Puerto Rico: February 10-28, 2007

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period.

Puerto Rico, and The Dominican Republic share some characteristics, such as a decided preference for Latino music played at ear-splitting levels.   Picture this: a pickup truck driving through the narrow streets of Samana, with the cargo area filled with huge sound speakers that are aimed toward the tail gate and are blasting salsa music at maximum volume.   As the truck passes us, Barb and I both instinctively cover our ears to protect our hearing.  Seated on the tailgate --right in front of the speakers -- are four or five young children who seem happy to be in such a happening location.  Absolutely amazing. 

Puerto Ricans also like their music loud and peppy.  But we also noticed differences almost immediately.  The Dominican Republic is a poor country.  The streets are filled with old small motorcycles, piled high with mostly thin passengers and drivers.  Puerto Rico is not so poor -- they pay no income taxes, but as a territory of the United States, they receive financial aid of various kinds, and they enjoy the presence of USA manufacturing firms and USA-name retail outlets.   As a consequence of the differences in living standards, the typical Latino tight-fitting clothes get stretched considerably more in the PR.   There are lots of motorcycles in the PR too, but they are new and shiny and huge.  The standard small-town fare in the restaurants are similar if not identical:  rice and peas, chicken or pork, and a small iceberg salad, but in the populated areas of the PR there are more alternatives:  we had a delightfully authentic Mexican dinner in Boqueron, and I don't mean the "Speedy Gonzalez" special available in all of the "El Potro" restaurants spreading like kudzu throughout the southeastern United States.

Boqueron is called the "Key West" of Puerto Rico, and while it doesn't quite live up to that exalted standard, it is definitely a party town for motorcycle aficionados and college kids from nearby Mayaguez.   The narrow street that parallels the beach is filled with bars and outdoor stands, many of which sell clams and small local oysters.   See pictures below.

Van Sant warns that the southern coast of Puerto Rico can be surprisingly difficult to traverse, and recommends that one take small hops that commence in the early just-before-dawn hours and terminate before the trade winds pick up -- certainly no later than 10:00 AM.   We soon tired of Boqueron, and so left before dawn on 2/12/07, traveling just 33 statute miles along with our friends on Seaman's Elixir to Cayos de Cana Gorda, better known to locals as Gilligan's Island.  We dinghied over to the State Park to see what the attraction was, and found a pleasant mangrove island with numerous cleared-but-mangrove-canopied areas featuring picnic facilities.   On every day of the week but our day of the visit, the park is the popular destination of a ferry that runs across from a nearby mainland dock.  When our explorations were complete, we returned to the boats and launched our kayaks for an exploration of the waters around the mangrove islands.   Later, we crashed the resort and had a nice lunch at the "guests only" restaurant.

We left the area at about 5:30 AM on Valentine's Day, and arrived in Ponce at 8:30 AM.   Pulled into Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club in order to purchase fuel.  Took on something over 500 gallons, but that was our first fuel since Ft. Pierce; we just love the fuel economy of our Krogen!   Van Sant said the fuel here was clean and inexpensive.  Indeed it was -- we paid less here than we had in Ft. Pierce -- quite a contrast to the prices we'd seen along the way.

