A PERIPATETIC JOURNEY
not all who wander are lost
We left Guanica in the dark for Caja de Muertos, arriving around 10:00 am. After a brief visit to shore to explore the island, we decided to continue on for the town of Salinas on the south coast. We raised the anchor and motored away from the island. As we turned east, the wind gusted to 27 knots on the nose and it started to drizzle. The wind was from an approaching squall. The waves were steep and the motion was uncomfortable. We'd had a challenging dinghy landing on shore, it was hot, the kids were tired and grouchy, Marin was seasick, and Brian and Kendall were feeling the effects of the early morning departures. This was just not our day. We decided enough was enough and we turned back to Caja de Muertos and anchored in the spot we'd just left. After some much-needed rest and stillness, Brian ended the day on a better note by making pizza on the grill.
The alarm went off at 3:30 the next morning for the trip to Cayo Puerco near the town of Aguirre. This is a well-protected anchorage surrounded by mangroves and is a popular staging area for the longer jump to Vieques. There wasn't a shore to land on so we stayed on the boat, got work done, and rested - the alarm was again set for 3:00am.
We left the anchorage at 3:30am and set our course for the west shore of Vieques. The trip was uneventful and we arrived at Green Beach around 10:30am. Since it was a Saturday (not a school day), we went right to shore after anchoring. We swam and snorkeled along the shore, took a dinghy ride through the anchorage, then spent the rest of the day relaxing on the boat and enjoying the scenery. .
Our next stop after La Parguera was going to be Caja de Muertos, an uninhabited island off the southern coast near the city of Ponce. It is a nature reserve known for its beautiful scenery and we were looking forward to visiting. We raised the anchor before dawn, retraced our path to open water, and set a course for Caja de Muertos. It was a nice morning for motoring east and although we knew we were passing a few nice anchorages, our plan was to continue to our planned destination. But just as we were almost past Gilligan's Island (yes, really), we suddenly decided to turn left and stop for the day. It was a beautiful morning and still quite early; if we stopped, we'd have plenty of time for a full school day and some exploring. If you look at our track on the map, you'll see our hard turn to port.
There were a few windsurfers in the small bay and we enjoyed watching them speed across the water. One of them stopped near our boat and we went out to say hello. While we chatted, one of the others came over and stopped to join the conversation. They were from a group of friends who met every year, all either currently from or originally from Germany. One of them and his wife have a house on the bay. When they saw Eoin, Marin, and Isla, they offered windsurfing lessons and invited us to stop by their house that afternoon.
The kids were excited to give it a try, so after lunch and school, we headed over. We had a lovely afternoon watching the kids learn to windsurf and talking with the three couples and one PhD student staying in the house. Turns out the student works in a field related to Brian's field and had been at a conference in San Juan with many of his colleagues and friends the week before.
By the end of the afternoon, each of the kids had been able to sail on their own for a short distance while tethered to buoys by long ropes. As we loaded the dinghy to head back to Counting Stars, we were invited for another day of lessons. Although we had only been planning to stay one night, we realized the offer was too good to pass up since we really enjoyed their company. The girls worked on their windsurfing in the morning and then enjoyed a day on the beach. Eoin showed great determination and practiced from 10:00am until after 4:00pm, with only a few breaks. By the end of the day, he had learned to sail a short distance in one direction and turn and sail back. It was an incredible experience for all of us; it is wonderful when the people we meet by chance turn out to be so special.
We left Puerto Real and the Marina Pescaderia before sunrise on the morning of January 30. Our destination was La Parguera, about 28 nautical miles away. Because the strength of the prevailing easterlies is weakened overnight by the offshore breeze, taking advantage of this "night lee" makes our eastward travel more comfortable. In order to get the benefit of the night lee, we need to leave our anchorage well before dawn so that we can travel in lighter winds and be settled in our next anchorage by mid-morning when the trades strengthen again. Since we need to move in the dark, it is important to choose a spot that is easy to get out of without being able to see as well. Fortunately, we can use the chart plotter to follow our track from the day before, although night travel does require extra vigilance.
Unfortunately, on this day either the trades picked up earlier than expected, or we left later than we should have...or both, but our trip to La Parguera was pretty uncomfortable. Kendall and the kids weren't feeling well, and we were all glad to arrive and anchor in the calm water behind the reef. Once we were securely anchored, Brian went to explore in the dinghy while Kendall and the kids had school. In the afternoon, we all went out in the dinghy to look at the cottages in the mangroves and explore the town. La Parguera is a popular weekend destination for Puerto Ricans and we've heard that the town is one big party (Puerto Ricans love to party). We arrived on a Monday, and it was very quiet there. Most of the restaurants were closed, but we did find a place for an early dinner.
