The 2-Year Nomad | On the Move in 2016

Two years ago, we had an epic year. I wrote this post to explain that we were going on a camping trip of Gaspesie, going to explore the great state of Wisconsin for one month, go on my South Dakota safari at Jordan’s parents’ place, “move” to northern Argentina for three months and use it as a base for exploration, and finally move to Vancouver (the post in which a person told me that blind dates aren’t scary, but my style of writing is, ha). We even ended up spending nearly two weeks in California at the end of the year. Compared to many, I know it’s peanuts. But for me, it’s the kind of whirlwind six months that makes me energized about life and reminds me how much I have/want to learn about this planet!

parc national de la gaspesie mont jacques cartier

4th of july meal wisconsin

san luis argentina hike

lost coast trinidad california

And then, somewhere along the line, Vancouver started to feel a little bit like home, just as Montreal had before the previous whirlwind. We’ve found “our” spots, created our routines and found our favorite activities.

vancouver harbor

But alas, our time in Vancouver is now coming to an end.

Though we’ve been told never to mention deadlines to PhD students/candidates, one has been set. Jordan has accepted a job offer, and therefore needed to set a clear submission deadline for his dissertation. This, naturally, has set things into motion again.

Backing up a bit, though, we we’re making some plans even before our next official life step came into being.

At the end of this week, we’re boarding a plane to Prague. (Eek!) Jordan is attending a conference for the first week, but post-conference, we’ll be continuing on for three more weeks on the Continent, flying out of Madrid. For him, it’s still a working vacation, as he plans to spend quite a bit of time writing, editing, and analyzing, and even has a couple meetings set up. But hey, that’s what cafes and cute Airbnb stops are for, right?

heart coffee portland

Me? I’m planning to hit up the markets, cook with what I find in the evenings, and soak in as much architecture and art as possible.

knoxville.farmers.market

After returning, we’ll have just over another month in Vancouver to soak in all of the great summer days this city has to offer. People, I know you think that it’s only rain in Vancouver all the time. I’m not sure how this city gets away with that reputation when the summers are as nice as they are.

vancouver seawall

Mid-July, we’re shipping out to Puerto Rico for Jordan’s sister’s wedding for a week and a half, splitting our time between Old San Juan and Vieques, a smaller island not far from the main island. We’re very much looking forward to seeing everyone while there and sneaking in a bit of snorkeling!

caracas beach vieques

Then, we return to Vancouver for one final month or two, until Jordan submits that final draft sometime in August.

Here’s where Jordan’s new supervisor is already gaining points with me 🙂 He wouldn’t even let Jordan start right away, but instead told him he had to at least take a few weeks before starting. And so we’re going to Asia. The details are still very uncertain at this point, but we know we’re going to China, and probably Vietnam and Indonesia, depending upon time.

Chinese Lanterns at Shop

Finally, Jordan will head back stateside and start that job in October. I’ll hang out somewhere until he returns to meet me for another conference in Beijing. Together, we’ll return to the next place we’ll call home, the great city of Boston, just before the start of November.

For the first time in a few moves, we’re moving to a city that both of us have actually visited before, which is a nice feeling.

boston lobster

Thinking about the year we have coming up, I alternate between freak outs of bliss and freak outs brought on by the logistical nightmares we’ll have to try and tackle. It’ll be quite a ride. I’m thankful for all of our opportunities to come, sadder than I thought I’d be to leave Vancouver (how does that happen each and every time we leave a place??), and very much looking forward to having photos are stories to e-journal here for you.

Thanks for reading and thanks for following along through all of life’s surprises.

south and central american road trip

On the Island of Vieques

sunset on beach with palm trees

black beach vieques

That photo above? Yeah, that’s what I like to call a Fraulein Maria moment. Something that makes you stop and think, “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.”

