I love this time of year. There are so many reasons to celebrate, be with family and EAT. In spite of everything people have to say about Thanksgiving and how we are superficial for celebrating one day and then shopping our lives away the rest of the season, I still love this day.
This year, I decided to count my blessings in the form of places, thankful for everything these places represent and what they have offered me.
5. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
The oldest settlement in Puerto Rico, this old town is full of wonders. You can’t get bored in Old San Juan. You can find all types of food, from food trucks to fancy latin fusion cuisine. You can also find all sorts of drinks, from Puerto Rican “moonshine” or “chichaito” to a classic passion fruit sangría. I am thankful for all the fun times Old San Juan has given me, from late night with friends to fun days with family, it all happens here.
Yes, I love Paris and all of its enchantment. Still, I am completely biased to Strasbourg. This city in the region of Alsace, just minutes away from Germany, is very underrated. The unique fusion you find here is quite incomparable. L’Alsace for dummies? Like if France and Germany had a baby, but of course, there is so much more to it. I am thankful for Strasbourg’s culture and history, this city opened my eyes to so many things and I will always be thankful for that. Thanks to Strasbourg and my wonderful host family, I also discovered my true love for food.
Barcelona is always on my list. It is a special city I am always waiting to return to. Have only been there for a few days, but I fell in love with it. I’m thankful for this city’s vibrant colors, inspiring architecture and delicious food.
Ah, where to begin with this little gem? I have a love/hate relationship with this city. It is easy to forget it’s electric magic when you are deep in the trenches questioning your life choices, but this place makes you better and stronger by just being there. I am thankful for everything this city inspires me to be and for all the food from the world I have at my reach. New York, you make me stronger and wiser with each passing day.
1. Puerto Rico
You think I would limit Puerto Rico to just Old San Juan? Wrong. Puerto Rico is my favorite place in the world. I doubt any of the places in my bucket list could ever change that. I am thankful for Puerto Rico’s people, we are not perfect, but we are pretty awesome. I am thankful for the incredible ecological diversity you can find in this little island. I’m thankful for all the amazing food you can taste here, from my mother’s cooking to the many restaurants that offer hundreds of plantain plate varieties. I am thankful for Puerto Rico because it is an intrical part of who I am.
What places are you thankful for? Would love to hear your stories!
As you may have seen earlier this week, I was recently home in Puerto Rico and while I was there I got to do some fun zip-lining. Toro Verde Adventure Park is located in Orocovis, right in the middle of the mountains of Puerto Rico. A lot of people don’t think of mountains when they think of Puerto Rico, they just focus on the beaches but it really is a beautiful area. I mean, we do have amazing beaches, but our mountains offer a very different kind of beauty.
On our way down from Toro Verde we made two nice stops. After a morning filled with adventure and thrill, we were obviously starving. Locals to the area recommended we had lunch at Roka Dura, just a few minutes outside of the park. They said food was delicious and portions were generous.
They were not lying. This mouthwatering “mofongo” filled with chicken was even more delicious than it looks. The plate below is chicken with garlic cassava, better known as “yuca al mojo”. The chicken was nothing special, but the “yuca” was on point. I love “yuca” but have never ventured to cook it myself, I’m not even sure if I would be able to buy some around here so it’s always one of those special plates I treat myself with when I’m visiting home.
This spot had really nice views. It was early Friday afternoon and you could see the little bars around or “chinchorros” starting to get busy with people celebrating the weekend’s arrival. Although I was on vacation, I also joined the celebration admiring the killer view.
Second stop was Casa Bavaria. This one holds special memories for me. With a fusion of Caribbean and German traditions, Casa Bavaria was founded by a German couple who fell in love with the island and decided to make a life here. Its claim to fame has been their great Oktoberfest celebrations, that’s how I first got there. It is (or was?) tradition to organize “party” buses to take groups of people up the mountains and bring Oktoberfest to life in Puerto Rico. Each bus had different t-shirts and unique stories, often captured and plastered on Facebook. It was, well, a hot mess. Ahh, memories.
Stopping by this time with a fresh (and sober) pair of eyes, I was able to find so much more beauty in this place. People are so nice and the views are to die for. We only had drinks here, but a lot of people were enjoying a full meal around us. Oktoberfest or not, definitely worth the stop.
Haven’t we all, at some point, wished we could fly? I know that was always my super power of choice when I was a little kid, you know, like Peter Pan and stuff. Still, with age, I have developed a sometimes irrational fear of heights. I even get the jiggles if I get too close to the bars of a balcony, even if it’s not that high.
This month, I got to channel my inner child and fearless Girl Scout spirit while zip-lining at Toro Verde in Puerto Rico. Toro Verde is an adventure park in the middle of the mountains (Orocovis, to be exact). I actually did not know that there are more miles of zip-line cables in this adventure park than any other park in the world!
