Saturday, December 26, 2009
Christmas went down in fine fashion here on Puerto Rico. We woke up late and almost missed giving Marian her present before she shipped off to Holland for a short visit with her family. Nobody seemed bothered by our lack of punctuality however, and Lucy and Marian both absolutely loved the gift we made for them. Thank God! It took several days of collecting and a whole evening of glueing to make the big "Welcome" stone possible.
The children were thrilled with the pool table we bought them and luckily for us, we didn't kill ourselves moving it to the house the night before. It was heavy! It took four of us to move it through the slippery walkways in the jungle and I swore at any moment somebody was going to drop it or wrench their back. We gave a quiet look of exhaustion and satisfaction as the sweat poured off of our foreheads.
We all made our way to the main house that morning, where Lucy served up some Puerto Rican coffee made the old fashioned way, in a net inside of a pan of boiling hot water. It was delicious, and a perfect start to the day! I was quickly ushered over to the box that the pool table was in and handed a few basic tools by the children. It seems I was the carpenter for the day. I seperated the parts of the table into smaller projects so everyone could get involved. You should have seen us turning screws by hand! It was ridiculously difficult and I longed for a cordless screw gun! Finally after much begging, Lucy procured a very old Black n Decker drill with a bit for phillips head screws.
We had a fabulous dinner of lasagna and rice and beans! Wow, meat! I hadn't had any in a week and a half or so and it was kind of weird to taste my old friend...so weird I had two helpings! It was nice to have some pasta back in my life to offset all the rice we've been eating for starch. We spent the rest of the evening playing pool with the kids on into the night. I think we played 30 games or so and have been playing almost every night since. I think I would have gotten my throat slit in a serious bar game, because Puerto Ricans have a whole different way of playing pool and it is nowhere near legal in regular tournament rules! I won't get into it, but it has been a funny learning experience and many battles have ensued!
This morning I dropped off the car to the rental agency and took a $60 taxi ride back to the house... ouch! I suppose it was better than paying the holiday rate for the car which would have gone from $30/day to $75/day because of the demand over the next few weeks. I re-lived a simple but powerful economics lesson of supply and demand. The cab driver dropped me at the gate to the property where I opened the gate with the electronic beeper. You should have seen the look on the neighbor's face as I walked through the gate onto the private road. $60 and a mile and a half of the steepest gradient you have ever driven... or in my case walked, and I was a sweaty mess when I reached the house. On the way up the road I ran into Kevin, who was riding one of the horses down the road. He greeted me and laughed at my sorry state while passing, but I still beat his ass up the hill!
When I got to the house, Alwin was cooking up an awesome pasta creation that included beans, veggies, and a host of sauces and spices. We chowed down and lounged around the house for the afternoon reading, playing on the computer, listening to music...etc until Jeffery brought a surprise visitor to us! There in his tanned hands was an even more tan baby boa constrictor! Finally! Finally, finally, finally...Thank God!! I have been traveling to this island for almost 10 years, four of which I have mostly stayed in the forest and I have searched almost everyday, the ground and tree tops for this elusive Puerto Rican Boa! Now, I was playing with a new born that was less than a foot long and looked like it was in danger of being crushed by Jeffery's hands. We let him go right in front of the house and watched him slither away into the dark forest for his next meal of crickets and frogs. They graduate to a healthy 6 to 8 feet long and eat rats and small animals when they reach maturity. Jeffrey promises the next time he sees a big one he will capture it and bring it by. I can't wait!
I know snakes freak a lot of people out, but I love them. I always have. I owned a few as a child and one of the pythons I had when I was in college would fall asleep with me while I stroked its scaly spine. I would then sometimes accidentally fall asleep myself and wake up in my bed with the behemoth stretched across my belly and her head tucked under my chin like a child or lover would do. I know she probably could have choked me out, but she never did and to this day I miss those lovely moments spent with my reptilian comrade.
This was my first boa here, but not my first snake. I have a funny bathroom story that many of you have heard and some of you have lived through. I will share at a later date because it deserves its own whole blog post! It is a truly funny memory!
I am jamming some ELP right now and finishing up my evening chores. I hope you are all well and happy as pie! Love, Jeremy.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
A quick update. Right now, I am watching the sunset, mixed with some light tropical rain cascading down the mountain side. It is late afternoon. The children delivered a Christmas Eve dinner to us and unfortunately got a glimpse of their present for tomorrow, a pool table! Sam is making jewelry for Lucy and Marian and I am soon to get back to my piece for Lucy. We also found a beautiful rock at the beach that we are going to craft into a welcome stone for the property complete with shells, sea glass, and coral.
Lanski, the house dog, has hopped up onto our back porch and has slowly made his way to Alwin while eating his dinner. Alwin is completely ignoring him so Lanski is starting to make funny noises and is begging with all his heart. No chance; the hard nosed Austrian is not giving up the meal and Lanski just barked at him so I kicked him out of the house. He'll be back. We often wake up to his paw prints on the floor in the morning letting us know he has visited during the night.
This is an awesome Christmas Eve and the first I have ever stayed away from my family. It doesn't feel weird at all, maybe because I have grown so despondent of the snow and cold and partly because I am having a great time here. The past couple of days have been a true riot....
Two nights ago, we decided to make a fast track into Old San Juan for a few beers and maybe some Christmas shopping. A few beers turned into a few more and at one point we had the whole place singing Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen! We made wonderful new friends with two women from the Coast Guard and a bartender named Carlos, who is also a classical guitar player. I danced with a wonderful 'crucero' or cruise ship passenger named Dana while her friend took pictures and drew with magic marker on her arm. She was a dance choreographer from NYC so you can imagine how badly I must have compared! On top of my lack of dancing skills I also had crocs, swim trunks, and a dirty NHRA t-shirt on. She was in a beautiful dress with sequence and high heels and smelling of some expensive perfume. We were the center of the old dingy place for an hour, twirling around and laughing to all manner of music. Then the ship whistle blew and off to the boat went my dance partner and her friend!
The party went on into the night as the old bar filled in with people from all over the city and the world. It was a tiny pub with graffiti all over the wall. You can actually request a marker from the bartender. We were loving it. Lisa, one of our new friends invited us all back to her flat to continue the festivities and engage us in some much needed food. It was a block away from the bar and boy were we in for a surprise!
