On arriving in Puerto Rico, I found I liked it immediately. The rich green rolling hills climbing towards the volcanic peaks in the eastern half of the island was a great contrast to the flat landscape of Florida, The Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos. The people were also very welcoming, as I worked out how to clear in.
Being a US Territory, clearing in to Puerto Rico for a US Citizen is pretty straight forward. However, if you don't participate in the US Customs Local Boater system, it's less convenient than most Carribbean ports of call. US Customs is located downtown in Mayaguez, about 15 miles north of Puerto Real. We chose not to stop in Mayaquez to clear in because it is a commercial port and not very comfortable for small vessels like Mirasol. Instead, the procedure is to call an 800 number on arrival and provide your information over the phone. I tried to do this with my satellite phone, but the phone system wouldn't accept an international call into the 800 number.
A local saw me trying to call customs and offered his cell phone for my use. He introduced himself as Fernando from Salinas and ran a small convenience shop in the marina complex. He proved to be an excellent source of local info, anchorage recommendations for the western and southern coasts of Puerto Rico, and best of all, $0.93 ice cold beers. I asked him where I could find a good chart for the anchorages he mentioned, and he dug out an old marked-up chart and gave it to me.
Anyway, back to clearing in. Customs took down our passport and vessel information over the phone and then told us we had 24 hours to present ourselves at the Customs office in Mayaguez to complete the process. The president of the marina, Jose, arranged for a car to take us the 15 miles up the coast to the Customs office. We were cleared in without any hassle and also signed up for the Local Boater program to avoid having to present ourselves in person in certain US ports in the future.
On the way back to Puerto Real, the driver stopped at a grocery store and we loaded up on groceries, and a little local rum and beer.
Speaking of the local rum and beer... Don Q is the local rum, and I find it the best silver rum I've tasted, certainly better than Bacardi Silver. The local beer favorite is Medalla, pronounced Mediiya, and it also quickly became a favorite on board. It is served in 10 oz ice cold cans, often so cold ice is frozen to the side of the can. When I first arrived in the Caribbean last year I found that 10oz cans and bottles are commonplace, and as we approached the summer months the reason for this is evident. It can be HOT here, especially if you're sheltered from the trade winds. You will want your beer ICE cold. The smaller 10oz cans are easy to finish off before that last bit gets warm. At $1 a beer, I can live with the smaller can. As I will be reminded later in our voyage, the smaller can doesn't come with a corresponding smaller price tag as you move south down-island. But that's for another blog.
I suppose I didn't cover much ground in this post. I'll do better in the next, or I'll never catch up! (We’re in the BVI as I write this).