5:44 a.m. You should never set a bored PI loose on an unsuspecting tropical island.
On Saturday, I go to a very small town on the west side of the island to start a three day surveillance. However, the address provided is something like this....Jose Cuervo, PR Road 110, go 4 km, Macon, PR 00914. Huh. Go 4 km FROM WHERE??? A reference point would have been nice since we've already established that there aren't house numbers for most residences in PR. I have a phone number, but when I try it I discover that it is no longer in service. I go to the local policia and they don't have a clue, either. I call directory assistance and they say there is no Cuervo listed on Macon on PR Road 110. So, around 10am, I reluctantly ((cough)) call off the investigation due to inability to locate Subject's residence. Which means I have two days to play. Smile.
I stop at Subway (no tripe) and have a sandwich. While I am struggling to make my order, an older gentleman who speaks very good English offers to translate for me. Gee, thanks. We sit and chat for about an hour afterwards. It turns out he lived in the States until he was 13 years old. He was also educated in Boston and returned as an engineer for the Department of Transportation and is responsible for building and maintaining the roads and highways of PR. Considering the six foot wide highways winding parilously through the mountains and the lack of marked roads, I don't know whether I like him anymore.
From there, I immediately drive to an underground cavern system in the jungle. It is near the radio tower that I went to the other day. The caves are spectacular and alive, dripping water from massive stalactites to the floor below. On the way into the cave, you can see the mist rolling out as the cool air below meets the hot, wet air from the jungle. I see several fruit bats swooping in and out of the cave entrance. We are told that the water flowing like a waterfall from the cave ceiling is so pure, having filtered through the bedrock above, that we can drink it. So I do. Mmmmm. Tasty. Better than Dasani. And since it is there, I decide to stick my head under the flow and start over with my hair. The humidity has me looking like a clown. I take my head out of the water and slick it back. The guy next to me looks at me as if I'm insane. In my pathetic Spanish, I say, 'Mal cabeza." Yes, 'bad head', Polly. Now he really DOES think you're crazy.
After visiting several sink holes and caves, I finish the tour and go to dinner at a local restaurant. They are serving mofongo. MOFONGO! I don't know what it is exactly, but I figure anything called 'mofongo' must be worth trying. It turned out it is mashed plantaine, kind of like mashed potatoes, and is served with rabbit meat. Mmmmmm. Mofongo would be a good name for a boy OR a girl. This is my son, Mofongo!
I get home, fall into bed, and sleep for 13 hours. I guess the late nights are catching up with me. When I wake up it is 9:30 am on Sunday morning. I decide I am going to the beach. And as I sit on the tiny highway in gridlock traffic, it appears that the rest of Pwerrrrto Reeeco! decided to go, as well. I arrive two hours later. I would have gotten to the seashore sooner, but the unmarked highways and unexpected construction sights kept me lost for a good hour. If DOT guy from Subway was here I'd kick him.
I finally find the ocean. It is lovely, but I'm not seeing a beach, only marina. I am starving, so when I see a food stand I pull off the highway onto the side of the road. I am near a boat launch and there are a TON of people wandering around. I am again trying unsuccessfully to order what looks like marinated meats and fishes surrounded in a puff pastry. And I am again helped by a local who takes mercy on me. I am curious about a filling called 'pulpo'. The woman helping me says it's octypus and it's her favorite. Huh. Okay. Why not? I order it and a Diet Coke and sit down under a pavillion to wait. The woman, Maria, and I start to chat. She and her boyfriend and a bunch of other people are heading to an island right off shore and they ask me if I want to come along. Apparently, you pay fishermen $10 to take you over and then they come pick you up later in the afternoon. The island is only known by natives and so is not crowded. You must bring your own food and drink because there are no vendors there. Neat. Sounds fun.
So, 20 minutes later I've wrapped up my octypus in a plastic bag and am sitting in a speedboat with six other people heading toward an unpopulated tropical island. How cool is this? I laugh as the boat shoots over waves and comes back down with a splash of spray. With the wind in my face and the turquoise blue water all around me I feel vibrant and grateful to be alive.
We pull in to the beach and there are maybe 100 other people. Boats with several passengers on board are anchored offshore, their occupants already drinking mimosas and cold cerveza. I grab my bags and hop into the water. It comes up to my waist and I hold the bags over my head. Wow. Warm. Way warmer than the tepid shower in my hotel room.
The sand is white and as fine as sugar. I wade up to the shore and Maria immediately calls over to me. "Over here!" They have chosen a spot nestled under several coconut palms. The dried, dead fronds have been laid out by beachgoers-past to provide a springy place to sit. Nice digs. I drop my things and head directly for the water along with another non-Spanish speaking gringo orphan that they picked up, Chris. He is almost as white as I am. Maybe whiter, and we discuss benefits of SPF 15 vs 50 and speculate as to how burned we will be by the end of the day. I dunk my head underwater and look around. I see ghostly creatures swimming off further out to sea. Eek. Maybe I WON'T go snorkling.
