Fajardo, Puerto Rico to Beaufort, NC 1170 Nautical Miles
12 May 2010
We had planned on leaving Tuesday around noon for the US, but the last minute errands on Monday took longer than anticipated (as usual), and the trip up the mast Frank put off until Tuesday morning revealed a couple of things that needed fixing. By the time we got everything finished we were both pretty exhausted and decided it would not be ideal to leave, so we decided to get some good sleep and leave in the morning Wednesday.
The passage to Beaufort, NC is 1170 miles and we always figure on a 5 knot average which would put the trip at 9 days. A high pressure ridge was pushing out into the Atlantic, which would tend to make the trade winds blow a little stronger, 20-25 kts vs. 15 kts normally and be more out of the ENE to NE. The long range forecasts were not very good - tropical waves already coming off Africa and even out of the SW Carib, so we decided to go with the Devil we knew, rather than wait and risk even worse weather next week. We left the marina around 10AM Wednesday morning.
We made the right decision for once, or we finally got some good luck for a change. Either way, the trip went very smoothly, and was actually a bit boring.
For the first 3 days, the winds were about 20-25 kts from the ENE, right on the beam. We started out with one reef in the main and added a second one on Thursday. The waves never got any bigger than 10 feet. By Saturday, the wind had decreased to about 15, so we shook out the reefs. By Sunday we were just north of 25 degrees North, and the wind basically died. We motored for almost 2 days solid, then sailed and motor-sailed as we could into Beaufort, NC. We actually had to slow down a bit so we would arrive in the daylight - on Friday the 21st, a few hours shy of 9 days. We did 4 hour watches, which worked pretty well for us. We made the whole trip without anything major breaking and more importantly, without scaring ourselves half to death!
09 May 2010
We were pleasantly surprised when we woke up to clear skies at the marina. The peaks of El Yunque, the only rain forest in the US National Forest system, were mostly clear, with a few clouds around; a big improvement over yesterdays monsoon.
We drove up to the rain forest, stopping at the very nice information center. The guy there gave us a trail map and some advice about what trails to go on and in what order. We told him that we wanted to hike up to the top of El Yunque. His response was "Are you sure you want to do that?" We said yes, but couldn't help but wonder why he would say that.
Doubts aside, we drove on up to the parking area at the trail head and started the climb. The trail up to the top is about 3 miles, with about a 1500 ft of elevation chage. It literally goes into the forest under the canopy. We got about 1/3 of the way in when it started raining... HARD!. I guess we should have expected it; it is a rainforest after all. Of course, as usual, we had ONE rain coat the we ended up having to use to wrap Herb's cell phone in to keep it drive (not even sure why we brought it). We were getting SOAKED fast, but we decided to press on to the top; always saying.. when will we ever be here again?
One you get near the top, there is a side trail that goes over to another peak called, Los Picachos. We took that to it's end; It was just barely over the tops of the clouds. The rain had kind of let up and the cloulds were whipping by. Every once in a while you could get a glimpse of the tops of the tress from the rain forest just below. You can sense the imensity of the forest around you and only imagine how breathtaking the veiw must be on the rare occasion when there are no clouds.
We backtracked back from the side trail back to the El Yunque trail and continued our hike up. Every time we thought the rain was going to let up, the bottom would drop out again and it would pour. We were literally soaked to our underwear. At this elevation most of the foliage consists of small, dwarf palm trees, just like the bigger ones down low, but barely 4 feet tall. The trail ended at a service road near the top and we took the road to a 'tower' structure the rest of the way up to the peak. The clouds were so thick, you could barely see 100 feet away; but we made it!
The man at the info center had told us to take the service road back down to the Mt. Britton observation tower, so we started our trek down the roat. All of the rain overflowed the gutters on the sides of the raod, so most of the water just flowed down the asphalt and collected at the dips in the road forming ankle deep ponds that we had to cross.
It took about 45 minutes to get to Mt. Britton. We climbed the tower there and peered through the clouds. The rain had subsided a little by this time and the visibility was about 1/2 mile. Standing up there with the clouds flowing past you was pretty surreal though.
