Updated: Oct 21, 2021
Pack Light, Be Light // Travel Blog Entry 001 // by Rae Bu Luck @Namastrae
Upon leaving my first sunrise yoga class with my spouse, just hours from arriving in Puerto Rico, my outlook on life was recharged, my energy balanced, my heart gained hope and my stress level completely dropped to zero. I thought to myself “I’m feeling more open, talking to everyone, introducing myself and listening to their dreams while sharing my vision."
I felt relaxed, moving moment to moment, and the visible symptoms of stress-based auto-immune disorders had nearly vanished completely by the fourth day on the island. I rediscovered that my body was and is powerfully linked with the universe and is blessed with the tremendous ability to heal itself. After 9 nights only, 10 days, with no pills or creams just island healing, I was feeling total relief in my being, and it showed on my physical form. Stress ailments were healing due to my environment change, focus on my breath, the luxury of space to simply BE.
Secondly, I noticed that that little negative voice that makes unwarranted comments was gone and the prominent voice of inner wisdom was instead the one sending & receiving messages and omens from the past and future, from right now; to be experienced right now! The buddhi is the "inner voice of wisdom" or faculty of intuitive discernment or direct spiritual awareness in Buddhism & Hinduism belief systems.
Ancient beliefs aside, these omens and messages and signals were guiding me to go softly and consistently on my path of my personal legend and personal legacy.
Each moment experienced IS the path to the future, because it exists NOW. Just as the wake does not drive the ship, so your past is not the determiner of your future. The present moment is all there is and therefore is all powerful. Linking this energy with the radiant, beating, relentless, spiritual powers of the hot equatorial sun, I am renewed.
Saying things many have said and doing things many have done but in my own way. In the expression of Rae Bu. I feel more connected to the language of the world, of the earth and of our connected souls, and of our collective consciousness, sensing and trusting, intuiting and manifesting. How incredible it is to BE. And to have a home. But how incredible it is to know the world is one's home and all is one's family.
These sentiments shared with you, are the biggest gain from my travel to Puerto Rico and sentiments that bear repeating in pre & post-covid times, in this country and others.
Below is a list of 20 fully digestible tid-bits from my travel to this enchanted island of Puerto Rico and it's smaller sibling, Vieques.
SPANGLISH/ ESPAÑOL/ENGLISH :: Bilingual everything, every sign, and everyone. What I adored as a language learner, dare I say Linguist, is that everyone and everything helps you to learn Spanish if you study and put forth the effort. Conversely, if you’re a native Spanish speaker then this would work vise versa as well in P.R! Internationals/Locals/Gringos with whom I interacted all seemed to glow and buzz with a relaxed, friendly, energy. I had many a meaningful conversation at the hostels, guesthouses and airbnb in which I stayed, which boasted a range of ages from 18-55 without discrimination, as it should be!
2. NO BUGS!? Like where are the bugs? Of all of the islands or tropical places I’ve lived on or visited, bugs didn’t hold a dominant presence here. (Perhaps its something to do with the Navy experiments/bombings? Only just a thought...)Sincerely, I still checked the shower, bed, and shook out my clothes, but compared to Thailand, Bali, India etc, they weren’t lurking at every corner, dominating the kitchen area or “bugging” me. Jajaja!
3. GREAT “STARTER” TRIP for those who haven’t traveled very much internationally. Yes, it is more expensive than being an expat in SE Asia or Eastern Europe. But with some planning and proper decision making it is easy to budget with hostel/guesthouse/air bnb stays, grocery shopping or volunteering as an international traveler or U.S. Citizen.
4. NO WORK VISA NEEDED for U.S. citizens. Even though Puerto Rico very much feels like a foreign country, if you are a U.S. citizen you can legally work there! You could sell most of your stuff, pack up the curated best of it, and get a job in Puerto Rico...today. MANY places are hiring. Bi-linguals and Polyglot wanabees this could be the place to use and hone your skills. You may NOT have to pay federal income tax for work done in PR and there are also business tax deals for opening a business in PR, that YOU could look into.
5. OCEAN ACTIVITIES & VIBE Let’s face it, the sun, sand and surf are HEALING. They promote healing when respected and enjoyed in moderation. That salty water float. That morning sandy jog. The evening sunset & salutation. It’s all there and accessible everywhere you turn. Snorkel, swim, kite surf, surf, kayak, and experience the bio bay on the quiet Vieques, island to the main islands east side.
