Saturday, May 17, 2014

Experienced shopping in Puerto Rico

When we started living aboard shopping was one of the expenses that we had to cut. But for a woman who is crazy about shopping or for those who buy the same kind of shoes but different colors, it’s always easy to find excuses. I finally changed my point of the view about buying cloths. Now, I buy what I need! (Can you believe?) Because the more cloths I have, the more I have to wash without washing machine! And the more expensive they are, the less money I will have in my account! Living on a boat make us concerned about other priorities rather than the brand of the cloths or the cosmetics. Like foods for example, and you may ask why? You can just go to the fresh market or supermarket anytime but, unfortunately, we can’t. We are lucky that now we are in Puerto Rico and here we can have access to all kind of food at reasonable prices. The problem is that we can’t walk and carry shopping bags and a 10 kilograms baby for a distance that takes about 1 hour of walking. Taking taxi it’s an option but it’s not proper cheap here. How about taking public bus? In Puerto Rico, there is no such thing; local people can all have access to private transportation so public bus is not necessary. We have to plan very well for our food stock to avoid throwing food away or have lack of food during the journey. Plus, we never know if in the next port the food supplies are available.

I’m blessed knowing nice people like the Fata Morgana family. They have previous experience and we learn a lot from them including, and that’s not just about sailing, different knowledge and even about finance management. Our both families spend lots of time together since we met in the Dominican Republic and now here in Puerto Rico and we share our experience from the opposite side of the world. I had a chance to go with Mira, the “woman” of Fata Morgana, for girl shopping for second hand items in the Salvation Army Shop in Ponce. Back in Macau, when Joao and I tried to get rid of our cloths and other belongings, we tried to contact Salvation Army and other nonprofit organizations to ask how to donate our stuff. The answer we always got was that they didn’t need cloths, they needed money! That’s how the organizations in Macau work, even if they get millions in subsidies from the government they still need money from donations. Anyway, my experience here is much better. Inside the Salvation Army Shop there is lots of stuff, mostly cloths. I went on purpose to buy clothes for Maria Dee, who’s growing up “fast and furious” and need bigger size dresses. I don’t mind second hand stuff since most of them are in good condition, especially baby clothes that have very short usage life. Mira told me that the items there are cheap and we can find places like Salvation Army Shop almost everywhere. I was surprised with the bill that I had to pay in the end of the shopping. I didn’t expect that for 4 pieces of baby cloths only 1 USD (around 8 MOP). That’s not even enough to buy a glass of milk tea in Macau!
Salvation Army Shop, Ponce
Big Teddy Bear, Elmo hand puppet, cloth book, 4 shorts, 4 top, 1 hat for Maria Dee and 2 of my tops cost 7 USD
Maria Dee in hat and dress from Salvation Army Shop, all cost less than 1  USD
Washing the Teddy Bear
To stock up our supplies, in Puerto Rico we have many choices of supermarkets, since this is America all the big franchise brands are here. If you are American or travel a lot there, you may get used to mega malls like Sam’s Club or Walmart but for us it was the first time! Fata Morgana crew said that we are the first persons they know who don’t know what is Sam’s Club or Walmart. It’s like Big C in Thailand or Continente in Portugal. Sam’s club is alike a whole sale supermarket; they sell big quantity with cheaper prices. Here you must apply a member card to be able to shop inside. We were told that in the States you must present the card otherwise they don’t let you in. Here is different you just need to show the card with your photo at the cashier. The member card cost 40 USD so we decided to apply since we need to stock up our boat before we move more to the South of Caribbean where people say it’s very hard to do and pricey. Yet, people told us that we can use it in Panama where there are another branches. For those who want to know about fresh markets, I think here they don’t exist! Everyone goes to the supermarket, a place with AC! We can find small coffee shops where you can buy some refreshments and put some coins in slot machines! For fresh or frozen meats, seafood or fruit and vegetables, they are all in the supermarket. Ah, products like Asian basics, tofu, wanton dough or tea for example they have it on the healthy corner! The wines are expensive; we could not find a bottle for less than 10 USD! For that price in Macau or Portugal we can sip a very good wine. I guess here wine is a luxury thing. Although is expensive, we can find French, Italian, German together with local wine from USA, Puerto Rico or South American like Chile and Peru.
Joao and Maria Dee in front of Sam's Club
With Evo and Mira from Fata Morgana, Walmart Ponce
Maria Dee in Home Depot
Some days ago, for the first time since we left Macau, we drank Tsing Tao and it tasted so good! When we visited the capital, San Juan, we stop to buy some boat stuff at West Marine and just next to West Marine we found an Asian district where we could find Chinese, Korean and Japanese food. We stopped at one for Chinese food for lunch. The owner is from Shenzhen and I was so happy that I could speak some Cantonese to them! The news about the subsidy that the Macau Government gives to Macau citizens was well noticed by this Chinese in Puerto Rico! Here at this restaurant they had a small Asian grocery so I end up socking up in Asian cuisine ingredients to make help my journey homier with Asian taste.
Home made Asian food onboard
Stock up our food supplies
In terms of medical care, here they have very big and nice pharmacies similar to Watson’s in Thailand and Macau. They sell everything from medicine, cosmetics, snacks or even souvenirs. Just don’t understand why they call it pharmacy if they are bigger than any supermarket in the Dominican Republic! The only thing that bothers me here is that we CAN’T buy contraceptive pills without prescription! In order to buy it I need to go to a private clinic and pay for the doctor to issue me the prescription then I can go to purchase it in the pharmacy.  Of course, I didn’t do it! On the positive side, the liquid soap from Cetaphil which I tried to find in the whole Dominican Republic, here can find it everywhere from drugstores to supermarkets and the price is half of the one in Macau.
Pharmacie in Old San Juan 
For Noel, probably here is the best place in the Caribbean to find his special treatment medicine. They have lots of choices for dogs. Most of the medicines are from the States as same as canine’s products; they are not from China! We saw many pets shops and dog hotels in Ponce and around the country but we didn’t see any dogs here! For the cruisers, bringing dogs to the States is not difficult at all. The official here only need to see the document if the dog obtain the valid rabbis vaccines. We met other sailors who travel with dogs; they told us that having a dog onboard will be expensive if we plan to stop in the port of all the previous British colonies. At least we don’t plan to stop in BVI, Fiji, Australia or even New Zealand, so it should be fine.
Automatic name tag machine for dog, 5 USD each, cash and credit card accepted
Having a baby in Puerto Rico seems to be cheaper than in the Dominican Republic. Cloths, baby strollers, diapers, and baby food are cheaper here than in the Dominican Republic. All the restaurants we visited, from cheap to expensive, food courts or canteens, always have baby high chair. Should be some United States regulation! Baby changing tables in the restrooms are easy to find in both men’s and women’s rooms.

