Porn star rights Customs’ wrong

A Brooklyn guy was faced with the worst of scenarios. Coming through customs on a return trip from Puerto Rico, he was cuffed in San Juan. He was accused of transporting child pornography, because a copy of the DVD “Little Lupe the Innocent” was found in his bags. Of course, Carlos Simon-Timmerman claimed his innocence, so in his mind at least, he was staring down two decades in prison for something he didn’t do.

At times like this, you cross your fingers and hope for a knight in shining armor to rescue you. Carlos got his knight … in the form of porn star Lupe Fuentes. He was freed from the can when Lupe flew down to Puerto Rico earlier this month to prove in court that she was 19 when the movie was made. The fact that she produced her passport and photo identification was much more compelling than the pediatrician called by the feds who insisted that the actress was underage.

So, if you’re taking porn through customs, you may want to do a little research. Get the stars’ cell numbers, or keep copies of their documents on file. You never know when you’ll need it.

And, just for fun, do you know what Carlos does for a living?

Ding dong … you’re pizza’s here.

Hotel Review: The Verdanza Hotel in Puerto Rico

Formerly a Holiday Inn (and long before that, a 60’s era tennis club and hotel), the Verdanza Hotel in Puerto Rico underwent major renovations as it transitioned from chain to independent hotel. The local ownership remained the same, but the decor, attitude, and commitment to the environment is all new.

The vibe here is young – both the GM and the chef are the youngest to hold those titles in any hotels in the San Juan area. The sleek lobby features a colorful hanging chandelier as its focal point, and the bar, Coladas, is full of the hip and sexy people until late every night. The rooms have been completely redone, with the addition of mini-fridges, LCD TVs, iPod docks, better-quality bedding, and organic bath products.

Additional green features have also been implemented. The staff uniforms are made from recycled polyester, the used cooking oil from the kitchen is converted to biodiesel, the stationary is both recycled and recyclable, and the water used in the kiddie water park adjacent to the pool is reused. In the year that all lights have been replaced with LED lights, energy consumption has decreased by 50%.

We recently stayed at the Verdanza Hotel and discovered that, while the vibe is sleek and sexy on the surface, traces of the old Holiday Inn still seem to linger. The parking lot clearly visible from the pool’s green vinyl lounge chairs suggest its former incarnation, while the white and orange pod-like chairs in the Eighty 20 Bistro and the complementary wired internet access point to the future. The added services and special events go above and beyond what you’d find at any Holiday Inn as well.

Over breakfast, the hotel’s Director of Public Relations, Lorraine Ortiz, explained that the goal of the 222-room Verdanza Hotel is to provide the feel of a smaller hotel with a more personalized experience. Services like custom-made picnic baskets, free pedi-cab rides to the beach (which is less than a five-minute walk away) and special events like Art and Friends, a monthly exhibition of works from young artists, do just that.

The Verdanza Hotel is located one mile away from the airport – just look to the left as your plane lands and you’ll see it – in the Isla Verde district. While it’s close to the beach it is not conveniently located for those who wish to explore more of Old San Juan. A 20-minute 75-cent bus will take you into town from the hotel, but to get back later in the evening, you’ll need to spring for a $20 flat-rate taxi back. Rates at the Verdanza Hotel range from $160-200 per night, so if your goal is to spend time in Old San Juan, you’d be better off staying in in the city and saving money on transportation each day.

The Verdanza Hotel offered a media discount on the room, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

Verdanza Hotel opens in Puerto Rico

There’s a new hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Friday, the Verdanza Hotel opened its doors, offering an upscale urban-inspired experience … but only a few steps from the beach. It’s not far from the Isla Verde tourism district, so you’ll have plenty of access. And, the 222-room hotel (with 20 suites) boasts three restaurants and a pastry shop. Look for some personalized touches at the Verdanza Hotel, such as made-to-order picnic beach lunches, luxurious eco-friendly bath products, guestrooms that allow pets and a personal bike taxi ride to the beach.

Art lovers will be particularly thrilled with the Verdanza. The opening includes the kickoff of “Art and Friends,” which consists of local and experimental art from newcomers. Look for daily events that include live concerts, video art performances and other exhibits. The two-week show ends on December 13, 2009, with a Fair Trade Bazaar.

Ricky Newman, general manager of the hotel, says, “The new Verdanza Hotel is all about personalized service, attention to the small details and an overall experience that allows our guests to feel one with the true vibe of San Juan.” The Verdanza is the first independent full-service to hotel to open in the San Juan metropolitan area.

