Puerto Rico Trip Report

30 03 2009

I know many of you have been anxious to hear how we did camping in Puerto Rico with Noah and Kallen.  Well, we pulled it off……sort of.  I know now why I set my goals so high, because in reality I actually only accomplish about 1/2 of them.

DAY 1

Flight was supposed to leave at 5:15am last Thursday.  Since we live about an hour and 10 minutes from the airport, we all got up around 2am.  Began standing in line just before 4am and the Delta counters weren’t even open yet.  A few minutes later they proceed to tell us that there are mechanical issues with our plane and our flight has been delayed until 1pm.  Well isn’t that just a great way to start the day.  Our plans had been to arrive in San Juan around 1:30pm and head to Seven Seas to set up camp before dinner time.  Now what the hell were we going to?  Our flight didn’t get in until after 10pm now and we weren’t going to drive over an hour and then set up camp.  I somehow talked Delta into getting us a comp room at the Best Western connected right to the Puerto Rico airport.  Check out our sweet flat screen:

Night 1 at the Best Western

Night 1 at the Best Western

DAY 2

Got up early and headed to Acampa – the only outfitter store we could find in the San Juan area.  We asked the guy working there about places to camp, things to do, etc.  He wasn’t all that helpful since he didn’t provide any information that we hadn’t gathered from our own research.  Here’s a pic of the boys outside of the store:

Acampa Outfitters - San Juan

Acampa Outfitters - San Juan

Next we drove about 50 miles to the Seven Seas campground on the far eastern end of Puerto Rico.  The beach was nice and the area was pretty quiet.  We had lunch at this little restaurant right on the beach and everything on the menu was fried food, even the “tacos” that I wanted to order.  The waitress informed us that Puerto Ricans fry everything, so good luck to us finding food that wasn’t.  Well then, I couldn’t wait to do some camp fire cooking.  Jason couldn’t figure out why his Medella Light’s (official Puerto Rican beer) were going down so fast until we realized that the cans were only 10 ounces instead of 12 ounces.  So even though food and drink prices in Puerto Rico are the same as they are here in the states, you get less beer for your money – what’s up with that?  Some locals told us that they make 10 oz cans so the beer doesn’t get warm….hmmmm.  Oh and you can only get 3 kinds of beer in Puerto Rico – Medella Light, Coors Light and Heineken.  Most locals don’t drink beer, they love the rum.  Even though Bacardi is the best selling rum all over the world and is made in Puerto Rico, the locals prefer Don Q rum, because it is not as sweet as Bacardi….interesting.

After surveying the campsites and the beach (which was pretty small), we decided to ditch camping at Seven Seas and head straight over to Culebra Island, which we were told had the best beach in all of Puerto Rico.  I was ok with hanging at Seven Seas, but I think all the iguanas and lizards running around the camping area freaked Jason out (wussy).

We took a ferry from Fajardo (about 10 minutes away from Seven Seas) over to Culebra Island (about an hour and a half ride).  We left our rental car at the ferry dock and decided to take a bus/taxi from the Culebra dock to the Flamenco Beach campground.  At this point we were still upbeat about camping until I found out how far we had to carry our bags to our campspot.  There were 5 sections to the campground and they put the local partyers in section A and local families in sections B,C and D.  We were assigned to section E at the very end of course.  This area is reserved for tourists and did have the best camp spots nestled right next to the beach.  Here is a picture of all the bags that we had to portage in:

I still think we packed too much

I still think we packed too much

Each of the big bags weighed over 50 pounds and most of the time I had to carry Noah as well.  The bags with wheels were no help – have you ever tried pulling them through sand?  After dragging bags through the sand and heat, we finally reached section E and it was full!  So we headed back to section D, set up camp, played in the ocean for a bit, ate dinner and went to bed really early.

