Sunday, February 22, 2015

Puerto Rico

A trip to Puerto Rico is an adventure different for everyone.  Though many love the beaches, we could still find almost empty beaches.  We found many such beaches three years ago in Vieques, but didn't necessarily expect it on the big island.  But Playa Punta Santiago was only a few minutes walk from our place.

Caribbean from Playa Punta Santiago. Playa Punta Santiago looking south.

We rented the 2nd floor of a house in Punta Santiago, a little seaside town in Humacao with Highway 3 running through it. It had a down-to-earth funky charm that made me feel like it was the real Puerto Rico. The house is on a small lot full of fruit trees, so from the veranda with the branches in your face, you can watch the birds and iguanas and the glistening leaves from a hammock if you please; only the noise of the highway, the live music from El Limón across the street, or the preacher from the other side of the street where a Pentecostal church which just set up before we came. For two nights he preached and cajoled the souls of the assembled, as well as the entire neighborhood, as his magnified voice boomed hoarsely. The bar and the preacher seemed to take turns. Two nights of loud music interspersed with preaching, and then the third night, an ambulance came sirens and lights a blazing. For an hour it stopped at the church, motor running and lights turning. The next night all was quiet and we could do without the earplugs and listen to the coqui song lull us to sleep, with occasional blasts of music from a car with open windows dashing down the highway.

Cayo Santiago (aka Monkey Island) seen from Playa Punta Santiago.

We had heard from some online reviews that the southern approach to El Yunque National Rainforest was the best way to avoid the crowds and have a more intimate nature experience.  Driving north on 191, we eventually reached a gate and could drive no further.  A few cars were parked along the road.  There was one little trail and we took it a short way along a stream and at the end was a family group reveling in the water and lounging on the rocks.  A friendly woman named Raquel chatted with us and proudly shared some rambutan which her brother grew at his farm in San Lorenzo.  It is a most delicious tropical fruit with a red hairy looking skin.    She tipped us off about the thermal springs in Coamo.  The only other trail was to walk along the road at the other side of the gate where no cars were allowed.

South side of El Yunque.

The next day we got a bit lost on the way to Coamo, since we started to think we didn't have enough time, and should just go to Punta Tuna instead.  That's how we accidentally found ourselves up climbing a twisty mountain road up and up and round and about.  Amazing views but no place to pull off.  Eventually we just took a chance and stopped for this:

View from El Pica towards the south.

The pull off the highway 52 on the way to Coamo, had the statue of Jibaro Puertoriquenno, a tribute to the hard-working people of this land.
Monumento al Jíbaro Puertorriqueño

Eventually we did find Punta Tuna and the old colonial-style lighthouse:

Faro Punta Tuna.

Steve on Punta Tuna.

We could see the top of El Yunque from our veranda.  There was almost always a cloud on it, even when the rest of the sky was cloudless:

 It made us hungry to see it up closer.  We decided to brave the crowds of the north approach.  Coming from Ithaca, we love rain, but it's especially delightful in the rain forest when you think really it's not going to rain, but on the trail back a light rain starts which you can only hear, as its force is blunted by the canopy of leaves.  But after a while the shower falls through, and all the colors brighten as they glisten.

jungle root


jungle path
Path through the jungle Yokahú Tower
From Yokahú Tower, there was a great view of the northeastern coast:

Back on the beach in Humacao, where Great Egrets are common, and there is a good view of the windmill farm in Naguabo.

Punta de Lima Wind Farm in Naguabo, as seen from Playa Punta Santiago.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Here's my contribution to this:

logo for web


I missed participating in the first Great Ithaca Write-In – that was two months after my daughter was born; and this baby did not  want to be put down despite it being one of the hottest summer on record.  Now she’s 25 and living in Brooklyn and I have a little more time.

 I still live in the same house that she grew up in on West Court Street in the West End of Ithaca.  It’s now nestled in the middle of  the highway median between north and south Route 13, but back then Route 13 was not a divided highway and trees still lined the sidewalk on Fulton Street, which is now Route 13 South, but was then a quiet side street.  In the late 80’s the divisive debate over what to do to untangle the Octopus broiled over.  It eventually ended with the compromise of the one-way pair for Route 13 and two new bridges over the flood control channel.  Thankfully there is not an overpass roaring over the Cayuga Inlet as some had proposed, along with a four-lane highway on West Hill.  One day we returned from vacation and all the trees on Fulton Street and the last block of West Court Street were gone.  We endured several years of construction noise and dust.  The pounding to tear up the street caused fractures in the foundation of my house.  Fortunately insurance covered the damage and the new sewer lines prevented future flooding.  The neighborhood has slowly been healing as the new trees grow, but it’s still a neighborhood scattered with blight – vacant and run-down properties. 

It may not be obvious to the thousands of drivers going through the neighborhood, but there is a lot of green space here on the median.  When I bought this property with my ex-husband in 1986, I was drawn to the deep sunny yard and envisioned an urban paradise.  Four old peach trees graced the property.  Three survived for a few more years providing us with the most delicious peaches I’ve ever tasted.  They were planted by a previous owner, Cesar Capucci.  An acquaintance, who was a friend of his daughter Ann Marie, remembers seeing him plant some sticks in the ground when she was a child, and she was doubtful when he said they were going to grow into peach trees.  He also had chickens to the chagrin of his neighbor Frank Gatch. 

When Mr. Gatch died in 2001, after living there for over 50 years and raising three kids, one of whom, Ed Gatch, was Ithaca’s postmaster at the time, we negotiated with the family to buy his house.  We had shared a driveway and chats about our gardens over the fence for 15 years, and my partner Steve had his eye on the garage which would make an excellent workshop.  Previously he was toiling away on his sculptures in our five-foot basement.  We appreciate that the Gatch family worked with us to buy the house, even though a neighborhood developer was bidding on the property as well.  The developer has been buying up properties on the block for years and then they often go vacant, or are rented out but not kept in repair.  It seems to be a long-term plan to eventually knock down houses and put up apartments.
Today we are continuing some of the old traditions of the Italians and other working families who lived here in the past – gardening, canning, and raising chickens.  Soil and drainage are excellent as we stand upon an ancient marsh that was filled early last century; and the long growing season is the envy of friends who garden in the surrounding hills.  In mid-May we’re already eating abundant greens from the garden – the dandelions and garlic mustard weeds that others disdain; kale, radicchio, and spinach which we had covered with leaves to survive the winter; broccoli raab and wild arugula which re-seeded itself, as well as the thinnings from the lettuces, spinach and arugula I sowed in early April.  We hope that in the future there is always some green space in the middle of this block in the wild West End.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A love of books grows in Bolivia

It's been a few years since I wrote occasionally for the Ithaca Times. Recently I had a chance to interview some inspiring women and wrote a couple articles for the Tompkins County Weekly. 

At first, as Chris Pothier was planning a follow-up trip to Bolivia, she thought she had hit on an ideal way to improve her Spanish. On previous visits she had been reading Spanish books to the children and saw how insatiable they were for books, so she borrowed books to read to them. As might be expected of someone who was director of the Loaves and Fishes food program for 24 years (she retired in 2010), Pothier noticed the expansive needs of the people around her in Bolivia. She had also been volunteering at an orphanage in Cochabamba, where there were no books available.
See full story at: