A cornucopia of colmados and cuisines -- The Luquillo Kioskos!

The kioskos of Luquillo Beach serve as a mecca for Puerto Rican culture, a cornucopia of colmados and cuisines. This stretch of fried food shanties to 5-star dining has given the Northeastern side of the island a great hangout. A place for visiting tourists and locals to merge in a must see flair that you won't find anywhere else.

Resting on the shores of Luquillo Beach, on one of the last beaches free from any high rise condominiums and development, the Kioskos have a deep-bedded history and a growing future. In this edition of the Rainforest Inn blog I'm going to bring you a multi-part special of the history, ever changing present, and talk with the new mayor of Luquillo about his plans for the kiosko's future.

Right now there are about 60 plus operating restaurants and stores, with the first half (coming from San Juan east) a little newer, updated and a tad bit fancier, with the last half being…well think "static food truck".  There are actual food trucks and carts set up in the parking lot, as well.

The variety, food and style, of this strip is unparalleled. Choices ranging from rice and beans, burgers, seafood, traditional Puerto Rican food, Philly cheese steaks, ceviche, Italian, German etc. etc. to a plethora of different frozen coconut cup concoctions that are perfect after a warm day sun bathing on the calm shores! Names and numbers are used interchangeably, but some vacant lots and sometimes closed options keep the numbers a little sporadic or out of order. New places are always under construction as well, so something different might have popped up since your last visit.

Many of the kioskos have glass cases in the front of their shop--this is tropical island fast food! Grab something quick like a delicious and crispy bacalaito, arepa or a sweet and cheesy pionono.

But if you're looking for a great sit down dining experience before or after you walk in from the beach, just in the backyard, there's a few great current places you can't pass up on your visit to the Luquillo Kioskos.

Some places we love

El Jefe Burger #13 is always highly recommended to our guests, great burgers stuffed with jalapeño, chorizo and even rib-topped with their house made Jefe queso sauce is something you'll be dreaming about when you return back in the states, or even if you're local. Washed down with a pitcher of Lemon Ginger Mojitos, this always hits the spot. An excellent family friendly environment, and drawing on the walls is even encouraged!

La Parilla #2 is excellent for a romantic night over a delicious lobster dinner, in which case this "glass case" couldn't be fresher.

Not only can you have a great meal, some of the kioskos are a great place to kick back, chill on a drink, play darts, karaoke or dance Congas by the Sea #9 and Terruno #20 serve up great authentic Puerto Rican fare with smooth jazz and other live music a few times a week.

Ely's place #10 is LGBT friendly with great events planned throughout the month, and delicious made to order Puerto Rican delights.

El Revelu #25 is a brand new joint with a huge selection of Microbrews, which is hard to find around this side of the island.

Tattoo Tavern #17 cater to your alternative crowd, with luxurious gothic décor, open late, and if you have enough $1 Chichaito shots you can make your trip to the kioskos a truly unforgettable permanent stamp on your body!

Vejigante #31 has a great seafood paella and the décor of masks adorning the walls and colorful paint are paired with excellent service.

La Roca Taino #60 is the oldest of the bunch, here you can grab a great plate of rice and beans for just a few bucks, and on Sunday nights check out hot rod motorcycles and tricked out motor bicycles, along side caravans of horse back riders.

Almost all the kioskos have open-air seating or back patios with a view of the beach. Given all the choices you can rest assured that you really can't go wrong, and if you are on this side of the island for a few days why not try a few? Some are closed Mondays and Tuesday, some only open for dinner…as the Puerto Rican way goes “open sometimes, closed sometimes”

Variety spans every aspect of the Luqillo kioskos, there is truly something for everyone and culturally cannot be missed. 

Getting ready for season

Everyone was working hard yesterday getting the Rainforestinn ready for our winter season. Laurie was pressure washing the big porch by the pond. Thomas (our volunteer from New Zealand) was grinding down the cement floor for the new gym. Jon and Caitlin were putting in the electric and water lines for our new aqua-ponics greenhouse which will use water pumped from the pond for the hydroponics. Anna (our volunteer from Maine who was returning for a visit) was in the new yoga room working on a photoshoot so that we can post some pictures on our website.

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Life is what it is and so is adventure travel

Most any adventure is found because of the perceptions you bring with you. This blog is not for the person who can’t leave "home" behind or thinks even the color of the coffee is a problem. It is for the fearless at heart and the romantic of mind. Nothing kills a great vacation like inflexibility and rigidness.  You could have a much nicer vacation if  you don't sweat the small details. Oh and don't forget to leave your huge expectations at home. Sure we all like that familiar schedule of our daily life but accepting the challenges of traveling often changes your life in unforeseen ways, sometimes even dramatically.  How often do you walk down a 200 year old cobblestone street hand in hand and then dine at a sidewalk cafe or do you take a hike deep into the rainforest and get lost to find yourself sleeping there for the night? It's romantic to have couple time and to commune with nature, being in an unfamiliar place adds the spice. We recently had a couple staying with us who turned  what could have been a hiking disaster into an adventure and a remarkable memory. More on that a little later. Our tiny bed and breakfast has all kinds of guests from all walks of life and all age groups. The best traveling guests can not be anticipated ahead of time, unless of course they are the guests that should have been recommended to another more commodious (read "stuffy resort") place in the beginning.

Here at the Rainforest Inn we are urban pioneers of a sort. We have gotten used to going with plan B from the first days of our repairs of a hurricane-ravaged family estate. Before we opened our bed and breakfast we didn’t have electricity or running water. Now that calls for a lot of flexibility. I won’t say we didn’t want to kill each other once in a while, then that same evening we would have a candle light dinner on the roof of one of the unfinished buildings on the property. Don’t think for a minute that we didn’t sometimes say W.T.H. did we get ourselves into, but that's another whole blog.

Nick and Ena's hiking disaster happened after they made it to a secret waterfall deep in the El Yunque Rainforest on the Mameyes river that we had talked about as a potential hiking destination. This is a spot reserved for only the adventurous and not easy to find. It's off a trail that is not one of the paved easy trails that everyone else takes. It's located past the end of a steep muddy trail up a ways deeper in the rainforest and even more secluded.