That’s how a trip to Vieques feels.

vieques beach

Vieques is an hour and a half ferry ride from the city of Fajardo. The cost of the ferry is something like two or three dollars per person. If traveling on a busy weekend and need to catch a specific ferry for the day, you will want to arrive early, to be sure you secure yourself a ticket. This is also the same place you’d catch the ferry to Culebra, a different island (which I have yet to visit!). If you struggle with seasickness, you could also take a short flight for around $30.

According to the Internet,* Vieques is located 8  miles east of the main island of Puerto Rico, has a local population of 9,301, and thrives on tourism. Logical, since it’s beautiful. You can spend your days beach-hopping, snorkelling, and sampling delicious fried food (try not to feel too guilty about it while you’re there, okay?). There’s also a bioluminescent bay, which we must return for. The island was also home to the former U.S. navy base, leaving parts of the island looking a bit like a scene out of Lost, bunkers and all.

There are two main towns on the island. The first you’ll see is Isabel II. (The other is Esperanza. Those photos are at the end). To travel freely around the island, it’s convenient to rent a jeep. You might think they rent jeeps simply so that you feel cool, but you actually need them to access certain beaches and areas.

isabella II

isabella ii

A sight for sore eyes, huh? We stayed here, at Tropical Guest House. The rooms were clean and the breakfast was cheap, but the friendly staff is what makes the place special.

vieques guest house

vieques

After checking into the hotel, we decided to grab something to eat at El Resuelve and then start our afternoon of beach-hopping.

vieques food

The beach-hopping was a little harder than we bargained for. I mean, who really wants to say goodbye to a beach like this:

caracas beach vieques

caracas beach vieques

Yes, that’s me wearing a shirt on the beach. Uh, I live in Montreal and it’s winter here. I’m not asking for a burn. I did lose the shirt for a while, okay?

caracas beach vieques

Oh, hey there, Jordan…

caracas beach vieques

Oh, hey there, super white sand…

caracas beach vieques

Because we’re suckers for large waves, we headed over to the rougher side of the beach. I was definitely taken out more than once by forces of nature.

caracas beach vieques

caracas beach vieques

Once the guys also tired of wave jumping/falling, they set to work. Serge has a [top-secret] contraption that he uses to engage in a hobby which Jordan [geekily…sorry, pal] referred to as the “original form of remote sensing.”

A kite with a camera. The results are impressive.

This go ’round, there was a hitch. From the other side of the beach, we saw the kite sink into the tree line. Oops! Look closely at this tree. Really closely.

caracas beach vieques

There is a person in there. Serge had to scale the tree to untangle his kite and the camera.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a little confused about what was happening. Nora and I were convinced that there was a fine on the horizon for the coconuts which happened to, um, fall out of the tree while Serge was untangling things.

caracas beach vieques

They were a little too green to be too tasty, but was still a nice treat later in the afternoon.

Turns out, the park ranger was more curious as to why it looked like these two tourists were “fishing in the wrong direction.” Kite line looks an awful lot like fishing line, I guess.

The kite lived to fly again.

caracas beach vieques

After packing up here, we headed toward La Playa Negra, or the Black Beach, which was recommended by the woman working at reception at the TGH.

It takes a wee bit of hiking to reach the beach, but it is worth it. The trail is not difficult (actual a stream bed), but you might struggle avoiding gifts from the free-roaming horses along the path.

vieques horses

They could maybe use a nice brushing, but hey, they’re wild.

black beach vieques

After about ten minutes of strolling, you’ll start to see some of that sea again.

black beach vieques

So, at first, when looking left, it only looks like there are black streaks for sand.

black beach vieques

But then you walk to the right.

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

I was busy doing a bit of sandcastle pirate flag building.

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

It wipes off just like sand, I promise.

black beach vieques

While at this beach, we only came across about four other people. By the time the sunset came, we were on our own. It’s worth re-posting…

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

The sun on one side, the moon on the other…

black beach vieques

black beach vieques

In the evening, we ate at La Gran Parada. I had the mero, which I now know means grouper. (The French word is similar also, so now I know it in two languages). I enjoyed my meal, but the coconut sauce was a bit sweet by the end. Good meal, though, and cheaper than some other options in the island.