Earth Day Kite Flying: 10 suggestions

Every year when the temperature warms and the wind picks up, we buy a cheap kite to fly for a day or two before we get too busy to head to an open field. As an Earth Day Celebration, what could be more environmentally friendly than kite flying? Except, of course, for the gas to get to a place with wind and enough space.

Open fields are among the best places to fly a kite if you live in an urban area. Think the middle of a high school track for one option. Look out for power lines, though. Kites and power lines are not a good combo. If you live near a coast or a large lake, head to the beach. Other places to consider are fields in city parks.

One thing I like about kite flying, once you have a kite, it’s free. It’s also participatory. What a great way to join in with humanity in environmentally friendly fun. Here are suggestions–some based on personal experience, what people have told me, or in this article, “The Ten Best Places Around the World to Go Fly a Kite”:

1. Central Park in New York City. There is an Earth Day Celebration on April 20, this Sunday, at Rumsey Playfield. Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder are on the line up of entertainment. The park is also on the Holden Caufield tour of New York City.

2. Fano Island, Denmark. With Denmark being the happiest country in the world, flying a kite can only make some one happier than happiest. The family I lived with, when I was a student in undergraduate school, took me here as part of a weekend trip. It was gorgeous.

3. Great Wall of China, China. With China as the country credited for the invention of kites, the Great Wall is an interesting option for kite flying. Here’s an account of one family who found this to be the case. When I went to the Great Wall, it had just snowed. Then it was a place for building snowmen and sliding down the steps on ones bottom.

4. Jaipur, India. Even though the kite festival happened in January, this is a wonderful city to spend some time. A place to launch a kite is from the top of a roof. It’s not uncommon for hotels to have a roof-top terrace restaurant. I never tried it, but I bet roof-top kite flying would be a conversation starter. India is one of those places where everything and nothing is out of the ordinary.

5. Long Beach, Washington. I posted a video taken at the Washington International Kite Flying Festival. It’s not until August, but kite-flying is good anytime.

6. Mission Bay Park and Mission Beach, San Diego, California. When I was walking the boardwalk at Mission Beach last month, the kite fliers were braving chilly weather to send their massive kites sailing. By now, I bet the temperature is perfect.

7. Nan-Liao, Taiwan. This harbor town, a bus ride from Hsinchu, where I used to live, is a popular weekend spot for kite flying. We did fly kites here and ate squid-on-a-stick that we bought at the nearby market. Andrew Zimmern gushed about this popular street food on the last Bizarre Foods episode on China.

8. Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. One of my cousins and his son bought a kite to fly here. When they stopped some place for lunch, they tied the kite to a bike rack so it would stay airborne. They left it behind so someone else could have it. While they shopped they could see it dipping and weaving.

9. Venice Beach, Venice, California. Also a great place to see kite-flying or fly one yourself in the midst of the cacophony of humanity. Check out the drum circle Neil wrote about when you are there.

And a place I haven’t been, but it was recommended in a comment on the 10 great kite-flying places article.

10. El Morro National Park in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. There is a kite flying festival here in March, although, the commenter said it has great kite flying conditions most of the year. As a bonus, this is also a World Heritage Site.

Looking for Value: Three Options

When I saw “Value Vacations” at, I thought that meant cheap. Nope. What that meant was vacations that were less expensive than others. Three of these not cheap vacations caught my attention as future possibilities for my own overseas destinations.

The price tag on the Prague trip for two was $5,100 for 6 nights. That included the airfare from Chicago, a overnights in an inn and concerts tickets. Prague is a value destination because you get more bang for your buck if you’re heading to Europe. This was an upscale trip for not upscale prices.

Another place is Buenos Aires. This trip cost $2,000 less than the Prague trip and tango lessons were part of the price tag. According to the article, American actor, Robert Duvall is in love with the place and has been there 60 times. Since the man makes terrific, thoughtful movies, I trust his judgment. I’d say with that many visits, he knows something.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, the last of five destinations, seems like the best fit for a family with a 5 year-old and a 14 year-old like mine. Historical sites, beaches, scenery and cultural activities make for enough variety to make everyone feel satisfied. The family mentioned in the article stayed in a $200 a night 3-star hotel. I checked with one on-line source and saw hotel rooms that range from $60-$120. Perhaps you can take this value vacation and actually make it cheap.