How to Fly for Less

Flying Allegiant on the way home

The key to flying for less is timing. July, August and December holidays are the most expensive times to fly. If you want to travel for less, consider mid January through May and September through mid December. While Europe in February is too cold for my tropical butt, it’s a great time to visit warmer climates like the Caribbean. Europe in April is awesome. All you need is a light jacket and you don’t have to worry if the Airbnb you are renting has a/c. In fact, April is awesome everywhere. Perú in April means less crowds and not having to book your tours in advance. September is a bad time to visit the Caribbean, as it is the height of hurricane season, but October is a great time to visit as the beach is still warm and not crowded. Like April, October is a great time to travel to almost any destination. So is November. December is a little chilly in the Northern Hemisphere, but Manuel and I spent the first two weeks of December in Northern Spain with great weather and no crowds.

Once you have in mind a destination and time of year, you can check Google Flights to see prices in a calendar view. This is a great way to see the price differences between months, length of trip and day of the week. When you hone in on the best travel dates, consider airlines and times of departure/arrival. You can also subscribe to a service like Scott’s or Mochileando to get notices of low fares.

Ultra low cost carriers are great, but did you know you could end up paying more than on a regular airline? Consider the following factors to make sure you are not paying more on that ultra low cost airline than you would on a regular airline.

First, start by comparing fare costs. Search for the same flight on various airlines. For instance, a six day October trip from Florida to New York is $138 on an ultra low cost carrier and and $146 to $148 on regular carriers. However, the same trip is $190 on a low cost carrier.

Second, check if the price of luggage is included in the published fare. Checked bags often cost about $30 each way in ultra low cost airlines. Add the cost of luggage to compare between airlines. Many times, an ultra low cost airline ends up costing more for a far inferior experience.

On a trip from Florida to New York, an ultra low cost carrier will charge you $37 for a carry on bag and $30 for a checked bag, during booking. So you are better off checking your bag, rather than carrying it yourself. If you didn’t pay for any bags during booking and do it later online, you will pay $10 more. $47 for a carry on bag and $40 for a checked bag. The price during check in remains the same. However, if you try to sneak in without paying, it costs $65 at the gate for a carry on or checked bag.

On the search performed for the October trip from Florida to New York, the ultra low cost carrier fare, including a carry on bag, would be $146 + $37 = $187. It would be more expensive to travel on the ultra low cost carrier for this trip.

Swiss Army briefcase that fits underneath airplane seats counts as a free personal item. Baggu bag on top, packed with sandwiches and an empty water bottle, does not count toward your luggage allowance.

On the topic of luggage, consider how little luggage you really need. Personal items are still free on all airlines. While dimensions vary from airline to airline, a personal item is something that fits under the seat in front of you. I have a large Swiss Army briefcase (pictured on top) that I use for work and it fits under airline seats. This is the personal item I use when flying ultra low cost airlines for trips of about five days. Other passengers use medium sized backpacks or similar bags. I take three outfits, one of them I wear while traveling, plus underwear, Keen sandals, a few toiletries, computer and chargers. I also pack a small purse to use once I arrive at my destination.

Four day trip. I wore one outfit and the ballerina flats. Everything else fit into the Swiss Army briefcase with room to spare.
Roll your clothes to fit more into your luggage.

For longer trips, I take a carry-on bag. My favorite is the Osprey Meridian 60L. It is the most versatile piece of luggage I have ever owned. First, it fits even the smallest carry on plane compartments. If you didn’t know, not all carry-ons are the same and some airlines, like Ryanair in Europe, have smaller carry-on compartments. You don’t find out until you are about to board and the gate agent forces you to check your bag with a hefty fifty euro fee (true story, times two). The Osprey Meridian 60L also has straps to be worn as a backpack for those cobblestone streets in Prague, Metro stairs in Paris or transferring from bus to train to Machu Picchu. The detachable backpack is very comfortable and perfect for daytrips. It’s just a well designed piece of luggage. I never travel with anything larger than this bag. For really long trips, I wear outfits twice and do laundry one or twice.

Back to shopping for cheap airfare. Time of departure and arrival are important too. Does your flight arrive so late you will have to pay an extra night at a hotel? We arrived at Lima at 1:30 in morning. It cost us an extra night, but there were no earlier flight options. Recently, I was helping a friend shop for a flight from Puerto Rico to Orlando. The cheapest option departed at three in the morning and was $30 cheaper. Departing at three means being at the airport at one and arriving at Orlando exhausted. In my opinion, it is not worth $30 to loose a night of sleep and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the first day of a trip after a sleepless night. Do the math to see if it is worth it.

If you opt to fly an ultra low cost airline, there are a few other things to consider so you don’t end up paying more. Choosing your seat starts at $9. If you don’t mind not sitting together, let the airline assign you a seat. You can also arrive early and ask to be seated together at the gate. You may get it, you may not, but you saved the fee.

Make sure you check-in online and print or bring your mobile boarding pass. Some airlines charge $10 just to print your boarding pass.

Ultra low cost airlines usually don’t provide any entertainment. Don’t expect any and you won’t be disappointed. Bring your own. I love that the Netflix app lets you download movies and series to your mobile device to watch offline.

