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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Last nights in San Juan

I am writing from home in Massachusetts.  It is Wednesday, exactly one week since we returned from Puerto Rico. We arrived back without incidents, although the cold was a stark contrast to the previous weeks.  We'd been delayed three days when Jet Blue cancelled our Sunday flight home due to an anticipated large snowstorm.  That didn't materialize, but I guess there was a lot of icing, and they probably would have cancelled anyway.  I was not too distraught, okay, I was really happy that we couldn't get back. Loring was really frustrated. Can't blame him, things don't get done as well, and pile up, when he's away from work.  So I felt a bit guilty having wished that we would get stranded.  I only found out  after our return home, that he wasn't frustrated at having to stay longer, only that JetBlue was really inept at handling the cancellations and rebooking. They notified us in the middle of the night, two days before the flight. He attempted to get online, unsuccessfully, at 530am, and then waited on the phone for an hour.  I was asleep and blissfully unaware of all of this. By the time he was cursing and woke me up, the soonest flights back weren't until Wednesday, five days away, and three days after we were scheduled to go home.

We located another place, in another part of San Juan, Sansource,  for two days.   I never saw enough of the city to figure out if there was any true center or downtown, or just a lot of different neighborhoods and sections. The last night we spent at the Airport Hotel for convenience, since our flight was at 6am.  Nothing special, small room with not even a chair beside the one at the small desk. Good bed.  The advertised outdoor hot tub was nowhere to be seen.  There was just a dismal looking outdoor space with some artificial grass patches. Someone told us, or maybe just guessed, that the tub had blown away in the hurricane. That's surely possible. But I think they ought to have removed it from their website and signage one and a half years later. And the price was almost as much as the marvelous Gallery Inn in Old San Juan. Loring met a man who'd been on a Sunday flight that was also delayed three days. Their group stayed at the Airport Hotel all three days.  Our little apt. may not have been up their alley, but there are myriad fancy hotels in town. They had two rooms and had spent something like $ 1800 dollars for the three days. Hard to understand.

We unfortunately had a little run in at breakfast at 5am before our 6am flight.  As we entered the room and began to serve ourselves good looking scrambled eggs,  a woman indicated that our breakfast was "over there" and pointed to another buffet table.  Our table had ham, not very good pancakes, and the most horrible looking oatmeal I'd ever seen. I love oatmeal but didn't eat and will refrain from describing what it looked like.  As we were leaving to catch our flight, we heard the staff offering just arrived guests individually made omelettes at the first buffet.  I was crestfallen and frustrated and asked why they hadn't told us that. They were defensive and rude,  and indicated that they tried to tell us but we walked away before they could. That was blatantly untrue, and to lay the blame on us was infuriating. In fact, Loring and I had entered separately, and were both told the same thing.

A couple of days ago, I got a mailing from asking for a review. I wrote what I've written here, and then also wrote directly to the hotel saying the same thing, and that I had answered a inquiry with the same info.  I haven't heard anything back from either, and am guessing that I won't.

Sorry to rant about a negative experience but I am good at holding a grudge.  It's a shame that our sojourn ended on a sour note.  But I must say that aside from that, it was a terrific trip.

So now, to some ending details of our last couple of days.

We wound up staying in a small apartment in another part of San Juan.  It was a kind of beach community, small houses, no hotels that we saw, and a mix of locals and tourist beachgoers. The place was a bit cramped. There were six beds in two bedrooms, so more than enough sleeping room for us. But the living/kitchen space was tiny, with one small sofa and a little breakfast table with two chairs. Hardly room for the two of us, and it's hard to imagine how any more folks could hang out there.  There was no outdoor space to hang out in, just a small alley way thru which one entered.
The good part was that it was a  couple of blocks from a beautiful beach, and a couple in the other direction to a street with numerous restaurants and bars.  One place had the Patriot's game on, and a large crowd and a couple of bouncers.  The patrons seemed to be Pat's fans. We ate at a small quiet, family run restaurant across the street. I had a crab stew, delicious.

Our first day there was Sunday. There were numerous kite surfers at the beach, fun to watch. The next day there weren't any at all.  The beach was quite nice, and the waves were pretty gentle, my kind of place.  Although I still get nervous whenever one washes over me.