Along the way to Ponce, while in deep water, we attempted to empty our holding-tank and discovered that something was amiss.  We first tried to get a pump-out at Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club, since our guide books listed them as (uniquely) having a pump.  Initially, they professed to not having a pump.  This might have been a language problem.   Later, they said they had "found" one, and soon showed up with a 20-gallon portable unit that was to be operated by hand.   Desperate, we gave it a shot.  The unit looked as if it had never been used.  We attached new hose clamps and got the thing to "suck", but it wouldn't pull anything up through the deck pump-out fitting.  It would, however, pump sea water.  Later, with Steve from Seaman's Elixir lending a hand, we used his hose and his small drill-driven pump to empty the 100-gallon tank and attempt to diagnose the problem.  We also used his plumber's snake to clean out a section of hose and the valve at the bottom of the tank, and everything seemed fixed.  Several days later, on another deep-water hop, we were distressed to realize that the tank was not emptying again.  In the meantime, I had purchased (at HOME DEPOT, no less) my very own plumber's snake and a small, drill-driven pump.  I used the snake and also filled the suspect hose with vinegar, and once again the pump seemed to work.  Ran it just long enough in the anchorage to declare success, and then later attempted to pump out in deep water.  Once again, no joy.  As this is written, the problem has not been correctly diagnosed and/or solved, although I suspect something is being pushed out of the way by the snake, but being drawn back in by the initially-working pump.  [Later further efforts seem to have confirmed this suspicion -- the snake apparently pushed through some blockage, but additional blockage would fall back into the hose from a Y-fitting under the holding tank.  Thoroughly back-flushing the two hoses in both directions from the Y-fitting (and once again thoroughly cleaning out the tank with the drill-driven pump) seems to have now solved the problem.]

By the way, we are in the decided minority in using a holding tank.  All the sailboats we have talked to apparently switched their Y-valves to "direct discharge" the moment they left United States waters.  Just one reason why we never run our water-maker when we are in a crowded anchorage.   Or go swimming.

The crews of Magic Moment, Seaman's Elixir and Tusen Takk II went into Ponce Valentines Day evening, and had a nice if somewhat leisurely-presented dinner.  Barb and I were not particularly distressed by the European-style timing, but others in the group were anxious to get in and get out, since Ponce was smack in the middle of Carnival, and we had come in to witness that event.   If the rumored parade ever happened that night, we missed it.   But by the time we arrived back at the town square, a huge crowd had gathered in front of a very large and very gaudily decorated stage.   Many speeches were given.   Many R's were trilled.  But eventually, a number of dance groups performed.   Very interesting.  The groups were mostly female, and mostly teen and pre-teen.   Afterwards, the words most often used by the gringas amongst us were "provocative" and "erotic".   The gringos kept their mouths shut, and pretended to have not noticed.

After a sleepless night of enduring extremely loud music from competing bars on the shore nearby, we left at 9:15 AM the next morning , and arrived at Isla Caja de Muertos shortly after 11 AM.   The name of the island stems from its shape:  it looks like a dead body stretched out on its back.   Hence, "Coffin Island".   Another State Park, the island has a nice system of paths, one of which climbs to the summit where a long-since defunct light house sits on an installation that serves as an example of Spanish public works going back to the days before the good old peace-loving USA grabbed PR from Spain in 1898.


Boqueron, Gilligan's Island, Ponce, and Caja de Muertos

Pictures marked with (*) by Linda or Steve Kraskey

Boqueron at dawn

Sunset at Boqueron -- moments later Barb saw the green flash!

Motorcycles in Boqueron

Not your DR-type motorcycle!

Showing off on the "see and be seen" street of Boqueron

"Schamar" -- popular restaurant/bar right at the end of the dinghy dock

Dozens of these stands along the "main" street of Boqueron

*Obviously, this is a tourist town

In the mangroves of Gilligan's Island

"Bed" on the upscale beach on mainland opposite of Gilligan's Island

*Linda knows what the bed might be good for

Wire figure in the resort

Lunch in the resort

*At the Gilligan's Island anchorage

* Tusen Takk II at the dock at Ponce -- first fuel stop since Ft. Pierce, FL

Chuck working on holding tank

Steve saved the day with all his tools

Old firehouse used for museum during Carnival in Ponce

Mask on display

Barb w/ mask at Carnival display

Chuck with mask

Carnival Queen and her court

Carnival stage


Carnival participants

Notice painted cow bladders that look like balloons, but make a loud noise when banged together or against someone

*Statues on hill at Isla Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island)

*The feet of the coffin

*Looking down island from the lighthouse

*TT II anchored off "... Muertos"

