Livin’ la Vida Loco like Locals

Owen and Miranda picked us up with their dinghy on Thursday morning at 08:00. We all popped in to the marina office for Owen to obtain the rental car. While he was doing the final paperwork, Nate discovered the minimarket next door had decent beer – breakfast beer time! We split a Boqueron Blonde Ale and then all piled in to the tiny rental car to head up the coast to Mayaguez. As Owen and Miranda headed in to the US Customs office to obtain their cruising permit, Nate and I wandered through a waterfront park and then in to a grocery store – a real grocery store! What a lovely feeling. We picked up a few items we’ve had difficulty finding elsewhere (tahini, specifically) and enjoyed greek yogurt for a snack. We can’t remember the last time we had yogurt, it was delicious. We headed back to the Customs House just as Owen and Miranda finished their paperwork. We loaded back in to the car and headed to find “the mall.” What we first discovered was quite disappointing – a rundown Sears and JCPenney in a shopping center. We were pleasantly surprised to find an actual indoor, massive shopping mall connected the two stores and dozens of others. After some unsuccessful window-shopping, we decided to head to Walmart to provision, but not without going through the Wendy’s drive-thru for Nate and I to procure a small chocolate Frosty. Ahhh, the spoils of American life. We were pretty disappointed by the Walmart selections, but found most of what we wanted. Miranda and I further culture-shocked ourselves with a trip to Starbucks and then we headed farther out of town in search of the Sam’s Club. We’d read that they offer one-day membership passes for “free,” but a 10% charge is added to your purchase. Not a huge deal and Miranda and Owen needed to stock up on some items badly enough that it seemed worth it. The men went to Burger King for lunch while Miranda and I entered the glorious Sam’s Club. Miranda entered the customer service line, only to be told they don’t offer one-day passes. She worked her magic by charming the employee and explaining that we rented a car to come up here because we live on boats and don’t have any other real options. Feeling guilty, the employee had the manager come over, who obliged a temporary membership pass to us – victory! Overwhelmed with the selection, I stuck to my short list, knowing darn well we don’t have the fridge capacity for a wheel of Brie cheese. Chicken tenderloins, frozen green beans, 6-pack of Shiner black lager, cereal, and a jug of maple syrup later, my side of the trip was a success. S/V Sarabi is a catamaran, so Miranda’s list was much longer, as they have the space to accommodate. She found everything she wanted, as well, and we headed to meet the men in the parking lot. Our tiny rental car transformed in to a clown car when we realized we had to get everything from the cart into the toy car. After some tetras action, we managed to load everything up and still have room for our bodies. We headed back to the marina to unload groceries. We further impressed ourselves by getting all of the groceries and four persons on their dinghy, Simba, and made it to both boats without losing anything or anyone overboard.

Our instrument server replacement and new anemometer finally arrived, after being held for two months, unsure of where to safely and positively ship them. Nate excitedly started the installation process while I put away all the groceries. He loaded up his rigging chair bag with all the tools he could possibly need and we began the process to haul him up the mast. In impressive time, he mounted and wired the new wind speed instrument, sealed the steaming light, and inspected the radar unit. He was safely back on the deck within about 15 minutes and offered his assistance to Owen (who is deathly afraid of heights). Owen fetched us in Simba and I worked on posting the previous blog and chatted with Miranda while Nate was sent up Sarabi’s mast to splice and rewire their tricolor navigation and anchor light and inspect their rigging. Unfortunately, for them, Nate discovered some poor workmanship in their masthead light set-up as well as damage to their rigging, performed by Just Catamarans. He took as many photos as he could, leaving Owen with fighting power to prove the subpar installation for warranty purposes. After one trip down then back up, an hour later Nate was safely back on the deck enjoying a beer with the rest of us. We spent the early evening chatting and enjoying each other’s company before finally going ashore for dinner. The eclectic little restaurant just outside of the marina gate proved to be satisfactory with their drinks and food and we continued to talk for hours. We eventually said farewell-for-now and headed to bed, exhausted from such a productive day.

