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Puerto Rico! Kat won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Wyndham El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and we just got back. Other than a handful of dinners and events planned by the company, we were on our own to do what we wanted!

Saturday, 23Apr2005

As we were packing and just a few hours away from our flight, I noticed that some of Kat's clothes smelled a bit funny. I immediately realized that she had put most of her clothes on the futon in the den a few days prior and that Sebastian had a habit of "claiming" the futon. Yes, the cat pissed all over her clothes. Luckily, it was only one pile and those items were quickly tossed into the wash and dried just enough to pack them. Travelling took us from 5 PM on Saturday in Seattle to 9:45 AM on Sunday in Puerto Rico. Kat slept for all but an hour on the seven hour leg from LA to Puerto Rico; I hadn't slept more than an hour. I was a bit slap happy all day, but recovered quickly.

Sunday, 24Apr2005
Check-in was smooth without incident, eventhough their system had shown that we should have checked-in the day before. They simply changed it to Sunday and didn't charge us for Saturday at all. Over the next few days, we heard horror stories of people not being able to check-in for hours, some coming in around 4 PM and not being able to get to their rooms until 9:30 PM! Most people showed up for the trip on Monday and the computer systems were down for a few hours, probably causing most of the problems.

Given that this was a free day (no planned activities), Kat and I decided to check out the island that the resort owned, Palomino. On the water taxi ride over, we bumped into one of the only people that Kat knew was going to be on this trip, Michelle. We ended up sun bathing with them for awhile, Kat talking with them and me fighting falling asleep in the sun. The beach was attractive, the view was amazing and the sun was hot.

That night was one of the only free nights for dinner so we made reservations at the "nice" Italian restaurant in the resort. The food was mediocre, the ambiance was worse than an Olive Garden considering the harsh lighting and noisy children, and the cost was simply far too great for what was offered. We sat next to a couple on their honeymoon and they were definitely not happy with the resort. They complained about their dinner as well, spoke of check-in troubles and were pretty annoyed with the class-level and rampant children of the other resort-goers. I tended to agree, but at least our trip was free!

Monday, 25Apr2005 : Pictures

On Monday, we went back to Palomino, but we decided to do more than just sit around the beach. After deciding that $120 (plus tip) was too much for the two of us to go horseback riding for 30 minutes, we decided to hike the island. Getting to the top wasn't too strenuous but the heat was vicious. The air was so hot and humid it was difficult to breathe. Hiking to the backside (pun intended) of the island offered a small reward, a nude beach! When we got there, we didn't see anyone until we had walked most of the sand. In a little alcove was a fully naked older man bathing stomach down, thankfully, with a skin color that showed just how often he did just that. We grabbed a few of the chairs and laid out, clothed. As time went on, we saw two more fully naked guys, one fully naked woman and one topless woman. Nothing exciting.

Instead of hiking back the way we came, we circled the island. Again, we laid out for a bit and then headed back to the main resort. The work festivities started off with a welcome dinner, buffet style. After a few announcements from the VP of sales, we were left to finish dinner and have the rest of the night to ourselves. We met up with Michelle and her friends and went to the only "club" in the resort. It was basically 12 people from her company in the club with at most half of them dancing at any one time. I danced for a bit, but I was still pretty tired overall so Kat and I bailed at 12:30 AM.

Tuesday, 26Apr2005 : Pictures

Tuesday started a string of three days of tours. First stop, old San Juan and the San Cristobal fort. The fort was fairly interesting, mostly because of the few engineering marvells, such as the gutter system, the thickness of the walls, the sand filling of the walls to diperse impact damage and the segmentation of the ceiling so that if one part of the fort falls, it won't take down the rest.

Old San Juan had a modernized old-world feel: narrow streets, lots of shops and various types of people milling about (along with a large number of tourists for a Tuesday) but with numerous cars zipping about and other present-day conveniences. We ate lunch at a local fast food restaurant, El Meson. It was mostly sandwiches, but we were so hungry everything tasted great. Old San Juan is also known for high-end outlet shops, so we hit Dooney&Burke, Coach, Polo, etc. Nothing caught my eye and same went for Kat. We saved our money for a couple of bottles of Ron del Barrelito, a rum you can only buy in Puerto Rico. We haven't tried it yet, but I'm sure it's great. We ended up walking around mostly with a couple from McAllen, TX, Lupe and Sandra. They were great people and I wouldn't be surprised if Kat keeps up a relationship with them.

Tuesday night was the "dine around" dinner, mostly meant to allow winning teams to have a meal together without managers to celebrate. Kat won without her team so we were able to have a romantic dinner alone. We picked up a bottle of Phelps Le Mistral 2002 and it was the best blend I have had to date. It was characterized by a very soft strawberry/blackberry (and a hint of vanilla) start with a strongly contrasted peppery finish. The dinner was as good as the wine but the dessert had nuts and so I had to finish it myself.

Wednesday, 27Apr2005 : Day, Pirate Party

A trip to El Yunque (officially known as the Caribbean National Forest) was the tour of the day. For my first trip to a rainforest, I was actually pretty disappointed. We saw a handful of slugs, a billion walking sticks, an anole, some hummingbird-like birds and a few coquis. Kat has been to the rainforests of Costa Rica so she was disappointed as well. It was a nice walk and I think I got a few good pictures so it was still worth going. We primarily hung out with Lupe and Sandra all day again.

