Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Puerto Rico: Where Spain meets the USA.
20th - 27th March 2012
Our trip from the Bahamas to Puerto Rico was uneventful, and that’s the way we like it. The passage of 620 miles took us just less than 4 days and due to the current pushing against us, our log clocked up 700 miles for the trip down.
We had picked a good weather window and enjoyed soft winds and nice flat seas. Initially the breeze was pretty fresh and we covered 110 miles in the first 12 hours, now that’s smokin’ along! Predictably, the wind eased back and at times we motor/sailed, but only for a couple of short periods. Overall, it was one of our better passages with calm conditions and generally steady wind.
Having stopped in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, last year when heading north to the USA, we were very comfortable about entering the harbour and setting the anchor even though it was 3am when we arrived. Getting to Puerto Rico was quite a significant milestone for us, as it meant that we’d broken the back of our journey south to Trinidad, and that was a huge relief. After a couple of days and nights at sea it was great to be in a calm, secure harbour and we literally fell into bed and slept the sleep of the dead for a few hours.

Little had changed  in San Juan since our last visit, the anchorage still had a handful of yachts, the cruise ships were all still coming and going unleashing thousands of tourists into the walled city area of Old San Juan, the mega motor yacht  Le Grande Blu, complete with her 70ft yacht and matching power boat tied down on her decks,  was still berthed in the same place and  the major retailers and malls once again had some very enticing specials. Yes, after spending nearly three months in the Bahamas and away from shops and malls it was good to be back in a mini USA where all the mod cons were right on our doorstep.

2012_03_27 leaving san juan1

But there was one thing that had changed. On the morning we arrived in San Juan Liam clocked over another year. After a well earned snooze and looking a little disheveled he awoke to birthday goodies and a cuppa and cake in bed, finishing the big day with his favorite home cooked meal.
After being boat bound for for the last few days it was great to get off GWTW and stroll the streets of Old San Juan. The historic area is a really neat place. Blue coloured cobblestones pave the narrow streets, there are plenty of little restaurants and tapas bars and of course clothing, jewelry and souvenir shops for the cruise ship crowds.

Our timing to walk through the old town was excellent as  there were were only two cruise ships in port so the place wasn’t crawling with people. We wandered along the sea front pathway around the old fort, El Morro, which sits on the headland like a sentinel  just as it has done since 1539. The fort has140 ft high walls which in places  are 15 feet thick, a very imposing sight to potential invaders. We  checked out the red-doored Puerta de San Juan (the San Juan gate) which was the entrance through the town walls where Spanish square riggers would unload their people and supplies in days gone by.
P3213299 P3213300
From here, meandering through the small streets  took us past the Parque de las Polomas (pigeon park), the San Juan Cathedral  and some beautifully restored terrace houses. We ended our day in a lovely tree shaded footpath tapas bar sipping a refreshing glass of chilled sangria, very pleasant indeed.
P3213285 P3213309
P3213284 P3213314
Hiring a car for a couple of days, apart from the shopping aspect, (once again the lure of the shops proved to be too much and we enhanced Puerto Rico’s economy by leaving quite a few  US dollars in the hands of the electronics giant, Best Buy), gave us the chance to get out and about to the interior of the country. We drove  down to Fajardo on the east coast, which really was a waste of time as the place didn’t grab us at all, and then up to the El Yunque National Rainforest.  This forest, which is the only tropical rainforest in the US forest system, is named after an  Indian spirit meaning '’Forest of the Clouds”, and it sure lived up to it’s name while we were there with the high peaks shrouded in  mist and cloud.
   P3233332 P3233362
It  has an excellent visitors centre and well marked hiking trails and picnic areas. We arrived too late in the day to tackle any of the trails, and as there had been deluges of torrential rain in the previous 48 hours it may have been a blessing in disguise, so we settled for a drive through the park stopping  to visit some lovely waterfalls, take in the vistas and admire the  rainforest’s flora and fauna. The park is the wettest in the nation and gets over 240 inches of rain each year, that’s about one billion gallons  and  we sure saw some of that tumbling down from the heavens during our stay in San Juan. The park has plenty of wildlife, though we didn’t see much of it, and is home to the rarely seen Puerto Rican Red Parrot and the small Coqui frog, which sounds more like a bird than a frog. The frogs were out in force after the recent rain, after all it is a rainforest.
          P3233342 P3233347  P3233343
          P3233349  P3233367
On our second day-trip we drove 100 miles west to the cave region known as Parque De Las Cavernas Del Rio Camuy, which is one of the largest cave systems in the world, and has the world’s second largest subterranean river running through it. We’ve seen lots of caves during our travels but this one was really big and with the fast waters of the river rushing past 75ft below our feet, it  certainly makes you appreciate the magic of mother nature. The tour lasted about an hour and with the aid of our guide and the headset audio device it was very interesting. After we were caved out our tummies were rumbling so we headed over to a local venue for a spot of lunch. The place had been recommended by our cave guide and we dined on the local delicacy of Lechion, bbq roast pork with black peas and rice, delicious. It was a popular place and even the police stopped by to pick up some  take-away.
After lunch it was time to head back to San Juan but we couldn’t resist stopping at a couple of the well stocked roadside stalls for some freshly grown fruit and veggies. We hadn’t seen stalls like these since since we were in Turkey and that was years ago.
P3243435 P3243439
The following evening we returned in the car to Old San Juan and dined at a another tapas bar/restaurant, and it was seriously authentic. In it’s former life many moons ago it was a goal, so the setting was quite unique. The food was excellent, the service friendly and the cliental, except for us, were all locals so that says something about the place. Sadly, we were  both pretty tired after a few long days of sightseeing and didn’t stay to watch the flamenco dancers, guess we’ll just have to go back again another time.
Our time in Puerto Rico had been short but very busy, we covered a fair bit of ground and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Next stop is the US and British Virgin Islands, some 70 miles to the east. There we will catch up with Phil and Karel from Tehani Li, who are sailing direct from Bahamas, and just a few miles further on in the BVI’s we have a  reunion planned with some of our former cruising buddies, including our long time friends Gordon and Ginny off  the racing yacht Ascension…now that will be BIG!
Cruising notes: Anchorage: In San Juan harbour 18.27.57N /66.05.50 W, good holding in mud. Dinghy dock. Tie up at the free dock at San Juan Marina in front of the anchorage area. Office staff are very helpful. Formalities. Immigration in San Juan is now located at the Pan Americano Pier West, in the cruise ship terminal at anchorage D. Hours are 0800-0000 seven day. Phone before arriving into port on 1 877 529 6840 (24 hrs) and leave a message if you arrive outside office hours!!  Phones. If Puerto Rico is your first US port of call and you do not have a phone that works in the USA you need to buy one. You Can purchase a cheap AT&T locked phone from Best Buy  for around $15. Supermarkets: Pueblo is 10 mins walk from the anchorage on Ponce de Lyon. All other stores including Best Buy (electronics), Home Depot (hardware) and shopping malls require a car.Car hire. Good rates from Tony at Allied Car Hire opposite the Hilton hotel.Tourist Info.  Old San Juan Visitors centre opposite the main cruise ship terminal near the coast guard station.WI-FI. You can buy 7 days for $15 from Club Nautico via the internet, click on their site and sign up. Your antenna  needs to have line of sight to their building. 

No comments:

Post a Comment