DAy 3

Woke up to a most beautiful morning and spent the entire day at the beach.  Jason had a little luck snorkeling and of course when I tried to go out I got in trouble by the lifeguard because apparently I missed seeing the red caution flag.  So no snorkeling for me that day due to dangerous rip tides.  Here’s a pic of Jason getting out earlier in the day:

Jason going to spot some fish

Jason going to spot some fish

I must say that Flamenco Beach was the prettiest beach I have ever been to – the finest white sand and crystal clear turquoise water.  We chose to come to Culebra Island because we heard it was a fantasy island escape – a blend of beauty and quietness.  Well they got the beauty part right, but that day and night was anything buy quiet.  One of our earlier taxi/van drivers was talking about how this was on of the busiest weekends on Culebra because it was the biggest “goat” race in the entire caribbean.  He showed us the starting line and said that the “goats” would pass right by our campground.  So here’s me looking all day for goats to come racing by the beach.  It wasn’t until the next day after talking to another local that the island was so busy because it was a Heineken sponsored sailboat regatta.  OH, the driver had been saying “boat” all along, not “goat” – stupid me.

Life doesn't get better than this....

Life doesn't get better than this....

Our crazy creek chairs were the bomb!

Our crazy creek chairs were the bomb!

Of the entire trip, we had our best meal back at our tent site – black angus burgers cooked over our little MSR stove.  Since our boys are up around 6:30am everyday and we had a full day in the sun, we were ready for bed by 9pm.  Unfortunately the rest of the campground was ready to party all night…..so I can’t even tell you what time I did actually fall asleep.

Hangin around camp.....

Hangin around camp.....

DAY 4

After breakfast we packed up a few backpacks and hiked about a half hour over the mountain to the other side of the island.  We went to a beach called Carlos Rosario which had the best snorkeling I have ever done.  Within an hour I had seen at least 30 different species of fish, plus really breathtaking coral.  Around 11 am we made the decision that we had seen what we needed to at Culebra and wanted to get back to the mainland.  After snorkeling we had camp packed up inside of 45 minutes, grabbed a taxi to try and catch the 1pm ferry back to Fajardo.  I stood in line at the ferry dock for a good hour and a half and thought there was no way we were getting tickets for the next boat.  Then by some act of nature, the captain of the ferry came out and told the ticket agent that the boat was full.  He then asked me how many people I had in my group and I said 4 but that I had 8 bags as well….man there was no way they were fitting us on.  It wouldn’t have been a big deal if we had to stay later, but we were all packed and what were we going to do with all our gear until we could catch the next boat?  The captain then told the ticket agent to let us get on and cut off the line right after us – holy cow!

After the hour and a half boat ride and the previous once again hot, long, exhausting camping portage, we made the decision to get a hotel room in Fajardo that night.  I felt somewhat of a failure since we couldn’t get through the whole trip camping.  But me and Jason were wiped out by this point from all the traveling and portaging.  We ended up staying at the Fajardo Inn which had a great kids pool area, playground and mini-golf.  Once me and J had a great shrimp dinner and a few rum specialties from the Blue Iguana bar, we were RELAXED.

DAY 5

Headed up to El Yunque rainforest at 7:30am to spend the morning hiking.  Today was the best day of the trip for all of us.  We hiked 3 trails – La Mina Falls, Bano de Oro, and Mt. Britton, which was the most difficult and highest elevation.  Of course we expected to rain in the rain forest, but it rained pretty  much the entire 4 hours that we were there.  The boys Columbia rain ponchos was the best investment we made for this trip and our family was definitely the best outfitted.  Most people just wore tees with no rain gear.  One lady did don a plastic grocery bag on her head – I guess whatever works.  Here’s some trail pics and look at all the bamboo I found!

Kallen the super trouper!

Kallen the super trouper!

On the La Mina Falls trail

On the La Mina Falls trail

Hiking to the waterfall

Hiking to the waterfall

Made it up over 3200 feet to Mt. Britton Tower.  All that work and too cloudy to get a view of island - dang it!

Made it up over 3200 feet to Mt. Britton Tower. All that work and too cloudy to get a view of island - dang it!

Just hanging out with my favorite woody grass....

Just hanging out with my favorite woody grass....

Okay - maybe I love bamboo a little too much....

Okay - maybe I love bamboo a little too much....

