Beautiful, Isolated Playa San Miguel

Here’s an important Spanish word for you to learn if you’re going to read our blog while we’re in Puerto Rico: Playa. It means beach. Puerto Rico is covered with gorgeous beaches — the northern ones facing the Atlantic Ocean and the southern ones the calmer Caribbean Sea — and we want to visit as many as we can while we’re here! There are endless varieties of sand-and-sea to be found on the Isla Encanta, each one more beautiful than the last.

We pulled out Google Maps and saw that Playa San Miguel was just one exit or so east from our condo in Luquillo on Rte. 3. We packed up a cooler with drinks and snacks, grabbed our beach chairs, towels, and sunscreen, and headed out.

irst look at Playa San Miguel. Guau! (That’s “wow,” in Spanish

Rough Road

To get there we had to drive our low-hanging rental five miles down a dirt road that seemed fine at first … until we hit the puddles. Small ponds might better describe them. Then they became lakes. I help my breath as Bob slowly navigated the Corolla along the edge of each, praying we wouldn’t get stuck in the muck in the middle of nowhere. Where was Bob’s Toyota Tacoma when we needed it? (Back in a parking lot in Manchester, NH.)

Bob commented that when we lived in PR in the 90s, he bought his guagua (truck, specifically a Jeep Cherokee with a cow-catcher grill on the front that Puerto Ricans call a “rompamonte”) so we could easily navigate these types of roads, but back then, I was working so much that we never did. This is part of the reason we have returned. Same adventurous spirit, more time — but sadly, no guagua.

The long road traversed the La Reserva Natural Corredor Ecológico del Noreste, a nature reserve and a prime eco­tourism destination.

Somehow we made it to an entrance to a beach, where we saw a sign that told us, essentially — don’t drive on the sand, pack our your litter and don’t mess with the sea turtles that nest here.

Learn about this nature reserve at

We parked at the edge of the road, walked through a break in the trees, and found … paradise.

An Empty Beach

The sand was golden, stretching for miles in both directions, and the beach was completely empty of humanity. Three pelicans flew over, followed by a snowy egret. Little birds scuttled along the sand. To our right, a large, low-hanging tree with fat round leaves provided the perfect shady spot for setting up our base camp, which we did.

View toward Luquillo

Keeping It Clean

As I walked down to the ocean, I found a bit of litter wrapped up in the brown seaweed that had washed onto the sand with high tides. I picked up a paint can from the debris and began filling it with plastic cups, a mask, food wrappers, plastic forks, and more evidence of mankind. The disadvantage of an unmaintained beach is that it’s not cleaned regularly, and this debris was clear evidence of the litter that’s filling our oceans. I decided that one way to leave my mark on this island is to leave it cleaner than I found it. I filled another plastic bucket found with trash as well, and will bring trash bags next time.

Glorious Beach

But despite the litter, San Miguel Beach was perfect. The tide was rougher than in the bay where we are staying, waves crashing loudly onto the sand. I was wearing a bikini, which normally makes me nervous about bodysurfing, but no one was around, so who cared if the top or bottom got pushed down? We bodysurfed for a long time, laughing. It was amazing! I felt like a kid again. We were aware of a slight rip current, so we kept an eye on each other and made sure we didn’t go too deep.

San Miguel Beach Panarama

Alas, lunchtime came too soon, and it was time to go hunting for food. Next time we will pack a lunch, because it’s not very appealing to drive this long, wet road twice.

We definitely plan to return to Playa San Miguel, many times. But not today. It poured last night, and our car would likely sink into one of the lakes on the dirt road and disappear.

We also need to learn more about this Ecological Reserve. We’ll keep you posted!

Eagles Are on the Nest

I had a fascinating encounter with the bald eagle family of Lake Rescue this morning. They live there year-round, and have been residents for years, entrancing the human residents of this lovely lake in southern Vermont.

When I came around the bend in my kayak at 6:45 AM, the mother eagle was waiting for me in a tall tree nearby. Can you spot her?

Mother eagle, perched on a branch on the north end of Discovery Island. The nest is in a cove just beyond the south end of the small island.

I checked the nest: empty.

Then the baby popped up.

