Monday, January 27, 2020

Back Doorstep Kayak Expedition

Hope those rainclouds stay out there!
Long story short, we bought a new kayak!  And luckily for us, the winds laid down enough to make a beach expedition easy so we could take it out for a spin!  The waves were only about 1 ft or so, with a larger one or two rising higher, and then breaking in a tumbling crash.  All we had to do was to wait for those two breakers to rumble on by and then GO!  Our plan worked and very quickly, we were settled into the inflatable seats, paddling easily along the coast of our beach toward the east.

It's so wonderful out there in our bay, Bahia de Patillas.  The water is clean and clear when the winds are light, and we love gliding along on our little kayak.  It's a way to regain a little bit of the freedom we've had living on a boat these many years.

A line of clouds with dark blue bellies threatened rain, and we could see a couple of spots where the curtain was already falling.  This prompted us to hustle a bit so that we could be in through the river mouth  before possible squally winds could catch us.  As it turned out, the squalls stayed far offshore and we had an easy time getting to the mouth of the Rio Grande de Patillas after all.

Paddling along on gentle swells
We approached the mouth of the river just outside the wave line, looking for a deeper spot to paddle across.  We went all the way to the far bank, but didn't see any way that we could get across without getting out of the kayak and walking across.  No worries, this is very easy and we were across in a jiffy!

Shallow banks across the river mouth made it impossible to paddle across.
The shallow, rocky bank stretches all the way across!
Once inside, the waters were calm.

We beached the kayak on the eastern side of the river so that we could explore the small beach there.  It also gave us an opportunity to let the water we had collected on the way drain out!  This was a new place for us to explore, having only previously walked the western shores, but it's a small beach, so there wasn't much to see other than some interesting seed pods, and another crazy spider web, only this time in miniature!!!

Crazy Spider web!  TINY!!!
Which way do we go?  Left... or right?

We loaded back into the kayak and set off to the far western tributary because it looked like the deepest water.  It was so calm and quiet as we slowly let the wind push us along, only paddling now and then to guide us in the right direction.  We could hear something scrambling in the trees lining the bank, and once I got a glimpse of a big iguana sunning himself up high in the branches.  He made a loud crash as he dove out of view, causing the branches to dip and sway.  We drifted past many unseen eyes as we floated up the river.

Some kind of fish swimming away rapidly! Now Bruce wants a new fishing pole!!!
As we continued upriver, large boulders appeared under water and along the banks.

We explored the western tributary as far as we could go before we were blocked by a bunch of fallen trees.  Being lightweights, we were easily convinced to turn back and take the eastern branch that flows around a small island in the middle of the river.

The further we went, the more clear the water became.  What started out as being murky green, gradually turned more and more clear.  Bruce took a little taste and sure enough, the water was completely free of salt!  The river bottom was also increasingly rocky, with big boulders visible as we floated along the surface.  It became necessary for Bruce to  be on the lookout for rocks or branches that could either scratch our new kayak, or interfere with the fin mounted on the bottom for stability.

Eventually we felt the inevitable light scraping of the fin on the rocky bottom, and we realized that the free ride was over!  We would have to either turn back, or portage across the rocky shallows.  Well, this being a true adventure expedition, we got out and walked!  Bruce did the gentlemanly thing and forged ahead, while I hung onto the kayak as it floated over the rocks.  It was pretty easy, and when I occasionally slipped on a rock, the kayak steadied me.  The wind-against-current made the kayak seem light as air!

Can you tell that I'm HAPPY???

We intermittently paddled, and portaged the kayak all the way up the river past the causeway bridge that stretches across the river plain.

As soon as the water became deep enough again, we hopped aboard and paddled efficiently along with the wind at our backs.  Bruce on the lookout and me providing propulsion.  When the water shallowed again, we jumped off at the first complaint from our rudder and happily plodded along in the rocky river bed.  We had come well prepared with our camelback packs full of water, and our water hiking shoes!

Approaching the causeway bridge...
We continued on past the causeway bridge and found the river running more rapidly across the rocks. There was still enough depth along the western  bank for us to keep paddling. We came upon a very long cable running from the shore to some fallen trees in the middle of the river.  As we approached, we decided the best way to get past it was to duck beneath.  Bruce boldly grabbed the cable at about the same instant that I realized what it was...

