Thursday, January 8, 2009

Flamenco Beach. Culebra, Puerto Rico

I'm back, people!

I hope you had a great holiday. I wish you the best year this year - the one where you do all the things you have been meaning to and didn't get around to doing in 2008. Or 2007 for that matter. That's the year I want you to have. A healthy, revitalizing, satisfying one.

As for us, we are washing the sand out of the ten loads of laundry that need to get done and throwing away the berries that Lucy picked on the island and stashed in the side compartments of our luggage before they become smashed and smelly and flaked with mold. And we are shedding bathing suits, flip flops and sarongs for winter jackets, fur-lined boots and ugly hats that squash our hair and make us look silly when we take them off. We are slowly getting back into our routines.

A few of you have been asking about our trip and so, I thought I would share with you some of what transpired on our little adventure. It was ridiculous good fun. Just paradise. So, here is the play by play:

First, I get my period the day we get to the island, which is great because as you know, having your period in a tent is AWESOME.

I lose my hand bag on the air train going to JFK and I lose all my ID, the girls passports, keys to the house, credit and bank cards. Gone. I imagine thieves are selling our children's cute little faces and social security numbers to sex traders. I panic, but I do so quietly.

Jet Blue mercifully lets us on the plane without ID, although they give me a very thorough pat down. Frankly, I think they kinda enjoy it. I consider the possibility they might not let me back in the country. David tells me we won't let this ruin the vacation. We don't. He is prepared to raise the girls without me in the event that I must stay behind in Puerto Rico. I am prepared to live out my days on the beach.

We pretend the whole missing purse thing never happened, except for the three or four panic attacks I have in the middle of the night each night, but I tell no one about them and suffer in silence.

David lets Edie play with his credit card on the plane and she loses it. That first night in Puerto Rico we are calling banks and canceling cards. I imagine we will have to live on coconuts and plantains. I leave all our jackets on the plane and have to go back and get people to find our stuff. I feel lucky that our plane didn't crash.

On the ferry from the mainland to the island, while we are in the middle of about 500 people crowding onto a boat, Lucy gets a bloody nose and by this I mean, all of sudden her nose spurts copious amounts of blood everywhere. She has them occasionally, but the suddenness of this one panicks her. Blood covers her face and clothes. We have 5 huge, heavy bags full of camping supplies and equipment, backpacks and we are stuck in a crush of people. We are all doused in blood. Lucy is wailing.

Also, we have to get on this boat, since it is the last one off the mainland. So, we keep moving at a snails pace through the crowd. David holds Lucy. She screams a lot. She keeps bleeding. Nice people hand us tissues, give up there seats and carry our bags. We are all covered in blood. Especially me. I am wearing a light blue silk skirt, the only "nice" outfit I brought. It is covered in red.

On the boat, the bleeding stops. I am joking with Lucy about her bleeding and she is laughing now. We are grateful for all the help and kindness from strangers. I am sure at this point we are going to a nice place, with nice people.

Once on the island, we pretty much never leave the beach.

The water is perfectly clear. Blue like topaz. The girls have no fear of the water because it is transparent. This amazing clear, Caribbean water. They see everything down to their toes. They start with bathing suits but clothes come off as they grow comfortable. They are naked on the beach by day three. Tourists in the village come up to us and tell us that watching Lucy and Edie playing in the surf is the most beautiful thing they've ever seen. We are already famous on an island of 3,000 people. I write in my journal, "Lucy defines doing things with 'abandon'. Watching her play in the water is pure joy."

I am all channeling "Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon". David is my tossle-haired paramour. The children spend all their time in the sand and surf. They barely know we are alive. The waves are my babysitter.

The tent is our home. It is "winter" here. This is what the islanders call it when the temperature drops from 83 to 80 degrees. Very few bugs, which made it not nearly as "rustic" as I thought it would be. Only one flying bug the size of a small bird and it went after some bikini-clad college girl, not me.

I did not scream or cry hysterically even once. A camping record. Usually the coyotes baying at the moon or spiders the size of dinner plates send me into fits of hysterical crying. But not this time. We listened to the waves crash along the beach as we fell asleep every night. It was lovely.

There were chickens everywhere, a little pueblo with small windy streets and a bustling market and there was music, singing and dancing everywhere. The people of Puerto Rico can break out into song anywhere, on line at la tienda, in the water, waiting for the ferry to the mainland. Lucy got to dance daily in the most everyday of places. She couldn't have been happier.

Everything on Culebra is on "Island Time".

For the first couple of days, the neurotic New Yorker in me is distressed. Confused even. Shops say they'll open at 1pm but they really open when someone slowly meanders in around 2:30p. A waitress decides to leisurely eat her own lunch at the bar before she takes our order. Another restaurant doesn't actually use their menu but they are cooking two dishes in the kitchen that day and we can choose from those.

At first, I'm about ready to go all Joe Pesci on someone and lecture them about how to conduct a proper business, until David reminds me that I am a freak - he actually calls me a freak - and says I need to "get with" island time. He's irritating when he's right.