A more beautiful flat I have yet to see! A 400 year old building with original tile floors, plastered walls, 20 foot ceilings, and beautifully furnished, Lisa is living it up! We munched home made quesadillas and played with the dogs then Lisa grabbed her home made moonshine and we moved the party down the street to Sarah's place.
Scantily furnished, but still very beautiful, Sarah's house had a view to die for! Booze in hand, we all climbed a 20 foot spiral staircase up to the top deck which over looked the original Gate of San Juan and a good portion of the city and harbor. The deck was cozy as ever with Christmas lights, and great furniture and we were partying on the top of the world. The conversation flowed nicely, and everyone was enjoying themselves. All of this, and a stone's throw behind us was the original mansion built for Ponce de Leon. Surrounded by so much history, I started daydreaming about the old ships in the harbor and the lamplit streets with all of the action of the night. It was amazing indeed. We finally called it quits at 3am and I drove my drunk European friends back to the jungle for a few hours sleep.
Yesterday we got up and took Sam to the doctor for his physical therapy, then decided to head down the East Coast of the island for a lazy drive. We meandered through grasslands, sugar cane fields, banana plantations, and old towns listening to older jibaro music on the radio and stopping only for food, good sights, and coffee. We must have looked like old folks back home.
We drove mostly on route 3, which is a coastal road that often takes you up and down steep sea cliffs and crazy switchbacks. The views were stupendous all the way and we all kept gasping at every other turn. We stopped at a small rocky beach and combed through the shoreline for some shells and hermit crabs. The crabs were tiny and we would let them crawl around in our hands and then release them back into the sea. It seemed the day couldn't get any better... and then it did.
We were searching for a convenient way to get back to the highway that runs through the middle of the island. Alwin grabbed the map and said "Route 184!!" I pulled over to get a closer look because I know this island and the maps don't always guarantee the route will work. I had my doubts, but Alwin insisted and said something in German which resembled, "any new road travelled will broaden one's horizon". A sucker for poetic justice, I hooked the right at the signpost for 184 and our adventure continued.
This road was truly amazing. We passed a small lake and snaked through a river bed, then into the mountains for some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen anywhere. It was very much a rain forest. We road through a beautiful park near the peak of the mountain and kept gasping at the sights of verdant valleys below and mountain peaks all around us. Alwin and Sam said it reminded them of Austria without the snow. We even saw an abandoned castle on top of one of the peaks. Sam and Al went in for a closer look and to take some pictures.
Nearby there was a bar that was overlooking yet another fantastic vista. We had to stop! I asked the guy behind the bar if he had any vegetarian food and the guy next to me said, " We have beer!" Right on! Willie was our new friend! He and his compadres were eager to hear about our travels and we ended up spending the next three hours there laughing and partying with them. We taught each other our local beer drinking salutations and they wouldn't let us pay for a thing. They even ordered a big plate of food for us to try and broke out some picante sauce to see if we would eat it.
Alwin gave them a show as they kept bringing out hotter mixes to try and beat his tolerant pallet. No such luck! He greedily dipped the pork pieces into the sauce and almost made the guys cry as he shoved them down his throat with almost no effect. They bowed to him and called him "maestro de salsa" or Master of Sauce! We had one of the best experiences we have ever had, and all of us were exchanging numbers and emails before we left! Again, I love this island! Especially its people! So warm hearted and fun loving... not unlike myself! ha ha.
Hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Prosperous and Healthy New Year! I love all of you!
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Grab your hats and travel West with me my dear friends! Our trip this weekend did us well. We returned home this evening with lifted spirits and found our little house nice and clean with beds freshly made and floors swept and mopped. We are all cleanly shaven and enjoying the sounds of the Coqui frogs whistling about! The hot showers were great, but we missed our home a bit.
Yesterday I got up in the morning and took a long stroll on Playa Jobos. The surf was raging and there were but a few lucky go-getters up for the challenge at the break of day. I was feeling light on my feet and trekked quite a ways on the soft sand. There were crabs popping in and out of holes, and also a fair amount of trash on the western most part of the beach. I got the good with the bad. It seems our human element is prevalent everywhere.... even in paradise.
When I got back to the house, Sam was waiting with clippers in hand. It was shaving time. I had promised them that I would jump on the bandwagon to celebrate our new healthy way of eating. We started with a mohawk, which would have looked really cool if it hadn't been too much to the right. I enjoyed it for a few minutes and then was dragged back to the chair by Sam who insisted we finish the job. I had horrible memories of the last time I shaved my head playing in my head! I was seventeen at the time and I had let my brother Ben shave it while we were home one afternoon. I remember my friend Becky coming over and saying, "Oh my God Jer! Please tell me you have a hat!" I have a big head, and at the time I had a smaller body, so I looked like a watermelon walking in the sun. It didn't help that my brother shaved an arrow into my head as well! Now that my body has grown in a bit.... I look like a big, bad biker or perhaps the wrestler Bam Bam Biggalo without the tattoos!
Bald and beautiful, we three cruised to Aguadilla and straight to Crashboat Beach. This beach has it all! Great sand, beautiful clear water, and a long pier that used to dock ships. It was awesome for swimming and also had some interesting snorkeling in the depths. We enjoyed the warm water and sunshine for a few hours in the morning and then shot down the west coast for Cabo Rojo. Everywhere we stopped for food and supplies we got funny looks. We must have seemed like three Aryan brothers and seeing as Sam and Alwin are from the motherland, I can't blame anyone for the extra glances.
We enjoyed the ride through the lush grasslands, which remind one of what South Africa must look like. Big swaying grass in the foreground and gorgeous mountains towering behind. Almost all of the roads we drove were small and curvy and it was such a relaxing contrast to the heavy traffic up here closer to San Juan.
5.3 million potholes later, we completed the dirt road to Cabo Rojo and it's famed light house and hidden white sand beach. I kept assuring them that it was only a rental car, and we'd laugh until the next pothole nearly broke our necks! Alwin was clicking away on his camera as we ventured through the boggy salt swamps and dry forest. A short hike got us up to the light house, which overlooks some of the most amazing sea cliffs you have ever seen. They are red in color and very craggy from all of the wind and ocean erosion. And the ocean below is a splendid sight. You can see for miles and miles into the south western Caribbean Sea, clear skies above, and grass and rock at your footsteps; it's like stepping back into time. Then you make your way around to the beautiful white sand beach that sits in a half moon bay below. I think this might be heaven... mine at least.