The next morning, another early start to travel to Salinas.  We had been told that postage rates into the Bahamas and Caribbean are generally outrageous, and so we had not used our mail-forwarding service since before Christmas.   Puerto Rico, as a USA territory, is an exception, and so we had requested that our stuff be forwarded to the reportedly cruiser-friendly Salinas Marina.  We also had ordered flopper stoppers along the way, and they were also to have been shipped to the marina.   Well, the mail was there, and it was good to read our Christmas cards and assorted financial papers.   But the flopper stoppers had not arrived.   Subsequent calls to the manufacturer --  Prime Fabrication -- revealed that they had been shipped but were stalled by UPS in Los Angeles, no less.   "We are deeply sorry", we were told.   "We believe UPS will pick up the freight charges, but it will be another week before they arrive."  Meanwhile, Barb's old friend Monica -- meaning they have been friends since grade school, not that she and/or anyone in this account is, or ever will be, old -- was due to join us, and so our plans to cruise east with her down the southern coast of Puerto Rico and then lollygag in the Spanish Virgins would have to be modified somewhat if we were to be back in Salinas to pick up the missing freight.   Also, the winds kicked up a bit, and diving seemed less feasible.   So, we chose to hang in the general vicinity of Salinas while in the water, and rent a car to see some of Puerto Rico while on land.  

We used a rental car to drive from Salinas, on the southern shore of PR, up to San Juan, on the northern shore, where we picked up Monica at the airport and then took the short drive to Old San Juan, designated as a World Heritage site by the United Nations.   Founded by Ponce de Leon as a military stronghold in 1510, the area is still partially surrounded by old city walls.  The most impressive structure in the area is Castillo de San Felipe de Morro, commonly called El Morro.   Sitting at the entrance to the harbor, the fort was constructed under orders from the King of Spain by using the treasury of Mexico.   There were many phases of construction, running from 1539 to 1783.  The fort defended San Juan for centuries against the navies of Holland, Britain, and France, as well as numerous assaults by pirates.  El Morro finally fell to the Americans in 1898.  We also visited Cuartel de Ballaja, the largest building constructed by the Spanish in the New World.  The second floor is now the Museo de las Americas, the Museum of the Americas.   Nearby, sitting atop the highest spot in the city, is a plaza commemorating Columbus' discovery of the New World.  A column points to Polaris, and a fountain, filled with kids when we were there, features 100 streams.

A half-mile from El Morro lies Fort San Cristobal.  Begun in 1664 and redesigned in the 1770's, the fort is one of the largest military structures built in the Americas.   Linked to El Morro by cannon-protected stone walls, San Cristobal was designed to protect El Morro from attack by land.

On 2/19/07 we temporarily left the Salinas anchorage and traveled a scant 5 miles to the Jobos, a mangrove region famous for its many hurricane holes.  Saw a manatee as we arrived.   The girls went exploring with the dinghy, discovering cuts to the reef through some of the mangrove islands, while Chuck stayed back to polish the stainless steel rails.  Went another 19 miles the next morning to Puerto Patillas, where we went ashore and explored the small town.  In a local bar we enjoyed empanadillas and the inexpensive but quite bland Puerto Rican beer Medallas.  (An aside:  Chuck is still pouting about not having laid in a case or two of the also inexpensive but much tastier DR beer:  Presidente.)  We struggled with visiting with several of the friendly patrons: they knew about as much English as we knew Spanish.  The next morning Chuck and Monica went for a long run, and then we headed back west 18 miles to Cayos de Barca, another mangrove area.  As we approached the reef protecting the mangroves, we were joined by a sizable pod of bottlenose dolphins that delighted in riding the pressure wave off of our bow.   That is always fun to see, but how much more so when the water is so clear!   Chuck and Monica launched the kayaks and briefly explored, but the winds were howling and so they stayed pretty close to the mother vessel.

