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El Yunque National Forest: Puerto Rico

El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque National Forest

Lush, tranquil and picturesque. In my opinion, these three words describe the tropical rainforest of El Yunque National Forest. During a recent vacation in Puerto Rico, I visited this serene place, and I am grateful for the experience. My family reserved a private tour that walked us through the El Portal Rainforest Center, La Coca Falls, Yokahu observation tower and La Mina Trail to La Mina Falls. All four family members enjoyed this serene green experience.

The first destination in the National Forest was a stop at El Portal Rainforest Center. I enjoyed visiting the center and value the information I gained. Four distinct forest types reside within El Yunque, which rise from 300 to 3000 feet above sea level. The temperature, precipitation, soil and vegetation, change at each level. We watched a twenty-minute video in the center, which introduced the forest history, conservation efforts, as well as endangered wildlife such as the Puerto Rican Parrot. The displays, while some might not visualize as important, reminded me that we humans depend on the tropical rainforest for important medicinal ingredients, and many other personal products as well, so caring for this rich resource is important.

La Coca Falls

La Coca Falls
La Coca Falls

After the center, we stopped to view La Coca Falls. From the top of the rock cliff edge, the water drops 85 feet (26 meters) onto a huge rock formation. I loved listening to the cascading sound as water flowed over and down the sheer edge. With the suggestion of our tour guide, my daughter and her boyfriend climbed over the guardrail and maneuvered atop larger rocks, to get closer to the falling water for a scenic picture. I would not have had the courage to go that close, but the view and humid breadth must have been spectacular, when standing beside the plummeting water.

Yokahu Tower

A view to the Atlantic Ocean
?w=300″ width=”300″ height=”168″ /> A view to the Atlantic Ocean

We ventured higher up the mountain to a lookout point at Yokahu Tower. I climbed 96 circular spiral stairs to the top, while stopping to gaze out several rectangular windows. I usually do not welcome heights, but the observation deck provided a stunning view of El Yunque National Forest that was breathtakingly beautiful. I stood in awe looking down a sweeping vista to land and the Atlantic Ocean on one side. The view was––truly beautiful. I also enjoyed the higher mountainous scenery, as the treetops were mysteriously shrouded in mist. I simply had to take a minute to just breathe. Breathe, as I gazed at a tropical green carpet that magically stretched upwards. I could not completely capture the essence with my camera. I would love to go back and see this view again!

La Mina Trail to La Mina Waterfall

La Mina Trail
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El Bejuco Colorado or Red Vine
?w=300″ width=”240″ height=”180″ /> El Bejuco Colorado or Red Vine

Our tour guide then drove us to La Mina Trail, where we hiked downward along La Mina River. We followed a winding rocky path full of vegetation for about forty-five minutes until we reached La Mina Falls. I really enjoyed this walk. However, I was glad I purchased shoes with a good tread, because a slip on this rain soaked path is a possibility if you are not careful. The pathway along the trail is not very wide, and the continuous journey downward along stairs and different concrete rock-ways required careful footsteps. Good health is also required, because you need to be to be fit to walk in and out of La Mina trail. The trail was not busy the day we ventured to the falls, which I was grateful for, as we often had to step aside to let others pass us, who were on their way back to the road.

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?w=300″ width=”240″ height=”134″ /> A tiny Lizard

Oh, but walking within this tropical forest was beautiful. A picturesque serene emerald green world where water droplets slipped from moss covered trees, air plants held fast to their host, and tiny wildlife waited to be discovered. Green, everywhere my eye travelled. I loved finding snails seemingly stuck to trees, or Lizards hiding among the leaves beside the trail. The occasional red flower or El Bejuco Colorado red vine, was simply stunning.

Our tour guide found us enraptured within this tropical world, almost lost within the beauty as we attempted to capture each precious moment with our cameras. We hurried ahead to La Mina Falls and dipped our feet in the cooler water. My daughter’s boyfriend swam beneath the rushing current of water that fell onto his back. A refreshing stop for one, but this girl found the cold water that greeted her feet an acceptable refresher and I did not swim beneath the falls.

El Mina Falls
El Mina Falls

 

 

 

 

We walked away from La Mina Falls, following the Big Tree Trail. This required a bit more stamina as we walked upward, through more green foliage where the light slipped away to a shadier vista. As we climbed higher and higher, the forest changed, and became woodier. As we strolled along, we wondered when we would finally reach the top. Our muscles complained from the rise, but we enjoyed the sounds of birds that sang. At times you just had to stop, close your eyes, and listen. The sound of tiny Coqui tree frogs, no bigger than an inch and hidden from our sight, sang “co-kee, co-kee,” their throaty calls sounding more like birds than frogs. Amazing that tiny indigenous creature’s can make such a joyful noise.

