Monday, February 18, 2013

Ponce, Puerto Rico

IMG_0013IMG_0022Our last exploring trip in Puerto Rico took us to the city of Ponce on the South Coast of Puerto Rico.  Ponce has a beautiful colonial area.  We were able to explore by foot.  I had been sick the week before, and we discovered when we arrived in Ponce that we had missed Carnival, which is quite celebrated in Ponce.  Along with the usual parade that occurs in most Caribbean or Latin countries, in Ponce they have a Masquerade.  The colonial area still had a few decoration up from the celebration the week before.  There were several lion statutes in the central park, wearing their “masks”.  The Lions represent Ponce de Leon, who the city is named for.  I guess in the Marina development nothing was said about carnival and local celebrations in the area.  I was sick in bed for 4 days, but it would have been fun to see a parade.  We loved attending Carnival last year in Mexico.IMG_0031IMG_0034

We visited a few of the local museums.  One was about the city and its growth.  Another museum was of local music and instruments used.  We had a great time their learning about how important music is in cultures through out the history of Puerto Rico, and how they made their instruments out of hollow trees branches or gourds.  To visit the Museum is free, and you are led around with a guide who explains all the different instruments.  She even let the kids try out several of the instruments.  They loved it!IMG_0050IMG_0080IMG_0056IMG_0052

We also went to see the home of the DonQ rum family.  We weren’t interested in learning about rum, but the home is now a city landmark and has a display about sugar cane farming, which is what they originally did, till that industry died.  The home also shows how the rich Puerto Ricans lived in the mid 19th century.  The mansion is beautiful.  It sits on a hill above the colonial city area, surrounded by a garden.  We had to wait an hour before the English tour started, so we visited the Japanese botanical garden on the hill above the mansion.  IMG_0094IMG_0111

The tour of the mansion begins with a short film about the DonQ family and the house.  From there we went to the butterfly garden, where the tour guide asked about our kids—she noted we had 6 and asked if they were all mine.  She had 10 herself.  All grown now.  WOW.  We then toured a few of the rooms inside and got to look at some artifacts from the era of the house.  We were then able to view some displays of the sugar cane fields.  After the tour we were able to roam the grounds and beautiful gardens on the property.  IMG_0115





This is the tree of Puerto Rico.  It is a beautiful tree. All those branches… the kids wanted to climb it.



Monday, February 11, 2013

Old San Juan





While Grandpa was visiting we went to Old San Juan.  It is a beautiful colonial city.  It is a great place to stroll along the streets and see the buildings as they would have looked 500 years ago.  But the 2 forts of the city are amazing.  As we traveled down the east coast of the US last year we stopped to see several old forts, so trust me when I say these are amazing.  If you visit Puerto Rico, do not miss visiting Old San Juan. 






IMG_9795We parked the car just outside the old city wall, so we walked along the harbor till we reached one of the gates into the city.  We made our way thru a few short blocks on the narrow old city streets till we reached the large field leading up to the Fort –Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  The fort was strategically built higher than the field to allow for an advantage should they have to fight from the land on this side- which they did, they fought the Dutch on the field, many died.  On the other side of the fort is the beautiful Ocean and entrance to the harbor.  This is why the fort was really built, to guard the city from attack by sea.  There is a small island across the harbor where a small fort was built to help aid in defense of the harbor entrance.  Only ruins are left of the small fort.  So there were really 3 forts here.IMG_9828

IMG_9833IMG_9838The forts are part of the National Park Service, and that meant – Junior Ranger Badges for the kids. The kids had a nice time filling out their packets and learning about the fort. Then it was time to explore…

IMG_9864IMG_9868IMG_9882Castillo San Felipe del Morro is beautiful, from the field stretched out before it- perfect for flying kites, to the beautiful cemetery built off to the side, to the 6 levels of the Fort built over 300 years.  Construction for the Fort began in the early 1500s.  It was built in stages as they needed a bigger and stronger Fort.  The 2 forts here are by far the largest forts we have explored.  Individually they are huge, and the fact that there are 2 of them built so close together is amazing.

