PART 2- SAN JUAN AND THE NORTH COSAST
June 17th - Day 1 - San Juan
The flight from Miami to San Juan took off on schedule. It was packed, but I was assigned a window seat and I passed the time looking over the Bahamas trying to make out the shapes of the different islands. I’m pretty sure we flew over Andros, the Exumas, and maybe the Turk’s and Caicos. Eventually, however, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, we had already begun the descent. I noticed the waves had many white caps like bread crumbs on a blueberry yogurt. I would have liked to know how big the waves were, to see how my kayak would compare, but I could not spot any vessel for reference. From high up above, the ocean waves look calm and tranquil.
The arrival at San Juan international airport was chaotic. Before landing I had to fill out a Covid19 status application confirming I had been vaccinated, but the online form was incredibly long filled with superfluous requirements. Why is my age needed after I gave my date of birth, or the flight information, after I gave the flight number? Strangest of all, why my employment status, profession, and employer information is relevant I have no idea. If they had just asked for my political party affiliation, that would probably be far more informative about my COVID status.
The hardest part of the application was uploading a photograph of the vaccination card. Their system would crash for lack of bandwidth, and the whole process had to be restarted. I was successful on the third attempt and received an email with a QR code, but in the end, the entire effort was for nothing. The QR code scanner at the airport was not working, and a huge line of impatient and sweaty people formed at the exit of the baggage terminal where two health officials were checking everyone’s vaccine card and temperature. If it weren’t for the masks, the collective discontent would be evident on everyone’s face. After about an hour I was finally through and on my way.
I picked a hotel close to the beach to minimize the distance I need to portage the kayak. Fortunately, I found just such a place on google earth, a hostel called the Sandy Beach Hotel on Condado beach just one building behind the sand. Adding to my good fortune, behind the hotel was a CVS and a Walgreens pharmacy with all the variety of power bars and canned fish I could ever want for the start of the journey. After my Florida Expedition, I’ve concluded that I am not the type that likes to camp and cook. The cooking stove, gas and utensils take up a lot of room, and cooking is time consuming. Although reasonable people may disagree with me, I find that smoked canned salmon, and tuna in tomato sauce are quite good.
After checking into the hotel I took a walk down to the beach. There were a few breakers on submerged rocks some distance out, and a few waves kicking up some sand when they broke on shore. I wouldn’t normally consider these to be challenging conditions, but compared to what I paddle in Miami, they would be a rough day. I looked to find the best place to launch from. The beach had two sides separated by some rocks. The east side was flatter and the waves gentler, but there were also lots of rocks which I would be keen to avoid, especially on the first day. The west side was quite a bit steeper, with rougher waves, but they seemed to come in sets and in between it was fairly calm; the slope would make it easier to slide into the water with the loaded kayak and the portage would be shorter, and there were no rocks. I decided that would be the launching point.
The Eastern trade wind became very strong around 2:00pm. I asked the front desk at the Sandy Beach Hotel what they thought of it. “Oh, that’s pretty usual. It’s calmer in the morning, and then builds throughout the day before dying down in the evening. You’re the guy who said you would be bringing a kayak, I would recommend you don’t go too far downwind. It will be tough getting back.”
“Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind.”