Mom immediately flew over to him.

She landed on a nearby branch and the two interacted for a long time.

It’s so awesome to start the day with this!

Gimme Shelter! (AT Style)

We found the Tucker Johnson Shelter at the cold halfway point of a recent hike on the Appalachian/Long Trail south of Pico Mountain, just when we needed it. We had hiked a mile and a half up the mountain, to a point where the wind was becoming quite biting on a crisp November afternoon, so we were happy to take refuge in this three-sided building.

The Tucker Johnson Shelter

The trail guide that I use said that a shelter was going to be built sometime “after 2012,” and the building was a welcome sight. The shelter looked brand new, its blond wood barely weathered.

I did a little digging and discovered that the shelter was constructed by Green Mountain Club volunteers in fall 2018. (Read the story here.)

The shelter was open on one side, and had four bunk beds. A sign on the wall instructed hikers on how to hang their food so they wouldn’t attract unwelcome bear scavengers. There was even a privy (outdoor toilet) nearby, the lap of luxury for through-hikers.

I imagine a night of shelter can be a welcome respite in the middle of a long hike.

Graffiti Storytelling

There was very little graffiti on the inside, attesting to the youth of the structure, but we enjoyed the stories the etchings told.

Trail Book Storytelling

Inside, we found a sign-in book inside a sealed plastic bag, with lots of travelers’ comments as they stopped for shelter along the trail.

I enjoyed flipping through the book, where travelers with nicknames like V for Vendetta, Missing Person, andEarly Bird shared snippets of their lives on the trail. The first entry was in July 2109. The last was the one I left, signed by “The Hammster,” my new trail name.

Here are a few of the entries. If you click on individual pictures, they will expand so that you can read them better.

Choose Love

The last thing I noticed was a heart-shaped, painted stone that someone had left in the shelter. Choose love, my friends.

Easy Hikes to the Top of the World

Vermont has an endless bounty of hikes, from the challenging Appalachian/Long Trail that traverses the entire state, to short hikes with big rewards. All of them are steep, because these are the Green Mountains, after all!

Here a couple we enjoy that can be done with the kids, or with people in your party who aren’t used to long hikes. Both will reward you with outstanding views for not too much effort. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars or a camera!

Hike to the Top of Okemo

There’s a short hike to the top of the Okemo Mountain Road that gives you an awesome vantage point with less than a mile of hiking. You can hike through dense, magical woods up a steep, rocky trail, or you can hike up a relatively easy road. At the top you have a mountain-top view from the Okemo Peak that lets you gaze down upon the Village of Ludlow, Lake Rescue, and mountains all the way to New Hampshire. You’ll see the ski lift and can climb to the top of the Fire Tower (if you’re not afraid of heights). It’s less than a mile round trip. There are some pull-offs with scenic views on the way down. Learn more.

Directions to the Trailhead:

Turn left on Route 100, then left at the end. Make a right onto Okemo Mtn Rd. Drive up to the Okemo Lodge, continuing up the private road to its left (OPEN from late spring to late fall). This road will switchback straight up the mountain for about 4-5 miles until you reach the top. You’ll be able to park at the end and either walk on the road or go up the trail to the left.

Echo Lake Vista Trail

Children as young as five can successfully navigate the hike up the Echo Lake Vista Trail. It’s steep but not brutal, and the views of Echo Lake, okemo Mountain, and the whole area from the top are breathtaking. there’s a nice rock there where you can relax and enjoy a snack. It’s only 1.5 miles round-trip. Learn more.


The trail is located at Camp Plymouth State Park Distance. Go north on Route 100 (turn right from Benson Point), North, then turn right onto Kingdom Road at the Echo Lake Inn, follow 1 mile to Boy Scout Camp Road, and turn left to Camp Plymouth State Park. Park for free in a parking lot on the right before the road crosses the creek. The trailhead is past the cabins on the right, or you can go farther on the road and access the trail by old wooden steps that take you through an ancient cemetery.

Hike up Mount Philo

Bob and I just did our first almost 1-er in Burlington! (As opposed to the multiple 14ers Bob did back in Colorado.)

