Friday, February 21, 2020

Las Croabas and Las Cabezas ~ Staycation Part I

Wind farm on the east side - still broken after Maria
Things are beginning to settle into a pattern around our place, now that the boat is sold and gone (to Jamaica!!), and we're mentally adjusting to NOT having a boat to think about day and night.  It's like there's been something gripping us tightly for all of these years, and now that grip is loosening.  We feel the weight lifted from our minds and from our bodies, and we are beginning to make plans for our newfound free time!  And MONEY!  We've been given a raise!  No longer do we have to allocate so much of our monthly income to things that will eventually need fixing on the boat. Yes, of course now we have a house on which to spend our money... but sheesh!  Let me live a little!  We aren't getting any younger, now is the time to run and frolic... while we still can!

Last month we visited the island of Culebra for a couple of days.  This month, we found a very inexpensive B&B in the Las Croabas neighborhood.  It's a little community of homes scattered across the hills that make up the easternmost point of the main island.  It is the home of one of three bioluminescent bays here in Puerto Rico, and also the nature preserve of Las Cabezas.  It is truly one of the most beautiful areas... and in Puerto Rico... there are SO MANY! We chose this place because we wanted to get out and explore the area more thoroughly and to put our new kayak to use again.

So, let's get to it!  We left home on Thursday morning and were able to check into our B&B early.  Las Croabas Beach Apartments 

John, the owner of our B&B, was VERY nice!  He was waiting for us when we arrived mid-morning and after a brief orientation, we were given the run of the place.  He is just getting started in the rental business, and has two of the four apartments up and running.  While very "basic", our apartment was clean, and gave us a feeling of living like a "local".  Nothing fancy here, just a good place to use as a base for exploring the surrounding area.  There's a gated parking area right outside our door, and John even allowed us to use the water hose for washing off our sandy kayak gear!  Perfect choice for us!

View from corner of the living room in front. 
Front room area from the hallway

AC in the right corner but we never turned it on.  There was a nice breeze and coqui sounds!
After we got settled in our new apartment, and with much of the day still at our disposal, we went out to see what all was out there!  We were looking for places to kayak, and the opposite side of this peninsula begged to be explored.  We simply drove down all of the little streets, looking for coastline.

We found a huge, empty parking lot just down the street from our place, and got out to see if a kayak could be launched from here.  Turns out... this is the place where the kayak tours of the Bioluminescent Bay launch! There is a narrow channel with mangrove forest all along the shores, that leads back into the center of this peninsula to the natural lagoon where the Bioluminescence occurs. How lucky we were to just happen upon this place.  We thought about bringing our own kayak here, but figured that the people running the tours would not be too happy about that, so we got online and booked a tour for tomorrow night!  Gotta support the local economy when we can!

Neat place to kayak in the daytime too!  Maybe next trip!

It's fun to just drive around, and see what pops up on my Google Map!  I've got a zillion attractions marked, and I just love checking them off as we find them!

The public park that runs along the shore here in Fajardo has one of those spots, but as we drove around the loop, I was puzzled that I couldn't find it!  Going around one more time... I had to give myself a forehead slap when I realized that it was standing in plain sight in the middle of the playground!

HectorPR Flags are popping up all over the island
After all that searching and head slapping, finding food became increasingly urgent.  We wanted something simple, with a view.  We picked out one of the little restaurants near the park, a place called Ocean View, and tried their drink specialties.  This was a white wine Sangria.  Never had one before, but I'll have one again!
Evening walk, view of the bay in Fajardo
We pretty much frittered away the afternoon and evening just wandering around.  Back at the apartment, we ended our day with a walk around the neighborhood.  We are sitting right above the bay where the breeze is fresh, chickens peep and coquis sing us to sleep!  This is a typical Puerto Rican neighborhood, very near to many of the island's attractions, yet relatively untouched by tourism craziness!

After a lovely sleep, we enjoyed our breakfast "at home", then packed up and headed for the beach.  Today's agenda consists of kayaking in Las Cabezas Bay, and hiking to one of the island's natural wonders called La Zanja.  We found primo parking at this early hour, and unloaded our gear on the beach.  This is the second place we've used our little inflatable kayak, and we are finding it to be just perfect for us!  We can keep it rolled up inside the bag, then simply inflate it and away we go!

It's taking us about half an hour from bag to paddling, but we're getting better!

Paddling is easy here on the flat water in the Bay. 
Lighthouse repairs in progress.  Hope to see this up close in the coming months!