The next day, we woke early, enjoyed breakfast at the TGH, and then headed by the lagoons, snapping photos of mangroves for JLong, and then stopped for some snorkelling at Punta Arenas.

vieques jeep

vieques mangroves

vieques mangroves

Again, there were not many people at the beach, but there were a few critters on the look out for tourists. I snapped a couple photos of plants before heading to the access point.

vieques

Check this out!

vieques orchid

Thankfully, we had three snorkelling masks, so with a rotation, all of us were able to do some exploration. Jordan and I are definitely newbies when it comes to viewing underwater nature, so when we even small fish at the very beginning, we were content. Our companions were a bit more experienced, though, knowing what to look for and where to look for them.

black beach vieques

vieques

We saw large schools of fish and even a sting ray. Ahh!

Before leaving, we ventured toward Esperanza for some beach food. And I couldn’t resist snapping just a few more photos.

vieuqes

vieques

vieques

We had to face reality and head toward the ferry for the return trip. We were a bit early, so strolled again in the streets of Isabel II.

vieques

You know, Jordan and I had talked about how neither of us were really “lay on the beach” kinds of travellers. I like museums, hiking, food travel, architecture, etc. But I think we’re slowly converting.

The idea of scuba diving still kind of creeps me out, but even seeing what lurks beneath the surface with a snorkelling mask is quite impressive. I also find it fun to take photos when the scenery is begging to be photographed.

So, while we’re still not lounge on the beach while tanning and sipping umbrella drinks kind of people (okay, if you forced me to drink something delicious with rum in it, I might acquiesce), I am definitely not opposed to vacation filled with enjoying an easy read to the sound of the waves, snorkelling, taking photos, drinking coconut water for a fraction of the supermarket price, or even flying kites.

Beaches aren’t so bad, really.

vieques

*************

*The Internet being the Wikipedia page for Vieques.

Puerto Rico, Take 2

Remember when I went to San Juan at the end of 2012? Golly, it was lovely. So when Jordan found himself taking a quick trip there earlier this month, I was more than happy to let him search for an affordable ticket for his wife. And find it he did. Faced with the decision of spending seven days in snow-covered Montreal with no regular-session classes at work (classes resume this week) or spending seven days wandering in 75 degree weather in the Caribbean, I made the obvious choice.

san juan 2014

We flew into San Juan in the evening and were greeted by a friendly, familiar face. We were taxied to our friend’s place. We were greeted with pizza and Medalla [the local brew]. This friend, by the way, is the kind of friend that everyone should have. She might get sick of us, but if she does, she doesn’t show it. I promise that we don’t take your hospitality for granted, Nora!

old san juan

The next couple days, along with the following week’s weekdays, Jordan went to university to work, discuss, you know, whatever it is that they do there. I made a point to explore on my own. I managed the train and the bus system. Funny how I still feel like this is a huge accomplishment every time I do this in a new city. Of course, at the first opportunity, I returned to Old San Juan, which I so adored photographing. I snacked on a mallorca, which is a Puerto Rican pastry that is sure to leave you covered in powdered sugar, and sipped on coffee in the plaza. I also headed to the Café Poetico for an afternoon stout. I learned a bit more about Puerto Rican history this time than last, thanks to the Museo de las Americas and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Both are super worth the small admission fees. I also made a stop for a bit of tortilla and a very indulgent dessert at Kasalta.

san juan 2014 san pedro's cafe

Monday and Tuesday, I mostly drank more caffeine, read near the pool or the beach. I did visit the same cafe twice in one day: Hacienda San Pedro. I flipped when I saw the prices. The coffee was so good and so affordable. Tourists, please stop paying three times the price for sub-par coffee drinks at that chain you’re oh-too-familiar with. I also took a guided stroll near the university, as Serge [Nora’s s.o.] led me to a few places with wonderful street art. San Juan is teeming with it. [More of it at the end of the post]

san juan street art

As always, hope you enjoy the photos 😀

san juan 2014

san juan 2014

san juan 2014

san juan 2014

old san juan 2014

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan 2014 museo de las americas

san juan street art

puerto rico street art

san juan street art

We fled the main island on the weekend, heading for Vieques. Those photos are too plentiful and beautiful to add into this post. I’ll be sure to post soon enough, I promise.