Once we were safely back in the van, we journeyed onwards to Bio Bay for a night exploration. A luminescent experience, which I will share later in the week! But if you ever have the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico, you must journey to El Yunque National Forest. You don’t need a tour guide to visit, only transportation to get yourself there. Without a tour guide, I probably would have taken a picnic hamper, and enjoyed a glass of wine in a picnic enclosure along La Mina Trail. However, having had a tour operator, meant less walking, as we were picked up once we reached the end!

The Castillo de San Cristobal

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I have visited many historic structures, and have been fascinated by each building’s place in history. Walking through the Castillo de San Cristobal navigated my imagination back to a time when Spanish explorers dared to journey into an unknown sea. The sandstone is weathered grey with time, but the columns, turrets, tunnels and even the prison cell weave a story. The island of Puerto Rico where the Castillo is built breathes history, like the wind that whispers from a Caribbean sea.

Puerto Rico means ‘Rich Port,’ and indeed the island’s history is rich. Long before Tomas O’Daly and Juan Mestre engineered the Castillo during the main years of 1765––1783, the island held importance to Europeans who sought to exploit the new world of America. Christopher Columbus while searching for Asia and material riches, found this new world in the vicinity of the Bahamas in 1492. He discovered Puerto Rico a year later during his second voyage on November 19, 1493. He first named the island San Juan Bautista, but this rich port, which did contain gold; eventually became the port of San Juan and the territory of Puerto Rico. The island was Spain’s most important military outpost in the Caribbean and several fortifications were built to protect a key investment.

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The island faced many aggressors during the four hundred years that Spain held the land. The French battled from the sea in 1528. The English were defeated in 1595, but took control of the island for 65 days during a second invasion at Fort San Felipe del Morro in 1598. Illness forced their departure. The Dutch, a common foe, attacked in 1625, but were defeated. Philip IV fortified San Cristobal in 1634, and six other Castillo’s along the island, all linked by sandstone walls.

On May 10, 1898, Captain Angel Rivero Mendez ordered the cannons to fire from the Castillo de San Cristobal during the beginning of the Spanish/American war.  The soldiers endured a daylong bombardment, then yielded to the United States. Six months later, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory under the Treaty of Paris. The people who call Puerto Rico home today, within this beautiful scenic port, are American citizens who have retained their Spanish cultural heritage.

I can now say my feet have walked a path where legendary explorers once landed, daring to go where most would not travel. I cannot imagine stepping onto a gangway plank, and sailing away to an unknown future, leaving my family, and everything I know behind to journey into uncertain waters. When the ship left port and sailed for months on shifting seas, the men must have grown weary with their constant search for land. The view from the telescope must have been scary and thrilling too, when land was finally sighted.

I stood in the square in the heart of San Cristobal, where men once fought to hold the land they had discovered. A square where soldiers were called to attention to practice drill commands, and prepare for the ships and men that would come. I wondered what their first thoughts had been when the bell rang to warn of such a sighting.

I stood in a garita or sentry box, gazing out to sea, and feeling the warm tribal winds on my face. It would have been hot clothed in military gear while on the lookout for invaders. However, for this tourist, the Cerulean-blue Ocean and sweeping shoreline was immensely beautiful.

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I walked down a sloping tunnel, of which there were many, and ventured into a prison, a dark cave with a slit for a window, where a mutinous captain was imprisoned for many years. I wondered what being trapped within this dark space would have felt like, gazing at a tiny slip of light from a narrow window and wondering if I would ever be free. I wondered when this captive man felt encouraged to document his story on the walls through the depiction of sailing ships. If only his pictures could give way to words, what a story they would tell. The images are still available to view today, and weave a haunting impression of a time gone by.

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Puerto Rico has an amazing rich history, and the Castillo de San Cristobal played a huge role in its fortification. This rich port was considered a stepping-stone, or the key to the Antilles in the new world, which is why so many Europeans desired the island. The port still serves as a good place to dock a ship, but the vessels that cruise are much larger today and the passengers are tourists.

Someday, I hope to venture back to old San Juan and discover its history again.

