Puerto Rico and Spanish Virgin Islands; Feb 16-Mar 7, 2012

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

Spanish Virgin Islands

Lying to the east of Puerto Rico, the Spanish Virgin Islands consist of four areas:  Isla Palominos (the closest to Puerto Rico), the islands and reefs of La Cordillera (stretching from north of Isla Palominos to Culebra), the islands of Culebra, and the island of Vieques. Besides being destinations for cruisers, the areas and their beaches are favorite playgrounds of locals who arrive by private boat or ferry from the mainland of Puerto Rico.


On Feb. 16 we departed Francis Bay, St. John, and motored downwind the 34 nm to Culebra, where we reconnoitered in anticipation of the imminent soon visit by Norwegian friends Lars Helge and Tove. 

We had spent time at Culebra on our way down to the eastern Caribbean in 2007, and had pleasant memories.  It is small and modest, with an area of just 7 by 3 miles and a permanent population of a scant 2,000.  Some 2,000 acres were used for bombing exercises by the US Navy from 1935 until 1975, when protests by locals finally resulted in moving the exercises to Vieques.  (Similar protests eventually carried the day in Vieques:  the US Navy ceased bombing there in 2003.) 

We noticed some changes In Culebra since 2007, with the only town of Dewey looking a bit shabby and the concession area at its best beach much improved. 

"Famous" bridge on Culebra

Solid evidence that the bridge no longer rises

Broken cleat and former base for a lamp on the town dock

Bench in ill repair at the town dock

One of the hanging-out spots for cruisers: the "Dinghy Dock Restaurant"

This iguana joined us for lunch at another famous spot: Mamacita's Restaurant

We walked to Melones Beach, one of the beaches nearest the town of Dewey

Puerto Rico

On Feb. 20 we cruised the 24 nm from Culebra to Cayo Obispo, a tiny island just 1/2 nm off Puerto Rico that is dominated by a huge set of condos and a small seedy marina (Isletta Marina) and not much else, there being no additional acreage.  The condo sponsors a regular ferry (every 15 minutes) to the mainland, however, so for a nominal fee Barb was able to get to shore to do some grocery shopping.  On the way to Obispo, we altered course slightly and passed near Isla de Palominos, a private island we later learned is leased by El Conquistador, a huge resort on mainland Puerto Rico which lacks a beach and therefore runs regular ferries to take its guests to the beaches of Palominos.  We noted (and later used) the moorings to the west of the island.  Non-resort visitors have access to the island from the ferry dock northwards along the western shore, but the beaches south of the dock are restricted, including the nude beach on the eastern side of the island.

Cayo Obispo

Isla de Palominos

Friends Arrive

On Feb. 24 we moved south a bit from Cayo Obispo to the Puerto Del Rey Marina, the largest marina in the Caribbean with 1,000 slips.  The place is so huge that when one wants to get to the Marina office or points beyond, one calls on VHF and a golf cart promptly arrives to provide a complementary ride.  We rented a car immediately, and used it that night to drive to San Juan to pick up Lars Helge and Tove at the airport.

Next day, our sole activity was to drive up to the northeast corner of Puerto Rico, where we had reservations for a tour of Las Cabezas National Reserve.  Which tour provided an orientation for our guests to the flora and fauna of coastal Puerto Rico.  We visited mangrove-lined salt ponds, were driven through dry forest, saw the still-working lighthouse and explored the rocky shore of a northern bay.  One of the men on the tour was wearing a Gulfstream (Savannah-based manufacturer of corporate jets) hat.  Turned out he lived in the Richmond Hill area, just a few miles from our former home.   His wife was the actual Gulfstream employee.  Their daughter, who along with their son, was accompanying them on their PR vacation, has a husband who works at the Vogal plant owned by Southern Company, the same electric utility company that Barb used to work for.  Further illustrating the smallness of the world, upon being introduced to Lars Helge and Tove, he revealed that his grandfather had come to the US from near Trondheim, Norway.

Waiting at the beach outside of the gate for the reserve to open

Waiting at the reserve HQ for the tour to begin

More waiting behavior

Tour guide discussing salt pond ecology

Salt flat with white mangrove shoots (used for "breathing", since the leaves are caked with expelled salt

In wetter areas, red mangrove roots (used for support and breathing)

Exploring rocky northern shore

Outside the lighthouse

Happy tourists

Functional light on the lighthouse

Pan to the NE showing the beginnings of the La Cordillera chain

Pan to the south from the lighthouse, showing salt ponds

Folks from our old Savannah stomping ground!

El Yunque

On Feb 26 we drove to El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the US park system.  We stopped first at El Portal Tropical Forest Center and then drove into the National Forest where the non-arthritic members of our party hiked up and back on the Mt. Britton Trail to the Mt. Britton lookout tower.  Meanwhile, Mr. Gimpy photographed some of the plant life at the trailhead.