Since we arrived in Puerto Rico we still keep fixing our s/v Dee. Here is a lot easier than in the Dominican Republic. We can find big stores where we can find the tools or boat related stuff like Home Depot or West Marine. I feel a bit sad that we come from the “Made in China” place and here almost everything is made in China and we have to pay more. What is expensive here but cheap in China for example, LED bulbs, solar panels, batteries etc. On the opposite side, the items like blenders, vacuum machines, washing machines and TVs are much cheaper than in Macau.

We come from the region where Reminbis and Hong Kong Dollars are the major currencies. We are scared to spend US Dollars and Euros, as we all know they are one of the main world economy money. If we can compare the life in Puerto Rico, the cost of living, food and transportation are still much cheaper than in Macau or in an international city like Hong Kong. However, since the Macau Government and locals companies don’t support our trip to celebrate 500 years of the sea route to Asia, our budget is getting tight due to boat maintenance and fixing, we can’t spend too much and must keep track on it. Many people see our food photos posted on Facebook of what we have eaten on s/v Dee and they might think that we have a very good life without working but they don’t know that some of our food is made of leftovers and that our meals are always cheaper than any meal at Portuguese restaurants or afternoon tea set on weekend in Macau!

Fried Cheese Cake, Puerto Real
First BBQ pork we had in the Caribbean
Puerto Rico drink, Coconut soda 
Local cake in San Juan, 1 USD each


Hey there! I'm from Puerto Rico and loved your anecdotes and perspective. Fresh markets are hard to find but there are a few really good ones. If you are still in the island ask for "Plaza del Mercado." There is one in Santurce, in San Juan that is small but lively. Have fun!

Isn't it great when you can have another cruiser show you around a town they know that's new to you? Maria Dee is adorable! And hey- guess what, I got to meet Miguel and Corina here in Langkawi last week. It felt like a very small world...maybe we'll get to share an anchorage someday!

Thank you Ms. Conde for your information but we will leave Ponce to Vieques in few days. The hurricane season is getting tight for us now. If we have chance to come back we will try.

Behan, please enjoy Asian foods! I miss them a lot.

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