Monday, June 8, 2015

Vacation, Day 5

I woke up at 6:30 on Friday and began to pack. I made and drank my last two cups of free coffee while I worked. Then I shaved, showered and packed away those items as well. I read my book until I heard a tiny knock and Yanessa calling, "Papa John!" It was just before 8:00 a.m.

I opened the door, grabbed my gear and met up with the gang and all their luggage in the hallway. We went downstairs, checked out and had the guy fetch the car one last time.

Then we headed out. We tried to go to "our" cafe again, but there was NO parking.

Sidebar: There is no parking anywhere, almost any time in San Juan. I've never been there, but I'm guessing it’s like New York.

Since we were heading out of town, I suggested we just stop at a McDonalds we saw on the way in. Nobody else was too thrilled with an American breakfast, but common sense won out and that's what we did. Then we began the three-hour trek to Utuado.

It was mostly expressway, with the last 10 or 15 miles on a road Vicky had warned me about (small two-lane road, lots of curves, etc.) But, that was her 10-year old memory again. The road today is four lanes and not scary at all, LOL!   Her aunt, Mayra, and grandmother, Iris, were waiting on the side of the road to guide us the rest of the way into town. We parked in a hospital lot and used the restrooms (her aunt is a nurse) and then we walked (well, Iris rode in a wheel chair) to a few stores for souvenirs. Next we stopped in a little place for refreshments. Everyone got something to snack on or drink. Vicky got a chicken sandwich and shared it with Yanessa. I wasn't hungry, but I was hot. So I got a water and an ice cream sandwich.

We made a quick stop at a little grocery store for supplies (just Evy and Mayra went in; the rest of us stayed in the air conditioned cars).

Then we began the harrowing drive up the mountain. This really was a tiny two lane road, with many, many turns (all blind spots) and half the time hanging on the edge of the mountain with no guard rails. It was about two miles straight up with a couple of turns at small villages. With no street signs and no GPS signal, I finally understood why we needed a guide.

We finally made it to the small little house, sitting amongst other small, little houses. It seems odd now, but when Vicky said her grandmother lived on a farm, I pictured a Michigan farm (acres of land, barns, animals, etc.)

But two things immediately became apparent. One was that her grandmother lives
with her daughter, Mundy, who owns the "farm."  And two, the "farm" is probably smaller than my own lot on San Jose.

The house was made out of concrete, like all the rest of the houses I saw. There aren’t a lot of glass windows, just window openings that are screened with metal louvers that adjust from inside. There are no ceiling in the main house, just the rafters and the underside of the tin roof. Coming from Michigan, I was fascinated by the lack of insulation!

There is an addition that they built when Vicky’s grandmother moved in and where I slept. It does have a ceiling (also concrete) and a bathroom. It was explained to me that they wanted a safe room for her, in case of a hurricane.

Vicky's aunt Mayra took me on a tour of grounds as the families reunited in the house. It might be small, but due to the rain forest environment, it has an amazing variety of fruit plants and flowers. I already forget half of them, so I will have difficulty identifying the photos, but they included Puerto Rican cherries (they grown on a bush and are delicious, if tart), avocados, oranges, bananas, pineapples (first time I ever saw a living pineapple plant), coffee, cacao  (where chocolate comes from), tobacco and even PR peanuts.

The livestock consists of chickens, turkeys, a cat and, supposedly, a black dog (I never saw it that day).

Vicky's aunt Mundy was cooking a big meal (I'm learning they are all big meals in PR) while I sat and visited with Vicky's grandmother. She explained all the photos and painting on the living room walls.

Sidebar: Her one son paints as a hobby and painted some lovely pictures for her. He also painted the mural on the outside wall of the house. Oddly enough, he lives in Taylor, Michigan. In fact, I believe more of the family lives in Michigan than in Puerto Rico. Iris had 15 children, so it’s a big family!

Mayra left for little bit to pick up her nephew, Manny, who is from Michigan, but staying with her for a while.

Later, Vicky's uncle, Rio, and his wife showed up and were later joined by his two sons, Eduardo and Luis.

Sidebar: They are both young and want to move to America, because of the high cost of living here and the complete lack of jobs.

Just before the food was ready, Jose, Mayra's husband, showed up. He brought his pellet gun to practice with. It was a gas powered Browning with a wicked scope on it. He is an avid hunter. I asked what they hunted in PR. He said mostly birds and for big game, there are wild boars.

We all ate yellow rice with pigeon peas, chicken and pasteles (fried pork inside smashed plantains). They are put inside banana leaves and tied, then boiled. Closest thing to it I can think of are tamales.

Sidebar: I got my plate and was waiting for everybody else when Rio (who had yet to get some food) explained that, in Puerto Rico, you are supposed to eat when you get the food, not wait!

My bad...

After we ate, the boys guided us to a beach for our usual evening swim. It was pleasant and not really crowded. So, we swam and played for a while.  It was quite picturesque, with the setting sun, pelicans everywhere and a young woman going back and forth on a paddle board.

We reluctantly headed home. We got a call from the house asking us to stop for some bread and milk. We sat in our cars while Vicky ran in.

Sidebar: The store was a bakery, so she got a fresh-baked loaf of French bread. I have yet to see a real grocery store. Even in San Juan, they were all little shops.

There was a McDonald's across the street and Vicky and Myla decided they were hungry again (they are both always hungry after swimming). She offered to buy Eduardo, Luis and Manny some food for helping us. They agreed and said it’s quicker to go in rather than go through the drive-thru. I wasn't really hungry, but when Vicky insisted, I had said "Just a hamburger, then." So, everyone went in except for me and Yanessa. I turned on the interior lights and we sang songs. When she got fussy, I broke off a piece of bread and she ate it. Then she ate some more!

When they got back, Vicky gave me a quarter-pounder with cheese! She said they didn’t have just hamburgers.

We made the journey back up the mountain. This was the first time in the dark, so it was even more thrilling!!!

Sidebar: I must say for the record that I was very impressed with Vicky’s driving. Usually, I am uneasy when other people drive (except for my friend, B___, Jake or Carla) but I was never nervous the whole time she was at the wheel.

Back at the house, I tried several times to record the sounds of the coqui for Jake. I had mixed results.

I went to my bedroom at 9:30 p.m. and typed part of this post. The tablet, even with the keyboard, sucks. I should have just bought a cheap laptop.

Then I opened all the louvers to catch the cool night air and let the sounds of frogs sing me to sleep.


  1. I still think you should change your nickname to Papa Blanco now but that's just me. I will try to overlook your choice of McDonalds while in PR because it sounds like your guide and hosts provided much more of an experience than a typical tourist would get.

  2. Yeah, ‘cause Papa Smurf would make far too many people think he’s an extrovert, which he ain’t. Papa Rain Gauge or Papa Weather-Checker would work, too.

  3. @ Jake: Yes, I think they really did.

    @ Jyl: I kinda like Papa Beets...