Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nightlife & Nature

Boqueron on the weekends definitely pulsates with nightlife, much of it with young students from the university in Mayaguez, just to the north of here. "Happy hour" runs from 7-9 and once everyone is warmed up, the live music comes out around 10. However, unlike other places Boqueron actually shuts down their bars at 1am. To be honest we've found that although the night life in much of the islands is pretty intense, I think everyone starts drinking so early in the day that the party usually winds down by midnight anyway.

Last night we met a delightful couple from the Finger Lakes region of New York and enjoyed quite a time chatting in one of the many bars that line the street. The clouds that had been threatening all afternoon opportunistically chose this time to open up and drench the streets so we were quite happy to sit under cover and enjoy the $2.50 beer. Being the cruisers that we are, we didn't last too late and off to bed we went.

Today dawned bright and sunny but the next few days all have the same forecast: bright and sunny in the morning but clouds and rain in the afternoon. By 11 our boat chores were wrapped up so we took the dinghy to explore the large mangrove lagoon that lies on the south side of the bay.

The entrance is a channel that is well marked past the sand bars.
Once inside we discovered the lagoon was massive, but very shallow outside the marked channel.
Why such a well-marked channel, we wondered? Well here's the reason. The local police, customs, rescue and natural resources agencies all have their boats tucked away here.
We then headed to the beach for a stroll. We realized that this is the first beach we been to since St. Martin. Shame on us! The beach here is accessible through a park where there are well maintained facilities including change rooms and showers but also beach volleyball courts with viewing stands, little vacation villas and ample parking. I would imagine this place is packed on holiday weekends and during the summer.
At regular intervals are the lifeguard huts. They give the beach a very jaunty appearance.
As the skies threatened once again, we turned back towards the dinghy dock at the far end of the beach.
As we were walking along the beach we noticed another catamaran pulling into the anchorage. We had been the only cursing boat there, surrounded by local boats, some maintained and some probably abandoned. Not only was this another cruiser arrived, but they were also Canadian. As we returned in our dinghy we met up with Jacques and Raphaelle with their two young sons, from Montreal.

I suspect that tomorrow will be a quiet day in Boqueron, more rain is in the forecast and the town will quieten down ready for another week.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Arrival in Boqueron

Today, our plan was to round the southwestern tip of Puerto Rico and drop the anchor in Boqueron for the next few days.
We passed through the cut in the reef outside of La Paguera and bid our goodbyes to this delightful area.
Looking back at the hills, we could see the home base for the blimp we had seen of above us yesterday and given the liklihood that it was military, I speculated that it was probably of Lockheed Martin construction. Back when I worked with TetherCam we were involved with them and I remember a calendar with all sorts of blimp photos (blimp porn) for those in the industry. With a little bit of research here's the full story, or as much as Wikipedia can provide. Sure enough it is a Lockheed Martin and it is carrying a radar array for drug smuggling detection. Guess our "we're being watched" senses were right on the money, but no excitement here!

The winds once again were pretty much non-existent so we motored around the point of Cabo Rojo to Boqueron Bay where we dropped the anchor. The only excitement along the way was another dolphin visit. We noticed a dark fin tracking towards us and suddenly there were two large dolphin under the bows. They were the largest we've seen probably measuring about 10', they swam deep under the bows and then were gone. A few moments later four more (or perhaps our original two brought some friends) did the same thing. We looked back and could see them on the surface behind us, obviously more interested in something in the water rather than anything we offered up.

Rounding Cabo Rojo was stunning with the large Spanish-style lighthouse sitting atop the rocky point. At this mark we turned north and completed our westward track on Puerto Rico. We're definitely looking forward to extending our visit with a slower pace on our return journey when we come this way again.

Our first glimpse of Cabo Rojo.
The lighthouse and the reddish golden cliffs that give the cape it's name.
I loved how these people exploring the cape give the cliffs perspective.
Such craggy cliffs, and there is a shoal around the point as well. Best heed this light's warning!