We hiked up Mt. Philo on a recent Sunday while visiting Burlington for Champlain College Family Weekend. Mt. Philo State Park, which sits atop 968-foot Mt. Philo about 13 miles south of Burlington, was created as Vermont’s first Vermont State Park in 1924. With 237 acres offering breathtaking views of the Lake Champlain Valley and New York’s Adirondack Mountains, the park is a favorite of local hikers, picnickers, and even college students.

The hike was short but steep and challenging. The view of the Vermont countryside and Lake Champlain from the top was spectacular. We also found inspirational poetry at the top …

… and we loved the message in the field below.


There are several camping sites at the top, as well as a group cabin, and we were surprised to see they were not in use. The best part was the Adirondack chairs that beckoned us to sit and enjoy the beautiful day and the view.

We met a couple of artists on our way down painting the view with watercolors.

Selfie of the day!


By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Why We’re in Vermont for the Summer

I thought I’d take a step back and explain why we are suddenly blogging from Vermont instead of Mexico.

Our Vermont History

Friends who knew us when we lived in Mamaroneck, NY (1998-2008) know that during that time, we bought a couple of vacation rental houses in Vermont. We wanted a rural place to escape from the hustle bustle of the NY metro area, and we loved New England, where I lived for much of my childhood.

VT House #1: The Lake House

The first house we bought was meant to be our retirement home, and we nicknamed it “The Lake House.” 
It’s a six-bedroom chalet nestled on a wooded three-quarters of an acre across the street from 200-acre Lake Rescue, where we keep a dock with boats. The kids and I would escape for half of every summer to decompress in the Green Mountains, go swimming and boating, hike nearby trails, sit around a fire pit making s’mores and singing camp songs, gaze at stars and explore Vermont. 
We had a Zodiac boat with a motor that we used to go tubing. We also had two kayaks, a rowboat and a someone sailboat. Bob came up for vacation a couple of weeks each summer, and otherwise took Amtrak from NY every Friday for a weekend visit. During the winter, we came up on occasional weekends and some school breaks to ski nearby Okemo. I would XC ski on Lake Rescue.
The dock and boats at the Lake House
As soon as the contract was signed on the Lake House, we found ourselves in the vacation rental business, because it came with winter seasonal renters, and that was our plan for paying for it.

VT House #2: The Brook House

We bought the second house, which we call “The Brook House,” a couple of years later because the real estate market was booming, and it seemed like a good investment. The Brook House is a 120-year-old, five-bedroom former chicken coop that backs to a creek and Tiny Pond Recreation Area, 400 acres of state forest that no one seems to know exists. Echo Lake is less than a quarter-mile away. The yard is big and there’s a little country store across the street.
The Tyson Store, across the street
We also dubbed it, tongue in cheek, “The College Fund.” Alas, that real estate
“boom” turned out to be a bubble when the market tanked. The region is only now
recovering, so we still own both houses, though the Brook is on the market. One
rental home is quite enough to manage from a distance!
The creek out back