View from tower overlook

View from tower overlook

La Mina Falls

La Mina Falls

Washed out Bano de Oro trail - had to turn around

Washed out Bano de Oro trail - had to turn around

We were planning on camping the last night in the rain forest, but after seeing how washed out the camp sites were and how far we would have to portage in (once again), we opted to spend the last night back at the hotel (I know, we wimped out).  We found a great little family restaurant for dinner that night.  It was all outdoor seating and they made everything on a big grill.  The boys loved the place because there was a very friendly cat that hung out around the table and they got to listen to the coqui frogs singing in the plants. It was a great place to spend our last evening.

Last night in Puerto Rico

Last night in Puerto Rico

Speaking of cats (and dogs) – in Puerto Rico stray cats and dogs are EVERYWHERE!  Back at our campground they came out of the trees like an army ready to take over the island.  Don’t get me wrong I love cats (I have one), but it was almost an infestation of them.  Also stray dogs run everywhere in and out of busy traffic along the highways – I just kept my eyes closed because I knew one would get hit eventually.

DAY 6

We couldn’t decide if we wanted to head to Old San Juan or check out Luquillo Beach for our last morning.  Our flight left at 2:30pm so we didnt’ have much time to get much done.  We ended up heading back to San Juan to check out the old San Juan forts built by the Spanish military back in the 1500’s.  Well the entire morning can be summarized in one word – TRAFFIC.  Yep that’s all we spent our time doing.  Puerto Ricans have a love affair with American cars and they drive everywhere.  This was very disappointing to see since it is a perfect climate to get around with cycles or scooters.  I honestly don’t quite understand how Puerto Ricans even afford cars.  The median wage is $19,000 and my local informant tells me that a basic 2 bedroom home in San Juan goes for about $200,000.  All of the food,drink, clothing, gas prices,  etc. are the same as they are here in the states – so how do Puerto Ricans financially survive?  I know that almost 1/2 the population lives below the poverty line and receives government assistance such as food stamps and WIC – but the numbers still don’t add up……..

Anyways, we only got to see a quick view of Old San Juan and couldn’t even tour the fort sites because there were no parking spots within a mile.  We drove back towards the airport and had lunch on Isla Verde beach before calling it a day.  Of course both our San Juan and our connecting Atlanta flight were both delayed – thanks Delta – luv ya.

Would we go back?  Maybe.  I think of Puerto Rico as beauty and the beast.  While it has some of the most beautiful beaches and the rainforest is killer – the town areas are very dirty and poor.  It saddened me to see garbage everywhere even on the beaches and at our campground.  I feel fortunate growing up in Minnesota and having the leave no trace policy ingrained in my mind.  Every time we go camping, boating, or to the lake, we never leave gargage laying around – never.  I’m thinking I probably won’t make it back to PR because there are just too many other places on my “bucket list”.  Thanks for reading…….

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Quickie camping trip to Whitewater

16 03 2009

With no plans for last weekend, me and Jason decided to take an impromptu little getaway. We headed down to Whitewater State Park, located near Rochester and Winona.  I wanted to hike and he wanted to fly fish, so it was a great place for both these activities.  We checked in with the park ranger and got the scoop on the trails.  Back in August of 2007, there was a devastating flood that caused over $400 million in damages to Whitewater and the park is still in a re-building stage.  Most of the trails were open and all new bridges have been built.  I don’t know what the park looked like before the flood, but most everything looked like it was getting put back together.

We set up camp right by a great trout fishing spot and had the entire campground to ourselves.  After scouting things out, we wandered over to a maple syrup tapping demonstration.  About 15 maple trees were tapped and people were collecting and cooking the sap.  We didn’t stay long enough to sample maple syrup sundaes – darn it!

Buckets collecting sap from maple trees

Buckets collecting sap from maple trees

Drop of sap coming out of tap

Drop of sap coming out of tap

Next we were ready for some hiking!  We did 3 peaks – Chimney, Eagle and Coyote Point – which took us just over 3 hours.  The trails featured limestone bluffs, caves, and forest – plus lots of mud, snow and ice.  One of the trails dwindled down to almost nothing, so I decided to make my own path.  We were on a steep bank down to the river and I couldn’t get my footing.  Well, a few slivers from grabbing onto tree branches and a mudslide later, I did make it to the bottom of the river:

Mudslide!

