for me :)
I was very disgruntled with cabs again because the one that was organized for us by the Seagate was late. He proceeded to charge us $15 instead of the $10 we were told by Penny. I soon forgot all about it when we got on our miniature plane with the one other passenger and pilot. In 7 minutes we were landing on beautiful Culebra. A short 5 minute walk had us at the doorstep of the Palmetto Guesthouse. It is owned by Americans who reviewed the map and gave suggestions for the area.
The advice was to rent a golf cart to get around to the beaches but by the time we got to the rental place just around the corner the only kind left were jeeps. A beautiful red Jeep was now at our mercy. First stop was the same grocery store that everyone else on the island seemed to want to shop at during that exact moment.
I was eager to get out to Flamenco Beach because I had heard more than once that it was the most beautiful beach in the world. It would remain my favorite Puerto Rican beach for its size, soft white sand, delicious smoothies only steps away and gentle warm water. A fair amount of the rest of the day was spent sitting on the beach listening to the loud music of our closest Puerto Rican friends. Before long our black cloud found us and even brought along a little tornado.
Before calling it a day we drove to a few of the other beaches on the island but most seemed to be very rocky with small shorelines.
The guesthouse owner had recommended the Dinghy Dock for a meal and it did not disappoint. The place is on the water and frequented by locals. I discovered the Bushwacker cocktail and we indulged in crab empanadas, crab cakes, swordfish and grouper while watching 4 foot tarpin swim in the water right next to us.

Posted by ErinDriver 13:08 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

Diving, horseback riding and Mosquito Bioluminescent Bay

26 August 2016

sunny 80 °F

Thanks to Mother Nature we missed our dive yesterday but Black Beards Dive Shop was able to accommodate moving the dive to today. Christina was the guide for just Curt and I for a couple of dives from Mosquito Pier. They were nice relaxed dives where she pointed out many things we would never have seen like a nudibranch (snail like creature), tiny little shrimp and hidden octopi. Both dives hit the pilings of the pier that are covered with coral. Both dives we saw turtles eating the coral, lobster and tons of starfish. Our second dive we saw TWO spotted eagle rays that just floated by us seemingly with a smile on their face.
The guide recommended El Yate for lunch so we shared a beef turnover and rice and beans with chicken. This was all washed down with our favorite beer of the trip, Medalla.
A quick name was closely followed by horseback riding. The Seagate has several horses on site and Penny set us off in to town on two of them, yelling not to worry because the horses aren’t scared of dogs. It doesn’t take long to learn why she had to tell us this. Duke is the Seagate dog that comes along on all the rides. He attracts all the loose neighbor dogs to come screaming out of their homes to bark at him. Add to this the rolling hills, single lane roads used as double, crazy Puerto Rican drivers and horses that wanted to walk in the center of the road. What you then have is a nice relaxing ride! The ride in total was about 2 hours with about 20 minutes being on the beach. Unfortunately the tide was coming up quite high so I’m pretty sure the horses had to go through areas they normally wouldn’t. We could admit it was fun but only after we knew we had arrived back to the hotel safely.
Because the horseback ride went a little long it was nearly time to meet our tour of the biobay so Penny gave us a ride in to town. We had a quick al fresco dinner at Papi Pinchos. Curt had a pincho which is basically a kabob of meat and we split a quesadilla.
The tour of the bioluminescent bay was kicking off from Black beard sports with a van full of people. The drive out to the biobay would be nearly impossible to do in a car because the road was so horrible. The driver kept us entertained by talking the entire way there (30 min). At the entrance to the biobay the tour operators are trying to keep everything dark to better see the lights so glow in the dark rocks are put in the walkway.
Our group is quickly put in about 5-6 double kayaks and people immediately disperse in all different directions. Somehow the guides rally us together around their kayak and give us some info on the biobay and have us do silly things like put our hand in the water and then quickly extend one of our fingers. Thanks to those tiny dinoflagellates that light up it looks like we are shooting blue fire out of our finger.
The biobay is called mosquito bay but not because of the obvious. There was a vigilante pirate named Mosquito who was killed there. It is the brightest of all biobays in the world. People used to be able to swim in it but the micro organisms were dying. With only kayaking allowed it is now coming back to life. The assumption is that these organisms are lighting up to defend themselves from predators. This is a great environment for them because of the surrounding red mangrove trees that grow their roots in to the water. Each one can illuminate itself 7-8 times per night and three could fit on the head of a pin. Unfortunately it is nearly impossible to take any photos of this phenomenon without special camera equipment.

Posted by ErinDriver 12:51 Archived in Puerto Rico Comments (0)

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