The tunnels and stairways were fun to go thru, and up and down.  The architecture of the Fort El Morrow is beautiful. Arched windows, Arched hallways, triangle stairwells, cannon guarding the fort, rounded guard stands.IMG_9889IMG_9902IMG_9911IMG_9914

The Fort guarding the land entrance to Old San Juan is Castillo San Cristobal.  Built in the 1600-1700s, this fort is also architecturally stunning, and yet different from Fort El Morro.  It is the largest fort the Spain built in the New World.  It has several long tunnels, a dungeon, and beautiful views. 

While we were visiting they were preparing to film a car commercial there.  They were setting up lights and cameras, and a piano.  Benjamin loved watching them put the piano together. 

IMG_9983After visiting the Forts we walked nearby to a restaurant I had read about for an early dinner.  But they were closed.  They didn’t open for another hour, but we were ready to eat now.  A staff member recommended another restaurant a few blocks over.  We walked there and had a delicious Puerto Rican meal.  We had rice and beans and chicken,and the traditional Mofongo- with Plantains and shrimp.  We all had a great time sampling the local food.  The wait staff at the restaurant were so nice to the kids, they hurried our order along and brought out extra food for the kids.  They loved making the baby and Matthew smile.  IMG_9988


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Exploring Puerto Rico, pt 2

DSCN3263_thumb[1]About a week after Grandma went home, Grandpa Bob flew out for a visit.  We had made our way to the east coast of Puerto Rico to stay in a Marina for a month.  This was a good arrangement for Grandpa’s visit, then if he felt a little seasick he could easily hop ashore and go for a walk. 

While he was visiting us we went to see 3 major sites here in Puerto Rico.  El Yunque, the rainforest, the Arecibo Observatory, and Old San Juan (which I cover in a separate post).  IMG_9733El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest Service.  It is located in the North east part of Puerto Rico, and it is beautiful there.  We drove thru the forest, as high and as far as the road would allow—it had been closed further on due to a mudslide that has not been repaired for quite some time.  IMG_9692IMG_9641We had brought a picnic lunch.  The kids love picnic’s, but the temperature was much cooler this high up in the mountains, and they complained of being cold.  Considering it was freezing cold, literally, back home, this slight chill was pleasant.  After lunch we hiked down to a popular waterfall, La Mina.  Grandpa waited for us at the picnic area since the trail had lots of stairs to go up and down.  The waterfall was pretty, but I really enjoyed the scenery along the trail. We took Alexander in the stroller.  We have done this numerous times over the years and babies, end up hiking down a trail with the stroller, only to have to carry the stroller back up the trail and numerous stairs.  Someday we will learn.IMG_9654IMG_9717

We stopped along the road on the drive out at an observation tower to check the view from the rainforest to the coast.  It is beautiful here.  IMG_9749

We also visited the Arecibo Observatory.  We had planned to go to the Observatory with Grandma because we were closer to it on the west side of Puerto Rico, but we ran out of time.  So with Grandpa here, we made the 2.5 hour drive up to the observatory.  It is the largest single radio telescope in the world, and was filmed in the movie Contact. IMG_9777


It is located in the beautiful karst mountains of north Puerto Rico, west of San Juan.  In a sinkhole they built a 1000ft diameter telescope.  It is very cool to see and learn about. It was built in the 1960’s.  With this telescope they discovered the exact days of rotation of Mercury.  They can make images of Asteroids, meteors, or planets.  They also have someone listening for extra terrestrial life.  The official statement is nothing has been heard, but they are listening.  Pretty cool.  IMG_9793

It was a great field trip, the kids learned a lot.  David and I learned a lot. IMG_9782

Sunday, February 3, 2013

overnighters by ourselves

We have moved the boat twice overnight by ourselves, or without our nanny.  My big concern with an overnight, or even an all day trip on the boat, is the WHAT IF…  what if something goes wrong and David absolutely needs my help—then who’s going to watch the kids—especially Matthew, who can fall of the boat and die.  Savannah is a huge help, but she’s only 10 and I’m not ready to place such a huge responsibility solely on her shoulders. 