I hiked alone, while Sam and Alwin took pictures up top. They eventually met me about half way down the beach where Sam and I headed directly for the water. It was windy and had a nice three foot shore break. We body surfed for a good two hours while Alwin took pictures and played with crabs. This was living. There were a small number of people on the beach enjoying the same, but you had a great sense of isolation in this wild place. It was magnificent. We packed up just before sunset and took the backroads to La Parguera where we were to spend the night.
I lied. I totally lied about La Parguera. It seems that I just wasn't there on the right weekend. The place had livened back up to what I had remembered with live music, restaurants, street vendors and the like. We took the bioluminescent bay tour with a small boat operator and had a great time. There were only seven of us on the boat, so the operator gave us the option of swimming. Splash! Before we knew which way was up, Sam was in the water. Then Alwin joined. The organisms react to movement and glow a sapphire blue. It is quite magical. I have swam the one in Vieques, which is probably the best in the world, so I didn't go in this night. However, it was awesome all the same for me. I loved being out on the water with a sliver of a moon hanging low in the sky and all the stars shining in their glory. I daydreamed about the old days and how scared the sailors must have been of the glowing water! It was amazing.
We spent the night at Gladys Guest house, which wasn't as nice as our previous night, but still very inexpensive at $65 US a night. It was our last night in AC for a while!
We woke up this morning and stopped at a roadside vendor for our daily breakfast of fresh fruit! Ahhh... the new eating is going great, except that we had to eat McDonald's salad today which totally sucks! We spent the morning cruising through the Guanica dry forest and even got to see a manatee from afar on a cliff side lookout. Sam was happy about that, but disappointed that he couldn't join in for a swim! We got our swimming in at Gilligan's Island, a mangrove cay just a half mile off of the southern side of the island.
Gilligan's is a great place to relax for the day! There is a ferry that operates from the lone restaurant in the area and drops people at the island. It is a pack in, pack out reserve so most of the travelers bring coolers full of food and drinks for the day! The island has a few channels flowing through it that are maybe 12 to 15 feet wide by 5 or 6 feet deep. You can don your snorkel gear and float through the river like channels viewing all sorts of great fish! I saw angel fish, guppies, jacks, puffers, barracuda, flounder and a host of others that I couldn't even identify. They dart in and out of the mangrove limbs...all but the barracuda. who are nearly fearless. I followed a two and a half foot long monster for about 15 minutes, then he followed me. We played cat and mouse with each other, but I was careful not to turn my back to him. They have very sharp teeth and are curious as all hell.
After a few hours of fun and frolic we ventured on to Coamo to visit the hot springs. We were however turned around because the place is still under reconstruction. I'm hoping that it will be finished soon, because this is one of my favorite features on the island.
A beautiful drive through the central mountains and we were home in a few hours time. I feel refreshed, healthy, and ready to enjoy another day! I hope you are all well and enjoying yourselves whatever you may be doing! Until next time! J.
Friday, December 18, 2009
Where to start.... where shall I begin? How about the here and now! Actually, let me thank Brad first for calling me early this morning and saying," Where's the blog bitch!!! I waited up til after midnight to see if you would post something. I like reading it!" I was flattered, and still am that anyone reads and enjoys my mental vomit! ha ha. So again, thank all of you!
At this moment, I am sitting outside our quaint little guest house near the world famous Playa Jobos. A small seaside village just outside the town of Isabela, Playa Jobos is a surf mecca and has been for well over 30 years. It is often a stop on the pro tour, and many people come to this island to enjoy it's break, which can be treacherous one minute and glassy the next. It's balmy, but I can hear our air conditioner cooling the room. Alwin and Sam are already in bed. It's only 9pm. We just got done with a great dinner of salad and soup and I just took the first hot shower I've had in weeks! It was like a little slice of heaven. We are spending the weekend on the West coast of the island and will be traveling around the area for the next two days eventually making our way back to the rain forest. It is quiet here except for the occasional loud car speeding down the road bumping reggaeton, the local flavor of hip hop. I'm relaxed and feeling fine. Tonight is the good.
Yesterday was a different story. As most of you know, the whole reason I have come here for an extended stay is to help Lucy and the children at Casa Suiza. I found out yesterday that I may have to put that dream on hold.
Alwin had spent the day revamping the website we were creating, while I took Sam to the doctor for his physical therapy. Sam and I spent a few hours at the beach to give Alwin some peace and quiet. The two of them have been backpacking together for over 6 months now, and a day apart is much needed at times. I was anxious to finish the preliminary work I had started for the project, so we headed back to the house before sunset. Alwin was completely stoked about the website. He had spent all day revamping the functionalities and it was looking great. I had already contacted some possible donors with a lot of resources that were willing to help. People were contacting me out of the woodwork and willing to open their wallets for the children. Things were going great.
After a few edits of a donor letter, I called Lucy to come see all of the hard work we had done. This is where the onion started to really peel. I won't get into the details, but layer after layer after layer of information later, and we were utterly handcuffed. Partly because of legal semantics, partly because of Lucy's inability to think outside the box. I had been mislead on the details of the operation and every problem I addressed or found a solution for had another underlying problem that would have to be fixed first. (Thanks for the call Aunt Pauline! Perfect timing!) I felt completely exasperated, emotionally drained, heartbroken, done. I had dreamed of this long term sustainability project that would be great for the children, Lucy and the forest. It would ween them off of government reliance. It would allow her to enjoy the rest of her life with far less financial woes. It would have possibly given me a long term home down here and the ability to help her year round. So far.... Nada. I'm not completely without hope however. She did agree to go sit with a lawyer and discuss options.
The opportunity is absolutely gigantic if she is willing to do some initial work and make an investment. Getting her to see that when she is busy raising 7 children full time may be next to impossible. Leading the horse to water would be hard enough, getting it to drink may be a battle nobody could win. Needless to say I had a very sleepless night. This was the bad.
"Nothing is good or bad, less our thoughts make it so" -- not sure who to quote, but this very famous and true message popped in my head this morning. I immediately began working hard to change my state of mind. I thought about how lucky I was to be alive, to be relatively healthy, and relatively young. I thought about all of the challenges I had overcome in my life, many that were much much harder to deal with than this. I thought of all of my friends and family and all of the people that love me. I thought of how awesome it was to be on this island and of all the people I have shared and will be sharing it with! Instantly I felt better and felt like I had the world on a string again! I breathed deeply and with a sense of purpose decided to shift my goals. Have fun! Enjoy! Write! Create! And work on my physical state!
