The most wonderful time of the year

One of the first things I thought about when we moved to our new house was where to put the Christmas tree. That being said, it should come as a surprise to no one that I like to put my decorations up as soon after Thanksgiving as possible. So today I cranked up the Mannheim Steamroller and got to decorating!

Here’s our Christmas tree (in its long awaited spot). We hardly ever use the front door except to check the mail, in case you’re wondering.

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And here is the mantle, now complete with our new gel fuel fireplace thanks to my mom and grandparents.

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I’m particularly excited about the stockings you can see hanging there. After searching every store I could think of and the *entire* internet, I finally came across Anne Schneider’s Etsy shop, Good Wishes Quilts. She made the stockings for me the very next day, and there they were in my mailbox by the time we got back from Thanksgiving break.

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¡Hola from Puerto Rico!

Well, we aren’t in Puerto Rico any more, but we were a few weeks ago! Matt was invited to a conference in San Juan, so it was the perfect opportunity for a fall getaway. After all, you shouldn’t turn down a partially payed for vacation, right?

We left on October 23 and got back on the 27th. When we arrived at the airport in San Juan mid-afternoon we hopped a shuttle over to the rental car place so we could get started adventuring right away! We drove about an hour east to one of the island’s main natural attractions: El Yunque, the only rainforest in the United States. We didn’t have a really long time to spend there, so first we stopped in at the visitors’ center to change into better adventuring clothes then headed to a hiking trail recommended by my guidebook. There were lots of good photos to be had along the way.

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These silver dollar-sized snails were everywhere! This one was particularly photogenic.

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There was a hummingbird nest right beside the trail. The first time we passed it the hummingbird flew away before I could get a picture.

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But on the way back she was sitting very still!

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There were several people swimming and playing in the pool at the waterfall, but I got a few tourist-free shots.

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And one of us. Yay!

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It was getting dark when we left the rainforest, so we decided to look for somewhere to eat supper. After driving around for quite some time we happened upon a restaurant recommended by my guidebook. It turned out to be my favorite place that we ate while we were there. I got a vegetarian plate that included rice and beans, mofongo (a Puerto Rican specialty made of mashed plantains, olive oil, and garlic – a lot like mashed potatoes), green plantain salad (tasted like potato salad), and French fries just in case I didn’t like the other things I ordered!

The next day we drove west of San Juan to the Arecibo Observatory, the biggest radio satellite of its kind in the world. We went to the museum and also had a video and tour guide.

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Just a short drive from the observatory on Puerto Rican back roads is the Rio Camuy Cave Park. We toured Clara Cave. While waiting for the shuttle to take our group into the sinkhole, we were entertained by several lizards.

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My pictures from inside the cave didn’t really turn out, but here’s one of the outside.

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And from the inside looking out.

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Also, us in front of the giant stalactite!

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After the cave tour Matt had to be back in San Juan for the beginning of his conference.

On Thursday Matt had conference stuff all day, so I decided to go to the beach.

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It was only about a ten minute walk from our hotel. I even took a free picnic lunch composed of items I confiscated from our complimentary breakfast. But it wasn’t that much fun to hang out at the beach by myself, so after swimming around for about an hour I went back to the hotel. That night we went out to eat with the other members of a committee that Matt’s on; they were all about our age.

The next day I went on a snorkeling tour. The tour company came to pick up everyone in San Juan in the morning and shuttled us to the marina. We were worried that we might get rained on since it had stormed all night, but by the time we got to the first snorkeling spot the weather had cleared up.

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The first spot was shallow and I spent most of the time trying to avoid seaweed and jellyfish. Happily, it wasn’t long before we had lunch and headed to the next spot – a coral reef.

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I wished I had a good underwater camera. There were so many fish! It was like swimming in an aquarium. We spent over an hour swimming there before we went back to the marina and then to San Juan.

On Saturday morning we split a taxi with one of Matt’s friends and went to Old San Juan. We ended up getting there a little too early and nothing was open yet! The first place we went was the fort El Morro. Its lighthouse is still used today.

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After that we caught the trolley over to Fort San Cristóbal. Here’s a view out one of its narrow windows.

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There was a great view of Old San Juan from the top of the fort.

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And when we ventured down to the lower level, we met a friend.

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After walking around the city for a bit we ate lunch at a tapas restaurant and then it was time to head to the airport. So ended our whirlwind tour of Puerto Rico! The rest of my photos will be up on flickr in the near future. *Update – the photos are now available!*