It was a fallen power line!!!  And in looking around, we saw that there were SEVERAL of them running across the river bottom.  Overhead were the new lines installed after hurricane Maria.  The old lines were simply dropped and left where they fell!

More than a little bit disconcerted, but happy that Bruce didn't die from grabbing the cable, we ducked beneath and continued upstream until we reached a rapids that came from a slightly elevated area of land.  We could easily have portaged across the short distance and continued on into the river proper, but we decided to call it a day.

On the return, we made much better time.  Even though the wind was now in our faces, the unseen river current made a huge difference in helping us glide along.  Our worries about having to work much harder to get back to the river mouth were unfounded!  Also easing the way, was the fact that we now knew where the deeper water was, so we were able to keep kayaking over areas we had walked on our way in.

Suddenly we were back at the river mouth again!  Wow that seemed fast!  We strategized about the best way to cross the bank, and decided to just portage along the western shore.  We paddled right up to the beach and got out.  Picking up the kayak, we realized that we needed to drain it again.  Just the process of paddling brings a fair amount of water in, but draining it is quick and easy!  That done, we picked up and plodded along the water's edge... until I saw a brilliant blue something in the rocks.

It was a piece of blue sea glass!  A good omen for sure!  Although why we needed one at this point was lost on me.  We had already had a fabulous day and it looked like the waves across the sand bar were not much bigger than when  we came through earlier.

We paused in our homeward trek so that I could look for more treasures... meanwhile, Bruce scouted up ahead to see where would be the best point to reenter the water.  Walking along in the quiet of nature is just heavenly.  It seems to bring out all my joy, lifting my soul as it all bubbles to the surface.  THIS is why we came to Puerto Rico.  The fact that we can have these adventures without having to go far is what keeps us getting out of bed in the morning.  For sure this is the best alternative to continuing to cruise on a sailboat... which was no longer a viable option.  SO.  HAPPY!

Of course I had to play with the treasures I found on the shore!!

This was not staged!  I found this piece of glass wedged into the driftwood log!
Bruce returned with the news that he had found us the perfect, calm place to plop back into the Bay, so we picked up the kayak and hiked the short distance back across the bank at the river mouth.  He was right, it was an easy spot with only tiny waves and a nice sandy bottom for us to wade out to get a water start so as not to damage the fin.

Just like that, we were paddling away from our river adventure, with the light breeze helping us along, rising and falling on the gentle the swell.  I always get a kick out of going over the swells, kind of like a carnival ride.  Our new kayak did a wonderful job and we felt very steady and secure.

Just about perfect!  The squalls have all passed and it's smooth sailing paddling!
The trip back to our beach was so easy with the wind now behind us.  We always try to paddle upwind first, and it's convenient that it's the direction we wish to go anyway!  The sun was higher on the return trip and the water was clear and cool.  We are absolutely in paradise and are still marveling that this is our HOME!

We're also very happy with the little kayak we bought.  When Bruce found it and told me he wanted me to buy it, I had my doubts.  For the price - Less than $300 - I just couldn't believe that it wouldn't be some lightweight "toy".  But after using it for the maiden voyage, we are both so happy with the purchase, and see many happy excursions in our future!

As I said before, I'll now repeat.  THIS is why we came to Puerto Rico!

Today's route

Sunday, January 26, 2020


Each Beachwalk is unique...
We may walk this beach a thousand times...
But no two will be the same!

This morning I looked out of my bedroom window at the pink edges around the clouds as the sun came up, and it energized me.  Bruce was easy to convince that a beach walk was the way to jump-start our day!

After some weeks of high winds, we've finally got some calm days, and our bay is laying down nicely.  Walking along in the cool morning air, barely a breath of breeze whispers from the palm forrest, bearing delicious flower scents.  My bare feet on the sand register the cool of night, then the contrasting warmth as I approach the water.  It's an amazing time to be out here!

Today's photo subject!

As we walked along, we searched the rock piles for sea glass.  Some days are good, others not so much.  When we started, it seemed like we wouldn't find much.