Finally, bring your own snacks and an empty water bottle (preferably reusable). Water bottles often go for $3 at most airports and during your flight. On my last trip to Orlando, I flew on Allegiant. It is a great ultra low cost airline, but they don’t even give you a free glass of water. They have snacks, water and sodas for purchase. I always bring a reusable empty water bottle that I fill up after going through TSA. I also brought sandwiches from my favorite bakery, which are cheaper and better than anything they sell at the airport. The food gets packed in a separate bag because it is easier to go through TSA and it doesn’t count towards luggage allowance.

If you have any other tips on how to fly for less, I would love to hear from you. You can leave a comment below.

Hurricane Brownies in the BBQ

Mexican lasagna and brownies cooking in the BBQ after Hurricane María

With Hurricane Dorian approaching Florida as a major hurricane, I thought I would share my recipe on how to make brownies in the BBQ. Hurricane María made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. Nearly 3,000 people died in the months following the hurricane for lack of access to healthcare, water and electricity. Our home was without water until mid December 2017 and power was restored on February 9, 2018. I remember the date very clearly.

Every member of the family was in charge of a task. I was in charge of cooking. More than substenance, I tried to give the family a little happiness through food. The days were long and excruciatingly hot. Brownies made life better and more bearable, but we did not have a large generator to power the oven. I figured brownies were easy enough to try to use the BBQ as an oven. Plus, by cooking outside, the house wouldn’t get even hotter.

Any kind of boxed brownie mix will do. Make sure you stock up before the storm hits and to have all the ingredients. Did you know eggs can keep without refrigeration for a week? The United Egg Producers Association does not recommend you keep eggs outside the refrigerator once they have been refrigerated, but in an event like a hurricane, just make sure to cook them well to eliminate any risk of Salmonella.

To make brownies, turn on the BBQ. We have a Weber Genesis gas grill. Place an oven thermometer in the BBQ so you can monitor the temperature. Adjust the settings until you get 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the brownie ingredients by hand until well incorporated. Pour in a brownie pan and place in the BBQ. Close the BBQ and bake for the same time you would if it were a regular oven. Check the temperature every 10 minutes or so. BBQs are not as effective as ovens at keeping the temperature constant. Adjust the settings to maintain the temperature as close to 350 degrees Farenheit as possible.

Once the time is up, check for doneness. It may take longer than in a regular oven. The key to good brownies is to not overcook them. I would rather take them out underdone. Since you have just survived a hurricane, don’t even bother taking them out of the pan. Cut them and eat them from the pan and enjoy what may be the only nice thing in your day as a survivor of a major disaster.

More Than a First Aid Kit

My first aid kit has developed over years of traveling. Some lessons were learned the hard way. Like antacids. I was in a middle of a cruise feeling horrible, not being able to enjoy the trip because of the horrible burning sensation in my throat. A guardian angel appeared with a bottle of Gaviscon tabs. She saved my trip.

Some time later, I was in Culebra having champagne chased by Gaviscon. It really was killing the experience of sipping champagne on Flamenco, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Another guardian angel introduced me to Prilosec. I learned to take Prilosec ahead of time to prepare for trips that were sure to fire up a bout of heartburn. Gaviscon is only a backup, for immediate relief.

There are many places where you know there will be pharmacies nearby, like most of the United States. Still, you don’t want to be in a hotel room at 5 in the morning with a splitting headache trying to figure out where the nearest pharmacy is and how you are going to get there.

The decision of what goes into my travel first aid kit depends on the destination and what activities we may be doing. For instance, if we’re visiting friends or family, I will not pack much of anything. If we’re going somewhere at a high altitude like Cusco or Vail, I will pack altitude sickness remedies. If there will be mosquitoes, I will pack insect repellent. If the water quality is not good, I’ll be sure to pack plenty of anti-diarrheal. Really think about your trip and what illnesses or symptoms you may experience. What are the chances of catching a cold? How about allergies?

Prunes are the weirdest item in my travel first aid kit. This is embarassing to talk about, but travel constipation is a thing and I get it all the time (unless I get diarrhea, which is equally embarassing to talk about). It makes me miserable. I have tried multiple remedies, but none are as gentle and effective as prunes. Most over the counter remedies for constipation have some kind of undesirable side effect, from cramping to gas to unpredictable diarrhea. If I think I’m getting constipated, I have a prune in the morning. If the problem is not resolved, I have another prune in the afternoon and I gradually eat more prunes until the problem is solved.

Individually packed prunes

The other important consideration is size and weight. Bringing everything in your medicine cabinet is not practical. I have experimented with all sorts of alternate packaging through the years. What I have found works best are pill pouches. You can find them at most pharmacies. I try to get the pill version of every medicine I will be taking and repackage enough pills into pill pouches. Since I will not have the medicine packaging available to know doseage or other information, I take a photograph of the packaging and keep it in my phone during the trip. Then I pack everthing into a clear bag so it’s easier to find anything you may need.

Pepto tabs in a pill bag

What follows is a list of my typical travel first aid kit. Everything is in the tablet version, except where noted otherwise.

