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December 6, 2011

Puerto Rico 2011 Day 1: LA to San Juan

Tuesday December 6, 2011
Similar to Argentina, it was time for another work trip, but this time to Puerto Rico. Very excited as this is my first time in the Caribbean!

Daniel and I woke up at the ungodly hour of 4AM in order for me to get to LAX early enough for my 715 flight to DFW. As I got up in the morning my stomach was not feeling too good, and I was hoping that before I left the apartment, it would take care of itself. In a half asleep stupor, we finally hit the road. Of course two minutes outside the complex, my stomach decided it was going to go into overdrive. Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make it to LAX. Thankfully, there was not much traffic, and we made it to LAX about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. This allowed me to have some quality time before I went through security and boarded the plane. Luckily, everything returned to normal failrly quickly and after risking eating a plain bagel, I was all set to board. I lucked out in finding the cheap botled water vending machine so I only paid $1.50 instead of $3.00 for a 20oz.

The flight to DFW was very pleasant. Just a bit of turbulence owing to the high winds over the western US, but once we climbed to a higher altitude, things smoothed out. I was very happy there was no middle seat occupant so I got to stretch out. We cruised into DFW about 10 minutes early which gave me ample time to grab a snack and then walk to my gate. Perhaps I was a little too leisurely in my stroll since they were almost done boarding by the time I arrived at the gate.

The plane was packed, but my row mates didn’t show up until the last minute. Of course they had a small child, but they were very nice and the child was mostly well behaved after we took off. There was another small child right behind us, so when I started to watch movies on my iPad, I had to turn the volume way up. In honor of it’s 20th Anniversary, I watched Star Trek VI and made it part of the way through Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Before long, the 4 hour flight was over. I do feel a bit congested, so I am wondering if I have a head cold or something. Good thing I brought the Emergen-C! Puerto Rico was very nice and balmy when we landed. I was able to get my bag after a bit of a wait, but thankfully the taxi stand was close. A quick 15 minute ride later and I was at the La Concha Resort. Mom and Chantel met me in the lobby. I took my things upstairs, and then headed down to the boardroom which is our hub for the conference.

I was hungry so I attempted to eat some Wendy’s (really not the best thing, but I was starving) and then we headed to the Walgreens down the street to get some water and other supplies for the week. Chantel informed me that the main street is pretty safe, but apparently you shouldn’t wander too far away unless you are in a cab.

We went back to the boardroom and hung out for the next couple of hours, and then finally headed to bed at 130am local time. I was tired, but managed to unpack my clothes and get settled in my uber-swanky suite.

Looks like the next few days will be all prep for the meeting so hoping to get out and see the city at some point!

December 7, 2011

Puerto Rico 2011 Day 2: Meeting Prep

Wednesday December 7, 2011
Today we spent the entire day in preparation for the big meeting. The funny thing about working in a room that only has partial exposure to the elements, is you really lose all track of time. We got a lot accomplished as we get ready for tomorrow when all of the doctors and venders show up. I think we have narrowed down our fun plans for Sunday and Monday, but still are not 100% sure where we will end up.

The higlight of the day was when Mom and I had a nice lunch to ourselves outside of the hotel in the breezeway. The wind has been gusty and the seas have been choppy the entire time we have been here, and as we were eating, the wind started to pick up. Our waiter even brought our food out while walking backwards so it would not get blown off the plate. As we were eating, Mom had to fight with her salad, as the wind turned the lettuce leaves into little flags that kept flapping at her face. It was pretty hysterical!

The rest of the day was back in our room sorting out odds and ends. For dinner, we ate at the hotel Italian Restaurant called Voga, which features home made pasta that they make in the lobby down from the stairs that lead to the reataurant. It was the same place we had the buffet breakfast in the morning and as Mom pointed out, looks completely different ambience and color wise from the AM. I enjoyed the Chicken Parmesean which was great and I even had a little bit of leftovers to go im my fridge in my room.

Not a lot of photos today, but I did manage to get a shot of me on the beach which I will upload soon.

Tomorrow promises to be more of the same, with the real action coming this weekend.

December 8, 2011

Puerto Rico 2011 Day 3: Meeting Prep

Thursday December 8, 2011
Just like yesterday, we spent the entire day getting ready for the meeting. Today was when the ballrooms had to be set up so I spent the majority of time going back and forth between our command center and upstairs. I had Subway from across the street for lunch which was not very good at all.

