Saturday, December 31, 2016

December 30, 2016. 18 minutes to San Juan!

LOCATION:  San Juan, Puerto Rico

WEATHER:  Sunny and hot. High about 90  

We said good-bye to Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.  This is our view from our downtown hotel.  

Our homeowner kindly picked us up, bought us some breakfast at a great deli, and dropped us off at the airport.  We had to be there at least 2 hours before the flight, for customs and security. Since it is a small airport (but with lots of flights), the lines get long.  When we took off, we could see the house where we have been staying. Just a few minutes later, we landed in San Juan. These islands are all quite close together.
San Juan is a big city, of about 2 million people.  When we got into our taxi and told the driver our hotel address, he asked "Why would you be staying there? Uh-oh!!  What did he mean?  We found out later that he meant that we were not in the tourist area.  That is fine with us, actually preferable.  We are next to the University of Puerto Rico, but since it is the Christmas holiday, the students are not around.   

We are staying in a modest, but clean and seemingly-safe, mom and pop hotel.  The owner was manning the desk and was super helpful.  She gave us directions to get to Old San Juan, and we were off.  We took the metro to a bus station, and then a bus to OLd San Juan.  We traveled through areas that I'm sure most torusists don't see.  We were the only gringos on the public transportation.  


The fortified city of Old San Juan was built in the 1500s.  We were surprised to learn that it is a national park.

We hiked around the fort, under the burning sun. 

It is a huge fort.  It was restored and used in World War II.  We checked out some of the tunnels used for security...

And saw the bare-bones barracks where the troops slept.  

By then, I was about to faint with heat stroke.  We walked around Old San Juan, full of interesting shops and restaurants.  We looked for a micro-brewery that the tourist office had told us about, but found out 1) it was closed and 2) it was actually a cocktail lounge.  We did find an authentic  "taberna" and cooled down.  It was not air-conditioned, but had good ceiling fans.  I gulped pitchers of water and felt better.

We returned to our hotel, using the bus and train again.  A lady started talking with us in Spanish/English on the bus.  She was intrigued that gringos would be riding the bus and would be staying outside of the tourist area.  She talked and talked, amazed that we like things like beans and rice (she thought only Puerto Rican's would eat that).  She shepherded us through the train station for our transfer, amazed that we could figure it out.  She was so kind!   After cooling off in our blessedly air-conditioned room, we went out for dinner.  We are in kind of a gritty area.  The hotel owner recommended the paella at a nearby restaurant, so we thought we would check that out.  It really reminded us of the  Cuban section of Miami.  Unpretentious from outside, it was quite formal inside.  A whole army of waiters served us.  There seemed to be a pecking order where one would serve, another would watch, and another would check things off in a notebook.  We had "pulpo a la gallega" which is a Galician (Spain) style octopus appetizer.  Everything was in Spanish..  I was delighted.  The waiter warned us that the paella would take 40 minutes to cook (a good sign), and I said that was fine.  We ordered the Valencia style one, which was with fish, seafood, chorizo anc chicken.  The waiter formally served it.

Even though it was supposedly a single serving, we had leftovers after both eating it.  It was a delightful evening.  



Friday, December 30, 2016

December 29, 2016. Saving the best beach for last!

LOCATION:  Last day housesitting in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

WEATHER:  Sunny. Highs in 80s  

We had heard that Coqui Beach is the best beach for snorkeling on the island.  However, it is also the most popular with cruise ship visitors.  We were here last week when we visited Coral World.  We took one look at the beach, chock-a-block with people, and decided to return on another day.

Today, there aren't any cruise ships docked in town, so we strategically returned.  It was almost empty.


First, we watched the pelicans soar and dive for fish, a good sign that we would spot fish while snorkeling...

So, I was off to explore the ocean below....

Wow!  First, I swam through millions of tiny minnows.  It was like swimming through a beaded curtain.

The visibility was super good.  Near the surface were many gar, a needle-mouth type fish.  One was close enough for me to touch. 

I could see the bottom, too, about 20 feet below.  The jack fish were feeding there.

A local had suggested that I bring crackers to feed the fish.  I put a few in a baggie and gave it a try.  I was instantly swarmed by hundreds of fish.  What an amazing experience!

