(October, 1909 - December, 2003)
The plans for this trip began as a desire to take a spiritual journey. As I scanned the internet for yoga retreats and Buddhist monasteries I searched myself for what kind of regimen I could endure. At first, the actual physical location seemed not important and we looked at places like a sno-cat in, cross country ski/yoga place in Utah, Kripalu in Western Mass and Shimbahla monastery in Vermont. Some had meditation, some had yoga, some had both. A beach-side hotel in Zipolite, Mexico, a town full of slacker ex-pats with a nude beach and lots drugs slid across our screen. The big institutions dropped from the list because while I welcome a little guidance as I search for my own spirituality, I have no interest in paying someone to teach me theirs. Others left the list because they were in cold places. Dear Zipolite left because it seemed to be 4 or 5 plane rides away. Puerto Rico moved higher on the list as we realized that we could get there with frequent flyer miles and also Dawn had heard encouraging words from a Puerto Rican student of hers.
We originally needed the trip both as both a starting point for another phase of our lives as Dawn has recently retired from her position as Artistic co-Director of Dance Collective in Boston and I am pondering a new line of work for myself and a respite for caring for Dawn's mom, Elsa, who just turned ninety four and was having more difficulty in her assisted living home. Abruptly our trip changed and intensified when Elsa died suddenly in December. Added was our need to move away from or deal with the flood of emotions that overtook us at her death.
So, the trip has ended up being a five day stay at La Casa Grande Mountain Retreat in the mountains of Central Puerto Rico and then four days at a B&B on Culebra, an island an hour’s ferry ride East of the main island of Puerto Rico. They have morning and evening yoga classes at Casa Grande with nearby hiking and horseback riding. At Arynar (R&R?) on Culebra, there is occasional yoga on their deck overlooking the bay.
Another impossibly early start. The alarm is set for 3:50 AM. At a younger age we would have just stayed up all night, but now in our late fifties we make the coffee the night before so that it will be ready to nuke and we go to bed early.
I started with the Northwest frequent flyer program because of flying to Europe on KLM with the MIT Brain Opera. It is not really the right airline to fly out of Boston because it is not one of their hubs and we always have to change planes to get where we want to go. I will move to a miles program that works better from Boston. This trip has us leaving Boston at 6 AM and then changing in Detroit. All goes well except that having to de-ice the plane before we could leave Detroit gets us a little behind schedule and we end up in San Juan, Puerto Rico about an hour behind schedule.
Going to yoga was different than at home. In Boston, we drive, park, endure the spinners and the free weight clangs, and enter a windowless neon lit studio. At Casa Grande, we arise, dress and walk through the grounds to the studio in silence. As we descend the stairs, a door with Yoga written on it, closed the night before, is now open with quiet music coming from the room within. We use our first words of the morning to introduce ourselves and meet our teacher, Veeta.
We will be in charge of ourselves for the trip and of course, for the rest of our lives.
I won’t describe our first class at Casa Grande except that I had a moment of revelation which I misheard Veeta’s "Relax any tensions." I thought she said "Relax intentions." In a moment I was aware of all my intentions, short term plans like breakfast and hiking and discussing the class with Dawn; long term plans like Culebra, moving, grandchildren, making love, making a living. More so, I was aware of how I had lived in a swarm of intentions all my life. I won’t say that I reached an intentionless state, but I will say that for a giddy moment they faded a little, leaving me lost with no need to be found.
Meditated 1.5 hrs.
Read in bar.
Took the afternoon yoga class– Exactly the same class!
Dinner – Chicken and salmon, met Tony Nunciata, Ina and Dorian Lugo. Before dinner had a glass of wine with Crystal and her husband and daughter Nina.
Got up early, stretched and meditated went to Yoga. We wait again to speak until we get to class.
Breakfast yogurt and mueslix
Drive to Toro Negro over medicated on Senecot. (My Digestive system slows when I travel.) Climb to the Torre. Eat at El Dujo in Colores in Jayuya named for a Taino chair with hierarchial meaning. We are the only ones in the dining room. We change clothes in the bathrooms have a cocktail in the lounge eat dinner in the dining room and as we leave there are only two at the bar.
Drive home. Dawn said that she got a workout on the way over and she wasn’t kidding. For 45 minutes, the road is always turning and always changing altitude. The roads must be old mule paths. No time for the driver do anything but look at the road.
We stop at the bar at Casa Grande for a disgestivo before going to bed. We glanced through an old copy of yoga journal. Those people are highly conflicted.
Went to bed.
Yoga in the morning. Breakfast, then read by the pool. Parallel books. Went for walk down to the river sat on the rocks and talked about Dawn’s mother's death, our deaths. We watched an egret and a horse feed. Came back and expressed renewed feelings for each other. Some tears.
We had a savignon blanc with dinner and a flan for dessert,
Our last day of yoga class. We each got an orange after class. After breakfast we headed for Caguaga a Taino ceremonial ball field site. Our greeter and explainer turned out to be Miguel Guzman, the son of a local painter who has done the two paintings in the Casa Grande dining room. We communicated in Spanish and English and he practiced his French with Dawn.
We had yet to stop at a roadside bar or restaurant. Very tricky to decide and then determine if there is a place to pull the car into. Today we stopped, but no lunch, so we ordered two beers and sat outside and watched the hills sit and the traffic go by. The couple from the Hotel who had been at the caguana site toodled by.
Going through Utuado on the way back I took the turn for Rte. 111. Ramal means old route 111 so we went through the center of town. We went by a classical looking building that was set up with chairs and a stage. On the first floor it only had doors all around, perhaps ten feet tall. We pulled into a parking lot and walked back to it. It was the town’s recently inaugurated cultural center. We chatted in Spanish and when I asked one where we might get lunch he told us that he could give a lunch. So we ate the remains of some functional meal with some orange juice in their back office. A cleaning lady came with some juice. She was a grandmother with family in Brooklyn. We have some souvenir pins to prove the whole wacky experience actually happened.
