I got up at 5am to put the boat on the water with all the gear and get some rolling practice. The wind was much calmer which gave me a good feeling. I set up the kayak sections on the street and wheeled the boat up to the sand with my dolly. The beach was empty, except for two local hobos asleep on top two stacks of hotel beach chairs. I set the kayak down on the sloped side of the beach and made three trips back to the hotel to grab all my gear. I packed everything into the hatches, put on my helmet, sat in the boat, and waited for a gap in the waves. When the gap appeared, I gave two strong pushes and the boat slid down the fine wet sand with ease and I started paddling fast past the breaker zone.
The water was choppy, but paddling didn’t feel strenuous. I practiced a few rolls with both my euro blade, and the wing paddle. To my great relief, the rolls felt natural, and I wasn’t getting the issue where the added weight makes starting the roll difficult. I rolled both on my good side and my offside, and both with the swell, and against the swell. That gave me a strong boost of confidence that if something bad happens, I won’t need to do a wet exit and reentry, probably.
I then practiced a few launches and landings through the surf. For the landings I got right up to the breakers just 15 feet from the sand, there I did four strong backstrokes to let the wave behind me pass underneath and break just up ahead for a soft landing. When the bow touched the sand I threw the paddle up the beach, got out quickly, and pulled the kayak up before the next wave. I stuck the landing every time and unashamedly would give myself an A grade on all my landings. Admittedly, however, the waves were barely over 4 feet. I’ve seen a video on YouTube where a 10-foot barrel breaks right on the sand; in those conditions, if you get the timing right, the landing would not be much different, but get it wrong, and the wave will smack your face on the sand and crush the boat on top of you.
My only complaint from today’s practice is that the Lifeproof box for the new iPhone is really hard to use with wet gloves. Something must have changed with the screen material, because it wasn’t like that on the Florida journey. That will make it hard to take pictures and check the GPS out on the water. By around 10 am the wind started to pick up and I felt I’d had enough practice and built up enough confidence. No need to push things too hard on the first day.
I spent the rest of the day sightseeing in San Juan. The city feels a lot like Miami. Everyone speaks Spanish, all the cab drivers play salsa on the radio, and there is near continuous rush hour traffic. I noticed one peculiar thing on the city map, almost all the place and street names are Spanish, but there’s a few American oddities that catch the eye like Ashcroft Avenue, Roosevelt Road, Calle Lincoln, and Garfield Cut. Subtle reminders of where the latest Puerto Rico patrons come from.
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From my hotel on Condado beach, I walked about 40-minutes to the old city. This part of San Juan is a contrast to the ugly modern box buildings everywhere else. Here I walked through a labyrinth of narrow stone cobbled streets under the shade of colorful two-story buildings with balconies decorated with hanging flower baskets and vines. Occasionally the street I was in would outflow into a plaza with a small fountain, a view of San Juan bay, or a tree lined square. It’s a wonderful place to lose yourself in and pretend for a moment to be transported back in time. Or it would be, if it were not for that; nearly every street in the old city is jam packed with cars bumper to bumper and there is hardly enough room for a pedestrian. All this traffic takes a toll on the place; the engine noise is constant, and many cobblestones are sagging from a load they were never designed to handle. The municipality really needs to ban all cars except for service vehicles, otherwise
Defending the old city and the entrance to San Juan bay like a closed fist is a colossal stone fort called El Morro. The walls of the fort along the Atlantic Ocean are as thick as I am tall, and it would have taken a lot of cannon balls to knock a hole through them. Unfortunately for El Morro, modern warfare has made walls obsolete. Although the Spaniards repelled the English, the French, and the Dutch, through the ages, they were no match for the Americans with their battleships and Artillery. During the Spanish American War, the US Navy bombarded El morro and pulverized a good chunk of the sea wall including the old lighthouse. The Spaniards surrendered soon after. The lighthouse and the main watch tower were rebuilt, but it’s very obvious they have a modern look to them. Inside the fort is a labyrinth of corridors, narrow passages, and some very steep inclines which I cannot imagine how many slaves would have been to drag a brass cannon up to the turrets.
After some walking around old San Juan I came across a restaurant that said it served authentic Puerto Rican food. Not knowing what Puerto Rican food is, I went with the waiter’s suggestion to try something called Mofongo, which he said was like mashed potatoes, only a little thicker as made from plantains and yucca. “Puerto Ricans love it from the time they are children,” he said. I ordered the churrasco variety, but what came was my least favorite thing to eat; green peppers and goopy onions, all of which I had to diligently scrape off. Unfortunately, the meat picked up so much of the pungent pepper taste that it was not edible, and the poor mofongo which was underneath it all was so soaked in the sauces that it had the consistency of wet bread for catching fish. I don’t think I will be ordering Mofongo again.
Sea Kayak Puerto Rico Circumnavigation