We continued down the service road and picked up a side trial that led back to the original El Yunque trail that we came up on. The trip back, however, was very different. All of the rain had swollen all of the streams and waterfalls, and in a lot of places, the trail itself became a stream for water to flow down the mountain. Maintaining these trails in these conditions must be a huge job, but the forest service must do a pretty good job of staying on top of things. There was some evidence of washouts and slides presumably from yesterdays very heavy rain and flooding, but all the trails were passable.
After we got back to the car park, it had completely stopped raining and the skies began to clear up a bit. We hiked down to the La Mina waterfalls, about 7/10ths of a mile down from the road. The trail is mostly concrete, like a very narrow sidewalk with LOTS of steps. There are picnic shelters near the first part - they were all being used by Puerto Rican families out celebrating Mother's Day, we guessed. The food all smelled so good, and we had not had lunch yet and it was about 3pm, we debated trying to crash one or two of them.
The falls were pretty impressive. The trail follows the rapids all the way down to the main falls. Because of the rain, water levels were up, and there was a lot of sediment in the river. It was still pretty. Supposedly you can swim in the pool at the bottom of the falls, but with the water moving as fast as it was, it would have been life threatening to have attempted it. There were some people in smaller pools off to the side of the main fall and some in the calmer sections up from the falls. We walked out to where the pool started and the wind (and spray) from the water falling would literally take your breath away.
We hiked back up the steps and steep hill, hurrying a bit to get out before the park closed or it started raining again. On the way out, we stopped for a snack, and made another stop at the La Coca waterfalls right by the road. We ended up walking about 10 miles in total over very difficult terrain!
We were still pretty damp, so we drove back to the marina to the boat to take a quick shower and get on dry clothes before heading out for dinner. We had been looking forward to those ribs and cold beers from El Jefe Burger all day!!!.
When we got to the exit with all of the Kioskos, the parking lot was PACKED!; cars were even double parked in places. We managed to find a spot near the end and walked over to the El Jefe Burger Kiosko.. When we walked in, the waitress from the other night saw us and came up to us and told us that the kitchen was closed because they had run out of hamburger meat!! I told her we wanted the ribs, and she said that she knew that, but they had to close the kitchen, because after all , they are really just a hamburger joint. We were so bummed! We decided to that were just going to have a couple of beers here (the bar was still open) and then go to one of the other 50 kiosks and get something to eat. While Herb walked away to go to the restroom, the owner Tim, sees Frank and tells him that he was so glad we came in, that he had actually kept the grill on for US, and had hoarded 2 racks of ribs, just for US, because we had told him the other night that we were coming in that night for the rib special!!!! Unbelievable! He had given his cooks the day off for mother's day, so he was cooking , ans his wife Sherry was tending bar. We were so amazed that he remembered us, and even more amazed that he delayed closing and going home just for us.
As expected, the ribs were incredible. He seasons them with a dry rub of Jamaican Jerk seasoning, then cooks them slowly a day ahead. When they are ordered, he finishes them on the grill. We stayed for one more drink after eating and talked to Sherry about Puerto Rico, the restaurant, and lots of other stuff. She is an artist, and also rescues stray cats and dogs and finds homes for them. She had a carrier with 4 tiny kittens at the restaurant when we were there, because she is bottle feeding the kittens until they can be weaned (they are already all adopted); the mother was hit by a car last week.
Anyway they are both super nice and amazing people who run a great restaurant. We wish them luck for future success, but we don't think they'll need too much of it.
08 May 2010
We went into Carolina, a suburb of San Juan to go to Costco to stock up on stuff for the trip home. We were warned about the traffic, but figured on a Saturday afternoon, how bad could it be?
The answer is HORRIBLE! It was the day before Mother's Day, which is a huge holiday down here (Latin culture and all), so everybody was out shopping for Mama. Throw in huge rainstorms, flooding, and standing water on the roads everywhere, and it was a mess.