Today was also the first day I started to feel under the weather. I had been sort of “off” since I arrived in Puerto Rico, which I associated with jet lag. Now, I feel like I am coming down with a cold or something. At any rate, it certainly affected my energy the whole day.

By the time dinner rolled around, I was happy to eat, but had zero energy for anything else. We had a bunch of tapas at the pool restaurant and I also had some Churrasco Steak which was pretty good.

After dinner, we went back and made sure we were ready to go first thing in the morning. I decided to head up to bed as soon as I could to try and get some rest.

December 9, 2011

Puerto Rico 2011 Day 4: Sick in San Juan

Friday December 9, 2011
Woke up today with an amazingly sore throat. It was the first day of the meeting so I was up early. Thankfully, I had gone to bed early, and despite the fact I tossed and turned most of the night, I wasn’t too tired in the AM. We got everything set up and ready to go. As soon as the little gift shop was open, I got myself some throat lozenges to try and help. They were not very helpful, but it was better than nothing.
During the sessions, I was able to use my iPhone to record some comments by the doctors that we will use to promote the conference. It was nice to feel productive with my gadgets.

The conference went very smoothly and the doctors all seemed very pleased. As soon as it got a bit slow after lunch, I went upstairs to relax and ended up sleeping for a few hours. My throat was in full red alert, so I started adding some Sprite to the mix to soothe it. While I was upstairs, I checked and it looks like my tonsils were swollen – yay tonsillitis! At least there are a lot of doctors around if things go horribly wrong..

At the end of the day, we had a reception for all the doctors with some great food. It was a nice way to end a long day! After we wrapped everything up by playing YouTube roulette, I headed upstairs to take some Excedrin and another Emergen-C. I felt a bit feverish, so hoping that by turning off the AC I will help my throat relax and recover.

December 10, 2011

Puerto Rico 2011 Day 5: Old Town Dinner

Saturday December 10, 2011
I started this morning uploading some videos that I had taken on the first day of the meeting. It took some time to edit them on the iPhone and then submit them to YouTube. One of them required some editing, so I decided to spend the last $5 of my gift card and use it on iMovie for the iPhone. It actually was a pretty basic editor, but by using the in camera edit and iMovie, I was able to get the change I needed accomplished. Several hours later, I wandered down to the meeting and finished out the day helping as much as I could. I was feeling a little better today but still was on the drained side.

After a lot of hours of work, the day was finally over and the conference came to an end. I decided to change and take a power nap upstairs before heading back down to see what was left to be done. Once everything was wrapped up, everyone else changed and we headed into Old Town San Juan. I was happy to finally get out of the hotel after so many days and hours inside.

Old San Juan was hopping with action compared to the Condado section. We headed to dinner at Barrachina, the so called place where they invented the Pina Colada. The food was pretty good, we got a sampler appetizer tray that everyone enjoyed. I was only brave enough to enjoy the fried Cod (basically fish fingers). My filet was a bit off for me, but was still nice to have a steak. It was bacon wrapped which I think was the culprit is setting my stomach lurching again.

We decided to walk around for a bit and before too long, we were ready to leave. Not wanting to catch a taxi in the heavy traffic area, we cut through a back street to get to another square. Unfortunately, just behind the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, Mom stumbled on some loose asphalt and scraped up her knees pretty bad. We got her back up and she was shook up, but managed to get one of the big taxi vans nearby and were able to get her back to the hotel where we could wash the wounds and get her relaxed and comfortable. It was a downer to end the day, but hopefully she recovers with no issues.

Not sure what the plan for tomorrow is, but we want to rent a car and get to the Aricenbo Observatory, but we will play it by ear and see how Mom feels in the AM.

December 11, 2011

Puerto Rico 2011 Day 6: Castillo Explorations

Sunday December 11, 2011
For the first time since arriving in Puerto Rico, I slept in late. It felt so good, and I think really helped me on my way to recovering from the bad sore throat I suffered through all week. Today was the day I gave up my suite and moved in with Mom and Gary. It was perfect since we would be out and about, and since they were on the ocean side of the hotel, I would no longer have to hear the parties until 5am. So all packed up, I moved my stuff into their room and then Gary, Mom, Shirley, and John headed down to the San Juan Marriott Resort to get some lunch and try and rent a car.

