Every time I hear the words Puerto Rico,
the theatrical melodramatic side of me comes out and I hear the sassy yet powerful song from West Side Story, ‘America’. “Puuuuuerto Rico, my hearts devotion. Let it sink back in the ocean. Always the hurricanes blowing always the population growing.” But enough Broadway…. what was Puerto Rico like for a cruiser?
Well, to start at the beginning… We decided to head first to a marina in Fajardo as we had friends arriving the next morning from Boston via San Juan. Customs & Immigration was by far the most straight edge we had encountered after visiting, the French, Dutch, Dominican, & even the English islands. If you’re wondering, yes, Mike and I are both Americans. The whole welcome back to America team must be in JFK airport somewhere because before we could even put a credit card down for the night, the C/I officers were called and summoned. So we awaited C/I to come board Gaia. 20 minutes later three large men with big black shoes, guns, holsters, & gleaming badges came aboard Gaia opened their big black briefcases and thus began the questions and triple carbon copied paperwork. Easy enough questions, we had nothing to hide but what if they suspected something, what if they found an error in our paperwork, what if we accidentally threw away a receipt they required….. All these what if questions whirled through my mind and it was mainly because there were three guns in MY home, three intimidating-looking officers, and I don’t care much for that.
The officers eventually left with smiles and what they had come for, our money and documentation in their triple carbon-copied papers. But just a warning to other cruisers – don’t mess with the letter of the law, the second your docklines catch in PR or your anchor settles, hustle on over to the C/I with your boat papers and passport.
The following morning, we met up with more Boston friends, Talia, Julia, & Nate, in Fajardo. We filled the tanks with FREE water and set sail for Vieques in search of some campgrounds for our 4 friends and brilliant beaches. Vieques did not disappoint.
For $5 a night/tent, there was a wide open grassy-fenced off field complete with amenities. We anchored just off the main fishing dock in Esperanza. We hid behind the small island along some smaller local boats. Guidebooks and park rangers told us the mooring balls were free but they’re NOT! The anchorage was a bit dicey but we managed to hold. In Puerto Rico, the main waterfront drag is called the malecón, and is home to some pretty great eateries & bars. We trended towards the smaller joints for breakfast & enjoyed those places greatly. Our first day was finding our bearings so not much to say there but the second day was far more successful. We found the beaches, we did the snorkeling, and made the picnic. We fell in love with the seclusion of Plato Negro, a calm white sand beach, and camped out on the beach for the night. We joined forces with even more friends, Jeff & Erik Lambert. And then there were 6 friends of Gaia in the Caribbean!
We all signed up for a night kayak tour of The Greatest Bioluminescence Bay In The World in ‘Mosquito Bay’ or ‘Bio Bay’. The gentleman pictured to the left was very passionate of the tour and explained why Mosquito Bay, Vieques won such a prestigious title.
We first begin with Dinoflagellates (the drawing behind our new friend), these organisms, when disturbed, emits bioluminescence. Dinoflagellates survive off of and thrive around red mangroves, which happen to surround Bio Bay. Secondly, the mouth of the bay is in an ‘S’ shape which makes it difficult for these microscopic organisms to find their way out. The bay is also shallow and has a tidal change of only a few inches. Bottom line, these dinoflagellates ain’t goin’ nowhere. The best time to see these tours were on nights like the ones we experienced. We had a downpour of rain in the morning and then nothing but sun for the remainder of the day; at night, we had no moon allowing us to have the best visibility of the bioluminescence. We assembled into our clear-bottom two-person kayaks and followed our guide (who wore a blue light on his kayak) to the middle of the bay. At first, with a splash of my paddle, I was dismayed not to see a single reaction. But as we paddled out, I noticed random streaks of light through the water! They were fish. With each flick of the fishes tail, the dinoflagellates sprung to life, illuminating their path! It was phenomenal, I looked down and it was like champagne bubbles flooding underneath the kayak and when I splashed my hand in the water a wave of bioluminescence erupted. When I took my hand out of the water, it was still wet and there was bioluminescence on my hand! Ah!
Mike said he’d seen amazing bioluminescence in Luperon, DR that was impressive, but this, this was a whole different league. Our guide told us to stay in our kayaks or else the shark will get you. We laughed but then…. We spotted a flick of a very large tail shaped like a nurse shark tail. We kayaked over to the light that had now faded and sure enough, Mikes paddle dove into the water and the bioluminescent outline of a nurse shark jetted out from under our kayak. We sprang into action and gave chase to the agile bottom feeder. Kayaking after schools of illuminated fish and a nurse shark was such a highlight of our trip. I strongly recommend experiencing Bio Bay first hand.
Vieques was fun-filled with beaches but Culebra is where I fell in love.
We sailed from Esperanza Vieques to Ensenada Honda, Culebra (it’s-a-not-a-honda. it’s-a-Beta! – I made that joke too many times to count – we have a beta engine.) and immediately stormed The Dinghy Dock, a bar and restaurant where you could go from dinghy to dock to barstool & beer using only three steps on land. The barkeep asked us our order and the 7 of us looked at each other unsure of the best way to enjoy todays happy hour. (dramatic and patriotic drumroll please…). It was then, our brilliant and bold friend Nate stepped up to the bar counter and fearlessly spoke the words; ‘I’ll have a rum and passion juice drink, please.’ And there you have it, the most refreshing and rejuvenating happy hour caribbean drink ever to be ordered was requested (and politely at that). From hence forth, we’ve named the drink, ‘The Nate’.
Our friends camped out on Flamenco beach and we gave them our handheld VHF to communicate with, they came up with their own hailing name; a mix between Beer & Flamingo – Beermingo. A perfect mix if you ask me, it was kinda fun hailing them on channel 72 ‘Beermingo, Beermingo, Gaia.’ And knowing some stranger was probably also listening in to the shenanigans. By the way, Beermingo, if you’re reading this: ‘the blue monkey is over the full moon – Over.’
The island is best explored via golf cart which we made great use of by traversing one end of the island to the other multiple times. Zoni and Flamenco beach boasts to be of the most picturesque in the world…. and it’s true. After snorkeling, playing soccer, and running around with the beach crowds, I think most of us preferred Zoni since it was void of all other people. In further exploration of Culebra, we picked up a mooring ball in Carlos Rosarion Beach and found the snorkeling to be phenomenal. Good snorkeling is a constant search for us. The real treat from Culebra is technically not on Culebra itself but a tiny island near Culebra called Culebrita. There’s a perfect beach which was overtaken by mosquitos. But if you’re able to swim or run faster than the mosquitos you need to explore the pools of Culebrita. All of us happen to be big fans of mother nature and rock climbing so climbing up and down the boulders that create natural eddies and all sizes and manners of pools was A LOT of fun.
All in all, I don’t know what those ladies in West Side Story were singing about….. Puerto Rico is amazing. I know there are some financial issues a foot but hang in there PR, the people are strong and helpful and you’ll pull through.