Boqueron is on a large west-facing bay so I anticipate some glorious sunsets. We can actually see Mona Island 50 miles out in the Mona Passage and half-way to Dominican Republic from here. In the guidebooks, the town is described as completely laid back but a real limin' party town on the evenings and weekends. Guess we'll see what it has to offer since that's exactly when we're here.

Caribbean colours in this bay.
The dinghy dock, conveniently located next to a great bar that opened later in the day.
Yes! Definitely like the vibe of this place.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Tapas - Yum!

The day dawned as have all the others for the last week, but we were in for a change so we stayed put on the anchor. With the big islands of the Greater Antilles there is an interesting wind effect. The trade winds can blow all day but at night and early in the morning the cool air coming down from the hills stalls out the trade winds and makes for some pretty spectacular sleeping. The boat just doesn't move, not even a ripple disturbs us. It's hard to believe but just a couple of miles offshore, the trade winds are still blowing.

When we arrived in La Parguera yesterday we had seen what looked like a tethered blimp but by the time we had anchored it had disappeared. Well look who's back this morning!
After working a few years for a manufacturer of tethered blimps that looked exactly like this, I have an inkling of just what they are capable of carrying. I can't imagine the surveillance that is going on down here, but perhaps it's just a weather monitor... Regardless, as the active weather that we were expecting in the afternoon rolled in, down came the blimp.
We decided to get off the boat before the rain arrived (which it never did) and partake in some tapas at a recommended bar.
The ambience was perfect, watching the passers-by in the street, including this rooster and his two hens that strutted by a number of times.
The food was great, including tempura battered shrimp and ricotta stuffed mushrooms, accompanied by Medalla and a mojito,
tostones (double fried plantain), with sangria,
We also enjoyed some tacos, chicken skewers and empanadillas (fish and crab). All under the watchful eye of this fellow.
What I loved though was as we left we chatted with the manager and asked if the dog sleeping right on the threshold was his, and as he carefully stepped around her, he answered that no it was just a street dog... Most of the time they are shoo'd away, but this one obviously had earned her place of honour.
We returned to the boat on the dead still lagoon as the last red glow disappeared from the sky and as we approached we could see a whiter glow on the horizon. Climbing up on top of the boat was just enough elevation to see over the trees and glimpse the nighttime rest spot of our morning visitor. Hard to see, but that's the blimp down on the ground but still inflated. They take a heck of a lot of helium so they are kept inflated but tethered to the ground, especially when the nights are so calm.
If the weather is good for tomorrow we will round the south west corner of Puerto Rico and set our sights on Boqueron on the western shore.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

La Parguera - Into the West

To the west of Ponce the steep ridge of mountains settle down to rolling hills, at least as far as we can see from the coast.

The winds never picked up today so we motored along, made water and arrived just after lunchtime at La Parguera. Don't worry if you're not from Puerto Rico and haven't heard of this town. Lonely Planet describes it as a sleepy fishing town but on a weekday in the winter it is pretty much comatose. This doesn't detract though from the unique location and views from the water-side.

The bay is fringed (almost like a minefield) with reefs, mangrove cays and shoals. After meandering our way in, carefully following our chart and guide books we found a spot to anchor in a channel between shore and one of the many little islets. Just to give an idea here's a view of the chart of the bay and where we ended up - glad to have the sun behind us and a good pair of polarized sunglasses.

We set off in the dinghy to find a dock to go ashore. The channels are lined with colourful little holiday homes, built right out over the water on pilings and the folks we met were super friendly.
One of the larger island used to house a zoo, but is now home to a university research station. Apparently there are large iguanas running wild there that were imported from Cuba. At the other end of the bay we dinghied through some narrow creeks, listening carefully to see if we could find Monkey Island. Here, there was once a research station that used monkeys. Why is that whenever we humans try to mess with nature something goes a bit awry, and these monkeys have now escaped and gone feral in the local area.
We never found the monkeys (or iguanas for that matter), but this was our first experience with dinghy exploration through mangroves - quite magical and we wondered if we could somehow leave a breadcrumb trail.
Can we fit through there?
Yep, just made it!
Back to the boat for a quiet evening in complete darkness. Star watching will be good.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ponce - Quite a Gem

I neglected to mention in my last post that we met up with another couple anchored at Ponce and got to know each other a little bit over sundowners in Mowzer on Monday night. The decision was made, we were going to explore Ponce together and make it double the fun.