Then, we returned to our house, to wash the car, do the laundry, and clean the house, in preparation for the homeowners' return.  We checked in to our hotel downtown where we will stay tonight as the house only has one bedroom.  We picked up the homeowners from the airport, then they dropped us off in Frenchtown.  We went to a popular pizza place. It was quite busy, even at 8:00.  After a while, we realized something was amiss, and it appeared that they had lost our order. After waiting more than an hour and seeing others being served, we asked about ours.  The manager was apologetic, and promised to take care of us.  An hour later, we got our pizza (free) along with a free round of drinks.  George drank one of the local brewery's lagers called "86 and Sunny".  Cute name and very descriptive! We walked along the waterfront to our hotel, and immediately went to sleep.  

Thursday, December 29, 2016

December 28, 2016. Another day, another St. Thomas beach!

LOCATION:  House-sitting in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

WEATHER:  Mostly sunny.  High around 90  

The couple renting the Air B&B downstairs recommended a different beach.  They had spotted lots of interesting fish and beautiful coral, and described it as pristine.

So, after morning chores, we headed there.  It was pleasantly quiet.  We were able to get a picnic table under a sea grape tree with good shade.
We had the area mostly to ourselves.

Unfortunately, I did not have good luck snorkeling. I swam all the way from our section of the beach to the far end, searching for fish.  

I finally found the coral, but only a few fish.  It was quite windy, so I had a good workout swimming against the waves.  We watched these workers sweep up seaweed on the beach.  Job security.....I'm sure the seaweed returns each morning.    

A nearby resort offers lots of water sports, so we watched people parasailing and jet-skiing.  

We swam and relaxed for about 2 hours.  This park has a nice bathroom facility so we were able to wash off the salt water before we left.  

On our way back across the island, we realized that all the traffic lights were out.  Normally the traffic is crazy, and it was even scarier without the lights.  We had planned to eat lunch at a nice Mexican place where our homeowners had taken us our first day. We encountered darkness when we arrived, as their electricity was out, too.  As we were contemplating Plan B, the lights came back on, and we had a nice burrito bowl lunch there.


A big iguana lives in the yard next to us.  We have seen him on the neighbor's roof.  Today, as we returned to our complex, the iguana was just sitting in the road.  We didn't want to run over him.  George honked the horn and got the tires close to him,  but he wouldn't budge.  Finally, I got out of the car and gently nudged him with my foot, and he skittered away.

  DINNER:  Being our last night here, it was time for leftovers.  Omelettes are great for that.  I added bits of everything we have left....shrimp, onions, garlic, green pepper, and cheese.  Quite good, and a resulting empty refrigerator!  

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December 27, 2016. Famous St. Thomas beach

LOCATION:  House-sitting in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

WEATHER:  Mostly sunny,  Highs about 90


St. Thomas has lots of different beach areas, and it is fun to explore different ones.  Today we went to one of the most famous ones called Megan's Bay. This is the view from above, where we saw it last week from Mountain Top (home of the world famous banana daiquiri)

Before we got to the beach, we stopped for lunch at a resort restaurant that had been recommended.  The view from the restaurant of the bay was really pretty, too.  The yacht in the distance is humongous.

We had a nice lunch.  Burgers were half off, so we split one.  We haven't had a burger and fries for months.  Yummy but fattening.  We luxuriated next to the pool.

Then, we headed down to the beach.  It was pretty busy with cruise ship visitors.  (You can spot them because of the "Carnival Cruise Line", etc beach towels that they have purloined.)


George is just a "chic magnet" for these  cute beach waitresses.  Even though we were in some type of municipal park, there was a bar with beach girls fetching drinks for folks.

A two-fisted drinker!  

As George checked out the girls, I couldn't help but notice a guy in an absolutely awful swimsuit that looked like this.  

His friends were teasing him about it.  Others just gawked.


Back home, we Skyped with a couple in Italy for a potential housesit.  Hope it works out ! 


DINNER:  Cold Asian noodle salad with leftover scallops. Refreshing!  



Tuesday, December 27, 2016

December 26, 2016. Sting-ray encounter!!

LOCATION:  House-sitting in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

WEATHER:  Mostly sunny.  Highs in 80s  

From our deck during morning coffee, we watched three huge cruise ships sail into the marina below us.  Some of these ships hold 3000 passengers!  One local guy told me that last year at Christmas, there were 7 of these here at once.  It is sort of a love/hate relationship.....the ships bring in revenue, but create terrible traffic and spoil beaches, etc for the locals.

From our deck on a clear day, you can see St. Croix (another one of the US Virgin Islands) and part of Puerto Rico.  I hadn't realized how close they all are.  The cruise ships go pretty slowly between islands due to their proximity.

