04/09/2012, San Juan
Old San Juan:
The narrow glazed cobble stone roads and small alley ways between the most wonderfully painted and restored old buildings with their balconies and fine laced trellises was like stepping out of the Caribbean into Europe!
It was absolutely unbelievable how all the flavours you get on the street, the sounds you hear in voices and music ...and even the inside of the hotel... even remind me of the smell of an old European "Hostels" ...
I knew this is going to be fun! The photographic opportunities are huge! (you will unfortunately noticed the huge amount of pictures that I have difficulty with choosing what to post and what to leave out!!) We could not wait to hit the streets... Old San Juan is on a peninsula ... where the Forts were built to protect the waters and access to this big natural harbour .
There are two fortes in Old San Juan and another smaller one just outside across at the other bay entrance on a small island. The biggest one and most impressive one is El Morro! I am not much of a Fort lover ... but this one is mind-blowing! If ever you want to see an excellent Forte and very well preserved ... go and see El Morro Castle ... I know they call it a castle - but it really is a Fort! It is amazingly beautiful with this massive open space of a forever stretching lawn in front of it ... where heaps of kids and adults are flying kites in the breeze and the awesome view from the bottom of this lawn covered hill up to El Morro was just breathtaking! The view (as the Captain has told me so many times before when I did not want to walk up any hill to see another Fort!) is just always wonderful! You could see the whole stretch of that side of San Juan with your eye automatically following the beautiful thick stone wall that was built all around the city!... that on it's own has so much character... with the almost 400 year old lookout posts making it impossible not to feel like popping into them and get anyone passing by to take a picture of you!
The town has a buzz to it that is hard to describe. People seem to be unhurried... there is always some musical sounds coming from somewhere ... the Puerto Ricans are beautiful people with their Spanish looks and lovely olive skins and black hair... but they are also very friendly!
Restaurants and Food: We have tried to have small tapas meals at various places at night and the food varies from Puerto Rican (fantastic jalapeño's stuffed with cheese and crab meat) to Spanish to Latino Asian (which is what we had at The Dragonfly ... a combination of Latin American and Japanese/Chinese ! Just gorgeous ...imagine Peking Duck Nachos with a Wasabi Mayo! !!) The Old Harbour Brewery has the most fantastic German food on it's own or combined with Latino flavours and best beer taste we ever had! Then there was Restaurant Triana ... where you have live Spanish music and nibbling at the pub at some aged prosciutto and cheese! And the lovely vibrant Parrot Club! So many options! ... we ran out of time in the end!
One night we decided to go for a walk after dinner .... Walking towards some really vibrant loud music (Spanish music it was) and found a stack of (80-100) locals having a sing-along night. Whoever had an instrument played along with the base band! There was one main (female) singer with a great voice and stage personality on the mike and 3 backup "girls" (just about 70-80 years old?) . Folk music! Just fantastic rhythm and so we swayed and clap along ... I even joined in with the train dance!... it was so much fun! I was stunned by how eagre they are for one to take part and how many young people there was ... young and old ...all just for the sake of music and having fun !! It lasted until about 11pm ... it was a great end to a special night for us! There surely is much to say for culture!
The next day we stumbled upon an exhibition that Johann has read about a while ago ... This (im)famous Pathologist from Germany (Gunther von Hagens ) has used his dissecting and artistic skills to create the most amazing exhibition of every part - veins, bones, brain, heart and full human bodies! Very tastefully done although it sounds macabre! Something to be seen if ever you come across it ... it is really art work!
Another interesting first for us is watching cigar rollers at work! There is amazingly enough very few people that smokes cigarettes, but the cigar industry is a different story! ... "remember ... much less unhealthy and it is all organic! "... is the sales pitch! We stood for an hour watching the artist at work and bought a few for a special day if the Captain can only find someone to join him ... it will not be me! Lol
Art and fine Arts are playing a fairly big role in the educational system here. Specific centres are found where kids have painting lessons (not only keeping them busy with a messy paint room!), music and dance lessons and you see kids from 4-16 years old walking around with cello's and violins in the streets ... again .... It is just a part of culture that we sadly sometimes miss in our country?!