Didn't I open a book and start instantly reading about food chemistry. Divine Karma in instant action. Turns out most of what I've thought is wrong... well some of it, and I shared the information with Sam and Alwin and we all instantly decided to treat our bodies to the best things for them! It was exciting! So much so that we decided I would join them tomorrow and shave my head.... as a sort of "rite of passage" for our new found attitudes towards our bodies. Look out world, another bowling ball joins the ranks of Brad Zacek! Since I quit my full time job, I have been much more aware of my health and exercising much more often, so this was like a Godsend of information at just the right time. I will share it with any of you if you are interested, and I'm sure I will be writing about how I feel and any changes that are going on both good and bad. I'm really excited. The not so Ugly... time to do what one wants and a strong lesson learned. Hey... what's a little more character to my personality going to hurt??? Nothing at all!
I pray that you are well, happy, feeling good and alive no matter what your challenges! Pick your head up, smile and carry on!
Much Love! J.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap Tap in my back. My elbows flailed into the air, body convulsed and I took a big endorphin filled breath as my fight or flight instinct kicked into full gear. "Whoa buddy, it's just me Alwin. I'm waking you up to take Sam to the doctor." Sigh of relief.... a second prior I was sure I was being prodded by the crazy horse that roams the property and is said to be a bit bite happy. How the hell would he get into the house anyway? Probably the same way everything else does. Another day in paradise...
We finally got Sam to the clinic this morning for a visit with a physical therapist/doctor and he got some great news. Nothing is wrong with his spine, it's only muscle tension in his back that has been giving him all the problems. The solution to which is a heavy dose of muscle relaxers and some physical therapy for the next couple weeks. The doctor also recommended that he carry a lighter backpack and do some exercises to build the muscles. While Sam was at the doctor's office, Alwin and I made a pit stop at the beach park in Pinones so I could do my morning jog along the ocean. It was an awesome morning, the trades challenging me during the upwind portion of the run, and the sun beating down providing the extra sweat factor.
We had our normal breakfast at one of our favorite panaderias and I grabbed an extra cafe con leche for the road. A brief trip to the drugstore and we were on our way home to get ready for the beach.
We sped back down the mountain and back to the area we had come from in Pinones, but this time we passed our beach spot from yesterday and drove onward through super cluster of food stands that line the beach in the western part of Pinones. Here we stopped for some Coco Frio (ice cold coconuts cut with a machete so you can sip the milk out) and snack foods at a stand and then parked and walked around back to what I like to call "Brad's Beach".
Brad's Beach is a tiny stretch of beach that we found a few years ago when we were here for a vacation. It is behind one of the stands, and like the other beaches in the area, protected by an old fringe reef. There is a quickly sloping beach of porous sand that leads you into a tiny tidal pool filled with little fish and sea glass. The glass has been pounded over and over on the reef by waves and is usually smooth on all edges. One of the reasons that this is Brad's favorite beach is because he usually collects the sea glass and takes it home to make interesting artwork or fill vases for clients. There were a couple children playing while their father was fishing for crabs, but he wasn't the only one fishing. Dozens of sea birds were scouring the reefs for the delicious black crabs that hide in the old coral formations. It was awesome seeing them tear them up when the caught them, and they were usually able to swallow them down with a few quick gulps.
The day passed along nicely and we got some great ideas for the orphanage project while brainstorming on the beach. We sat until sundown and enjoyed the view of the north Atlantic swells coming in. Almost every minute there was a jet plane flying over the beach. We were very close the the end of the runway for the main airport in San Juan and we got to see the first turn into the trade winds as the planes carried load after load of people off the island. You can rest assured that the other side of the runway was dropping an equal amount of people here, even though we weren't able to see it from our perspective. Luis Munoz Airport is the busiest in the Caribbean by far.
On the way home I spotted a small red car stuck in the sand at one of the neighboring beaches. We pulled over and offered our help. It was a tiny Toyota and it was buried deep in the front end. I had the driver get out and I began to dig out the tires by hand. A gentleman who had got there before us suggested we pick the car up. He looked at me and said in Spanish, "With your strength, we can just lift it!" I don't know who he thought I was, but I sure as hell wasn't lifting a car out of the sand, so I kept digging to expose the lowest part of the tread. We then made a ramp and pushed it out while it was in neutral. They were so thankful that we stopped because it was a rental and they had to get it back in a few hours! Whooo.... close one for them!
We stopped at the grocery store to get some dinner and I got to play chef again. This time it was steak, eggplant and maduros (a sweeter plantain that is closer to a banana in taste) all grilled and seasoned to perfection. Like I said... another day in paradise! Getting some planning done now for the orphanage and then going to bed. Hope you are all having a great night wherever you are! Sweet dreams!
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
My dear readers! I am so thankful for the soon to be millions of you reading my blog! How's that for positive affirmation? Bueno. Today, we awoke to a sunshine we haven't seen up here in the forest in a long time! Barely a cloud in the sky, the light was twinkling in my room through the trees and greenery and woke me up with a warm hello. I stretched out like a lazy lion and jumped out of bed with the ease of a house cat. Sam and Alwin had risen from slumber a bit before me and were sitting in the porch/dining area when I got up. I could see from the look in Sam's eyes that he was in great pain. We had been asking Lucy to get us in touch with a good Chiropractor, but it was the weekend when we had last spoken with her and she said nothing was open. Sensing Sam's pain and the eminent danger that he might kill all of us, I made haste to Lucy's house to ask her help. She was able to find a full service physical therapy clinic right in Rio Grande that would take Sam, but not until the morning.
Shit. What to do? Well luckily for him, Sam had mentioned how he felt pain free in the ocean the day before so I figured we would spend part of the day at the beach. This time we headed west towards San Juan sticking to the coastal roads that meandered through Loiza and Pinones, two shanty towns on the islands north east coast. We stopped for our usual sandwiches and coffee at a different panaderia and enjoyed a nice breakfast. We even had free entertainment from the conga line of ants whizzing past our table on the floor near the bakery coolers. Don't get me wrong, the place was very clean, and the food delicious, but it was kind of crazy to see how many of the little buggers had invaded. They moved about in single file, except for the ones carrying food, who did so in a communal effort of mass strength. Ants moved in a steady line coming in and out of a little hole in the wall. Each one stopped to communicate with the next passing one in rapid fashion as if to compare GPS coordinates and mission plans! I told Sam and Alwin about my ant fetish and how they react when you kill one in the line. They totally freak out! But I didn't activate the little boy in me this morning, and the ants were spared my terrorism. Satisfied, we carried on with our beach plans.