Mudslide!

Here’s a pic of me and J at the top of Chimney Point:

We made it - and Maggie too!

We made it - and Maggie too!

About half-way into the hike I was waiting for Wally the Beerman to jump out of the woods to offer us a cold one – but no such luck.  By 5pm my stomach was growling and my thrist for a brewskie was all that was on my mind.  We headed down the road to a small town called Elba and got some cheese curds and a glass of Trout Run Red at a little establishment called Mauer’s.  You know, the kind of place where you walk in and everyone stops what they’re doing and gives you the lookover because you ain’t from around here.  I like these joints – the characters you meet are hilarious.  Plus, $2 for a schooner of decent beer – you can’t beat that!

I was all ready to relax by the fire that night and stay up late – but the day must have got the best of me.  I think I hit the hay by 9:30pm.  Didn’t sleep so well – trying to get used to my new Sierra Designs sleeping bag and it was a bit chilly out.  My bag is rated for 30 degrees, but the temp got down to 28 that night.  I might have been all right if I would have put another pair of socks on.  Had to have Maggie sleep inside as well since there were plenty of coyotes howling through the night.

Jason beat me up the next morning and went fly fishing right outside our camp spot.  He caught 2 brown trout but there is no proof since he didn’t take pictures.  We did another 1 hour hiking loop before we headed back to Kato to pick up the boys from Grandma’s.

Me and faithful steed (aka Maggie, aka Margaret)

Me and faithful steed (aka Maggie, aka Margaret)

We are looking forward to bringing the boys with us back to Whitewater this summer.  We got the more difficult hikes out of the way so we can hit some of the easier ones with them and the swimming beach will be open for them as well.  I highly recommend this state park for camping/fishing/hiking and beautiful scenery.





Puerto Rico Itinerary

13 03 2009

Only one week until PR vacation!!!!

I have put together a preliminary itinerary for our camping/hiking trip to Puerto Rico next week.  I bought 3 books about the island and it seems there are way too many outdoor activities that we could ever possibly fit into 5 days.  We decided to concentrate on the Northeastern area of the country to get the most bang for our buck.

Day 1 – fly into San Juan around 1:30pm, get rental car, drive to Seven Seas campground and pitch our tent.  This place seems pretty safe, has bathrooms, showers and even a restaurant.

View of Seven Seas beach

View of Seven Seas beach

Day 2 – Explore Las Cabezas de San Juan  nature reserve.  It contains 7 ecological systems – forestland, mangroves, lagoons, beaches, cliffs, offshore cays, and coral reefs.  We may see osprey, sea turtles, and possibly a manatee from the boardwalk trails.  At night I want to do a kayak trip in Laguna Grande bio bay which is part of the nature reserve and only a few miles from our camp site.  A bio bay is a body of water that contains millions of micro-organisms, called “dinoflagellates”, that glow in the dark for a second when agitated.  Dang it though – kids have to be 6 to go on the tour.  We are hoping to find someone to rent us kayaks without going through a tour agency – we are not the “tour” type of family – we like to explore on our own.

Day 3 and 4- Hiking through El Yunque – the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System.  It receives over 100 billion gallons of rainfall every year.  Some trails we would like to hit include La Mina Falls and El Toro (top of peak) and Mt. Britton.  We are packing our rain gear and are going to camp a night in the rainforest as well.  From what I have read we can pretty much pitch a tent anywhere – hopefully we can find a spot to make a fire.  Don’t plan on sleeping – I guess the zillions of croqui frogs sing all night long.

Overview of El Yunque rainforest

Overview of El Yunque rainforest

Day 4 and 5- Pack up and head over to town of Fajardo to catch ferry to Culebra island.  We hear that Flamenco beach is one of the best in the world and Culebra is known for relaxation.  We’ll set up our tent about 10 feet from Flamenco beach and then let the good times roll.  Swimming, snorkeling, a bike trip into town – who knows?

