Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Further adventures of Chasing the Ana

Still Breathing

The sea is the sea. It is not always calm or serene or tranquil azure blue. Nothing in real life is like the post card, not even the 5 star resorts. Paddling a sea kayak around the island of Puerto Rico is not all calm seas, cold beer and bikinis. In fact it's just like paddling anywhere else on the sea, except occasionally a coconut floats by on the surface of a big wind swept wave.

It feels as if we've been paddling for days. (Mainly because we have. . .) We are tired and slipping a bit physically. We realized today we were eating almost no protein, a major mistake. We would rise to beat the wind and hit the water on granola. Yet, it's felt a bit like a race recently. Each day there is no choice to get up with the sun and rush to beat the wind only to have it find us in just a couple hours. Then the rest of the day it's a hard slog for every mile. Over the next couple days I will share more details. But for the moment let's just say we are glad for a few days off the water while we wait to see what "Dean" decides to do.

My "body count" keeps growing. I am taking meds for an ear infection as well others as for my raw and swollen legs. My ribs were feeling better until the last two days through oncoming winds and riled waves. Now again I am in pain with every movement. Yet I had been feeling signs of getting better and I hope the next couple days off the water will help set things right. My poor legs are raw. 1000 mosquito bites, 100 ant bites, sunburn, and a general infection soaked in constant salt water all come together to make for an exciting mix. Up until today, the only time I felt good was on the water, but the winds have taken their toll and even today’s paddle from St. Isabel to here in Guayama was a struggling "heads down" push. We could only keep reminding ourselves that tomorrow we wouldn’t paddle! Taino is in generally good condition but is worn down as well. Yet to cheer us up we can look at the chart and see we have made real progress and are on schedule even with this temporary break.

The last couple times on the south coast we have been met by our other Kayak Angel Yvonne R. Le Guillou, who has met us with more food than we can eat, water, and treats. Between Carrie, Jose, and Yvonne we are so very well taken care of. Yvonne has been working hard to get my various cards back to her home and uploaded to my flickr account. I just handed her another 2 gig card to sort through. (Poor girl!) She met us today (after a time) and with the help of a friend hauled all our gear to her home which now looks like the "Chasing The Ana" warehouse and public grill. I will be hang out here, watching the storm and touring the area, while Taino runs up into the mountains to visit family. Over the next couple days I will have some time to post some thoughts on the "show so far". Right now, I'm enjoying a glass of wine with ice and can't wait to experience a real bed again. As for Taino. . . he went to bed hours ago!
Hmmm, all day long I kept hearing Ringo Starr singing in my head. . "It don't come easy, you know it don't come easy. . . ."

Caribbean Crib Notes
(derrick at the north west coast)
I’m sitting with my feet up in the town of Guyama. Hurricane Dean is still quite some distance off but is already showing some signs of affecting the weather. A cool breeze rolls in the window along with the sounds of roosters crowing in all directions. Dogs and Chickens run free everywhere her in Puerto Rico. But, the dogs are NOT all rabid as some would suggest. Most are just roaming the streets looking for a hand out and a short friendly interaction before the roam off, sometimes alone and sometimes with a motley pack. I’ve come to love the many small dogs that seem to find us on every beach. They more often provide a comforting welcome than the “fear” I expected. Sure you have to watch them at first to be sure they are healthy, yet we’ve come this far and not yet had a bad experience with animals. Now on to my notes;