After a brief stop at Walmart to pick up snorkel gear, we cruised the coastal route through the towering palms and brush. A large section of this road was a forest and beach preserve, which made for spectacular views and Robinson Crusoe like daydreaming. I kept getting glimpses of old huts and homesteads long left behind and couldn't help but dreaming of living on the wild coast eating coconuts and catching my own fish from the reefs. There were small food shacks, some opened for business, many closed, that popped up occasionally on both sides of the road. You could smell the fresh 'pinchos' roasting on the grills. Tender pieces of chicken, pork, and various seafoods popping and sizzling on kabob sticks. Mmmm.
Soon after the twisty road straightened out, we found our spot; a broad and wild beach park that was protected from the big Atlantic swells by an old coral reef that had long since dried out. It made a mini lagoon of sand bottom beach that was nice for wading and swimming, but not so much for snorkeling. Maybe 4 feet deep at its deepest point, the beach seemed to be a favorite for families with little ones. It was awesome watching the 6 foot waves crashing into the reef, then trickling over the lagoon, their power rendered useless by the fortress of old coral.
We spent the rest of the day here. I caught up on some reading. Sam mostly played in the water with the new snorkel gear, and Alwin was back and forth enjoying both. I had a couple locals ask for juice to finish off their bottle of Vodka with and I quickly became the bartender as they came back a few times over the next hour with a shot of booze in their glasses, waiting for the all important mixer. The afternoon ended with Sam bitching about being cold. The trade winds were blowing hard, but the air was still pleasant so Alwin and I forced him to change his state of mind by screaming over and over again, "THE WORLD WAS MADE FOR SAM!!!!!!" Our loud bursts and songs eventually cracked a smile in Sam's face and we decided to complete our evening in San Juan.
We stopped at a bar for a few drinks and chatted with some cruise ship passengers from England, then I stopped at the cigar shop to refill my small stash of cigarillos. I'm not a smoker, but these little hand rolled cigars flavored with rum, chocolate, vanilla, coconut and a host of other tropical delights are nice to puff on at night up here in the forest. We strolled the city and enjoyed all of the festive lights and displays in the Plaza de Armas and the rest of the city. It was amazing and Sam was starting to pine for a little snow. I quickly thought about missing snow and all of the comforts of home on Christmas, but instantly became grateful for the chance to live it here in the beautiful, balmy weather. Yeah, I suck... I know!
I am going to shower up and hit the sheets, we are taking Sam to the doctor very early in the morning and I am going to try to jog some miles tomorrow so I can keep up with my training. Hope you are all having a fantastic night!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Cooler. Check. Beach towels. Check. Swim gear. Check. Reading material. Check. The engine sparks, the windows come down, and we roll out of the jungle with anticipated ease of mind. Yes, it is a beach day... a much needed beach day indeed.
We pull into a local grocery store to find sun block for our very fair skinned compadre Sam. He is in constant danger of burning and we mustn't let the sun we are so eager to play under make his life miserable. Mission failure. It seems most Puerto Ricans don't need sunblock, and as an added note, most of them are smart enough to avoid basting themselves in oil and roasting under our star. Alwin scored big regardless and grabbed a bunch of drinks for us to enjoy throughout the day. We continued along route 3 in search of a hot sandwich and some delicious cafe con leche!
A few miles down the road we spot a favorite of ours, La Moderna Panaderia. The Modern Bakery, the english version of this small cafe/ eatery/ bakery/ convenience store, is anything but modern. It has an old fashioned flavor through and through. Old glass displays keep us from jumping into a myriad of freshly baked treats. Old fashioned restaurant booths haphazardly strewn about the place, hold the remnants of very satisfied customers. This place even has a small spinning display of cheap children's toys in case the little ones are in need. I almost bought the toy pirate set. I still may if it is there the next time I am.
We ordered our Jamon Queso y Huevo ( Ham, Cheese, and Egg ) sandwiches with ensalada and a round of cafe con leche to wash them down. The girls at the counter have dealt with me a few times lately, so I announce our presence with a happy "Los Gringos Aqui!!!" ( The Gringos are Here!!!). They laughed as they went about their business of feeding us and making our fresh coffee. It is a heavenly way to start a day... fresh ham, eggs, and cheese with lettuce and tomato on a fresh baked island bread. The sandwiches here are big enough to give you energy for half the day and so inexpensive you wonder how they are making a profit on them! After thanking the girls and paying for breakfast, we filled our cooler with some ice and headed for Luquillo Beach.
The beach was perfect, and scantily populated for a Sunday afternoon. The big, old coconut palms were swaying in the breeze as we hiked our picnic down to the endless sand. I immediately went for a swim, while Alwin prepped our site industriously. He muscled an umbrella deep into the sand to keep us somewhat shaded throughout the day. We made our way back and forth to the water, then back to the beach, soaking the rays, then cooling off and swimming. Sam and Alwin are very playful and I couldn't help but laugh when I'd hear them wrestling in the water and giggling so loud most of the beach would look to see what they were up to. Most of the day went like that, reading, swimming, laughing. Perfect.
We grabbed some lunch at one point from one of the kiosks and the owner saw me coming and put a big hand out for shaking. We had met and talked a week before and he remembered me. This worked to our advantage as he hooked us up with some fresh eats that were so tasty and again very inexpensive. It seems that people aren't out to get rich, but just provide a great service that allows them to be comfortable. I love that about this island.
As dusk drew near, the sky exploded in a myriad of beautiful purples, reds, and oranges. The big mountain of the rain forest backdropped the awesome scene with a host of big rain clouds that almost looked like a volcano erupting. It was quite excellent to see and I tried to drink it all in and commit it to memory. I was quickly interrupted by Sam and Alwin... Sam burying my feet in the sand and making his own artistic rendering of them and then Alwin playing catch with a water bottle filled with sea water.