In the photo: Behind the large rock in the center of the pool in front of the waterfall is deeper water where you can swim in and out under the full force of the falls. This secret waterfall is one of the nicest in El Yunque tropical rainforest. As an aside, an important aside, please don't send me an email asking for directions to this waterfall. It's not that we don't want people going there (or maybe that's part of it because it is a really unspoiled location) but it's the danger of hiking there that must be made very clear first. We also talk with our guests at breakfast about other easier hikes and about what you can do to avoid getting lost and what you should do once you know you're lost, then they make their decision on which hikes are for them.

Because this is not the first time I've been involved in rescue process of someone  lost in the rainforest  I've learned some things, many of which are counter-intuitive and surprising. There are great differences between our El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico and the northern deciduous forest where most of our visitors have gotten their hiking experience.

The rainforest is a "jungle". It's very dense and everywhere confusing green growth blocks your view. I guess most people realize this as it's what jungle means. Once a hiker goes off the trail he won't be able to see far enough to find the trail again and it will be very difficult to make your way through the dense growth and even more difficult to plan your route as cliffs and other obstacles won't be visible until you're right on top of them.

The usual boy scout rules for what to do when you're lost don't apply here. Don't stay where you are (unless you're injured and still on the trail -- if you're injured and lost then you're really screwed which I will explain soon too).

Please understand two important differences about the process of searching for lost hikers in the El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico and how it would be done in a vast northern forest like the Appalachians or the Sierra Nevada.

1. Puerto Rico is a small island. It is only thirty miles by one hundred miles. You could walk from one side to the other (from the Caribbean to the Atlantic) in less than two days.

2. We don't have search planes (or at least we don't use them in the rescue process) and we certainly don't have helicopters with advanced infrared devices that will find you in the jungle (that would be nice but it is only happens in the movies).

When someone is lost in the rainforest we find out because the hikers told us or told someone else where they were going that day and they haven't returned by the next morning. For our guests we always strongly suggest they give us an itinerary of the hikes they plan to do and when. The first step after that  is to look and see if their car is parked at the trail head where they said they were going. Then we hike down the trail to see if we find them down there still because they may be injured. This time I was in San Juan working so my nephew Jimmy volunteered to hike down the trail. In the worse case we look for evidence that there was a flash flood in the nearby swimming areas. We also take a very loud air horn which can be heard like from my bed and breakfast to the peak of El Yunque and back. But everytime I've done this first step I've never found anyone and luckily never found evidence of someone being injured.

The next step is to report the missing hikers to the El Yunque security patrol officers (or often done as part of the first step). In this case we called Jose Ayala the law enforcement patrol captain of the U.S. forest service enforcement and investigative branch. They have arrangements with the local Department of Natural Resources and the Rio Grande rescue volunteers and they will organize and mobilize the vast effort to find someone who is lost. It is important to realize that this next step is costly and will likely involve many days of fruitless searching because as I explained earlier the rainforest is dense and visibility is poor so our searchers will practically have to step on you before they find you. This is why if you get lost in the rainforest and then get injured you are in such deep trouble. It will likely be several days or more before you are found. So please if you find yourself lost and you don't have a map, or a compass, or a GPS or a cell phone then avoid panic. Realize that all is not lost. It will be fairly straight forward to walk out of there. If you have no idea which direction to walk then go down hill. Follow a stream. Be careful with the slippery rocks and go around impassible brush while you walk beside the stream following it down hill. Eventually that stream will hit the ocean and well before that you will encounter a road and civilization. Puerto Rico is a small densely populated island and there are houses everywhere.

Our guests Nick and Ena got lost when it started raining on their way out. In their hurry to get out of the rain and because of poor visibility they got off the trail. They knew that they could find their way out and didn't give up even when the straight line route (you can catch glimpses of the sun or go by elevation changes to be sure you're not walking in circles) ended at a cliff and several patches of nearly impassible brush. As darkness was descending upon them they realized they were spending the night in the rainforest. They had drinking water (never hike anywhere without enough drinking water) and it doesn't get so cold at night here but you will spend an uncomfortable hungry night. They spent the night, watched the sunset and the darkness close in while listening to the raucous jungle sounds. Ena discovered some insect life she would have rather not have known so intimately while she tried to sleep.

The following morning Nick spotted a coke can up the hill and later a discarded tire (they were happy to see the litter of civilization) and walked up past that to find the road.  We hadn't yet mobilized the search and rescue crew and everyone went back to the Rainforest Inn. Ena mentioned they were disappointed that they would miss the ginger pancakes breakfast. We were very happy to see them when they returned at around noon or so and made them their ginger pancakes for lunch. They are now looking forward to their next visit to Puerto Rico and some more hikes, possibly shorter hikes.

Nick and Ena are the perfect example of your fearless and romantic travelers who learned first hand that life is what it is and so is traveling!

Another Pond Update

We're nearly finished now. Laurie has moved all the rocks around the edge so that you can't see the pond liner.

This illustration shows how the bottom rock is inset and the water level comes up halfway on that rock. We did it like this except we ran the pond liner up higher behind the second rock so that the level of the water comes up to nearly the same height as the surrounding dirt. In fact on the patio side of the pond we put the liner across a shelf and up high behind the rocks which border the patio. This is now filled with dirt contained with plastic ground cloth so that we can plant bog loving water plants there. The papyrus and the sealing wax palms are two of the bog-loving plants.

I hope everyone isn't completely bored with these updates of our pond project. I took a picture of Laurie right after she finished hiding the liner edge with rocks.

Now the only thing left to do is for me to fix the leak in the bio-filter tank and fill it with stones so we can turn our waterfall on and start the filtration process. I'm also getting a little excited about planting water lilies and lotus flowers. They are really pretty flowers. They open every morning and close at night. I'm not really a gardener. Laurie does all the planting. I usually just build the infra-structure and maybe plant an occasional useful plant like a fruit tree or a papaya. But these water lilies are really fun to watch bloom. You also don't have to do any weeding. Having a lot of lilies and lotus flowers will limit the type of fish that we can put in the pond though. Koi will eat the lilies and root around in your underwater pots damaging them. I think we may just stick with some of the amazing varieties of gold fish. Large orange gold fish and black moor gold fish swimming around will be beautiful and the just eat dog food like our other small fish that we put in to make sure there would be no mosquito larvae.

Now we're into Permaculture

It seems like every year there's a new buzz-word for the way we do things at the rainforest inn.

  • Sustainability
  • Eco-resort
  • Permaculture
  • Appropriate Technology
  • Recycling

We do them all. We collect rainwater in cisterns. We compost. We built the high post-and-beam ceilings out of old cedar recycled from the large old multi-family home that was here before and destroyed by two hurricanes. We grow lettuce in old gutters. We're just finishing an aqua-culture pool, recycled from a big old cracked swimming pool, that will grow tilapia for our dinner from the many decorative plants that thrive in the pond water (actually pond scum). We save electricity every chance we get and are moving on to the installation of a large windmill (when the technology is there with enough reliability and absolute quietness like we're used to here). Our septic system is split with gray water for the gardens. The aqua-culture filtration tank will have lettuce and tomatoes growing in it (and big beef steak tomatoes are impossible to grow in the heavy rains up here any other way).

But why do we happen to be running a bed and breakfast that fits in with all the new eco-lodge projects and incorporates so many buzz-words? Do we study on the internet all the coolest things and copy them or is it a coincidence? I think there is an explanation for the coincidence. We built our finest "wedding suite" from recycled cedar because it was beautiful wood but mainly because re-cycled wood was free. We collect rain water in cisterns because, at the time, there was no other water source. We conserve electricity, have green hot water heaters, high ceilings with large breezy windows and many fansbecause electricity here is so expensive. We orient the houses and the windows to catch the constant cool trade winds. All the power on the island is from imported oil burned in inefficient power plants and very costly. We grow spices, papaya and bananas and everything else we can because it makes the best yummy fresh breakfasts for our guests and (similar theme here?) it saves us money.

I think the same thing is happening with a lot of other small businesses and households like ours. The solutions seems to be to try and supplement your power with solar and wind resources. Grow your own. Enjoy what you have and be creative with your new projects.

Don't feel bad if someone asks you why your latest project is taking so long to finish.  It turns out that doing everything yourself slowly and buying each of the components as you can makes for far more interesting results. It isa lot more fun and rewarding to know that most of that construction was done with your own hands. And it is sure a lot of fun showing guests around our completed projects and basking in the admiration.

Our El Yunque Rainforest Fish Pond Update #2

As you can see in the picture we have cleared all around the old pool and finished putting all the sandbags in. The block walls of the bio-filter are also in place. You can't see it but all the underground pipes and conduit for the pump power and lights are in place too. The next thing we have to do is add big stone walls to make it look nice (we hope). What have we learned so far? Lesson #1 when laying a block wall. Even if you don't have much cement left and even if Home Depot is closed early on Sunday it still is not a good idea to try and conserve cement by changing the 1 to 3 ratio of cement (along with 25% calcium carbonate added to the cement) to sand. It turns out that the resulting mortar looks just the same but doesn't stick the concrete blocks together. We had to redo the first course of blocks the next day when we bought some cement.

Kadafi's big truck arrived today with the stone. It is from a local "Cantera" and each load of stone costs $200. I will need one more load of smaller stones to place around the tank. The following quicktime video is of the truck dumping the load. It was more spectacular in person because the ground shook.

Kadafi\'s Truck dumping our stone

Our Fish Pond Project

Our fish pond crew is composed of all Rainforest inn volunteers who come here to work for three months in exchange for living in the rainforest. The deadline for the pond completion is the 25th of February. I'm going to blog all the details about how to convert an old destroyed swimming pool (basically a hole in the ground) into a fish pond

Our volunteers came here for a three month stay in the rain forest. Lou and Laurie are Horticulturist and Landscaper. Nate and Caden are on a break from work (starting a new job in Nevada) and school (studying Ecology).

Who’s Who at the Rainforest Inn

Hi. My name is Pedro. I’m writing Bill’s Bed and Breakfast blog this week because Bill is busy entertaining visiting relatives in addition to running the inn during peak season and opening up a new five bedroom villa. I’ve been living here at the El Yunque Rainforest Inn for about eight months now.

This is the first time I’ve had the chance to hang out “behind the scenes” at a B&B guest house and it has been very interesting. Small places like this get their personality from the owners and Bill & Laurie certainly have some personalities. Bill is from the west coast and Laurie is from the east coast. Bill grew up in a large family which raised their children absolutely laissez-faire. He basically did whatever he wished with no adult supervision. He has stories about inventions he made as a child (one of which blew up his bed). Laurie, on the other hand, grew up in a strict organized environment working as a very young girl in her parent’s business. So you can imagine that they don’t always agree about how to run the bed and breakfast. Bill is busy running his ship’s agency which leaves Laurie in charge at the inn. But Bill still has time to interject free-style inconsistencies which keep things interesting.

I want to tell you about the girls, my favorite subject. Lizzy is a platinum blonde beauty. She has been with Bill & Laurie the longest. Although she is popular with the guests she proved her unreliability last year in a spectacular fashion. She took a hiatus (without either Bill or Laurie’s approval) for nine months. I worried about her whereabouts all that time but remembered also that the workers are often not on time and have been known to take off from a job sometimes for weeks without notice. In Puerto Rico it is more important to stop and help someone who is in need then to be on time for a job. Lizzy came back very nonchalantly one day after her vacation with some excuse about how she was kidnapped. Laurie was relieved to see her again but by that time she had transfered much of her affection to Bella, one of the younger girls (but not the youngest). Bella is always a real angel around here, a little prissy and whinny and not as popular with everyone like Lizzy (the blond) but admired for her extreme (and completely self aware) cuteness. Sometimes Bella will show up in the kitchen wearing some boutique get-up that only her and Laurie can appreciate.

