Although I made a quick stop in San Juan a few years ago on the way to a cruise, it has been many more years since I have spent more than a few days in Puerto Rico. Let me state up front that since my little camera died just before my trip the photos taken by this island girl in Puerto Rico were taken from my phone (there are a few from my niece’s phone) and should not be compared to the fabulous photographs that Hector normally includes in our posts. But on to my trip.
Just as I was thinking that I needed to plan a visit to my family, my friend Katherine from Atlanta called me to tell me that her daughter, Kirstin, was going to get married in San Juan and invited us to the wedding.
We knew that we would be in the Southwest at that time of year, so I purchased a ticket from the Phoenix airport and we made our way to that city before my flight. Unfortunately, Hector had to stay behind to take care of Angel.
The wedding was to take place in Old San Juan, my favorite part of the city, so I booked an Airbnb apartment a couple of blocks from the wedding venues. Upon arrival, I took a taxi to Old San Juan thus avoiding driving or parking, which can be quite a hassle there due to the narrow streets.
San Diego Holidays and the weeks after were more about friends than about the place. Although the place is great, and we loved our location right on Mission Bay. Yes, we are now officially a month behind in our blogs – at least we are consistent!
We had a happy hour gathering shortly after our arrival. Our good friend Paul brought over his mom and his dad and stepmother, and friends Ian and Kate (Tales from the Scenic Route) brought over their friends Shannon and Dave (2Wander Away). Instant party!
Another friend, Patricia, was in town briefly. She is Gloria and my “hermana” from a beautiful program that we participated in years ago and the three of us had a wonderful dinner together.
Hector and I spent a lovely Christmas Eve at our friends Gloria and Michael’s home. They took care of Angel last year while we traveled to Miami, so Angel considers their home her “spa”. She was jumping up and down and running all around the house. It is so wonderful to see her so happy.
We spent Christmas Day with old and new friends. Ian and Kate rented the campground’s clubhouse, and we had a delicious potluck dinner there. Kate did a wonderful job coordinating everything and several ladies decorated the plain clubhouse and turned it into a festive and welcoming place. Continue reading →
We have been on a pretty long break from blogging, so here is our very late post about our adventures and misadventures during our drive from Oregon and down the length of California.
We usually don’t drive Island Girl in the rain, but when it rains every day it is impossible to avoid. Since the rain seemed endless, we decided to drive out of Oregon during very wet weather.
We knew some roads were flooded to the north of us but happily no flooding was reported on our route going south. As we continued however, we passed by areas where the waters were rising and with the continuing rain were likely to flood the roads. We also drove by a small flooded farmhouse, hoping that everyone was safe.
Next we spotted some official vehicles with their lights flashing as we drove by a bridge, Police officers scanned the waters below. But we got through safely and it was good to know that roads were being monitored this closely. We are thankful to all of those who serve to protect us.
Our destination was the Lucky Seven Casino for a quick overnight stop. We stopped for a pizza and I ran out in the rain to pick it up. Then we settled in for the night in the back parking lot of the casino. Hector ran out for a quick walk with Angel, fortunately there was a covered walkway with a grassy patch, so they had a bit or protection from the rain.
Though we usually like to patronize the places where we overnight for free, we never even entered the casino, it was just raining too hard to venture out. Check out my review of the casino here.
The following morning it was still raining quite hard, but as we drove south the rain abated. We reached Crescent City during a lull in the rain and decided to go for a long walk along the shore.
There are so many great choices of places to visit on the Southern Oregon Coast that we had a tough time picking a “home base” from which to explore. The forecast was for stormy weather, so we were focused on finding a good spot from where we could do some stormwatching.
We chose Winchester Bay because it was right around the corner from the Umpqua River Lighthouse, which we missed seeing last year, near beautiful sand dunes, and within day trip distance to the charming town of Bandon.
Our next stop was along the central coast of Oregon, not too long of a drive but longer than our last one. The coast of Oregon has an endless amount of rocky beaches and coast and many interesting lighthouses and the town of Newport is a great location from which to explore some of those.
The last time we stayed in this area we stayed in a marina in the town of Waldport a little further north and really enjoyed it. This time we decided to try the marina in Newport. Both of these marinas offer dry camping at cheaper rates than the Oregon State Parks.
The marina is also walking distance from the Rogue Brewery, so good beer was in our future. And we were the only RV in the dry camping area of with a lovely view of the small boat harbor and the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Check out my review of the Port of Newport RV Park and Marina here.Continue reading →
We headed down the coast with no real destination in mind, but the beautiful beaches of Northern Oregon were too alluring. So we decided to make it a short drive and stop near the adorable town of Manzanita.