Lunch was great, tho a bit overpriced, and the view was awesome. The SJ Marriott has a much better beach than the La Concha Resort. Gary and John attempted to secure the car after lunch and it was then that I realized I missed the fact that the Aricebo Observatory was closed on Monday and Tuesday. That left us 15 minutes to get a car to make the drive out there. Turns out there were no rental cars available which meant no Gorn at the Aricebo Observatory photo. I was majorly bummed, but at least now I have something to see if I ever make it back to Puerto Rico.

We walked back to La Concha and worked with the reservation desk to get a car for tomorrow. This way, we can all drive out to the rainforest and possibly do some zipline action. So we could accomplish something today, we piled into a cab and headed to Old San Juan again to visit the two Forts that guard the city – Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (or “El Morro”), both which are part of the San Juan National Historic Site. Traffic was pretty heavy getting there. Mom decided to sit it out and read at the Entrance area to San Cristobal which was our first stop. Gary, Shirley, John, and I hiked over and under the fort and took tons of photos.

Following the outer wall, we headed over to El Morro. Along the way, we took photos of the historic Cemetario Maria Magdalena de Pazzis and the expansive park in front of El Morro. The park was going to host a Yanni concert the following week, and some of us were more excied than others. (I was in the ho-hum section). Gary and Mom decided to relax on a bench, and John, Shirley, and I headed into El Morro. It was $5 to visit both fortresses, and was well worth it. The lower levels of El Morro were full of great photo ops, and we all took full advantage. We spent about an hour wandering around before we all met back up at entrance to the park and then after a short walk, caught a cab back to our hotel. It was an arduous trek back as traffic was worse than when we arrived. I was completely zonked by the time we got back to the room.

We relaxed some more before heading out to Mike and Charlie’s pizza which was just down the street in the opposite direction than we had ventured all week. I think we were all suprised at how much nicer this section of the road was compared to the area between La Concha and the SJ Marriott. It took forever to get our pizza and it was good, but not exceptional. I enjoyed everyone’s company and it was a nice way to end a busy day.

After everyone had settled back into the hotel rooms, I did some strolling along the waterfront over to this lookout point of our cove. It was just past a full moon so I played with my camera a bit to try and get some good shots. Finally, I headed back to the room to call it a night. Can’t wait to go exploring tomorrow!

December 12, 2011

Puerto Rico 2011 Day 7: El Yunque and SW PR

Monday December 12, 2011
Woke up after my first night on the sleeper-sofa. It actually wasn’t any worse than the regular bed I had been sleeping on the past week. So for me, this was a win. Today was the day we finally could break free of San Juan and head out to explore the island. Mom wasn’t feeling well so it ended up being Gary, Shirley and myself. We were picked up by the shuttle driver and taken down the street to Charlie’s Rental Car where we picked up a 2012 Ford Fusion. The hostess behind the counter who was helping us gave us directions on how to use the toll roads with the AutoPass pay system as well as directions to various points of interest.

We loaded up the Fusion and headed on the road. The Fusion rides good over the bumpy roads of Puerto Rico, and Gary and Shirley loved the displays. With just a hint of confusion and my expert directions, we were on our way to points east. Our travels took us to the PR-66 Toll Road and the first automated toll lane we went through buzzed at us with a red light, so confused, we decided to just pay cash as it seemed we were not getting the transponder to register that we were paying the fees. Come to think of it, we couldn’t find anything that remotely looked like a transponder, so that made our choice to pay cash and any further stops, that much easier.

Our first stop was at the Outlet-66 Mall to get a quick breakfast. The first place we saw was a Wendy’s, and since bisquits haven;t made it here yet, they breakfast menu items were served on normal buns. Mine was actuallly good and not greasy. After our meal break, it was a quick 20 minutes more to the El Yunque National Forest. We ponied up the $4 entry fee per person at the visitor center (or El Portal as they like to call it) and wandered around to get a feel for the rest of the forest. I got my obligatory magnet, and after we walked through the exhibits (skipping the Spanish only movie), we headed up into the rainforest.

We didn’t spend that much time – maybe an hour or so – driving up the hill where we saw La Coca Falls and Yokahu Tower. There rest of the real highlights in the park required a bit of hiking, and sadly we did not have enough time in our day to spend wandering the upper trails. I wouldn’t mind coming back and doing the 1.5 hour hike to the top opbservation tower, but I really would need to get in shape first.