Two Houses Filled With Love

The houses, especially The Lake House, are an integral part of our family story, especially since we moved to Colorado in the middle of the kids’ childhoods, so this region served as an anchor for their lives. We filled the houses with people we loved whenever we could. Family – grandpa and grandmas, aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins – and friends came up to the lake for summer vacations, year after year, creating so many dear memories.
Welcome to the Lake House
Kayaking on the Black River with Aryk
Our friend Marie Laguerre brought her twins Omar and Kayla to attend Farm & Wilderness Barn Day Camp (eight miles up the road, and extraordinary) with my kids, and lived in the house for two weeks with us. I remember Omie would eat nothing but ramen noodles. Marya and Mickey Carter did the same with kids Spencer the bed at the Brook House (and I was so proud of myself for adding plastic covers to the mattresses that summer before their arrival), is now a brilliant athlete attending Harvard!
Cousin Jeanine Troisi came and learned to ski one year; another summer she ran a hilly 5K race along Echo Lake not long after giving up smoking. I was so proud of her! My brother Mike, sister-in-law Paula and their three kids visited; we rode bikes together around the lake with the smallest kids in kiddie seats. My nephew Jake and I kayaked into the middle of the lake to watch the Perseids Meteor Shower. Our friend Valerie Rasmussen, who has since passed away, came to hike and waterfall jump one summer, and to ski one winter.
My dear friends Mary and Sam Wiley brought live lobsters from Newport, RI, and we watched lawbstah races on the front deck of the Lake House before enjoying scrumptious steamed lobsters. I think of her whenever I see those lobster pots, which we still have, just waiting for her next visit. Mary came back another year and used the Brook House as a base while visiting colleges with her son Henry. Or was it Frank? I remember Lex’s stuffed lamb Buggeeya Guy disappeared during that visit, somewhere between going to car to leave for the Killington Adventure Zone to enjoy the alpine slide and arriving at the mountain. Forever a mystery.
Hiking at Echo Lake
View from the top
My cousin Loraine Carapellucci and husband Dave Handley brought their three daughters for a week, and our kids really bonded. I remember we had a merry time on the rope swing of Discovery Island, in the middle of Lake Rescue, giving kids Olympic scores for “poses” before they dropped into the water. Alas, that swing is gone now; the tree from which it hung was brought down in the Great Flood of 2012.
We even hosted a Dominican-American girl from the Bronx named Clarissa Delgado through the Fresh Air Fund, to give her her first nature experience. I remember watching stars with Clarissa, a phenomenal sight for a girl accustomed to bright street lights and no view of the starry sky, and teaching her how to fish. In fact, it seems I  spent countless summer hours putting worms on hooks and extricating fish from the same hooks over and over as I taught countless munchkins how to fish off the dock. I failed hopelessly to learn to fly fish, however, despite efforts summer after summer from my friend Eddie Eagan, who was director of the local Chamber of Commerce and
taught flyfishing on the side. 
I loved running around the lakes, and often woke up early to kayak on the misty lake, alone on 200 acres of calm water save for a couple of loons.
Misty morning, Lake Rescue
So many thousands of wonderful memories! When we moved to Colorado in early 2009, we were saddened to realize our Vermont summers were abruptly over. We took a financial hit from the recession that took years to recover from, and couldn’t afford to fly the family across the country. So the houses became vacation rental businesses that I managed from afar, and Bob and I would go back every couple of years to make improvements and do work on them.
We sort of forgot that the Lake House was originally supposed to be a home.  

Reconnecting with Vermont 

But this past November, we went up and stayed in the Brook House for five weeks after Bob retired. We took Bob’s mom and sister Beth, and it snowed a good two or three feet during our stay. Bob and I spent an hour every morning in the hot tub on the back deck sipping mimosas and enjoying the sound of the creek while snowflakes gently played with our hair and ice from 13-degree mornings formed little spikes on his beard. My brother Phil, wife Rose and son Philip came for Thanksgiving, and 2.0 (pronounced 2-point-oh, as we like to call Philip the 2nd) sat in the same highchair my kids had sat in as he dropped his pieces of stuffing on the rug. My niece Catherine and her daughter Audrey also came for a few days, and Aud built a snowman in the yard.
Audrey and Cat build a snowman
And suddenly we remembered that these weren’t just vacation rentals. They were our homes! And even though we had left Colorado behind for the traveling life and sort of felt homeless, we weren’t!

Part-Time VT Residents 

Aryk loved Vermont so much that this summer, they took a job as a counselor at Farm and Wilderness Camp, which they attended for eight summers before we moved to Colorado. Lex loved it so much that they chose to go to college at Champlain College in Burlington, VT.
So we have decided that we will live in Vermont during the summers. The houses give our kids a place to come to from college that feels like home. They can get summer jobs. They can visit their favorite ice cream place (the Ludlow Coffee Company, formerly Scoops) and eat at their favorite pizza joint (Goodman’s American Pie). They can feel anchored.

