Part 1: New York
Way back when I use to live in New York. I had a completely different life made up of bar meetings, grandiose client Christmas parties, midday acoustic performances, late-night brainstorming sessions, cheesy pizza slices, daily happy hours and work–lots and lots of work.
I still work a full-time job, but my habits have changed, my environment has changed and my anxiety levels have changed.
Do I miss New York? Yes, yes I do. I miss all the little things I didn't think I would miss, BUT that doesn't mean I'm sulking over here wanting to move back. Visiting is key, but living there is left in the past as a special time in my life. A time where I did exactly what I set out to do. I didn't expect it to end, but as life goes, life happened. Coming back to LA was where I needed to be to follow through with the next phase in my evolution and where Klean-Slate was born.
For this trip, New York was a stopover to see a few family members and friends before heading to Puerto Rico.
Upon touchdown, we roamed my old stomping grounds of Astoria and to my go-to natural food store to stock up on a few essentials.
It was just how I remembered, but this time, I was going armed with years of accumulated nutritional knowledge.
My eyes were wide open. Instead of seeing what I wanted to see, I now saw the WHOLE store and many of the items that have now become so familiar to me.
I scooped up a bottle of kombucha and a bottle of Pure Hawaiian Spirulina–arming myself with a powerful nutrient that can boost one's immunity, energy and cardiovascular health. Great to bring on any trip.
En tow, I also brought some tasty Beanfield's chips. No explanation needed.
The sophistication and sultry nature of Candle 79 was a quintessential New York treat for my first evening back in New York. One of my oldest friends and I treated ourselves to a delicious dinner in the upstairs dining room.
We enjoyed their seaweed salad, vegetable crepe, ravioli and a warm brownie sundae.
Another dinner while in New York before hopping over to Puerto Rico was a random find in Astoria. A delicious Indian restaurant called Seva. On the menu, vegan items are indicated by green leaves and spicy by little flames–all I ever need in a menu. One indicator to show me what I can eat and the other to show me what I need to avoid. Perfect.
The food was flavorful and elicious! When I'm back in Astoria, it'll be one of my first spots.
I have never been to Puerto Rico, but it has always held a special place in my heart.
How is that possible you ask?
Because I have family there, I have roots there. I've always wanted to go and now that I've been I can not wait to return.
We stayed in San Juan, but we traveled all around the island.
Our first stop after the hotel was Old San Juan. We drove down, parked and began our adventure. We first went to Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro).
It was impressive and breathtaking. From the top, I was able to see an aerial view of Old San Juan.
From there, it was time to eat!
A unanimous response led us to our first restaurant, Cafe Berlin in the heart of Old San Juan.
The dish I was most excited to try was the Yucca Mofongo. Mofongo is a traditional Puerto Rican dish that is normally cooked with plantains and covered in pork cracklings and smothered in a chicken broth. At Cafe Berlin, they are able to accommodate a vegan version without using chicken or pork while providing both a plantain and a yucca option. A hard decision as I love both, but it's rare to see yucca mofongo on a menu so my decision made itself. I also ordered the veggie burger with fries.
The mofongo was AHMAZING. I still think about it. It was moist, full of flavor (fresh garlic and olive oil) and simply fantastic.
Simple in concept, but exceptional in execution.
The veggie burger was delicious and the fries outstanding.
We ate at Cafe Berlin more than once on the trip.
The following day, before our big adventure inland, we stopped at the coolest little cafe near the hotel–Punk Burger Bar Bistro (never mind the name). I grabbed an Acai Bowl and a coffee for our hours long commute.
Where were we heading?
A couple weeks before our trip I ran into a girl at my yoga studio who mentioned a retreat in Puerto Rico. It sounded like a fun adventure for my mother and I. We both had never been inland or let alone a retreat hidden in the jungle.
Mom was on-board and even called ahead to make sure we could "crash" their retreat for half a day.
We made the trek inland through the winding roads. As we inched closer we stumbled upon this random minion art display (?).
Random to say the least, but a great addition to our adventure. We continued on and made it to the entrance of Casa Grande Mountain Retreat.
This retreat is surrounded by mountains, nature, lush foliage, wildlife and beauty.
A tucked away gem.
This specific retreat was hosted by Carolyn Cohen–a yoga instructor who hails from the states, but hosts retreats around the world. Mom and I were able to start with a light yoga class in the designated studio. It was wonderfully freeing to enjoy a class surrounded by nature and not city life. It reminded me of the retreat that changed my life in Chacala, Mexico.
After the class, mom was able to stay for the second stretching class while I was able to wander off to take a solo hike around the property.
I'm not one to normally hike unfamiliar terrain without another person en-tow, but as management suggested the terrain and the wildlife were fairly harmless.
Throughout my hike I couldn't believe all the coqui's (Puerto Rico's native little frog) and lizards! Cute and harmless. A perfectly disarming combination.
What I didn't find cute and harmless were the spider webs I'd run into. Not my cup of tea. It made some parts of the hike very difficult. That and there were moments where the terrain wasn't as stable as I had thought. Thankfully, I'm a fairly good hiker and I can make my way, but there were times I was tested.
As well, the mass amounts of foliage covered the little markers placed along the paths making them not always visible. This simple "walk in the park" hike turned out to be a little adventure.
I, of course, was still having a blast on my independent outing!
A little rash decided to develop on my trek so I made an executive decision to cut the trip short and head back.
Lucky enough I became friendly with a lady on the retreat who happened to be a nurse! She took a look and gave me sample packs of topical cream. Done and done.
It was hard to leave Casa Grande. Meeting new, engaging individuals while enjoying a yoga retreat in the middle of the jungle with my mother was bonding done well. Bonding with one another and bonding with our surroundings.
We took the windy road back to the city to make it back for a nice evening out.
Verde Mesa was the perfect spot–eclectic, charming and quaint with a menu that lent itself to a range of fresh vegan options.
I enjoyed a beautiful, hearty salad with a side of hummus for dinner and cookies for dessert.
The agenda for Day 3 included; Rio Camuy Cave, Arecibo Observatory and relatives. A full day that would take us up and around the island.
First stop was the the Rio Camuy Caves. The third largest cave systems in the world. Photos don't do it justice.
This 300-acre park contained cave systems, foliage, wildlife, spiders I avoided like the plague and a flowing river.
Beautiful, informative and worth a visit.
Next up was Arecibo Observatory. You know, that observatory made famous by GoldenEye, Contact and Species. You can learn everything from movies.
Arecibo is a 1,000-foot radio telescope with the largest aperture from its completion in 1963 until July 2016 when the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope was completed.
It is used in three major research areas: radio astronomy, atmospheric science and radar astronomy. Many discoveries have been made at this observatory including getting the first direct image of an asteroid.
From Arecibo we headed to Aguadilla to see where my mother grew up and to see relatives.
My cousin invited us over for dinner and like a small child, I watched her prepare it from the counter. I told her how I loved and missed grandma's arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) and how I've recently fallen in love for yucca mofongo because of Cafe Berlin. She told me she had arroz con gandules already made (happens to be vegan as well!) and that a quick yucca mofongo was easy to make as she had all the ingredients.
It was all so amazingly good and fresh!
The whole trip was special in a way I had always dreamed it would be. Except for us getting sick in the end, I wouldn't change a thing.
Another trip back "home" is due, as so much more needs to be explored and more family needs to be seen.