We headed back down to the main highway and we decided to head around the Eastern edge of Puerto Rico to do a mini circle route back to San Juan. We headed around the island via Luquillo, Fajardo, and Humacaro. We missed one of the scenic turnoffs to do a mini coast loop, so we decided to push south to the Faro de Punta Tuna (or the Point Tuna Lighthouse), which had an awesome name. We stopped in Yabucoa for a snack break and search for unsweetened tea at McDonald’s. While there I popped into Walgreen’s to get me some new Solar Shields as the glare from the tropical sun was getting to me.

We then headed south to finally get to the Faro de Punta Tuna. Once we got into the smaller streets, I used Google Maps to help me navigate. It turns out Google wanted to send me up and down some extreme streets, so we just decided to follow the signs. We passed a cool looking beach near Maunabo, and made sure we hit it on the way back. Arriving at the Lighthouse, I discovered that, yet again, it was closed Monday and Tuesdays – just like Aricebo! I took the obligatory fence shot, and careful not to disturb the dog sleeping in the road, we headed back to the beach we saw earlier. Turned out to be a hidden gem as it was isolated and there was no one on it at all. We took a lot of photos and even got our feet wet in the Caribbean Sea.

After soaking in as much as possible, it was time to head back to San Juan and Condado. We took the interior route back and despite a delay at the toll plaza with traffic, it was a smooth ride back. We made it with 30 minutes to spare before Charlie’s closed. Gary got clarification on the Autopass system, and apparently we would have been fine, but I am glad we payed anyway since the tolls were not over $1.50 each and it gave us piece of mind.

After chillaxin’ at the room for a bit checking on Mom, Gary and I decided to have dinner at Chili’s of all places. Despite a bit of a language barrier, the food was good and much cheaper than the hotel. It was time to relax some more before our early departures tomorrow. I have the earliest flight, but as a bonus I get in several hours before everyone else due to my tight connection in Miami. I am hoping there are no delays and I don’t miss the connection like what happened coming back from Argentina.

December 13, 2011

Puerto Rico 2011 Day 8: Heading Home

Tuesday December 13, 2011
The alarm went off super early as everyone had to finish packing and get ready to head to the airport for our return home. I actually woke up before my alarm went off since day 2 on the sleeper was so-so. One thing about this trip – I didn’t get much good, quality sleep at all at the hotel, and I’m sure it has affected me the whole week.
We finished packing and showering, with me trying not to put too much of a show on for Mom and Gary through the frosted glass in the bathtub, and headed down to check out. We were right on time and after getting some quick sunrise photos, we piled into the Ford Excursion taxi and headed to the airport. I was the only one traveling on American as everyone else was on US Air. They disembarked first, and I was left alone on the Excursion until we reached my terminal.

It was bedlam in the airport which was surprising for it being 7am! I got my bag screened by the agriculture machine and after checking in, settled in for the long wait at bag drop. Little did I know that that line was not nearly as long as the TSA line. Initially, there was only two lanes open and the lines were evenly filled with waiting passengers, but as we waited they opened anothe line on the other side and our line took forever as people struggled with the basic laptops and shoes rules. It’s only been 10 years, and I can’t believe people still can’t figure it out.

I wandered around after security looking at the shops for water and last minute souviners before heading to the gate. The flight to Miami was full to the brim, but thankfully I boarded in group 2 so I was able to put my backpack up in the overhad compartment to give myself a bit more leg room. The nice couple next to me were already on board and they slept through most of the flight. Sure enough there was an obnoxious baby behind us, but I just blasted my music to make it go away. The flight was a pretty uneventful two hours save for the landing in Miami which occurred in the middle of a thunderstorm and featured a couple of steep drops and a nice crosswind landing.

My layover in Miami was tight and I had a long way to go to get to the gate for my LAX flight so as soon as I could get off the plane, I hustled to the tram to go to the other end of the terminal. Once at my gate, I discovered there was a slight cleaning delay for our aircraft so I took the opportunity to forage for food. I found some chicken strips at Nathan’s (I wasn’t about to eat a snappy hot dog!), and the waited to board. This flight was less than full leaving an empty middle seat for me and the elderly gentleman in the window seat.

I settled in and finished watching Star Trek: The Motion Picture which I had started on the flight over. I then made it all the way through Star Trek 2 and halfway through Star Trek 3 before we had to pack everything up around Palm Springs due to windy conditions and some extra turbulence. We made it on the ground a few minutes early which was great since we had left about 15 minutes late.

Daniel arrived just as I got my bags from baggage claim and we headed home. The trip has finally come to a close and I hope the cold weather doesn’t make my sore throat come back. Now going to rest and plan the next adventure!