On Tuesday, we packed up and went off, luggage in hand,  to a manatee rescue center located on the campus of a university.  They had several rescued manatees, huge but still juveniles. Two were hopefully going to be returned to the ocean when they were big and strong enough. One was blind and would be kept there for life. Another had been hit by a boat.   There was also a rescued pelican and a couple of turtles.  Our tour guide, Marina, was a riot, full of jokes and silly references.  She referred to "the director" multiple times, and later introduced us. Turns out he is her father. When I asked how long she'd been working there, she said "since birth."  She's now nineteen and a college student.

We weren't allowed to touch the animals, a good thing, although tempting. And the caretakers
touch them as little as possible, not wanting them to be any more accustomed to humans than necessary. But we did get to feed them. First we cut up huge amounts of cabbage, watermelon, squash, and a number of other fruits and veggies, and put them in large plastic containers.  The pieces had to be a certain size, smaller or larger and the animals wouldn't have eaten them. The neatest and weirdest part of all was how we did the lettuce. The center had designed and made some metal holders. We slammed down numerous heads of lettuce onto the skewered contraption, maybe seven or eight heads. Each contraption had two skewers.   Then we dumped the bins and threw the skewered lettuces into the manatee's pools. The manatees immediately came up to feed.  But they didn't consume all of it at once. So the pools were left with lots of floating produce, kind of an odd sight.

We were allowed to take photos in the indoor space, but not in the area where the animals live. Not sure why. But Marina took tons of photos, in fact made us pose for them repeatedly. She promised to send us the photos soon. They gave us certificates indicating that we had been Manatee Caretakers for a Day!  and will be sending us T shirts as soon as their new order comes in  .All in all a fun experience, if a bit pricey. It was $75 for a two and a half hour tour.  But the money all goes to maintaining the center.

Aside from the misadventure with the buffet, and the frustration of dealing with JetBlue, it was a pretty perfect trip. The only thing that might have made it better would have been if I'd been able to snag a couple of tickets to Hamilton!

For those who don't know, Lin Manuel Miranda, the creator of the ridiculously popular Broadway play, was recreating his role in the original production in San Juan, right when we were there, for a couple of weeks.  As with every production, seats were almost impossible to get. I tried, several times, when they were first released.  I was online shortly after the release, put on a wait for 15 minutes, then informed that the seats were all gone. I asked our hosts- to- be in Patillas if they could try to obtain tix for us and them. Turns out that the seats for locals, although only ten dollars, were equally hard to get, by lottery each day. And I entered a Jet Blue contest, where one winner per day was chosen for a prize that included plane fare and one night's stay in a hotel. we could have bought$5000 packages that also included flights and hotel. But that seemed a little extravagant, even if the money is all supposed to go to a fund supporting arts in Puerto Rico.

But Oprah was there, and Jimmy Fallon.  ( I tried to get tix to his show there as well.)So the best I could do was to watch Fallon play a role with the cast in a production number. The guy can sing, too.
That, of course, I could have watched from home as easily.

But I am awfully glad we went, even sans Hamilton.  I originally had the idea before I knew about the Hamilton production.  Prompted, in part, by wondering what Puerto Rico was like, and how well it had recovered from the devastation of the hurricane, a year and a half before. And the answer is that it is largely  but not completely recovered. But things are open and the economy can sure use the support of more tourists, whom they are trying hard to woo back.

Well, that's all I can think of now. So I will end here, finishing up the saga of yet another adventure.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Sojourn in Old San Juan

