On the marina site is a Thrifty Car Rental office and at just over 31 GBP per day it was cheaper than Enterprise, even online, so we opted for a 2-day rental with a SatNav for an extra 10 dollars. We have never owned a SatNav, preferring to keep our minds active and rely on our old school map reading, so it was a bit of a novelty and pretty essential in Puerto Rico as there aren’t very many street names. Rob loaded it up with our destinations but sadly it didn’t recognise Krispy Kreme donuts!
As the public bus system isn’t very reliable, most people advise getting a car. A railway line used to run all around the coast but sadly it shut down years ago. The first day we just went shopping a few miles north along the 53. Ralph’s is a very well stocked supermarket with a bulk buy section on the side. Last week Barry and Robyn took me to CostCo, a membership store selling huge packs of everything. I stocked up the freezer with BBQ meats and fish, got wonderful Norwegian smoked salmon and a big bag of individually wrapped chicken breasts. Unlike some of the islands further down the chain, you don’t have to finish butchering the meat yourself!
The pharmacies are also huge, with an amazing stock of goods, especially make up, not that I use it much anymore. We are interested in seeing all the new items out on the shelves, things we haven’t seen elsewhere but some of these must be in the UK by now, such as Cadbury’s Dark Chocolate, not Bourneville but something new. If you need to provision, we would recommend Puerto Rico for both cost and supply.
When we got back to the marina, we unloaded everything into the golf cart trolley and were soon driven back to the boat. All the staff here are very helpful and courteous, quick to arrive in the golf carts and always help carry your load to the boat itself.
Yesterday we had a long but wonderful day starting early to drive to Ponce,, Puerto Rico’s second biggest city, on the south coast and some 70 miles from Puerto del Rey. The expressways are very good, with just a few tolls to pay via the rental office when you return the car. The roads weren’t very busy but wended through stunning scenery. It was just a shame there weren’t any parking areas for us to stop and take photos. So, we were soon at our first stop in Ponce, Castillo Serrallés, an old family home full of wonderful furniture and household items, including a toaster and waffle maker. The family made their fortune in rum and even owned an airport. The house is beautiful, with a large covered terrace in the centre, giving all the rooms access to fresh air and light on 2 sides. Lots of tiles keep the house cool and the views out across Ponce to the sea are lovely. The kitchen wouldn’t look out of place today as it had wooden worktops and cream wood cabinets. The gardens are small but pretty and there is a huge cross nearby, the top of which can be reached by lift and give even better views. There is a café and seating area outside, again with great views and you can taste the DonQ brand of rum, which they still produce in Puerto Rico. The house was worth 30 million dollars but the last owner decided to sell it to the city in the 1980s for just 400,000 dollars, so a gift in reality.
We were told that the free trolley buses rarely run these days leaving us no option but to drive into town but it was very easy to park along the sides of the roads. At the weekend the parking meters are not used, so it was free. What a great idea! We walked to the Art Museum, paid 6.42 GBP entrance and spent a few hours admiring their collection of paintings, photographs and sculptures before having a delicious and inexpensive lunch in their café. Some of the paintings were well over 500 years old. The detail on some was incredible, such as the pearls on this dress.
I especially liked the story behind a huge painting of young ladies brought before the young Tsar Alexis to hear whom he would choose as his bride. The lady near him, Maria, bowing her head was expecting to be chosen but the Tsar had fallen in love with the beautiful Eufemia, bathed in light in the painting and announced he would marry her instead. Ruthless Boris, on the right had suggested Maria as the ideal bride because he wanted to become more powerful by marrying her sister afterwards. One story is that Boris poisoned the Tsar’s love, another tells she was exiled but either way the Tsar had to marry Maria after all and the evil man got his way. Sad tale.
Another painting that caught my eye was of Calder Idris. Never expected to be looking at a small part of Wales in Puerto Rico!
We then walked to the Cultural District; saw the Museums of Music and History, the Old Fire Station built in 1882, the Cathedral and some beautiful parks and buildings. Ponce is a lovely city and easy to explore on foot.
On the way back we took the coastal route, then across stunning scenery winding up and down the hills before filling up with fuel near the marina. The whole day’s motoring cost just 10 pounds but the system is strange to us. First you pay an estimated amount, then fill up and then go back into the fuel station to get your change.
So our car went back this morning by 0900 and we have 2 days to finish off cleaning the boat, filling tanks and getting ready to leave. We don’t need to clear in or out here as we originally cleared in at the airport in Culebra and both Fajardo and Vieques are part of that area. We plan to sail back to Culebra for a few days. Then on where the wind will allow us but hopefully somewhere en route to Antigua!
We have friends we haven’t seen since 2013, who sailed back across the Atlantic that year, sold their boat, bought a new one and sailed back again late last year. Hopefully we will catch up with Paul and Debra in Anguilla or St Barts before they head to the BVIs. Facebook posts alerted us to a big new entrance fee for the BVIs, so we will only go there when we can stay the full month to make the best of the charge, which is a dollar per foot, on top of the rest. Not good news for cruisers but charter companies can pass on the cost to their customers.
With the euro falling against the pound, we might call in on a French island to make the best of our cash. In St Martin the duty free chandleries are excellent and the pretty boutiques in Les Saintes is another possibility if we have the wind direction or time to sail that far south.