The newest girl is Maya. She has only been here a short while but acts like she owns the place. She leaves her belongings out in the public areas for the rest of us to pick up. She doesn’t know how to behave around guests. She is usually being disciplined by Laurie and always forgiven by Bill. She thinks she is the one in charge and often pretends to supervise. She is into everyone’s business. She tries to make sure that everyone is where their supposed to be and lets us know if someone shows up unexpectedly. Sometimes she reminds me of an SS officer on patrol of the rainforest perimeter.

I hang out in the kitchen which is the center of the bed and breakfast. I am probably the one who spends the most time with Laurie as she not only prepares the incredible gourmet meals here but also all the rest of the meals for the volunteers. One of the guests took pictures of me because I’m a real Puerto Rican. I felt like the native Americans must feel when tourists photograph them as if they were part of the scenery. I was reluctant but Bill assured me that it would do no harm and that my photo would end up on an interesting web site and anyway it would only take a few minutes. Well, a few minutes turned into hours. I was never quit sure what was expected of me because the photographer and I didn’t speak the same language. After that everyone was “where’s Pedro”? I had disappeared for a couple of days to let them know what I thought of that whole deal. This island is full of Pedros like me and please guys choose someone else next time. After I returned Laurie assured me that I would never have to do that again. So now I’m back with my favorite girls and in my place of honor in the kitchen.

rainforestinn coqui

You may have guessed by now that Lizzy is an eleven-year-old silky terrier mix, Bella is a four-year-old mini Yorkshire terrier and Maya is a one-year-old Belgian Malanois. But did you figure out that I’m not who I seem to be? I am the resident coqui who lives in a crystal vase in Laurie’s kitchen. You can read about me in an earlier post and see pictures of me in my vase.

Oh! Don’t let me forget to mention Heather my newest favorite volunteer who sports a drawn on Luigi mustache sometimes to liven up the kitchen work place. And she’s a "Real" girl.

Thank you Bill for letting me do the blog -- Pedro, aka Laurie.

Mañana – The Fifth Time Zone

Sometimes I think we live in the fifth time zone. At The Rainforest Inn the housekeepers have us on a schedule. We wish we had them scheduled around our guest’s breakfasts, check-ins and check-outs. On our schedule today is today, on their schedule, today is sometimes mañana. The guests want their breakfast today not mañana. Their rooms need to be ready for check in today before they arrive not mañana.

I hired a mom and her daughter. Both of them part time. I figured between the two of them somebody would show up when I needed them, today. Not mañana, after I have completed their work. You’ve heard the old saying "all the good men are already taken". Well, all the good housekeepers are taken too. Maybe they are living somewhere with all the good men. Anyway, it is fifteen minutes to nine today and I have 8 hungry people waiting for my gourmet breakfast (which should be served at nine today not 9:00 Mañana) and I am all alone.  Normally, Bill helps me when I need it but he had to go to San Juan early this morning and is not here to help me. If I was into strangling the help, today would be their unlucky day.

Puerto Rico has a very laid back culture. That is one of the great draws of the Caribbean islands. But, I have to admit that when I depend on my help and they don't show it doesn’t seem such a great feature. The other day neither housekeeper showed because the grandmother had a dental appointment.  What?!  And before that neither came on time because they had to go and buy some school supplies for one of their kids. "Oh". I told them,  "My guests didn't want to wait until 11:00 for breakfast so I went ahead and prepared it without you".  Tardiness is right up there with the no shows. Showing up at 8:00 a.m. to help with breakfast does not mean that is the time you set your alarm to wake up. Hence, mañana – the fifth time zone.  Regaton is one of Puerto Rico’s latest cultural innovations and has become very popular stateside. Puerto Rico’s long-standing fifth time zone concept has taken a little longer to catch on.

Bella with her maid outfit on ready to help

We have tried everything here at the Inn to get the housekeepers to meet our  schedule. We have scolded them and we have tried rewarding them.  Wouldn’t you like $50.00 extra at the end of the month just for showing up on time? When that didn't work it really surprised us! Holidays and the weekends are their free time, period. I will schedule them and even beg them to please come once in awhile on a Saturday. But they will not show and come mañana instead. I needed them Saturday of course, not mañana. Here in the islands (not just in Puerto Rico) the workers train their employers well. We don't schedule them during these times anymore.   Bill and I wish we could have grown up in a fifth time zone. Can you imagine never having to worry about being late for work or even showing up on the right day?

Fortunately, for us there are young people who have the mind frame and the freedom to take time from their regular life and graciously volunteer for a few months at a time, with only room and board as payment. And I do mean graciously volunteering. They work hard and do a great job too. They always show up and are on time because they live here with us. Can't beat that. For the past year, Peter, one of our volunteers from the states who is now moving on with his life, was my best assistant cook (and always showed up on time and on the right day). He often did the whole breakfast himself to give me a break. It will be hard to replace him.  He was always pleasant and my best worker and trust me I am not the easiest person to work for.  Sometimes I can be a little brash and I have some perfectionism stuff going on, so I have been told.

Maya_feather_duster

As of today, I have given up. I’ll never ask either housekeeper to work on a weekend, holiday, today or even mañana, again. They are now free to live in the fifth time zone. ( I may regret this mañana) Now I no longer have my housekeepers or my assistant cook but I do have one of “the last good men out there”.  Many thanks go to Bill, for all the times he let me drag him into my kitchen to help me with the breakfasts (which is my job not his) and didn’t complain, well maybe he did a little. Now if I could only get him to show up on time, could it be he may be slowly slipping into the fifth time zone too?

All and All I think I will survive. Every day I have the sunshine, warm, mountain breezes and the serenading song of the coquis here in El Yunque to remind me that this is just one of life's minor annoyances. I’m afraid though, *-I sometimes feel the calling of the fifth time zone too. Mañana.