We are now at the incredible Gallery Inn in Old San Juan, where we have spent the last few days.  It is an old 18th century house, renovated from a dilapidated state in the 1960’s by a young artist,   She is now in her 80’s and lives here still.  The place is a labyrinth of spaces, on seven levels, gardens and sculptures at every turn.  Virtually all of the work is her own. Heads predominate, peering at you from everywhere. A few are recognizable to me, but I am guessing others would be recongizable to Puerto Ricans.  The ones I recognized  are Abraham Lincoln, and the Obamas!  They actually stayed here (not Lincoln, as far as I know.) But Barack and Michelle did, in 2011, before he was president.  They stayed in the first floor suite, which an employee told me is like our room, but bigger. We have a little balcony, overlooking two patios below, and the pool. Yes, there’s a pool, too, although it seems to be mostly ornamental. I have put my feet in, and would love to just float around a bit, but doubt I will have the chance. We have to leave in a couple of hours.
It is a good thing that we have an inner room, rather than one overlooking the street. The last three days have been the annual San Sebastian festival, fondly referred to as SanSe.
We were forewarned that it would be crazy, and I guess it has been. But not quite the way we expected. It has been crowded, and noisy with bands blasting from four different stages in the old city. But it hasn’t been at all rowdy, as I’d anticipated, despite the fact that people start drinking early in the day, and continue all evening. But there are people of all ages, elderly folks sitting on chairs outside their homes, lots of people with infants in strollers, as well as the usual young adult party crowd.
The best part is the music on the streets, and the parades.  We arrived just in time for the Thursday opening parade.  There were folks dancing on stilts in bright costumes, and bunches of people with huge papier mache heads. And other folks just marching along, some with musical instruments, shakers, drums, guiros, the gourds with grooves played with a wire comb. And at least half the people carrying drinks, or wearing SanSe t shirts or headbands or both.  And most impressive of all, at least three different papier mache Saints Sebastian, replete with arrows, each being carried by a half dozen or so men. It was quite wonderful, a great beginning to our San Juan sojourn.
The plan was to stay here two nights at the Gallery Inn, followed by a last half night at the airport before our 5 am flight home, which would have been this morning. Fate, or saints? Intervened, in the form of a predicted snowstorm up north. Jetblue cancelled all its flights, two days ago, and by the time we got thru, hours later, the earliest flights home were for Wednesday.
Myself, I am happy to stay here a  few more days, all I am missing is the first day of classes and perhaps my mushroom crop!  But not so easy for Loring to take three more days than planned away from work. So, while I feel bad for him, how can I complain? Especially when I, only half jokingly, said a few days ago that I hoped we’d be stranded here.
The irony is that the storm seems not to have materialized, so the airlines needlessly cancelled three days in advance.
We are checking out of the Gallery this morning.  Have currently found a couple of airbnb possibilities close to one of the San Juan beaches in the hopping tourist area, so will experience a different aspect of the city.
The two best parts of our stay here were both quite remarkable. Walking around a couple of nights ago, we stumbled on a storefront with some of the large papier mache heads in the window, and inside, and a bunch of young folks lounging around. Turns out that they are a well known puppet theatre, and had just finished their parading for the day. It was many more than we’d seen the first day. They told us to come at five the next day, yesterday, when they’d be doing it again. We had a long talk with one of the women, about the group and about Puerto Rican politics. She was a marshall for this parade, although she wears one of the heads in other pageants. Her job was to keep a path in the crowd clear for the heads to march.  They can see only on a very limited basis, thru a slit in the mouth of the pupper. She showed us pictures of the theatre director, who created the group 25 years ago.  When we were heading out, I saw him outside and started to talk to him. Incredibly, it turns out he knows the Bread and Puppet Theatre folks, out of Vermont, and spent three years there with them. They were the inspiration for his group.  He thought he remembered our friends Judy and Karl, who with their kids, now grown with kids of their own, used to perform with the Bread and Puppet. Pedro then said, as a matter of fact, there are a few Bread and Pupppet people here now, they come every winter. (for this festival, I think.) And just then, one of them came by, withought having heard our conversation. His name was Howie Cantor, and he knows Judy and Karl well. What a coincidence!
The next day we watched them prepare, don their costumes, mount their stilts, and march, and we marched in front of them, backwards, for several blocks.  At one point Pedro, up on his stilts, and quite the showman, spotted me and waved. I felt special!  We also saw the young woman, whose name we never got, walking along clearing the crowds. I waved and she blew me a kiss.
The other incredible experience was a music and dance performance we happened upon in the street, just after we’d met the puppet group the previous night.
I can usually never see when there are street performers, because of the crowd, and   because I am not very tall. But here, I was lucky to be one of the first people  as they begun, and was right in the front. There were a number of drummers, and two singers. But the most incredible part was the dancers. A first woman just entered the small space in front of the drummers. But then she was followed by dancer after dancer. Some of them were part of the group, but most were not, were just bystanders who ventured in, one and sometimes two at a time. It was not unlike a street hip hop performance, with each person showing his or her moves. But the dancing was different. It was basically African moves, with a lot of shimmying and hip shaking. There were roughly the same numbers of men and women. And they were all incredible good. Some were young, others not so, some were quite heavy. But they were all graceful and amazing dancers. The singers and some of the drummers also took a turn. It was impossible to predict who was going to dance next, many times it seemed like just another bystander who then entered the middle, someone you wouldn’t have expected to dance.
I was incredibly close, at times they were literally inches from me.  It was one of the most special, and participatory performances I have ever seen. Truly.
The other things we’ve done here, aside from just walking the streets, around and around with the crowds, were to visit El Morro, the fort at the edge of the ocean, and the Art of the Americas museum. Both were impressive in their own ways. The museum is small by US standards, six different rooms, but very interting. There were costumes and crafts from all over the  Americas. I was able to spot the Peruvian ones pretty much every time. Some were similar to things in my own collection.  They had an incredibly carved gourd that was probably a couple of feet tall. I have some that are as intricately carved, but, of course, no where as large. The fort is extremely picturesque, and we and everyone else there took lots of pictures.
There was an exhibit of carnival masks and costumes, including some quite similar to the ones we would later see on the street. As well as some from other countries, in the Americas and from Africa.
We also walked down into La Perla, the very poor, and reportedly dangerous, section of the old city. It seems to have been badly damaged by the hurricane. There were many abandoned and destoyed homes. But it was also very picturesque, with most of the houses brightly painted. I am wondering if the painted houses of Aguadilla were inspired by these.  It does add some brightness to pretty dire living conditions.  To my surprise, we came across a little free library, with laundry hanging in front of it!  Amidstq what had been a little park, with now destroyed play structures and benches.
Well, I will stop here. Time to pack up and move on to our next adventure.  I will report later on whatever next awaits us.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Last night in Patillas

