Puerto Rico Pt. 2

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01.07 Wednesday—

The ferry to Vieques was an hour late but the wait was not stressful. The sun felt so good on the ferry and I sat very still, breathing with the swell of the waves. Arrived in early golden hour. Our stay is in a private room in an apartment run by Ms. B* and it is quaint and full of life + history + trinkets. We picked starfruit from a heavy tree beside the balcony and ate it. Starfruit flesh is airy and dripping sweet and golden orange. We wandered along the sea and the beach front for an hour or so before ordering dinner. I had seared mahi on a bed of seawaeed salad with steamed buttered asparagus and pickled onions and ginger and Josh had a whole red snapper with rice and red beans. Tiki torches burned nearby and a crab pinched Josh’s heel.

Back on our balcony now and Josh is in the hammock reading. The air is noisy with birds and crickets, voices and motors. Next door, a raucous group is singing loudly and playing hand drums. Fireworks scattered over the house across the street. The night air is soft.

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Travel here is embarrassing because literally everyone thinks I’m Puerto Rican, speaking to me in Spanish, and I know only the basics. Josh enjoys it. I would too, if I spoke Spanish. I have also decided that I would rather be happy than beautiful. Our vibe on this trip so far is that of good friends traveling together. I am reminded how much of marriage is friendship, companionship.

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01.08 Thursday—

Ms. B fixed an impromptu breakfast of toasted bread and coffee, which we supplemented with grapefruit and sliced starfruit from the tree. Packing up, we walked to town and rented snorkel gear and a paddleboard (there were no kayaks available). We paddled to an island, mostly crashing our oars together and feeling mildly frustrated, and beached on a narrow strip of crushed bleached shelles. The island was mostly black lava rock and shrub. Snorkeling was lovely but not phenomenal, and sea urchins in shallow water terrify me. Took a roundabout way back to shore, Josh swam and I paddled. I found a rhythm and felt lean and happy in the sun.

Picked up our bags and called a taxi to Casa Colena. C and J are very welcoming and very American. Our room was painted in teal with mahogany furniture and a huge king bed made up in white. A huge window overlooks a vast vista of the valley and Caribbean Sea. The atlantic Sea is visible from the front and semi-wild ponies clattered and snorted below the balcony. C took us back to town and we ate fried fish sandwiches and then clambered over rocks and long narrow strips of sand along the coastline. The water was very blue and the sun hot.

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01.09 Friday—

C served us a breakfast of muffins, croissants and jam, and coffee, and we took the ferry back to the big island. I was glad to leave. Vieques is small, with strange vibes. We retrieved our car and stopped at a tiny local restaurant for chicken, ribs, ensalada verde, and papas fritas. Drove for three and a half hours to Rincón without stopping. The terrain changed from lush and agricultural in the southeast, to huge rolling hills like grassy heads shorn close to the skull in the south, to semi-deciduous forests in the northeast.

Rincón is a cheerless town, a fabricated mold of bars strung with lights, noisy seafood restaurants, surf shops and yoga on every corner. The air was heavy with arrogance and opulence, an inauthentic culture imposed on a beautiful area. Our bungalow is cute and nestled in the jungle but the second floor houses a noisy group of surfers who sound exactly like a small frat party. A dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a grocery run for milk and fruit, and now reading. The birds and coquís are loud and ceaseless and lulling. We both have some sort of rash on our arms and legs, like poison ivy.

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01.12 Monday—

T’s third floor walk up apartment in the heart of Old San Juan is old-European romantic with tiled floors, white-washed walls, raised wooden beam celings, tall narrow wooden doors, unscreened windows with carved bannisters and hoya vines winding upwards. Windows are all open, all the time, and last night it rained and in the morning our bare feet tracked wet footprints along the corridor beneath the windows. The terrace inlaid with bricks, half enclosed by peach-pink painted walls, and crowded with tropical plants in giant terracotta pots. We slept in a double four-post bed, night air and rain sounds rushing over us.

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*We were on the island for ten days and stayed in seven locations —all but the first were rented apartments or private rooms through AirBnB. I refer to each of our hosts by their first initials.

More on Instagram or Part I

Puerto Rico Pt. 1

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01.05 Sunday— woke in a spartan hotel room with a plain but amazingly comfortable mattress and a door that opened to a balcony overlooking an alley choked with palm trees. We ate our complimentary breakfast of cheese pastry, banana, orange kool-aid and cheap coffee on the balcony and felt happy.

Drove to P’s*, dropped our bags, and followed his directions to a small beach that we had all to ourselves. We ate papaya and salmon salad sandwiches and smiled a lot. Tiny hermit crabs littered the sea and I found a handful of violet and rose porcelain shells (conch pieces) and we walked the beach, which was lined with empty, overgrown buildings.

