Cabo Rojo slide show

Coffee festival: Maicao

Every year in the central mountains of western Puerto Rico they have a festival in Maricao.
I met a couple from the states on the ferry ride back from vieques and they told me that they built a little twelve sided cabin in the jungle which they rent out for $50 a night. The cabin happened to be three miles from where the coffee festival would be.
So we got a group of 5 people together from the hostel which made renting a car and the cabin very cheap for us all.
The drive up the mountain was arduous and left me exhausted. We had to park at the top of a hill and walk a quarter mile down a steep hillside to reach the cabin but when we arrived it was absolutely serene. The cabin was perched with a view of three different mountains. Hummingbirds constantly buzzed around and coqui frogs sang all night. The cabin was beautiful with everything we needed and some extra perks like an outdoor shower and fire pit.
We all slept well and ate big communal dinners every night on the patio, candles lit and music playing.
The coffee festival was three miles from the cabin. It was a lovely little gathering with traditional food, crafts, music and of course music.


Adventures in Puerto Rican Produce: Part 1

This is a Chayote.

I hear it is quite nutritious, like a tropical squash. But I found it more like a sweet potato but a little less starchy.

The taste is like the combination of zucchini and watermelon rind.

It is prepared in savory dishes along with onion and spices. It is quite cheap so it makes us curious about its cooking potential. We have prepared it twice, once in a Mexican stir fry and another time with rice. The cooked chayote has a very clean taste and mixes well with other flavors.


Cristo Chapel

Nestled against the old fort wall between cobble stone roads sits Capilla de Cristo, dedicated to Christ the healer. It's strategic location is based on a Catholic Miracle that took place hundreds of years ago during a San Juan festival just over the edge of the towering fort walls.
I designated it as a 'Catholic miracle' instead of a regular miracle only because I find most catholic miracles to be happy coincidences rather than hand of god interventions, but I will let you be the judge.

So during this festival it was tradition for a group of strapping young lads to race horses around the perimeter of the city walls and on this particular year one of the more promising racers took a turn too sharp and plummeted over the wall, horse and all. As he was falling to his inevitable death an elderly onlooker cried out to 'Christ the Healer and good fortune' for his life to be spared. The horse died, because catholic god cares very little for animals, but miraculously the man survived! The story doesn't say whether he walked away unscarred or was paralyzed for life, but I am guessing the latter is true if his glorious condition wasn't elaborated on.

So after this 'miracle' they built a shrine to Christ the Healer and good fortune.
This shrine is particularly interesting, however because numerous people come here to ask for healing to specific areas of their bodies by placing small silver charms of what ever body part my be inflicted upon the shrine. So framed against the wall and laying on the ground are silver hearts, hands, lungs, legs, heads and anything else you can think of (though didn't notice any erectile distinction charms).

Outside of the shrine they sell small silver charms for people to offer or carry with them. They didn't have an intestine charm, I am guessing because it would look like poop, so I got a silver leg.

When I was younger I severely broke my leg and as I get old I notice that after rain storms or a jog that it starts to ache. So I now where this charm to see if catholic god will prevent it from hurting in the future.
Good thing I am not a horse.


Fat Tuesday in Ponce

The largest carnival celebration on the island of Puerto Rico is the festival in the large southern city of Ponce. Last night, Tuesday, was the last day of the festivities and Ponce has a very unique tradition to close carnival, one that is very symbolic but seems a bit lost in history. We attended these closing ceremonies, better known as "the burial of the sardine". During the celebration they have a giant parade with dozens of marching bands.

Mischievous demons in ruffled costumes and paper mâché masks dance around and hit unsuspecting women on the butt with inflates cow stomachs that look like balloons.

The king momo, symbol of the joy of carnival arrives on a float to sit upon his throne in the town plaza on the stage decorated with the most glitter I have ever seen in my life.
At the end of the parade is a hurse and a group of mourners, child beauty queens and drag queens alike following a coffin. When the funeral arrives at the stage a body stuffed with hay is hung on a noose and set on fire.

The director of the funeral explaines that this burning body symbolizes the purification for all citizens of the sins committed during the past week of carnival celebration. Next, the coffin is opened and reveals an enormous plaster sardine. Everyone wails, sings a song, and makes jokes about the smell. The sardine represents the end of carnival. It was a strange gathering, like halloween, but nothing like it.