It’s our last night here in Patilas, on the south side of the island. I am sittling on the porch, overlooking the ocean, listening to the waves as I write. Both places we’ve stayed have been beautiful, we’ve done well choosing. Neither has fit my previous impression of Puerto Rico, for which I am glad. I never was much interesting in visiting here, because my image is of high end resorts and all the culture that goes with it.  I didn’t expect to find little out of the way places with beautiful beaches away from the glitz and glamor.  But those places are here, and I don’t think it has anything to do with the devastation of the hurricane, and I can’t believe we’ve discovered the only two. 
Tomorrow we leave for our last two days, in San Juan. I expect it to be the total opposite to what we have found here. The Festival of St Sebastian, about what we knew not a thing, coincides with our arrival.  I didn’t find any aribnb places in the Old Town, which is where I wanted to stay, figuring it was the prettiest part, and also the most central of what we would want to see in our two days there. When I callled  one hotel, the man actually warned us about the festival, how crowded and crazed it would be. Not the kind of revelries we usually are drawn to. Plus the rates were twice the usual just because of the festival.  I tried another wonderful sounding hotel, where the person at the desk didn’t discourage me at all. And, to my complete surprise, Loring, who doesn’t like crowds at all, seemed to think it would be fun to be in the midst of it all.
So, off to San Juan we go, early tomorrow. We knew that traffic would be stopped in the Old Town, but thought we would be able to get in if we arrived in the mornng, as the festivites don’t get going until afternoon. But we got  a message from the hotel that after 10 am no driving, aside from city shuttles, will be allowed in. So instead of Ubering it from the airport, where we will return our car, it sounds like we can only uber as far as the Capitol, which is quite a distance from the Old Town.
So we don’t know quite what to expect, but it will certainly be, as my mother used to say “an experience.”
I just hoped there is something to it beside rowdy crowds and lots of drinking.  We will find out.
Here is Patillas, we have gone to a number of different beaches, returning to the same one today as we did yesterday. Our house is right on the ocean, and there is a small beach, but it is mostlly  rocky, and the waves are fairlly rough.  There is enough sandy beach for a couple of hammocks and a couple of beach chairs, which has been terrific. But we have spent most of our time on other sandy beaches, and it’s been interesting driving thru several small villages to get to them. There have been very few people on any of the beaches, just a couple here, a couple there. As far as I can tell, they are all Puerto Rican, or at least Spanish speaking.  We have come across relatively few folks from the mainland during our couple of weeks. Interestingly, though, of the few we’ve met, the majority have been from the Boston area. 
Our hosts here are Jim and Teresa. They live on the back half of the same building, but are totally unobtrusive, and leave the wonderful porch for their guests.  Teresa is from here, and this land has been in her family for a while. Not generations, but, I think, about 20 years. Jim is originally from New York, which I knew from his bio. When I brought it up, it turns out he lived in the Bronx growing up, first in the East Bronx (I grew up in the West) and then on Sedgewick Avenue, just blocks from where I lived.
Teresa also lived in NYC for a number of years, which I  gather many Puerto Ricans do, and many of those return.  Many also left after the hurricanane. I guess it remains to be seen how many of those wind up returning.
It’s hard to tell how much devastation remains from the storm. (there were actaully two hurricanes, Irma and Maria, just weeks apart.  There are many abandoned buildings wherever we’ve gone, but it is likely that at least some of them were abandoned before the storm.  There are also many spifffed up looking places, newly painted, some new construction, some McMansion type places overlooking the ocean, in beautiful spots. But we both agree we’d prefer a small place on the beach to any of those!
Someone we met on the beach, a man about our age, lives here for much of the year, but up north in the summer. He was also originally from the Boston area, knew Beverly.  He is a carpenter, and had built his own house.  It apparently held together during the storm, but was uprooted and rolled down the hill!  He told his neighbors to take any of the materials they needed. He’s planning to build another house. He told us there were no grocery stores in that town, and he missed the Sam’s Club that had been there before the hurricane, where he could get his hot dogs and Boston baked beans!  I had a hard time imagining a Sam’s Club in the area, so guess it was somewhat different before.
There is a large supermarket in the other direction, where we came into our village, about five miles from here. We went there our first day to stock up, but haven’t been back.  We did find a tiny grocery store in the village where we met the guy on the beach, but guess that didn’t qualify in his mind.
It’s about 4pm now.  Teresa and Jim have invited us to join them for supper tonite, which will be a really nice way to end our stay here.  I’m not sure exactly what they are cooking, but am certain that it will have garlic in it. She says they love garlic and put it in everything. They gave us some to use.  And I can certify that there is a constant scent of garlic emanating de from their kitchen!
Of the beaches we’ve gone to, the one we visited today and yesterday was the best, because it had a small cove that protected it and made for calm water, my kind. So I floated around with my favorite toy, my waterproof MP3 player, listening to the likes of Green Day, Queen, Joni Mitchell, and some klezmer music.  A bit incongruous with the environement, I guess, but delightul none the less. 
 A last note, the folks who are coming here for four days days when we leave tomorrow, are from San Juan. They are coming here to escape the San Sebastian festival. Uh-oh.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

