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.
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.
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.