Old San Juan in Photos (Part II)

In case you missed Part I, go take a look.  As promised, I’m sharing the rest of my photos today. You’ll notice throughout the photos that many of them are from the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista and Iglesia San Francisco de Asis.

 

And finished! We had a great time, obviously. It was such a great experience to be in a unique cultural environment, friendly faces, and warm weather! We’re definitely missing the beach and the weather now that we’re back in Montreal. Thanks to all the people we met for making our stay great.

Tomorrow, the blog returns to Montreal, I swear.

 

 

Please pass the plantains: Eating in Puerto Rico

Hey friends! I’m still excited to share the rest of my architecture photos with you, but I thought I’d break them up with a post about our food experiences in Puerto Rico. I’m sandwiching the food post, if you will.  (And you will, because you love my puns, right?)

Of course, this list is not an exhaustive list of Puerto Rico’s culinary delights or even an exhaustive list of what we ate while there.  Still, I think it will give you a good idea of the fun we had while finding new foods and introduce you briefly to Puerto Rican food if it’s new to you.

1. Old San Juan

There are oodles and oodles of restaurants here. They can be overpriced, as they cater to tourists. But as they cater to tourists, they’ll respond to crazy tourist requests such as “vegetarian mofongo.” And the romantic setting of Old San Juan is worth it.

We ate at a restaurant called Inaru. The prices were a little high for what we were looking for, but the service was great, and they didn’t bat an eye when I wanted no meat in my meal. My mofongo (a very traditional Puerto Rican food molded from plantains) was served with an extra garlic flavor to compensate for a lack of pork. Jordan had a goat stew which he loved, and Nora had ceviche with tostones. I need to find a place in Montreal that serves tostones (also made with plantains).

2. Coffee

Puerto Rico is known for good coffee. Good, strong, and local. I recommend Cafe Cuatro Sombras in Old San Juan. (Great vegetarian sandwich options too). I also spent a peaceful and productive morning at Tertulia Cafe and bookstore near the University of Puerto Rico sipping a great and very cheap cafe con leche.

3. Guavate’s Pork Highway

This highway was a stretch of food, festival, forest, and music. The drive and the experiences are fun, but the real reason people come is for the pork. A trip to satisfy Jordan’s craving, I suppose. While you can find plenty about  Guavate online, the tourists were very limited in this area. We stopped at a loud joint, listened to the karaoke-like show, and ate some good food. Jordan assures me the pork was amazing. It probably was, the smell was a bit tempting. The sweet potato (a white one, though), the baked plantain and rice was good too. But just being there was an experience.

(Favorite photo of myself during the trip!)

4. Beach Food

How is it that lying on the beach works up an appetite? But it does.  Go eat some beach food. A nice light beer (which in Puerto Rico equals Medalla) with something fried.

Remember these folks?

Like all other fried cheese I’ve had, the cheese was delicious.  I didn’t enjoy the guava sauce I had.  But I’m told that in Brazil a sandwich with guava and cheese is called a Romeo and Juliette, because the combination is meant for one another.  I called it a tragedy.

Also, when near a beach, have a coconut. Don’t pay three dollars like we did! You can get them for one in non-touristy areas.

 5. Piñones y Loiza

This is where the ultimate beach food comes from. Again, a very popular place, but didn’t find many tourists. There are many different food vendors to try, all selling something fried and I can only assume delicious. The long stretch of beach is just across the road, where you could eat your culinary delights if it’s not too hot.

I parted ways with vegetariansism in the name of cultural experience this day. I am forever flexitarian, I suppose. (Dany, if you read, sorry!)