And on to Patillas

A couple  of days later. We left Aquadilla yesterday, drove over the mountains and diagonally across the island to Padillas, on the southeast coast. We will be here for the next five days. It’s another beautiful place directly on the ocean. Our hosts are Jim and Teresa, a warm and friendly couple. They live here too, but are very respectful of guests’ privacy, and leave the wonderful porch to the guests when they have people staying with them.
I saw in their bio on airbnb that Jim is originally from New York. I asked him about it this morning, not only that, he is a Bronxite like me.  They are about our age, too, I would say.  Teresa is Puerto Rican, but lived in New York for a number of years.
One big difference here is that the shore is rocky and the waves are rough. Jim cautioned Loring about swimming, but we find that most people are much more cautious about the ocean than Loring.  In fact, we have seen nearly no one in the water at either location, or at the town beach we visited today, a few miles down the road.  The only place we’ve really seen people in the water at all is at the town beach in Aguadilla, where the sand is beautiful and the water calm.  And even there, Loring was pretty much the only one actually swimming. 
Yesterday we went to the closest supermarket to here, about five miles away.  We prefer small grocery stores when we travel but haven’t found any here. The supermarket, Plaza, was large, with mostly familiar items. But they didn’t have plain yogurt (which seems increasingly hard to find at home these days, as well.)  We did buy a couple of unfamiliar looking root vegetables, whose names I will have to check and report on later. But both of them, when I googled them, showed different names for them in most every country. Not sure how we will cook them yet.  Seems they are mostly boiled and mashed.  Although someone had a recipe for one of them combined with cucumber into a drink. Sounds interesting.
But we won’t find out how they taste until tomorrow, Tonight we will check out the restaurant that is in walking distance, just down the street.  There are a number of beach restaurants nearby, but this is the only one we can walk to.  I guess we will try a couple of the others later in the week.
Our days are lazy, we relax and don’t do much, read, eat, lie on the beach, go for a short drive, some days.  And yet they are full, the small things occupy me and fill the days, pleasureably.  I could do this life, with some culture thrown in.  Interestingly, Loring and my ideas haven’t changed that much from when we first knew each other  - we decided then that half our time in Paris and half in the Caribbean would be ideal.  But then again, there are still so many other places I’d like to go, and go back to.
Teresa was amazed and enthralled by my collection of beach glass. She collects it here, but in the quantities I am more used to, just a small number of pieces at any given time. She is now trying to convince Jim to go with her to Aguadilla. We have given them directions and I hope they do go.  I don’t think she quite believes us that the quantity I collected in our six days could easily be collected in just a day or two.  She is now thinking of making a glass mosaic design on one of their outside walls. Maybe I will do the same at home! 
Looking back, I  see that I didn’t describe the second restaurant we ate at in Aguadilla, Boca Loca.  It was actually quite good. We did get the 20% off with our Visa card. They had ceviche,  different from Peruvian style, with something sweet, maybe mango or papaya?  And we each had a delicious fish dinner. 
And the museum, which we did eventually find.  It’s open only Thursday thru Saturday, so am glad we found it before we left on Friday.  It’s very small, in a former mansion that I believe had been owned by a sugar baron.  It survived the 1918 earthquake, as the friendly docent told us, and I guess the recent hurricane too, without much damage.  There are just four small rooms to the museum, and one of them serves double duty as the office. There was a second person who worked there, a volunteer , as the man may also have been. She was also quite friendly, had been a banker, now was retired. Her mother had taken her sister and her to live in NYC, in Brooklyn, when she was young. Then, seven years later, she brought them, now young teens, back. They were not pleased, of course, but eventually she came to be happy again in Puerto Rico. 
The art was a mix of styles, some local artists, but all from the island. The only other visitors were, oddly enough, from Massachusetts. The man told them about the painted houses, which we seconded that they must go see. (they are hard to miss.)  And he said they were having a meeting later that day, with the local artists, to plan an additional mural on the lower wall of the neighborhood.   He also expressed a little concern that it would be hard to get a dozen artists to agree on a design.  I asked him to post a picture of it when it is finished. Which reminds me, he asked us to like the museum on fb and on trip advisor.  I better do that now, while I have it in mind.
Hasta pronto!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019