Old City San Juan ... we will miss it ...and hopefully one day we will have the time to go and taste some more of this wonderful old place!
|Spanish Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico||
04/08/2012, Ensenada Honda - Culebra
Culebra ... the first touch of Spanish
As we got closer to the island - even from a few miles away ... we could just tell the vibe is so totally different from the Caribbean, BVI or USVI ... the architecture and the vegetation on the island as well as the "little small holdings" with a few horses makes you think - this belongs to Spanish culture for sure!
Saying that ... the Spanish Virgin Islands falls under the jurisdiction of Puerto Rico ... So - although there are very little American influences ... these island groups are a special territory of the United States. So we have our yacht has now a cruising licence for all American Waters! A big deal! Trust me....it makes life easier to get in and out of US waters! The Customs office is located at the airport - a nice 15min stroll through the colourful town...with Air Flamingo their main airline ...with only ten-seater planes that looks like toys! HaHa! Quite scary!
Stepping ashore confirmed our previous suspicions that the culture has completely changed from the previous islands. The people are European (Spanish looking) with hardly any African influences around. ... unlike the other islands that are still bearing the consequences of slave-trading from earlier days.
The language is Spanish and although you get the odd American working in bars and shops - they speak Spanish and you don't lose out on that special feel of the island. Al we need to do to get the feel of it all is to switch on the radio and listen to the ling, and beautiful Spanish music!
Tourism is on a much smaller scale ... no big cruise ships means that you can still feel part of the island ... without standing out as a tourist! If people start talking Spanish to you while you buy your veggies or bread ... then you know.... You are fading into the islands people! Most of the shops tenders can speak (a broken) English - so you are not totally stuck (with your little pocket dictionary as the only assistant)!
Ensenada Honda is the bay where the main town Pueblo of the Island Culebra is located- and is just picturesque colourful ... every home or shop has beautifully chosen colour schemes (unlike in Grenada where any colours just have to do!). It gives you that real happy island home feel!
The flair with which they arrange and use pot plants, lanterns or artwork outside and inside places to emphasise special features has been done in very European style... just love it!.. I think we are slowly getting the feel of a culture shift...
What will mark this as a special stop for me is the clear waters (again! ... but this time it really looks like a glass of water with fish in it!), the architecture and vibrancy of the colours of the buildings and the feeling that you are just part of them... if you can keep your camera in your pocket...they would not know if you are living here or visiting!(needless to say ... I struggled with the camera bit...) .... By now we are both very tanned but I do think there is still a tag too much blond for me to claim to melt in with the locals with their beautiful slick black hair! It is great to hear and feel the Spanish influence....
We had to pop in at the Dinghy Dock Bar (seems like every harbour, town or bay has one! HaHa!) ... Captain J reckoned that is where all the sailors will be and he needed some advice on anchorages and things to do at the next island (Vieques) - we have absolutely no literature or any information on it ...and no internet access either! So firsthand knowledge it will be...over a beer or two... Cannot wait to see Puerto Rico and the next stop at Vieques Island... Mosquito Bay ... with more dazzling lights in the water at night! Apparently - that is what that bay is known for!!! ... dyno-flagellates ....So!!! Bring it on!
After a day with a rent-me-Jeep and a great tour of the island with our picnic basket...having lunch on a deserted beach where there once were a beach shack...
We overnight the last night at the bay just around the corner of Punta Soldado (no name again!) and was the only boat there... with a tiny little beach ... while we were getting ready for our sunset rituals... we noticed a group of young Spanish guys and two girls... sitting on the rocks with each a drink watching the sunset ...and serenading in the most beautiful harmonised voices until the sun has set. Such a great end to our day!.. and that is the last image imprinted in my mind of this beautiful island!
|Spanish Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico||
04/06/2012, Charlotte Amalie
The US virgin islands are very close together and it did not take us more than an hour to get there from where we were in St John's South East coast to Charlotte Amalie ... the Capital City of the US Virgin Islands. It is named after the Danish Queen with the same name. St Thomas was used in the old days as a haunt of pirates and privateers! The theme is still running thick in the commercial sailing boats all dressed up as Pirate boats!
