Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | September 21, 2011

Shopping for Dummies

N 18° 04.67′   W 65° 47.8′

Palmas del Mar, Puerto Rico

I apologize if this post sounds whiny. We are enjoying wonderful new experiences, fabulous places and a different and intriguing change in lifestyle. But I would be misrepresenting our adventure if I didn’t comment on some of the more difficult and irritating aspects. Our most recent shopping day was a frustrating experience. Being in a new place, not speaking the language and having time limitations on transportation can complicate simple errands.

Monday morning we decided we should make THE BIG SHOPPING TRIP so that we would be ready to leave port. We still aren’t sure if and when we are leaving since an upcoming tropical wave might delay our next venture in the Spanish Virgins. But it has been 7 weeks since the last major shopping excursion and I am dipping way into our dry goods and running out of fresh and frozen items. It doesn’t make sense to keep walking to the resort market where prices are inflated and selection is severely limited.

We rented a car for 24 hours beginning in the early afternoon. We headed for Advance Auto Parts so Bob could return 9 gallons of used oil for recycling and purchase more for the next oil change. When we got there, he realized that it was not the store he had visited previously. There was a huge crowd and he didn’t want to wait in line to see if they had the Rotella product he wanted but didn’t see on the shelf. There was an Auto Zone up the street so we went there. After taking a number and waiting about 15 minutes, he found out that they didn’t have his product, and that wasn’t the right store either. Stopped next at Pep Boys, no luck. He couldn’t remember which auto parts store he had visited. Now he was thinking that maybe the store he wanted was in Fajardo and he had been there while out with our neighbor Rich. It was unusual to see the captain this confused.

We moved on to find Wal-Mart, which seemed to take forever with the heavy traffic in town. We purchased small washable throw rugs for the master cabin so the newly refinished floor doesn’t get scratched by doggie claws. Bob found a Rotella oil product similar to what he wanted that will suffice for the next oil change. We had to wait in a separate line for quite a while to dispose of the used oil and get the deposit back . . . but avoided a trip to Fajardo.

Then to Sam’s Club. We had been told by other boaters that this is THE place to shop in Humacao. We aren’t members, but they let us in without any questions. We assumed that we would pay a small surcharge on our purchases. Long story short, we spent lots of time in the store and filled the cart with dry and canned goods and supplies, wines to replenished our depleted wine stores, and a set of hard-to-find 100% cotton sheets that we had been searching for to make sleeping without AC more comfortable. Then got to checkout and found out that we had to apply for membership. Since we may not be back here and we likely won’t find any more Sams Clubs en route it really didn’t make sense to join. The manager took pity on us and let us make our purchases with the stern warning that this was the last time we were welcome in Sams without a membership. We must have looked like homeless winos or something with our canned goods, bedding & bottles of wine and our story about living aboard and traveling the Caribbean. We felt pretty stupid . . . but glad our precious time wasn’t wasted.  

Back to the boat and it was now raining, so we decided to unload the cargo in the morning. The cook was supposed to get a night out at a restaurant on rental car day, but we didn’t feel like going out again in the rain and it poured all night.

Tuesday morning after unloading the goods from the prior day we headed back to town to visit the supermarket and hardware stores and stop at the vet’s office. I have been trying to get information about the USDA veterinary health certificate endorsement process, which will be good to have for some future destinations. The Puerto Rican USDA office has not been helpful. They simply refer you to their website, and between their English and my Spanish we really don’t understand each other. Phone calls and e-mails to several local vets have not yielded any better information. This vet office was recommended by another boater, so I thought a personal visit would help expedite the process. Thanks to a fellow patron in the waiting room who interpreted my request to the Spanish-speaking receptionist I was able to have a few minutes with an English-speaking veterinarian who was familiar with the regulations and the process. The only info I still needed was how much a rabies titre test will cost, as it is sent to a special lab in the US for processing. The secretary was to call me back with that information when she returned from lunch.

