This is a continuation of the story of my trip to Culebra, which starts here.
When I got off the plane in Culebra, my first thought was that it smelled like White Sands National Monument in New Mexico (as detailed in this post from last summer). I waited by the baggage claim for my bags. The baggage claim consisted of a large hole in the wall next to the glass doors leading out onto the runway. The attendant put our belongings on a cart, wheeled it about twenty feet, bypassed the doors, and handed us our bags through the large hole in the wall.
I put my backpack on my back and slung my duffel over my shoulder and walked into town. Culebra looked, well, a lot like Vieques, the sister island I had visted a few years ago.
The houses were all made of cinder blocks, with metal shutters, for protection against hurricanes. Some were painted in colors that looked like they belonged in the Caribbean. Some were just, well, cinder blocks. Most places had satellite dishes (often several). There were lots of chickens and roosters in the street. The hills did seem more dramatic here, going right up to a ridge then coming down sharply to the ocean again on the other side.
I was heading for Colmado Mayra, which I'd heard had the inflatable pool rafts (one of which was to be my sleeping pad). Closed till 3:30! It was one o'clock. So I checked out La Cava, a nearby gift store, and saw that they had large inflatable turtles. Hm.
I wandered down the street until I came to the water, my bags growing heavy. I was at the ferry dock. There were shaded benches and I sat down to write in my journal. The aqua water stretched away to Vieques in the distance. I could see Vieques's Mount Pirata, which we'd wanted to climb years ago but were turned away by men with guns. They were U.S. agents monitoring drug trafficking activity on the 900-foot high "mountain."
Also at the ferry dock was a man vending food from a cart. He had a whiteboard out on which was written, "Kiosko pide que hay," which seemed to me to translate as "The 'ask for what there is' kiosk." Perhaps there was some idiom in use that I wasn't familiar with, but the title seemed very zen. Happiness comes to those who ask for what there is, rather than what there isn't?
Colmado Mayra finally opened at about 3:40, and the crowd that had gathered outside bustled in. For me it was like visiting a market in New York City... the carts were smaller than usual, the aisles just wide enough for one to go through, all the horizontal space condensed. I got some fruit and chips and a can of chili (with a pop-top, necessary as I couldn't bring my swiss army knife with me).
They did not have inflatable rafts.
They did have wacky noodles, which I stood in front of for a long time. I was trying to imagine how they might function as a bed. Then I tried to imagine how the giant blow-up turtle might function as a bed. The problem with the turtle, I imagined, was that it seemed to have one large, open main air chamber, where most of my body would be. It would be difficult to keep this pumped enough so that my butt and shoulders weren't simply resting on the ground with large, useless pockets of air surrounding them. So I purchased five wacky noodles, which would make a bed nearly as wide as my thermarest at home.
I then struggled to climb into a publico, or public car, with a backpack, duffel bag, bag of food, and five wacky noodles in my arms.
I was driven over the ridge of the island and down a long slope, past the lagoon, to Flamenco Beach. I paid the driver the $3 fee and asked around for the office. In the office, I paid for a week's stay at $20 a night. The woman at the desk wanted me to stay in area A or B, both of which were empty. I told her I'd heard E was nice. She said A and B were very nice, and they were empty! I had heard, but did not tell her this, that during the weekends A and B were crammed full of weekending Puerto Rican families blaring loud music. I said maybe I would stay in D. She said okay, but be sure to check out A and B!
I walked down the sand road with the ocean on my right, past a narrow line of mangroves, and the camping areas on my left. Each area was bordered by a fence in a different color. There were no numbered sites, but picnic tables, barbecue areas and trees scattered around each area. It took five minutes to walk all the way to section E. I walked back and forth along the sand road several times trying to decide where was truly the best place to camp. Finally I settled on D, which was nearly deserted and far from the haunts of the weekend crowds, and threw down my stuff.
The funniest thing was that in the hour I'd been trudging around, through town and camp, no one had asked me why I was carrying five wacky noodles. Perhaps such things are commonplace in Puerto Rico.
I set up my tent and got inside and noticed there was a bunch of sand in it already. The sand was blowing in through the screen! I didn't think of beach sand as being smaller than no-see-ums, but apparently some fraction of it is. Okay... actually, I did know this, being a geologist. I have separated beach sand out myself with a succession of twenty increasingly finer sieves. I just didn't think, you know, it would come in the screen.
Above, area de acampar D, my tent in foreground.
View toward the beach. It was really very close, just across the road and over the path.
And the beach.
I got changed and went for a swim, with my snorkel and mask, because hey, why not. The water was cold! I swam up to some of the near-shore reefs but they only had some algae and a few juvenile fish. So I puttered around near the beach. I watched a larger fish, one of the many silvery kinds that swim over the exposed sandy bottoms, feed by biting at the sand and spitting things out. I followed it for a long time. Then I got out, got changed and put together my noodle bed with some duct tape I'd brought.
It got dark and I was chilly so I went for a jog on the beach. At one point I felt sand hitting the tops of my trailing feet as I ran and realized I was ploughing through someone's sandcastle. The sky had become cloudy and there were no stars, but the world felt large.