This bay is just gorgeous!  It's always flat with the protective reef absorbing all of the big waves off of the Atlantic.  There are reefs to be snorkeled, and plenty of distance for kayaking!  The beach that lines the shore is almost deserted, even on a busy day.  Kayaking gets us past all but the most intrepid beach-walkers!

Thinking that our destination was just beyond the next point, we closed in.  But there was still quite a bit more to paddle if we wanted to maximize the distance we could make on the the kayak before we had to start walking!  But after this point, there are significantly more shallow, reefy areas.  Fearing that a rock would puncture our kayak, we got out and portaged over the more shallow areas.  Still better than hiking through the brush!

We went as far as we could in the water, then spotted a place to beach our kayak.  We weren't overly concerned that someone would take it, but we didn't want to be stupid either.  We brought along a cable to lock it up while we hiked to La Zanja.

Starting point and ending point
This beach is pretty much deserted.  It's the last bit of sand before it turns rocky, and there are some rocky spots along the beach that keep most people out.  We locked the kayak up, took what we could carry, and set off along the pathway leading through the brushy trees.  I took comfort in the fact that there WAS a trail here.  There is no marked trailhead, so we had no real idea if we were on the right track or not.  But after we got started, conditions improved.

Much better!
The hike was really nice.  Still early in the day, it was relatively cool, plus our bottoms were still wet from kayaking!  We are loving our camelback packs for carrying our water, and valuables.  There's even space for a nice picnic lunch!

The trail opened up to this road!  Civilization!!

Unfriendly shores!
The last of this portion was a stretch of the Nature Preserve managed by Para La Naturaleza, a group of which we are members.  Volunteers are working to restore this area for visitors.  It looks like things are coming along!  The looped drive dumped us out at the water's edge.  Wicked waves rolled in, dashing our thoughts of a nice swim in the ocean...

Bruce dumping rocks out of his shoes!
While Bruce emptied his shoes of sand and pebbles, I went on past him to scout out the trailhead.  It wasn't easy walking on the loose rocks, and the trail was almost hidden until I was practically on top of it. But I found it!

It led up, and up and UP!  Again I had my doubts. This could simply be a goat trail for all we knew! It was narrow, steep, and mostly scrabbly, loose rock.

Believe it or not, there's a trail up there!
Stopping periodically for a drink of water and a breather, we looked back at the stunning vista below!
I'm tellin' ya!  It's a GOAT TRAIL!

We scrambled and huffed our way up the rough terrain.  I've gotta say, we both need this!  We are so out of shape!  But that has me a little bit worried.  What if we get up here and just collapse?  I kept asking Bruce if he was OK, and he happily assured me that he was.  He isn't usually much for hiking. I figured this was going to really irritate him... but he kept on smiling and followed me as I continued to boldly go... where?

Wilderness, wild and free!
These are the times we love our Island the most.  Times when we're sweaty, and strung out, and not quite certain we'll live through this latest folly...  Puerto Rico affords you the freedom to get yourself into trouble, and then get yourself back out of it again.

Good to know the Coast Guard is on the lookout for idiots... just in case!
Trying to limit my use of Google to find my way, I continued to follow the trails, no mater where they led.  We reached one of the gorges where water was ravaging the rocks way down below us...

This just can NOT be it!

We peered down into that chasm and HOPED that it was not La Zanja...  The trail led onward, so off we went. by this time, I was WISHING that Bruce would call a halt to this foolishness. It was getting warm, even with the lovely breeze blowing off of the Atlantic. I was beginning to feel lightheaded from hunger.  The light breakfast I had eaten was long gone...  My legs were getting a little shaky, and we still had the whole way back! But I was pumped full of endorphins, and they carried me along the pathway toward the western coast of this peninsula.

Up ahead I could see the eastern mountains of Puerto Rico.  We should NOT be seeing El Yunque if we're going the right direction.  A little further along, I realized that it was Bahia de Las Cabezas that we were looking down upon.

But I could see another gorge just ahead, and I didn't want to quit too soon if it turned out that it WAS La Zanja...  I pulled off my camelback and scootched down the ravine on my backside, holding onto scrubby bushes to keep from tumbling into the abyss.  Bruce stood back in steadfast refusal.  He was NOT going down there!  Peering downward at the rough terrain, I admitted that it was not the object of our search.  I crab-walked back up, almost unable to carry myself on my shaking legs.

I was not done, but it was time to consult the Google! Endorphins can create a false euphoria... or maybe it's a REAL euphoria!  We are hiking in a most beautiful place.