Laura and Jason hail from Florida and have been sailing their Panda 38 around The Bahamas and up the coast of the U.S. but like us are now venturing into new cruising grounds. I can't believe that although we spent the day together I didn't get a picture of us all. In fact I didn't take my big camera with me and only had my iPhone for the day so this was taken this morning as we were all pulling up and heading in opposite directions.

This one's for Caitlin who once told me there were two types of cats: cave dwellers and tree dwellers. Guess which one greeted us as we waited for our taxi outside the yacht club!
Ponce is a city of just a bit more than 160,000 people, set back from the water a couple of miles. The downtown core consists of a large square with a park surrounding the old firehouse and the cathedral. A number of other beautiful old buildings face the square such as the city hall, a couple of banks, hotels and restaurants. The style is Spanish Colonial and much of it was built in the 1800s although the city dates back to the 1600s. There is an air of the city attempting to replicate an old European capital and is amazingly well appointed for its size and situation. The old firehouse, now a museum, is distinctly unique and celebrates the heroic firemen who helped save the city from destruction by a fire in 1899, and later we saw that the firemen were even housed in buildings to match the fire station, even though in a separate part of of town.
Apparently the most photographed place in Puerto Rico. Guess this adds one to the count.
Lots of artifacts in the museum hark back to Europe.
The heroic fireman. I liked the careful attention of the artist to ensure the multiracial mix of the group.
Incongruously the typical carnival costume of Puerto Rico fits right in with the fire house style.
The lion is a symbol of Ponce as it was named in commemoration of the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon.
Local artists, many of them students at the local university painted the plastic lion statues. Reminded me of the tulips in Ottawa.
Local artists, many of them students at the local university painted the plastic lion statues. Reminded me of the tulips in Ottawa.
Some of the buildings around the main square.
The Library of Culture.
The city hall, still with Christmas decorations installed.
One of the banks.
The Fountain if Lions in the park, with the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadalupe in the background.
The cathedral exterior...
... And interior.
We found a pedestrian mall three blocks long and busy with open shops and vendor stalls.
With all this wandering around the streets we were definitely ready for lunch. A cafe in one of the hotels on the square served up a delicious meal with a more upscale twist on a local favourite: mofundo. This dish is mashed plantain shaped in a bowl and then filled with whatever the cook chooses such as pulled pork or the delicious grouper as Henry and I selected.
Following lunch we all piled onto the local trolley tour which took us around a bit further than we cared to walk all for the price of $2 each. In fact all of the prices were incredibly cheap, especially after high tourist pricing in the islands.
More lions! This one in the bridge over the river.
More of a floodway than a river - this fills when it rains up in the hills.
Further from the city center and still Spanish colonial, but with less ornamentation.
As we drove around in the bus we really felt like tourists, but all the way local people would happily wave at us, including this group of schoolboys. I'm not sure if they were all friends of our driver or if they were thinking, "That's right, come and spend your $$ here." or perhaps they were just happy to share their pride in their city.
On cue, the market building where our driver stopped to let us look around one of the little alleys.
And finally, the famed fire fighters' houses. Apparently they are now in demand as historical homes although they looked pretty rough.
And there ended our tour of Ponce which we celebrated with an ice cream in the park. We headed off to the Pueblo to do a big provisioning since we were low in food, and Laura & Jason headed back to the marina.

To give an idea of cost, our buggy full of groceries that included beer, some soft drinks, meat and a variety of fresh and dry goods cost just under $300. The equivalent buggy in St. Thomas would have been in the range of $500. Fuel is currently about 48 cents a litre for gasoline (yes PR uses litres) but amazingly it is very difficult to buy liquor here - very few shops have it and it is locked up. Interesting since there are a number of rum producers on the island but the approach is completely different from the other islands.

Laura & Jason very kindly helped us back to the boat with some of our groceries in their dinghy, so we couldn't finish off the evening with just a goodbye. Back to their boat for an evening of tales and good company. We will definitely connect again in the islands.