Manatees!

Pip and I have been absolutely captivated by the manatees here in Salinas Bay. There is a group of them, first a couple, now three, that feed near out boat daily. The way you know they’re around is to listen – on a quiet day, you first hear a teensie splash in the water, then a wet snuffling sound as the manatee breathes, its hog-like snout sticking out of the water.

After snuffling, the manatee rests under water at the surface for a minute or so, then snuffles again. After a few snufflings, she heads back to the bottom to feed on the sea grass, and from the surface you see nose become the curve of the back and then the flip of the tail.

This morning, the three manatees were exceptionally close to the back of the boat, only feet away. Philip and I stood on the stern and marveled at the goofy creatures, so sweet yet so ugly.

 

Swimming under a Rainforest Waterfall

Friday, Kacy’s last day in Puerto Rico (sads!), we took her to the El Yunque rainforest. It was a bit overcast, so we didn’t try to hike up to the top, but instead opted for a shorter hike that followed a mountain stream down to a waterfall. It was eerie how much this tropical rainforest hike reminded both Philip and I of the walks at Swallow Falls State Park in Garrett County (where I grew up).

Ok, yes, I look utterly ridiculous (a bit like a chipmunk, if you ask me) but I’ve been in the Caribbean for a year, and that water was COLD!

I LOVE this picture of Kacy laughing in the pool beneath the falls!

El Yunque Hike

YESTERDAY, we visited El Yunque, the only rainforest that is part of the U.S. National Forest system.  It was AH-MAHZ-ING!

We wound our way through four different types of forest on our 5-mile hike to the summits, crossing tumbling streams and listening to the sound of the coquis, the singing frogs who are the unofficial mascots of Puerto Rico.

Click on photos below to enlarge.

Manatees and Eagle Rays and Sea Birds, OH MY!

OUR little bay here in Salinas is an awesome place to watch wildlife, and luckily many of the coolest creatures announce themselves, allowing you to get your nose out of your book or computer in time to catch a glimpse.  The spotted eagle rays often give a little splash before hurling themselves several feet into the air, landing with a huge belly-flopping smack.  If you look up at the first splash, you can often catch a glimpse of their trademark spots as they fly through the air.    This morning, I asked Philip why they jumped.  He didn’t know.  So we asked the interwebs, and it didn’t know, either, but suggested that they were avoiding predators (sharks!!) or feeding.  But it did tell us about a woman who died a couple of years ago when a jumping eagle ray hit her in the head while she was boating, which is totally going to give me nightmares in the dinghy for at least two weeks.

I think the internet is totally wrong about rays jumping; I think they jump for joy.

Or to avoid the mantees, which are just big sea cows, but perhaps look like a shark to a ray.  (I don’t think rays are very smart.) This morning, I heard a snuffling noise from just behind the boat and whipped around, knocking over my coffee cup and spraying coffee all over the cockpit, and started urgently whispering for Philip to turn around, because only a few feet away was massive algae-covered beast!  We ooohed and ahhhed, which was kind of funny, because they really are REALLY UGLY creatures.

The pelicans also announce their presence with a huge sploosh as they dive for fish.  This isn’t news to anyone, but worth mentioning because there are a lot of them here and when they all start diving together around sunset, it’s like the Blitz — Boom! Boom! Boom!

(I just asked Philip how to write a bomb sound.  He said, “You can’t.  Just say boom.  Are you writing about the dog?” referring to this really annoying yappy beast on a nearby boat we constantly “shoot” with our magic finger pistols. And sometimes even our magic grenade launchers.)

Anyhoo, in other animal news, both cats have finally discovered the cat bed I made for them months ago.   Turns out they just didn’t want to snuggle up in a feather-stuffed cardboard box in the sauna-climate of Curacao.  Not stupid, my cats.  Here, however, it’s cold.  No, really, I had to put on a long-sleeved shirt the other morning, because it was so cold. At least 72 or so.  Brrrrrr!

Hahahahaha!  You hate me, don’t you?

A Drive in the Mountains

SATURDAY, we grabbed Sydney’s car keys again and headed up into the central mountains, the gorgeous hills that have been taunting me from the boat for weeks.  Every morning and evening, the sun sets them aglow, dramatic shadows in the valleys deepening as the ridges reflect the amber light of sunrise/sunset.  I’ve been itching to get up there and explore, and Saturday’s adventure was no disappointment.

As we turned left from the coast and began climbing the hills, the view transitioned from long, straight stretches bordered by agricultural fields lined with stately, old trees to switchbacks and striking views from on a narrow lane clinging precariously to the side of densely-forested mountains.  I was big on the “Oh S*#t” handle and imaginary brake most of the day, but Philip’s an excellent driver (which is why he was driving), and we didn’t die.

Our first rather surprising sight was Lago Patillas, a small lake nestled in the tropical forest that looks for all the world like it should be in the Lake District (where Philip is from).  Ok, so it’s not exactly the same, but still — ODD.  Beautiful, but odd.