Cheese Cake in Paradise

I knew what Laurie was going to write about for this week's blog. I was home working. And when I'm home programming or web designing I know I'm also supposed to answer the phone but it does interrupt the whole process. Well Laurie called lots of times that day when she was out getting all the stuff we need for the day-to-day operations of our rainforest bed and breakfast. I look forward to her calls as a welcome break, usually, but when she calls incessantly it quickly becomes something less then a welcome distraction. So I knew what she was going to write. She didn't know that it would be "Worth every damn bit of sacrifice to get a Cheesecake in Paradise". Did you ever want something so bad that you were willing to stop at almost nothing to get it? Well, that was me on Monday the day after Mother's Day. I had a bunch of errands to do and in the process I got this idea in my head around noontime that I just could not and would not survive without a piece of cheese cake.

My last stop for the day was going to be Costco. They have great cheesecakes in all sorts of flavors ranging from amaretto to guava. The only catch was that I would have to buy the whole damn thing knowing that Bill only eats chocolate, Hu... So you can imagine my dilemma. I thought where else can I get a piece of cheesecake before I go to Costco? I remembered that the other day Bill and I had dinner at Chili's and I ordered cheesecake and they did not have any.

This craving must have been banging around in my head since then, and no, I am not pregnant. Off to Chili's I went and had a nice lunch and then I ordered cheesecake. I waited for what seemed an eternity to get that piece of cheesecake and the waitress returned empty handed.

"I am sorry," she told me "we are out of cheesecake." She tried to sell me another dessert but I kindly asked for the check and decided I would just have to go without again.

My next stop was Plaza Carolina to buy gardening supplies at Sears. Ah-ah they have a Chili's there I thought. It was pretty far from Sears but I didn't mind the walk as I kept my mind on my goal of a delectable piece of cheesecake. I ordered a piece as soon as I sat down at the counter and waited again for what seemed an eternity. The waiter in that restaurant also returned to my table empty handed. We are out of cheesecake today he told me. Or any day for that matter I wanted to say to him, I did not want to be polite any more, I just wanted to scream. I kindly declined his offer of another dessert and left. As I was leaving I was thinking to myself, most intelligent people would not return to the same franchise three times just to be disappointed would they? I was beginning to believe the Chili's has no cheesecake and will never have it again. I thought next time I go there I will ask just to see what happens, but I will tell them I don't really want it I just want to know if you have it. I figure that way I won't be disappointed or feel like a fool for a fourth time.

On my way to Sears I remembered Starbucks was just around the corner and they have this lemon tart that I really like. I would get that instead I decided and maybe fool my cheesecake craving. When I get there they did not have the lemon tart but they did have cheesecake. Things were looking up. I was so happy I wanted to reach over the counter and hug the girll waiting on me but decided against it for fear they would have taken me away and locked me up in wherever they put crazed cheesecake cravers.

I savored every bite of that dessert and left Starbucks satisfied.

Later that day while I was in Costco, one of the was giving out samples at the end of an aisle as they often do. IT WAS CHEESE CAKE. Was I in the twilight zone? Do you think they knew I was coming? They couldn't have. I never go there on Mondays. Anyway I tried a piece of their sample cheese cake and it was really yummy and I thought if I had had a little more patience I could have had my piece of cheesecake in paradise for free!

Technorati Tags: food and drink

Making a mosaic

My sister Indigo has painted most of the oil paintings which we have hung in the rooms. Some of the watercolors were painted by Laurie. Oil paintings are more durable than watercolors because the constant rainforest humidity doesn't affect them as much with mold and the colors don't fade as much. But mosaics are the most durable art form of all. Mosaics in Pompeii were dug up thousands of years later and still just as bright.

We decided to make a mosaic in our kitchen/living room/lounge. It wraps around the central post. We made it on plycem (brand name for a cement board product) so that Indigo could work on each panel, horizontal, on a comfortable table. She designed the panels so that when I installed them around the post it would look like the vines, sunset, waterfall, and other images wrap around the post. We glued the panels onto the concrete post using 3m 5200 and finished the corners with rows of carefully chosen glass mosaic piece.

It's really a feature now in the room.

Technorati Tags: b&b, rainforest

Building a Green Bed & Breakfast

Check out another green bed and breakfast

During our day to day operations and new construction we have done our best to harm the environment as little as possible. We aren't the only bed and breakfast to incorporate or try to incorporate green methods. It is very popular now to be green. But sometimes being green is not very practical. I'm going to list some of our efforts and explain why we have chosen them over some of the less practical green construction options there out there.

There is a TV show about an Inn in Africa called "Life is Wild". The show is about a Brady-Bunch type of family which moved to Africa to get in touch with each other while starting over as inn-keepers. If you watch the first couple of episodes you will see that there is some "bed and breakfast" stuff thrown in that is actually more true to life than often depicted in other television shows. Another example is the Tori Spelling show. It is a reality show about running a bed and breakfast a but it is completely off base because the guests of the Tori Spelling place are only there in the hopes of being on TV and the operations are a dead loss as the profit center of that place is the TV show. Both of these new TV shows throw in lots of references to "green" construction, "green" paint and other environmentally friendly devices sometimes as a source of humor.

Also there are blogs like mine that discus the popular "greening" of bed and breakfasts. Wendy's Bed and Breakfast Blog is an example. If you want to learn about some of the work that needs to be done to make a house into an Inn you can read about it in her excellent blog. Wendy is also trying to make her new place "green" in an honest effort to try to save the environment as best as one person can do while still surviving. Green Hotels and Inns are trendy.

Five years ago when we started renovating the hurricane ravaged estate that was to be the rainforestinn we weren't thinking about green construction. We were mainly thinking about how we would ever be able to accomplish such a huge task with the limited resources that we could scramble together (mainly just our wits and a little brawn). We ended up recycling building materials because it was cheaper to use all the piles of lumber, fancy antique bathroom fixtures, twisted used copper pipe and other materials that were left over from the destroyed main house. We learned as we went along what was practical to recycle and what we were better off purchasing new. The old cedar was begging to be re-cycled. The ubiquitous rainforest termites had done us the favor of cleaning the sapwood off which left just the prime quarter-sawn heart wood boards for us to sand to bare wood and varnish again before I used them to make the new high vaulted ceiling-roof for the villa. The antique bathroom fixtures, like the claw foot bath tub, were worth all the effort making weird old fittings fit to modern plumbing. We learned something about toilets though. The bowl of a modern toilet is molded so that the gallon of water (less when trying to be green and water saving) actually flushes all the stuff down in one swoosh. So we used the antique backs (which matched the sinks) and put them on modern toilet bowls. For our newest bathrooms we bought toilets which can be flushed "a little" or "a lot" depending on what you're flushing down.