The anchorage in Charlotte Amalie's St Thomas Harbour was unexpectedly good! Well protected against all weather ... in spite of the ferries and big cruise ships coming and going we did not have any trouble with a surge at all!... it was actually very pleasant and being so big, it offers plenty of options for anchoring. (It was a different situation the second time we anchored here over Easter... as I am writing ... we do have some swells coming in and we might have to move on...)
Every main shopping site is within a dinghy ride away and there are dinghy docks right in front of the Main Street (Shopping Street)!!! That we only realised too late ... but the "Safari Taxi's" - they are open sides vehicles that will take you anywhere for $4 - wether it is 2 blocks or 20 miles ... it is still $4! So ... a bargain to hop on and off them if you want to go to inland places or even shopping centres! It is a big town and walking is mostly uphill going anywhere from the shore and the normal taxi's are very expensive! The nice thing about these people that we have noticed was that when they hop into a taxi, they will not sit down until everybody has been greeted. It is just so nice and makes you feel welcome and part of them! They are generally very friendly and extremely polite and helpful people!
The dinghy dock right in front of the Cruise Ships get you out in front of the snazzy Yacht Haven Grande Marina! With a dinghy that hasn't got at least a 100hp engine (ours has a 15hp!)... you will find hardly any eye contact is been made by the marina goers or workers and you!Ha Ha!! Snobbish would be an understatement! It was funny!... We always get a bit of a chuckle out of "those people"! They are mostly from the super yachts .... And there are a lot of them! .... a lot of testosterone is hanging out there ... the shops are pretty nice around those marina's! Big brand names .... And even if you do not buy anything ... just go and snoop around... I never knew that Bvlgari has a clothes range for instance!!
The people who can speak English... mostly have an American accent (school teachers are mostly from USA or trained there... and a lot of them has at some stage worked in the USA as well)
This is the first City we have seen in all the Caribbean! It is very built-up and huge - I mean enormous hotels and resorts. The main drag is aimed to take your money and they depend heavily on the Cruise Ships for business! (Like the Taxi said ... they take it ... it's no good you hold on to it ...it only gives you pleasure when you part with it!!... well the Captain latched onto that quick smart!)
The prices are great being a tax-free island (a free port) since the Danish times ...(and many Americans only come for the shopping!) Camera's and jewellery (diamonds and watches) are the main trades! The big fashion brand names have their watches, sunnies and perfumes and cosmetics in every second shop! The shop assistance are the most polished, sophisticated and well spoken and EXTREMELY friendly and helpful people I have ever seen in those positions! In some countries they make you feel that they are doing you a favour to get of their bums to serve you ... not here!!!
There are other perks too for going into the big brand name stores and show interest in their watches or jewellery ...they then get you to think it over (that is if you do not buy it straight away!) in the VIP lounge where any drink from a great espresso or cappuccino to a glass of French /Californian red wine to any beer you like!!!.... All on the house! That.... by the way ... is how I scored a glass of very good red wine for free ... 11am in the morning! :-)
The town still has many of the original Danish buildings and mansions on the hillside overlooking the harbour. The architecture in Main street specifically have all their shops in the original old Danish buildings that was still left pretty much intact and has so much character and is quite beautiful! ... it is really charming to see all the old walls still in use for all the new shops and restaurants with the narrow alleyways and trellises and tiny balconies. There is an interesting looking Forte - it was shut unfortunately? - reminds us of the Old Forte in Cape Town! And then there is the famous Bluebeard Castle!(from the Pirate Days!)... I remember that gruesome story of The Horrible Bluebeard being told/ read to me as a child! I wonder if my older sisters will recall the story!
St Thomas is a great place to go to ... for a purpose... Not for it's natural beauty as such... shopping is great and they also have an international airport with direct flights from London and Miami ... so we are going to be back here to pick John Botha up that will join us for a few weeks and crew for us from Tortola to the Bermuda! Too much of that ... it's time to move on.... Spanish VI will hopefully bring back the charm of blue-turquoise waters and lonely bays!
|US Virgin Islands||