6. ISLA VIEQUES - The sleepy lil sibling of P.R.’s big island is Isla de Vieques. It's $2 by ferry or fly into the most shack like, tiny airport I’ve ever seen. Prices vary, but it’s about a 20-min ride through the air or a 60-min ride by boat. Pre-arranging and being flexible with the weather and your attitude is needed! Keep in mind, the more luggage you bring off the island, they more they may charge you. Use porferry.com for details and tickets. Culebra is another option for incredible snorkeling, but I didn’t go there and so thus I cannot write about this yet. Watch the weather because if the water is choppy, your ferry may be delayed. Bring the dramamine for fussy waters or sensitive stomachs. Off the island of Vieques, we swam tranquilly with tropical fish, string rays and a huge sea turtle. I strongly suggest spending the money to be driven around Vieques via a tour that includes snorkeling, day kayaking to a remote beach only accessible by water (see below), lunch, and by night a magical & eerie experience at the bioluminescent bay. We recommend Abe's snorkeling and bio-bay tours. Coincidentally, we unknowingly booked a tour, and happened to be "3 degrees of separation" from Abe himself. It's a small world and we are all linked!
7. ASHTANGA YOGA Puerto Rico - This studio is in the beachside Parque neighborhood. We landed and immediately took the first class of the day at 6am and followed it with a 10 minute walk to the nearest beach. My spouse and I took 5 classes here in May 2021 and were super impressed with the philosophies, kindness, instruction, atmosphere, location and technique. As lifelong yogis and certified yoga teachers, finding this place and having the privilege to be a student here was the sparkling gem of our trip! They offer all-levels of instruction in English & Spanish. They lead Vinyasa and Astanga classes that are transformational. Thank you, especially to David & Jesus, our teachers. We shall return.
8. NICE, INTERESTING CONVOS after A YEAR COUPED UP: We encountered and conversed with so many friendly people mostly from PR or the states but also met people from Guatemala, France, and Colombia. This was our first time interacting with folks post-covid and post-vaccine in such a close way. It felt refreshing and liberating to meet new people again and share stories, dreams, hopes, and techniques. Our host at our Air BnB was a kind, animal-loving, Puerto Rican who made us feel welcome and cared for throughout our stay! That's him below.
9. BEACH SWING MUCH?! I’ve always wondered if these were mythical creatures but alas, I’ve met the unicorn! A simple, no gimmicks, no lines, no cost, beach swing waiting to be used, hanging at the end of a short beach walk, in Esperanza, Vieques. Don’t abuse it, take turns, have fun! Thank you to whoever hung this up. You are a dream maker.
10. ALTERNATIVE WHEELS. Scooters, skateboards, golf carts, bicycles, electric “scooties,” or your own two feet! These are the ways to get around P.R. I am not able to speak about other people with other needs and their experiences, only my own, and I declare that alternative wheels or your feet are the way to see a place! Yes, cars are fab for long distances as well. But if you’re on a shorter or budget trip, budget long-stay or just budget lifestyle, you can get on with out car, bud. That said, the Puerto Rico big island and Vieques could use a sustainable bike rental & repair shop to help promote sustainable transportation and biking adventures for, well, FUN! Be safe if you're driving around Vieques on a golf cart, there are horses present. Next time, I will bring or rent a bicycle, and/or bring my skateboard. There are so many places to experience the islands on alternative wheels. Pack-light and keep yourself mobile. You’ll thank me later!
11. WORK-TRADE // I have used work-trade around the world as a tool for being able to gain experience, knowledge and skills while traveling on a budget. To feel part of a team, contribute one's energy, be integrated into the culture, and be able to travel for much cheaper. If you have a fantastic attitude and decent work ethic, you can do work-trade. These jobs are often less stressful than your full 40-hours per week paid gig, but run more like a 5-6 hours 4-5 days / week or some combo of a place to stay and meals. Some places offer free stays at sibling hostels, discounted tour, or “small money” tips for a job well done. I have done this to teach Yoga, English and Art, paint murals, create photography and offer Thai bodywork. In my experience, they always provide ample time off for travel and exploration. And the jobs have always been fulfilling and enjoyable. My spouse did work-trade as a cafe waiter, piano teacher, and some general farm and building labor. Whatever your skill set, you can probably find someway to contribute for a decent, likely unforgettable exchange. A few places that offer work-trade in Puerto Rico and Vieques are Mango Mansion, Casa Santurce and Lazy Hostel Vieques. Below is Aytan interacting with a resident kitten at Casa Santurce.