Gun Fire – The un-told story
We were tired we had been paddling hard through thick heat to get across the shipping channel in the bay of Mayaguez. Our goal was to land on the far southern side of the bay. During the crossing we were hearing gun fire. Taino, being in the Marines in the 80’s has a more than intimate knowledge of gunfire. We figured there must be a firing range somewhere. In time the gun fire stopped and we found in the distance a green building to aim for. Often here on public beaches you will find colorful green, yellow or red structures. However as we paddled closer just outside of a mile or so we recognized the red flags marking off a range. Still well away, we turned east and paddled out around the target area at a right angle and then turned south again to the east of the range and no where near the marked firing zone. In fact our minds had now moved on to other things, mainly taking a break. We saw a small fishing boat just ahead and more in shore we would pass on the outside, then turn around the head to land on the opposite. The first thing I thought was that flair had been fired. It sounded like a bottle rocket had flown past Tiano. Then another, then another. Taino recognized easily the sound of M16 fire and yelled something like, “Oh Sh*t!!”. My brain could not comprehend, things went into slow motion for me. Another “rocket” came behind my head with sort of a pressurized “snap!” in my ear that told it it went by very close. Too close. I sensed another crossed over my bow with a “hiss-pop” that later I realized was the bullet coming low and hitting the water. Later Taino shared similar close calls. In that “slow motion” mind set, we turned our boats away and paddled with everything we had, our heads down to our decks. There was a moment of quiet then a second round came in and again, right on our position in the water. We dug and pulled for every inch. We just raced out. The sounds I’m sure stopped sometime back but we did not stop until we are almost to the fishing boat we saw before.

So in the end we could only guess as to why we came under fire where we were at. Being at a right angle to the flagged firing zone, Taino guessed that they had another range and were shooting into and over a wooden or earthen target area that was not stopping the shots. We doubt they even saw us there. However we later learned that they should not have been using M16s or shooting in our direction. We also learned there were problems there in the past. 2 boaters had been shot a couple years back in the same area. You can call it sensationalizing or whatever, but the truth was we came under some dangerous gunfire and only dumb luck let us live to tell the tale. So there you have it from the horse’s mouth.

Cabo Roho - The “South Stack” of Puerto Rico

In order to come round the south west corner of the island you cave to pass the rocky point at Cabo Roho. We had heard some scary stories. The south winds come in consistent around 10am. Fisherman had warned us that even with their twin engines they had been stopped dead trying to round the corner. You could not go in they said, due to the high waves, big reflection and jagged rocks. You cannot go outside because of the confused seas and high winds. We were told we had to make it through before 10am. The day before I road out to the lighthouse to examine the corner from atop the cliffs. Looking down I could see a bubbling cauldron of waves. Jagged rocks indeed were being exposed in the troughs of big 6-8foot waves that would come slamming into the cliffs. On the outside was a distinct line marking where the fast current threatened to carry unwary boaters all the way to Honduras. However looking into the cauldron again I could compare what I was seeing to what I saw in Wales. Yeah, it was rockin’ and rollin’ but still there was a cliff blocking the wind and with a bit of paddling prowess we could certainly come in behind it and cross the big waves while avoiding the wind. Still, early was better. I did not like either option I saw from the cliffs.

The next morning we took off at first light. We could begin the turn at 7 if we pushed. As we closed in on the lighthouse the swell began to build. I could feel a bit of nerves building as well, but as we rounded the corner we were met with calm winds. We worked our way over the 3-5 foot waves that bounced around the cliffs and moved past the final wall into a glass sea reflecting like mercury under the hot morning sun. We paddled back into shore to hug the coast. Suddenly, unbelievably I noticed on the top of a stone’ A Cactus! We were in cattle country.
Thank You!

In addition to our group of silly helpers we have had so much help from the people in the many little towns that we have passed. Fisherman have of course been a wealth of information and are the first to take us in even when they think we are "loco" Americans. The Coast Guard has been keeping watch over us. A chopper a day I think, along with police boats that have also noted our positions. A wonderful street cleaner who did everything he could to help me coffee. Not to mention the hotels, yacht clubs, marinas & campgrounds that offered us a place for our tent.
The Weatherman!!
Oh, and let me think Karel (from Terra Santa Kayak Adventures) again for keeping on the weater. He's been our "final word" on the weather each day.
More Pictures
I try to get photos posted often as I can. I added more today at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/derrickam/

quintessence of dust
hat a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust?
- William Shakespeare
A couple days off the water allows you a new view of the land. You view solid ground rising from a sea that carries you upwards, slides you into deep troughs, and pushes you aside with little thought. You sometimes look to the land and wish to be there. If only to buy a really juicy hamburger. Yet back on solid ground you quickly find yourself again sinking the the human condition; Checking the news, reading the latest atrocities, noticing the bars on every window. Suddenly you feel the need to go back to sea.

