Saturday, January 19, 2013

Puerto Rico Day 9: 1/12/13

Mabel got a cover up at the Bee Hive to have something other than the surf shirt to wear. We got pressed sandwiches at La Viequense, a pretty solid bakery in Isabella Segunda.

They were just right.

We stopped by a convenience store and Dave finally found his crema de coco for his pina coladas (the supermarket ran out). We headed to Playa Plata – a beautiful, calm beach very reminiscent of Flamenco Beach but much calmer and smaller. Plata was our favorite beach in Vieques and we kept coming back to it. We set up camp with a beach umbrella we borrowed from Hix House.

The water was incredibly clear. Mabel swam over to a small beach with little impromptu rock formations and found a cool shell on the way.

It threatened to rain in the afternoon so we beat a hasty retreat along with a caravan of jeeps and one poor bicyclist pedaling sadly in the downpour. After showers, we had dinner again at Duffys.

That night we were scheduled to tour a bioluminescent bay – the Bahia Mosquito. The company took us in this really old white van over this horrible road (Dave was convinced we would break an axel, but we got to the bay without incident) to the bay. We got into clear kayaks. As we paddled and at the bottom of the boat were hundreds of iridescent lights activated by motion. A few fish streaked past us in a bolt of light. It was pretty insane. Having clear kayaks was brilliant. Any sort of turbulence in the water activated the lights. We were even able to make the lights run down our arm. Turns out dinoflagellates can produce a light much in the same way fireflies do. The night was clear after the rain and we saw the Milky Way, Orion (clear enough to see his shield!), the Pleiades, and Orion’s dog. We paddled back and made it back safely through the crazy road.

Puerto Rico Day 8: 1/11/13

We awoke to a nice morning.

We spent an hour or two drinking coffee pretty much alone on Flamenco Beach. We packed up our stuff, chatted with Max and Esmeralda (our hosts), and took one more look before we drove off. We dropped off our car and checked into our flight (we were the only ones on the list again). We found this makeshift empanada stand in front of a house near the airport.

We got chicken, plaintain and ground beef, and vegetable (yucca?). Really good. They had a table with chairs in the back. We smiled at the lady carrying freshly made empanadas from her house to the stand.

There were chickens scratching along side a bevy of cute chicks. After lunch we headed over to Happy Landings, a fairly sad-looking bar at the end of the runway. We threw back a couple of cold Medallas hoping to see a plane land (no luck).

We ran into Stephanie again. She chided us for not using enough of the Neem tonic juice. Our flight to Ceiba was short – about ten minutes. A random guy had signed up at the last minute so there were three of us. The airport at Ceiba was huge – turns out it was a converted military base. We waited a bit and climbed back into the same puddlejumper with the same pilot. After another ten minute ride we were in Vieques. 

We got a ride from our rental car company, Maritza’s, to their car lot. We saw a wild horse with its foal walking by the side of the road.

Turns out there are tons of wild horses on the island. We got our jeep. There were a couple of dashboard alarms lit up but the guy waved them off. We checked in at the Hix House – pretty cool place. We had a concrete loft apartment with a kitchen, coffee, eggs, coffee grinder, kitchen appliances, outdoor shower, beach chairs and towels.

We were hungry so we ate several slices of nice bread left for us with jam and with fruit. It was a nicely accoutered place.

We went to Sun Bay and hung out until the sun went down. Mabel is wearing that white and blue shirt everywhere because of sun rash.

Dinner was at Duffy’s, solid bar food with a nice selection of beers.

Puerto Rico Day 7: 1/10/13

Rainy, cloudy weather today. We basically stayed in and read most of the day. We ventured out a couple of times but got chased back in by rain. Dave did get a chance to finish his Pina Colada on the beach before the rain hit.

He doesn’t feel like he’s on a beach vacation until he drinks a pina colada on the beach. But there isn’t always a beach bar so he came up with a shaken pina colada recipe which is pretty good.

We picked up DonQ rum, pineapple juice, and coconut cream at the local grocery store. He fashioned a makeshift shaker out of a glass and a plastic cup.

1:4 ratio of coconut cream and pineapple juice. Rum to taste. Shake and serve over ice. 

We had picked up some gin too. Turns out that it’s impossible for us to tell if the pina colada is made with gin or rum.

Lunch was an huevos rancheros of sorts – soft scrambled eggs with leftover quesadilla cheese on toasted tortillas topped with salsa and a fruit salad.

We read more in the afternoon. Dinner was at Susie’s – okay food that was somewhat overpriced.

