Our first order of business in Ponce was to take an Uber to PF Chang’s. How very American is this? We have both been longing for Chinese food. It was a regular part of our life in Atlanta but we are finding it harder and harder to get good Chinese or Thai food in the islands. Perhaps we need to sail to Thailand. On a bit of a side note here, we thought it was very odd to get a fortune cookie in English when everyone here speaks Spanish. I asked if they had Spanish cookies for Puerto Ricans. They didn’t. I began to wonder how the local people feel about getting their fortunes in English when Spanish is the primary language and if they could read them.
I was surprised by the number of people who do speak English here. In a conversation with a waitress she told us the Puerto Rico schools teach English throughout. She said younger people on the island can speak at some level limited English. We are finding this to be very true and they are excited to be able to practice their English with us. Their English is much better than our Spanish.
Ponce is the second largest city on Puerto Rico with a population of about 175,000 people. It is a large port on the south coast of the island with a natural deep-water harbor. Although the port and cranes used to unload ships look untouched and deserted. We did not see a single ship enter the harbor whilst there. Unfortunately for us, the anchorage area is limited. The winds have kicked up considerably the past few days making only one small corner of the bay here suitable for anchoring. And wouldn’t you know it, that area is filled with private mooring buoys. We made a quick call to the local yacht club and they welcomed us to berth at their marina. Once again we are living large with air conditioning and fast Wi-Fi. It’s hard not to get use to this.
Cindy was stopped by a Customs officer in the parking lot of the yacht club. He asked her if she had processed in and wanted the details of our Puerto Real check-in. We thought this very weird that he would stop someone randomly in the street. Then I read this in a review on ActiveCaptain.com:
Customs here is completely psychotic about garbage…they tried to fine us for disposing of beer bottles that were purchased IN PUERTO RICO, calling it “foreign garbage”.
I guess it was a good job I wasn’t taking out the trash. I might have been deported.
A few days later we were having a drinks and conversation with a coupled on a newly arrived boat, they came all the way from Columbia to Puerto Rico. They had their trash (trash they generated in route) quarantined by the Ponce US Customs agents. They were told the trash had to remain on the boat at all times and they could not dispose of the trash in Puerto Rico, ever. They put an official seal on the bag and tied it closed. Their instructions were very clear that this bag of trash had to remain inside the boat. It could not be stored on deck (even though their own publication says it can be stored inside the rails of the vessel). Think about this for a minute. Trash inside the boat in a tropical climate; sounds like a good idea to me. The officer told them the other option for the trash was to have it incinerated at an approved location. The closest approved location was in the USA. The sad part about this incident; the couple on the boat were trying to do the right thing for the environment and not dispose of the trash at sea. Instead they now have to keep the bag of trash on the boat until they go to another country. I’m guessing they won’t stay long.
While I completely understand and agree with the importance of role of the USDA, I scratch my head to understand some of the US government regulations. When researching the rules about foreign trash, I came upon this publication. Like most government publications, it needs to be slowly read about ten times to get a basic level of comprehension. Then, like most government publications, it creates more questions rather than answers. In the second paragraph it states anything becoming trash on our boat regardless of where it was purchased must be disposed of according to the guidelines which mean incineration by an approved third party. But, no approved facilities are on the island?
We are taking Uber just about everywhere we go. It is turning out to be a lot less expensive than renting a car or hiring a taxi. Ponce, being a good size town, has most everything a cruiser would need. Other sailors use this provisioning stop. Our provisions are in pretty good shape, for now. An Uber to Wal-Mart from the marina is just $6. We took an Uber into old historic Ponce. The highlight of which is the city center square, Plaza Degetau. Located at Plaza Degetau is the Lion’s Fountain and Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe opened which opened in 1835. That’s pretty old for a Caribbean building. Also on the plaza is an old wooden fire house that dates to 1883. It houses a really cool antique fire truck and vintage horse drawn wagons. The lion is the symbolic animal of Ponce. Looking at the architecture, statues and fountains lions can be seen everywhere. There were wooden lions located in a room in the firehouse. These lions are periodically placed randomly about the city for people to find as a sort of scavenger hunt. This is said to encourage tourists to explore areas of the old city beyond the plaza. We did that anyway. On the day we were there, all the lions were in the den.
We notice a big presence of police officers downtown. They wear bulletproof vests outside their uniforms and walk beats. They are exceptionally friendly. I noticed the officers taking time to shake hands and talk to people on their beat. If a person was sitting on a bench resting their feet and an officer walked by, they would stop and talk for a minute. Smiles were exchanged and off they went. At first I thought all these people knew one another. After all, it is an island. But, then I realized differently. When we were walking down a side street, a lady officer shouted buenos días to us all the way from the other side or the road. She waved and gave us a big smile.
Walking the side streets, the architectural detail is amazing. The streets are narrow, usually one car wide, and trees are everywhere. Many of the trees are in bloom adding a nice splash of color to the shade provided. Many of the buildings are painted with bright colors. And, I mean bright. We are really glad we stopped here and could enjoy the town.