A Short Stay In Puerto Rico

Once officially cleared back into the U.S., we enjoyed a bit of down time. The last of our San Blas lobsters had escaped the eye of the customs officer (safely hidden in the back of the freezer), so I thawed them out for a celebratory lobster curry dinner. With no idea of when we’d find good lobster fishing or availability in the eastern Caribbean, we savored our yummy dinner.

From our slip, we had views of many birds and pelicans roosting in a huge mangrove nearby, keeping Howard amused for hours.

Paseo Tablado La Guancha, was across the bay from the marina, a boardwalk with many food stalls and local music. We wandered over one afternoon, to scope out options for a return evening visit.

In the evening, the boardwalk was full of yummy smells and lively music. We met our slip neighbors, Rick and Lori (s/v Papa Whiskey), for some food and drink.

Our decision to head for Puerto Rico from Colombia was made to get us farther east, rather than landing in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic. Our decision to land at Ponce was made for provisioning reasons. With a Super Walmart, Home Depot, PetSmart, several large grocery stores, and even an Ikea, Ponce provided great options for stocking the boat. We rented a car and headed off for a day of shopping. First stop, Playa Marine, a small store so out of the way, I’m surprised anyone finds it.

 

Scott didn’t find the anodes he was looking for, but we did get a can of varnish that was on clearance…hoping it was still good.

We headed back to town, amazed by the number of windmills in the area; they were everywhere.

 

And in case you forgot, there were constant reminders that you were in Ponce:

We made stops at the local grocery store, Walmart, PetSmart and Home Depot, filling the car. There was also the usual fast-food lunch, as well as a stop at the McDonald’s ice cream counter.

The plan was to make our way along the southern coast of Puerto Rico, and then spend time in the Spanish Virgins, before moving on to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, I received word from home that my mother had fallen, breaking two bones in her leg. Wanting to be there to help, I planned to fly home for a month. I could have flown right from Puerto Rico, but traveling from St. Thomas would be just as easy, and it put us that much farther east.

Weather didn’t allow for a smooth passage right to St. Thomas, so we planned to make a stop at Culebra, in the Spanish Virgins. We left Ponce, and followed the mountainous, windmill-lined coast to our overnight anchorage.

We anchored for the night off of southern coast, approximately five miles from the town of Salinas, surrounded by mountains and mangroves.

 

Howard relaxed and enjoyed the smells of the open boat at anchor, after a week of being stuck inside at the slip in Ponce.

It had been a cloudy, rainy day, but the late afternoon brought sunshine and blue skies. We had the area all to ourselves, and enjoyed the quiet, scenic spot. A beautiful send off, on our way east. Here are a few more photos.

 “Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

We’re In Cartagena!!

Yes, you heard me right, we arrived in Cartagena, Colombia yesterday am, after a 31 hour trip from Snug Harbor, one of the more eastern islands in the San Blas.

Our trip got off to a more bumpy start than expected, and as predicted, the winds and seas picked up overnight (not Scott or Howard’s favorite trip, so they weathered most of it out on the couch together). Thankfully, by the time we made the turn for our final leg…into straight-on head seas, both wind and wave conditions had calmed wonderfully.

We hadn’t planned to visit Colombia at all, but everyone we’ve met over the last 18 months who’s visited the city says not to miss it, so here we are. Between the Miami-like high rises, lies the old, walled city. Like the forts we visited in Portobelo, Panama, the walled area is also a World Heritage UNSECO site. We’ve been told that the old city has a very European feel, and are anxious to explore the area.

Sea Life is now comfortably tied in a slip at Club de Pesca, which is right next to a bridge that leads to the walled city. Good news…we are now back in the land of reliable internet! Please bear with me, while I upload and edit the zillion San Blas photos we have left to share, and then post about the remainder of our wonderful time there.

In the meantime, check out our route here, using the link on the “Where Are We Now” page. and soon we’ll get to some Cartagena adventures!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Happy Anniversary To Us!

Yesterday we celebrated our nine year anniversary. The weather was far better nine years ago, as we were wed on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.

After thinking we had to put our celebratory dinner on hold, due to hours and hours of biblical rain, the waterworks finally subsided in the late afternoon yesterday and we hopped a water taxi to town. We enjoyed margaritas at The Pub, Indian food at OM and a brief walk through town before taking another taxi back here to the marina.

