Riding the Guerrillla Highway

Riding the Guerrillla Highway
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Saturday, December 14, 2013

puerto rico project---Las islas


I’m cheerfully driven to the docks on the other side of Fajardo por la madrugada. (morning darkness) The organized ferry is hardly a shitshow, there’s not even a line at all. Not sure whether to go to popular Vieques island or smaller isla Culebra, I let fate decide and just pick the earlier ferry to Culebra at 9. I decided that this is supposed to be a stress free vacation and that all decisions should be “easy.” Make the easy choice. I wake up with a café corto and walk over to a deserted muelle (pier) to wait and watch the sunrise. It reflects gloriously off a horizon of clouds and I’m satisfied to be where I am still 3.5 hours before ferry departure. I sing out to the open sea and rising sun. Like a fish in love with the ocean or a lonely but content fisherman I am. I’m thinking in Spanish, still in rhythm from the intense conversation hours ago under the streetlight. I start to sing en Español. Pescadero Amorero comes together to be my first Spanish ukulele composition.  I comes together as a song of a fish singing to a fisherman asking him what is love. I follow the masses onto the ferry and sit across from two Puerto rican construction workers. Its not even half full, and I seem to wonder If I choose the ‘right’ one.
The modern ferry blasts across the water at 30 knots. Its quite the ride for just $2.25, must be government subsidized. Everyone gets issued a Disney style ‘treasure map of the tiny 2 by 6 mile island as we are ushered off into a horde of taxi touts. “You want to meet women you rent a golf cart,” One man proclaims. I buy an ice-cream instead and hop in a shared taxi to playa flamenco, know to be the ‘most beautiful beach in Puerto rico.’ Sun and swimming and even some good bodysurfing.  I’m reluctant to set up camp cause I don’t want to pay but I keep to my goals of daily yoga and have a nice practice under the ironwood trees. The water is much clearer on this tiny island than off the coast of Puerto Rico. It’s a real light majestic blue.
I attempt an evening run along a trail across the island to the leeward side and back to the only pueblo at the port. Its more of a scramble along a coral covered rocky coast and along overgrown trails in fading twilight. I have the feeling that I really am exploring like a 17th century Caribbean pirate stuck on a half deserted isla.
Town seems to be made up of gringo ex-pats and those who never left tiny Culebra, not a lot of local action though. I decide to splurge on some not so big coconut shrimp and a couple of beers. I cut myself off cause I’m already at $20 with tip. The first pains of my miniscule budget are felt. An old crusty white bearded sailor buys me and another guy a shot of aged whiskey and I manage to hang till midnight before I hitch a ride on a golf cart back to beach camp. I keep the belly full on coconut.
I wake up with the sun beaming down on me. I know it’s late. I should have broke down camp at dawn as to not be noticed by the campground host. I get up and see a note on the picnic table beside my tent. ‘Please come to the office’ the note reads in English and Spanish. Luckily I was naked in the tent with the rain fly off otherwise the ranger might have tried to wake me for payment. Thus I’ll reveal another ninja tip. Being naked is better than a do not disturb sign.
I pack up and peace out…time to explore anyway.
I hitch a ride to Zoni beach a desert beach on the east side of the island. From there you can see St Thomas of the Virgin islands in the distance. I suppose from my comic book map that I can do a run-hike to the even more isolated Playa Brava on the north side so I stash my pack and set out shirtless with just a water bottle. I scramble up a steep face and work my way onto game trails and then onto an overgrown 4x4 track. I’m taken aback when I suddenly come upon a house off the overgrown trail. Peeking around it looks like no-one has been around in months but its more or less intact. I guess it to be early 90’s construction.
I continue up over a high ridge and gain a sweeping view of the northeast side of the island.  Its hot and there’s little shade. Its long grasses on the double track and scrubby thorny trees along the ridge tops. I see a massive whitewashed complex in the distance towards Playa Brava. I merely take note of it’s location and prominence on a high mesa overlooking the north coast. I keep a keen eye out for fruit trees and other settlements, I’m wanting more water, it’s the heat of the day and I only have a few ounces in my bottle. I come across a lime tree but the sour juice does little good. I cross over a near invisible barbed wire fence buried in the weeds heading towards a tree with giant gord-like fruits. I smash open a fallen fruit excitedly but I find the inside to be a milky bitter puss. Yuck. But somehow there another jeep trail. This one actually seems to be dropping down towards Playa brava instead of hugging the ridge. I scurry down and come to a green gate. The area still seems deserted so I climb over and continue on. Then the overgrown double track steepens and turns into a crazy steep concrete sluice. What? It twists down a good ways. Reinforced concrete just barely a car’s width. Having recently pour concrete back in Colorado I make the estimation the this concrete sluice drive is at least 14 concrete trucks, well over a hundred yards of redi-mix delivered and poured here on this tiny island. My brain struggles to imagine ferry loads of concrete trucks coming from mainland Puerto Rico.
At the bottom of the sluice the road levels out and there is a grand white gate. And on the hill top beyond is the villa. The same whitewashed mansion estate I saw from above. It seems almost abandoned but I dare not enter… could be the lair of a captured druglord I suppose…I continue on a side trail and end up at my goal the secluded playa brava. It’s a 2.5 mile long palm-lined crescent beach with just two sets of footprints on it. North swell pounds hard like the north shore of Kauai in winter time saying swim if you dare. Swimming is the least of my desires. Water I want. I find coconuts and select what shakes to be a good full one. I break it on the rocks strategically allowing the outer husk to be easily peeled back without cracking the inner shell. With a smaller rock I break the inner shell and indulge in 3 good mouthfuls of juice. Additionally I find a half-full water bottle washed up on the beach. Normally this would be trash but the stale water inside is a blessing for me.
It takes careful analysis of the two sets of footprints to decide which direction they came from but with good detective work even more than this can be determined. I follow the man and woman out to a hidden trail and alternative exit to the beach. Trying to cut back to Zoni beach I find myself bush-wacking again. Its hot and I wish I really had jumped in the ocean at brava. Ohh but I would have dried by now anyway. I wish for a stream, a freshwater swimming hole. Soon my ear catches the sound of running water and son after I’m pushing through thick brush to get to the stream. I sink into the waist-deep not so fresh pool with satisfaction. Finally I manage to bushwack to the road to Zoni. After a half mile of walking I get picked up by two gay dudes in a jeep. This is when things get interesting…just kidding they drop me off with a smile, I recover my stash and catch a ride back to the pueblo from an old local lady. She is the last car at the beach and its past sunset, so I’m relieved that she’s willing to take me…
Sunrise in La Puerta Fajardo waiting for the ferry to Las islas

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