Sunday, April 24, 2011

Puerto Rico - Two Weeks in Ponce & Ceiba

April 24, 2011 Easter Sunday

 Pulling anchor early, we cruised along the western coast to Ponce Yacht & Fishing Club on the southern coast.   The marina is nice, but we think way overpriced!  Many of the facilities are closed, including the restaurant and it is a long way from anywhere.
However, we have no options as we must be in San Juan tomorrow for Andy’s doctor appointment.  The next marina is a day’s travel up to Fajardo from here and we've run out of time!    We shall drive to San Juan with friends who live here and are helping us out.

Olga Lebron Colon  & Sam Colon
My friend from my days at Novartis, Olga Lebron and her husband, Sam Colon, met us at the Ponce Yacht Club, spending the night on board.  It is so wonderful to catch up with friends!
Our visit, however, had a bit of an ominous  overtone.  Andy’s heart has been giving me concern -- remember my comments about him having a heart attack after walking to Customs/Immigration on Turks & Caicos?  Well, a couple more of those episodes upon milder exertion worried me.

At my request, Olga had made arrangements for him to see a Cardiologist in San Juan on Monday.  She and Sam took us there, translated everything for us and helped us navigate the medical system.

Yup, four days of medical tests, including echo cardiograms, nuclear stress tests, etc. and a cardiac catherization on Friday turned up an electrical problem with the heart but no blockages and no damage to the heart.  We hope the meds prescribed for this will do the trick, with no further interventions needed. 

Statutes in the park next to our Hotel in  San Juan
A group of really great statutes

Don't know what they depict but like the statutes in the Park

We stayed at a wonderful first class, but pricy, old hotel in Old San Juan (the Convento Hotel - a former convent) and walked around a bit on Monday night and Tuesday afternoon after tests.

Old San Juan
The Old San Juan 'Castillo El Moro'

Cemetery at edge of Old San Juan Fort

Same cemetery Note how different these are from the USA ones

We then moved into Olga’s house for the remainder of the week and to complete all the medical tests scheduled every day for the remainder of the week.  She and Sam were over the top wonderful, staying with us the entire week, driving us around, translating everything, feeding us and keeping us.  What friends!  We would have been crazed without them. 

Cardiovascular Center, Puerto Rico

I could not even fill out the paperwork as it was all Spanish!   Long story short, the physicians were first class & speak English extremely well; the treatment received excellent; everyone more than helpful in spite of the language difficulty and Medicare and Tricare are accepted here as PR is considered USA.

A couple of the differences in culture and medical practice, however, made us pause and ultimately giggle.  When one checks into the hospital we had to bring our own pillow, our own blanket and a urinal for Andy.  Too funny........  Also, there are no appointments to see the doctor.  You have an appointment for the specific day (I think) but no time.  Just show up whenever and WAIT... sometimes for hours.  Also, when one enters the waiting room, each person loudly and thoroughly greets the other patients sitting there... Good Day!  Each patient answers back, Good day.   Elevators are the same way - friendly greetings abound.  We should be so friendly in the USA!

We will now stay in Puerto Rico until after a checkup on May 11 with the Cardiologist who did the heart cath.  This puts a squeeze on our travel to Grenada, with a June 1 date looming for our arrival there due to insurance requirements to get us below the hurricane belt.    I am attempting to work out a mutual agreement with our boat insurance company to get the proper coverage.  If we are not where we are supposed to be, we are in breach of warranty and have NO insurance for anything that goes wrong...not just no insurance if hit by a hurricane.

May 1, 2011 Sunday

Departing San Juan a day after his cardiac catherization and back on Finally Fun a week after we left Ponce, Andy slept for hours and then on through the night.
 Andy departing Cardiovascular Center

All is well, he feels fine expect for pain in the groin from the incision.

We are hanging out, resting and catching up with family via our new GO PHONE we just bought.  Communication is still difficult.  We can’t purchase a SIM card here for our new unlocked phone as this area has coverage by ATT and they don’t allow such things.    It is all about the money - they want everyone to sign up for their annual contracts.  So, finally, with the help of Olga’s technowiz daughters, we learned that there is a GO Phone.  For $25 we bought the phone, filled it with minutes purchased separately and no plan required.  It is $2 a day IF you use the phone (incoming or outgoing data or call).  If not used, no $2 fee for that day.  This is a pretty good deal for us as it will only work here in PR and in the US Virgin Islands  and of course, in the States-- all USA. Once we are out of USVI, we will again be without phone till we get to Grenada and can purchase a SIM card and minutes.  We cannot figure out any other international system....and a Satellite Phone at $1,000 plus about $2 a minute is more than we want to pay.  In the interim, we will certainly get our $2 a day worth of phone calls!

May 10, 2011 - Catching Up

In spite of the anxiety surrounding Andy’s newly developed irregular heart beats, which the medication is now controlling,  we’ve had the opportunity to explore more of Puerto Rico, while we waited for the ‘release’ from the doctor, so all has been good.