After El Yunque, we drove west and then south through horrible urban traffic. Our destination: mountainous Guavate.  Eventually urban sprawl was replaced by a super highway, but soon we turned east and were on a narrow winding road that brought us to a rural but famous area where there are at least a half-dozen small restaurants that feature roast pig (lechon).  Despite the fact that it was mid-afternoon, or maybe because of that fact, the road and the restaurant parking lots were clogged.  Cars and motorcycles and four-wheelers.  We lucked out and saw a car leave just ahead of us and pulled into a lot and occupied the only open parking place for miles.  The restaurant was packed, the atmosphere noisy -- what with a live band and vigorous Spanish conversations -- but the food was delicious, and surprising inexpensive.  (For example, four beers cost $5).  Open air (or indoor) seating, plastic forks and spoons and plates.  Pork that had been marinated for three days and then slowly roasted whole on a huge spit.  (See pic below.)  Lotsa side-dish choices, many of which were unfamiliar to us gringos.

Old San Juan

El Moro

High speed tourists to the end, the next day we again braved the traffic and drove to San Juan to see some of Old San Juan.  We visited El Morro, the historic fort that guarded the entrance to the harbor for centuries.  Construction of the fort was initiated by the King of Spain in 1539.  Many additions later, the fort was completed in 1783 and successfully defended San Juan from pirates and the navies of Holland, Britain and France, only to fall to the US in the Spanish-American war in 1898. 

Paseo de la Princesa and nearby areas

After the fort we moved the rental car to the center of Old San Juan where we first had some lunch (delicious paella) and then used a free trolley to get to Old San Juan's famous promenade, Paseo de la Princesa.  There, we had some ice cream and photographed the statues and fountains, and chatted with a group of youngsters participating in an art program.   One of the girls asked me to take a picture of her, and after I had, on my camera, clarified that she wanted me to take a picture of her hugging Barb , but using her camera.  The group was accompanied by a man who had at least three cameras dangling from his neck, and he photographed the entire incident.   You can see his elbow in one of the photos below.

Culebra Again


On Leap Day (Feb. 29) we left Puerto del Rey and hobby-horsed east to Culebra, where we spent a night in the Dewey anchorage before moving out to the cleaner waters of Dakity.  

Lunch at the Dinghy Dock Restaurant in Dewey

On our first night at Dakity, we had old cruising friends Chris and Yani (Magus) over for dinner.  Two nights later they reciprocated and we were treated to one of Yani's special multi-course meals.

Chris and Yani arriving via their sailing dinghy for cocktails and dinner aboard TT2

Chris aboard Magus on the evening of their reciprocal dinner

Yani during the cocktail/appetizer portion of the evening

Lars Helge partakes of one of Chris' martinis while Tove has one of our rum punches

Yani cooking during the multi-course dinner

Yani's yummy dessert

One day I took Barb and our guests to the near shore, where they attempted to find a way up to the small road that heads south to Punta Solado and the adjacent beach.   No joy.  So I returned to the drop off and took them around the corner to Fulladoza Bay, where they went ashore and had a nice hike to the beach.  There, they swam and even snorkeled, equipped by a friendly fellow-beachifier who offered a loaner mask and snorkel.  As they returned to the dock in the bay, they stopped at Club Seabourne for a beer, and hatched the plan of returning that night for dinner.  Which we did.

On the unsuccessful bushwhack

TT2 from the bushwhack vantage point

At the beach near Punta Soldado


Lars Helge and Tove each had a whole snapper for dinner

Flamenco Beach

Flamenco beach -- named for the flamingos that used to frequent the nearby pond -- is one of the finest in the Caribbean.  Scads of Puerto Ricans come over to enjoy its sandy shore and clear waters.  Just back from the beach is an area with a number of kiosks selling all kinds of refreshments, including full meals.  Barb and I had mofongo (smashed plantain with garlic and other seasonings) and grilled chicken.  Instead of plantains, mofongo is sometimes made with smashed yucca, etc., and that is what Lars Helge and Tove later had with their snapper at Club Seabourne.  When we were through eating, on the advice of our taxi driver, we took the well-worn 25-minute path to the west (through the KEEP OUT gate) to Carlos Rosario Beach, which featured shade, less sand but also much less wind.

Flamenco Beach

Returning from a stroll along Flamenco Beach

Sign at the entrance to the path from Flamenco to Carlos Rosario Beach

Carlos Rosario beach was "relaxing"


On March 6, we took a day trip to Culebrita, where the non-arthritic members of our party hiked to the old lighthouse, sat in the Jacuzzi area, and beachified.  The wind was blowing stink out of the east, and the rollers were turning the corner and entering Tortuga Bay, so at the end of the day we returned to Culebra and settled into our snug little anchorage at Dakity.

Hiking to the century-old lighthouse

Along the scenic path to the lighthouse

Within the crumbling lighthouse building

Top of the lighthouse, no doubt removed by a hurricane

Making their way to The Jacuzzis area

Soaking in the waters of The Jacuzzis


On March 6 we cruised back to Puerto del Rey, so that our guests could catch early the next morning a taxi to the San Juan airport.  It had been a great visit.  And it afforded Lars Helge and Tove a set of experiences that were rather different from those they shared with us at their last Caribbean visit.  The wine, food and conversation were as enjoyable as ever, but the activities were mostly new, since the culture and the geography were so different.  In any case, we had a splendid time and look forward to next seeing them in Norway, and to their subsequent return to Tusen Takk II in the Caribbean.

On the downwind passage from Culebra to Puerto del Rey


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