I can't say that I got much exercise, but just getting out of bed and walking around must count for something.  Add to that, bending and reaching for bits of glass... Can't complain.  But the best part is what it does for my mind.  I wish there was scratch-n-sniff technology for the blog, because the honey scented flowers hidden somewhere behind the stand of palm trees is simply heavenly.  I can feel it washing through my head, brushing away any worries or cares.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Beachwalk - For Exercise

Lichen growing on a fallen log in the beach forest

Each Beachwalk is unique...
We may walk this beach a thousand times...
But no two will be the same!

We have a beach in our back yard. That's the truth of it. Any time we want to go to the beach, our own beach is always the easy choice. But we don't often go to the east, where there are rocks to contend with... and a forest.  We normally walk the easy route to the west for joy, but today, we walk the beach for exercise so we chose the more challenging path!

A vacation on the calendar alway provides me with the motivation I need to take off a few pounds.  And with the decrease in calories allowed per day, I can add a little bit back in by dutifully exercising!  Extra points for making it fun!

Here's where it gets tricky!
We began with the open beach that is strewn with many piles of rocks.  This part of our beach is almost never just sand, and the rocks are difficult to walk on, more of a scramble than a hike!  Our new all-terrain beach shoes made it MUCH easier, so we'll be doing this more often now!

Once we reach the end of the open beach, it gets a little tricky.  We have to choose either the inland path, or wade through the water.  Our choice depends upon where the tide is at the moment.  When we have to go inland, there are some rough trails, probably made by coconut poachers.  They can be obscure and difficult to find, and we often lose the trail coming back at least once!

But it's cool in the shade of the palm forest, with plants that would make any greenhouse proud!  Everything just grows wild here!  Finally, after huffing and puffing, and climbing over fallen logs and ducking beneath leaning trees, we arrived onto the open area near the mouth of the Rio Grande de Patillas.

The mouth of the river.  Beyond the far point we can barely see where our friend's boats are anchored.
Looking inland at the river plain.
We combed the shores and walked along the clear, fresh waters of the river.  Judging from the relative calm of the waves at the river mouth, I think the tide is going out.  Otherwise there would be more of a surge here.  We saw signs of iguanas, some birds complained noisily of our presence in their sanctuary, and we found some little snails moving about in the sand.

There was a fair amount of driftwood washed up on the shore, but surprisingly not much human trash!  We definitely want to bring our kayak here somehow, but it will either have to be a calm day that we can paddle here, or we'll have to carry it!  But that's a post for another day!

Today, we wandered and collected sea glass and pretty shells for the growing piles I've got at home!  It's nice to be able to collect things after having lived so long on the boat with limited space.

If I could have taken this log home, I would have.  Guess I'll settle with a photo!

I only added the shell...

Are you SURE we came this way before???
Eventually we turned back homeward, trying to retrace our steps, but as expected, lost the trail through the forest a time or two.

Once we broke free of the forest, we put a little more effort into finding treasures, and there are a lot more shells at this end of our beach.  We found several good sized conch shells for our front garden!

When we finally got back to our place, we had a backpack full of goodies to be washed and sorted.

We were both sweaty and tired.  My knees were shaking a bit from the exertion of walking through the sand and rocks, and maybe a little woosie from decreased calorie intake....  It's not as easy as you might think!  It took us about two hours from start to finish, and I don't know how many calories we burned... but I think this earns me the right to partake in the homemade ice cream our friends are offering after dinner tonight!

Friday, January 17, 2020

Punta Tuna Wetlands Nature Reserve

Sometimes we just turn down a road we've never driven before.  Always it takes us to a new and awesome discovery.  We found this place a few days ago, but didn't have time to adequately explore, so today, we invited another couple to come along for a hike in the Punta Tuna Wetlands Nature Reserve.

We drove on to the gate and arrived just after opening time.  The drive in is over grassy, rocky terrain, but our AWD vehicle did fine.  We parked beneath a tree and suited up with our sun protective clothing, camelback packs and hiking boots.  This might be a bit of overkill for a stroll along a sun-dappled forest path, but we're trying to break in the shoes for vacation this summer.