We awoke early Friday morning to see that our other buddy boats had arrived in the middle of the night. I did a little workout and appealed a silly dental bill before we started weighing anchor to go to the fuel dock. Halfway through the process, we saw that Leef Nu was underway; we radioed them, said good morning and let them proceed to the fuel dock in front of us. They were promptly cut off by another boat coming off of the docks, so they circled around, waiting their turn for fuel, and I made breakfast, knowing we had quite a bit longer to wait. Just as we finished breakfast and started weighing anchor again, Music cruised by… towards the fuel dock. After another radioed “good morning, yes, go ahead to the fuel dock, we will wait… again” we decided to tackle a small boat project to pass the time. Music eventually finished fueling and we started hauling the anchor again, this time seeing Open Agenda heading towards the marina… seriously?! How many times is this going to happen?! We decided to go ahead and haul the anchor and putter around the fuel dock to ensure we got our turn some time that morning. Luckily, Open Agenda was just anchoring closer to the marina, so we were able to approach the fuel dock. A small fishing boat was on the far end of the dock, leaving plenty of room for us. Just as we were approaching, they untied their lines and started walking the boat backwards down the pier towards the pump out… seriously, the hose wasn’t long enough?! So we took another loop around the inner harbor, impatiently waiting our turn on the dock. We finally docked, fueled up, and headed in to the marina office to pick up our additional package and pay for marina access for the day (we’d decided to save some money by anchoring, rather than docking).

We dropped the anchor close to the marina (wifi access, yay!) and I set about to cleaning the decks and stainless steel rails, again. No sense in paying to have something cleaned really well if we don’t maintain it, right? An hour or so later, I’d reached a satisfactory level of cleanliness on the boat exterior, seeing only water spots on the rails, rather than salt stains and rust flecks. During my cleaning time, Nate worked to assemble our Hookah dive compressor, hoses, and regulator. Unfortunately, the hose and the regulator are not threaded the same, so we’ll go back to the drawing board and find suitable replacements or adapters at some point in the future. I made turkey, cheese, and lettuce sandwiches on fresh French bread for lunch… which may sound pretty normal for a meal, but we haven’t had many fresh ingredients for sandwiches in a long time… so they were exceptionally delicious. Feeling like we’d worked quite hard already for the day, we had a beer with lunch and made a plan for the afternoon. The wind was howling, causing the small bay to be quite choppy. From our vast dinghy excursion knowledge, we knew darn well that getting from the boat to the marina would not be a dry ride. Armed with such knowledge, we decided to take advantage of the marina showers. We loaded up shower bags and headed ashore. After nice, long showers, we popped down the dock to visit Cara and Eddie on Music. We apparently had the same idea as the rest of our buddies – everyone else was there, too! We spent an hour or so drinking and sharing stories of the passage then finally rallied to go find some empanadas. Somewhere between the marina gate and the first bar, Jay casually mentioned it was Willow’s birthday. What?! How dare you keep such information a secret for most the day! Excited to have a birthday to celebrate, we promptly purchased an IPA for Willow (she loves IPA beers and we haven’t really seen them since we left the States) and then Music bought her a pina colada. This pattern continued through another bar and several empanadas. Jay snuck off to find a cake to surprise Willow, and we all successfully covered for him. We walked back to the marina bar to find Jay ready with a candle and beautiful cake. Willow was thrilled and even a little embarrassed, as she’s not one to enjoy being the center of attention. However, it was clear that she was over-the-moon impressed with her husband’s ability to procure a cake within a 20-minute timeframe and surprise her. We all drooled over our plates of the lightly frosted almond cake – eating every last bite and smiling with blue-stained mouths and teeth for the rest of the night. Sundown passed and soon the sugar crash took over. We headed back to the boat for the night, making tentative plans to see everyone the next day.

Saturday morning was focused on boat projects: installing a new dryer vent hose and fixing our cockpit table. With those accomplished (after much sweat and frustration, and most of the effort on Nate’s part) we chomped down a healthy lunch and headed ashore. I was intent to take a workout walk and Nate was planning to assist Music with any finalizing details on their autopilot repair. We arrived to the stern of Music and discovered Eddie and Jay completed the repair within the past few minutes, so I set out on my walk, leaving Nate to his devices with the men to entertain their selves. My hamstring only allowed me to walk for a few miles, so I returned to the marina, questioning Nate what he’d been up to. Receiving a rhetorical answer, I flipped a 180 on the road and headed back towards the closest convenience store to pick up a 6-pack of beer. I joined Nate on the dock and we hopped on to Leef Nu to visit and drink with Cheryl and Kevin. We ended up being stuck aboard much longer than intended, as an extended storm kept us locked inside the dry cabin. The rain finally let up in the early evening and Nate and I headed back to the boat for some dinner. We’d intended to rejoin the party ashore for a game night, but another storm rolled in and we settled for an evening of a few episodes of the Handmaid’s Tale.