I am back. It is now day five of our six days here in Aguadilla. Our days have gone at a leisurely pace, as they should and do in a tropical setting. At least for us. We are not the resort type, nor are we into water sports (other than swimming)  ziplines, or the like.  Our favorite winter type of trip is to a quiet  beach, with as little company as possible.  Surf and good swimming for Loring, calm warm water that I can float around in for me.
We did well in picking this place in Aguadilla.  The beach is directly in front of us, walk off the porch and there you are.  Of the dozen or so houses along the beach, perhaps half are occupied, or at least occupy able . It’s hard to know how much is due to the hurricane, but I would guess a lot of the destruction here along the beach is.
The construction next door is continuing , but luckily the jackhammering is only sporadic. We’ve been out much of the middle of the days, and it hasn’t bothered us much, as we had feared.
The rhythm of our days has a similarity, a couple of hours sitting on our porch, reading.  Then breakfast, cereal and fruit.  A couple of days we went out in the car, the others we walked over to the painted houses, or the other beach near us.  Then back here in the early afternoon for lunch, and more porch sitting in our lounge chairs and hammock chair.  Loring takes at least one long swim every day, usually two.  He has swum back from the nearby beach to our own twice.
While he swims, and often while he is not swimming, I am collecting beach glass. Lots of it.  Did I already say that I have never seen this much anywhere?.  There are several other people collecting, too.  Some are local, some are visitors.  We have encountered very few people from the mainland, most people here speak Spanish as their first language, most speak at least some English, and many are quiet bilingual.
Most of the people I’ve spoken to on the beach make sea glass jewelry. I am collecting with the plan to make a sea glass mosaic, although I have used beach glass in jewelry before.  I have collected a ridiculous amount already, and the more I pick, the more compulsive it gets.  I have only winnowed out a few pieces so far, so am not sure how or if I will carry it all back.
Yesterday afternoon, and again this morning, we walked thru the hilly streets of town, where many of the houses are painted with bright colorful patterns and a number of murals.  It seems to be the town’s main attraction, aside from the two beaches. You can only get to the bottom few by car, for the rest, you have to walk up.  We made it about halfway up the hill yesterday, then decided to go back today earlier in the day, when it wasn’t as hot.
Many of the houses are abandoned, although  at least half are lived in. A sign at the bottom explains that the concept was by a young local man. But it is unclear how many people have participated in the painting, or if there was any opposition by dwellers in the area, since all the houses in that area are painted. It goes on for several blocks, and also up for an equal distance.
The effect is stunning and cheerful, probably a great boost in spirits for the people who live here and lived through the hurricane.
One particular mural, a woman in profile, especially caught my attention.  The art is of a higher quality than the rest, and incorporated into her profile are the park between the painted buildings and the ocean, and a couple of municipal looking buildings. I took pictures of it yesterday. When we went back today, I realized that our two beaches, the city one with the calm waters, and our own beach are quite clearly depicted.  They are right at the bottom, just above the artist’s signature.  The date it was painted was December 28th, 2018.  Not even two weeks ago!  The rest of the project was done last year. The hurricane was in September of 2017, not quite a year and a half ago.
There is supposedly a museum here, in a municipal building. Not sure of how interesting it will be, but sometimes the small local ones are hidden treasures. It is apparently not open all week, the first day it is open since we  have  been here is tomorrow.
One of the nicest things about this house, aside from the incredible setting and view, is the icemaker in the kitchen, separate from the refrigerator.  It is about half the width of a dishwasher, and makes a limitless seeming amount of ice. Far better than our refrigerator at home.  What a treat. And a complete contrast to our very first island sojourn, almost 50 years ago, when Loring was the caretaker of a tiny, privately owned Bahamian island.  He, and then we were the only people on the island. We had a generator, but only ran it sporadically.  Our biggest treat was our once a week trip into Exuma, by boat, for groceries, and cold drinks!
Whenever we travel, I try to find books written by local authors, or that take place where we are.  I found a couple that were accounts of the hurricane, but neither was especially good. They weren’t that well written, but more to the point, neither gave a very good account of what the hurricane itself was like. They did both give some idea of how people coped in the ensuing months, though, and that was fairly interesting.
I also read a dectective book, one in one of those series that features a different crime, or a different  different  location, with   the same detective, in each novel.  This one was called Puerto Rico pearl, and the main character is a gem detective. Again, not great literature, but good local color, and I might even be inclined to read another in the series if I were in the location where the novel took place.
The best Puerto Rico book I  have read here is called is The Time it Snowed in Puerto Rico. It is about a young girl in the 1950s in a small Puerto Rican town.  The author is of partly of PR heritage, although her name is Sarah McCoy, her dad was apparently not from here.  It is beautifully written, and I loved the local references. Her family goes to the very beach we are now on,  numerous times, when she is a young child.  It does not seem that she has lived in Puerto Rico, but the story feels real.  I assume she heard lots of stories from her grandparents, who she thanks in her ackowledgements.
We have eaten most of our meals here, cooked them ourselves. We find that we prefer to cook most of the time, and just go out to a restaurant once every few days. Here, there hasn’t been much of a choice.  We ate our first night at the restaurant right here on the beach, a nice way to start out.  We have found anoather restaurant, which seems like it might be the only one in the village itself.  There are nearly no open businesses. It is hard to know how much is due to aftereffects of the hurricane, and how much the town is and was derelict, even before.  It reminds me of dying downtowns of American cities, where all the business and housing has moved to malls and suburbs.  There is a large mall right at the edge of town, with a  supermarket, a movie complex, and a whole indoor mall that we didn’t go into.  We have done our grocery shopping there, twice.  There aren’t even any tiny grocery stores in the town itselef.
We have found one other restaurant, a couple of blocks from here.  I checked out the menu last night, and discovered that Wednesday, today, is Visa day.  All diners charging their meals with a Visa card get 20% off!  So guess where we are eating tonight!  Not that there is much choice. Although we would haave been happy just eating here.
So I will stop here, finish my rum and fresh papaya that Loring concocted, and off to dinner we will go.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Puerto Rico sojourn