Another favorite ice cream place, Seward’s in Rutland.
I always order the Bittersweet Symphony!
Lex loves the Panda Paws.
We are working hard, though. Because we are trying to sell the Brook House, Bob and I are spending long hours making improvements – painting the house and some doors, pulling up a rug and refinishing a floor, planting grass and landscaping, buying furniture, and hiring and overseeing workmen. But we’re also going for long bike rides on scenic Route 100, a refreshing opportunity after the challenge of riding in Mexico. We’re hiking the Long/Appalachian Trail, enjoying our favorite ice cream places, trying to visit
every bar in the Okemo Valley. We’re running and doing yoga and lifting weights, and hanging out on the Tyson Store chatting with neighbors.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
Come October, we will head back south of the border and explore Mexico for the next 9 months. But when Lex gets done with their first year at Champlain College in May, we’ll return to the Green Mountain State and move back into the Lake House for the summer. (Hopefully, the Brook House will be sold and college paid for with the proceeds!)
I relish the opportunity to enjoy the region and explore the Green Mountain State more, without the burden of juggling full-time work, as I did when my kids were young. I look forward to connecting to the community and making friends. And I urge our family and friends to come visit! Because the Lake House has, in fact, turned into our summer retirement home. And we want to build more memories!

(In fact, my sorority sister Eileen Armelin, sister Julie and brother-in-law Mark, hopefully with Audrey and Cat; possibly Marie again with husband Joe; and family friends Julles Marquez and Ian Miller are coming to visit soon, so we’re already starting!)

By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt

Hiking on Vermont’s Long Trail

Did you know the Appalachian Trail was inspired by Vermont’s Long Trail? Beto and I discovered this after a couple of recent hikes on the Long Trail, the oldest long-distance hiking trail in the United States. Known as Vermont’s “footpath in the wilderness,” the 272-mile Long Trail runs from Massachusetts to Canada, with 166 more miles of side trails.

Built by the Green Mountain Club between 1910 and 1930, it follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains and crosses Vermont’s highest peaks. The Appalachian Trail coincides with the Long Trail for 100 miles in the southern third of Vermont, including around Ludlow, where we are staying. It is not for the faint. Crossing high peaks means a lot of up and down. And we have discovered it can be tricky.

Long Trail Hike 1
Last weekend we drove north to Killington and got onto the trail across the street from the appropriately named Inn at Long Trail. We hiked three hilly, strenuous miles through amazingly lush, green woodlands – especially coming from dry, high desert ecosystems in the mountains of Colorado and Mexico! As it was our first hike since arriving in Vermont, we turned around after a mile and a half, just .6 miles from the peak of Pico Mountain, which we will attempt to scale another time.


Long Trail Hike 2
This morning we embarked on the combined AT/LT along Route 103 between Mount Holly and Clarendon. At the beginning, we had to cross a beautiful, shaky suspension bridge over a glorious gorge, and I remembered bringing my kids here for a walk about 15 years ago, and they were terrified.

The Long Trail is marked by two-by-six-inch white blazes (side trails are blazed in blue), but when we got into the woods on the other side, we couldn’t find any. We followed the unmarked trail along a wide, rocky creek, then turned right to follow a second promising path straight up the mountain. But there were still no markers, and eventually we encountered a US Land Boundary Marker, and the trail petered off into nothingness. It was a weird, vulnerable feeling to be standing there in the middle of the woods with no trails in any direction.
So we went back down the hill and continued the creekside hike, passing several camping groups – one a young family with a small tent and two smaller children in swimsuits getting ready for an icy swim in the creek, and the other a group of adults with two large tents cooking over a big breakfast fire. Again, no markers.
Idyllic Discovery
When the trail suddenly ended, we saw a large flat rock at the edge of the creek with a red heart painted on it, and took a break. That break turned into an hour-long siesta during which we just let go and enjoyed being in nature. Bo laid back and snoozed. It was warm but cloudy, and the cold water kept it refreshing. I just drank in the bright green leaves on the trees across the creek, the trickle of the water, the patterns on the rocks, and the play of light on the surface of the water. Several small planes flew overhead (we were not far from Rutland Airport) and we listened to the rumble of a train approaching, passing and departing, just beyond visibility through the trees.

We sat quietly, talked about life and the kids, and just breathed. It was idyllic, and we will definitely return with a picnic.
On the way back, Beto found the turnoff to the Long Trail not far from the suspension bridge, so we will be back next week. It starts straight up, so I anticipate a challenging hike.
Learn more about the Long Trail here.
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt