summer vacation: puerto rico

Five weeks ago today, on one of the last Saturdays in June, we loaded our suitcases into the back of the Sienna, buckled up, and drove out of our neighborhood. After a quick pit stop at Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee for me — a medium, with cream and sugar — and some donut holes for the kids to share, we headed north toward the Jacksonville airport. After a 90-minute drive to Jacksonville, a couple of hours in the airport, and a few hours in the air, our nonstop JetBlue flight would land in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Back when the trip was in the planning phases, back when I was still trying to decide where to travel, I made a checklist in my mind of what I wanted. Warm weather and beautiful beaches were at the top of my list, followed by gorgeous scenery, plenty of outdoor spaces for us to get out and explore, easy travel time, minimal time change, and no passports required. And I didn’t want to spend too much on this trip. I considered a cruise, but I didn’t want to be confined (and those cruise ship mishaps over the last year are still in the forefront of my brain). I considered the British Virgin Islands. Sam and I had been to Virgin Gorda before we had children, and I’ve been dying to get back there. But traveling to Virgin Gorda with kids is not completely simple, and besides, we only had five nights. I thought of Mexico, possibly the Riveria Maya, but I didn’t want to deal with passports and customs with the kids in tow. But Puerto Rico? It fit all of my criteria, and then some.

puerto rico

puerto rico

iguana, el conquistador resort, fajardo, puerto rico

Our home base in Puerto Rico was the El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, on the eastern coast of the island. The resort is 40 miles – or about an hour – from Old San Juan. We rented a car while we were there, mostly because we didn’t want to have to rely on taxis or shuttle buses, and we were so glad that we did. While the resort had plenty of activities – including its own private beach and several pools – we liked being able to come and go as we wished, and not as a part of a tour group. Having a car also gave us the freedom to eat at restaurants not affiliated with the hotel, a serious bonus.

puerto rico 2013-55

puerto rico 2013-216

puerto rico

One morning, we explored El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest System. We stopped along the winding, two-lane road to gawk at waterfalls and listen to the coquí frogs. We hiked down the rocky footpath of the Big Tree Trail to La Mina Falls, a must-see waterfall, according to the no-nonsense, elderly park ranger at the visitors center, El Portal. It was on this trail that I learned exactly how out of shape I am. About ten minutes into the hike, I tried to convince my husband, that this, the burbling stream we’d just crossed over on a footbridge was it, the big waterfall we were hunting; we’d found it, and could we please just go back now? Because he loves me, he didn’t listen to me. And I’m glad my beloved husband ignored my pleas to turn around, because after another 15 to 20 minutes, we were rewarded with the thundering of water cascading over the rock ledge towering above us.

Our leg muscles were sore that night, but we all fell asleep easily, serenaded by the calls of the coquí frogs hidden in the tropical plants outside our hotel room.

puerto rico, el yunque rainforest

puerto rico, el yunque rainforest

puerto rico, el yunque rainforest

el yunque, puerto rico

Old San Juan was on our agenda the following day, and specifically, Castillo San Felipe del Morro – or “El Morro” for short. Along with El Yunque, this historic fortress was the other gem of a memory I had from childhood. We arrived early, hoping to beat the crowds, but really, hoping to beat the heat. We didn’t. The vast expanse of the fortress baked in the sun, and we baked along with it. High up in some of the turrets, or in the shade within some of the sentry points, a breeze slipped through, cooling the sweat on my neck. We guzzled water and Gatorade, and we found some treasured moments of relief from the heat in the air conditioned movie theater that showed a continuous reel of the history of San Juan’s military fortifications. We watched that movie at least three times.

castillo del san felipe del morro

castillo del san felipe del morro

castillo del san felipe del morro

castillo del san felipe del morro

castillo del san felipe del morro

lizard, castillo del san felipe del morro

We had wonderful meals in Puerto Rico. Because we fell in love with the restaurant’s grilled meats and mofongo the first time we had dinner there, we ate dinner at La Estación twice. I still dream of the mofongo relleno (mashed plantains) stuffed with lobster sauteed in white wine and garlic. My daughter had mofongo with grilled chicken in a guava barbecue sauce, and she has asked me to recreate it at home. At La Estación and at our second favorite restaurant, Pasión por el Fogón, the meals were accompanied by tender red beans, garlicky and with chunks of ham and diced potato in the bean broth. We were so enamored with those beans and with the flavors of so many other dishes we tried – like the marinated flank steak with tamarind sauce at Pasión por el Fogón – that I bought a used copy of Puerto Rican Cookery by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli as soon as we returned to Florida.

 la estación, fajardo, puerto rico

puerto rico

la estación, fajardo, puerto rico

I wish I could say that our trip was all rainbows and laughter, but it wasn’t. I didn’t expect it to be, though. My children are young – 9 and 6 – and they bicker often, much the way my brother and I did when we were that age. Some of those beautiful photos of white beaches and swaying palms were accompanied by quarreling and screams of “He touched me!” or “She won’t share!” Some of our dinners were eaten too late in the evening, well past our usual dinner time, and my son is crabby when he doesn’t eat on schedule. To make up for this, we ordered appetizers and extra drinks for the adults.

The benefit of travel, though, is that all of the arguing and whining – which would normally happen at home – happened in an exotic location, with new sights and sounds and flavors to distract. We didn’t notice it as much, and, really, the good moments far outweighed the bad.

And, when it got too rough, there was always ice cream to bribe the kids with. And there were plenty of mojitos for us.

el conquistador resort, fajardo, puerto rico

el conquistador resort, fajardo, puerto rico

el conquistador resort, fajardo, puerto rico

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27 Responses to “the ifbc in new orleans, a wrap-up”

  1. DessertForTwo — August 31, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

    “This food blogging community is pretty damn great. It’s an honor and a blessing to be part of it.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself!

    Glad you had fun! Thanks for telling us what you ate at each restaurant. I love details like that!

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 31st, 2011 @ 5:49 pm

      When will I get to see you again, by the way?

  2. Dianne Jacob — August 31, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

    Great to see you in NOLA, Merry-Jennifer, and I enjoyed spending a little time with you. Your photos are just gorgeous! This conference seemed a little mellower than others I’ve been at recently, don’t you think?

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 31st, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

      It was wonderful to find the time to chat with you there, Dianne. I agree, the conference did have a wonderful, casual vibe. It felt intimate, and I loved that.

  3. Wendy Read - Sunchowder — August 31, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

    What an amazing post Jennifer! I also learned so much at the conference 🙂

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 31st, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

      It was so lovely to meet you there, Wendy!

  4. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — August 31, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

    Mj – great post, brought back some wonderful memories of my trip last year. NOLA is fab. Wish I could have been three to hear you speak. You are truly an inspiration.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 31st, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

      Aw, you’re so sweet, Mardi. I wish you could have been in New Orleans, too. You’re overdue a hug.

  5. PeeDeeFoodie — August 31, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

    Congrats on a wonderful wrap-up. Love the photos! This was our first conference, so we’re newbies to the community. Thanks for such a warm welcome.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 1st, 2011 @ 7:10 am

      It was wonderful meeting you there!

  6. LiztheChef — August 31, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

    Thinking of coming to Santa Monica in mid-Nov for IFBC? I’m going…

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 1st, 2011 @ 7:09 am

      I really wish I could, but I can’t get out there for those November dates.

  7. Jamie — August 31, 2011 @ 7:44 pm

    I fell in love with the city and was swept away by the amazing food and I so want to go back to NOLA again… But the conference, as you said, exceeded my expectations. I not only learned so much but was so inspired! (oh, boy, your session set me straight!) And I loved the ambiance. Everyone got along so beautifully. I am truly happy that I got to spend so much time with you, talking, laughing and getting to know each other and I hope that we stay in touch. And we still need to do a video project in claymation.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — September 1st, 2011 @ 7:10 am

      Ha ha! Yes, claymation may be the way to go. 🙂

  8. SweetSugarBelle — September 1, 2011 @ 5:05 pm

    I just visited in January, and had such a wonderful time. It was truly beautiful, and despite the Katrina reminders, the culture overwhelmed me. I felt like I got a big happy NOLA hug the moment I arrived!

  9. Ethan — September 1, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    great little recap of IFBC. Sounds like it went as it should be…the conference is simply a way for people to get together and become friends.

  10. Liz @ Southern Charm — September 1, 2011 @ 5:51 pm

    Glad you had such a great time in my town and was able to experience all of the food! And there is so much more, which I’m sure you know, to try!

  11. Gail — September 1, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

    I’m so glad it was such good conference. How could it not have been in NOLA with such beautiful friends there to share it with.

  12. Kevin (Closet Cooking) — September 2, 2011 @ 6:56 am

    Nice recap and photos! I am now wishing that I was still there. 🙂 It was great meeting you and sharing an amazing meal at GW Finns!

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  14. Paul (GetMeCooking) — September 3, 2011 @ 6:36 am

    Nice writeup and photos! I’ll have to visit New orleans one day.

    It’s nice to see what food bloggers from around the world are up to. I attended Food Blogger Connect in London, UK a few weeks ago http://www.getmecooking.com/blog/food-blogger-connect-2011-presenting-is-fun

  15. Lora ~cakeduchess — September 3, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

    What fun it was to meet you and share a delicious lunch that first day. Bourbon Street is loud and smelly and I’m thrilled I finally got to see it. So sorry I missed you speaking. I could use some of your tips:) Hope to see you again soon…we are practically neighbors;)

  16. Maria Raynal — September 4, 2011 @ 8:25 am

    Love your writeup. You captured the moments perfectly — some that I didn’t even catch, even though we were together almost the whole time. Perfect.

  17. Liren — September 4, 2011 @ 10:47 am

    Wonderful recap, I do wish I had been there as well. I am hoping to attend ICBC in Santa Monica this fall, fingers crossed!

  18. Sheri Wetherell — September 9, 2011 @ 7:49 pm

    It was so wonderful meeting you and having you part of our conference! You did a fantastic job! I agree, it was a nice, mellow conference! Perhaps that Southern grace got into everyone?! 🙂 Hope to see you again soon. XO

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