BASE Jumping in Twin Falls, Idaho

BASE Jumping at Twin Falls, Idaho from PilotGirl Productions on Vimeo.

What could be a more exhilarating experience than BASE jumping off a bridge? The dare devils we spoke to today said the adrenaline rush of free falling 486 feet above the Snake River is beyond compare.

Dozens of thrill seekers from all over the country come to the I. B. Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho to show off their grit and guts. It’s the only bridge in the entire country where it’s legal to base jump.

Eric Dobbins of Dallas, Texas, corrected me when I thought only hotshot young bloods pulled this type of insanity.

“No way! Didn’t you hear? A 102-year-old great grandmother made the plunge tandem last year!”

Tandem jumping is only possible thanks to the relentless efforts of Professional Base Jumper and Stuntman, Sean Chuma of tandemBASE.com. Odd are good that my video didn’t make you dizzy but this will: the gravity-defying, vertigo-inducing, take-your-breath-away heroics of the master at work: Sean Chuma.

Producer Sara and I didn’t stick around long enough to accept the challenge. Instead, we watched safely from several viewing platforms as these seemingly normal guys took flight over and over again.

To add to the peril, not far from the bridge is the dirt ramp that Evel Knievel used when he unsuccessfully attempted to jump the canyon in 1974.

This is some crazy …bleep!

Shallow diving with Joan Jett in the Caribbean Ocean

Getting to the dive resort location in eastern Puerto Rico couldn’t have been easier. I’ve bragged about San Juan’s Caribe Hilton all week, so why stop now? From the lobby, we were able to easily secure a rental car, a cute little Kia Soul, with Enterprise for my last day in Puerto Rico. A bargain too, only $25 for the day.

Aqua Adventures was in full prep mode when we arrived. The crew was loading equipment onto a 45-foot Newton to accommodate dozens wanting to snorkel, scuba dive, bubble-watch (people who prefer to watch) and a new adventure called SNUBA or Surface Nexus Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

With the supervision of professional SNUBA guides, Aqua Adventures is the only company in Puerto Rico licensed to do so.

With an over-the-top Minnesotan accent, Boat Captain, Nick Holt, introduced himself and his cast of helpful characters onboard. The team would prove to help make safe our adventure to a sandbar around Isla Palominos and a second spot called Caye Diablo.

“These places are unique because of the reef and how they are protected. Temperature-wise, current-wise, surge-wise; these spots are protected from the Atlantic which provides all the life because they are sheltered inside the Caribbean.”

Many of the guests enjoyed seafaring on rough waves swaying gracefully to the funky collection of island music blasting from the boat stereo. Poor Susan wasn’t quite as relaxed.

New to the experience, my new friend contributed greatly to chumming the wide expanse of blue water. Actually, so did I. Maybe we enjoyed one too many pieces of watermelon generously supplied during the 30-minute lunch break?

But the misery of being seasick passed quickly, distracted by wild dolphins on the horizon and swimming with endangered sea turtles. Also, who can help but strike up conversations with so many witty, heartfelt and gadget-carrying pro’s?

Enjoy this embedded sequence compiled from the day. I’m still waiting to download GoPro footage shot by others but, for now, make note of George’s joie de vivre at the end of the video: https://vimeo.com/pilotgirlproductions/aquaadventures

The culinary scene of Lote23 in Puerto Rico

I can brag about the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants and charming coffeehouses we enjoyed in Puerto Rico this week, but why bury the lead? Mofongo might be magic to some but it’s just hype to me. Instead, the very best place to eat in all of San Juan is Lote23 or “El Lote” 23.

Hands down, without a doubt, unquestionable!

“If there’s a picky eater in your group, don’t worry, they’ll find something to love at Lote 23,” was the tip that a passionate young receptionist at the Caribe Hilton provided.

With that we head straight to a colorful artists neighborhood called Santurce . The easy commute by Uber is no more than 3 miles from the hotel.

The court yard is hopping. This is a bonafide foodie paradise noisy with pumping music, local families and traveling backpackers. There’s a boon of colorful counters, 16 eclectic vendors in total, firing up fresh and original cuisine by the island’s most famous chefs. A waiter carrying a silver plate of appetizers bounces out of an Airstream trailer modified with a smokey kitchen.

The 4 of us split off in different directions to cover more ground. One of us is hungry for fish kabobs from Panka, the youngest wants salted egg fried noodles from Wokit, George can’t wait for the specialty donuts from DÓdeDONAS and I’m torn between the steamed bao buns at El Baoricua and the specialty tacos from Sr. Bigotes (Mr.Whiskers).

After several minutes, we find each other again, morsels balanced carefully in hand. We pick a spot under a stretched tent near a fast blowing fan. Low wooden picnic tables on a multilevel terrace encourages an atmosphere of sharing and sampling. Napkins are tucked in between the slots in the table boards to prevent from flying away.

My mouthwatering chicken tacos with side order of buttery, charred, street corn disappears much too quickly. I return for seconds washed down by a bottle of Jarritos Tamarindo soft drink, Mexico’s first national drink. Exotic flavors from dozens of countries intermingle here as easily as Santurce’s funky urban vibe. Can I say more?