12. CHEAP—ish STAYS! So no, it's not the $3-$8/night you may get in SE Asia, C. America or E. Europe but here are the Hostels / Guesthouses I stayed at for barato barato livin' in Puerto Rico and Vieques. I recommend all of them because they were still were clean, had a community atmosphere and allow working-class folk to experience that full paradise effect!!! STAY ONE : Casa Santurce Hostel & Guesthouse PROS: Budget private room (~$34 USD/night) where we stayed with air con, great location in residential barrio but very close walk to beach and the lively Condado & Ocean Park neighbors including isla verde beach y mas! We enjoyed convos with a large span of ages, from people in their 20’s to 60’s. Discriminating against adults based on age is NOT cool. One could also book a bed or a whole room of beds with your friends, for about $25 usd per night. This includes a shared bathroom. All guests can enjoy the shared kitchen with four fridges, a stove, sink, clean towels and neighborhood kitties. The roof top and the balcony at this place are excellent spots to practice yoga in the morning or chat with others throughout the day or night.
CONS: Drinking Age is 18 so along with the best people you’ll ever meet, you may meet be kept up at 3am by some inconsiderate mouth-breathers and scream-talkers. If you are a light-sleeper, bring patience, ear plugs and an eye mask. STAY TWO: Beach Houses Healer’s Room Air BnB by Alberto PROS: Alberto is such a sweet soul and is super gentle but also motivated as an entrepreneur. This place is definitely queer friendly and animal friendly. He has four adorable rescue pups and you’ll have no choice but to enjoy them. This AirBNB has delightful indoor and outdoor common areas in an unbeatable location in Parque, San Juan. Nice community atmosphere with the other guests, but privacy when needed.
CONS: Overall, it was fabulous but for the price it could have been cleaner. Mostly the shower was a bit sandy and there is no air-con for people who need that. If you have allergies to pet-hair, this probably isn't the place for you. This place was on the high end of our nighty spending, at about $54/night for a private room and shared bathroom. Amazing yard, and dogs though, still highly recommend. STAY THREE: The Lazy Hostel, Vieques
PROS: For $25/ night for a bed, we only had 2 other guests in our 8 bed hostel room. We were fortunate that they were quiet and respectful. This is not always the case, but for this unbeatable location, literally across the small calle *street* from the ocean, it’s worth the toss-up. This is one of my favorite hostels of all time. There's a generous mango tree, free toast & coffee in the morning, lots of hang out spaces, and its connected to a decently price and yummy *though not Puerto Rican* restaurant. You can also apply to do work-trade on their website.
CONS: We had a great experience, but if you don’t book all 8 beds or get one of their few private bunk bed rooms, you’ll be in the room with strangers. We never felt unsafe and they provide lockers, but sometimes people can be loud and inconsiderate. Bring ear plugs, an eye mask and patience. I highly recommend this place though. I’m glad that they exist because it gives budget travelers the rare opportunity to live on a beach for awhile and perhaps make some friends
13. SHORT & AFFORDABLE FLIGHTS from Mainland USA.
Never buy the first flight you find, unless it's super cheap. Our flights were $330 each round-trip from Milwaukee in May 2021 with a fairly comfortable, even fun, yes fun, lay-over in Orlando. I recommend searching the flights as one ways and round trip to do some comparing on site likes kayak and skyscanner initially. Then screenshot or write-down the selected flights and purchase them directly from the airline. Get insurance, hurricanes happen.