6.Treats

There are a few random things I really enjoyed trying while in Puerto Rico as well. First, it’s a rite of passage to have a rum drink or two in the Caribbean. Enter the mojito. Also, caipirinhas are a nice non-rum option.

And you’ve already seen the photo, but limbers are frozen juices that you can buy for about a dollar each when you need a frozen treat. I had passion fruit, Jordan had an orange creme (side note: oranges are called “chinas” in Puerto Rico). Finally, there are plenty of pastries to be eaten.  A classic comes with cream cheese, providing the salty/sweet combination. On one of our last nights in San Juan, Nora came home with a pastry and a Malta India for each of us. A Malta India is an actual barley pop. It’s non-alcoholic, and apparently a very common treat for young children. I think I enjoyed it much more than Jordan.  I think maybe it’s an acquired taste 🙂

 

Of course, another real treat is eating fresh tropical fruit.  Be sure to have some bananas, papaya, pineapple , or anything else that doesn’t grow where you live.

As always, eating was our favorite vacationing activity. I hope to try and recreate some of our favorites at home, if possible.

I’ll be back tomorrow to finish up the Puerto Rico recaps. Hope you have been enjoying them.

 

 

Old San Juan in Photos

Let me start by saying that Old San Juan is an amateur photographer’s dream. The architecture is alluring, the colors enticing, and the people forgiving.  Unlike places such as NYC or even Montreal, locals do not seem to be bothered by tourists snapping a few photos from the sidewalk. Also, the weather makes it easy to stroll along, looking for your favorite angle.

I spent an afternoon and a morning in Old San Juan. Thankfully, Jordan is used to my slow, picture-snapping meandering, and Nora takes photos herself so understands my need to snap away. I’m presenting the photos with limited commentary, but if you have any questions about what’s in the pics, I’ll be glad to answer.

Okay, so I thought about putting all the photos into one post, but this computer is too slow, the photos are too plentiful, and my patience too thin.  So I’m splitting into two posts. For our sanity.  See you soon with the remainder. A good week to you all.

 


El Yunque National Forest

Ahhh…beautiful, isn’t it?

Well, it might make sense to start sharing more of my Puerto Rico photos in chronological order, but after talking about the sounds of the rainforest, I thought it might be nice to see some more photos of it.  Also, there are a few group photos which will be fun to share.

El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System. And it’s a short (about an hour or so) drive from San Juan.  We were lucky enough to hitch a ride with some of the people studying/working in the lab that Jordan was visiting.  We had excellent tour guides. Always nice to hike with those studying biology, forestry, and the environment.

When entering the park, we stopped for a photo op by some intense bamboo.  The rain came down as the sun was shining, resulting in some beautiful streams of light which someone referred to as one of “nature’s miracles.”

Not far from this, we stopped near Cascada La Coca (La Coca Falls).

Yes, Jordan’s a lucky guy. Left to right: Me, Nora (from Puerto Rico–our gracious host  for the trip), Jordan, Patricia (from Colombia), and Luisa (from Brazil).

We did an out and back hike from Mt Britton Trailhead parking area to the end of Las Picachos Trail. Until Mt. Britton tower, the trail was paved, and relatively easy, but a bit steep from time to time. We fought the rain (expected in a rain forest), but stopped under some of the shelters located along the trail. The trail was rockier after Mt. Britton, but not too difficult overall.

orange flower

White Tower El Yunque

Check out the buttress roots on these trees! (middle photo below)

The fog/smoke monsters/rain rolled over us.  Our view was completely obscured at one point.

By the time we headed to the next tower, we had a bit more of a view.

The trees, flora, and animals are of course completely different to the trails in GSMNP, but being out on the trail made me feel awfully nostalgic for the weekend hikes we went on in Knoxville.  Don’t get me wrong, the city of Montreal is lovely, but country air, whether it be in the rainforest or hardwood forest, is to be cherished.