Monday, January 5, 2015

The Enchanted Isle - Puerto Rico

Note:  We are not even halfway across the south coast of PR yet so these ponderings may be enriched as we travel.

Mike and I are docked in La Parguera, Puerto Rico, a small town on the southwest end of the Enchanted Isle.  We have been at the dock for more than a month.  Docking vs anchoring or mooring is a very different experience.  With it comes all the freedom of walking easily to town, some television reception, free water for the tanks, and electricity when needed.  For me as a reluctant sailor, these freedoms translate into a desire to switch course, to not sail again, or to simply anchor nearby for short periods of time.  Or a magical transport to a slip beside Rhonda in St Pete.

Last summer’s stay on a mooring in Vero gave me just enough of a taste of land pleasures, free bus, air conditioning, walking possibilities, volunteer opportunity to make me question a return to sailing.  The same thing is happening this year.  To be clear, neither Vero or La Parguera look like a settle-in spot, but the land-based options are like a siren-call to return to liveaboard near a town and airport.  Throw in an impending grandbaby and wonderful friendships from the past . . . . Well, suffice it to say our cruising days are numbered.  But what number is still up for debate.

We are awaiting an engine re-build, so far all but two sets of parts are in.  Meanwhile we have been blessed with friendship from a boating couple, Jan and Terry, who have made La Parguera ever so much friendlier.  They have docked here for several years, know many locals, have a car and took us under their wings the minute we were introduced via Angel of Carmen’s Shell Shop.  Well-traveled, sailors turned power boaters, Jan and Terry have navigated much of our engine repair plan and just become great friends.  Without them, the enchantment of Puerto Rico would have been harder to label positive.

La Parguera is a town protected by a series of reefs providing many small cays to visit for snorkeling, beaching, or simply getting out of town.  Boat tours to a couple Bio-luminescent bays are a primary income for the town with a lively trade from Weds-Sun.  Each weekend night there is entertainment in the plaza, a mere 100 feet from the dock we are renting.  We have bright lights and music until
approximately 2am Thurs-Sun.

The town is backed up by amazing mountains, though mostly brown because the southwest does not get the rain that other regions do.  Our ride to the San Juan airport showed us the verdant mountains of central and northeast PR.  So far our exposure to San Juan was from a moving car, but it was stunning.  A must return for further investigation spot.  The people of Puerto Rico are friendly and ready to assist.

My paucity of Spanish has left me using my dementia training to respond to numerous citizens who converse rapidly and with feeling for many minutes with my only contribution being matching facial expression, body language and murmuring “Si”. I am still torn as to the ethics of interrupting and clarifying that I have no idea what they are saying or simply continuing to validate .. . .so far the validation seems to be better received.  Until we talk to the mechanic, then we seek interpreters, Jan and at least one or two locals. Puerto Rican Spanish is apparently fairly unique as affirmed by my seatmate on a flight from BWI.

Enchantment is a term that applies to both positive and negative magical qualities.  Our experience with a transplanted NY’er was a big setback for the cruising lifestyle, a large shadow that has been hard to push aside.  Mike has done an admirable job recounting that on our blog at  Perhaps the enchantment of the island allows the borderline personality to stay free of institutionalization.  Enough said, he was not Puerto Rican.

Our dock life has included several gastrointestinal disturbances for me. The first was probably a result of using a hose that has lived aboard since St Pete to load the water tank.  We have since been purchasing drinking water at the small but well-stocked store, a half block from the dock.  The second incident was probably food poisoning from a local restaurant, something we have been very lucky to have avoided thus far.  A miracle considering how many times I have used marginally fresh product when no other was available over the last 17 months.

Personally I had built PR up as a mecca, an adjunct to the states with all the advantages.  We based our healthcare insurance on PR access, a foolish idea.  Very few doctors are able to process American insurance, at least in this part of PR.  Spanning 3 hours and 15 minutes end to end, a car is a necessity from La Parguera.  There are no taxis, no bus services coming to town.  Car rental is 20 miles away. Thank God for friends Jan and Terry.

In my DR reflections I summarized the changes on the south coast of Hispaniola from Haiti to DR based on the people, and the animals.  In Boqueron, we knew we had traversed into a developed country because it was our first time seeing obesity since the Bahamas.  As for animals, PR has dogs on leashes, at least in some areas.  In La Parguera, the dogs run but are fed, cats still get the short end of life’s pleasures.  The work ethic we noted in Boca Chica and the DR is a less prevalent here.  No matter when you pass the mall, the lot is packed like it is at holidays in the states.  Word is that population exceeds jobs. US support bridges the gap.  That being said, there are many diligent people working long hours as mechanics, storeowners, etc.  Prevalence vs. incidence is the research topic that comes to mind.

My naivet√© continues at the almost age of 56.  I often look the part of a stupid gringo without even realizing it.  This journey has broadened my awareness if not my understanding of how things work for those not raised in the states.  I now have a fierce response to anyone speaking poorly of my country of origin, especially US natives. Likewise I am vigilant in trying to be a good representative, sometimes a challenge when waiting in line.  You can tell a gringo by his/her hands on hips in the ubiquitous lines of PR commerce.   I also see how many things are done poorly regardless of a country’s development or its status, US included.  But without the journey, I would have never had the extra dimensional perspective.

I am grateful and looking forward.  We cannot return home without traversing the south coast, taking in the islands of Culebra and Vieques.  Then the US Virgins are only 15 miles further, and have an airport structure supportive of grandmother-status.  But for today, I am going to walk to the cliffs over the Caribbean, close to the enclosed beach.  Might even take a bathing suit.

One island at a time, one town at a time, one day at a time.

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