PART 3- CALMS SEAS AND HEADWINDS - THE WEST AND SOUTH
June 24th - Day 8
I was fortunate the tide did not reach me last night. A couple of waves came close enough for me to hear the rushing water soaking up by the dry sand.
Around midnight I was awakened by the blasting sound of Reggaeton, followed by puffs of green and red fireworks. June 23rd is Noche de San Juan when all of Puerto Rico heads out to the beaches after dark to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist. “Yes, it’s a big night in Puerto Rico, everyone parties on the beach, jumps over the waves and light up firecrackers until sunrise. Very fun times, ” my Puerto Rican friend later told me. The locals in Aguadilla were certainly enjoying their time to the fullest. The blaring Reggaeton was so loud it was drowning out the fireworks and I tried to mentally tune out the beating rhythm to get some sleep.
In the morning things had quieted down. As I packed up I only heard an odd car or two drive by in the distance blaring out more of the same numbing music that had been going on all night. The waters were calm, and I quickly covered the last eight miles to the tip of the Rincon peninsula, and rounded the westernmost point in Puerto Rico. At the very end was an enormous dome which looked like an observatory, but I later discovered it was the entombment of an abandoned nuclear power plant. I had never heard of there being a nuclear power plant in Puerto Rico, but in the 1960s, the island was the testing site for a new type of nuclear plant where the steam produced would make a second pass through the reactor, pick up extra energy and avoid condensation after turning the turbines. The project was a big deal for Puerto Rico as it would have provided all of the island’s power needs and then some. However, the reactor was plagued with operational problems, never functioned at full capacity for very long, and was eventually decommissioned. I’m sure that a few locals complaining about their cancer also didn’t help the project’s image. On my way around the cape, I saw a boat dropping lobster traps, and I wondered if perhaps the lobsters were unusually large in these waters.
After four days of camping, I decided that I could go with a one-night hotel stay. Yesterday my shorts pulled against my legs when I slid into the cockpit, and the willy hammock chaffed hard on my groin and pinched my scrotum. This hurt a lot when it happened, and the sea water made for a constant discomfort that could only be abated with a freshwater bath and a good night sleep. I looked on google maps to see what there might be in the vicinity of Rincon and found a small suburb close to Mayaguez that had a beachside hotel with a funny name, the “Yukayeke” Resort.
I located the entrance from the beach which was hidden in the bushes barely visible from the water and went in to take a look. There seemed to be no one around. No guests, no staff; the only sound was a waterfall cascading into an inviting swimming pool and the odd thunder storm rumbling in the distance but steadily getting louder and closer. “Oh, this place is very pleasant, but where could everyone be?” I thought as I walked down a footpath under the shade of overhanging trees. Eventually someone heard my calling. A old lady missing a front tooth walked out of a room where she had been laying in her bed watching a soap opera on the TV. “I’m sorry, we’re fully booked,” she said
“You can’t be serious. There’s no one here.”
“It looks like that, but we have a Quinceñera that starts today and will go until the weekend. Everyone is arriving tonight.” Quinceñeras are a girl’s coming of age birthday party in most of Latin America when a girl turns fifteen marking the transition to womanhood. It’s always a big deal, but I’ve never heard of one that went on for four days.
“You can check the Rancho Grande Restaurant next door. The lady who owns it is my sister. Her name is Lourdes, and she sometimes rents a room. Tell her that you spoke with Miranda and that you’re looking for a place to stay. You might want to go quickly; it’s going to pour.”
She wasn’t kidding about the rain. Walking outside became more like swimming; tin roofs from nearby buildings rattled like they were being pelted with stones, and the gutters were gushing like fire hoses. In twenty minutes however, it was over, and the sun was shining above dozens of brimming potholes.
I was soaked but refreshed from having the salt washed away from my skin, and my scrotum which was making me walk funny. The restaurant was a large, roofed outdoor patio facing the beach with dozens of free chickens running around. There were no customers (I think due to the storm that had just passed), the only person was a lady seated at a table tallying up receipts. She was absorbed in what she was doing and didn’t notice as I approached.
“Hi, I’m looking for Lourdes.” I said. She took a freight as she realized I was there, and I saw that she had a really big mole above her lip.
“Yes, that’s me. Can I help you?”
“Miranda next door told me you might have a room to rent for the night.”
“Yes I do, but it’s not a room. It’s a two-bedroom apartment. I’ll rent it to you for $90 if you pay cash.”
I thought that was a great deal given how expensive hotel rooms were in San Juan. I paid her right then and there. “Oh, by the way, I have a very big kayak on the beach I’m traveling with. Is there a chance you have a place to put it?”
“A kayak, yes. My husband runs a kayaking business. He takes people out on the lagoon just behind us. You can leave it in our yard. It will be safe there. We are still serving lunch for the next 30 minutes. The only dish right now is mofongo relleno with chicken.”
I was hungry enough to give the mofongo a second chance at a first impression.
June 25th - Day 9
Yesterday afternoon I had a chat with Lourdes’ husband who runs the kayak business. He was an American with a Nordic Scandinavian appearance that would stand out in any crowd in Puerto Rico, but he spoke fluent Spanish. He’d lived here for over twenty years. “I won’t lie to you; I never liked the cold winters up in Minnesota. I was born there, but I wasn’t born to be there. I came here once on a summer vacation and decided that the next time I came I would not be leaving. Life has a different pace here, it’s much more peaceful.”
“When you go out on your kayak tomorrow, be a little careful when you pass the mouth of the Añasco river just south of here. When the fisherman clean the fish there, they will throw the scales back in the water and the sharks go absolutely livid. Don’t fall in the water there.”
In the morning, the sea was flat like a mirror. The West coast of Puerto Rico is in the shadow of the trade winds which get held up in the central mountains. However, yesterday’s afternoon noon downpour seems to be an almost daily occurrence. Around 1:00pm I noticed very heavy clouds gathering over the land marching steadily towards me. I checked the forecast on my phone, and it showed an amoeba blob of orange and red just East of Mayaguez soon to be on top of me. I decided to quicken the southward pace hoping that the storm would miss me.
I stopped at a small island for a rest where I met with two snorkelers who had swum in from the Mainland. They pointed out to me the beach where they’d come from and that not far from the road was a supermarket. Although I still had food and water for a few more days, I decided to stop for supplies. I found the one thing I like to eat but was missing thus far on this journey; canned ravioli and meatball pasta from Chef Boyardee. To me it’s one of those adventure foods I would never eat at home as it’s really boring food, but after days of eating nothing but canned tuna, cold pasta with generous amounts of powdered cheese was a welcomed variety on the menu.
From North to South, Puerto Rico is only about forty miles. In the late afternoon I reached Boqueron bay which is the last bay before rounding the South West corner. Up to now the journey has been the easy stretch. With the wind in my back, I’ve covered one third of the whole distance around the island in less than a fifth of the time I’ve given myself. Tomorrow however, the tough part into the wind begins. On the last two miles today I got a taste of what’s to come. Gusts whipped up short pounding waves that made forward progress almost impossible. I gave up on the intended campsite on the beach at the back of the bay as I would have had to paddle directly into the wind to get there; instead, I decided to cross the bay by going due South taking on the winds from the side. I saw a stretch of sand with a couple of boats anchored nearby and some swimmers. It seemed good enough to camp for the night.