There is a little bridge off to the left as you walk toward the beach. This is the beginning of the path to the observation tower, so off we went.  This is supposed to be exercise for me, but I take so many photos, I'm not sure that I ever work up a legitimate sweat, but hey, it beats laying on my backside putting out blog posts!!!

Lichen growing on a fallen log
There are so many tiny treasures everywhere you look.  It was like a candy store out there!  The scented air, the sound of the crashing waves, the cool shade of the palm trees, and just being out enjoying nature with the blood pumping through my veins just makes me feel so alive!  How lucky are we to have such places within short driving distance to enjoy at will???

We walked along the soft, sandy pathway, littered with little white flowers.  I felt a little bit like I was in a scene from the Wizard of OZ!

There was a high thicket of growth between the path and the beach, but every so often there was an outlet that led onto the beach.  Suddenly it was there, and it seemed impossible to resist walking toward the light...

We could see a sailboat offshore.  These people were at our Happy Hour last night!

Bitter Melon
Every time we found a path that led off the main trail, we took it.  Some led to the wetland area inland, and others led to another segment of beach where we would  take a look around to see how far we had come. Then we would just stand there, drinking in the astounding beauty of this pristine and private paradise.  Eager to see what was next, we ducked back into the shadows and continued on our way...

Eventually we came to the observation tower that brought us here.  While driving along a few days ago, we could see it from the road, and turned to come find it.  That's how we found this place!  So of course it was the object of our hike today.  As we climbed the steps, I couldn't help but look closely at the support structure.  We've had over 2,000 earthquakes, including the strongest in more than 100 years!!!, in the past two weeks.  But the tower looked like it was well built, and in surprisingly good condition.  So, up we went to enjoy the view and get a lay of the land!

The tower stands in the center of the wetlands, or in Spanish, Humedal

Looking back to the right you can see the dead branches where there is a swamp.
Looking left, we found that we had quite a bit of pathway to go!  
We enjoyed the view and the breeze while we rested for a bit, then climbed back down and continued on the pathway until we reached the end.
More beach... and more beach... 
Very LARGE Palm leaf!
I think this spider has been affected by the earthquakes!

Bruce is very patient while I take a thousand photos!  How convenient that there is a nice bench here for him to enjoy while he watches the birds in the swamp!

When we reached the end of the pathway, we walked out onto the beach again, and spoke to a gentleman who was walking with his little dog.  He told us that you can actually walk on this beach, uninterrupted, until you reach Punta Tuna Lighthouse.  The spot where we are parked also has a pathway leading through the palms that ends at the Lighthouse, so if we wanted, we could do the full loop.  Henry (the man) said that it takes about an hour and a half to do the whole thing.  I would imagine that is IF you don't stop to take a photo of every flower and bug along the way!

Back at the parking area, we popped out onto the beach to get our bearings, and found that we were very close to the Punta Tuna Lighthouse!

A tree, wrapping its roots around another tree!

Norte, sur, este y oeste
Feeling pleasantly grimy from our hike, we changed out of the hiking boots and loaded back into the car for the short hop over to the lighthouse.  The couple we had with us have never seen the lighthouse, and they brought their drone to fly around.  COOL!

The views from Punta Tuna are always stunning!
I have MANY photos of these doors...
If you look hard, you can see Vieques today! And that beach is where we were standing just a while ago!
Getting ready for takeoff!
The kids flew their drone all around the area.  I can't wait to see some of the shots!  I would LOVE to have one, but just can't justify it...  We enjoyed the fresh breeze, and watching the drone fly around for about 20 minutes.  Evidently that's about all the battery could handle with the breezy conditions we're having today.

I LOVE Puerto Ricans!!
We left the lighthouse and made one more stop.  The kids had  noticed the black sand beach just a short distance up the coast, and since Playa Los Bohios is a favorite of ours, we were happy to stop by for a quick look.  The recent high winds have caused a lot of beach erosion and this beach is very much affected.  But I'm confident that when conditions change, we'll see more sand come back for our next visit.

So after a full morning of exploring new places and old, and just generally enjoying our beautiful island, we drove the 30 minutes back to our place after dropping the kids off.  For sure, the Punta Tuna Wetland Reserve has made it onto our hiking-for-exercise list!

Playa Los Bohios with Punta Tuna Lighthouse in the distance.