So we did out 2 big moves at night. The kids all sleep really well at night, even when the boat is under way, so I knew they would sleep and stay asleep.  We have a gate at the top of the aft stairs, so if that stays closed, then even if Matthew wakes up, he can’t get passed that gate. Another reason to move at night is to take advantage of the land breeze counteracting the sea breeze—which dies at night.  The theory is, the winds die down at night, and with the breeze coming off the land, the waves lessen.  It sound good in theory, but it doesn’t always give us calm conditions. But with the kids asleep I don’t have to worry about them getting seasick, or trying to move around with the boat rolling.  My big problem with all-nighters, are we are getting old—I’ve never done well without a full nights sleep, and now we were adding David without sleep, and no adult to watch the kids while we recover the next day thru napping. 

Our first alone all nighter was moving from Samana to Cap Cana in the Dominican Republic.  It went really well.  We pulled up anchor, put the kids to bed, David went to bed, and I took the first shift. Benjamin joined me for about 45  minutes until he fell asleep in the seat next to me, I am sure that was the effect of the Dramamine.  Off to bed he went. It was a little rough out, so I was glad the kids were all asleep. I don’t have to worry about Matthew trying to walk around while the boat was moving.

A little while later I tried to wake Isabel for her chance to be on watch but I could not get her to wake up.  So when David got up at midnight he woke her up to join him on watch for a bit. Around 2am it was Savannah’s turn for watch—and this was an essential part of our travel plan—to let Savannah have a significant part in night watch.  David used some chair cushions and to lay down on the flybridge and nap while Savannah watched the horizon and listened for the radar alarms.  Every 30-40 minutes David would get up, check the tow lines on the tender, check the radar, check the horizon—or what little we could see, and back to sleep for another nap.  This helped immensely. David was able to get a good amount of sleep.  A couple hours later, Savannah headed back to sleep while David finished his watch. 

I could tell when we turned to head south on the east coast, the waves became beam waves and it was much nicer to travel in.  I got up before sunrise to find David and Calvin on watch.  We had slowed down some because we made such good time we were going to arrive before sunrise.  We hailed the marina on the VHF to let them know we were nearby and to have them explain their channel.  They send out a pilot boat to help guide new boats to the area in their channel.  In our case we needed help with our tender as well.  The pilot boat transferred David from our big boat to the tender, where he unhooked and drove the tender into the marina to tie it up.  Calvin had the responsibility of quickly pulling in the tow lines.  I have to stop the boat and sit in neutral while he is doing this so he is able to pull the line in, and not get any of it wrapped around our props.  He did a great job. 

We did some circles in the deep water waiting for David to come back and help drive the boat in the channel and dock.  I considered driving the boat into the marina and waiting in the inner channel for David to reboard the boat so he could dock it.  But looking at the following waves in the channel, they looked like they were breaking in the channel.  I didn’t want to drive in that.  Following waves tend to push the back of the boat around and have the potential to turn us sideways.  It makes it hard to steer the boat.  So we waited in the deep for David to come back in the pilot boat.  Once he was back on board I prepped the dock lines and the kids got out the fenders for docking.  Once in the channel we could see that the waves break just outside the channel and it’s not as bad as it looks, at least not this morning, but it is a narrow entrance and I was glad to have David driving.

We had several dock hands meet us to help with docking, Pascal, even hopped on board and took over tying the bow up to the pilings for me.  What a great help.  Docking is another time I always need to know Matthew, and Alexander are being watched.  We get so busy and they can be overlooked.  Alexander had been placed in his highchair, safe and sound, and Matthew was eating his breakfast at the table watching a show, the gates were closed so he was safe too.   

Our 2nd overnight adventure was just last week along the south coast of Puerto Rico.  We were trying to make it to the east coast to stay in a marina while Grandpa came for a visit.  We had been moving a few hours in the early mornings.  After seeing that the weather was going to get rougher in the next few days we decided it would be better to move the last 10 hours at one time to get into the marina before the weather worsened.  Again the better time to move is suppose to be at night when the winds are less.  Moving along these two country coasts is difficult because the trade winds come from the east so they blow into you the whole way, which gives you wind and waves on the nose.  It is a tiring way to travel if the wind is really blowing.  So going at night was the better option—kids will sleep, and the weather should be better than during the day.