The most important thing we learned about being green is that you have to know quit a bit about construction to do it in a practical manner. We collect rainwater for all our water needs. We learned that the best way to pressurize the water is to use a well pump in the cistern and fool it into thinking it's in a well by using a ten inch diameter PVC pipe to install it in. In any case always use a submersible pump as they are the most efficient (you use less electricity -- also being green) and they are quiet. We are even building our pool system with the pump house below the pool level so that we can use a quiet submersible pump. But is it really being green to collect rainwater, store it in cisterns and pump it using electricity for the necessary pressure? Perhaps if we build a windmill for the electricity it will then really be green.

Separating grey water is a good idea too especially if you have some gardens to water with it. It is a very bad idea to mix your gray water into the rainwater collecting cisterns as it is hard enough already to keep those sterile (we use a little chlorine once in a while which even in very small amounts kills the deadliest amoebas instantly). If you use the right detergents in your laundry (lots of phosphates) the gardens will bloom magnificently from the gray water irrigation. Using a detergent with lots of phosphates will also make your bed sheets much cleaner. Stay away from "green" detergents as they are expensive and don't clean as well. If you aren't connected to a sewage line where the phosphates would wash into the sea and cause algae bloom then you don't need to worry about phosphates.

Using solar heat is a very practical green method especially with the new vacuum tube solar heaters. They are very efficient and used in conjunction with a demand heater (for the times when every guest is showering at once) they will actually pay for themselves too.

Outdoor lighting is best done with LED lamps powered with small batteries charged by solar cells. They are cheap. They work well and you don't have to run wires all over the place. Also replace all your incandescent bulbs with the new energy saving ones even if they are expensive and sometimes buzz loudly.

By all means put compost buckets in all the guest's rooms. It will cut your garbage generation in half as well as help you build lots of new rich soil for your garden. They also make it easier to keep animals out of your garbage as there won't be anything interesting for them to root out. Separate cans for paper, plastics, and aluminum are also a good idea.

Those are pretty much all the practical green methods that we have proven out here. I have heard of some other things to try but most of them are very "gimmicky". Don't waste any money on "green" paints as they are just latex based paint that can be purchased at better quality and lower price without the "green" label. It is also very difficult to make a light colored paint without using titanium dioxide and it is impossible to make a long-lasting paint without adding a little fungicide. Of course the low-cost recycled paints are fine.

Please if anybody has any other suggestions for cost-effective green strategies please let me know.

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Since I posted this we found out about http://www.chezsven.blogspot.com/ . This is Chezsven Bed & Breakfast in Wellfleet, Massachusetts and they are even more green than we are! Their also much better about updating their blog. Very interesting reading.

Raising a Dog to be a Proper Bed & Breakfast Assistant

We were spoiled by our old German Shephard "Addie". The guests all loved her. She was friendly to everyone but still knew how to be a guard dog and would protect Laurie when she went on her long walks on deserted beaches. It's difficult for a naturally protective shepherd to learn that the strangers who come into our home so quickly and for such short times are honored guests that she should welcome into her "pack" but she made the distinction and would still bark when someone was at the gate who wasn't supposed to be there. She was very "in tune" to our feelings. She was highly trained (having won obedience trials) and the dog that I had taken everywhere with me including on board the trading vessels I worked with before we opened our bed and breakfast. So she knew what work was all about and how to greet people respectfully and when a guest was a dog lover and she could bask in their attention happily; or when a guest that wasn't so much a dog person she knew how to be admired from a distance. Being a good bed and breakfast dog is a fairly hard job for a naturally protective pack animal.

Our new dog is also a shephard but this time we decided on a Belgian Malinois because they are just as smart and trainable as German Shepards but the breed is also known to have fewer hip problems and be longer lived. I had decided on a Malanois a couple of years ago but the recommended breeders that I could find were charging over a $1000 for the dogs and with shipping that would have been quit an investment so I was waiting for exactly the right puppy.

Laurie (my wife and the boss lady of our bed and breakfast) also knew how much I wanted a Belgian and she was looking around too and luckily found the perfect dog. The big Navy base here in Puerto Rico (the one that had the practice range on the island of Vieques) closed about four years ago under pressure from local activists and the K9 outfit on the base was breeding some Belgian Malinois for war dog training. These dogs had no AKC registration and were not part of an "official" military program so the relocating base personal had to find new homes for them. The bitch, which was the mother of our new puppy, ended up being given to a local base contractor and he raised her welp of puppies for sale. My wife found out about the puppies being for sale and suggested I go check them out. I was amazed to find out what incredible dogs they were. The bitch was a tremendous alpha dog that wouldn't let a stranger within ten feet of her. She, and the puppies, had perfect confirmation and I picked out the best female puppy in the litter feeling very lucky to get such an incredible dog on the island. Local breeders tend to specialize in smaller dogs.

We raised our puppy using the methods outlined by the Monks of New Skete. She stayed in a crate right by my bed and I took her everywhere I went on a leash (including to the docks of San Juan where I work as a ship's agent). She was always a big hit with the ship Captains and the stevedores. Gradually we taught Maya basic obedience training. Laurie went on long walks down our driveway (about a mile each way) and taught her to heel. Maya proved to be easy to train and had very good behavior. Even in her puppy phase she didn't wreck too many things and picked-up right away what was "her toys" and never to chew on U.S. Customs papers (except once). But Maya is an "alpha" dog so we have to keep after her behavior.