  • Prescription meds (duh)
  • Zantac
  • Gaviscon
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Imodium
  • Zicam (or other cold remedy)
  • Vitamin C
  • Mucinex
  • Benadryl
  • Claritin, Cetrizine or Loratadine (Lately I have been taking Flonase. It comes in a 0.5 ounce bottle that I pack with the other liquids.)
  • Tylenol (acetaminophen) (In case you have Dengue or have reason to believe you may have it.)
  • Aleeve
  • Excedrine Migraine
  • A couple of bandages (about 2 small, medium and big, and they are rarely used)
  • Triple Antibiotic ointment (it gets packed with the liquids)
  • Prunes (individually wraped)

Optional items, that depend on the destination, are:

  • insect repellent (Ben’s 1.25 fl. oz spray pump, 30% deet, from REI: https://www.rei.com/product/800705/bens-spray-pump-insect-repellent-30-percent-deet-125-fl-oz)
  • Dramamine
  • Eye drops (We live in the tropics where it is very humid. When traveling to dry locations, the eyes get itchy. Eye drops really come in handy. They also get packed with the liquids.)
  • Sunblock (It is obviously important for the beach, but it is equally important at high altitutes, where there is less protection from the atmosphere. I also use it for outdoor activities in snowy locations. There are 3 oz tubes that are great for traveling.)

Airplane Picnics

The days when you could expect a meal on a flight are long gone. Passengers nowadays get a takeout meal at the airport before boarding their plane. Some do it out of convenience, others to avoid the hassle of taking food through TSA. It takes a little knowledge and effort, but you can take food through TSA. I refuse to pay $3 for a bottle of water and $10 for a sad sandwich inside the airport terminal. And why is the lettuce always soggy?

Tortilla española cut in wedges and packed in a grease proof kraft box

This is how my airplane picnics were born. I started with the obvious. Instead of buying a sandwich at the airport, I got one at my favorite sandwich shop on the way to the airport. For about half the price, I had a far tastier sandwich. I would get water or soda after going through TSA.

From there, the picnics got more evolved. I began making the sandwiches at home: honey ham and cheese, cuban, croquette and swiss cheese, muffalettas…

Quiches were an obvious choice. I didn’t want to miss out on the salad I usually enjoy as a side to a quiche, but I quite couldn’t figure out how to pass dressing through TSA (other than putting it in a small bottle with my shampoo). The first time I just packed a lemon inside the salad container and brought a plastic knife. When I was ready to eat, I cut the lemon open and used it to dress the salad. It was not bad. Then I tried making little bladders out of saran wrap. I would put the dressing bladders in the salad bowl and nobody at TSA ever complained. My latest version is to use pill bags. They are small zip lock bags that they sell at most pharcies to pack pills. They hold 2 tablespoons of dressing really well. Again, I put them into the salad bowl in case they open. While technically all liquids should go in one clear quart sized zip lock bag, I have never had a problem at TSA with a little dressing baggie inside my salad bowl.

Other dishes I have prepared for airplane picnics are gyros, cheese plates and tortilla española (spanish omelette). I pack all the ingredients for the gyros separately and assemble them when we are ready to eat. Cheese plates are easy and hard cheeses last for a long time without refrigeration. Also, I store my picnic underneath the seat in front of me. The temperature on airplane floors tend to be chilly and helps keep the food colder. Cheese plates go really well with crackers, olives and almonds. Tortilla española is a favorite at home. I made the one pictured above for my husband’s last trip. It goes well with some crusty bread.

Hardboiled eggs are a great idea for any picnic, but my husband has vetoed hardboiled eggs from our airplane picnic menu. He says the smell is offensive to the other passengers. He’s probably right.

Fruits are a great option as they don’t need refrigeration or special preparation, but be aware that there are restrictions on what fruits and vegetables you can travel with. I always get bummed out when they take away my pears at the San Juan airport. As if pears grew in Puerto Rico. They are obviously imported. Anyway, check with the US Department of Agriculture. That is how I know that bananas and oranges are allowed throuhg Agriculture and TSA.

At some point you will get thirsty. I refuse to pay overpriced drinks at the airport. Local Medalla beer at SJU airport is $13! We pack an empty bottle and fill it up after going through TSA. If you are skeptical of tap water, get a bottle with a filter. In fact, we have a bottle with a filter and another one with a purifier. Grayl sells great purifier bottles. As stated in their site, http://www.grayl.com, the bottle “Protects from global waterborne pathogens (virus, bacteria, protozoan cysts), pesticides, chemicals, heavy metals. It makes clean, purified drinking water in 15 seconds. Purify water, anywhere.” We have used it in St. Croix, Perú and Guatemala with great results. I mean it, I refilled that bottle in plenty of bathrooms in Perú and even used the purified water to wash fruit and we didn’t sick at all.

Grayl purifier bottle that has saved us from single use disposable water bottles. Tina, the yellow lab, was watching the photo session and I couldn’t resist including her in the photo.

Packaging is really important too. I try to produce as little trash as possible when I go on a picnic. Most of my bowls, plates and utensils are reusable. The exception is when I travel. I don’t want the hassle of having to carry around bowls, plates and cutlery. Plus, there is always the risk that something may get confiscated at TSA or lost in transit. When traveling, my picnics are packed in disposable ware.

There are many options for disposable food packaging. The dollar store is a good place to start looking. They usually sell inexpensive disposable plastic bowls with lids. Another option is Amazon. They sell everything. That is where I bought greaseproof cardboard packaging that is friendlier to the environment.