While I don’t know what it would have been like during the day, it was not very pleasant at night.  But the kids were all asleep, so it was okay.  We left our calm anchorage about 10pm and headed east.  The moon was up so we could see the horizon and water.  Most of the kids had been sick so the only one we let help with night watch this time was Savannah.  She hadn’t caught the others illness yet, and we needed her to help so David could nap during his long shift.  I was able to get a couple of hours of sleep before I got up to check on David.  Savannah had been up for 2 hours and the waves were making her a little sick, so I sent her back to bed and stayed up while David slept a little more. 

Twice during this trip we were approached by the Policia.  About an hour after we left the anchorage, while I was asleep, David said the Policia came out of a nearby port with their light flashing and trailed behind us.  He tried to reach them on the VHF ch 16, but they didn’t respond.  After a while they finally hailed us on Ch 10, which they said is the channel they use.  They should be at least monitoring ch 16, since that is the channel all countries monitor and use for hailing.  Once they reached David, he asked if they spoke English, but not so much.  They asked him to stop the boat.  David declined and said it wasn’t safe.  If he had stopped the boat we would start to roll and turn sideways to the waves and it is not fun.  With the kids all asleep, it was not something we wanted to do.  The stabilizers help to keep us from rolling—but only while engines are in gear.  So stopping wasn’t an option in David’s mind.  They asked him where he was going, and he told them the marina in Palmas Del Mar.  He told them they could meet with us there.  They told him they would watch us thru the night and check on us at the marina.  They followed for awhile and the disappeared.

Again in the morning, about an hour before we reached the marina, the policia came alongside again.  They reached us on the radio and asked where we were going, and again David said the marina.  They followed for a while, and then at about 2 miles away from the marina they went ahead of us into the marina. Once we docked in the marina they came over, with an english speaking officer, and asked us numerous questions.  It felt almost like we had entered a foreign country.  They asked for ID and our boat registration, where we had been, how long we had been in Puerto Rico, where were we coming from, where did we go to clear in with customs, and did we have a clearance number.  We provided them with all the info they asked, they didn’t even board us or search the vessel, but once we answered their questions they went on their way.  I asked the English officer why there was such a big Police presence and they explained there was a new governor that was trying to crack down on the smuggling.  We are happy to see the Police while traveling, especially at  night—it makes us feel like they are close by if we need help—and happy to answer any questions.  We know they are just doing their jobs, and they are doing a good job at it.

So we made it thru 2 overnight trips with out our nanny to help us.  They were successful trips, but tiring. It’s nice to know we can make it if we have to, but I prefer having extra hands on board.  Especially with the new tender, the more hands to help pull it in from towing and help when needed the better.  We feel very blessed with how well things have worked out for us being with out the extra set of hands.  It reminds me that God is watching over all of us.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Regular Life… in Paradise



Most  nights we watch the sun set and its beautiful.  But don’t be jealous, it’s beautiful all over the world.  The weather here is perfect most days, others a little hot and humid.  And when we are anchored off a small quiet island with an beautiful beach, it feels like paradise.  But life for us is almost just like being back home.  We still wake up early to the kids running around, making noise, and often fighting.  We get dressed in regular clothes, eat breakfast, and then it’s school time.  Our kids still whine and complain, and fight with each other.  There is still laundry to wash, dishes to wash, floors to sweep and vacuum, dinner to cook, school work to grade.  It’s just the view outside the window that is different.   Just like at home, I feel lucky to get in a hour here and there of book reading through out the week. 

I saw a sign this week that said “Home is where the boat is”  And I felt like I could relate to that, but really for us, our sign would be “Home is where the family is”. 

This week I was reminded that while we may be living in “paradise”, we are living a regular life, no vacation here.  Each of my kids, except the baby spent the entire week sick.  3 of them had fevers for 5 days, sore throats, and nausea.  The other 2 recovered a little quicker, by a day or 2.  Even in paradise, I have sick kids.  Just like at home.