Camping area at Flamenco beach on Isla Culebra

Camping area at Flamenco beach on Isla Culebra

Day  6 – Head back to Old San Juan.  I would like to check out the old fortresses built back in the 1500 & 1600’s when Spain ruled the island.  We’ll see if we have time……

I have no idea if we will stick with this plan – it’s just some things I want to try and get in.  As long as every body stays healthy I will be a happy camper!





Fly Fishing Blog

5 03 2009

Good day all-

Just wanted to plug my friend Charlie’s fly fishing blog:  http://troutchief.blogspot.com/

He writes about his fishing adventures in MN, WI, and Iowa.  Fly fishing is Jason’s latest sport.  We hope to get down to Lanesboro (SE Minn) this spring for some fishing, camping and kayaking.  Lanesboro has a pristine natural habitat with the Root River running year around.

Jason giddy about his catch

Jason giddy about his catch

I think this picture is just beautiful

I think this picture is just beautiful





Our little sewing factory

4 03 2009

Now how many brands that you know of actually post pictures of their sewing facilities and the sewers that make your clothes?  Well, we do because that’s the kind of company we are.  I was just up at our sewing facility in Savage, MN (about an hour from where I live) this week finishing up our Spring/Summer 2009 production.  I decided to take a few pictures since Sam and Kim are leaving soon for a 3 month trip back to their home country, Cambodia.  They are going home to help their families with planting season.  Sam’s family usually plants rice, but instead are going to be busy pruning mango trees this spring.

Sam runs the sewing operations and Kim is her right hand woman.  Jim is our cutter (and also Sam’s husband) and I didn’t get a pic of him because he ran away too fast (I think he went to grab lunch).

Sam working her magic

Sam working her magic

Me and Sam (cutting table is behind us)

Me and Sam (cutting table is behind us)

Me and Kim (she thought I was crazy wanting to take pictures)

Me and Kim (she thought I was crazy wanting to take pictures)





Every Day is Saturday – by Noah Noble

2 03 2009

The next installment of our sponosred athlete’s epic…….

I hope you get a laugh. I knows it puts a smile on my face even though I can’t hear so well at the moment.

I used to believe in chance meetings but maybe nothing happens by chance. That there is a complexity of all things, interrelated and attached to one another, in time and space. I’m speaking of metaphysics, this subject still makes my pecan sized brain hurt but perhaps when it grows to the size of a walnut I will understand. Anyways, where was I chance meetings: They happen everyday in the form of connecting with a random person on the street, night bazaar, fruit stand or perhaps in a dark seedy pub at closing time and your line of sight is that of a kaleidoscope.

My chance meeting was bumping into a sweet Muslim lady who slings the dopelicious pancakes this side of the Mekong. Big MOMMA. I will come back to this in a minute.

I took the Pomi Grinders’ advice and with a shot of toughing up and baby powder the chaffing is no longer a concern for livestrong Armstrong. I pushed 1300 km’s in 12 riding days and was heaps looking forward to going to Tonsai to go spend some days climbing. Sewing it up Right Lee? I have a perfect little perch on the beach, and BD tent provides plenty of room for me and the Surly. No problem. There was even a little extra if I were to win the affection of any Ladies….but then I remembers who I lost all my game in that high stakes Poker game in Singapore.

I’m in a beautiful spot right on the beach, when your eyes are awaken by the sea and lovely limestone glistening in the morning sun you cant help but knows it’s going to be another good Saturday.

Development has need to its ugly face in all of the Krabi Providence, more elaborate buildings and lots and lots of cheap labor. Using my pre school level Thai I was able to ascertain that most of al the workers are from the Northeast, Isan, My old home. Each day a plethora of workers arrive by boat from smaller settlements away from the tourist destination. They work all day and are then go back in the evenings to there respected accommodations. The group of women I had talked to had been there two years and had idea when they would return home. Such sweet people and beautiful smiles…

Tonsai is a climbers club med. Flip flop approaches in all aspects so you can climb at any point in the day. The climbing is bomber. Thousands of routes and the views can’t be beat. After a long day of holding jah self to a rock all day there is no better way to relax then with some Signha or Chang 22 oz curls. At talking about how nasty you looked at the crux… whew alright that’s embellished. But I promise you it’s great. Although two nights I swore I WOULD NEVER RETURN.