The Caribe Hilton – San Juan, Puerto Rico

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I recently had the pleasure of staying at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico for eight days. The resort is situated on a secluded peninsula with stunning views of a cerulean-blue Atlantic Ocean. Accompanied by my husband, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, all four of us enjoyed the many amenities this Caribbean resort had to offer.

The Hilton brand is our first choice when booking a room, regardless of whether the stay is for business or personal vacation needs. The chain offers an excellent loyalty program; being Hilton Honor gold members, we have benefited from our loyalty to this brand. Aside from points collected that have given free night stays, our room is often upgraded and we appreciate a faster check-in line for members. During this stay, we received a complimentary continental breakfast each day, which we upgraded most mornings to the full buffet for only $10.00 per person. A delicious deal! The Caribe Hilton also has a tower set aside for Hilton Honors members, which made us feel special.

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Our room on the 19th floor came with a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean and the historic ruins of Fortin de San Geronimo. After lounging on the private beach, swimming in the salty ocean or the pool, we were delighted to return to our room and shower in our five to six foot wide marble space! The matching mirrors and faded blue sinks in the bathroom were a little dated, but the bed was comfortable and we slept well.

While my husband attended business meetings the first three days of our stay, the family worked on their tans, swam in the ocean, walked along an ocean rockway, gazed at tropical fish from a wooden pier, visited animals in the garden or walked along the private beach. With a reef break protecting the shoreline from a stronger current, and perhaps sea creatures too, we swam in mild waves. We never grew too warm with the wind gusting sea spray on our bodies to cool us down. (In fact, the wind may be the only shortfall of San Juan, Puerto Rico, which a tour guide did confirm is constant all year long.)

I didn’t mind the wind, as the breeze offered a cooling effect in temperatures of 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or 28 degrees Celsius. Sunscreen is mandatory. You don’t even realize your skin is burnt until you see the red image in the mirror.

If you’re like this family, you visit beachside resorts to recline in a lounge chair with the pleasure of the ocean in front of you and a drink held in your hand. At the Caribe Hilton, there is ample space to find a lounge chair, whether on the private beach or poolside. One night, I especially enjoyed resting in a hammock that stretched between the palm trees. You might enjoy renting one of the many private cabanas, and resting in luxury.

DSCN9972?w=300″ width=”300″ height=”225″ />The Caribe Hilton has several restaurants. In the morning we ate at the Palmeras, which had an ample buffet with omelets, Belgian waffles, or French toast made to order. For those that want a smaller breakfast, Starbucks is on the property and their cinnamon roll is delicious. We had most luncheon meals, as well as Margaritas and Pina Coladas at the Atlantico Bar and Grill. At night, we enjoyed a cheese plate at the Oasis Bar, which interestingly enough is the birthplace of the Pino Colada; made famous by Ramon ‘Monchito’ Marrero Perez in August 1952.

One of our favorite spots at the Caribe Hilton was the garden. On a windy day, the pool next to the garden is sheltered, so we found this space a good escape from the wind. The garden is home to turtles, iguanas, lizards, black and white swans, ducks etc. We enjoyed this peaceful oasis and thank the staff member who gave our daughter lettuce to feed an Iguana.

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We enjoyed our stay at the Caribe Hilton and would stay again. Thanks to all the staff that made this business vacation restful and enjoyable.

San Juan, Puerto Rico; Geronimo Dreams

IMG_1893?w=225″ width=”225″ height=”300″ />I am enjoying the beautiful island of San Juan, Puerto Rico. This is my first visit to this Caribbean island, and I appreciate the sand, the surf, and especially the blue ocean. Whenever I find myself along a shoreline, I search for treasure. I pick up sea-glass, shells, or any other treasure that the salt water gives up. I could spend the entire day exploring. However, sometimes when you search, you discover the unexpected.

Outside my hotel window, stands the Fortin de San Geronimo, an old fort built by the Spanish government in 1609 to defend the island from attack. After my first evening, I dreamt of murder, and a Spanish man screaming. I’m intuitive by nature, but my island bliss should bring peaceful dreams. This is a discovery I never intended to find, but when your mind searches, sometimes the spirits answer back. (If you believe in spirits.)

I have asked the ghosts that linger along the shoreline to leave me alone for a bit, for this is my vacation. However, the dream captured my attention so fully, I decided to weave the threads into a poem. Be warned, this Geronimo is not for the faint of heart.

Your screams awake me in the night,

“Secreto, Secreto,” a man screams with fright.

A violent act,

Soldiers hold your arms,

They take a sword and stab straight down.