We camped at Nehalem Bay State Park, which we had read wonderful reviews about. The park is on a sand spit with the ocean on one side and the bay on the other. And pretty close to Cannon Beach. Perfect. Check out my review of the campground here.
There was a path to the beach right behind our site. The trail took us across sand dunes to one of those long, wide beaches that dot this coast. More beach walking and beachcombing was on the program, as we were fortunate to have clear skies once again.
Stacks of driftwood have washed ashore many of the beaches on the Oregon Coast and created an untamed landscape. Some of the huge logs are from trees that must have been hundreds of years old when they succumbed to the forces of nature or man.
All of that driftwood has contributed to the tradition amongst those of the Oregon Coast of building “forts”, structures that serve as shelters on these wild, windy beaches. Most of them are built during the summer, and the ocean waves wash many of them away. But others are thoughtfully built structures that are sturdy enough to withstand the elements. Continue reading →
Last year we paid a brief visit to Astoria, a funky town at the mouth of the Columbia River, and really liked it so we were determined to spend a little time there this year. As Thanksgiving approached, we knew it was time to get to the coast and begin our (slow) drive south, but instead we made a slight detour north to Astoria.
We stayed at Fort Stevens State Park, a beautiful park just outside the town. The campground was pretty empty, so we found a cozy, private spot. Check out my review of the campground here.
Astoria was named after John Jacob Astor who founded Fort Astoria as a fur-trading port for his American Fur Company in 1811. During its early history, Astoria’s primary industries were fishing, fish processing and lumber.
Astoria’s deepwater port still serves as port of entry and trading center for the Columbia basin. But both the fishery and timber industries declined, forcing the town to reinvent itself. And it did so by supporting a burgeoning art scene and bringing light manufacturing into its fold.
It also succeeded in growing a tourism industry. With its location on the Columbia River, Victorian architecture poised amongst hills, proximity to the Pacific, surrounding lush forest and fascinating maritime history, it gained the nickname of “little San Francisco”. Astoria’s deepwater port now welcomes several major cruise lines.
There was something we really liked about the quirky town of Haines when we visited eight years ago. We had some delicious fish and chips for lunch and a beautiful float down the Chilkat River, where we saw lots of eagles.
But this was also the place where we almost missed our cruise. After our rafting trip, we had scheduled a ferry back to Skagway, our port of call. We scheduled the next to last ferry that would get us back in time so that if something went wrong, we had one more ferry we could take.
When we got to the dock we found out that one of the ferries damaged a propeller and was out of service so the entire schedule was disrupted. Now there was no ferry scheduled that would get us back to Skagway in time. This is the danger of going off on your own from a cruise, they will not wait for you if you are late. We freaked out.
Because of an extremely nice and resourceful lady at the ferry office, we were saved. She got one of the tour cruises that had gone out from Skagway and was on its way back there, not scheduled to stop in Haines, to detour and make a very brief stop at the dock. We literally had to run down the dock and jump on the boat.
She also arranged for the cruise line to have a car at the dock ready to drive us straight to the ship on the other end. And we just made it! One little door was open on the side of the giant cruise ship. And we jumped in with seconds to spare.
So Haines had a really good vibe for us and we have been looking forward to returning. Now we were back. Driving down the Haines Highway after crossing the U.S. border we saw the Chilkat River that runs alongside the road. To our disappointment, but not terribly surprising, we did not see many eagles.
The Haines area is known as The Valley of the Eagles because thousands of eagles come to the ice-free section of the Chilkat for a very late salmon run in November, but most of these visitors leave between spring and summer. But there are still several hundred resident eagles that you see all the time around town.
And the town has a lot more to offer than eagles. There are museums, a brewery, a distillery, a farmers market, shops and restaurants, hiking, boating, fishing and more. This little piece of Alaska is connected to other Alaska towns by sea – ferries take you to Juneau, Skagway and on to other towns in the Inside Passage.
But it is also pretty isolated, and the only road to town is part of Canada. There is no drugstore here, which we found out when we needed to refill a prescription for Angel, there is no really large grocery store etc.
And yet there is something about this town. The Tlingit were the first settlers in the area about 11,000 years ago and the first to discover its riches: the abundance of fish, game, and edible plants and berries.
“Mommy there’s a whale spouting rainbows”! Overheard from a little girl on a Rainbow Tours boat cruise to Seldovia last week.
We set out on the Rainbow Connection, one of two vessels owned by Rainbow Tours, little did we know these names were an omen for something astounding that would happen later. Our research on weather paid off again, and it was another glorious morning, quite warm even, although at times it got quite breezy on the water.