Beginning-Green, First stop - Yellow, Too far - RED!
Yep... we had gone WAY too far!  You can see from this photo where we began on the beach at the green star.  Then our first false ravine was the yellow star.  This final stop was the red star!  And the little yellow balloon?  That's where we were supposed to go all along! Guess I should have consulted the Google sooner!

So, we backtracked, using our final shreds of strength, and found where we had gone wrong.  Early in the path, just at the end of the spot I called a Goat Path, was a shelf of rocks where you couldn't see the trail.  A false trail led off to the left, and we had taken that.  If we had only walked across that rocky shelf, we would have been there!  An HOUR ago!  But then, we wouldn't have had such an excellent adventure!

There it is!
We stood above La Zanja, realizing that we would NOT be swimming there today...

Sometimes I have to be reasonable.  No matter how badly I wanted to get down there and relax in that natural pool... I had to be an adult about it.  The Atlantic was rolling way too much wave across the rocks and into the pool for it to be safe today.  And those Coast Guard helicopters might not return to this part of the coast again any time soon... so we sat on the rocky hillside above the ravine and just stared out over the spectacular scene below us.

Here we are, alone on this barren hillside, with the wild winds blowing the grasses around us.  The scent of the ocean clearing out the cobwebs in our brains.  Here, we could feel like "Cruisers" still.  I guess that's a thing with me.  I still want that feeling.  That freedom thing that we had for so many years.  This island gives that to me, for as long as I have strength left to partake of it!

Unlikely picnic spot

The Good Stuff
We sat there, enjoying the view, and our own thoughts.  We talked.  We ate our meager lunch.  And we counted the many ways in which we are so uncommonly lucky. Then reluctantly, we packed up and crossed that rocky face, to rejoin the path we had taken earlier, only in reverse.  Going down is a little more tricky than going up, but our newfound familiarity with the path made up for it.  My... how quickly we got down to the beach!

The trek back through the forest to our kayak was much more sunny and warm.  It wasn't until we caught the first glimpse of our kayak, lying just as we had left it, that we celebrated our successful expedition!  Boy were we ready to get back in the water and SIT for a while!!! Then we noticed that while we were out messing around... an ebb tide was busy sucking all of the water away from our shore!  Areas that we floated across to get here, were now high and dry!  We would be doing some more hiking after all! Well... now we know!

Earlier this morning, we had paddled between this rocky spot and the shore!

My Happy Place!
Trekking along through the water, floating the kayak, without the fin, we still felt like we were on a grand adventure.  Rolling with whatever comes our way makes it fun!  We walked along until it looked like the shallows were behind us, then we beached the kayak and shucked our outerwear for a little swim!   Ahhhhhhhh.  Just AAAAAHHHHHHH!  It was heaven.  The water was super salty, and it buoyed our bodies effortlessly.  It was the perfect temperature, and completely calm.  We found a spot with a sandy bottom where we could just float and enjoy the riches that are ours!

We enjoyed our little break, but we still had some paddling to do before we could rest.  We skimmed along on our kayak, now fully happy with our purchase.  It had passed the test.  Back on the beach, we pulled the kayak up, removed all of our gear, and let the air out, while it was still sitting in the shallow water.  That way, we could keep most of the sand off of it while we rolled it up.

Back at the apartment, we hosed off all of our gear and left it to dry for a little while in the last of the sunshine.  We were able to get it all cleaned off and dried, and loaded back into the car, before dark!  What a wonderful day!  But wait!  It's not over yet! Remember that Kayak tour in the Bioluminescent Bay I mentioned previously?  Well, after an entire day of kayaking and hiking... we still had THAT to do tonight!

We dragged our tired bodies, my arms and legs resisting all the way... down the road to the launch point.  We joined a group of tourists and did the tour!  We did not take our phone, so sadly, no GOOD photos... but the tour guides took a few, as proof.

I'll tell you, we've been to all three of the Bio Bays in Puerto Rico now.  This one gets second place, only because the one in La Parguerra allowed us to SWIM in the bioluminescence...  There's no topping that!  But while the bioluminescence can be fleeting, some nights it's good, others not so much... this one is cool for the night kayaking!  We did see some luminescence... we had to throw a tarp over our heads to see it well because of the light pollution from our proximity to the city, but it was still good.  It is NOT the glowing green in the advertisements.  It's more like fairy sparkles.  And that's OK too!

We enjoyed our tour.  We enjoyed our DAY, and tomorrow will be another exciting one... so stay tuned for Part II!

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