I’m still having uploading issues, so photo editing and posting has come to a halt. Fingers are crossed that all will be resolved this weekend, and I can start to catch up next week.

The past nine years has been full of fun and laughter, new experiences, time with friends (old and new) and of course this incredible adventure….Cheers to nine years!

 

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

We’re In Panama!…More To Come

We arrived in Panama on Monday morning, but have been plagued with technical difficulties. Currently, I cannot upload photos, and hope to have the issue resolved next week.

Stay tuned for news on our last days in the Albuquerque Cays, and our final leg to Panama!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Isla Mujeres

Our marina is located outside of downtown Isla Mujeres. Once customs, laundry, grocery shopping and boat washing were done, we unloaded our bikes and made the easy ride to town, which takes less than ten minutes.

The most popular modes of transportation here are golf carts and scooters. Most all of the cars are cabs, personal cars and trucks are few and far between. There is only one road to and from town, and it’s pretty much a free-for-all. People cross whenever and wherever they want to, and carts, scooters and cabs turn off and onto the road at will. They will also stop to park alongside the road without warning. This all puts any driver’s education simulator to shame! Our first trip to town was a bit nerve wracking, but since then, we just go with it.

Downtown is much more congested than the area where our marina/hotel is located. The main street is jammed with shops and convenience stores, banks, hotels and restaurants. One side of the main street is along the water and beach front. A large ferry terminal, which takes both people and cars to Cancun and Puerto Juarez is constantly swarming with people coming in and out. Stands also line the sidewalk, for people to sign up for various tours, or to rent a golf cart or scooter. For such a small island, it’s quite the sensory overload.

We decided to get off of the main street, seeking a quieter route. The side streets are overall quieter, with many being pedestrian only. They are jammed with stall selling various goods, and all types of restaurants and take away food stands. What is unnerving here, is the constant berating of the stall owners, trying to get you to come and see their wares. We were on an automated loop of “No, gracias,” or no thank you. Many don’t get the message, or don’t care, and continue to bother you. Scott wants to change his mantra for them to “No deniro.” or no money ! We’d probably have more luck at getting left alone!

Aside from that which we eventually just got used to and blocked out, we have enjoyed walking the streets and having lunch in a few places for dirt cheap tacos and icy, cold beer. We’re not sure how much more time we’ll spend in town, thinking that we’d rather explore the quieter end, near our current home base.

Here are some photos that we took of downtown Isla Mujeres.

Atlantic Dolphins!

On our first ocean leg, from Beaufort North Carolina to Charleston South Carolina, we had dolphins travel with us for quite some time…a lot of dolphins! I finally have the video compressed enough to share online..so here it is!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Loggerhead Key

Loggerhead Key was named for the abundance of loggerhead sea turtles in the area (the Dry Tortugas support the largest green and loggerhead turtle nesting grounds in the Florida Keys). Mariners were often attracted to the area, looking for the natural food source that the turtles provided. However, the shoals and reefs here proved dangerous. Proximity to the nearby shipping lanes of the Gulf of Mexico, make the area a natural “ship trap,” and more than 250 shipwrecks have been documented in the waters surrounding the Dry Tortugas.

When the United States acquired Florida from Spain, they were immediately interested in constructing a lighthouse in the tortugas, to protect mariners in the areas. The original lighthouse built was on Garden Key, the site of Fort Jefferson. It was later replaced by the current iron light that sits on the top of Fort Jefferson. Iron was used because bricks could shatter if hit by enemy fire, and send debris flying into the fort.

Unfortunately, it proved to be too short, too dim and too far from other reefs, so construction began on a taller lighthouse on Loggerhead Key. This light could be seen 53 miles away, and in the 1930s, it was the brightest light in North America.

Significant scientific research was conducted on Loggerhead Key, by the Laboratory for Marine Ecology, which was operated by the Carnegie Institute. The lab studied the reefs and waters of the tortugas from 1905-1939. They took the first underwater black and white, and color photography, and performed the first heart transplant…..on a nurse shark! The lab was destroyed by hurricanes over the years, but there is still a monument to the it’s founder on Loggerhead Key.