Today we got up early and went down to the sea to watch the waves roll in. It was like a local holiday for the people of the area. Crowds gathered, food vendors were doing rapid business. Surfers tried the waves but soon learned these were not great for long rides. I spent much of my day filming and taking photos. You can see a few here.

Hurricane Dean passed us by with little damage. Power outages, branches down but nothing to severe. The sea will still be a bit wild for a day or so and the plan is to head back out on Tuesday, weather permitting. Until then I will be soaking in the mountains, the town, the people, and the traffic lights. . all the while with one eye to the sea. . .
City of Witches

little fiddles
Ran to the local Wal-Mart. . . (Vendemos por menos) and picked up some last minutes supplies. Including beef jerky!! Meat is good!

One thing I learned quickly about my Rockpool Alaw Bach is that you don't need the backband. It's there as a decoration. Remember sit up-right. There is a perfect bit molded into the back of the seat to support your tail bone. The only problem was that over time I was getting a little sore spot. So I popped the seat out which only means loosening two screws and lifting it out, and glued a bit of mini-cell around the back support, then added a couple bits of foam under the seat when I saw a tiny bit of wear. Might as well stop that right now. I also just took the backband right out.

I also noticed over the last couple days before we reached Guayama, that I was getting water in my day hatch. With a little investigation I found that was coming under the bulkhead. Nothing a little silicone couldn't fix. So I took care of that as well.
When you put day after day in the water in various conditions, lots of salt and hard landings you add years to your boat quickly. So it does need the occasional loving care before going out again.
back to the ocean tomorrow
The picture above shows the rocky shore near Isabella on the north coast. This is the place where we both had to jump out of our kayaks at the last minute and get them up and over the rocks. From the water, you could not distinquish the rock from the sand. For those of you who have lots of experience you know that from the water, the spot where the land meets the sea is often hidden behind the surf and in sort of a "dip". I'm not sure you to explain that but the illusion is that you paddle down to the beach and then it rises back up again. The point where the two meet are in a "valley". So you can see that paddling in all we would see is a sandy beach until we are so close we are committed to the landing. This is where I bent two pins that hold my 3 piece kayak together. Yikes!

Now hurricane Dean has passed and the sun is shining again. tomorrow according to Karel we are looking at a 10 knot wind and 4-5 foot seas. We may need to cut the outter islands to complete the circumnavigation, something I'd always been prepared to do depending on time and weather. Of course getting around PR is the main goal over the next 10 days. We will be paddling east just a bit more before we make the north east turn that will take us back up to the woolly Atlantic.

Today I'm off to buy a few supplies and some silicone seal to stop water that has been going into my day hatch through the bulkhead in the cockpit. Yesterday I put a silly sticker on my kayak for the women here who have been helping us out along the way. Carrie & Yvonne of course. Yvonne's neighbor, Emy who picked us up and drove us into town with boats and gear in her nice truck. Migdalia, who helped bring supplies near Puerto Real and of course Vicky who came to the Airport at San Juan and braved the wind and flooded streets so I could take photos and film the waves coming in from Dean. Not to mention the nice woman at our last stop who opened her little bar and made us food when she was obviously closed, tired and done for the day. We would have had a much tougher time without them. Thanks!!

New pictures added to the gallery
up with the chickens. . . and the goats

When we landed at Puerto Real it took my a bit by surprise. It was a small village steeped in poverty. There was a nice marina on the waters edge but no other real access to land. In this small village I could find no one with even limited English which is quite rare in Puerto Rico. Homes and shops were worn with years. Streets were small and claustrophobic. For a while I just sat by my kayak trying to organize my thoughts and figure out if this was a place I felt comfortable to stay. While I sat there two small goats came walking across the street to investigate this strange guy and his kayaks. Soon they were followed by a young girl. She looked at me with a big smile and started to talk to me while pointing at the goats. "Sorry, no comprenda" I said. "English?". "No." she said, and smiled. Then she went on telling me about her goats as if I I could understand every word. I watched her and smiled when she smiled. Made a surprised face when she did. We were, in some ways, communicating just fine. They were her goats and she was proud of them. That's all I needed to know. After a long chat she called the goats and the trio went walking off into the group of yellow, white, and pink houses across the street. It was a nice moment.

I am waiting this morning for Taino to join me here and then we are off again to explore this tropical island.

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