Monday, April 9, 2012

Pinnacles (I)

Two Saturdays ago, the predicted all-weekend downpour slacked off (at least in the city) around noon, and my brother, Matthew, and I wasted no time escaping the city. Our destination was Pinnacles National Monument, a little-known monument (I sure hadn't heard of it) about two and a half hours southeast of the Bay Area. After a slight Google Maps related miscalculation, we got to Pinnacles around 6 had a dinner of fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and bread, spent two hours trying to get our (very) green wood to catch fire, and then hit the tent around 9 PM just as a full night of rain moved in.

For any potential future visitors, don't let Google Maps fool you- Pinnacles Campground is on the East side of Pinnacles not the West side. While this may not seem to be a big deal, the lack of a road through the park means that this miscalculation can add about two hours to your drive. We did get to see some beautiful rainbows in the process, so all was not lost.

We woke up around 8 AM and were on the trail by 9, heading for the tallest thing in the park (just like our father taught us). The trail started out meandering its way through some caves- awesome!

We squeezed through some narrow rocks first.

Then climbed some stairs inside a cave.

And finally emerged at the base of a dam which we climbed up and over to a reservoir.

About an hour later we had climbed the 2000 feet to the summit of North Chalone Peak at 3304 feet. Here's Matthew modeling at the summit.

We had great panoramic views, including across the Salinas River Valley to the back of Big Sur,

And back toward the Pinnacles themselves:

Two hours later we were back at the trailhead, two hours after that we were enjoying pizza and beer in Santa Cruz, and by 6 we were back home in San Francisco. It was only a 27 hour trip or so, but definitely worth it, even though we didn't see the area's prized resident (the California Condor). Maybe next time...

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spring Break

Thanks to some lucky timing, frequent flier miles, last-minute planning, and a gracious host, Jenny and I had the opportunity to spend five days in Puerto Rico during Jenny's Spring Break. Jenny left San Francisco and I left Boston (where I was traveling for work) and we met up in Atlanta for our flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In case you don't know much about Puerto Rico (I didn't), the island is located about 90 miles east of the Dominican Republic and about 1000 miles southeast of Miami. Here's a map to break up all this text:

San Juan, the capital, and 2nd oldest European settlement in the Western Hemisphere (next to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic), was settled in 1521 by Ponce de Leon, the famous (failed) explorer of Florida. Spain kept a tenuous hold on the island for the next 350 years, surviving a couple English and Dutch assaults, including one by Sir Francis Drake (he really got around!), until 1898 when the United States took possession of the island following the Spanish American war. The United States first declared Puerto Rico a colony (1898) and then an unincorporated territory in 1952 (unofficially a Commonwealth), which it remains today. Whew. Thanks for bearing with me.

Jenny and I landed around 6:30 and headed into Old San Juan, the original Spanish settlement, a small island on the eastern side of San Juan Harbor. We checked into our unassuming (read: boring) hotel and then went to find some Puerto Rican food, notably Mofongo, mashed and fried plantains, and a Pina Colada (the official drink of Puerto Rico), coconut cream, pineapple juice, and of course, rum.

The next morning we woke up to begin a full day of sight-seeing including, strolls around the cobblestone streets of the Old Town,

El Morro, the fort guarding the mouth of the harbor,

and San Cristobal, the fort protecting San Juan from attack by land.

We also took a tour through the Museum of the Americas (during a rainstorm), a quirky museum with exhibits on everything from African influence in Puerto Rico, to religious art, to an exhibit featuring local artists- a steal for $3. Sunday afternoon we checked into our new hotel in Old Town, Da House, which has awesome rooms featuring local art and a hottub on the roof for only $80 a night! Definitely the best value in the city.

After walking the city walls at dusk Jenny and I went back to our hotel and enjoyed some live salsa and mojitos, and even though I don't know how to salsa (or dance at all for that matter), the people-watching was good, and the music even better. And we got to enjoy all three of their sets, even from our room four stories up (haha)...

Monday morning Jenny's friend from San Juan, Isabella (Isa from here forward), our gracious host, picked us up and drove us out to her home (and ours for the next three days) in Guaynabo on the outskirts of the city. Isa's house was open to the tropical air, one of my dreams for a house someday...

That afternoon we drove to El Yunque National Forest, the only federally-owned rain forest in the United States, about a two hours drive away, in the northeast part of Puerto Rico. The lushness of the rainforest always makes me think it's fake. Nope.

A few hours later we were on the summit of El Yunque, at the top of an old pirate lookout tower built by the Spanish:

And on our way down we stopped by another old watchtower.

We even got to the end the day on the beach!

Tuesday we woke up and spent the day at the beach in Dorado, on the central northern coast of Puerto Rico, about an hour drive from Isa's house. Sadly, no photos, only some sunburned feet (won't forget that next time...). I did snag this photo when we stopped for gas though- I was a little shocked to see gas prices only two digits long ($.98)!!!

As you may have figured out, gas is priced in liters in Puerto Rico, and with around four liters to a gallon that number makes a lot more sense.

!We also got the chance to check out Isa's neighborhood, and even better show off my mad basketball skills...

Wednesday morning Jenny and I headed back to the airport for the long (really long!) flight back to California, leaving our tropical fairytale behind.

Special thanks to our host Isa, for sharing not only her house, but also her experiences and memories - definitely more interesting and meaningful than any guidebook.