Cutlery is another consideration. I try to buy good quality or premium plastic cutlery, as they are stronger. I ususally wash them and keep them to be reused during the entire trip. Wooden utensils are an option too. I like the spoons and forks that came with my first set, but the knives didn’t really work. The problem was solved in Perú where we found a sharp wooden knife that really works. It has gone through TSA a couple of times, but it might get confiscated at some point.

Reusable wooden cutlery is TSA friendly. The top knife is no good. The bottom knife works really well. It was bought at a market in Cusco, Perú.

Another thing to think about is where you will pack your airplane picnic. It is a bad idea to put in your suitcase for various reasons. First, if it spills, it will ruin your whole trip. Second, it is easier to go through TSA if it is packed separately. I always put my airplane picnics in Baggu reusable bags. They are pretty, don’t take up any space when stored and they don’t count as luggage. You can get them at: http://www.baggu.com.

Let me know what is your favorite airplane picnic food and tips. I’m always looking to learn something new and expand my menu.

Birthday Picnics, an Endurance Sport

Pinneaple upside down cake

It’s my 46th birthday. It’s not an important birthday like turning 40 or 50, so I didn’t make any big plans. Somehow, not making plans resulted in a four day long celebration.

It all started on Friday, with a trip to Poza de las Mujeres in Manatí. The name comes from colonial times, when high society women went to this beach. The men had a separate beach, Mar Chiquita. They are both spectaular beaches in Manatí.

I went with Adriana. We’ve been friends since law school and we both have birthdays in August. Our first attempt to go to la Poza de las Mujeres was about four years ago. We got lost and never made it. This Friday we tried again and it was really easy finding la Poza. We couldn’t figure out how we got lost the first time, maybe because the sorroundings are really different. Hurricane María changed the landscape, wiped out part of the road and destroyed a two story home. The ruins are still there, yet another reminder that reconstruction has a long way to go.

Two story house demolished by Hurricane María has not been demolished or rebuilt almost two years after the Hurricane

We turned the corner of the destroyed house and there it was, a natural pool formed between the rocks. The water was crystal clear with very little waves. I think I’m always describing beaches this way because that is exactly the kind of beach I seek out. We set up the beach chairs and cooler and went into the water. We spent a wonderful day, just two girlfriends catching up and sharing stories of what is important to us. Having girlfriends is so important. We fill each other with love and support in a way no one else can.

Poza de las Mujeres is beautiful even when rain clouds rolled through. Photo taken by my beautiful friend Adriana.

When we got hungry, we got out of the water and had a picnic lunch. I brought a crustless tomato quiche and shortbread cookies. Adriana broguht a cheese plate with salami and crackers. Since it was a girl’s picnic, I brought my favorite disposable utensils from Oriental Trading. They’re plastic, but look like hammered gold. I love they have so many options.

Crustless tomato quiche and my favorite disposable utensils from Oriental Trading. They are plastic, but look like hammered gold.

The marine forecast said Saturday would be the best day for boating. Less than three foot waves, no rain and wind at ten knots would make for a beautiful day. My father, daughter and husband were my crew. Our destination was Icacos Island, which is off the northeastern tip of Puerto Rico.

When we arrived, the beach was already full. I tried anchoring at a spot I call the “pool” beacuse it is a sandy patch where the water is turquoise blue. On Saturday it was somewhat choppy, so we opted for a different spot. The moorings near the snorkeling spot were easy to reach and far from the noise of all the boats on shore. We tied up and jumped in the water. It was warm and clear and you could see the most beautiful shades of blues. Nearby was a beautiful brain coral. The prettiest fish we saw was black with bright blue edges. There were also striped fish and “colirubias” which are tasty.

Tied up to the buoy, Icacos in the background. Photo taken by my daughter Gabi.

The boat picnic was fruit salad, a cheese plate with edam and sharp cheddar cheeses, steak gyros and cookies. Of course we had Medalla beer to wash it down and prosecco to mark the special occasion.

Prosecco in my favorite Govino glasses. Shades of blue and Icacos in the background.

Boating and traveling are my greatest passions. Boating gives you access to incredibly beautiful places that take your breath away. Having my hands at the wheel makes me feel powerful, capable and free. Few women drive boats and I also enjoy teaching women how to drive and dock the boat. My daughter has a boating license since she was twelve years old. I taught her how to drive a boat and I love that it is something we will always bond over.

Sunday sunset picnic

Sunday celebrations were breakfast at Bistro in Isla Verde and a sunset picnic. Bistro makes the most extravagant dishes with fresh quality ingredients.

El Morro in Old San Juan is almost 500 years old. It is an impressive six level fort built during the Spanish colonization. Watching the sun set besides it while we sipped champagne was a perfect way to spend time with friends. I also brought caprese salad and spanish cheeses with Serrano ham to munch on. Dessert was an upside down pinneaple cake that I had baked earlier in the day (pictured above). The recipe is by the Díaz family, our dear friends that live in San Antonio, Texas.

El Morro’s upper level seen from our picnic spot. Photo by my daughter, Gabriela.

Monday finally arrived. My actual birthday. The original plans were changed because I have some work responsibilities that can’t be postponed, but we sang happy birthday with another upside down pinneaple cake for breakfast.

In the afternoon, Manuel and I took a nap, tired from three straight days of celebrations. Life is short, too short. I want to enjoy it to the fullest and I do pretty well at it most of the time. Like this weekend. A casual birthday celebration turned into a four day endurance sport. Thank you to everyone that celebrated with me, near and far.