If you are visiting Puerto Rico, Toro Verde is a must. Not only do you get to experience some thrill, but there is also so much beauty to take in and delicious food to eat along the way (more on that soon!).
I recommend you keep an eye out for flash deals that regularly come up for the adventure packages. Either way, the money you pay is worth it. I did the regular zip-line tour ending with “La Bestia” (The Beast).
Last (and only) time I did zip-lining was in Costa Rica in 2004. I don’t recall it having been challenging. This time for me, the first cables were the hardest (although they are technically the easiest). I was nervous and afraid, what if my long hair got stuck on the cable?! What if I accidentally put my fingers in the wrong spot and they got chopped off by the equipment?! These were my fears. My mother’s fears were more along the lines of “What if I fall?!” – I guess that made more sense. I honestly did not even fear the heights on the first few because I was so focused on looking at the cable that I did not even look down.
Then, it was time for la bestia (cue for roar). The beast is the highest and second longest cable in the world. I believe the tour guide mentioned that the longest one is in South Africa, but don’t quote me on that.
You get all prepped up and told you will be laying face down and flying all the way to the other side for like a minute and a half. It seemed scary, but once I was in the harness waiting my turn, all I felt was peace. It was SO weird to feel calm and steady when I was diving across unknown heights in the middle of the mountains. I did not have to worry about any cables because I was going to be lying down so I was like, poof, no worries here!
They pushed me and so I started flying. What a freaking fabulous feeling. I was a bird. Like, as much as a bird as a human can be. I felt the wind on my face as I was zipping around and I was able to take in all the beautiful sights around me. There was a little river, I saw some birds flying near by, it was all wonderful. All I could think was how amazing it felt to be so close with nature and fly. I also thought, damn, I wish I had a GoPro strapped up on my helmet!
Seriously, if you are ever in Puerto Rico, experience the beast. It’s breath-taking and I would even consider it a therapy session. I had forgotten the thrilling sensation of facing your fears and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. Big thanks to our tour guides (pictured above) they really took us through this adventure and always made sure we were comfortable, safe and having fun!
P.S. Zip-lining: When you learn the value of fanny packs.
Just in case I don’t give you enough reasons to visit Puerto Rico on a regular basis, this video by Javier Letour should do it. It’s sweet torture for me right now, facing this bitter New York winter and counting the days until I can return to my one true home. Enjoy!
This has been my mantra for this past month. Not only is my big Europe trip right around the corner, but I got a new job and started a new professional journey (basically the reason why I have abandoned this blog for a few weeks) but cry no more, I’m back! (Only to leave in a week, but still!)
I also went home to my beautiful Puerto Rico and got to spend some wonderful days with my family and friends. It was really the perfect way to end a great chapter in my life and freshen up to start a new one. So really, I can’t complain. Sure, I’m peeling from the sun even though I am still technically white and sure, my bank account has taken a hit, but I’m sure I’ll live.
I try to stay away from all things cheesy (except when they actually are cheesy, yum.) but lately I’ve just been feeling like I have so much to take in from life (besides new work information, of course). Sure, I stress about things all the time, that’s just how I work. Who knows? This may be the nice weather talking, but life is good right now. Long gone are the days of miserable weather complaints and in are the sunny, sweaty walks to work. Ah, sweaty summer bliss.
But back to being corny,
Life is crazy, unpredictable and if you let it be, it can also be beautiful.
Speaking of beautiful, below are some pictures from La Isla del Encanto that I took during my last visit home (yes, I get to call paradise home). I always love giving out recommendations for travelers that wish to visit Puerto Rico, so feel free to shoot me a comment or tweet me any questions!
Yes, me and my boyfriend might have started a cheesy tradition of taking travel pictures with our feet #noshame – This was before our kayak tour at the bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. Tour started during the day, through the canals and into the bay to watch the sunset. Then, I was once again amazed by the beauty that is the bay’s natural glow. Third time doing it and it’s still worth the sore muscles!
It wouldn’t be complete without a food picture, wouldn’t it? For my boyfriend’s birthday I took him to a delicious restaurant in Dorado called El Ladrillo (The Brick) – I had been there when I was little and fine cuisine for me consisted of plain rice and chicken, coming back was absolutely amazing. Not only is the food really good and varied for all tastes, but the restaurant itself is beautiful. They have a true art collection within the space.
Be sure to follow my Instagram for more pictures that don’t make it to actual posts – @peaceloveanddietcoke
Main image credit – http://www.etmusiquepourtous.com/2012/11/07/16191/jpeg/
All other pictures taken by Cristina Nogueras © Do not copy or repost without attribution