This is when I realize not everyone in the world is neurotic and driven and on the clock. I make a transition and I see that island time has it's perks. Sure, it may take us two hours to get our lunch and no one is interested in "turning over tables" but no one cares that the kids are running around the tables with everyone else's kids, playing with the chickens and the stray dogs in the sun and they keep plying us with Medallas (PR beer)and we are all drunk and warm and calling friends in New York to see if it's below freezing. And so who cares anyway?


By the end of the week, we almost never know what time it is. The sun is our guide. I don't look at a clock, a cell phone or even a mirror. None of that is currency that is required for surviving. We just exist and bake in the hot sun. Not only did I grow used to everything being late, I was a little late sometimes myself. And no one cared. It was liberating. I was nearly un-recognizeable to myself.

And then after 5 days of getting up at sunrise and eating cereal in plastic bowls on the beach and then, running into the waves as the sky spilled orange and yellow and red onto our faces and then, staying there for like 6 hours, while other people joined us and the kids played with other kids and we made friends with strangers in our bathing suits and then, going into town for our main meal, riding with more strangers-turned-friends in the dusty, bouncy publicos that transported people around the island and then, going back to the beach and staying there until sunset and watching gold and then, blue and then, black take hold over the sky, eating a snack of acapurria and rice and beans in the tent and then all of us tired and spent and brown and warm, falling asleep in a big snoozy pile in the tent, only to get up the next morning and do it all over again, and after all this, we packed up our little tent home and dirty and sandy and sun-drenched, we went to Viejo San Juan.

By this time, I am ready for the hotel. This is Mommy's part of the vacation.

And here is where you will see I have the best husband on the planet - he checks us into the best hotel in Old San Juan - El Convento.

The hotel was once a convent - Our lady Carmen of San Jose - built in 1646 and right next to the Iglesia de San Juan Baptiste, a gorgeous church that Lucy loved because it had a very elaborate nativity scene inside. Like a doll house on steroids. The nativity is BIG in Puerto Rico. The girls were digging on all the statuary.

Legend has it that there is a ghost that walks the halls of El Convento, but I bet it's a good ghost since it's probably a nun. I am too desperate to take a long, hot shower to care about the ghost. If I see her I decide I will invite her to join me in the jacuzzi.

Um, oh yeah, this is me in the roof top jacuzzi.

This is what I see while I am in the jacuzzi.

I inform David that if I disappear unexpectedly, the first place they should look is the jacuzzi.

I am dead serious. I LOVE the jacuzzi.

To be honest, I am a hotel girl. I am a poor excuse for a camper. David is the real pro. He loves the outdoors and he wants the girls to have a relationship with the outdoors, not just go from one "box with walls" to another "box with walls". I get the philosophy. I am behind it. I admire it every time he says it. This is so much better for the girls. I know it. But give me a jacuzzi, plush towels and a complimentary cheese plate and I'd sell our tent to the highest bidder and never look back.

Being out doors makes the hotel - a box with four walls - feel more like it's own little adventure. By the time we get to the hotel, I am desperate for it.

But Edie is throwing up now. The ferry to the mainland that made Lucy's nose bleed has now made Edie vomit every 15 minutes or so like clock work. By the time we get into our room, which is late because they weren't ready for us, she and I are covered in vomit. We smell like vomit. We smell like salt and sand and dirt and dried blood and sweat and vomit. Well, the rest of the family smells okay, this is just me.

I appreciate this hotel like no other hotel I have ever been in. I marvel at the hot water, the flushing toilets, the luxurious terry robes, the staff who dote on us like we are celebrities. When we get there, they are serving complimentary wine and cheese on the upstairs terrace.

Like I had been in the wild for years, I make a big heaping plate of cheese and pour myself a goblet of wine. The staff person eyes me with curiosity. I have dirt under my nails and vomit dried to my shirt. I feel like a wolf girl who has just been introduced to civilization. I barely wait to get back to the room before I am wolfing down cheese and gulping wine.

I wash the Flamenco beach sand out of my hair. Lay on the real mattress. My period stops just as I reach a place with plumbing and toilets. They sell underwear in Old San Juan, which makes me feel all fresh and renewed.

Really, clean underpants are all it takes to renew my spirit.

The kids get reacquainted with cartoons in Spanish. Lucy and Edie now speak to every one in clusters of English words mixed with Spanish. We all sort of lay around like lumps in the big bed and regain ourselves before we go out into San Juan.

We are catatonic harpooned whales laying all over the bed.

Then, we recover and enjoy a city so gorgeous that for the rest of the trip I point out beautiful old buildings with "For Sale" signs and beg David to buy a house here. I do this in almost every city we ever visit, mind you. I did it on Culebra, as well - I tried to convince him to buy beach front property as "an investment". He is used to this. I want to live wherever I am. He ignores me.

We eat at this restaurant called "Ostra Cosa" just down from the hotel. The food makes us remember we are human again.