I haven’t climbed since my overzealous slush ball ( Steamboat D league softball) accident. Of course I’m referring to the incident that happened like this:

As the sun was setting the orange danced intriguingly with the purple at the horizon. It was tie game and we were still in last place in the division. But we had some fight that night, it was tied going into late innings. As I was dancing and finishing my fifth or sixth PBR of the evening I had a flash back to a youngster with his flat billed cap goofy expression and 35 kilo frame. A baseball player in his prime with his stirrups pulled high. It was at this moment that there was a crack of a bat. I was thrursted into motion by my potent fuel source (PBR of course) the hecklers on the bench never thought I would make it to the well placed ball, a gapper is the proper term in the big’s, anyways I lurched forward and for a moment I was the hero and I was right there along sides of KEN GRIFFY JR. My childhood hero. Well  moment ended as I rolled over my arm and ended with an empty glove and torn muscle in my shoulder….I is that good….

So I not in super good shape but after just a few days I’m feeling it. My arm is strong and I’m pumped climber harder and harder each day. Well this is where things unravel very briefly and I unfortunately had a Sunday or two….

If you go to Tonsai beware of the Tonsai Tummy, nearly everyone there will get sick for a day or two, not to my surprise I get a mild case a spend one days spewing from both ends. No worries. Two more days and my bro and climbing partner Johannas informs me at midnight that it’s his birthday. I jump at the occasion and we drink my favorite tequila, well the night grows and the booze tally does as well. Self inflicted sickness rest day. It’s been difficult for me to drive myself through a full yoga session, but my friend is interested and for a few days I do a class for us and it grows to about an hour. I’m in a gorgeous place practicing yoga and climbing everyday. So happy.

I get sick, it starts in my right ear and then spreads to my entire head, I have never suffered from migraines and not I’m getting some serious ones. The fevers remain low key until night and then it keep’s me up all night.. It was at this point that the reggae bar not from my tent starting playing techno on account of the full moon ands rave inspiration I assume. I sick and I’m starting to lose my hearing. On the third day there a blood laced fluid coming out of the ears, I take it as a sign to leave Tonsai with some unfinished projects next time…

My chance meeting with big momma was like all other ones random and unforeseen. The sidewall of my tire exploded and left me in krabi with a new plan to throw together. I do a quick patch job that with only last a few km’s. I cruise into the night market and start asking where to camp. Well BIG Mama invites me home and we ended up spending two full days together. I went to a funeral procession with her, worked alongside her at her stall slinging the roti’s (pancakes), and the other simplest and richest aspects of life laughing and smiling. The fundamentals.

I knew if I made it back to BM she should lend me a hand would help me mend. Cause I’m haggard no energy, no chub, no dice. I managed to get to Big Mamma’s and collapse. There I have spent the last five days and nights. One the first night my temperature was at 41.5 which for us shunners of the metric system are like a 104.5. They covered me in cold towels and slowly over I don’t know how many hours, brought my fever down. After visiting the doctor it turns out that I had an inner ear infection and I had been taking some drops on the beach that I assumed would help…no made it worse and being the brilliant super scuba Steve I managed to blow a hole in my right ear drum. I keep trying to clear my left ear I remember and with all the bacteria and the pressure from my continuous attempts the right eardrum balked.

It’s all good now. Today was the first in close to ten that I have my strength back and the good doctor told me my ears will heal fully in the next two weeks. The constant ringing well annoying but there’s no sense in thinking of the negatives with so many positive things surrounding us.

Alright I have some great photos but I lost my camera connecter thing a mig jigger that transfers the info to the computer. When I get to Bangkok I shoot out some photos. It’s nice to have an image to put to words.

Much love and positive vibes from SE Asia. Peace.

Scuba Steve.

Please for my sake and everyone around you do not encourage the wide spread use of techno music… It’s just bad and can drive people crazy it almost got me.. It’s funny in hindsight at one point in my mild hallucination with a raging fever and blown eardrum I was sure that’s what purgatory would be…anyways I hope your all fantastically well. Much love and triple booya to you and yours