It’s our third day in Puerto Rico. We are in the town of Aguadilla on the northwest corner of the island. It’s Monday.  We will be here until Friday when we go to our second destination, diagonally across the island  from here on the  southwest coast.
Our house is directly on a beautilful beach..  There are perhaps a dozen of them along the beach. Some seem abandoned, or at least not repaired from the hurricane, a year and a half ago.
We have to walk down the beach from the beachfront restaurant and bar, where we park.  To  get to our house. Not a bad way to approach one’s home. 
The beach is covered, in several spots, with seaglass, more than I have ever seen before, more than I possibly can collect.  I am being somewhat discriminating, but will probably have to cull it and leave some behind.  I am particularly looking for blue cobalt, which is hard to find.  And for some reason, it only is in tiny pieces, unlike the other colors.
The  spot directly in front of our house is one of the prime spots.  This morning I met a woman collecting, from an island in Washington state, who calls herself the beachcomber artist. That is actually the name of her website. She earns her living making jewelry, and in the winter travels to a warmer place and combs the beach.
I have just returned from my second collecting foray of the day. This time, there was a local couple collecting. She talked to me at length. Her husband smiled at me and never said a word.  They live in Mocha, about 25 minutes away, and up in the hills.  She told me that this was nothing compared to the amount after the hurricane. They collect and sell the glass, online.  She showed me one particular color, an aquamarine, that she said they’d never seen before the hurricane. She believed in came from the blue house a couple of doors down from us, which used to have blue glass windows.
The beach is relatively quiet. We’ve seen few people, other than the glass collectors. We met a couple from California with an infant who are staying a few houses down. But we haven’t seen them since.
Our first night, we ate at the beach place.  Food okay, we had several hors d’oeuvres, including chili rellenos. One of our favorite foods from the time we lived in New Mexico,  we always have to try them when we encounter them on a menu.  These came pretty close.  All the food we tried was fried, so pretty much of a junk food meal.  Perhaps we will eat there again and try some of the entrĂ©e items.
Only problem with the bar so close, they play music loudly at night. It hasn’t bothered me much, because it’s music I like. But somewhat intrusive, especially when it gets late. Tonite, they are closed, although my friend on the beach told me they are usually open on Mondays. So we don’t yet know if there will be music the rest of our nights here, or if it is mostly a weekend thing.
This place is just about perfect. Or was, until, when we sat drinking our coffee on the porch this morning, a loud hammering noise started coming from the house next door. Oh, it’s Monday, we realized, the first working day since we arrived.  And hoped it wouldn’t continue  for too long.  It didn’t, but was replaced by the much louder sound of a jackhammer, on the roof, just feet away from us. We looked at each other grimly.  And hoped that it wouldn’t continue for the entire day, or worse, the entire week.
Thankfully, they stopped the jackhammering after about a half hour, replacing the concrete that was decaying with new concrete blocks, a quiet process.  It remains to be seen if that will be the end of the noisy construction.  We have spent little time inside the house, aside from sleeping, showering and cooking.   Most of our time is on the porch, and it will be a disaster if we are unable to use it much.
Yesterday and today, we spent time driiving around to other nearby towns and beaches.  Yesterday, to Rincon, about a half hour away. It’s a little livelier town, with a few tourist related shops, but still pretty quiet.  Here in Aguadilla, there were no businesses open yesterday. But it was Sunday, and also a holiday, Epiphany, I think.  Today, however, was a working days. Still, nearly no sign of business. Many of the storefronts appear to be empty. A few have merchandise in the window, but closed doors. It’s It's hard  to know how much is due to the effects of Hurricane Maria, more than a year ago.  Or perhaps it’s just a kind of urban decay, with most of the business out on the major roads outside town. 
We passed a Marshall’s on the way here, just before town. And then remembered that when Marshall’s was sold Mr Marshall kept just the Puerto Rican stores.  I believe he lived here in his later years.
I have a particular spot in my heart for Marshalls. Not just because it’s one of my preferred places to shop (after thrift stores).  But because the very first Marshalls was a block away from our house. When we first moved there, more than thirty years ago, one of the neighbors was just retiring from working there for 30 years.  She told us about Mr. Marshall’s original produce stand, followed by a truck selling clothing and who knows what else,  in the very spot the store eventually stood. Our neighbor worked for him then, and took the cashbox home at night. I don’t think even most people in Beverly know that the business originated here. Or I should say, there, since I am now on an island far away.
I hope to check out the Marshall’s here, just out of curiosity, to see how similar it is to the ones at home.