Whatever your words,

Secrets shall never be sung.

A dagger, bold and sharp, has taken your tongue.

Red blood, spanish wine, a traitor is free,

A life over, they return you to the sea.

Long ago san Geronimo,

Battles were lost and won.

Memories still linger,

And a writer discovers an island son.

2014––A New Year

2014 Goal Wish?w=300″ width=”300″ height=”245″ /> If I owned a magic looking glass, I would gaze upon the coming days of 2014, and discover what my future holds. However, like other mortal souls, I cannot divine the future; so I sit back and contemplate what the year 2014 will bring. Two resolutions written on my goal list include a slimmer body and a completed manuscript. I have a plan to see these priorities become a reality.

I listened to a speaker once, whose name escapes me, but she said that goals without action were just dreams. A goal without a plan is simply a wishful coin tossed into a fountain. A nice thought, but no goals were ever made from a splash. Goals require a stimulus, an action.

I don’t understand why I have been content to live in an over-weight body, day after day, year after year, with this extra fat invading my organs. My first stimulus to address my weight issue––is I want to look and feel better. My plan to get back into my skinny jeans in five weeks includes the following action plan:

  • Count calories using My Fitness Pal app. (I am already seeing results!)
  • Visit the gym three times a week.
  • Walk on non-gym days. (Weather Permitting!)
  • Reward myself with a non-food gift when I reach my goal weight. Perhaps a new pair of Jeans.

Foremost in my mind for the 2014-year is the desire to finish my manuscript, Scarlett’s Beauty. I could sit in my office all day, dreaming about characters and plot, but if words don’t ink the page, no readers will ever discover this gothic romantasy. My plan to achieve this career goal includes the following action plan.

  • Write five days a week, Monday through Friday.
  • Achieve a word count of 1000 words each day.
  • Plan to complete by March 31, 2014.

There is much more I want to achieve and discover in 2014 and I’m excited about the year ahead. I am looking forward to each jet plane that will take me someplace new. I can’t wait to dip my toes in the ocean. I am ready to set dates with friends for a cup of coffee or an early morning breakfast. I am eager to see my children who no longer live in my home or my city. My dogs are already looking at me with anticipation of a daily walk. And there is the simple beauty of each sunrise and sunset or the Robin’s that will return with spring. Life is simply a trip worth taking.

I am excited about 2014. I feel good karma is coming my way and I hope you are equally blessed!

Hope – A Candle in our Journey

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Welcome to the first week of advent and a frosty cold December. This is the week where church families gather to light the purple hope candle. The lighting is special for those that bare witness to this act in the service, as the light that burns from the newly lit wick, symbolizes hope within the spiritual journey. Hope is a candle in our journey.

The Christmas season offers joy to many who wait for December 25th to arrive, but this season also brings sadness. Souls are lost in the darkness, families grieve for members that will not dine at the dinner table, and some don’t have a home where children will find a gift under the tree. The days are shorter, the night lingers, and the sun disappears behind the horizon far too soon. Hope is a candle I have carried in my journey, even when the light burned low.

There are moments in our lives when we have no choice but to walk in the night. Day begets night, night begets day, and we are helpless to change this repetitive ebb and flow. We love the day for its obvious light, and often fear the night for the monsters that might be lurking. We understand that movement within this black velvet space can overwhelm to such an extent that we hide, curl up, and perhaps forget to experience life. I walk into the night and into the black looking for the light, for I know there is a beacon of hope to be found when you have the courage to look. In my life I have been lost in darkness, and have faced loss. Loss helps me to appreciate the life I live and breathe, for those that have past before me can experience life’s gifts no more.

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After the sunset on a warm winter evening, I took our Yorkshire-Terrier-cross named Bella, for an evening walk in the neighbourhood. Bella loves to walk and is not concerned with the lack of light or even the weather. She enjoys a good walk! As we walked, I stopped to Instagram tiny twinkle lights on a bush. In the daylight, the branches would appear barren with the leaves missing, but in the darkness, the tiny lights reflect off the branches with promise, and I find light in the darkness.

I stop to gaze at a Snowman who shivers from the cold. I recall Frosty-the-Snowman from my childhood and remember the television specials that gave me joy. I experienced sorrow during my childhood, but during this walk as an adult, I feel joy as laughter ripples from my lips into the night.