When new guests arrive, after check-in and complementary pina colada, I usually lead Maya out to great the guests. I tell Maya to sit while she is being petted and discipline her if she paws them or jumps up. Occasionally we get guests who don't like animals (or dogs anyway) and then it is harder. I have to train Maya to lie down and not molest those guests. Maya hasn't figured that out yet and keeps a very wary eye on the guests that don't want anything to do with her. My biggest worry is that she will growl or act menacing towards a guest that surprises her walking down a driveway or by coming in the property from our jungle paths. The training is coming along though and as she gets older she is learning to keep her territorial instincts in check.

I wanted to include a you tube video of what Maya does when someone gets near her food bowl but I decided that it was a little too scary. We are also working with her on that. I put a food bowl down and then tell her to sit and not touch it while I pick it up again. If she growls then she is told "no" and not given her food back until she sits quietly. This is fairly advanced training as most people know better than to touch a dog that is eating but just in case we want her to have perfect "nice" behavior in all situations. A good bed and breakfast dog is a special animal.

Bird Watching in El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico

I was just looking through the guest registry for the villa. Our guests write wonderful comments about their stay. Some even put drawings in the guest book. One drawing I'm including in this blog is of one of Laurie's flower arrangements. This flower arrangement was on the breakfast table on the villa porch and one of our guests presented us with a watercolor of it.

We have many guests who come here for the bird watching. A recent guest made the following list of birds she confirmed siting while staying in our El Yunque hideaway. If you go out on the island, of course, you may see many more but these were birds that visited our bed and breakfast:

Red Tailed Hawk (Guaraguao) Mangrove Cuckoo Puerto Rican Lizard-Cuckoo (Coccyzus vieilloti) Puerto Rican Woodpecker Scaly-naped Pigeon (Patagioenas squamosa) White-winged Dove (Zenaida asiatica) Green Mango: [Anthracothorax viridis] hummingbird Puerto Rican Emerald Puerto Rican Tody (San Pedrito) Gray Kingbird Pearly-Eyed Thrasher Red legged Thrush Bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) Cape May Warbler Black Throated blue warbler Black-Cowled Oriole Shiny Cowbird Striped Headed Tanager Antillean Euphonea Indigo Bunting Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor) Black Whiskered Vireo

My favorite is the Lizard Cuckoo both for it's long elegant striped tail and for the cool sound it makes. I also love listening to the Puerto Rican screech owls at night as their call added to the night sounds makes it seem like a Tarzan movie sound track.

This photo is of a green heron that one of guests saw hiking off of our property. We have a path that leads to an isolated pool at the top (right at the top with an incredible view) of the Espiritu Santo waterfall. We have this photo because none of us could identify it at the time so our guests emailed it to us for identification. I always thought of herons as sea coast birds.

Promoting your Bed & Breakfast on Google maps

I think google maps is a great idea so I submitted my bed and breakfast to their directory. In order to prove to Google that our business is legitimate you put your mailing address in the application and google mails out a confirmation post card. This is where the reality of Puerto Rico comes in. Nearly everyone who lives out in the country in Puerto Rico has a mailing address that is no where near their physical address, either because they have a post office box in town like us or because they use rural route directions which were invented by someone who was confused by maps and maybe dyslexic too. If google could offer the option of sending out the confirmation cards by UPS or FedEx that would have worked or Google could allow the incorrect address to be edited (which they don't even when you put in your confirmation number from the mailed-out card).To make this even more interesting we had some of the google map employees themselves stay with us as guests a couple of months ago (the rainforestinn tends to attract guests that are scientists and professionals and even Google geniuses).

I explained the problem to them but so far they haven't implemented a solution. This means that the correct location for the rainforest inn -- see this URL http://tinyurl.com/2bwd3y does not match the directions that come up when you search businesses for lodging in the rainforest. I'm not even going to go into all the large hotels which come up in that search and the fact that none of them are in the rainforest. The El Yunque rainforest is a popular tourist attraction now and everyone is claiming to be there. But I wouldn't be writing this blog if I hadn't found a solution to share with you. First off if you look at your google maps business listing (or someone else's) you will notice that there is an option to write a review about the place but no one seems to have any reviews written about their place. This is an indication that maybe google maps business directory has a way to go yet before it is that important for your business. Maybe more people are using google earth. The nice thing about google earth is that it works with http://www.panoramio.com/ to let you place a photograph of a location. Go there and sign-up for an account. After you add the photo you are then given the option to place it on the map. Be sure you find the exact location (easiest done by typing in the name of a nearby city and zooming in to move the marker). I ended up with: http://www.panoramio.com/map/?user=898653#lt=18.336103&ln=-65.813384&z=0 Now the next step is to just wait until google earth is updated and your photo is placed. Too bad google business isn't that easy.

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Since I wrote the above blog Google maps improved their business listings. Now you can edit posts and show the real location of your business when it is placed according to your mailing address instead of your physical address.

Secrets of Renovating a Bed & Breakfast

Lots of other bed and breakfast operators have been reading my blog. Some have asked me how we manage to complete all the construction work we've done here so I thought I'd let everyone in on our secret. When Laurie and I first bought the property we were looking at an estate home that had been ravaged by two hurricanes and left abandoned for six years. Just so we could walk around the property safely we filled six thirty-yard garbage dumpsters of unusable material. The beautiful cedar from the main house we recycled to build the vaulted ceiling on the new villa. Some of the antique furniture we repaired and re-finished. But how did two people, one who is still running his Caribbean shipping agency (probably the smallest in the world but still the down island trading ships arrive at 3 am or Sunday or whenever their schedule demands and they are demanding) cope? The scope of the tasks we have accomplished and some of the pending projects would be considered insurmountable by many. We certainly couldn't have accomplished so much in the usual manner. And we know about the usual manner because many of our guests ask how come we have been working on this place for nearly five years now and it isn't finished.

old_house.jpg

But, the usual manner would have required truck loads of money to pay the teams of contractors that come in and get it all done in a professional and seemingly effortless stream of busy workers and material deliveries. If we had the cash flow to do it like that we would probably elect to stay in someone else's beautiful romantic hideaway. But we are doing it on the cheap so we can live in our own paradise hide-away. Still, there is (and was) far too much work here for one busy couple to do even without sleeping and certainly cutting into the average American's six hours of television viewing time (luckily we don't have TV).