We made tentative plans on Saturday afternoon to head a few miles south to the town and anchorage of Boqueron with Leef Nu. However, upon rising for the day, Cheryl realized they needed to get new SIM cards before continuing on. Not wanting to go on to a new port alone (that can be awfully boring and lonely), we decided to wait another day for at least one of our buddy boats. As luck would have it, the marina had one rental car remaining (which turned out to be the marina’s truck), but we decided to relive our Samana experience and pile all eight of us into the truck. Not three miles down the road, we were promptly pulled over by the police and informed it was illegal in Puerto Rico to ride in the back of a pickup truck. Rats. Luckily, Kevin was driving and had the “I’m Canadian” excuse, in addition to being respectful to the cop, we were let off with just a warning. However, they would not let us transit any farther with three of us in the truck bed. Well, out we go! Nate, Willow, and I climbed out of the bed and decided we’d wait at the Walgreens a block away for Kevin to make a run to drop off half the group and come retrieve us. Nate and I were pleased to find decent dark chocolate at the store and we waited patiently for Kevin to return. He arrived within 15 minutes, impressing us with his patience to drive two groups to the shopping mall… twice. We gratefully hopped in and headed to the large conglomerate of stores. Nate joined the others in Walmart and I popped in to Old Navy, having realized the few tank tops I favored were showing excessive wear. I finished my cheap shopping trip at the same time Nate and Jay/Willow were done in Walmart. We loaded into the truck with Kevin and headed back to the marina. Kevin dropped us off then headed back to finish shopping with his wife and Music. Nate and I returned to the boat for yummy lunch sandwiches and to wait for the rest of our group to return. I blogged and read for a few hours and Nate took a nice, long nap. The other two couples returned to the marina, so I jumped in the dinghy to help them unload and shuttle groceries to their boats. We then popped back over to Music to have drinks and play Cards Against Humanity for the evening.

We weighed anchor for Boqueron (only a few miles south of Puerto Real) on Monday morning, assuming our buddy boats would join later in the day. Within a few hours of being in Boqueron, our buddies decided they wouldn’t join until the next day. Bummed, but not willing to let it ruin our day, we headed ashore to check out the little town. After a little guessing, we found what we believed to be the public dinghy dock, tied up Lil’ Willy and started to walk down the dock. We heard a concerning noise of plastic crunching against wood and looked back to see Lil’ Willy repeatedly bumping against a small fishing boat. A local promptly joined us on the dock and asked us to move our dink to the other side of the dock. Not a problem. With Lil’ Willy secured in a safer area, we set off to see the town. We could instantly see why other sailors recommend this area… And it was also obvious why the recommend coming on a weekend. The main street was lined with little bars, restaurants, and shops. All closed up for the next few days. Bummer. We found an open waterfront bar, bought overpriced drinks, and continued our self-guided tour around the town. As we walked past an expensive hotel bar with outdoor seating, a couple enjoying their drinks said a friendly hello and asked where we were from. We exchanged niceties; they asked if we wanted to join them for a drink, we kindly declined the offer, needed to walk a little more to stretch our legs. A few blocks later, we were suddenly kicking ourselves for breaking our rule – never turn down an offer from a local. We worked our way back around the block, hoping they’d still be there and we could join them, never knowing where it could lead. They were still on the patio and were pleased we returned. Nate ordered a handmade Bloody Mary and I went for a local light beer. We chatted with the couple, learning they own one of the more successful restaurants on the western side of Puerto Rico. After a little while, they asked if we wanted to join them to go see the beach. After assuring they’d bring us back, we happily accepted. What unfolded in the next 8 hours seems too awesome to try to share without sounding ridiculous, but I’ll try with words and this YouTube montage of all the videos I took throughout the day:

Nate and I squish in to the back seat of our host’s Chevy Camero and off we go! Reggae music blaring, our host has an idea – he confirms with us that we aren’t on a specific timeline for the day and we assure him we have all the time in the world. He responds that instead of just going to the beach, he’d like to give us a better tour of the area. Thrilled with this information, we excitedly encourage him to do so. He promptly stops at the next roadside bar, buys us cold beers, and continues on the drive. He and his wife point out all sorts of neat places we pass by along the winding road, which he expertly drives with finesse and speed, rounding corners like a Formula 1 professional. Our first stop is at the region’s salt farm. Having seen quite a bit of salt on our journey, we knew exactly what we gazing upon. Not wanting to ruin the fun, we let our host tell us all about the salt farm and even sneak past the gate to grab us a handful of the tasty stuff. We enjoyed a few licks, fabulously complimenting our cold Madella Light beers, and pocketed the remaining crystals. From there, we headed to what the locals call “dirty beach.” As we approached, the parking lot was clearly full, however, our host continued driving right up to the gate, parking smugly between it and the no-parking sign. He laughed as he said: “I run this town… but we only have ten minutes!” and we all took off walking towards the beach. Salted, crusty-mud wastelands laid to our left as we approached the beach. Unexpectedly, the beach did not live up to the name. Aside from quite a bit of seagrass bunches on the sand, the beach was quite clean. The sand stretched for a mile or so around a cove, leading up to a small cliff. Our host informed us that on a day with more time, it is a great walk around to the point. But that day was not today. So we took a few photos, Nory (the wife) accidentally gifted an earring to the sea, and we walked back towards the car. As we neared the parking lot, our host greeted a passerby, weighted down with two large shoulder bags, with a big hug. He promptly exclaimed “three mojitos for my friends, please!” We assumed this was a joke… we were pleased to be mistaken. The friend walked towards a semi-shaded spot, pulled the bags from his shoulders, and proceeded to produce the necessary ingredients to handcraft mojitos. After a great show of the finesse of a bartender oddly kneeling on sand and hardened mud, he handed each of us a deliciously aromatic, fresh-as-it-gets mojito. Thrilled with this surprise, Nate attempted to pay for the drinks, but our host insisted they were his treat. We bopped the few more paces back to the car, sipping our wonderfully refreshing cocktails, and carefully climbed into the back seat for the next destination. We arrived shortly after at another beach, this one more populated with bars, restaurants, and shops, but void of visitors. Our hosts explained that it is a manatee feeding ground, but is typically packed with people on the weekends. Being a Monday, we pretty much had the place to ourselves. After a few pictures, we stopped by one of the beach bars, grabbed a fresh round of cold beers, and piled back in to the Camaro. We drove by their restaurant on the way to their house to switch to a larger vehicle and for Nory to get another car, so she could pick up their son from school later. After a quick stop at their lovely home, Nate and I joined the husband in the Jeep Cherokee for a continued tour. He drove us along the waterfront to his favorite bar, Gato Negro (the Black Cat) and we enjoyed another round of beers and several rounds of scrumptious lobster and conch empanadas. Nory joined us towards the end and then we all headed to their restaurant to see the space. Being our host’s childhood home, he was beaming with pride for the building and what they’d built on over the past eight years of operation. We were impressed with the space and sad we hadn’t made it there from our last port for a meal (we’d driven by it with Miranda and Owen and verbally noted that it looked like a great spot!). We then took a quick drive-through tour of the farm behind the restaurant and then switched to ride in Nory’s truck with their son for all of us to head to see Lady Sun Dream.

After a fun-filled dinghy ride to the boat, we shared some appetizers, beer, and more conversation. They invited us to join them for sushi, but we politely declined, already exhausted from such an awesome day. I bid them farewell and Nate returned them to shore then headed back to the boat for a night of well-earned rest.

Our buddy boats arrived in the Boqueron anchorage on Tuesday morning and we headed ashore to join Kevin and Cheryl for a meander around town. We’d intended to go for a beach walk, but couldn’t find a suitable place to approach the beach that wasn’t through a swimming zone, so we gave up and went to the town dock. Within a few minutes of walking with Cheryl and Kevin, we discovered access to the public beach. Still intent on burning a few calories, I set off down the beach for a long walk while the other three strolled around the little town. Grateful for a semi-flat, hard sand beach, I walked until I ran out of beach, passing crumbling beach cottages, large, dilapidated condominium units and mansions, and even overgrown playgrounds and tennis courts. Unsure of whether hurricane damage or poor investing was to blame, the scenes still saddened me. I abruptly discovered that iguanas can swim when one darted out in front of me from the bushes, taking a few of my heart beats and a breath with it into the bay. They appear to swim very well, staying underwater for extended lengths of time and slithering through the water like snakes. Not my favorite thing to witness… I don’t like slithering things and certainly don’t like when they are in the water with me. Once I reached the end of the accessible beach, I headed back around the cove to meet the trio I’d left behind. Naturally, I found them with drinks in their hands, walking down the main road. Nate was kind enough to share a few sips of his drink as we stopped at the only open food truck/seafood stand on the road. Kevin and Cheryl delighted in a dozen oysters and octopus ceviche, while Nate and I withheld, neither of us in the mood for seafood at the time. I did take a nibble of the octopus salad, and yes, it was delicious. In need of a real meal, we walked away from town (aka away from the tourist-priced restaurants) towards El Pirate – a bar we’d passed the previous morning. Pleased that the establishment gave a great “local vibe” we settled in for beer and lunch and were not disappointed. We strolled back towards town, stopping here and there at marine supply stores, small groceries, and touristy shops.