Further around the corner, I gaze in awe at three reindeers clustered in a circle, lit by two spotlights. “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm and all is bright?” As Bella pulls on her leash, and beckons me to follow, I welcome the peace in the silent scene, and find hope in the stillness. “Be still and know,” that there is a hope candle hidden in the dark, but sometimes we need to journey to discover the flame.

I wonder what my neighbours believe when they decorate their homes each season? Do they know that the Christmas lights, or created scenes bring joy? Do they know there is hope found in the light they share?

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As I drive my vehicle into the darkness, I like to go past the Christmas Trees at the mall, just to see the light flicker, cascade, and fall into the darkness. It’s beautiful. I often want to stop my car, forget about the mall and spread my arms beneath their beautiful light. Why do I always drive past? What keeps many from stopping, and standing within the light that is waiting?

This light makes me wish that Christmas occurred all year long, so there would always be a light burning in the darkness. My house will be lit tonight. It’s a small gesture, but as people walk or drive past, I hope they see my candle in the darkness.

Light brings hope, and hope is a candle in our journey.

Words inspired by a Genre Circular

Words inspired by a Genre Circular

A writer’s mind is a provocative vortex into a complex world. I can’t explain the creative seeds that grow within the stories I write, or the character threads that come to me in almost insightful flashes. However, I’d like to believe there is a link between a healthy imagination and the authors who have inspired my handiwork.

As a young girl, I enjoyed the escapism found in the fantasy world of a good book. I developed a fondness for poetry from a young age and especially cherished a Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. The broken spine and worn out pages attest to the fantasy world I once upon a time loved to curl up in and read.

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“Sometimes when my day grew sad,
I would reach for my Garden book,
and dream of Foreign Lands.
Every night I’d go abroad,
And journey far into the Land of Nod.
Armies, emperors and kings I would find,
All carrying different kinds of things,
And marching in so grand a way
I could never see the like by day.”


As a teenager I discovered V.C. Andrews and her first book in a series entitled, “Flowers in the Attic.” I have never been confined, as the characters Cathy, Chris, Cory and Carrie found themselves, but as a child I often felt locked in a world I could not escape from, so found understanding in this child abuse story. I couldn’t imagine that a mother would lock her children away, or attempt to poison them, but of course in the real world, humans do much worse, and I know that thanks to the cruelty I experienced from my father’s hands.

I began reading romance novels as a young adult. I had not met my hero yet, but as I read each happily ever after story, I dreamed my prince might find me. A romance novel is special, because no matter the trials or tribulations the hero and heroine face, love always wins, and the story has a happy ending. My favourite romance is, “A Knight in Shining Armour,” by Jude Deveraux. A woman cries beneath the statue of a Knight, who hears her despair from centuries already past. You would think that this love match was impossible, but anything is achievable where there is love! There is no greater gift than love.

There was a period in my life where inspiration mixed with religion, and I read “The Mark of the Lion” series, by Francine Rivers. It’s a powerful story about Hadassah, a young Jewish woman, who is nursed back to health after she faces an attack by Lions. This story helped me during a time in my life when I needed healing after a loss. It reminded me that no matter how deep our scars, we can find a new dawn, if we only have the courage to wait for the morning light. It saddens me to know that some can’t find their way out of the darkness.

My own writing was growing weary with my manuscript pages collecting dust somewhere under the bed, when I began reading George R.R. Martin’s, “A song of Ice and Fire,” series. After watching the Game of Thrones first season on HBO, I had to know what happened next to these historical characters. I valued the style in which the books were written. I loved exploring the battle between Kings and Queens, all vying to win the game of thrones. The realism in the story is as gut wrenching as the satisfying outcomes, in that bad things do happen to good people.

I began to write my own story, and as the words jotted down onto the page, each novel that had ever touched my life, began to weave inspirational words into Scarlett’s Beauty. I found my story not being set in the Land of Nod, but a Medieval Kingdom I called Velez.

I cannot ever change the punishments or losses that I have suffered, but I can find satisfaction when my characters choices, result in appropriate consequences. Like George R.R. Martin, a character or two I have created has met with sad outcomes, and I enjoyed writing their ill fates. Interestingly, the vilest character in my book has been the most satisfying character to explore. I don’t despair in this, because happy endings are possible when love is at the heart, even when the love seeds are not readily apparent yet.

My writing has come full circle thanks to my own personal journeys, and the creative works of Authors who have inspired Scarlett’s story. Fantasy, historical fiction, and inspirational faith are all twisting together in a vortex of words I have termed Gothic Romantasy. The Genres are circular and I have connected the dots.

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