Puerto Rico 2016 - 2 of 3: Love & Light at The Dreamcatcher

When we decided to stay in Puerto Rico, we knew we wanted to get as much out of the experience as possible. We wanted the luxury of a resort style hotel and the authenticity of a Bed and Breakfast. After experiencing the resort portion of the vacation, we ventured in to the real Puerto Rico. 

When we were planning our trip, we knew we wanted to stay somewhere that wasn't just in the middle of the action, but somewhere that we could really feel at home. We wanted a small, well run B&B with people who shared the same type of healthy and wholistic lifestyle as us. We found all that and more at The Dreamcatcher

Dreamcatcher came highly recommended by friends of ours who've stayed there in the past. As soon as we entered through the gates it was easy to understand why. 

It's centrally located in the upscale community of Oceanpark, short walking distance from San Juan and the beach. The entire compound was designed by the incredible co-owners Sylvia and Stephan. Sylvia has made her name as a very successful interior/set designer and Stephan is a successful real estate developer.

 The whimsy of the place is something that has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. We were granted access to photograph many of the 15 rooms that weren't occupied. I tried to take as many pictures as possible, but none of them really do it the place justice. 

The details and subtle refinements are tastefully eclectic and implemented with an experts touch. Throughout the grounds the style strikes an inviting balance between bohemian chic and and traditional comfort.


 The Inn was designed to be a wholistic, vegetarian oriented Bed & Breakfast. They offer daily donation based yoga classes on the grounds and on the adjacent beach.

This view is about 5 minutes away if you're walking slow. Take me back. Now.

There's an in-house vegan chef, who creates amazingly imaginative dishes. The smells that come out of that kitchen are reason enough to visit. 

There are meditation areas and unique one of a kind furniture pieces. There's also  a community kitchen (separate from the chef’s kitchen) where you can prepare your own meals from items that have been donated from fellow travelers. It gives you the sense that its all carefully planed out yet completely organic.

Pride


The customizations of the rooms is really what set this place apart. The spaces aren't just superficially different, like with a different color scheme a few extra throw pillows on the bed. Every room really does have its own charm and aesthetic.

Because they really do vary from one to the next, it's best to think of them as grouped together by size. Its a great schematic because the prices of the rooms vary greatly by their sizes. In the off season, you can get a great room for a steal.

Some rooms, like the one we stayed in, are relatively normal sized. Enough room to comfortably live out of for about a week without feeling closed in. I would say this size could accommodate about 80% of casual tourist's needs.

This was our room:

Not pictured is the outdoor shower and sink. It was closed off from the street but the top was completely open so you could shower under the stars. That feature was unique to this room.

 For the traveler looking for an extended stay, they have large live in suites customized with individually decorated bathrooms and art collections.

 They have cozier, more "spartan" suites for the traveler who doesn't plan to stay inside for too long. 

This room was really well done.

You get to know people pretty quickly when they're showering right in front of you, lol.

Each room is decked out with ice cold AC (thank god that PR heat is no joke), bespoke furnishings, new beds, reliable wifi, and no t.v’s. That's right, no t.v.'s anywhere. That part had me a little skeptical when we first got settled in. But, I realized after the first night that there was so much to do and experience,  having a t.v. would’ve really been an unproductive distraction. 


The Inn prides itself on being an eco-friendly retreat. They reflect that ethos by powering all of their water heaters by solar panels on the roof and enforcing recycling for all waste accumulated during your stay. All things we try to do in our personal life. 

Even though they really pushed the wholistic wellness narrative, there was no skimping on the hospitality aspect of the stay. There was daily turn down service and a strong emphasis on cleanliness and customer service. 

They also offer daily hikes to the El Yunque Rainforest and other attractions. The great thing about their tours is that they're led by a local who isn’t affiliated with a corporate tour company so he’s able to customize your trip to what most interest you. There’s a two person minimum, so if you catch him on an off-peak day, it can be a really personalized experience. 


We spent our first day exploring the surrounding areas. 

 It was our first opportunity to get out and experience PR from the street level. I was surprised how similar it was to the states. They had every major retailer and fast food place you can think of. I know that sounds stereotypically American, but after experiencing the Rain Forest, the Bioluminescent Bays, and generally being exposed to the wild side of the island for the majority of our trip, finding out that it was pretty similar to every other American city was pretty interesting. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The next couple of days we were up bright and early to flow on the beach and snap a few pictures 

In the morning we checked out different parts of the grounds and found new places in the area to have breakfast. 

At night we lounged around and tried to get creative with the lights.

I saw this frame and knew it would be special....