 

After more winding and twisting and stunning views, we found our way to Carite forest, where we planned to hike.  Apparently, Puerto Ricans aren’t big hikers, so there aren’t many hiking paths in the forests.  We managed to find one of the few, and it was paved, and about a mile round-trip.  But it was a nice stroll through the forest under a gentle rain to a small waterfall and pool.  Not too dramatic after the waterfalls of Dominica and Grenada, but pretty nonetheless.

Having worked up our appetite with a couple hours in the car and a brief stroll, we stopped just outside the Carite forest in Guavate, home of the famous Puerto Rican lechoneras roadside cafeterias — pork-a-rias!  Lining the road through town are dozens of cafeterias featuring whole suckling pigs slow-roasted for 6-8 hours on spits over fires.

We looked for the place with the longest line and allowed the people in front of us to tell us what and how to order, and ended up with a huge pile of the most amazing melt-in-your-mouth roast pork with cracklin’, rice and peas, plantains and a local delicacy called a pastele (a Christmas thing, I think) which is mashed plantain and ground pork steamed in a paper wrapper, and actually sounds a LOT better than it tastes.  Not sure if it’s always this way, but the one we tried was greasy and oddly sour.    The rest of the meal, however, was divine. I should say, meals, because for $20 we had enough for two very large lunches and two very large dinners!

We heaved our stuffed bodies back in the car and made our way further into the mountains, headed for Aibonito and the Mirador Piedra Degetau, a scenic overlook that is supposed to have the best panorama of the island, with views of the ocean both north and south. Of course, it was totally overcast when we got there, so we enjoyed some nice views of clouds.  A

There were a few stunning views as we made our way down out of the mountains, but this was the point at which the theme of the trip became, “Puerto Rico needs more scenic overlooks!”  On a twisty, turny forest road with no shoulders, on which people nevertheless drive like bats out of hell, you don’t want to just stop your car for a gawk.  Pull-outs are needed.  And — frustratingly — there were none.

We made it back to the boat before sunset, and although I’d planned to save the pork leftovers for the next day’s lunch in an attempt to somewhat approximate a balanced diet, they didn’t make it to Sunday.   Because we are big piggies.

Running to Stay Sane

PHILIP and I have started running in the late afternoons.

Now, I actually hate running, despite having run track and cross country in high school.  It’s just BORING.  Really boring.  I’d rather roller blade, or cycle, or hike.  But  if I don’t get off the boat and move once a day, I start to lose my mind and begin yelling at Pip just because he exists. So without blades, a bike or a nice mountain trail handy, running it is…

Just off the anchorage here (dock at the Loco Pelican and turn right at the road), there’s a long, sandy road through the mangrove swamps, next to the ocean — with a nice, big chain at the beginning stopping cars from using it.  Obviously, someone uses it, but we suspect it’s a DNR access road.

In any case, it’s a lovely place — full of herons, egrets, pipers and surprising little beaches nestled among the mangroves.

 

 

Kill the Cat!

NO, we aren’t killing our cats.  Today, we visited Cayo Mata de la Gata, literally, Kill the Cat Key — which in local vernacular, means nurse shark key.  Do nurse sharks have a thing for cats around here?  Who knows? We certainly didn’t see any cats, or many of the gorgeous fish we’ve come to expect, for that matter, but the purple fan coral was spectacular, we spied a few fishies, and there was an awesome starfish only feet from where we docked the dinghy.

The key, which is one of many small mangrove islands scattered around the bay, also has an awesome little boardwalk through the mangroves.  It’s amazing that these floating islands exist at all; only a few square meters of the island was not under water.

Fishies!

Yesterday, I went snorkeling with Spirit and Jabiru down at Barbara Beach, at the Hyatt. Water was murky and the sky was overcast, but it’s always a treat to see cool fishies and try to identify them. I think this is a grey snapper. As I have learned from experience, snappers are called that for a reason — when you catch them (and they’re way yummy), they snap their nasty, pointy little teeth at you while you’re trying to remove the hook.

The coral here isn’t really exciting, but there are a few coral heads around.

A French angelfish, with sergeant majors in the background.

These really are magnificent fishes — they’re huge here, over a foot long. The other day, while scraping the bottom, I saw a couple of them that must have been a foot and a half long, floating lazily below the boat and gobbling up the barnacles I was scraping off.

For ages, I’ve been wondering what the heck this fish is, as it’s not in my handy-dandy Audubon Field Guide to Tropical Marine Fishes. So I asked the interwebs, and Google told me it’s a juvenile French angelfish. Go Google!

Often along the beaches, you’ll get schools of small fish amongst which you can swim, watching them part around you. My favorite thing is to get in the middle of a school then spin around in the water, watching the fish circle around me. The first time Philip and I encountered them, we were so excited, diving and swirling among the silver for ages. Yesterday, as I was playing with them, I got the rare treat of watching the whole school bolt as a couple of small tuna chased them. Awesome! I think that these are baby snappers, but I’m not sure.