Ponce's finest Police Force

The Yacht Club had a family festival, complete with slides and jumping booths for the kids and food booths.  We wandered about, enjoying the show and meeting locals and eating the local food.

 Andy made a lot of new friends at Ponce Yacht Club festival!  I liked their uniforms!!

Sharon loves their uniforms!

Andy conversing with a statute in Ponce.  Maybe it is his new medication!! 
We ultimately moved the boat closer to San Juan, to Fajardo at the Marina del Rey, a full day of cruising for us.  A great place, cited as ‘the largest marina in the Caribbean’.  Prices were much more reasonable than at Ponce.

We will not take the boat to San Juan, yet another full day of cruising.  To get there would put us north of the route we wish to take to the USVI and also place us back in the Atlantic Ocean on the northern side of PR with too much big wave action,  and too many rocks and reefs to dance among.  Most boaters avoid that northern coast altogether.

Renting a car for a few days, we packed a bag, planning to drive 165 miles east to west along the central mountain (Cordillera Central) range, spending the night along the road somewhere.  Five hours later and not that many miles from the marina, high up the mountains, we twisted, turned  and went up/down at 25 MPH along the scenic rural roads, reversing ourselves more than once -- lost over and over.
Up in the mountains
Our map is poor, no GPS and  with limited ability to understand any of the road signs, we wandered about.  Ah well, we really did not care, for we were seeing the interior of PR and certainly not the tourist traps.

Guavate Traffic Jam
We rounded a corner on the highway and found ourselves in a huge traffic jam in what we thought was the middle of nowhere.

Ahhhh, we had stumbled into Guavate!  As luck would have it, we were in Guavate ON A SUNDAY.  Even better, it was Mother’s Day.  The little town was packed with people, cars lining both sides of the road for a mile in both directions and with little kiosks lining the streets selling all kinds of ‘stuff’, including trinkets and drinks.

The rest of him must have been an earlier dinner 


This town is noted for the pigs that are marinated for 3 days and then slowly roasted on a spit over an open fire.
Note even the head is cooked on the spit

Dancing in the street
Sunday is the day families gather here.  There are at least 5-6 restaurants, very casual with open air seating and all roasting pigs.  Each also had a live band, blasting away with local singers blasting in song.  People of all ages were packed inside and out - dancing away.  We LOVED it!

Some kind of gambling game

Betting on the horses
We wandered about, taking in the sights, noises and smells.  This was people watching times ten!

So much to see


More shoes

Love their shoes

How does one walk?

Everyone under age 30 LOVES these big shoes!

Even more shoes!

We got into the longest line, figuring that the locals would know which was the best restaurant to get the pig meat from.  Over 30 minutes later, we placed our order by pointing and hoping for the best. Plopping down at a table that had some space, we ate another absolutely tasty meal of roasted pork on a spit; rice, beans, with some kind of tomala that was sweeter than a Mexican one.  Andy got a milkshake that was made with, I swear, an entire can of Coco Lopez (even buy that?  It is sweeter than Sweet & Condensed Milk and is used as the basis for many of the sweet island type drinks)  with fresh pineapple and pineapple juice.  He loved it.  All 10,000 calories of it.

Spectacular scenery from atop the mountains

After a couple of hours, we reluctantly left, knowing we still had a long way to go across the length of the mountain chain.  Not wanting to be driving in the mountains after dark, and some hours from anything remotely resembling a motel, we reluctantly turned around and went back to the boat, taking a different route.

  No matter where we looked on either route, the vistas were breathtaking.  Often one could see the Caribbean Sea from high atop the mountain and the little villages along the shore. 
In the Central Cordillera Mountains

 This is rain forest territory and lush with the trees often forming a canopy over the road.  Air plants grow all over many of the trees in sizes that made my jaw drop.

Coffee is grown along these mountains, as are root vegetables and other crops.  The villages and small homes are built along the road, with the building sticking off the side of the mountain.  I would be uncomfortable being in one - they looked scary just hanging off the mountain into space.

So beautiful.  The sea or ocean is never far away

Gorgeous scenery from atop the mountains

After spending the night on board and not in a hotel as planned, we got up the next morning, heading out again.  We gave up our idea of traversing the  Cordillera Central,  instead taking the twisting little road (#3) that parallels the shoreline from Fajardo to Ponce.

Passing through one tiny town after the other, each with a town plaza and church in the center, we again thoroughly enjoyed the excursion.

Iguana sitting on the broken palm tree at Salinas Beach

Salinas, one of the larger towns along the way, was delightful - reminding me of a NJ town on the Jersey shore.

Colorful tiny houses, packed one against the other down to the beach  with spectacular views of the Sea, a tiny marina and small ‘mountains’ off in the distance made this the perfect place to stop for lunch.

  Eating at one of the local places perched on the beach, we enjoyed the sea breeze and the view.

Several locals stopped to chat with us, practicing their English.  We learned about the taxation system in PR; why it is great to retire here, etc.  Another delightful day among friendly folks in a beautiful setting!

This is an Auto Body Parts Store

We get a kick out of the challenges a foreign language can present!

   Body parts for sale?  No - auto body parts........grin

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