The company rented out the entire island I spoke of before to hold an evening pirate party. Kat and I had brought pirate costumes (not full costumes, just small bits of pirate clothing) and a few others had done so as well, but the company had purchased hats, eye patches, an earring and a sword for everyone. At least our costumes stood out! Dinner was Caribbean in nature, including a pig on a spit. We met some fairly cool people from Memphis and sat with part of their team. Discussion didn't have a chance to veer from the basics of college, work and life before it started to rain a bit and we scampered back on the water taxi.

Thursday, 28Apr2005 : Pictures

The final paid tour was snorkeling. We had to get up at 6:45 AM in order to get down to the catamaran at the marina at 7:45 AM. After about 45 minutes of sailing, we anchored near a small island of the Fajardo coast. I had never been snorkeling, so the concept of being able to dunk my head underwater and still be able to breathe was a bit odd. I was definitely breathing heavy for the first five minutes and I did suck in water at least five times. There wasn't anything amazing that we saw, but we did see hundreds of fish and lots of coral, though most of it was a boring brown. We were served sandwiches and fruit after being in the water and I will admit, there is little better than a nice lunch after being in the water. We all beached ourselves on the catamaran and relaxed as we sailed back to the resort. Kat and I did not reapply sunscreen stupidly enough, and thus we both got a bit burnt.

That night was the award dinner. We sat with Lupe and Sandra and endured a decent dinner while listening to every single winner get announced (all 110+). The night actually wasn't as bad as we had expected, especially knowing that it was scheduled from 5:30 PM to 10 PM! Videographers had been around the resort since we got there so of course there was a highlight video. With limited time, they actually put together an entertaining bit with high production values. A few people were highlighted more than others so I think one of the camera guys had a crush. The only bits with me in it were with me behind the dSLR, no surprise. We had planned on hitting the casino afterward, but we were all a bit too tired and many people were leaving early in the morning.

Friday, 29Apr2005 : Pictures
Considering how much time we had spent at the resort, Kat and I decided to escape for the day so we rented a car. We initially had wanted to go to Ponce, the second largest city on the island, but decided that the estimated travel time of two hours each way without traffic was simply too great. Instead, we decided to go back to San Juan and see the other major for, El Morro, and then take the Bacardi Distillery tour.

When renting the car, I decided that I wanted something non-luxury and small but new and with A/C. They gave us a Suzuki Aerio and my frist reaction was a bit of dread. In all actuallity, the Aerio is a darn good little car! The interior is pleasing to the eye and well laid out, the seats were more comfortable than Kat's Impala, the engine had more than enough punch even with the A/C blowing, the handling was perfectly reasonable for that type of car and it was fairly spacious overall. The only two negatives were the looks (not an issue with a rental car) and the transmission. It had a habit of kicking down if you cut the throttle when the engine was near but not at full boil. Basically, if I needed to accelerate quickly but for just a short burst, the trans would downshift, I would accelerate as needed and if the engine was in the 3500-5500 RPM range, the following upshift would be a bit jarring. Oh well, not a bad deal for being able to rent a car directly from the resort for a day for only $60!

First was the Bacardi tour. Getting from Fajardo to Catano was only 36 miles but took about 80 minutes. The tour started out in a building off to the side of the distillery. It started with a brief video about the history of the company and the drink and then moved on to a recreation of the first distillery process. There were two rooms connected, one that had the barrels and machinery for distilling and the other as a recreated office of the founder of the company. The guide said that photography was not permitted in the office so I asked if flashless photography was okay. She told me it was not. After investigating the office, I started to take pictures in the recreated distillery. After a few pictures, the guide came up to me and said "If you do not stop taking pitures, I will have to call security." Pictures were allowed everywhere else I had been and she specifically said only the office was off-limits. Whatever, bitch. Power trip, much? I put the camera away but I was fairly disinterested with the rest of the tour after that. The next room was a series of booths that explained more about the current distilling process including a few small buckets that contained rums and rum precursors so you could smell the difference. The last room was a tour of Bacardi facilities and advertising through the last 50 years.

Kat and I both figured this was just the start of the tour and the actual distillery was to follow. We hopped back on the little shuttle and it drove right past the distillery and dropped us off at the gift shop! The tour had mentioned a bottle of 12 year aged rum that was only available at this location so we dropped the required $50 to pick up a bottle. Once again, latin sense of hurry came into affect as the seven people in front of us in line resulted in waiting almost an hour to buy a single bottle of hooch. It better be worth it.

El Morro was similar to San Cristobol in construction, but primarily only the external portions of the fort were available. I'm a bit fort'ed out at this point, but I'm still glad I went. The drive back was a complete pain though, as traffic was quite bad on a Friday in the late afternoon of San Juan. It took us two hours of complete stop and go traffic to get back to Fajardo.

Saturday, 30Apr2005

The flight back was a set of two four-plus-hour flights, never enjoyable. On the flight from Dallas to Seattle, I noticed a weird event. The flight attendant (the only one for first class) put a cart between the flight deck and first class as she had done before so one of the pilots could use the bathroom. Instead of having a pilot come out and go directly to the bathroom, one pilot came out and the flight attendant went in! The door was closed and the pilot just leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. The lasted for about ten minutes when the flight attendant came out and the pilot went back in. Two minutes later, the same thing happened with the other pilot! I'm pretty sure this was a mid-flight stress release exercise.