I think it was Laurie who came up with the solution to our problem. It was certainly her that had to do most of the extra work involved so she was motivated. Our solution was to advertise for volunteers to come and stay with us for two or three months. We would feed them and house them and even teach them a trade in return for the work they perform on one of our projects.

For the past two months we have been closed and lots of working is getting done with the volunteer's help. Pictures tell a thousand words so the subsequent posts will show pictures of our volunteers working. We have also added some new short videos to our youtube site. Go to rainforestinn's youtube videos -- we will keep adding new ones, mainly showing our volunteers in action.

Hurricane Season at the Rainforest Inn

Thanks everybody for thinking of us and sending emails about how we were doing. Hurricane Dean passed well south of us. We got some rain and a little gusty wind but that was it. One of our neighbors lost a roof but that couldn't have been a very strong roof.We spent about a week doing preparations so now we have our generator installed (great thing that is as many of our guests haven't lived in Puerto Rico for thirty years like us and don't ignore as easily little inconveniences like no water and no electricity that happens so often here). Having the new genset installed is one more step towards making our small bed & breakfast more serving of our customer's needs (don't worry we aren't going to ever become a big resort). We are also taking advantage of the slow season to build a pool and jacuzzi as well as completely re-build the bathroom in the chalet. When we moved the lumber pile down below the new pool deck we found a cute little pair of boas living there.

I think the may have eggs somewhere but so far we haven't seen any. The new pool deck is truly giant. I used twenty yards of concrete (two big, very noisy, cement trucks) to pour the new deck. I'm glad we were closed as I had no idea how noisy a cement truck is. We are looking forward to season when we can stop doing all this construction and enjoy the rainforest sounds and having guests again.

Posting reviews about the Rainforest Inn on TripAdvisor

Lately, TripAdvisor can be the single most important internet presence for getting new customers to your guest house. As I reported in my first post about TripAdvisor, many hotel owners are promoting their bed and breakfasts by making up their own wildly positive posts or having friends do it. The only way that the TripAdvisor mavens can tell that this is happening (if you use different email addresses) would be by the IP address always being the same. Sometimes guests log on while staying at your place and post from your IP address (we have WIFI access everywhere using our microwave connection directly from the El Yunque peak towers). If we know, we usually ask them to wait until they get home before posting a review and most times this takes away the spontaneity and a review never gets written. Our guests here at the Rainforest Inn in Rio Grande tend to be internet-savvy people who are familiar with web 2.0 and some of the drawbacks of the new social networking. So when they see a bed and breakfast listing that has a hundred or so perfect glowing reviews they suspect something is awry and check further. One way that TripAdvisor offers is a simple click on who is posting the review and then look at their other postings. From this you can see right away that it is a real vacationer and you also might learn about other cool places to stay (or places to stay away from) when you're visiting Puerto Rico. Another of the drawbacks with web 2.0 is the omni-present spam bots. It is the reason why I'm blogging to you on Typepad right now (my Wordpress blog died under a bot inundation). To run a successful social web app you have to put traps in place to stop the bots. This means blocking certain IP address and having mult-step login processes with a "captcha" picture that can't be read by the spam bots. The drawback to complex login processes are that sometimes it becomes just too hard for someone to post a comment or a review and they give up. For example, the following review was sent to me by one of our guests that had given up but emailed it to us because they still wanted their review seen. Here is what our last guests at the Rainforest Inn had to say:

"We visited the Rainforest Inn for our spring break in March 2007. We arrived very late at night, our plane being delayed, and to our surprise we were graciously met by Bill. He showed us to our room, really the Chalet. As you can imagine we were quite tired and ready to hit the bed. The Chalet is charming; nice large living room/kitchen, our bedroom overlooked the rainforest with windows on 2 sides which made for great breezes and great sounds of tree frogs (coquis). We had a lovely porch overlooking the premises on the front of the Chalet. The next morning we had a super breakfast prepared by Laurie. She told us about all the various things we could do and if we wanted to simply relax that was just fine, too. What we liked about the Rainforest Inn--wonderful, quiet location, great breakfast, very nice folks to spend a week with and get to know. I would recommend it to anyone."

-- Marcia, Winnetka, IL

Laurie and I always love to read the comments are guests make after staying with us. It makes every effort we put in to make their vacations special worth it.

Our Resident Coqui

We have a coqui named Pedro who lives in a glass jar in our "farm house" kitchen near the sink. There are also coquis everywhere, under leaves in the garden, in the trees, hanging out in the heliconias but even with our over-abundance of coquis sometimes one of our guests wants to see a coqui and can't seem to find one for a photo or a quick look. Following the sound of the coquis outside is deceptively difficult because their call is loud and echos so that you're never really sure what leaf to look under or even what tree the coqui may be coming in.Our Three King's day present was the return of Pedro the coqui. We saw him right back in his jar on the kitchen counter just to the right of my Pavoni. We thought we had lost him just before Christmas when a guest staying with us who is a professional photographer needed a subject in the short hours before he had to return home to catch his flight. We set up a banana leaf and a yagrumo leaf on the big mahogany table in the kitchen and Steve took many pictures, using a flash, and from all angles. Pedro didn't seem to mind but when I put him back near his jar he hid out for several weeks and we didn't see him again until three king's day. You can go to Scott Kilgore's web site to see some of his excellent nature photographs and perhaps soon one of the pictures he took of Pedro -- our kitchen coqui.

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This post was recently moved from our typepad blog. I'm sorry to report that Pedro turned out to be a girl! We should have known because she was so quiet (only mail coquis call). And later that year she had babies and moved on. We have a sign out announcing a vacancy in our big cast iron kitchen sink hoping a new coqui will come visit.

 Coqui Eggs

Coqui Eggs

 A baby!

A baby!