The bottle soon became the centerpiece for a make shift game of World Championship Beach Bottle Toss! The heated action began with the Austrian Alwin taking on me, the American. We had each drawn a circle in the sand and were trying to land the bottle completely inside for points. It was a tricky game, as the bottle liked to bounce very unpredictably. Alas, the Americans were victorious. Sam, the referee, had drawn a scoreboard in the sand, and was holding the trophy... a left behind toy boat. He also had the microphone for the post game interview, a child's miniature sand shovel. I gave a great interview to an empty beach that I pretended had my minions and fans from across the globe. I then took over as referee as Sam took on Alwin in a no holds barred, European death match between the Germans and Austrians. The game was shortened due to a lack of sunlight, but Alwin was able to walk away with the trophy and fake interview this time, as Germany proved to be no match for Austria!
We strolled back to the car and emptied our personal effects of all the excess sand and started heading back to the house for a home cooked dinner. I was the chef again tonight and did some eggplant with Balsamic Vinegarette on the grill and an onion and garbanzo bean salad that I also cooked on the grill in foil. It was great eating and Sam followed up with some awesome roasted marshmallows as he caught the final glows from the charcoal embers. This was a great beach day indeed! I am looking forward to working on the property tomorrow. Seems we have some roofing to do! Hope you are all well and enjoying yourselves!
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The past few days have been amazing! Today, sadly, we dropped Aunt Rosie at the airport for her return trip home. She went away kicking and screaming. Seems the magic of the rain forest and the island have gotten to her too! We picked up Sam and Alwin from the airport two days ago and have had a blast with them. They couch surfed with me 5 months ago when they were in the early stages of their trip through the Americas. Instant friends, they have returned to bless me with their company in the forest. We are laughing, joking, and talking so much that the time is just flying by. Great friendships are like that. You can spend so much time with somebody, and feel like there is so much more to know and learn. It is so much fun!
We explored the Arecibo Observatory yesterday, home of the world's largest radio telescope. I loved meandering through the visitor center which was full of great exhibits and info about astronomy, technology, and nature. The birth and death of stars, trips through the universe, and facts about our planetary brethren engaged my imagination as I made my way around. The telescope itself was amazing as well, but I wasn't allowed to play with it so it didn't hold my interest as long. I'm joking of course, and I was fortunate to be outside when they were repositioning the telescope above the giant reflector dish that sends the radio waves out into space. So much to see there and I would recommend it to anyone who is remotely interested in science.
After that, we stopped at the laundromat again and introduced Sam and Alwin to our beloved Vanessa! We washed and spoke with much fervor and happiness as our lovely host buzzed around the place making sure all was well in the world of laundry! Clothes sufficiently washed and dried, we cruised our way back to the house for a dinner that was a royal feast by all standards earthly and non.
Sam commented immediately on the "perfect" table setting, all things in order and the table flanked in gold and blue draperies. Lucy and Marian had set the mood for a perfect evening. Spanish guitar playing in the background, we were treated to a host of scrumptious delights including bacalaito ( a fish and tostone mixture flattened and fried), smoked salmon and capers, pumpkin soup, brie and crackers, our main course of Chateau Briand (which was to die for) with asparagus and rice and beans, then the final display of banana flambeau. All food items washed down pleasantly with a Spanish red wine that was delicious and complimentary to all of the food. The presentation was perfect, the food was more than perfect, and the setting serene. It was like a dinner in heaven. We munched amazing foods atop the rainforest in grand splendor, listening to the frogs sing and watching the city far off in the distance.
A finer dining experience cannot be had. We thanked the chef's and all of the help, and spent the next hour talking with everyone at the main house. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day! Life is so good here. Hope you are well and enjoying yourself no matter what the circumstances!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Ahhhh... ye crazy rain forest! Won't you give us reprieve? Won't you rest? No! It is in your nature to thrive, and thrive you do in the wetness that gives life to all plants and creatures from top to bottom! We must suffer a bit in your moist environment. Our suffering is really but a minor inconvenience for the verdant joy that you give us! I will not complain. I will revel in your majestic wetness. I will flourish like the green plants around me. Ye forest full of life, I envy thee, I have become part of thee. You are perfect in your cycles and efficiencies. You are amazing in every way. You are home to most of the species on the planet, and the perfect environment for me as well. I love you.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Old San Juan holds many architectural and cultural delights. By far the most stunning and popular are the two forts that surround this city of Caribbean antiquity. We opted for the smaller of the two, San Cristobal on the northeast side of the city. The fort, with its towering walls and gunnery posts, is a sight to behold from afar and up close. We pulled into this UNESCO historic site for a day of exploration.
Built in the 1600's to protect the then burgeoning Spanish port, the fort is an architectural masterpiece for its time period. There are numerous features that blew my mind, including the water collection system that led all rain water to a holding tank in the depths of the fort that had a capacity to store 870,000 gallons of fresh water. They even had the foresight to line the tank with limestone as a filtering agent, and rodent and animal control measures were used to keep the grounds in pristine condition so the inhabitants of the fort would be healthy as possible. Even then, the military spent a great deal of money and had the best technology and resources available. Some things never change!
San Cristobal and her sister fort, the formidable El Morro were part of the Spaniard's intricate network of defense and transport dedicated to mostly one cause... acquiring as much gold as possible. Spain was in love with gold and glory and they used God as the excuse to travel the world in search of the precious metal. Silver and other metals were in demand as well, but gold was the premium exemplar of wealth and prosperity. I believe they would have eaten it if they could! The network extended through the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Florida and was quite extensive. Other maritime countries of imperial Europe were interested in much of the same and the battles and constant turmoil over ports and passages were constant in those days. Pirates were everywhere, some independent, others working as vigilantes and buccaneers for opposing nations. Everyone was trying to get a piece of the action, and the biggest losers were the Taino and Caribe natives who lost their homelands and health to the European's diseases and treachery.
We spent the rest of the day at the laundromat chatting with the lovely attendant named Vanessa, who used to live in Buffalo! How ironic. I spoke in broken Spanish, she in broken English, and we chuckled at each other as we tried to find out about each other's lives. Turns out she lived only two blocks from my old office on the West Side. Now we are neighbors in Rio Grande. She spoke about her children and her husband, who love Puerto Rico, but miss the states because of the opportunity. She enjoys the simpler life here on the island. She was amazed that I had no children (as I sometimes am.. ha ha) and said I should get started as soon as possible. I tried to explain to her that I was surrounded by wonderful children at the orphanage, but she would have none of it. Most Puerto Ricans and Latinos in general are very family oriented and productive when it comes to having children. They seem like little baby factories at times and most of them are married with children before their 18th birthdays. They are raised this way though, and far more mature about it than most of the teenagers in the states. I'm an old bachelor by their standards, but I wouldn't be able to travel and do the things that I do if it weren't so!