The major attraction for La Parguera (besides the party) is a small bay known for its bioluminescence. After dinner, Brian and the girls visited the bio bay and according to Marin, "the water sparkled without us touching it, and when we put our hands in the water and swished them around, there was an explosion of greenish sparkles."
The fishing village of Puerto Real is a bit off the beaten path for tourists, and there was a lot less English spoken than we encountered in other parts of Puerto Rico. Marin in particular has been practicing her Spanish and was eager to try out her new skills; her efforts were always received with a smile. We were introduced to Puerto Rican food at two local restaurants. Some of the family's favorite food items included fried plantains, bolsas de queso (fried cheese balls), mofongo (mashed and seasoned green plantains, but often also including cassava and other root vegetables, topped with meat, fish, or vegetables), empanadillas (stuffed turnovers), arroz con habichuelas (beans and rice), arepas (flour flatbread), and of course the national drink of Puerto Rico, the pina colada.
From the marina manager to the retired local gentleman who drives cruisers on errands in the town for free because he likes to meet people, everyone in Puerto Real was incredibly friendly, welcoming, and helpful. It was the perfect welcome to this culturally rich, scenically beautiful, and topographically diverse island.
Once we'd caught up on missed sleep from the passage from Turks and Caicos, visited with friends we'd first met on New Providence in the Bahamas, and cleaned the boat, we rented a car to explore Puerto Rico for a few days. Our first stop was San Juan. After an intense drive around the steep and narrow cobblestone streets of Old San Juan searching for an open parking slot, we finally decided to take an extremely tight turn into a parking garage. We then checked into The Gallery Inn. According to Eoin, it was the best hotel room we have ever been in. This beautiful and unique inn was recommended to us by the marina manager in Puerto Real. It is both a bed and breakfast and art gallery, with active art studios as well. As we explored the inn, we met some of the artists and looked over the shoulder of one as she painted. While in San Juan, we explored the old city, visited the fort, and had some delicious food.
The next stop was Luquillo, on the northeast coast. We checked into a parador on the beach, the kids had a swim in the pool, then we went in search of dinner. A unique feature of Luquillo is the many food kiosks along the oceanfront. We strolled down the line, checking out menus and trying to narrow down the abundant choices. After a delicious dinner, we walked along a residential street back to the hotel. We won't say 'a quiet residential street', as it seems there is always music playing somewhere. And there are always roosters - roosters that crow anytime it pleases them, not just in the morning.
The next morning we visited El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System. Eoin wrote about our climb to the observation tower at the summit of Mt. Britton in his blog.
After our visit to El Yunque, we explored the central cordillera of Puerto Rico. Mountains comprise about 60% of Puerto Rico's land area, with the highest peak at nearly 4400 feet. We drove along parts of La Ruta Panoramica, a scenic route through the mountains. Descriptions of this route suggested that it is best to drive it during the day because of the narrow roads. Once we were up in the mountains, we understood why. Nothing gets your heart rate up like rounding a steep hairpin turn on a road that is only 1.5 lanes wide to begin with and coming face to face with a tanker truck on your half of the road. Most of the time the drivers honked their horns when approaching blind curves so we could at least be ready for them. And this is a main road we are describing. At one point we had to take a detour onto a secondary road! We were impressed by the engineering expertise that was necessary to build and maintain these roads. There were homes all along these mountain roads, many perched right on the edge, and all with amazing views!
We spent our third night in a town called Comerio, then continued our mountain drive. Visiting a coffee plantation was on our must-do list, but we'd begun to wonder if we would have time. Fortunately, we arrived at the Hacienda Pomarrosa coffee lodge just in time for their once-daily tour. While we waited for the two-hour tour to begin, we were served shots of espresso. The kids were offered cappuchinos, which Marin liked very much. Isla and Eoin didn't care for theirs (when the owner heard that Eoin was allergic to milk, he went to his house to get soy milk), so Brian and Kendall drank them. During Kurt's (the hacienda owner) presentation of the history, economics, politics, cultivation, and processing of coffee, we were served cups of brewed coffee and banana bread baked with bananas grown on the property. Needless to say, we were quite caffeinated and ready for the walking portion of the tour. After the talk, Kurt showed us coffee plants, and the different buildings where each step of the bean processing takes place.
We returned to Counting Stars that evening and began preparations to leave the dock and continue along the south coast of Puerto Rico.
McGlynn family 5 (Isla, Marin, Eoin, Kendall, and Brian) sailing Counting Stars