On to downtown Humacao. The traffic in this town of 58,000 has been horrendous with frequent gridlock conditions for no apparent reason. We have learned from past experience not to come to town on Fridays and Saturdays. Mondays and Tuesdays aren’t looking good either. Most of the cars here have dents. While I was waiting for Bob to come out of the auto parts store I counted all the southbound cars and figured 1 out of every 3 had a dented right front fender. And I was only looking at one side of the car . . . People have to be somewhat aggressive when they drive or they would never get anywhere. Driving the rental car here is a little scary, since the insurance waiver covers a nominal amount and we don’t have our own auto policy anymore.

We were stuck in traffic, running out of time on the rental car, and noticed a different and closer supermarket. Although I am getting familiar with Ralphs, and can find much of what I need there, I thought what the heck, let’s try the new place and perhaps save some time and the irritation of getting through all the traffic.

So we visited “Pit USA”. As a supplement to Ralphs it would have been an okay stop, but as my major provisioning market it was a nightmare. Once inside I noticed something about a “liquidation sale”, and it seemed they were getting out of the fresh food business. I started out in the fresh fruit section – not bad – fresh mangos, oranges, grapefruit, pineapples, kiwi . Then got to the veggie section and almost cried as it was huge but every bin was empty except for 2 bags of Spanish onions. The meat section was pretty sad too . . . nothing fresh, just some frozen items, and many were well past their expiration dates. No fresh juices, no milk, no deli items either. I decided to try to be flexible and make the best of it with substitutions of frozen, canned and packaged products rather than having to extend our rental car to make the venture to Ralphs. Then Bob had the nerve to look at the cart and say “I hope that’s for you – I’m not drinking that brand!” %$@#akkkk!!!

While I shopped, Bob had walked to the hardware store next door to try to find some cleats for the roll-stop system and he planned to stop by Burger King since we had left without making breakfast. He met me at checkout, and we took the items to the car. Except we didn’t remember where we had parked the rental car – was it a Toyota – no, a Suzuki? We walked up and down the aisles searching. This car did not have one of the auto key fobs to help identify the car. No luck . . . and a rain shower was quickly approaching. We ended up soaked, and still no car, wandering around lost in the rain in a parking lot that really wasn’t very big at all. So back to the storefront to wait it out. And feeling stupid again. Early Alzheimer’s??

Bob finally found the car, we loaded up and headed back toward Palmas to replenish the gas and get the rental car returned before the clock ran out. He had not gotten lunch yet, so stopped at one of the local pincho stands while I ran back into the vet’s office to see if the secretary had returned from lunch. She was still at lunch so I have no choice now but to try to communicate with them by phone. Bob enjoyed the pinchos, and decided at $2 for a large skewer of grilled chicken with choice of sauce plus bread that it was an acceptable substitute for a Whopper.

Back to the boat where supplies were unloaded and hauled to the boat via golf cart. My afternoon was spent organizing & inventorying. What I can’t fit into the galley, I store in various bins under the settees or behind the walls in different compartments. I keep track of where things are using a spreadsheet or else I have trouble finding what I need without tearing all the compartments apart.

Unless we stay in port longer and have enough errands to justify another rental car day I still need to walk to the local market and hope they have some of the items that remain on the shopping list. Or the ship’s menus will need to be seriously modified. Bob says, “no problem”, he would be okay with corned beef hash and fried eggs for his meals. Except we have no more corned beef hash . . .

Once we get our shopping act together here in Puerto Rico, we will likely have to repeat the process many more times along the way in new and wonderful places.  I’m hoping it gets easier or we get smarter!!




  1. I know how you feel with the early Alzheimer’s… Good thing you keep that spreadsheet for your inventory! After your adventure at “Pit USA”, I’m sure you will never lose another rental car. But, maybe this is what happens when you don’t have to drive or park a car for months at a time! lol

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