Chris and I decide to go for a walk along the beach. He puts on some sandals and tells me I should do the same. "Are you kidding? The sand is so soft it's like walking in flour!" I say. He shrugs and we head north. The goal is to walk around the island. We wade in the water around a few places where the shore meets rock. I see conches all over. I pick up a gorgeous pink shell, probably as big as my spy purse. I am intending to bring it back with me, but Chris points out that there is an occupant. I summarily drop it and scamper away as fast as my little white feet will take me. "It's not like it will attack you," he laughs at me. Yeah. Whatever. Go ahead and play with the giant slug. I'm staying over here.
There is a rocky section that we must walk across. Ouch! This is old, dead coral and I am barefoot. I walk gingerly over the rock and as it gets hotter and hotter I head toward the part this is being lapped by the water. I freeze. Sea anemones. Everywhere. I'm surrounded. I decide it would be smart to get the hell out of here. I head back to the beach and then scream as the ball of my right foot is punctured by a half inch of anemone spine. Chris wades over and holds me up as I turn my injured foot over to inspect the damage. The spine is black and as thick as a lollipop stick. It is still lodged deep in my foot. And it HURTS! Chris pulls it out and my foot starts bleeding heavily. Great...now I'll attract sharks. I hobble back up to shore, leaving a trail of blood in my wake. But soon the hot sand packs into my wound and it stops bleeding.
As Chris and I head back to the rest of our group we calmly speculate as to whether anemones are poisonous or not. Gee, I hope not. Being that I'm 20 miles off the mainland, that could really stink. Chris offers to pee on my foot, but I decline. "I hardly know you," I say.
Well, it's been a half hour and I'm not dead yet. That's good. I share my octypus with Chris and he completely grosses me out by sticking one of the tiny suckers to his front tooth. "Is there something in my teeth?" He asks. "I feel like there might be some food in my teeth." Gag.
So, after Chris finishes my lunch, we decide to go around the island the OTHER way. I'm sure that will be much safer. And I wear my shoes this time. My foot hurts still, but how often do you get the opportunity to explore Gilligan's Island?
We wade around a point and find piles of dead coral that have washed up on shore. I pick out a few pieces as souveniers. About halfway around, we run into a deadend. Climbing up on a rocky ledge, we can see no more shoreline and only rocky outcroppings. Bummer. We go back the way we came.
When we get back, I am tired and hot. I reapply my sunscreen and take a nap in the shade of the rustling coconut palms. As I drift off to sleep, I realize that there are no snakes or spiders here. There are no insects buzzing around. This is heaven on Earth.
When I wake up it is late afternoon. Everybody is out in the water playing except for Chris, who is dragging a huge bamboo stalk (20 feet long) out of the jungle. I watch as he tries to maneuver it around the trees. What is he doing? Several drunken natives out in the water are watching, too. He weaves the bamboo between three trees and tucks it down until it is lodged about three feet off the ground. He is making a bench! Clever. Then he sits on it and the drunken natives erupt in applause. I decide that I wouldn't mind be stuck on a deserted island with Chris anyday. Chris then takes the canvas strapping from a broken camping chair and uses it and a few palm fronds to make a shade umbrella. I smile. VERY clever.
As I walk over, Chris is doing something with another piece of canvas strapping. I ask him about it and he tells me that natives use cloth strapping to climb the trees and get the coconuts. Only he is concerned that he is too big and the canvas wouldn't support him. Well, I want a coconut. I offer to try it out for him. I wrap the length of canvas around the base of the tree and begin climbing. The drunken natives start cheering again. Wow. This isn't so hard. This is kinda fun! That is until I lose my footing and end up falling. But, as he'd promised, Chris caught me. What a guy.
That night, we all go on a tour of the bioluminescent bay. There are these krill that, when agitated, glow. It's supposed to be spectacular. At 8:30, after a dinner of conche in butter sauce, we head back to the pier. We are taken through a mangrove forest, the great snarls of roots rising in a nest above the surface of the black water. In the trees, we see huge iguanas sleeping on branches. As we leave the mangroves, the driver douses the floodlight. It is hard to notice at first, but as we cut through the water a blue trail starts to come off the bow. I look behind where the motor is and the water is churning and bubbling bright blue. Wow! I watch as great blue streaks torpedo under the water to escape the boat. Fish! Sharks?
The driver cuts the engine and tells us we have 20 minutes. We all jump in the water and send up sprays of glowing light. I cup my hands and bring it up closer. Tiny little stars twinkle and flow through my fingers. I laugh and splash to get the krill excited. As I bob in the warm tropical water, the little estrellas shimmer and sparkle off of my swimsuit, my hair, my skin. One of the people still aboard the boat takes pictures. I hope they turn out. The krill seem to luminesce even more with the light from the flash. We will see.
An hour later, I say goodbye to my new friends a head back to the hotel. This has been a day I will never forget.