IMPRESSIONS OF PUERTO RICO
26 March 2011
We had mixed feelings about Puerto Rico, it's not somewhere that we would class as a "must see", however there were some great highlights of our time there.
As part of the USA, we expected somewhere more built up and perhaps more sophisticated. Apart from San Juan, most of the towns we saw, especially the coastal ones, were run-down and shoddy. The Dominican Republic had more style. The roads are good though and make getting around the island pretty fast and easy. Signage is terrible and it's easy to get confused about road names/numbers. We rented a car in Salinas, where we were safely anchored in a well-protected lagoon. In the mornings we had manatees swimming slowly around our boat.
People were very friendly but the country is largely Spanish-speaking and little English is used, particularly in more remote areas. There is no sense that one is in the USA. Most frustrating was a lack of news, none of which was in English. We were desperate to find out what was happening in Japan and the Middle East but we had to glean information from the very parochial coverage on local TV stations.
San Juan was a lovely surprise. The old town is a beautifully restored area of brightly painted houses with wrought iron balconies, overflowing with plants and flowers, lining steep cobbled streets. The cobbles are actually blue-glazed bricks (adoquines) brought over as ballast in the old ships. Along the city walls, some 20 feet thick, is a long paseo at the water's edge, a perfect sunset walk providing stunning views of the huge bay and the city. There are a myriad of restaurants and bars to choose from and a lively atmosphere pervades. We stumbled into a Saturday afternoon entertainment of dancers and singers in a pretty square which resulted in Nic dancing with a stunning girl in an extremely skimpy carnival costume. It made his day!
The second main town is Ponce, where the highlight was the art museum, recently restored and not to be missed. The eclectic collection includes major works of art from the Pre-Raphaelites, Italian Baroque and Spanish Golden Age as well as early South American artifacts and some interesting modern works. It is displayed beautifully and imaginatively and we ended up spending an entire afternoon there. There's an excellent ice cream shop in the main town square that's worth visiting afterwards!
A dawn start took us along some less travelled roads through the Cordillera Central to the Rio Camuy Cave Park in the north east, the 3rd largest underground cave system in the world. The enormous caverns were filled with stalagmites and stalactites with the river flowing far below.
Taking advantage of our rental car, we visited the massive malls in and around San Juan. They are on a American scale and we haven't had the luxury of anything so first world in the Caribbean. Our limited time was probably fortuitous or we would have spent far too much money there!
We left Puerto Rico for the Spanish Virgin Islands, only having time to visit Vieques. It was used by the US Navy for bombing practice up until 2003 but is now largely a national park. Some of the eastern end is off limits due to unexploded ordinances. We anchored in the stunning Sun Bay, a long crescent beach near the little town of Esperanza. We took a bus up to Isabella Seconda, the main "town" on the north coast but found little to see there.
Apart from miles of sandy beaches, Vieques is known for Mosquito or Bioluminescent Bay. This was close to our anchorage and we walked there after sunset to swim before the inconveniently full moon came up (less phosphorescence visible in the water). As we walked into the water we could already see flashes of light around our legs, by the time we snorkelled out into the middle of the bay we were astounded by the level of luminescence. It is caused by trillions of microscopic dinoflagellates which light up in self-defence when disturbed. We were each swimming in a glow with impression of sparks flying off our fingers and arms. It was a magical experience.
No check out from the USA but we were told to post Nic's immigration card back to them when we left. The only problem was that it was in Spanish and had no address on it!