Octopus salad, chorizo with a beautiful garlicky aioli, ceviche of sole, prawns with rice and beans...Heaven for people just coming out of a tent.

We walk.

We show "Baby" (Edie's doll) the sites.

We feed the birds.

We pretend our shoes are cats. And we cuddle them.

David buys a hat.

And instantly becomes an islander.

Lucy is taken with a bride having her picture taken in front of The Iglesia San Juan Batiste and she joins the photographers taking her picture. Here are two she shot.

And the bride is so taken with her, she scoops her up in her arms. A crowd watches and everyone says, "aaah!".

Lucy is so moved she falls into my arms and buries her face in my shoulder. She has looked at this picture non-stop since we got back. She wants to frame it and put it in her room. We never find out the bride's name.

And we meet new friends...lovely, wonderful friends we originally met on the beach in Culebra and then, begged them to come swim in the roof top pool with us in San Juan because we couldn't get enough of them and who, then in return invited us to hang at their beautiful home on the beach. Such good people.

I suspect Lili, Eric and their daughters Valeria and Camila will be friends of ours for a lifetime. Valeria and Lucy are already BFF's.

I get a call on the last day of our trip from a woman at JFK who has my bag. And all it's contents. I am reminded that we live in a good world.

And then we almost miss our plane because David's phone resets itself to the new time zone and we think the plane leaves at 9, but it leaves at 8. And David figures this out at 7, so we're like chucking through the airport trailing our camping gear behind us and two children, one breastfeeding, the other wanting to meander along and pick up fun looking trash she sees on the floor and it's all good until we get to the gate and the guy thinks he can't let me out of Puerto Rico without ID and we stand there and tell him our sad story of the forgotten purse on the air train at JFK and he looks suspicious, but we look completely sincere and maybe too befuddled to be criminals and so, he breaks the law for us and all the tenents of homeland security and let's me get on the plane without ID.

And then, we pass out.

And now we're here. And happy to be home. And happy to have gone. I need a vacation from my vacation.

xxoo YM



Melody said...

What an amazing and beautiful post and I'm so envious of what a wonderful experience this must have been for your family. I hate camping too but your post might make me reconsider. :)

SaintTigerlily said...

Fabulous, fabulous. One very lucky family. Welcome home!

Cali ʚϊɞ said...

wow, sounds like quite an adventure. glad you mad it back safe.

Anonymous said...

That all sounds beautiful, and the photos tell the tale so well. Welcome home and what a trip it was!

Anne Stesney said...

You guys are crazy amazing.

The Mulligan Family said...

Fantastic commentary and wonderful photos. What a fun adventure. Glad you got your bag and contents back.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Entertaining! Touching! Funny! What else can I say......

Izzy's Mama said...

Wow.. I love Culebra and we went there about 10 years ago and stayed at Tochi's...which was maybe a step or two up from camping, a buggy hut-like "villa" on the bay side. I awoke in the night from all the strange noises and then early in the morn thanks to the neighboring roosters. It was a very odd trip, though the beaches were gorgeous. I never imagined going with Izzy, the small plane ride terrified me..but you make it look entirely possible...

Anonymous said...

We totally didn't do the plane. We went on the ferry. I was pretty sure we would go down in the sea if we got on that tin can with wings.

David thinks taking the plane will be fun for the girls when they get older. But we're not living that dangerously right now...

Unknown said...

You should take me with you next time. If for no other reason than you'll have a photographer and you will actually appear in some photos you gorgeous mama!

Anonymous said...

This post is now one of my favorites! We are going to Hawaii (closer to the West Coast) soon, and your vacation makes me even more excited about our upcoming trip. Despite all the "challenges", it looks like you had a fabulous time. I was totally with you about silently suffering at night over the lost purse.

I made your matzo ball recipe the other night. My first time making matzo ball soup, and it was DELICIOUS! Thanks, Yummy Mummy!

Melissa said...

Your writing is so amazing Kim. You took me right there with you every step of the way. And I teared up. A LOT. I don't know what it is about your little family that makes me so emotional. I can't put my finger on it, but it just grips my heart.

Of course I also cried a little at the idea of feeling free the way you did. I hanging by an emotional thread here at work and I yearn to get away. To Monterey and quiet and water...

Sorry to ramble. I am so glad you shared all this with us. You guys are truly something special. I'm overjoyed that you were able to have such a fantastic time and feel so relaxed and meet such wonderful friends. What a way to spend Christmas. :)

Melissa said...

Er, New Year's. The mention of nativity threw me off by a week.

Le laquet said...

Wow it looks absolutely great - BUT I would have a crying cow fit over spiders too

Michelle May said...

Love. Love this entry. Honest and funny. I was looking for camping bits on culebra. Beautiful live journal for ur girls. Back this stuff up.

Nitaña said...

Love this entry. I've spent time in Puerto Rico -- and time at that very same beach in Culebra. I love your telling of it and hearing your endearing stories about your family. How truly sweet. I'm glad you had a good vacation. You've inspired me to go back to Puerto Rico, after all, it is the Island of Enchantment.