Navigating here is next to impossible. Maybe 10% of the streets have signs, so unless you're on a main road, there is no way to know where you are. We had instructions from the Costco website on how to find the store, but when we finally found the street we were supposed to turn on, it looked like it dead ended into a car wash, so we passed it by. We did a big loop through a residential/commercial/industrial neighborhood and decided to take one more shot at finding it by going up an exit ramp onto another highway so that we could see over the building on the road we WERE on. As soon as we got to the top of the ramp, we saw it right where it was supposed to be. The road we thought dead ended into the care wash, actually continued on into the Costco parking lot.
Of course, as soon as we parked the car, it started raining hard. Why didn't we bring an umbrella again? The lot was packed, the store was packed, and because of the rain, a line of people waiting for it to stop so they could leave, stretched back to the cash registers inside.
The store was very nece, bigger than the one we go to in Richmond, VA, and we managed to get everything we needed (and then some) and out in about an hour. They even had the Ron del Barrilito rum Frank wanted for pretty cheap; so we bought a case.
Shopping done, we hit the road home. Traffic was still bad, but at least we knew where we were going this time. The flooding around Rio Grande had gotten worse, but the rain was slowing down some. It still took us 1.5 hours to get back to Fajardo. It never even rained at the marina. After unpacking, repacking, and storing the groceries, we went back up to Luquillo to have dinner at another of the Kioscas. After looking around, we decided on a place called Congas, and had and excellent meal at a very reasonable price.
We walked down to El Jefe for a night cap; they had a very generous pour of Ron del Barrilito for $4 and talked to the owner/bartender. He's a gringo who moved down here for a job developing golf courses and grew to hate the job, so he opened the burger shack. We enjoyed chatting with hi, he is a super nice guy. We noticed a sing on the wall promoting BBQ ribs on Sundays, so we promised him we would be back for the ribs tomorrow after hiking in the El Yunque rain forest. He said to get there early before they ran out, but that if we got there before 8pm, we should be ok.
Bacardi Rum Factory
07 May 2010
We slept in, checked out of the hotel, ate an early lunch in Condado, and then drove over to the Bacardi Rum Factory for the tour and free drinks. The scale of the factory is huge, producing 100,000 gallons of run a day. The our isn't really a tour, it's more of a film/multimedia thing. How they make the rum is only lightly touched on; its more about the history of the company and the Bacardi family, with a big emphasize on 'the brand'.
We, of course, managed to scam extra drink tickets, so we stayed a little longer than expected and didn't manage to avoid the traffic this time. It took us 2.5 house to get back to Fajardo, driving through the remnants of a torrential storm that left standing water up to a foot deep in places on the highway.
After checking on the boat, we went up to Luquillo for some supper at El Jefe's Burger Shack. Scott and Jen had recommended the mojitos enthusiastically. It's in a sort of strip mall of small restaurants right on the beach, called Balnerio Kioscas. They're all kind of squatty concrete sheds, open in the front and back, about 60 or more of them in all, serving everything from burgers to Argentinian food. A lot are full service restaurants.
The mojito was excellent (get the ginger lemon one if you ever go), and the burger was probably the best we've had in a long time. We waddled back to the car and drove back to the boat to bed.
Camuy Caves and Areciba Observatory
06 May 2010
We got up, ate breakfast, and hit the road westward, bound for the Camuy Caverns Park. It's about 40 miles from San Juan. The caverns and caves were formed long ago by the Camuy River, part of which flows underground through the limestone rock. The caverns were spectacular, with huge stalactites, stalagmites, and very unusual rock formations everywhere.
There is one part of the cavern where a large bat colony lives, over 100,000 bats according to Carlos, our guide. This part of the cavern was noticeably warmer than the others, just from the body heat of the bats. The air was pretty thick with the smell of guano. Of course, bats are nocturnal but we did see a few flying around.
Near the bat cave, there is a deep opening where the river flows below, over 400 feet below the main cavern, and 600 feet below the surface. It was amazing to lean over the railing and see this river rushing below you.
The whole experience was really cool, and we are glad we got to see it. After we got back up to the car park, we figured we had enough time to see the radio-observatory of Arecibo, so we set off over the windy back roads in that direction.