14. ANIMALS & PLANTS : They don’t all live in a cage and on a leash. I took a “wrong turn” that turned out to be a “right omen” and witnessed a sighting as well as listened to the song of 2 of the rarest Parrots and birds in the entire world. Sadly, there are only a few left in the wild. We were blissed to be able to safely and respectfully swim in the open ocean water with a horn billed sea turtle, a baby and mama sting ray, an eagle ray, a porcupine “puffer” fish, a huge Angel fish, and many other gorgeous tropical species. I actually felt super at peace in the deep open water, as opposed to other times when I was driven to “face my fears” when swimming out far. Though they are certainly not native to the land, cats, chicken families, dogs, lovely lizards, horses, and pigs all ran around in the city of San Juan and beyond. I didn’t see ANY spiders, snakes or sharks, but I’m sure they are there somewhere. Manatees are sadly also quite rare but have been spotted in the bays. Please love and respect the nature that you are an inseparable part of. Sadly, Puerto Rico doesn’t grow a large percentage or even significant percentage of it’s own food at this time. In fact, 85% of food is imported. However, there are still many fruit trees, incredible flowers and other types of plants and trees of which to be in awe.
15. EL YUNQUE National Rainforest. Just go. If you’re pretty fit and daring, you an take a tour for $35 per person including transportation pick-up and drop off by booking through La Adventura Tours via the Casa Santurce Hostel & Guesthouse. Regular price is $70-$100 per person per tour so this is a deal! We had a great time and our group was 8 people and 2 guides. We hiked through the rainforest walking path and more challenging vertical terrain to reap the benefits of the natural water slide, rope swing cliff, and cliff jumping areas between 10-40FT tall! You can also just wade in the clean forest waters and sample some fresh forest water from the waterfall. You will get wet either way so I suggest Teva or similar strap on hiking sandals and not tennis shoes (they will be ruined/soaked for weeks) or flip flops (too unstable and unsafe.) Here's some pixelated phone pictures capturing my bravery as well the support system of strangers, and lifeguards, below.
16. BODY POSITIVITY, QUEER & FEMME SAFETY: Unlike some other beaches and islands I’ve been too, we were not harassed by vendors or cat callers during our stay. It seemed that one can wear what they want when they want without comment from others and it feels fantastic and freeing. Queer couples are present on the islands and there are also queer friendly guesthouses all around, whether they are “designated” as such or not. I only had the displeasure of witness one anti—trans sentiment from a very uniformed, ignorant person. The contrasts of life always exist; the high highs and the low lows. Overall, it seems queer and femme friendly for solo, couple, or group travel for people of all ages.
17. SLOW DOWN, TAKE CARE of YOU & YOUR CREW. Stay hydrated, and do your yoga practice including breathing, postures and simply sitting. Don’t go hard non-stop. Take time to slow down and limit the lists you create for each day. Bring a book that interests you and take time away from the phone and from snapping photos. As a photographer, but also person who needs space, I designate times when I will and won’t be using my DSLR or phone at all. If something amazing and unforgettable comes as an image or memory at this time, one can soak it in by just witnessing it and being with it. Take a picture with your mind and sit with it. Look at the clouds. Listen to the waves. Do less. Traveling is not a competition, it's an expansive experience for your mental health, spirit and intellect.
18. BUY LOCAL *affordable* ART: Tresbe is a restaurant in Santurce, San Juan that boasts a dashing “artists vending machine” with both wearable and displayable. If you want a “thing” to commemorate your experience or pass on to a friend back home, why not make it a piece of hand-made creativity from a local artist! They have ample outdoor seating, long hours, and phenomenal cuisine for the three B's: Bueno, Bonito y Barato!
19. AFFORD THE TRIP by watching your spending now and making sure you have a separate place or account where you hold "trip" money before you leave. Buy groceries and street food when you are there and pick only a few (or zero) expensive activities per your budget. The beach is FREE and so is the sunshine! Watch those flights and budget your nightly stays with the advice above and you will have a happy trip in your heart and pocketbook. Splurge only on things like a trip with Abe's Snorkeling & Kayak. Our favorite place to eat when we were there was a super authentic, local experience. We had some fresh caught ceviche at a food truck outside of a convenience store where people bring there own crates to sit-on, or use the outdoor bar area, as this store specialized in tubs of cold cerveza. Pure mágico.
20. NO TIRE BASURA! Leave Puerto Rico cleaner than you arrived. Pick-up litter when you see it and use the garbage cans. I found the beaches and water bodies quite clean and pristine, but on certain beaches in San Juan, many small particles of plastic, aluminum, fabric, and cloth can be found. Remember also, what you put on your skin goes into the water and can pollute and kill the coral. Use zinc sunscreen and avoid polluting the beauty of our world. You are a human of the world. A resident of earth. A family member of all. Be sure that you treat all beings and elements with respect.
Rae Bu Luck
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