Updated: May 15
Yesterday’s paddle exhausted me. Not just physically, but mentally as well. I’m disappointed that the majority of the places I stop at are covered in trash, rotten seaweed is everywhere and there is no reprieve from the repetitive salsa and merengue drum beat.
I had planned to make today a short paddle and stay a night at the Ponce Hilton resort which was only 5 miles further. I was looking forward to staying there. The beach was manicured and picked clean of trash and seaweed, there was a pool with a hydro-massage jacuzzi, and decent food. Best of all I could leave my kayak by the beach gate, and it would be an easy launch from there the next morning. Unfortunately when I arrived and walked through the lobby to the reception desk, they gave me the bad news. “We’re booked.” “Seriously? But it’s a Monday and it’s not even a holiday.” “We are booked all the way until August.” I would have thought that summer was the low tourist season in the Caribbean, especially with the hurricanes and excessive heat, but perhaps things are different now with the Covid pandemic and people everywhere really want an end to their quarantine and go somewhere.
It was very unfortunate to not stay at the Hilton. The next day I had hoped to get a very early start and make a crossing to Isla Caja de los Muertos which is only about 7 miles south from the mainland which the guide book noted was a little paradise with clear blue waters and fine white sands. But it has to be done in light winds, or I would risk drifting too far to the west and miss the island entirely. I considered camping on the Hilton beach, but I think the hotel guests would have issues seeing what I do every morning on almost every beach. Isla Caja de los Muertos will have to be for another adventure in another time. Having been kicked out a second time, and not knowing when my next shower might be, I decided to take a dip into the hotel swimming pool, kayak clothes and all, and wash off the salt, and then relax for five minutes in the jacuzzi. It was going to be another day of hard labor against the wind. I followed the coastline to the east in a narrow gap between the mainland and some barrier island close to shore rimmed by a reef. The swells were considerably bigger beyond the reef, and I had hoped to stay protected, but the path between the breakers and the mainland got progressively narrower and I soon ran out of both depth and width to paddle in. I looked south and thought I saw a gap on the reef where the water was deeper and would allow me to pass into the ocean side. I turned right and started paddling towards the breaker zone, but I soon realized that was a big mistake. When the first bigger wave came at me it pulled the water from under my kayak revealing several dark coral heads like a denture full of cavities. The kayak bow bumped hard on a rock and screeched to a halt. When I paddled backwards, then the rudder hit the rocks as well. For a second I thought I was pinned in place, and that would have been catastrophic. I would have had to get out of the kayak, scrape myself on the sharp coral, free up the loaded kayak, while not getting hammered on the next wave which would probably pick up the boat and toss it into another rock. Who knows how many cracks I would have on my hull, and how much time I would need to fix it.
Fortunately, none of that came to pass. The wave broke gently, lifted me up, and I just slowly drifted backwards to freedom. I later looked for any scuffs on the hull and they only seemed superficial, mostly only scraping the paint protection tape and the keel strip. Thank God, I thought, disaster averted. I paddled back the quarter mile and went around the reef on the ocean side. This was one of those situations you get in once and learn never to take the risk again. Why not paddle an extra fifteen minutes for peace of mind?
With the Hilton out of the plans, I started looking where else I could stay. About 12 miles further I located another hotel close enough to a beach that I could dolly the kayak with the gear. When I arrived at the beach, I was distraught. The landing was full of boulders, and there was a three-foot nearly vertical escarpment where the waves were breaking and it would be impossible to drag the kayak with all the gear inside. I bobbed on the water for a while thinking what to do. I got out of the boat in waist deep water and then scrambled as far as I could up the escarpment with the boat in toe before the water rushed back leaving the boat pinned at both ends which didn’t do the section hinges and favors. I emptied the hatches by throwing the gear farther up the beach to get out of that untenable position as quickly as possible. I have no idea how I’m going to launch from this place tomorrow. The dolly is a really bulky item that takes up valuable space in the stern hatch, but I have found it to be essential when kayaking alone. I placed most of the gear inside the cockpit section so the weight was balanced over the wheels and slowly pulled everything along.
This roadside hotel I found was a really strange place. For a start, the price of $33 per night was suspiciously cheap. When I walked in through the gate there was no reception or anybody there, and the rooms were parking garages with a phone number on the door. I called, and a lady answered the phone. “Walk into one of the garages with an open hangar.” She said. “Ok. I’m inside number 1.” I heard a bell ring and a door inside the garage unlocked. “Ok now at the end of the room there is a small trap door with a bell and a cup. Put your payment in the basket and ring the bell. Cash only please.” I opened the trap door and saw there was a small crucible with a string attached. I put two $20 bills in it and rang the bell. A little hand pulled on the string and lifted the crucible up a small shaft. A minute later the crucible was lowered back down with the change and a receipt. “You’re good.”
“What about keys?”
“There is no key. Just don’t close the garage door if you walk out. Otherwise, you need to call and speak to whomever is staffing the graveyard shift.” I looked around the room and saw that the walls were made of bathroom tiles, all the furniture was bolted to the floor, and there were giant mirrors everywhere, including one on the ceiling.
“Oh, this is a shag motel…” I realized. Well, I don’t care as long as the bed sheets don’t have anything sticky, and the shower works. I slept well this night.
Sea Kayak Puerto Rico Circumnavigation