Cheryl and I got the shopping bug, so we sent the men away to take Kevin and Cheryl’s dinghy for a spin (Nate and I are looking to purchase the same model) and then we were able to shop without the men breathing down our necks or standing around bored. After several different dressing room visits, we were both pleased to find well-priced items of need – Cheryl bought a cute, comfortable dress and I added two sporty bathing suit tops to my collection. We took Lil’ Willy to find the men – drinking rum in the air conditioning of Lady Sun Dream. We scoffed at the a/c and forced them to enjoy the fresh breeze in the cockpit. We did not scoff at the rum, but rather, swiftly poured glasses for our own enjoyment. After two large bowls of bacon-grease stove-top popcorn and lively conversation, Cheryl and Kevin headed back to their boat for the night and Nate and I readied ourselves for an early bedtime.

Four a.m. came sooner than we wanted it to, and Nate got up to weigh anchor in the calm, dark morning. We motorsailed all morning around the southwest corner of Puerto Rico and happily arrived in La Pagruera around 09:00. I was lucky enough to catch some more sleep during the transit, so Nate attempted to nap while I read. Sleep escaped him, and after a few hours of tossing and turning, he gave up and we started our day. We prepped our snorkel gear, covered ourselves in reef-safe sunscreen, packed a cooler, and waited for Kevin and Cheryl to pick us up on their dinghy. Kevin badly cut his foot a few days before, so he was unable to snorkel. Nate didn’t plan to snorkel much, due to his sore elbow, so we joined them to not let either be alone. As we approached the mangroves known for swimming and snorkeling, we were disappointed to see several tourist boats with folks floating around, blasting loud music, and not appearing to be doing much of anything. With lowered hopes, Cheryl and I rolled off the dinghy into the warm, Caribbean water and set off to see what we could see in the underwater world. Given the spoiled snorkeling experiences we’ve had the past few months, the mangroves were definitely different. The water was surprisingly clear around them and we were able to swim in, around, and through many of the islet patches, seeing thousands of immature fish along the way. Aside from the adorable baby fish, the snorkeling was subpar, but it felt great to be in the water after a week of life above it. We rejoined the men and dinked to another island to explore. We tied to a dock and walked along a well-maintained boardwalk through the mangroves. We reveled in the scenery and serenity of the mangrove forest, hearing the Caribbean waves crashing on the south side and seeing the still, dark water of the north side. We emerged from the boardwalk in a public park and were impressed with the picnic tables and set-up of the facility for visitors. After another short dinghy ride and witnessing a couple unabashedly making love on the bow of a boat, we investigated another potential snorkeling area, but quickly found ourselves almost scraping our stomachs in the shallow water. Wary of urchins, we floated ourselves back towards the dinghy and safe, sandy patches of seafloor.

After a quick rendezvous with our other buddy boats on their dinghies, we headed back to our boats to change for a trip in to town. After much confusion on where we could safely and legally dock our dinghy, Nate and I walked up to the gas station to fill our Gerry can with gasoline and our free hands with cold beers. We returned to the dinghy, informed Kevin and Cheryl that the fish market was closed for the afternoon, and then headed to find another dock to walk around town with our friends. The town proved to have a great boardwalk-type area chockfull of shops, restaurants, and bars – many of which were surprisingly open. Living on the budgets we do, we opted to admire them from the street and popped into the grocery store for some provisioning and much cheaper beer. We headed back to the boats in anticipation for an evening excursion the nearby bioluminescent bay (one of five in the world). Much to our disappointment, a front rolled in and produced several hours of extended rain, dampening our hopes for a nighttime excursion and delaying our intended departure from the area. We hunkered down for the night, watching television and relaxing, planning to try again the following night.

The next morning brought no real to-do list, as we’d planned to leave that day. I had a nice yoga session while Nate did some route planning. We headed back to town midmorning, hoping to find the fish market open and fresh catches available. Cheryl and Kevin joined us, and although we enjoyed stretching our legs ashore, the “market” consisted of only one small store had only frozen fish to offer… and not the fish we were in favor of. Bummed, but still having an entire day ahead of us, we popped back to the grocery store and then chatted for a while before heading back to our boats. Nate and I shifted Lady Sun Dream closer to the bioluminescent bay to make for a shorter, easier dinghy ride in the dark that night. We explored the area a little bit by dinghy, running into shallow grass near the beach, but excitement continued to mount for the night’s planned adventure.

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