Looked for Rum.
Checked out the night before so we could get an early start on the next part of our trip.
We finally found our local roadside meal at Baras Coqui. A couple of minutes down the road from Casa Grande. A pool table and a couple of patrons. We drink beer and work out dinner with everyone. We are not sure who owns the place or even works there but finally we order pechuga de Pollo and some mofongo and sit at a table and listen to Loud Puerto Rican music.
Ate breakfast. Took a couple of pictures and filled out their questionnaire and left a little after nine and arrived a little after noon at the Thrifty Place at Marina del Rey. We got a lift to the Ferry that would take us to Cuelebra from the Thrifty people so we arrived by 1 PM for our 2:30 Ferry. We had lunch at the Cafe Delicias, hung out and got the back seat of the ferry. We traveled through a rain squall but stayed dry. By the time Francette and Bernie picked us up it had stopped raining. The Ferry dock is now a mess because they are rebuilding it. As we were loading off the front the guys in the back were offloading tiles and bags of cement onto the job site so they could continue its rebuild.
A short ride later and soon we were having cervezas on their deck. We got a tour of the place and the short course on the island. We unpacked (actually Dawn did; I never did, just pulled random things out of my suitcase which I rolled under the bed), took a nap and then walked into town for dinner. We stopped in at the Dingy Dock, had a look around and then headed for a small market that might have some munchies for tomorrow's lunch. We then headed for Mamacita's arriving there just as the heavens let go another torrential rain. Thus our decision where to eat dinner was made. Rum punch with lots of coconut followed by scallops and vegetarian lasagna fully sufficed. Being my half birthday, I decided that Dawn should buy me a drink back at the dinghy dock. This time we both had barrilitos with ice on the side, although even speaking in English there was some confusion about the order. My request for two barrilitos in large brandy sniffers got mistakenly filled as two large glasses of barrilitos. Drinking rum straight up I guess is not a normal thing at this bar because it was first noted and then copied by a few other people at the bar. American Football was the main focus but we didn't even stay for the end of the game, nor for any of the Patriots game. I decided that I didn't need to watch. If they lost I didn't want to see it; if they won, I would be able to root for them the next weekend back in Boston in cold New England where play-off football should be watched.
Breakfast. Yoga on the deck. Talked to Jessica and Melissa. Met Robert and Diana.
Drove to Zoni Beach. Boogie board, sat around, went out on rocks. Walked to the East side of the beach and swam. Went to Flamingo, walked through campground saw the military tank left over from WWII. Came back and showered, went to the Dinghy Dock for dinner. Had Tuna and Cobea. and Campbell's beans with rice,(At least that's what it tasted like), washed down with the house white.
Wet morning, breakfast inside, figured out snorkeling gear. killer yoga. Drove to Melones Beach. Beautiful Reef. Met a local couple who among other things grow Francette's papaya, who waded in with their Budweiser, ice tea and dog. We ate our papaya.
We headed back for showers. I took a nap and Dawn read. We headed for the bar at Club Seaborne. Robert and Diane were there, talking to Gordon, an old friend of theirs from Rhode Island. We talked to the bartender, Kevin
"Trust your bartender", he said. "Can't stand it when people come to the Tropics and try to invent their own drinks". We got our punch without the grenedine. Heard about the reef wedding. Later, I drank a carlsberg, probably my first in twenty years.
Drove to town, to Mamacitas - conch salad really good churusca, tuna, gave a nod to the young couple from Club Seaborne.
Met Joanne Motormouth. "Fart Lauderdale" Allentown and Emaus, beauteeful. She was a sad bitter ending to the day.
Stretched, had breakfast outside. Headed for Carlos Rosario beach with hiking boots. Dawn borrowed a wetsuit. Dawn saw a fresh deer track and then I saw the deer. We noticed that people seemed to have dropped a lot of garbage. We snorkeled on the left because the main reef had too much swell. We had to deal with burrs that we collected on the trail. We snorkeled a couple of times, Dawn borrowed a wetsuit top that helped with but did not entirely defeat the heat sucking nature of seawater. We walked back and drank gatorade. I decided to finish the trip at Zoni Beach. We swam and watched some beautiful clouds bring rain across the water from the Virgin Islands. They had an eerie, electric blue light at their undersides. We drove back in the dark.
For dinner, we followed instructions to the Happy Landing on the way to Barbara Rosas. Grilled tuna rare and Fish Stroganoff. She used to cook at Club Seaborne. Jim her husband conducted an interview with each customer at the order window. Met JJ and Colette Marie Wilson. Invited them to sit at our table while they waited and they ended up eating dinner with us. He owns a house on the island and a boat which he offered to rent to us. He bought me a beer and very graciously treated us to a piece of Key Lime pie at the end of dinner.
Francette waited for us to come in because she wanted to say goodbye. She was leaving on the early ferry and would be gone when we awoke in the morning.
Waffles in the morning. Robert, Diane and Bernie went off to get a 15' trimaran to sail around the bay. I took a swim off the dock and Dawn stretched. I talked to Bernie about his days in the Navy. He had been a commander of United States submarine and he told a bunch of great stories. He took us to the ferry, and after a quick uneventful crossing we were met by Dias with a sign who drove us to the airport in San Juan. He spoke English but let us practice our Spanish on him. We figured out about the Agricultural X-ray, found Northwest ticketing, no line, breezed through security, ate a really terrible lunch. bought some barrilitos and flew to Detroit, drank in a bar and flew home. On time.