And then, on 2/21/07, back to Salinas, where the flopper stoppers finally arrived, and we decided to again rent a car and go see the El Yunque Caribbean National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the United States park system.   We walked concrete or asphalt paths deep into the forest under tall trees along and up steep slopes to waterfalls and lookout towers.  We heard doves and the richly textured resonant songs of the coqui frogs, named for their call:  "co-key, co-key".   To get to El Yunque, we had to drive up to San Juan and then easterly to the northeastern corner of PR.   Going back that same way, during rush hour, had no appeal, and so we instead took the somewhat longer but much more scenic and certainly less clogged option of driving back to Salinas by going south along the eastern coast, and then west along the southern coast.  

Friday, 2/23/07, Barb took Monica -- an ideal guest who left far too soon -- to the San Juan airport and then shopped at the Mall of Americas (the largest mall in the Caribbean) on the way back, while Chuck, as mentioned above, used his own tools this time and worked on the pumpout problem.

Saturday we left Salinas at 6:00 AM and headed for Culebra.   Expected the trade winds to come up eventually, and so to not make it the whole distance of 74 miles, but the weather gods were nice to us, and we had a gorgeous passage the entire way.  There are mooring buoys in the protected bays on Culebra, and so we tied to one on the west side of the island:  Punta Tamarindo.   By morning we had large swells coming in from the north, and so we moved to a more protected area south of the town of Dewey:  Bahia Mosquito.   Our bay is just outside the crowded harbor Ensenada Honda, and we are the only vessel here.   We have enjoyed just sitting here, getting caught up with boat projects and reading.   Also we set out the new flopper stoppers.   The verdict:  we should probably have longer arms; we are just using the boom on the mast to starboard, which takes the flopper out about six feet past the hull, and the dinghy davit to port, which takes that flopper out about five feet.   Before we launched the floppers, the boat was rolling enough to jerk us around and cause the dishes to rattle.  Now, with the floppers engaged, we are still rolling, but the rolls dampen much quicker, the dishes no longer rattle, and we are quite comfortable.

Salinas, Old San Juan, Jobos, Puerto Patillas, El Yunque

Barb and Monica in El Morro

Kite flyers in grounds outside El Morro

El Morro

El Morro

Cuartel de Ballaja -- largest building by the Spanish in the New World

Statue in Old San Juan

Another "interesting" statue in Old San Juan

At lunch in San Juan

San Cristobal

"Well" above massive cistern in Fort San Cristobal

San Cristobal

San Cristobal

"Damned cruise ships!"

Looking down from San Cristobal

San Cristobal

* Fountain in Quincecentennial Plaza

Kids in fountain

* Saluting sunset in Salinas

Monica and Chuck relaxing in Salinas

Polishing the deck rails

*Out exploring by dinghy

*Getting the dinghy down

Monica and Chuck jogging in Puerto Pastillas

*Dolphins in pressure wave

Chuck and Monica prepare to explore mangrove islands

La Coca falls

On the road up to El Yunque

Path in El Yunque forest

Barb along one of the paths on El Yunque

*Along one of the lush paths

See the Mt. Britton tower way up there?

* Chuck and Barb in Mt. Britton Tower

In the Mt. Britton Lookout Tower

Barb above La Mina falls

La Mina falls

Chuck and Barb below La Mina falls

So lush in the forest

Large leaves had fallen to the forest floor

Another leaf -- note the quarter placed in the picture for scale

Lunch in one of the many shelters

Monica along one of the quiet streams

More greenery

Roots growing out of the bottom of palm tree

Another set of roots

*Yokahu tower

Yokahu tower

Chuck at the top of Yokahu tower

View from one of the towers

Another view from a tower

Bringing the flopper stoppers to TT II

Vieques Island -- former controversial site of Navy bombing range

El Yunque from the SE


Flag courtesy of ITA's Flags of All Countries used with permission.