It didn't disappoint

We were even lucky enough to get our buddy Malda to strike a pose 


Unfortunately, the stay here would be much shorter than the last location. Three days and two nights in total. Since we knew time was fleeting we decided to make the most of it early.

 We were a ten minutes drive away from Old San Juan, so we spent an entire day walking around and soaking up the scenery.

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To my surprise, a good portion of the city center looked exactly like our home town, St. Augustine, Fl.

We were told this is because the Spanish conquistador Pedro Menedez oversaw the settlement of both areas around the same time. The similarities were really striking

 *I’ll be sharing more pictures of this day in a separate post highlighting street photography in Old San Juan.


After spending so much time exploring in the heat, trying to take everything in, we decided to just relax for our last two days on the island. We lounged on the beach, took pictures, and just enjoyed the tropical weather.  

We knew that once the vacation was over it would be back to the grind. So when the sun went down, we didn’t sweat it. Just bring some lights and get creative.

A fun/creepy accident turned into a pretty good Halloween shot.

Can you tell I like the lights, lol. It's vacation, cut me some slack. 

Normally we both wake up early. Vacation or no vacation i'm a frustratingly consistent early bird. But on our last full day we decided to stay in bed and chill as hard as we possibly could. We rolled out of bed at the late hour of 9 a.m. (eye roll emoji) and headed to the beach to get in some last minute shots  and sunshine.

I love laying on the beach at the beginning of the week. There’s nothing like soaking up the sun in solitude. 

Besides going out for breakfast (which we really didn’t have to do because Dreamcatcher’s is really good) we didn’t do one thing that could even come close to being exhausting or tiring. In 90 degree heat I tried not to break a sweat. 

The last day was passed with some much deserved relaxation and rejuvenation. 

But then we got antsy...

That night we got invited to drink with some local yogis who knew us from Instagram. It’s really amazing the connections we’ve made because of that app. Almost every friend we’ve made since relocating to D.C. has been because of our work on social media. It’s been nothing but incredible for us and this journey we’ve embarked upon.

The group was incredibly kind and inviting. And those drinks were stroooooong. Puerto Ricans don't play.

Like meeting old friends for the first time

Can’t wait to see who we meet on our next journey.


All in all it was an amazing trip and one of the most throughly enjoyable vacations I can remember. In a just over a week we collected enough memories to last a lifetime.  The luxurious resorts, the breathtaking vistas of the rainforest, the incredibly kind hearted locals, even our disappointing trek out to the bio bays (a story for another day). Every experience just incredible.

Normally I don’t care to revisit places we’ve already been. Its a big world and our time is finite. But, I can’t see myself staying away from the island for too long. There’s so much more to uncover and in our time there we barely scratched the surface. I left part of my heartin Puerto Rico, it won't be long before I go back to collect.

 

 

 

Puerto Rico 2016 - 1 of 3: An unforgettable stay at The Ritz-Carlton Puerto Rico

 

 

When we were deciding where to take our next vacation following our Southwestern road trip, we weren’t sure where we wanted to go. All we knew was it had it to be relaxing and on a beach somewhere. Living in D.C. is great, there’s culture, art, young intellectuals, almost everything a twenty-something couple could ask for..if that couple didn’t move from a beach town. There’s just something about life on the coast. Once you experience it, you can never stay away too long. 

 

Being that we’re -ahem- budget conscious travelers, we were resolved to make our mutual passions of yoga and photography work for us. We began thinking of ways we could establish relationships with businesses that shared our same values of healthy, mindful living. We figured a collaboration that would have us essentially marketing for a business in exchange for stay there was the simplest and most mutually beneficial way to leverage our platform. Since we’re lucky enough to have the benefit of being a model / photographer duo, we’re able to provide a level of content that could appeal to the right type of business.

 

 With our plan of collaboration in exchange for accommodation in place, the next step was figuring out exactly where we would stay. We set the parameters to a beach location (obviously), preferably an island, ideally tropical and within relatively short distance from the east-coast to save on flight cost. Luckily for us, we recently befriended another fellow yogi, Mariebelle (@mariebellepr) who is a world traveler and proud Puerto Rican. One evening, while having her over for dinner, the subject of the upcoming trip came up and she immediately insisted that we had to visit Puerto Rico. For some reason Puerto Rico hadn't crossed our minds. Being relatively inexperienced travelers, we thought of the island as too “familiar” to our everyday experiences. I think since the Puerto Rican diaspora is so deeply engrained into modern American society, it can be difficult for typical mainlanders like ourselves to understand just how different the island can be. After listening to Mariebelle tell us about all of the incredible scenery and opportunities the island had to offer, we decided to seriously consider what the Island would have to offer. We quickly decided that it was the the location for us.