Lessons in Democracy from One of the Oldest Colonies in the World

Demonstrators gather in front of Estadio Hiram Bithorn on July 22, 2019

Change can happen through peaceful means.

Puerto Ricans took to the streets after a Telegram chat was published by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism in which Governor Ricardo Rosselló exchanged insensitive, homophobic and misogynistic messages. Making fun of the backlog of bodies at the Forensic Sciences Institute was too much for Puerto Ricans to bear after approximately 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane María. Reading the chat, it was obvious that the governor did not care about the trials and tribulations of the people he governed. To add insult to injury, it was evident that the governor was discussing public policy issues with outsiders, which stank of corruption.

What followed had never been seen before in this small island. Puerto Ricans organized demonstrations in every imaginable way. Demonstrators showed up at the governor’s mansion demanding his resignation chanting to the tune of local rhythms since Saturday, July 13, 2019. The crowds grew bigger and bigger and protest took the form of body painting, pot banging, dancing, group yoga, even bedtime stories for the police guarding the governor’s mansion who took to the habit of ending protests at 11:00 pm every night. People protested on foot, on cars, on motorcycle, on bicycles and on horseback. Rey Charlie, a motorcycle mechanic turned activist, organized a protest on motorcycle that must have been about a mile long. A massive march was called for July 22 and artists like Ricky Martin, Bad Bunny and Residente were instrumental in flaming the fire to get people to attend. It is estimated that over half a million marched in San Juan, while many more participated in other parts of Puerto Rico.

The more the governor held on to his seat, the louder the people’s voice became. Tensions ran high and on July 24, the eve of the anniversary of Puerto Rico’s constitution, Governor Rosselló finally gave in and announced his resignation effective August 2nd. Other than some vandalism, there had been no acts of violence. Puerto Ricans made their governor resign without bloodshed. Puerto Rico, the world’s oldest colony, just gave a master class in non-violent exercise of democracy.

Borinquen is how the Taíno Indians called Puerto Rico until the Spanish conquest. Christopher Columbus arrived here in 1493. The Spanish enslaved the Taínos forcing them to find and surrender gold. Harsh working conditions and European illnesses like smallpox, decimated the Taíno population. African slaves were brought to replace Taíno labor. After the Spanish figured there was not much gold in Puerto Rico, slaves were used in the sugar fields. Few Spanish women came to Puerto Rico and that is how we came to be a true melting pot of Taíno, African and Spanish descent.

Puerto Ricans attempted to obtain their independence from Spain on various occasions. The 1868 Grito de Lares is still commemorated as an important attempt to overthrow the Spanish government in the island. The Grito lasted a little over a day, but the Spanish government granted more political autonomy to the island. The Autonomic Charter of 1897 was a definite step towards independence, which was halted by the Spanish-American War in 1898.

After 400 years of being a Spanish colony, Puerto Rico became a US colony. The US was not any kinder than Spain had been. While Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917, racism was evident. On February 22, 1899, the New York Times ran an article headlined “Americanizing Puerto Rico,” describing Puerto Ricans as “uneducated, simple-minded and harmless people who are only interested in wine, women, music and dancing.” As late as 1940, Scribner’s Commentator stated, “All Puerto Ricans are totally lacking in moral values, which is why none of them seem to mind wallowing in the most abject moral degradation.” Excerpt From: Nelson A Denis. “War Against All Puerto Ricans.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/war-against-all-puerto-ricans/id1209979467, pages 43-44

18 governors were appointed by the US President, not elected by Puerto Ricans, between 1900 and 1946. Of the 18 governors only one was a native Puerto Rican, the rest were North American. They didn’t show much love for Puerto Rico, especially Blanton C. Winship, who had to be summarily removed by President Roosevelt on May 12, 1939. Governor Winship was responsible for the 1937 Ponce Massacre. 19 people died and about 200 were wounded when the police fired upon a peaceful demonstration of unarmed members of the Nationalist Party.

It wasn’t until 1948 that Congress allowed Puerto Ricans to elect their own local government. Our first elected governor was Luis Muñoz Marín, who took office in 1949 and was in large part responsible for our Constitution, which was ratified in 1952.

Since the 1952, the island has gone through periods of economic growth and some recessions. Tax Credit Section 936 was effected in 1976 and allowed manufacturers to operate in Puerto Rico essentially tax free. This created numerous high paying jobs. While the manufacturer didn’t pay taxes, the jobs it created sustained the economy. Congress and the local government allowed Section 936 to phase out in 1996. Manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies closed their factories and left. There was no substitute for Section 936 and the local government did nothing to adjust or stimulate growth. In fact, it borrowed even money. The economy crashed in 2006. Puerto Rico was 72 billion dollars in debt.

Things had not improved by 2016 and Congress passed PROMESA, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. Under PROMESA, Congress established an appointed Fiscal Control Board to oversee our local government. Years of mismanagement dug us deep in debt and austerity measures imposed by the Board, not by our government, were like salt to the wound.

As if that weren’t enough, Hurricanes Irma and María sucker punched Puerto Rico making landfall within 2 weeks of one another on September 2017. We were without water and electricity for months. Water came back in my home in December. Power came back in February of 2018. Like I said before, nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of María, mostly because of lack of access to clean water, electricity and healthcare.