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
"Que pasa amigo! How are you doing? So happy to see you!" were the words that flowed gracefully from Captain Frank's lips as he greeted us with big hugs and kisses at his mooring area in the coastal town of Naguabo. The most beautiful of salty souls, Captain Frank can turn a smile out of anyone and he lights up the town with laughter and small talk the minute he pulls up in his old Jeep stuffed with nautical supplies. Out of the piles of rope and boating gear appeared his cousin Junior, who was a stark contrast to Frank's robustness. Junior hobbled along on a cane with Frank's assistance and was seated on the sea wall where the four of us carried conversation for over an hour. We laughed about each other's crazy stories and all of the fun trips we had taken in life. I told my aunt and Junior about some of my previous outings with the crazy captain that had them laughing in stitches! Frank suggested we go for a ride and proceeded to kayak out to his boat and bring it back to the docking area for the rest of us to board.
We were soon plying the gentle waters of the harbor and slowly but surely we were going to get out to sea a bit and make our way to Cayo Santiago. The boat passed the last little isthmus of land that ended the harbor and "whack", the waves started coming at us. The waves weren't by an means dangerous, but I could see the look in my aunt's eyes as we continued out. She popped a few dramamine and kept smiling and talking through the slightly rocky seas. I was in heaven. Nothing makes me feel better than a beautiful blue sea.
When we got close enough to the island, we moored the boat in a little cove that gave us protection from the bigger seas. The protection did not stop the boat from moving to and fro and we had killed the engine and left our fate to the mercy of the ocean. I, being the boy that I always will be, grabbed a snorkel mask and jumped in for a look. The water was perfect in temperature, but the continuous waves were kicking up considerable amounts of sand and creating pretty murky water. I dove down for a few starfish to pose on the boat for pictures, but that was much of the extent of my snorkeling for the day.
As I climbed back into the boat I saw the three of them taking pictures of the monkeys on Cayo Santiago. These rhesus monkey's are isolated on this 39 acre island and have been since 1939 when a team of scientists from Columbia University and University of Puerto Rico introduced them for research. They are studied heavily for their behavior which is believed to be the closest to humans of all primates. Guess what the little bastards did? Within a few months they formed three monarchial tribes that etched out territory and started warring for food and resources! Very close to humans indeed.
After pulling our mooring, we started back to sea opting out of diving the wreck and seeing other parts of the island due to my aunt's "queasiness". Well, queasiness turned into violent puking pretty quickly and we all tried our best to keep our composure for my aunt as she lost her breakfast into a myriad of bags. She kept a smile on her face through the whole ordeal, but it wiped her out physically by the time we got back to port. The dramamine kicking in, she was looking rather sleepy and I knew we should be getting home soon. I steered us safely through the grasslands and beautiful beaches of the east side of the island as we made our way home to the rain forest.
A hearty dose of Chappelle Show Season 2 on DVD got us laughing into the night and feeling much better indeed. I stayed up a little later jamming some music and thinking about all of the people I miss at home. Hope you are having a great night!
Sunday, December 6, 2009
The last few days have been fabulous. Aunt Rosie and I spent one whole day at the world famous Playa Luquillo, which is very close to my casita in the rain forest. I was unable to swim much because of a torn shoulder muscle, but enjoyed the salty ocean just the same! The water was perfect in temperature and tranquility, making it very hard to get out. When I did get out, I would take a leisurely stroll over to my aunt who was under a huge umbrella on the beach. We chatted a bit in between her reading and napping sessions and I ran over to the kiosks to get an occasional drink and some local fare for us to enjoy. The day passed in relaxing fashion, and we spent the rest of the night at the house listening to the rainforest and Johnny Cash. In between singing and sipping we talked about our family history. I learned quite a bit about my grandparents and my ancestry on my father's side.
Lucky for me, my aunt is a very spontaneous person, and also a fantastic passenger. Her navigation skills have some room for improvement, but I believe she only gives up at reading the map because getting lost is more fun! Getting lost, and finding our way was the theme for the second day as we hustled down the chaotic highways on the island in search of our first stop... Coamo.
The ride down was filled with stupendous views of the central mountains and as we climbed higher and higher we were showered with some excellent rain fall and cooler temperatures. It looked sometimes as if we were going to drive into the ominous eye of a hurricane, then two minutes later we would be back into the sun. The weather persisted like this for most of the morning.
When we reached Coamo, we stopped at a few friends' homes, but they were not around. The homes in Coamo are mostly stunning in decor. Beautiful iron clad gates are kept fresh with bright Caribbean cremes and mauves and all of the houses seemed to have a very fresh coat of paint on them. The rains are very rare on this side of the island and you can see that in the less weatherized looks of the homes. In the rainforest it is quite the opposite and constant maintenance is necessary to keep anything looking even half way decent. After a delicious breakfast at a local bakery with some killer coffee, we ventured on to Ponce.
Ponce was once the capital city of Puerto Rico and holds many great treasures. We were looking for the main plaza that hosts the most beautiful fountains and statues on the island. It is a very romantic place filled with antiquity and leisure. There are children playing and singing, parents enjoying ice cream or a game of dominoes. The old fire house was an extra special treat with its original decor and lively history. Aunt Rosie was able to grab a few choice souveniers while I placed a bet on a mechanical horse machine that the locals were playing on..... come on number six... come on.... oh.... 20 wins it! Our eyes filled to the brim with optical candy, we headed west for the Guanica dry forest and La Parguera.
The dry forest was filled with beautiful, healthy looking cacti and flowing grasses atop of craggy rock structures and old coral formations. The ferrous red rock held beautiful landscapes and vistas flowing out to the ocean. There were many amazing beaches, coves and canyons that often had only a handful if any people at all. This was a wild and open place. A place you could fantasize about pirates getting lost and never returning. The whole south east coast is like that. Tiny, winding roads that peal through sometimes smokey grasslands and pasture. Born of the warm Caribbean winds and resting on the protected mangrove shores is the amazing fishing village La Parguera. This place was once an incredible little fishing village turned local tourist haven. If you came here on a weekend a few years ago you would be lucky to find a place to park your car, let alone spend the night. The small main drag of the town was a bustling bazaar of happy go lucky Puerto Rican families enjoying fresh seafood, hand made gifts, and every form of entertainment available! You could imagine my shock and amazement when we pulled in on a Saturday afternoon and found the place virtually a ghost town. Most of the fine establishments for sale or just closed completely... we walked around pile ons and plywood fences for numerous unfinished construction projects that didn't look like they were going to be completed any time soon. The town was practically laid to rest.
