Friday, January 22, 2010

It's been a while since I last updated the blog. It's not always easy to find a good internet cafe. So it's not always a simple matter. But here's the update. -g

January 11 - Our Road trip to San Juan

The title of the this blog entry actually should read "Road trip to San Juan, Costco and West Marine". We rented a car from Sydney, a very accommodating fellow, who runs an auto body repair shop and car rental business. We first drove to Caguas, a city in the mountains, about half way to San Juan. We found the Costco easily but then determined that it would be better to do the shopping on our way home. We continued on to the northeastern side of PR, where the coastal town of Fajardo lies. I guess because the town caters to the yachting community, that West Marine decided to place their shop here. Dave was like a kid in a candy shop, and easily managed to spend a few hundred dollars on some items, including two very comfortable cushioned seats. We have found that having good seats are important - we spend a lot of time sitting in the cockpit or elsewhere on the boat.

We then continued onward to the capital of PR, San Juan. We didn't have that much time. We decided to concentrate our touring only on Old San Juan and and the San Felipe del Morro Fortress. The area is beautiful and historic, dating back to 1495, when Christopher Columbus discovered the bay. The fort was built over centuries, starting in 1540. The walls are thick with cannons still pointing out to sea, as if they are ready to shoot at Dutch and English invaders. The stock rooms and the barracks are empty and appear stark. Around the fort there are a number of sentry boxes where soldiers would keep a lookout for enemy vessels. An interesting fact, I found, was this fort and a number of other forts in the Caribbean, are designed by Juan Antonelli, an Italian architect.

Outside of El Morro we walked along a very large grassy area towards Old San Juan, where lots of kids were busy kite-flying. Old San Juan reminded Diane and I of Casco Viejo in Panama City. The cobble streets are narrow and the buildings are colorfully and tastefully painted. Dave spotted a tapas restaurant, so we stopped for a late lunch with a glass of wine. We finished off our tour of the old town with the Plaza de Armas, a very characteristically designed Spanish square with a fountain in the middle, surrounded by distinct buildings and a church.
The drive back was long. We got stuck in a major traffic jam - rush hour in San Juan is like LA traffic. We stopped at Costco for food and supplies on the way back to Salinas.

January 12-14

In the morning, we picked up anchor and headed east to Las Patillas, a small fishing village. The wind was on the nose as were the seas, but it was a short hop, so it didn't bother us to pound into it for a three hours. We didn't have the urge to dinghy to shore, so I went for a swim while Dave and Diane read and relaxed. Our next stop was going to be the island of Vieques, part of the Spanish Virgin Islands.

We got an early morning start at 5 a.m. to get an assist from offshore winds and gentle seas making the passage to Vieques an easy one. We were anchored in Puerto Real (Esperanza) before noon, ready for a beer. From the web site "" we had gotten information that there was a marina, moorings, showers and wi-fi here. All of that turned out to be false. No such place, although one of the bars in town calls itself Vieques Yacht Club. They said that we could use their shower, if we wanted to. Interesting how information can get so screwed up!

We celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary on the evening of Jan 13 here in Esperanza. The three of us went out to dinner at a very nice restaurant along the beach called El Quenepo. We had sushi for appetizers, a glass of wine for us, while Dave enjoyed a Crown Royal (or two). Dinner and the service were both excellent. A lot of the restaurant crew seemed to be from the U.S. catering to the U.S. tourist.

Using the "publico", public vans that for $2-3 give you ride to the other side of Isla Vieques, we went to Isabel Segunda, the main town that sits on the north coast of the island. We walked up to a small fort that overlooks the town and found out that it was built too late to see any action. It was only used as a jail. Nice view those convicts had! A few shops, bars, restaurants and a town square make up Isabel. We had lunch at a place that offered free wi-fi, then took the publico back home.

In the evening we signed up with a local tour company to go to Puerto Mosquito, the bioluminescent bay of Vieques. We boarded an old school bus, drove a few miles out of town on a densely, overgrown, bumpy road and arrived at the bay. There they had a electric pontoon boat that took us to the middle of the bay to go snorkeling. It was a new moon and somewhat cloudy, so it was dark. It was a pretty cool experience when we got into the water and stirred around. Each hand or foot movement caused a bright, momentary phosphorescent glow. As our guide described it, it was a flagellate, a micro-organisms that was lighting up. It does so as a defense mechanism, unlike the fire-fly, which glows to attract other fire-flies. The flagellate feeds on plankton that comes from the mangroves that surround the bay. So when one of the other bays that had this micro-organism began to trim back the mangroves, they found out that flagellate disappeared.