I spent months after the hurricane trying to find what good could come from so much suffering. The old saying of “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” didn’t seem enough. That kind of suffering was too high a price for being stronger. What I understand know is that María not only made us stronger, it took away our fear. After months without water, power, communications, or even healthcare, there is nothing a politician can take from us. That is why, when Puerto Ricans found out their governor made fun of the dead after Hurricane María, we were not afraid to take to the streets and demand his resignation.

I have never been more proud to be Puerto Rican. The people of Puerto Rico came together and through peaceful and very creative demonstrations, made our governor resign in less than two weeks. There can be no greater exercise of democracy than achieving change through peaceful demonstrations by citizen.

The Picnic Part of the Story

This post wouldn’t belong in my blog if I didn’t share my protest picnic story. The July 22, 2019, demonstration was scheduled to begin at nine in the morning. The plan was to march a couple of miles on one of San Juan’s mayor arteries. We got up early. I made salami and provolone sandwiches on rosemary bread. The sandwiches went into a small backpack cooler with some mandarin oranges and water. In another backpack went hardboiled eggs, cereal bars and shortbread cookies for sharing with the other demonstrators.

Manuel carrying the backpack cooler during the march

We took public transportation and made it to the protest site early. People were already gathered there and a woman got on the microphone to practice protest chants. We moved to the shade and waited there until it was time to march. We got on the ramp to the expressway and made our way up. The humidity and the heat made it hard to walk, but it was pretty awesome to walk on the expressway we always zoom by. Spirits were high, people were chanting and marching. It felt more like a festival than a march.

The heat got to me. I took a shortcut and waited for my family to come back. The energy was amazing, Puerto Ricans who have been so divided by political and religious issues, stood united, peacefully, and you can even say joyfully, to demand what is right, to demand respect from our leaders.

At the end, we took the off ramp. The space between the expressway and the ramp is shaded by beautiful tall trees. I had always thought it would be a great place to have a picnic, if you could park and get off your car. July 22 was my big chance. Even better, there were hundreds of people already there sharing whatever they had brought. After walking in the heat for a couple of hours, laying in the shade and having a picnic felt great. We lied on a microfiber beach towel my husband brought. Other people were lounging on beach chairs. A picnic was a great way to end our demonstration.

Picnic by the off ramp, Las Américas Expressway

Afterword

We went to countdown the governor’s last minutes on the date his resignation was effective. We stood on Fortaleza Street on August 2, at 4:30 pm. The crowd was large and it was too hot, so we moved to where my uncle was on Calle del Cristo. You could see people of all ages, old and young, tourists and locals, gathered to count down the last minutes before the governor’s resignation became effective. At 4:59:50 the crowd counted down to 5 and cheered like it was midnight on New Year’s Eve. We later found out the governor wasn’t there, but I don’t mind, we were there, our voice was heard and we were part of something wonderful: citizens effecting change through peaceful demonstrations. Puerto Rico really does it better!

Travel Coffee: The Good, The Bad and The Blah

Morning coffee at La Parguera, Puerto Rico

My husband has spoiled me. I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker and then this wonderful man came into my life and taught me that life is too short to have bad coffee and to have coffee on the go. At home we have a Breville coffee maker with all the bells and whistles. We only buy the best Puerto Rican coffee beans to be freshly ground and made into the most incredible espresso.

Naturally, when we travel, we want at least a decent cup of coffee. While it is true that you can go out and buy a cup of coffee, we do not want to rush out in the morning to get our fix. Plus, let’s face it, there are many countries with bad coffee. Yes Colombia, I’m looking at you. Colombia produces a lot of good and not so good coffee, but the whole country drinks instant, gasp!

While we haven’t found the perfect cup of travel coffee, here is what we have found. Don’t count on your hotel having a coffee maker. Even if they have one, you may not get refills to brew a cup every day of your stay. If we are staying at a local rental and we know there is a stove, we take a greca coffee maker. We keep a greca handy to make coffee in case a hurricane knocks out the power for days.

Most travel coffee makers on the market right now work by pressing the coffee either by electrical power or manually. Any electronic device that produces heat is bound to fail as soon as you plug it in some foreign country where you need a converter. I don’t know about you, but I am not going to spend a hundred dollars on a coffee machine only to fry it by plugging it in somewhere with different voltage.

Manual coffee makers have the problem of requiring a separate source to heat the water. Desperate for our morning fix, we gave a manual french press a try. We bought a quality camping french press and took it on a couple of trips. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get a good cup of coffee out of it.

GSI french press on our balcony overlooking la Concha Beach, San Sebastián, Northern Spain

After some attempts, I came across an immersion heater. Apparently they were big in the sixties, but I hadn’t been born yet. Also, being an tropical girl, I didn’t even know they existed. At $10 a piece, I didn’t mind frying it in a foreign country.

Armed with the french press and an immersion heater, we set out on a two week trip to Northern Spain. But first, I had to grind all the coffee we expected to consume during the trip. Not too fine or the press would clog, not too coarse or the coffee would be too watery. Then I measured the sugar we would need and packed it all into my bag. The coffee was packed in double zip lock bags to prevent any spills. Despite the double bags, all my things smelled of coffee and I grew tired of it. Even the food I packed in my suitcase, like almonds and snack bars, smelled and tasted like coffee.