Don’t wait until your last day in San Juan to visit this culinary mecca.

Address:
1552 Ave. Ponce de León (Parada 23)
San Juan, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Getting dirty & clean in the rainforests of Puerto Rico

 

 

 

With nearly 7000 acres of lush growth scattered across Puerto Rico, it can be a real challenge pinning down a hiking option. From rain forests to cloud forests to mangrove forests, the biome diversity is vast.  Thankfully, the PRTC (Puerto Rico Tourism Company) website, an invaluable source of ideas and opinions, makes it easy.

“There are many reserves in P.R. but I recommend ACAMPA for their team’s approach to ecology,” endorsed PRTC Director, Marta Albanese. With that, I secured reservations for a day of waterfall climbing, rappelling and zip-lining.

At 7:20a sharp, guides Ludgardo and Reynard pulled up to the lobby at the Caribe Hilton in a V8 Ford Econoline. George and I just took the last sips of our Alto Grande latte in an effort to wake up.   Other equally-excited pasty-white gringos were already inside the van anxious for the journey to begin.

The van had no problem whizzing up steep roads and dodging potholes to the trailhead.   On the other hand, poor George (and others seated at the back of the van) didn’t fair as well with the hair-raising curves.  Everyone made use of the bathroom stop along the way.

The Toro Negro range, located in the Cordillera Central region, is the highest rainforest in Puerto Rico.  It’s 1,000 feet higher than the El Yunque rainforest and offers more activities, due, in part, because it’s not a national park – it’s a reserve.  Far fewer rules and regs!

For 275 years, this part of P.R. thrived off coffee plantations known as “haciendas.”  The rich volcanic soil provided the nutrients for the crop to flourish.   But cultivation stopped in the 1930s.   Today, the muddy soil and reforested land is home to a grocery list of tropical edibles like pineapples, bananas, oranges, lemons and passion fruit.

The van parks on an unmarked, narrow, secretive mountain road near a tributary of the Toro Negro River.   Area 51-like qualities abound!   Our guides admit there’s plenty of stories of extra-terrestrial sightings in these parts.   We have no doubts.

We don safety helmets, harnesses and gloves and… well, rather than let my words tell the story, how about watching this 7-minute video?  Take note that the region even provides visitors  the opportunity to rehydrate from the side of a rock face, a rare first for many hikers.

ACAMPA TORO NEGRO ADVENTURE TOUR from PilotGirl Productions on Vimeo.

A full day of plunging into swimming holes, climbing waterfalls, ziplining across valleys and rappelling down rock faces. ACAMPA tours in Puerto Rico provides the best guides on the island.

San Juan: a long history before the U.S. came along

The income generated from tourism is especially vital to the local economy of island nations in the Caribbean. The US territory of Puerto Rico is no exception. I’ve been here for only 2 days and I’m already asking myself, “why did it take me so long to visit?”

Long before this beautiful island became our Commonwealth, there existed 400 years of conquest, colonization and colonialism. An ancient military history earmarks the city of San Juan with impenetrable citadels, artillery sites and masonry city wall. It’s no wonder that the U.N. declared it a National Historical Site and World Heritage Site as early as 1983.

On Tuesday, my date and I walked the 2 mile oceanside boardwalk that extends from the Caribe Hilton to the Old City. We explored several fortifications including El Morro and San Cristobal, the elaborate tombstones of Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery and other buildings of notable medieval significance.

We marveled at the inside of the second oldest cathedral in the Western Hemisphere (San Juan Cathedral) where island founder/governor Ponce de León is entombed and then tried to visit the house where he and his descendants lived for 250 years – the Casa Blanca (White House). Turned out the museum is closed on Tuesdays.

In any event, here are a few more picts that highlight the culture, life and history of Old San Juan:

The Caribe Hilton lets guests of all kinds enjoy the amenities

Here’s a first: a Four Diamond hotel that’s plush, posh and swanky… and likes to keep it real!

Arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico earlier today, I was hit with an iguana* scurrying under my hammock. Then, a few hours later, a jumbo hermit crab darted across my path during an evening stroll under swaying palms. And, lastly, a couple of barracudas, eyes illuminated by the boardwalk lights, prowled a private beach and lagoon for my entertainment.

And to think, I haven’t even found my way into the Tropical Gardens & Bird Sanctuary yet.

These countless creature sightings are commonplace at a world-famous oceanside resort called Caribe Hilton. Opened in 1949, it’s the very first Hilton built outside of Mainland U.S. It’s also iconic for inventing the island’s signature cocktail back in 1954, the Piña Colada.

Among all this history, you’d expect this AAA to look or feel tired. Rather, thanks to a multi-million dollar room overhaul, it’s as modern, hip and innovative as the day it opened.

I’ll be blogging about my adventures but knowing that I have this perfect abode to call home until Friday makes it even more special.

* Note the following quote from a National Geographic video: “Originally brought to the island as pets, the lizards now outnumber people and are wreaking havoc on agriculture, infrastructure, and even air traffic, causing millions of dollars in damages.”