The next day we were planning to head out to one of the other islands of the Spanish Virgins but the weather turned on us. A low pressure area is causing a rash of squalls and we therefore have decided to stay put for now.
One thing I haven't talked about is our rat and mouse problem. In the Caicos, while tied up at a slip, a rat boarded us. We started finding food packages chewed up and then clearly heard a lot of commotion at night. Initially, we put out traps. But that didn't get him. Next we tried poison pellets laced with peanut butter. Problem resolved. But then another long-tailed freeloader came aboard. We decided that it was a mouse judging by the very tiny foot prints visible on a sticky trap (that it managed to evade). The mouse fared longer than the rat and kept outsmarting us and not taking the bait. But it too finally succumbed to poison pellets mixed with peanut butter (chunky style). But just as we started to believe that finally we were rodent-free, as we were sitting in the cockpit, a mouse reared its head, having come from the aft section of the deck. Where he came from is a mystery, but the new hunt is now on! Stay tuned.
January 18 - Vieques to St. Croix

We got up at 5:30a.m. We had been in Esperanza (Vieques) for several days, with rainy weather. But today was the day that I was going to take Diane to the airport. As we got closer to the pier with the dinghy, I noticed that there was a lot of surge and that the tide was low. That meant that the dinghy could get caught under the pier if left unattended - not a good thing. I decided that instead of accompanying Diane to the airport I'd just see her off at the taxi. Not a satisfying good-bye.

By 8:30 a.m., Dave and I were headed out the harbor of Esperanza. At first, we were getting really bashed around by sloppy seas and a fresh breeze. But after a couple of hours, things got better and we were able to motorsail towards the west end of St. Croix (not where we wanted to go), in a more comfortable manner. We closed up on St. Croix with plenty of light, but it took another couple of hours to get up to Christiansted. By then it was dark.

The channel into St. Croix is well marked with flashing red and green buoys. But even then with the GPS and all, it was still a bit tricky because there's a reef right in the middle of the channel. We got in okay and anchored.

Our first glance of St. Croix in the morning was inviting. It's a good harbor, lots of activity, surrounded with green hills on one side and an island on another.. But it's a strange place. It has a French name, with people driving on the wrong side, Danish architecture and history, currently a U.S. possession and yet it's populated with lots of black people who speak a Creole-like language. There IS an explanation for all of this.

St. Croix really has a pretty interesting history. Two thousand years ago, St. Croix was inhabited with tribes coming up from South America (mostly Orinoco, Venezuela). These descendants actually greeted Christopher Columbus in 1493 (in a hostile manner), sending him and his crew scurrying away. Not to be deterred, Chris still had the gumption to name it Santa Cruz. When, later, the French took it over, they renamed it in French to St. Croix. The French then sold it to the Danes, who subsequently sent troops and built forts to protect their "Danish East Indies". Bottom line is that many of these islands (including St. Croix) were all part of the sugar trade done on the backs of slaves.

January 20 - Christiansted, St. Croix

It takes a while when you get to a new anchorage to find your way around. This is particularly true with these types of places. So far, Dave and I have done well to find the grocery, hardware and marine stores, the laundromat and a free wi-fi spot. But other things really took some work. The guide book states that air conditioned buses go around the island every half hour. We asked numerous locals about buses and no one knew anything about buses. One gal did go so far as to admit that someone she worked with came on a bus. We could ask her when she came to work in a couple of hours!

After more rigorous research we did manage find a bus stop. For a mere dollar, the bus took us all the way across the island to Fredericksted. Pretty place. It sits on the south western side of the island and is where all the cruise ships deliver their load of tourists to prowl the island. We walked along the beach to the Coconut bar and had a beer. The bar is nothing special, but it is smack down at the water surrounded by palm trees. Very cool. Afterwards, we walked through town and bought another beer for the long bus ride back. Dave asked the lady at the counter if it was alright to drink a beer while walking around. Her response was hilariously innocent. "Of course. Why not?"

The next day we picked up anchor and went to a historical beach inlet, called Salt River Bay. The area is a tropical ecosystem with prehistoric and colonial-era archaeological sites and ruins. It's surrounded by large mangrove forests and coral reefs. This is the place that Christopher Columbus stopped at in 1495. At that time he was not greeted with open arms. In fact, a fight ensued, killing one of his people. Columbus left soon thereafter.

We did appreciate the beauty and serenity of the area and snorkeled at a nearby beach and at the reef entrance. I tried to snorkel over to a ship wreck, while Dave cruised around in the dinghy, but didn't make it because of the wave action in and around the wreck.

The following day we came back into Christiansted to get to an internet cafe and pick up some supplies. Next we'll be going to Buck Island, a national (ocean) park and then from there head to St. Thomas. Ciao.