The other problem with the coffee makers, powered or manual, is that they have many parts that need to be cleaned and stored. Washing the many parts over a hotel sink and trying to dry coffee accesories with white towels is no fun.

After all the complaining we had done over Colombians drinking instant coffee, we decided to give it a try. First we tried Nescafe Taster’s Choice. We tried the light, medium and dark roasts and found them too watery. If you like american coffee, these may be good choices for you. Next we tried Folgers with similar results. On a recent trip to Vieques, we brought Colcafe three in one, which has creamer and sugar. By far, this has been the best coffee we have been able to make in a hotel room. Compared to the espresso we make at home, Colcafe is pretty blah, but it beats lugging around a coffee maker with multiple parts which need to be washed and dried, plus coffee and sugar.

Upon further research, I came across G7 Instant Coffee and ordered a bag from Amazon. They use a different method for making instant coffee. The reviews were really promising, but the taste is similar to Colcafe three in one. Each packet is good for four to six ounces of water. Any more and it tastes watery. For now, my favorites are Colcafe and G7.

G7 Instant Coffee

What are your tricks for having coffee while traveling? Maybe it is a matter of taste and preference. Have you tried any instant coffee brands that you love? Leave me a comment below to see if we can figure the perfect cup of coffee while traveling.

Beach Picnics at Vieques

Media Luna Beach, Vieques, Puerto Rico

Coming back from a four day trip to Vieques had me excited about writing this post. Let me set the stage: one beautiful Caribbean island, two couples and four days. Vieques, and her sister island Culebra, are known as the Spanish Virgin Islands. They are both municipalities of Puerto Rico. They are exactly what you would expect, white sand beaches and crystal clear warm waters that make it hard to get out of the water. Flamenco Beach in Culebra always makes the list of the World’s top ten beaches. Caracas Beach is my favorite in Vieques, but the fun is in exploring the islands and finding which is your favorite.

This Ceiba tree is between 300 and 400 years old

Other interesting things to see in Vieques are the ceiba tree which is between 300 to 400 years old and the bunkers left behind by the US Navy, which look like something out of the Lost series. Esperanza on the southern coast of Vieques is where most bars and restaurants are located. Just further West of Esperanza is Playa Negra. The seas are rough and there are rocks on the bottom, but it is not to be missed for its black sand that shimmers in the sunlight. Did I say that Vieques is full of wild horses freely roaming the island?

Playa Negra has a layer of black sand that shimmers in the sunlight


Enough about Vieques and on the picnicking. Lodging and transportation are affordable in Vieques. Also, both couples split the cost of the room and a rented Jeep. We took the ferry there which is also cheap compared to flying there. Eating out is the budget buster. Breakfast can easily be $20 per person, lunch $50 and dinner $80. Times four adults and four days, it comes up to $2,400. That is almost triple the other expenses combined.

That is where the humble picnic comes in. A couple of weeks before the trip, both couples got together and decided upon a menu. We knew that our rental, Hector’s by the Sea, had a small refrigerator, microwave, beach cooler and beach chairs. Each couple would make ahead and bring one breakfast, one dinner and beach snacks for two days. The other couple made tacos and brought an assortment of fruits, cheeses and prosciutto. I made lasagna in microwave safe containers and froze them solid to withstand the trip. We had it with tomato salad, seasoned with salt, pepper and basil (packed in pill pouches, the basil definitely looked suspicious). For breakfast, I made Spanish Tortilla and brought “pan sobao” which is similar to brioche bread. Extra bread would be served with Puertorrican “mezcla” (recipe below). More cheese and fruits rounded the menu for beach snacks and vanilla cookies were our dessert.

I also brought various bottles of Spanish cava, which is more affordable than champagne. At the beach, we drank local Medalla beer, bought at la Tiendita Verde.

The Spanish Tortilla lasted for two days. We had it overlooking the Caribbean Sea. At the beach we munched on the “mezcla” sandwiches, fruits, cheeses and serrano ham. For dinner we had the tacos and the lasagna. On the last night, we had some leftovers and headed out to the rooftop bar at El Blok. We had cocktails and then some tapas of grilled octopus and local arepas with beans. The arepas were outstanding.

The tab for our picnic meals came to a little over $200. Had we gone out to eat three square meals a day, we would have spent $2,400. With the money we saved we are planning a day trip to Charco Azul in Manatí. When you spend less, you are able to travel more. That is the whole point, do more with less.

Details

Getting to Vieques and Culebra can be fast, easy and expensive or slow, hard and cheap. The fast way is catching a twenty minute flight from Isla Grande Airport in San Juan. Check out Vieques Air Link and Air Flamenco. Sea Borne flies out of Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). It costs around $140 for a round trip flight. You can also catch a flight from Ceiba, but it is about an hour drive from San Juan. Roundtrip flights from Ceiba are about $80.

The more economical alternative is to take the ferry from Ceiba. It costs $2. That is why it is so popular. But (there is a big but), service is unreliable and you have to be there really early to ensure you get tickets. The fast ferry has been operating more recently and you can buy tickets online at: porferry.com There is a service charge and it came to $54 for four adults and two beach coolers, roundtrip. The ferry was on time and on the way back they let us on an earlier ferry at no additional cost.