The lighthouse was maintained by light keepers through World War II, when the duty was transferred to the US Coast Guard. A single light keeper would stay on site for six weeks, and then have a three weeks off ashore. It’s noted that their main complaints were..lack of women, having to cook for themselves and boredom from isolation. In 1982, the light was fully automated, and all Coast Guard staff left the island.

We have been enjoying the view of the lighthouse, flanked by palm trees, while anchored here.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson is visited every day by a large, fast ferry from Key West. It travels roughly 2.5 hours to get here, and brings daily tourists as well as those who wish to camp on the island. Visitors can tour and explore the fort, walk the beaches, and snorkel the waters. While the ferry is here it is part of the fort, so all who are here (boater, park rangers, etc.) have use of it (restrooms, etc., in place of the composting ones by the campsites). You are also welcome to pay for lunch aboard, sandwiches, salads, chips, cookies, etc. We have also heard that you can purchase bags of ice from the ferry…a handy perk!

Scott and I have spent several days ashore, touring and learning about the fort. National Park ranger Mike is very, very knowledgeable and informative on many subjects related to the fort. Here are a few highlights that we learned from him:

The US government built Fort Jefferson on Garden Key because of its natural deep water harbor, protected by the surrounding shoals. They knew that controlling navigation to the Gulf of Mexico, and protecting Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade would be possible by fortifying the tortugas. It was the most remote, but still a vital link in a chain of coastal forts that stretched from Maine to California.

Construction of the fort started in 1846, and went on for 30 years but was never finished. Supply problems and the Civil War delayed construction, and it became obsolete before it was completed. Still, it is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States and features 2,000 arches. The lower two tiers are made up of tan bricks that came from brickyards near Pensacola. After Florida left the Union, red bricks for the fort’s top wall were shipped 2,000 miles from Maine. In all, over 16 million bricks were used in construction of the fort. Scott can’t stop commenting on how many bricks there are, and the sheer size of it all. He says that if he were a brick layer here, he’d kill himself!

Twenty percent of the workers constructing the fort were enslaved African Americans, hired from owners in Key West. Owners were typically paid 20.00 a month per slave. The slaves were given some of the more difficult tasks, including collecting and transporting coral rock from nearby islands. The rock was the main ingredient in making coral concrete for construction of the fort.

At its fullest, the fort was home to nearly 2,000 people, made up of soldiers and some of their families; prisoners, who also worked on the ongoing construction of the fort; slaves, who worked along with the prisoners and some of their families, who worked at cooking or doing laundry. There were also shops that sold goods that were shipped in from Key West, as well as those who provided services.

The fort was set up to support 1,500 people for a year. Food consisted of mostly salted meats (including salt pork that often still had hairs on it…bleh!) and dry biscuits. Cisterns were built to collect rainwater, that was filtered through sand. However, the weight of the fort caused it to settle, producing cracks in the bricks along the walls and in the cisterns, contaminating the water. Sections of the fort were intentionally never finished, for fear that additional weight would cause further settling and cracking.

During the Civil War, the fort served as a Union military prison for captured deserters. Some of the reasons for their arrest are quite amusing. One man received a sentence for being a straggler, and another for the charge of “worthlessness!”

Among the prisoners were four men who were convicted of being involved in the assassination of President Lincoln, one of whom was Dr. Samuel Mudd (Dr. Mudd set the broken leg of John Wilks booth, who shot Lincoln). When yellow fever spread through the fort, the doctor on site fell ill and died. Dr. Mudd stepped in, and treated the sick. Afterward, he remained the fort doctor, and was eventually pardoned and released.

In the 60s, the park rangers took it upon themselves to blow up the enlisted men’s barracks, which had fallen into disrepair. When the government questioned why they would do this, the answer was: “There’s nothing that says we can’t.” As a result of this, the national preservation for historic places was enacted, requiring that those who wish to restore or remodel historic houses/sites to adhere to guidelines.

Today, the rangers work for 10 days, and then have four days off, if they choose, they can catch a ride to Key West on the ferry or the sea plane that makes several trips here a day. There are modern apartments here for them to live in, that have been built into the wall of the fort. They have a water maker on site, and water is stored in a cistern. Electricity is supplied by generator, and gas, food, mail and other supplies come by boat from Key West every few weeks.

Here are more photos of the fort, and tidbits that we learned from Ranger Mike!