Puerto Rico Day 6: 1/9/13

Dave woke up in the middle of the night with excessive itching from sand fly bites. He used the tonic out of desperation and it actually worked.

We had a lazy morning. Then we headed out to the front of Susie’s Restaurant where we were supposed to meet up with the folks who were going to take us snorkeling. We had no other instructions and neither of our phones worked so we couldn’t clarify who was supposed to meet us there, if the 10:30 time was still correct, and what the boat the Raz-ma-Taz looked like. We ended up finding two guys on a boat – Todd and Captain Taz. We were just going to snorkel, but Todd tried mightily to convince us to try scuba diving. We shrugged our shoulders and said, Why not? We were on the boat with another gal who was getting her scuba certification. We first headed out and got gas from one of the island’s two gas stations. They had a really long hose that was able to reach to the boat. We motored through an expanse of beautiful blue with threatening rainclouds.

The whitewash from the engine spread out like a whale’s tail.

We stopped near Cayo Luis Pena (a small island). Captain Taz gave us a quick lesson with these funny placards and a 10-question quiz at the end. We put on wetsuits and flippers and Todd strapped on the scuba vest with the compressed air.

After a quick in-water lesson, we headed down. Being underwater is pretty amazing. There were underwater plants and coral that waved to current, not wind. Purple vase-like sponges. Other wide ottoman-like sponges with complicated symmetric Mayan-type patterns and branch-like sponges lining the coral. Large meshy-leaves waved in the water. The fish were largely unafraid. There were white fish with yellow tails, flat fish with a single spot that looked like an eye, fish with textured scales that looked like tile, little bright electric blue fish, tiny electric yellow fish nibbling at the coral. We saw a sting-ray hiding in the sand; Todd touched it and it went flapping away like a bird, except it was in the water. We saw a little crab that looked like a giant daddy-long legs. Mabel wouldn’t touch it.

Lunch was simple but delicious. White bread, mayo, mustard, cheese, and ham? Oreos, BBQ potato chips, and slices of pear. Todd gave me a slice of bread; Mabel threw bits into the ocean and watched the yellow-tailed fish swarm over each other to eat it. They also loved the BBQ chips, too.

We went by Carlos Rosario Beach. Dave got a little sea sick so Captain Taz let him drive the boat for a bit. We went on a second expedition. Pretty amazing stuff. We saw an enormous lobster hiding in a dark corner. When we emerged, we were rewarded with some tamarind-mango liquor made by someone Todd knew. It was good, potent stuff.

The ride back to the habor was uneventful. Dave was no longer seasick.

Dave slept the afternoon away while Mabel played in the water at Flamenco Beach until it got cold. Dinner at Dinghy Dock – a refreshing contrast to the solitude of El Caobo and dinner in the apartment.

It was really hopping. The food was billed as tapas but would be more accurately described as pub fare (not that there’s anything wrong with that): artichoke dip, ribs, jalepeno poppers, coconut shrimp. The evening was spent reading books until we fell asleep with the lights on.

Puerto Rico Day 5: 1/8/13

We’ve been seeing a bunch of island animals. Stray chickens, dogs, cats, and pigs. An occasional deer. Pelicans, a funny-looking bird that looked like a Northern Jacuna, and a heron.

Today we went on a hike to Playa Resaca, literally undertow beach. We drove up a steep road. The trail at the beginning did not look inviting at all, as it was totally overgrown with grass.

Dave pushed through and we eventually found a decent trail heading down. It was for the most part manageable, with a few tricky parts where we had to navigate carefully past some mean thorn bushes. When we got to the bottom we walked through a mangrove forest and emerged out onto the beach.

Two girls following us emerged a little later. It was similar to Flamenco Beach with the soft sand and clear green waters that merged into deeper blues. But it felt wilder and more dangerous. The waves were taller and stronger. The wind was so strong that the flying sand formed a few inches of haze above the actual beach. No one wanted to venture into the water. The waves dashed onto the cliffs on either side of the beach. Even from a distance you could sense the power of the waves and the destruction it could easily cause. The winds brought all sorts of detritus onto the beach – plastic parts, bits of rope, part of a crate. Several palm trees were buried up to their leaves.

At the rocky end of the beach we found several sea snails.

We found a palm tree laden with coconuts.

We found a sharp rock and David managed to cut past the fibrous exterior and expose the coconut. 

He cracked it open and we drank the water and ate some of the meat.

On the hike back we found an old well and unexpectedly, a funny little hermit crab. We were famished after the hike. We went to Juanita Bananas, a mobile eatery in town that did sushi. We had shark tempura with aioli, a tuna roll, and a “crunchy” roll. It was all very good, especially the shark. In retrospect Mabel thinks that she’s never had shark before.