Once in Viques, there are plenty of lodging options. Go online and see what is best for you. My favorite places, in no particular order, are Orita at Playa Negra (beautiful property, look it up on Airbnb), Hector’s by the Sea (it’s like staying with family and has a pool), Hacienda Tamarindo (free breakfast and beautiful pool) and El Blok (great architecture).

Transportation: after the Hurricane María, taxis and public mini buses are hard to find. Renting a car is the best way to get around and Vieques is such a great place to explore, that you should not skimp on renting a car. I always rent a Jeep at Maritza’s Car Rental. They are very responsible and have great Jeeps and other cars. A four day rental was about $360.

since we had to bring everything on the ferry, it was important to pack light. The basic picnic equipment that made the trip included a small cutting board from REI, a small knife with plastic sleeve bought ages ago at Williams Sonoma, four picnic plates and cutlery that were a gift and Govino flutes. I take Govino flutes everywhere because they are lightweight, easy to pack and I love drinking anything out of them, even water. I almost forgot pretty paper napkins that I buy cheap at dollar stores. Maritza’s Car Rental. Ferry

Puertorrican “Mezcla” Recipe

Puertorrican “mezcla” is a staple at every birthday party. Although is is traditionaly served with crustless sandwich bread, I love it with “pan sobao”. The ingredients are: 12 oz. can of Spam ham, 8 oz. jar of Cheese Whiz (can be substitued by Velveeta cheese if you really can’t get your hands on Cheese Whiz) and a 4 oz. can of “pimientos morrones” (sweet peppers or pimentos). Process all the ingredients and refrigerate to thicken. Cut the crust of fresh club sandwich bread and spread the “mezcla” over on slice. Cover with another slice to make a sandwich and cut into four triangles. I prefer mine with “sobao bread”.

Eat Travel Save

Travel is my passion. Since I was a child, I have been driven by a curiosity to explore, every time wanting to go farther and farther. Travel opens the mind and teaches you like no other experience can. It is the most humbling, yet rewarding, experience I can think of.

Having said that, travel can be expensive and I don’t know about you, but I need to work for a living. Traveling takes time and money and those don’t exactly go hand in hand with a career, raising a child and paying bills. In order to travel, money and time management are paramount.

My mother’s money managment lessons coupled with some tricks of my own, have allowed me to travel extensively. One of my mother’s lessons, pay yourself first, is a tried and tested method. If you wait until the end of the month to save, you will not have anything left to save.

Also, think about what lifestyle changes you can make to save money in some areas to be better enjoyed traveling. I used to smoke, a lot. I smoked a pack a day on normal days and about two packs on weekends. That is about 9 packs a week. Quitting smoking is the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than passing the bar exam. Harder than raising a child. Harder than surviving Hurricane María. When I finally quit, I started saving what I used to spend on cigarrettes. At $6 a pack, 9 packs a week, I was saving $2,808 a year. I put that money towards travel and was able to afford my first trip to Europe. Not only that, but I took along my teenage daughter and had the trip of a lifetime. Cigarrettes have gone up to about $11 a pack, so I have adjusted my savings accordingly. I now save about $5,000 a year and that goes toward travel. I get goosebumps just thinking about how much money I used to spend on something so detrimental to my health and how I get so much traveling done with that money.

Saving would only get me so far in my quest to travel more. Spending less on travel is crucial and food can cost a lot. Feeding yourself in a city like London can easily cost $200 a day. This is where the humble picnic comes in. Not to imply that you live off peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a week. Imagine serrano ham, manchego cheese and bollos preñados (heavenly chorizo stuffed buns bought at the parking lot of Cathedral Beach, between Asturias and Galicia), washed down with wine and local chocolate for dessert, while overlooking an ancient Celtic settlement at the border between Spain and Portugal (true story).

Manuel at our Castro de Santa Trega picnic on the border between Spain and Portugal

Picture quiche and champagne at Aurora Cay. Also known as Gilligan’s Island, just off the coast of Guánica, Puerto Rico, it is a tiny cay with shallow warm crystal clear waters where your eyes get lost in the many shades of ocean blue (also a true story).

But my relationship with picnics did not start with traveling. As a single mother who could not afford to travel, I became an expert at the staycation. With my daughter in the backseat and a picnic in the trunk, we would explore the beautiful places my island of Puerto Rico has to offer. From horseback riding in the rainforest, to the many beaches all around the island, we always packed a picnic. Back then it was mostly her favorite menus, like “sandwichitos de mezcla” (pimiento spread over bread always present at Puertorrican birthday parties) or hot dogs and Capri Sun drinks. My daughter grew up loving picnics to the point where I would have to make her a picnic under a specific tree (basket and gingham tablecloth included) in order to convince her to spend the day with me at law school.

Hot dogs are not a part of my picnic menus any more (thankfully). My picnicking skills have vastly improved and even my husband comes to expect the picnics when we travel. Why pay $10 for a sad soggy sandwich at any airport when you can pack a personal cheese board with olives and almonds. Even first class passengers would be envious. My father complains that I make him carry bags when we go to the beach or a waterfall, but he is happy with anticipation at what I have brought to feast on.

So this is my blog. A lifestyle blog about being able to travel more and better. I hope you enjoy it and find something useful that will make you travel more and better.

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