The telescope looks like a huge satellite dish set down in this bowl of earth left by a big sinkhole, with he receiver located on a 900-ton platform which is suspended 500 ft in the air above the dish by 18 cables running from three reinforced concrete towers, one of which is 365 ft high and the other two of which are 265 ft high (the tops of the three towers are at the same elevation). The radio telescope is the largest built in the world; the dish is over 1000 feet wide.
The observatory has been featured in several movies and shows, most notably Contact, the sci-fi movie with Jodi Foster and Matthew McConaughey. They had a very good visitors center, with exhibits that explained the science behind what they look for with the telescope, a lot of information about the universe and it's origins, and the many discoveries that the observatory has been used to figure out.. I think we understood maybe half of it. The movie that we waited around for wasn't worth the wait; it was sort of a 'day in the life' of the observatory. Very disjointed and not very enlightening. It did give you an appreciation for how much work it takes to keep the place running, though.
Since we were a little late starting back to San Juan, we were worried about the legendary traffic, but it wasn't too bad and we made it back before 5pm. We took a walk on the beach and had beers at the hotel bar for happy hour. Armando, the bartender, suggested a few good places to eat nearby, and we ended up having pizza; ham, pepperoni, and Gorgonzola cheese - it was very tasty.
After the long day and a good meal, we crashed after watching a little TV; the first American cable we had seen in a while.
Old San Juan
05 May 2010
We went into San Juan about 930am, timing our arrival to avoid rush hour. The traffic wasn't that bad, and we found the parking lot in Old San Juan easily.
The walled city of Old San Juan was built by the Spanish over a few hundred year period during their golden age as a colonial power. A lot of the buildings date back to the 16th and 17th Century. The streets are mostly cobble stone, made of these cool looking blue glazed bricks. The whole area except for one short stretch is enclosed by a wall, constructed (and reconstructed) from brick and rock to protect it from attack from land or sea.
The main defense from the sea is the large fort at the point, called Del Morro. It was built in stages from the 1500's to the 1800's by the Spanish. It is truly remarkable, especially considering there was no heavy equipment available to build it; it was all done by hand. Also amazing to us is that the constant upkeep that is done to maintain it, otherwise it would be a big pile of rubble by now. It has been expertly maintained over the years by a small army of masons, and other construction workers that use materials and techniques not that much different than the original.
The oldest part of the fort was the original tower, built in the early 1500's. The new parts of the fort have been built around it, but it is still standing inside these walls, having survived 4 major attacks since it was built. The only visible damage of the original tower can be seen from inside and is a chunk of an American artillery shell that penetrated the very thick wall during the Spanish-American war.
After touring Del Morro, we walked through the huge grassy common area towards the city proper. There were probably 250 elementary school aged kids out on the green, most of them flying kites in the nice breeze; it was quite a sight. Of course, when kids fly kites, a lot of them get away and the trees and bushes down wind were littered with broken kites and string everywhere.
We walked through Old San Juan, had lunch, and then went over to the other fort, San Cristobol. It was built after the Dutch and then the English led attacks on the city from the land side. The Dutch were repelled, but the English managed to take control of the city, only to withdraw a few weeks later when the landing party all got dysentery and many died.
San Cristobol is larger than Del Morro, and was in better condition we both thought, probably because it's a little newer and doesn't get as much tourist traffic. The coolest part of this fort are the tunnels that connect the different parts of the fort. There is a dungeon off one of them where prisoners were kept; it lives up to its name, we wouldn't want to spend any time there. We walked around the open areas on the east side of the fort and saw more iguanas than anywhere else in the islands; they were everywhere. We walked back to the car, did a little shopping on the way, and went to our hotel, which was in the beach area of Condado just east of town.
The hotel was older, but nice and clean. We got a small room, not facing the beach for $65 a night; not bad. After getting settled in, we met Scott, Jen,(Safari Tu) and his parents at their nicer, more expensive hotel for drinks and a late supper. Scott's folks were really cool and we enjoyed meeting them and talking for awhile. We also got to say hi and bye to Anna and Matthew, Scott and Jens kids who came down to see us at dinner. After supper we said our good byes; they are heading back to USVI to pick back up their autopilot, then heading up through the Bahamas. We all insisted that we would visit somewhere sometime in the future. We hope so.
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