Today, we drove along the coast in the other direction, north.  Not much in the way of attractions, but always interesting to scope out the local scene.  We passed suburban neighborhoods, with nice middle class houses, and some areas of luxury, with mansions with ocean views.  There’s an international airport here, surprisingly, and a Coast Guard station.
Online, we’d seen references to beaches, ruins, and surfing locations.  We drove down one pitted road to find an area with about 20 cars, but no signs of any people on the beach below.  It’s left us puzzled. The beach is called Surfer’s Beach, but no sign of any   surfers in the waves, either.
The ruins turned out to be an abandoned lighthouse from the 1890’s, with the light long gone. Very scenic, with lots of exposed brick that had orignally been covered, and spectacular views of the sea. Not far away, a ruined set of buildings, the remnants of a Navy station where they’d conducted secret sound experiments in the ocean below.  Those buildings had been abandoned in the 1970s.  Empty, decaying and covered in grafitti, they had a charm of their own.  There was a sign indicating a plan to convert the building into a visiitor’s center, with r activities to promote tourism in an ecological manner. It had the feelilng, though, of a plan never to be realized.
Then, back home, but to the next beach down from us, a short walk.  Our beach has waves and a rocky bottom.  The other one is incredibly calm, my kind of water.  I took a dip, and hopefully will  return tomorrow with my underwater MP3 player, and maybe one of the floaty toys that we discovered in our house.
That’s it for now. More in a day or two.