We met a friendly local, Stephanie, who sold us a bottle of bug bite tonic called Neem and let us in on some of the Culebran-goings ons. We met Redd, a sweet-faced docile dog who had been abandoned by his original owners and adopted by a friend of Stephanie’s.

After an afternoon nap, Dave ventured into the Flamenco Beach waters despite the strong winds. Feeling lazy, we stayed in and made quesadillas for dinner. Dave made a shaken pina colada with gin and said he couldn’t tell the difference between that and one made with rum.

Puerto Rico Day 4: 1/7/13

Why did the chicken cross the road?

We went out finishing with Chris and Dave caught a Jack!

Conditions weren’t great so we couldn’t make it out to the flats but it was our first time out saltwater fly fishing so it was still awesome. Mabel practiced her casting and got a quick crash course.

We had lunch at Mamacita’s, which is cool because it is by the water and you can dock your boat and climb inside for a bite.

We drove out to Zoni Beach. It was like a longer more stretched out version of Flamenco Beach, and just as beautiful. Mabel took a nap under a palm tree.

She found a beautiful, perfect sand dollar, which she accidentally broke in half not realizing how delicate it was.

We came back to Flamenco Beach and walked the mile to the other end where there was an old tank melting/rusting into the sea water. It had been graffiti-ed into bright colors and all the metal parts had fused into one another.

We wanted to try out El Caobo for dinner. We wouldn’t have found it except for the hand-tacked signs directing us onto a residential street.

When we walked in it didn’t look promising at all. There was no one manning the front. Finally, a big grumpy-looking old man ambled in, ignoring us to drop off appetizers at the other two tables. He spoke tersely. We ordered chicken with garlic. Dave got tostones and Mabel got rice and beans. The guy disappeared. We wondered if it was a one-man show and if he was cooking in the back, too. When the food came we were pleasantly surprised – the tostones were crispy and probably the best that we had ever tasted. The chicken breast was moist and probably dry-salted beforehand.

The vegetables were al dente. Dave asked the guy, “Are you cooking too?” The guy-“Yep.” Dave- “So you are doing everything yourself?” The guy-“Why not?” Dave had asked everything in Spanish but the guy answered everything in a gruff, grumpy English. Funny place. Delicious food.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Puerto Rico Day 3: 1/6/13

Today is the Puerto Rican holiday of the Three Kings. We were advised that Dewey might be busier than usual and that things were closed besides. Does that make sense?

We had an instant Puerto Rican coffee called Café Crema. Pretty good actually.

Spent the entire day on Flamenco beach relaxing. All the cobwebs and detritus from our minds were being exposed by the cheerful sunshine and blown away by the refreshing trade winds.

We picked up some faux-inner tubes with a tire painted on it. Mabel wanted to ride the waves.

Fishing tomorrow. Planning to meet our guide at 6:30 AM.

Puerto Rico Day 2: 1/5/13

We went to a little airport called Isla Grande. They asked us how much we weighed and also weighed our luggage (max 30 lbs/person) though it was irrelevant - we were the only passengers on the eight-seater puddlejumper to Culebra.

When we got close to the island, we got the impression that this wasn’t going to be the easiest landing – the pilot had to navigate between two hills and make a sharp drop and turn in descent; the plane wavered a little, but we made a safe landing. 

We picked up our rental jeep (removable roof!) and checked in at the Villa Flamenco Beach. It was just our style – a non-fussy, clean and homey apartment with a kitchenette and the beach as a backyard. We got a run-down of the house rules from Max and then proceeded to the beach. 

The beach – probably one of the most stunning and beautiful beaches we had ever been on with fine white sand and clear, sea green water that deepened into turquoise and then a dark blue. When we jumped into the water, we felt like we were swimming in a liquid emerald. 

We found a group of kiosks on the western end of the beach. 

We had a ballanina mixta (basically a deliciously garlicky-oily seafood salad with octopus, shrimp, and crab on a fried flat pastry) and freshly made mofongo with a pork chop.

There were tons of mangy cats napping or sniffing for food. 

A random rooster prowled the premises and occasionally cock-a-doodle-dooed.

After a few more hours on the beach, we headed into town, bought some supplies, and then had dinner at Zaco’s Tacos. Really good pork belly tacos. 

We came back to the beach and looked at the sky; we saw our friend Orion. Dave used his app to find Russian and Japanese satellites. It also detected some space trash that was being tracked. We headed back and played Snood until we felt sleepy.