We heard about this tour from some folks on our last boat tour out of Seward. It is part wildlife tour and part ferry transportation to Seldovia, a town that is across the water from Homer on Kachemak Bay and accessible only by boat or plane. We had heard about Seldovia from our friend Dan.
But the clincher was that both this tour and the ferry to Seldovia accepts dogs. So Angel could come along.
As it turned out, both our friends Karen and Jack had reserved this same date for the tour, and Dan and Amanda joined the boat tour with us as well.
The boat’s first stop was Gull Island, a seabird rookery owned by Seldovia Native Corporation. There we spotted pigeon guillemots, common murres and more horned puffins.
We had great views of Mount Redoubt, an active volcano, and at 10,197 feet, the highest peak in the Aleutian range.
As we reached the Eldredge Passage, we spotted otters. We are always excited to see them. There were quite a few otters, a group of them is called a “raft” of otters.
Camera & Bloody Mary … heaven
Next we spotted some bald eagles and also an eaglet in a nest. Kachemak Bay is not as well known as the Gulf of Alaska for wildlife viewing but this was turning out to be a great wildlife cruise.
One interesting fact we learned from one of the naturalists on board was that the eaglets’ wingspan will be as large as or larger than the adults when they leave the nest at between 9 and 13 weeks old.
As we continued we spotted some more otters, these were mamas with babies. We did not stop so it was tough to capture photos, but we could see that one had a baby that she was carrying face down – usually the babies are face up on top of the mama’s belly. But we could see the pup’s furry back and at one point he turned his head to look at us. The otters are really enchanting.
Next we saw some humpbacks. They were feeding from the nutrient rich top layer of these waters, and so were not diving, simply surfacing for air. I had not expected to see whales on this cruise, so was pretty excited.
Unfortunately, we also found the remains of a dead whale. There have been several dead whales found in the general area around Alaska and scientists are still puzzled as to the cause.
Then we reached our destination, Seldovia, one of the oldest settlements of the Cook Inlet area. Seldovia’s first residents were the Alutiiq about 2,000 years ago then in 1800 Russian settlers arrived and named it “Zaliv Seldevoy” – Herring Bay.
These first settlers came to mine coal, but the town later became a center for fur hunting and trading, and later yet for processing salmon, crab and herring.
Before roads provided better access within Alaska, Seldovia became an important first stop for ships from Seward and other areas in the Cook Inlet. The town built a wooden boardwalk along the waterfront and businesses whose structures were built on stilts grew around the boardwalk. In its heyday, it became known throughout South central Alaska as the boardwalk town.
The Good Friday earthquake of 1964 caused the town to sink four feet, and subsequent floods destroyed most of the boardwalk and structures around it. But its “new old boardwalk” is still a prominent feature in town, after being rebuilt along with new structures on stilts for businesses and residences alongside it.
People come for the day as we did, or to stay at one of its hotels or bed & breakfasts. You can hike, enjoy its beach, shop and eat at one of its shops and restaurants, fish, or kayak.
A popular stop is The Russian Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas, built in 1891. It is still “an active religious facility in the community”, with a visiting priest offering Sunday services and performing baptisms, weddings and funerals.
We had a leisurely lunch by the water – made more leisurely by the restaurant’s being understaffed. But what we enjoyed most was the boardwalk and the colorful structures alongside of it. There are lots of flowers everywhere, and many artsy touches.
Our almost three hours in the town flew by and it was time to return.
And there they were; the otters, one was sleepy and holding a seashell from a recent meal.
As we crossed the bay back towards Homer we spotted several humpback whales, they were on both sides of the boat. Most were not diving nor showing their flukes, but apparently feeding as the ones we had spotted earlier. But one of them, apparently a calf, breached – Amanda I think was the only one who saw it.
And then an amazing thing happened. As we were following along behind a humpback, because of the sun’s position relative to the boat, a rainbow appeared in the whale’s blow! Not once but three times! Something we had never seen before, and frankly I missed it because I was behind others. Hector saw it and captured two of the three.
Nature is so awesome.
This boat trip could not have been any better. The rocking boat lulled Angel to sleep, thankfully. But she also got to walk around the boat a bit and “socialize” and several people commented on what a nice dog she is. In fact, one couple let her sleep under their feet for a while.
One last whale sighting, this one dove and showed its fluke, “waving” good-bye.
Because of all of the wildlife sightings, the tour took more than its scheduled seven hours, but noone complained.
When we arrived back in Homer, we were all happy campers.
We said our good-byes to Jack and Karen, who were leaving that evening, we hope to catch up with them again in Alaska. And we have plans to see Dan and Amanda again down in Seattle.
Our stay in Homer exceeded all expectations, a campsite on a great beach, some rest and relaxation, good friends and socializing, and a beautiful cruise on the water.