Valentine's day

Jameson and I don't ever plan on celebrating valentine's day but we usually do end up getting caught in the celebration and taking some time to rejoice and do sometime special. Puerto Ricans celebrate V-day more than any other group of people I know. Weeks ago I was amazed by the red cardboard Cupids hanging from the ceiling the emergency room. As soon as we walked out of the house yesterday planes were flying in the air with "Maria I love you" trailing behind. Jameson and I started the day with a long walk. As we were crossing one of the many bridges he spied a manaray feeding on some creatures in the sea grass. That was a pretty special treat.
I found a little gold chain in jameson's pocket and turned it into a ring. It fits around my pinky finger and will probably lose it in the next couple of days.

At night i dressed up and we decided to go out to dinner and try this vegetarian mofongo, a typical puerto rican dish of stuffed spiced plantains. The restaurant we were planning to go to was closed so we hopped on the bus and headed to our favorite place, old San Juan. Jameson bought me a nice bottle of italian wine and we watched an amazing sunset from the old fort. Getting caught in the rain on the walk back we dipped into a little pizzeria and ordered pasta and salad. It was good night.

When we got back to the hostel, a package had arrived from my dear mother, full of granola bars, chocolate, and mosquito coils.


slide show: Esperanza, Vieques

Laneys Dad visits!

It is wonderful to have one of our parents join us for a short period of time on the road! Thank you, dad, for making this trip.
We planned it like this: 2 days in San Juan, 2 days and nights on the island of vieques and one last hooray in the rainforest. So far so good. It's been an amazing time with Puerto Rico providing impromptu magical experiences for us that I could never have willfully plan.

For example, last night we had just arrived on the island and were quickly invited to a full moon celebration on the beach. We arrived early and hid under a tarp from some passing rain, it was pretty awesome crouching in the mangrove trees, sheltered from the wind and rain.
When it cleared up we sat in the open and quietly watched the sea and moon. A man claiming to be a shaman came over to us, beat a gallon jug of water and sang to his thumping. He said he was playing so the clouds would move and allow the full moon to shine brightly for us.
The party started a 11pm with a massive bonfire lit by gasoline. A DJ played The Doors and the sparks from the palm fire drifted out over the ocean. It was unreal.

Tonight we go to the bio luminescent bay to kayak with the glowing plankton. What a beautiful place this is!

Please, family and friends, I strongly encourage you to come visit Jameson and I on one of our adventures. We love sharing these experiences with the people we love and it brings me joy to grow closer to members of my family by having these adventures together.

slide show: Fuerte San Cristobal


We have been released!

Laney was discharged from the hospital today.
Her count went up, which was the best case senecio.
Now we are catching up on rest, while trying to figure out how to wash off tape residue and heal blood drawn bruises.

Road to recovery!

Dengue Fever part II: The empire strikes back

As most of you know our co-worker Josh had Dengue about a week ago and it landed him in the hospital.

Well the same fate has struck Laney in an eerily similar way as well. She had been fighting it for a few days, but we knew it was time to go to the hospital when I (Jameson) found her passed out on the kitchen floor.
Something about that damn kitchen floor and passing out!!

First let me give you the run down on how our environment has a higher concentration of mosquitoes and why most tourist never get Dengue.

The key is location. In fact, one of the reasons Spanish settlers set up shop on a little island off the coast besides better protection was that every time they tried to go more inland to explore they contracted illnesses from mosquitoes. That and the natives sort of kicked their asses.

So to avoid the natives and mosquitoes they set up what is now 'old city' which has high breezes and not nearly the mosquito problem.
Another touristy spot is Condado, which run right along the coast, also providing consistent winds.

The hostel we work at is in a neighborhood called Miramar, which is a great little place, but it is located just far enough from the ocean that it lacks the regular breezes. Also Miramar is by a lagoon, so that puts us right in the middle of mosquito heaven.

When we first arrived at the hostel it had A LOT of muzzies (thats australian formosquito).
So during our first week we got some fans to circulate the air and some plants that naturally repeal the little bastards and it has worked rather well.
The mosquito count is now easily half of what it was.

So back to Laney being in the hospital. We are guessing that she contracted Dengue during our first week at the hostel during The Great Mosquito War of 2012.

To our surprise she is being kept in the hospital for a few days because her white blood cell and platelet count was so low. I got us some blankets and she slept oddly with IV tubes in her arms, and I got no sleep in the chair next to her.
She has downed about a dozen IV's now and her color looks much better.

We have been here for two uncomfortable days now. Sleeping next to the dying coughs of the elderly.

The doctor will check her platelet and blood cell count today.
Until then we wait for her cells to regenerate and we try to get some sleep, unsure of how much more we can take.