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 Accidental Cruiser in the West Indies

World's Friendliest Customs Agent found in Culebra
This journal is a log of all the messages from Susie & Lance. For pictures, please see the Gallery.
Dewey, Culebra, Puerto Rico. Thursday, March 27, 2003
    Culebra is an island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, just north of Vieques. These islands are called the Spanish Virgin Islands. Vieques is famous, or infamous because the US Navy uses it as a practice bombing area, and there has been a lot of controversy about that lately. The good thing about that is that the island and its reefs have been protected from people and development and are said to be some of the most beautiful around. The bad thing about it is that you can't go inshore due to the unexploded ordinance still lying around.
    Anyway, in order to get here, we had to check out of the BVI, which means going to Customs and Immigration. I get nervous every time. These petty bureaucrats have power over you and they use it. You dress well, say Yes Sir, Yes Ma'm, and ask no questions. Our experience with the BVI has been okay. The charges vary from under a dollar, to $20, which seems to depend on their mood, where you check in/check out, and how many people are on the boat. Better have exact change. They don't have change. And the immigration forms are $ 0.10 each. Each time, we manage to fill out the form wrong, forget to sign somewhere, check the wrong box. One immigration agent in the BVI asked me sternly why I wanted 30 days. "Pleasure" I say. And what was that last 30 day BVI visa for. "Pleasure", I say. And the one before that? "Pleasure," I say, hoping this answer will still work.. "You need to go apply for an extension" she says. Yes ma'm. But most people we talk to say, no, don't do that. Just leave, and come back. They will usually give you 30 days every time you enter.
    Our check out this time in the BVI was in West End, where we never checked out before. There were no problems, although the next guy in line got a major interrogation on what he thought about the invasion of Iraq. I rejoiced that is wasn't me being asked the questions. Bored agents might ask you anything.
    Then we had to check in to the US Virgins in Cruz Bay, St. John. That was also fairly painless and free, although you have to fill out and sign 3 forms, and there is always something you have left out. There is no charge, and usually no questions, although randomly once, Lance was questioned on whether he had brought any garbage from the BVI, especially that might contain any forbidden mango seeds???? No ma'm, I left my garbage on Jost Van Dyke, when I checked out.
    Because the US Virgin Islands is a duty free port, you have to check into Puerto Rico even thought it is also a US territory. People here are all US citizens, and bilingual to boot. So we arrived and headed to shore and walked the 5 minutes to the airport as advised by the cruising guide. We looked for Customs and couldn't find it. A sign said to call on the telephone, but we asked some one at one of the desks in the airport. She told us to call. We copied down the number and went to the pay phone. Just as we got ready to dial, some friends on another boat walked in and asked us if we had rung the doorbell on that door in the corner. Oh. So we followed them in the door, where the Customs guy was

dealing with another person/boat. He recognized our friends who had been there recently and greeted themClick for a journal entry list happily. After establishing that we were on a different boat, he told us to fill our forms 1,2,3,4, and 5. Meanwhile, we heard the other guy getting thoroughly questioned and having to come up with a bunch of money. Then our friends were cleared with great warmth and friendship, and told that all they had to do next time was call. We said we'd meet them at the bar down the road for a beer.
    Well this time was different. We got the world's friendliest Customs agent, who told us about life, the universe and everything, and brought out a box containing 2000 pages of updated documents which he paged through to get to chapter 89, to prove to us that what he said was true. And took us over to the map to show us where we ought to go, and told us that he had objected to having to learn English as a kid, but look where he is now??? And when he went to university he had to take a foreign language, and English doesn't count. So he took German. This involved demonstrating his German, which meant inteviewing Lance in German, about where he was born. Of course, since Lance was actually born in Germany, this conversation went on for a while. His German was quite good. We learned about the German club that has a boat here, so different German clubmembers show up regularly to check in. He used to be stationed in Texas. Most people don't like this job in Culebra, because it's so remote, and you are most of the time all alone. We suspect he might be a little lonely as he chatted until closing time.
    It took us over an hour to get checked in, just because we had to share life's stories in multiple languages. There were no problems, we had exact change, got our cruising permit and everything. Just lots to talk about. And then finally walked back to the bar. Another friendly place. Some fisherman brought in a 10 pound lobster.

waitress with giant lobster    People recommended the island of Culebrita, and we had a weather window, for continued low winds, but north swells starting up soon. We had a very very slow sail to Culebrita, which is only a few miles away, but you have to go around the reefs, so you end up going about 5-6 miles, which took us about 3 hours. The anchorage had 6 boats already, although only four others stayed for the night. Very peaceful, very classical tropical island scene. Good snorkeling, and many turtles popping up around the boat. By morning, it had gotten pretty rolly, hold onto your coffee. We had a nice swim and snorkel, and headed back to Culebra and a more protected anchorage. For those of you with maps, we are in Ensenada Honda, which is bordered by the town of Dewey. Dewey has a lovely mangrove lined passage through to the other side of the isthmus where the ferry to Fajardo leaves. It has a draw bridge over it which doesn't appear to have been drawn up in many years.

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