Even the famous bio bay tour operators were fighting for the few of us who had shown up for the afternoon. I conversed with one of the last remaining vendors who was selling fresh seafood kabobs that were to die for. He said simply, "the economy" and raised his arms in helplessness. He was content squeeking out a living from fishing and grilling in the same spot he had once made money hand over fist. He was very happy and welcoming to us and I could see why he could be surviving through the storm with his great attitude. It saddened me to see this town this way, so we spent money where we could and were thanked over and over for coming, but La Parguera couldn't hold us for the night. We were heading north and west to the surfing capital of Puerto Rico, Rincon!
We cruised the beautiful west side of the island and dropped into the road to Rincon just before sunset. Rincon is "paraiso gringo" or gringo paradise. It is the home to some of the best surfing in the planet and you get the sense of surf town the minute you get close. There are surf shops, surf inns, surf bars, surf lessons, and blonde haired, blue eyed anglos everywhere. "Dude" is an official spanish word here and this area often reminds me of the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. It isn't quite as known, but the waves are here my friends and they are fairly consistent, and they are often huge. This wasn't the case, even though winter swell season is upon us, but even so there were a number of surfers in the water getting a bath and an ocassional 2 footer! We spent the night at a really nice hotel right on the ocean. We sat in beach chairs til midnight letting the water lap at our feet talking about love and relationships. This was bonding time indeed! Many stories were shared over pina coladas and a live salsa act playing at the hotel beach bar.
The next morning we woke up and explored more of this gringo paradise, its beaches and breaks, lighthouses and law enforcement. Yes, I said it... law enforcement. No I didn't get deported, but we did talk to an interesting Border Patrol officer walking the beach in full garb. He said they are always patrolling for Dominicans and Haitians that try to make the 100 mile plus crossing to Puerto Rico. He was a good sport and only a month into his tour on the island. I gave him some great info on the area and he seemed to be pumped about learning to surf. You know you are in a great place when the law enforcement has surfing on the brain!
Getting lost in Jobos, then finding the world famous surfing beach filled the middle of our day. We enjoyed breathtaking views of the ocean and some surprisingly better swells from the North Atlantic. There was a small troupe of surfers enjoying the breaks and plenty of locals on the scene just lounging on the beach. We sipped cold coconut milk from a local vendor and had some local food then started the slow winding trek back to our home in the rain forest.
Aunt Rosie's 55th birthday is today and we celebrated in fine fashion at the orphanage with all of the children singing in spanish and showing us a great time! I led the boys in animal calls and we erupted the jungle into laughter and calls of all kinds. It was like a Discovery Channel special gone haywire. After songs were sung and cake was served, we roped two of the boys into playing Pirate Farkle with us. They picked it up right away and we played for a few hours. As I finish typing this, I'm sitting on the balcony of the house, 2000 feet above sea level. I have the sounds of the forest and my aunt snoring to keep me company of the most peaceful kind. I bid you all sweet dreams tonight!
Friday, December 4, 2009
Hola people! I just wanted to give a quick update on my travels and first full day in Puerto Rico. After a fantastic first class "bump up" yesterday on Air Tran, we arrived in San Juan a little tired from traveling and a lot hungry from not having anything substantial all day. I ventured my Aunt Rose into the chaotic highways of San Juan, where she repeatedly said, "Oh my God! Jeremy! Did you see that car?" And my response was, "It seems much crazier than it actually is. These people are great drivers!" I will give them credit in the driving department. They squeeze more cars into more spaces with more speed than anywhere I have seen. And, I barely ever see an accident. If you were driving the interstates at home and witnessed this style of maneuvering, you would be sure that 100 people would be dead every minute in a full-on pile up.
Alas we begin to feel the soft rumble of our rental car tires as they breach the cobblestone roads of Old San Juan. We are delighted by long views of the city and the North Atlantic beating its ever present waves into the giant walls of the Spanish fort. Senses come alive as you are greeted at every turn with romantic architecture, old world history, and culinary splendor. Old San Juan takes a week to explore thoroughly, but we are mostly interested in "la comida criollo" which is the style of cooking that Puerto Ricans grow to love in their hearty kitchens.
After a big plate of mofongo con pollo, a mashed plantain dish baked with a tomato based sauce and tender chunks of chicken, we move to the rice and beans and a healthy serving of tostones. A light, savory piece of key lime pie with our cafe con leche (Puerto Rican coffee w milk), got us primed up to hit the old streets in search of... well, exercise and excitement.
My Aunt couldn't stop taking pictures and breaking her neck to look all the way around at all there was to see, hear and smell. We strolled through the beautiful hodge podge of private villas, shops, restaurants and government buildings all intertwined on the hilly slopes of the city. We stopped at the cathedral where Ponce De Leon is buried and were serenaded by a gentleman across the street playing his guitar and singing to anyone who cared to listen. Cruise ship tourists roamed the streets in obvious packs, their obnoxiously loud English speaking, and shopping bags giving them away. It never ceases to amaze me how much these people can carry! Most of them are obese, and yet they still manage to fill every appendage like a pack donkey on an expedition. Bags, clothes, cameras and the like, clanking and weighing down their sweaty bodies as they search for the next trinket to add to the pile. Oh ye shot glass collectors from across the globe!
We were able to walk the exterior fort wall and see some of the fabulous fountains, statues and stonework that line the harbor entrance. We also took a stroll to the gate of the city, which was a treat for my aunt, who was seeing it for the first time. I always imagine the old regimes pulling into harbor and walking through the gates, scrolls and swords in hand, ready to handle the important affairs of imperialism. After a few more streets, we decided it was time to hit the road and head back to the house.
Stopping at the local WalMart (sorry... I hate it too), we were able to supply ourselves with what we needed for the evening and head up to our tranquil home in the mountains of El Yunque! It was so great to hear the frogs singing the familiar sounds "coqui, coqui", and to smell the fresh rains giving the forest its lush lifeblood. After meeting all of the children from the orphanage and having a special greeting from Lucy and Marian, we retired to our casita and enjoyed one too many rum punches. We smoked cigars, laughed, cried, and bonded with great fervor talking about life and all the crazy people in our family. Sleeping under a beautiful full moon, I began my life anew....