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After the beach— drove to the rainforest where the air was cool and smelled faintly sweet. We hiked the Mt. Britton trail on a whim, which ends at a stone tower with lung-expanding views. Hiked the La Mina trail next and my knees ached.

Simple dinner of soft tacos

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01. 05 Monday—

Slept in and then ate grapefruit and drank coffee outside. Made tuna sandwiches and left for El Toro, Puerto Rico’s tallest peak. The trail is closed and overgrown and the second half is calf-deep mud. We knew this but went anyway. I wore yoga shorts and a tank top and no shoes, because the website we found information on about the trail informed us that it is lined with sharp grass. I decided to take my chances because I didn’t want to tear my clothes or get my shoes muddy.

We saw no one for four hours— two up, two down. The first half was a path of dried leaves and large palms. Everything was wet and very green and then it rained for ten minutes. We saw a lot of large snails. Underbrush was minimal and the leaves underfoot were huge and I felt complete. The forest changed in the second half of the hike and become shorter and much thicker. And the mud was astronomical. Soon my legs were covered. The path was, in fact, lined with razor grass and I danced around it on the way up but, tired on the way down, sustained lots of little slices on my skin.

We laughed and were happy the whole way. Mud curled between my toes and I felt like a child again. It was very quiet. We stopped for a snack and shortly after the path became steep and cluttered with boulders and smaller rocks. After a sharp climb up, we crested the peak. We were up in a cloud, surrounded by fog and cold mist—we couldn’t even see beyond our small green circle of grasses and shrubs and short palms. It was surreal. A cold, light rain began and we ate tuna sandwiches, a pimento, and fruit snacks, and took photos. I was freezing. The trip down, rather than being shorter, was just as long, because the mud was slick and treacherous. The sun appeared and dappled the rainforest. I was exhausted, but still happy. So much mud. I slipped and fell hard, and my old injuries flared up with a vengeance. Driving out, we stopped at a creek cascading over boulders, and Josh clambered over it and found that, just beyond what was visible from the road, a tall slender waterfall cascaded into a deep pool of very blue, cold water.

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01.06 Tuesday—

In the morning we drove back to El Yunque for Josh to explore a secret waterfall. I had woken up all night and slept alternating between two stiff positions, my back, hips, and SI joint in severe pain. There are only two ways to be in pain— angry, or at peace. I have learned, and so I relished the quiet stillness offered by the pain. I picked my way gingerly up the path an sat on a large rock reading ‘Mirrors of the Unseen’ (Jason Elliot) and falling in love with the rainforest as it swayed and whispered around me.

In the afternoon, we drove south, dove into the sea, and found a winding road through the mountains that took us home.

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*We were on the island for ten days and stayed in seven locations —all but the first were rented apartments or private rooms through AirBnB. I refer to each of our hosts by their first initials.

More photos on Instagram

Art and Social Change

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“Artists… are the real architects of change, not the political legislators who implement change after the fact. ” — William Burroughs

Sometimes, a friendly face—acquaintance, stranger—asks if I am an artist. Always, I hesitate before answering.

I was raised in a family of artists. I breathe, I create. My childhood art lessons, taught by my blue-eyed, multi-tasking mother, slid between mediums, featured items gathered and found, changed with the seasons and shaped around our family road trips. While my mother painted and my younger siblings never left the house bereft of a sketchbook, I channeled my energy into choreography, photographs, and words. But every night, I dreamt vivid, repeated images of countries I’d never visited: Vietnam, Zaire, Indonesia.

During high school and college, I was splintered between my need to create and my hunger to do something, anything, to heal the world’s wounds. Sidelined by injuries, I switched my college major from dance to the pink advising sheet that featured small-type lists of classes like Current Issues in International Health and Women’s Health and Public Health Program Planning. I graduated college and took a social work job. Emotionally depleted and crumbling, I turned to my counselor, who told me to stop polarizing myself as a social worker or an artist, and instead see myself as a social worker who is an artist.

This was the beginning of realizing that art is not irreconcilable to social action: it is essential.

In personal taste and worldview, I fit better with the outward artists: the art majors and creative directors and freelancers. But I geek out over community health programming models and collaboration processes for change and methods for measuring social impact. As I design programming for Priyam and study for the tests and apply for fellowships and conferences, I perfect my freehand script and hone my eye for beauty and branding.

Two worlds: art and social change. Lately, I stand astride the chasm between the two with a pulsing enthusiasm that quells that old familiar splintering of my two great innate desires. I’m finding that the world craves a marriage of beauty and purpose. That the healing properties of art and the social healing possible through the work of nonprofits, businesses, and coalitions are not strangers, but more like long-lost twins.

Creativity, the use of imagination or original ideas for a determined purpose, permeates everything we do. Social change is fueled by essentials that artists have long employed and communicated by the same principles that shape art. So don’t confine creativity to the craft table, or relegate social action to the responsibility of someone else. Only through marrying the two will the world be healed.