 

Because of the Islands unique relationship with the U.S., tourists can have the best of both worlds. you can experience all of the creature comforts of a typical American city in San Juan, where you can find nearly every major retailer and fast food chain you’re accustomed to sitting side-by-side with business unique to the island. Or, if you’re the more adventurous type, you can go completely off grid and immerse yourself in the culture of the countryside where you would be forgiven with mistaking many of the expansive tropical vistas with Hawaii or Africa in certain areas. The island really has everything you could want in a vacation. 

 

 

 

We decided to split the difference and sample a little of both experiences. Our last vacation was the ultimate backpack living road trip, and we wanted at least part of this get away to allow for some proper pampering. So, of course, we chose the Ritz-Carlton (@ritzcarlton). A hotel long held as the standard bearer of luxury and hotelier excellence.

 


The Ritz:

Confession time: We’ve never stayed in a luxury hotel. Not because we haven’t wanted to (obviously) it just hasn't be feasible for our previous locations. We’ve done luxury resorts for special occasions like our honeymoon, but for annual vacations, we usually stick to the mid-range hotel market and spend our time out taking (way too many) pictures. Since we’re getting older and life is making us act more like adults, we decided this would be the first vacation where we really pampered ourselves. What better place to do that than the Ritz-Carlton? Even the name sounds luxurious.  I will admit, I had high expectations going into it. A hotel as storied as this has a lot of history to live up to. Its been regarded for so long as the pinnacle of elegance and refinement, that I was anticipating a let down. I could not have been more wrong.

From the moment we got on the grounds of the hotel, the attention to detail and level of guest service from the staff completely outdid any of my expectations. The staff at the location in San Juan knew who we were and treated us as if we were the only guest in the hotel. They didn’t dare let us carry a bag or open a door as they escorted us around the compound. Every staff member dressed in immaculately pressed suits radiating a genuine desire to make your stay special. It really set the stage for the experience that was to come. 

 

We got to the room and the first thing we see is a little fresh juice flight to rehydrate us after our long commute. It helped establish the health conscious theme that would be reinforced in different ways through out our stay. After unloading all of our gear and taking a few minutes to decompress we realized there were no less than three different, hand-written notes from staff members wishing Holly a happy birthday and inviting us to different activities at the hotel.

 Those little extra touches of hospitality established a new perspective within me. I became acutely aware of just how different a stay in a luxury hotel would be from our normal fare. The room was expectedly beautiful and spotless. A large luxurious tub (that I’m kicking myself for not using), huge balcony facing the ocean, and a bed that was so damn comfortable I shed a tear when we had to leave it behind. 

 

The first night we were there we were treated to an incredible four-course birthday dinner at the in-house restaurant BLT Steak. We don’t normally eat meat, but it was a special occasion, so we went a little over board, to say the least. The chef even surprised us with a customized birthday dessert platter. 

 

 

 After the HUGE meal and a couple of well deserved cocktails, we waddled our way back to our room to go to sleep early so we could catch a sunrise shoot on the beautiful Puerto Rican beaches. 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Unfortunately it rained the entire morning of the first day BUT we don’t let something like a little rain stop us. We decided to have some fun anyway. Sidenote- Sony cameras are NOT weather resistant. I had a little scare, but it turned out alright after it dried out. Luckily that was really the only heavy rain fall of the trip. After that there were a couple of light drizzles, but thats the tropics for you. 

 

 

 

 

After shooting for a couple of hours every day we would work up an appetite. During our stay, we were granted access to the Club Level suite, which had perks like fresh made healthy breakfast and lunch buffets. It had everything one could ask for, from breakfast entrees, chef prepared lunches, artisanal coffee and tea, fresh squeezed juice, wine, beer, even your own personal concierge! Don't even get me started on the massive fresh baked cookies and full size candy bar station (I'm not proud of how many I had). We ate there every chance we got. It really was that good. 

 

Because we wanted this to be more a relaxing stay, we didn’t bother to fill up or schedule with a lot of activities instead we spent the majority of our stay enjoying the grounds.

Laying on the beach lounging around the pool (eating some more) and just generally enjoying each others company. There was so much to see and do in the immediate area that we decided  to take it easy and only go places we could comfortably walk to. 

 

We visited some of the adjoining beaches to enjoy some photo time in different back grounds and interact with some of the locals.


 

We also got some gorgeous shots of the sunset over the horizon in front of the pool area. 