We met our new downstairs renter.  He has his whole week planned out with activities.  We are much more laid-back.  Today we just hung out here until it cooled off at about 3:00.  We then returned to our favorite beach, the one with not too many people.

  George doesn't like to snorkel much, but I could swim around with my goggles for hours, gazing at all the fish and sea life.  I was starting to get a little disappointed in not seeing much when a HUGE stingray appeared right in front of me!  With heart palpitations, I got out of there fast!  This is what it looked like....

Later, when I went back to snorkel some more, I found a large sea turtle and followed him for a long time.  Lots of fish, too.

On our way home, we stopped at this cemetery.  They stack up the coffins above ground.
This is a new one.  Instead of "date of birth" and "date of death" it says "sunrise" and "sunset".
 Speaking of sunsets, we watched a pretty one this evening from our deck.  

DINNER:  We still have a large bag of frozen shrimp to get through so......shrimp cocktail followed by shrimp in pasta with feta cheese and artichoke hearts.  


Monday, December 26, 2016

December 25, 2016. Christmas on the beach!

LOCATION:  Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

WEATHER:  Mostly sunny. Highs about 90  

A Christmas tradition for us is to eat a big egg-bake for breakfast.  Here, we had to substitute a bit, so George made a nice (smallish) omelette instead.

We dressed Teddy, the dog we are caring for, in his Christmas kerchief for photos to send to the owners.


He is really a cute dog.   No gifts to open, as we absolutely cannot carry anything else around.  I had considered buying George a fishing trip ticket, but the charters are super expensive.  So, we just enjoyed our bit of paradise here.   


In the afternoon, we returned to one of our favorite beaches, Secret Harbor.  It is a resort that allows non-guests access to their beach. It is set up nicely with beach chairs, a shower, and a bar/restaurant.
The beach was pretty busy with lots of young people throwing Frisbees, etc.
Here I am relaxing in a bit of shade under a beach umbrella....

George ordered drinks and this cute bikini-clad waitress delivered them.  She waded deep in the water to deliver beers to some young people quite a way from the shore.

A happy guy!  

Back home, we prepared Christmas dinner.  Our plan was to grill scallops on the BBQ.  However, they were too small, and started falling through.  So, I wrapped them in foil, added a bit of bacon, and cooked them that way. Yummy!  Served with a stuffed baked potato.


We relaxed watching a "I Love Lucy" old Christmas special.  

Merry Christmas to all!


Sunday, December 25, 2016

December 24, a day at Coral World

LOCATION:  House-sitting in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

WEATHER:  The same as most days...mostly sunny. Highs around 90


It rained during the night, and the power went off, which is not unusual here.   Consequently, the homeowners have a generator which turned on automatically.  We awoke to this beautiful rainbow as seen from our deck..

Our destination today was Coral World, which had been recommended by several people.  It is a type of Sea World, on a very small scale.  Admission price is reasonable, but there are lots of add-ons like "swim with the sharks or sea lions", turtle-petting, etc. that are super expensive.  That did not seem to deter others.  We went with the standard admission.


The first thing we saw were beautiful lorikeets.  We haven't seen many tropical birds on the island, except these.
Next up was an underwater observation room where we could see fish freely swimming in the sea, as if we were swimming about 15 feet below the surface.  

We could see coral and many beautiful fish.

Some were quite large

It was a little disconcerting to see the snuba (cross between snorkel and scuba) divers waving to us on the other side of the glass.

In another area, we saw bigger fish, like this tarpon.  This was the view that I had actually seen live yesterday when I was snorkeling.  They are BIG!

As we finished our tour, we stopped at the cafe area where signs were posted not to feed the iguana.  Of course, the iguana were swarming around tables waiting for treats.

They were hoping for a morsel from George.

There is a beach nearby where the snorkeling is supposed to be terrific.  However, today is a cruise ship day and the beach was a madhouse.  We will return on another day, hopefully when it is less croweded.


In the late afternoon, we went to a nice wine bar for happy hour.  It features an Austrian menu and good wines.  Who would have thought?  We sat next to a local.  He is an attorney, and a fellow Rotarian.  We had a nice, very refined conversation.    

DINNER:  Soft tacos with blackened shrimp.  Black beans and rice on the side.  We bought a big bag of frozen shrimp last week and I am trying different ways to use it up!  A nice Christmas Eve dinner.

After dinner we watched a Anthony Bordaine marathon on TV.