 

 

We were treated to beautifully painted skies every night we were there. 

 

The beach in front of the hotel was the backdrop for all of our photo shoots. It was beautifully manicured and serendipitously placed in a way that provided us brilliant sunrises and sunsets. After shooting we would go lounge around the pool or soak in the beachfront hot tub (insert emoji prayer hands).

Before we left for the next locations we wanted make sure we got some pictures from inside of the hotel. We were so enamored with the beautiful grounds we lost focus of how photogenic the actual building was. With all of its expansive and beautifully lit walkways begging to taken advantage of, it would’ve been criminal not to no take a few shots there. Luckily for us, we visited off peak. We were able to have a little solitude in certain areas of the hotel. We stumbled on the business wing that wasn't occupied at the time. It was completely awash with beautiful light thanks to the huge windows lining the walls.

 

 

 

There were contemporary paintings throughout the hotel, but the collection here was particularly beautiful. 

You really can take a bad picture with lighting like this. 

 

 

 


All in all it was really a special and memorable stay. Not one single complaint about the service, room, accommodations, food - nothing. I wouldn’t change a single thing and it was painful to have to leave. In terms of the high-end resort style vacation It was by far the best experience we've ever had. Can’t recommend The Ritz-Carlton enough and can’t wait to go back!

I'll be updating this blog with a page for all of my best shots from the trip. New pics will be available with each of the new blog post.

On social media and self-expression.

 If a post is created and it gets no likes, was a photo taken? A corny play on an old joke, but really, what is it that compels us to share our art with the world at large? I find myself coming back to this question every now and then. Am I not so subtly seeking some type of recognition for what I perceive to be a talent? Is the positive feedback loop of sharing and praise fueling my desire to post content on a daily basis? I thought I got into this for myself. For the opportunity of artistic self-expression. Now, I'm not so sure. In fact, I wonder if photography would be my chosen art form if the internet didn't exist. To that end, I find myself now wondering exactly who it is I'm doing this for. 

  Before I discovered photography I fashioned myself a writer. Not a terribly good writer, but a writer non the less. I never shared my work with anyone. Not for fear of reception or rejection, but because I simply didn't want to share that part of myself. As an only child, some of my inclinations towards introversion and selfishness are too hard to shake.

  Despite dealing with the indulgent self-loathing and doubt which suspends writers in an endless juggling act between narcissistic perseverance full-throated nihilism, I thought some of my stuff was o.k. I was able to maintain an interest in writing because It was an infrequent indulgence. Only practiced in the rare moments when I had the clarity and inclination to fully flesh out an idea that had been gestating in my mind. I would write about anything and everything. Short stories, op-eds, self-indulgent poetry, even summations on the state of international affairs. I didn't limit myself to one genre or the stylistic trends of the day because I simply didn't care to compete. This was mine, for me, by me. I took care to allow myself the freedom to experiment and fail my way towards something I could be proud of. I don't know if I've ever felt that same type of freedom with my photography.

  Of course this disconnect could be attributed to the method I use to display my work. I share primarily on a platform predicated on mass appeal and popularity. The ubiquitous, all powerful alpha & omega of photo-sharing, Instagram. By its very design it aggregates and promotes trends, which tends to stifle true creative freedom. It has institutionalized the pull towards visual conformity. Even those who do manage to carve out a particular niche through their work begin to cater their feeds towards increasing accessibility the longer they participate on the app. Its a structure that rewards the creative, in so far as their vision is in line with a vein of popular culture. Exposure for acquiescence. The desire to be liked and gain a following dictates that I, and many like me, color within the lines.

  Im now years into the curation of my social media presence. More than ever I feel as though my sense of fulfillment in photography is predicated on the opinions of others. Given that I got into the art for myself, there's something inherently subversive about that dichotomy. How do I know what I want, what I like, what I feel when Im stuck viewing my creation through he eye of potential admirers? More over, is what I'm feeling justified in this day and age or is the idea of searching for truth in art played out? 

  Of course, of course, there's no one to blame for my discontent but myself. Seeking admiration from others isn't particularly a bad thing. Nobody forced me to join the fray. I don't have to share. I don't have to flood every picture with hashtags. I don't have to participate all; but I would be lying to myself if I said I didn't feel compelled to play the game. These days I spend relatively little time thinking about how I actually feel about a given photo. A scene will catch my eye, I take the picture then decide if its worthy of a share. That is to say, who will like this? I would be willing to bet that every IG power user has an implicit understanding that, if they don't think their work will garner attention, they won't share it.

  This begs the question: to what degree is artistry being sacrificed for popularity?