Saturday, July 21, 2012

Some Sights Along the Way to the Top

On the way to reach Mt. Britton, there are a multitude of beautiful things to observe. Pictures alone can not convey the experience but they help.

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Going up Mt. Britton

40 minute climb which took us two hours. Not bad when you are 60 years old, I say! Here are some pictures to show the condition of the path and "shelters." There are at least three of them and they have working benches, but the clay around them has eroded making them at times difficult to reach. Nevertheless that did not detain us.

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Climbing Mt. Britton

On the Way up to Mt. Britton in El Yunque

Why do you climb a mountain? Some people say, "Because it is there." You wonder. They risk their lives because it is there. What is that supposed to mean? We have all heard of people rising triumphantly over
Mt. Everest and others falling in a crevass trying. Then we wonder. Were they seeking fame or are they trying to prove something to themselves and are willing to die trying? Are they in their right minds?

Yesterday, I did such a thing. Perhaps it wasn't on the grand scale as Mt. Everest, but to me who am quite a bit over weight with lots of silver hair it was a bit of a challenge. Okay the truth. It was a challenge. It took me and a friend two hours to climb the regularly 45 minute trail. If you are in good shape, that is what it takes. Yet though my friend and I are not in perfect shape we refused to shy away from this challenge and be denied the opportunity of climbing one of Puerto Rico's highest peaks.

We reminded ourselves this wasn't a race but a marathon. The important thing is that if you are not in top shape, you either go with people who respect your speed or lack of. I went with Victor.

Victor is a relative's husband who has been battling a lung condition most of his life. Then a couple of years back, Victor suffered from a deadly condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome. It in fact, almost took his life. I am not at liberty to describe everything that happened to Victor, but as a result of the syndrome he temporarily lost
some of his vision, stability in his hands and feet, lost of balance and similar manifestations in other parts of his body. He remained in the hospital for over a week. After being released from the hospital he had to fight to regain his mobility and eye sight . He still has areas of weakness and his original lung condition has not gone away for which he has to have daily oxygen treatments, but he is driven to regain his life.

Whenever I am in Puerto Rico, Victor and I go to El Yunque. So when on our last visit driving through El Yunque, we took some nice photos of Mt. Britton way up on a distant hill, he asked if I had ever gone up to that tower. I really did not think anything of the question at the time. I could vaguely remember going up that trail and frankly it had been decades before. I was at least 30 pounds lighter and twenty years younger.

The trail then was a little different. The path was not a narrow cement path as it is now. It was mostly an uneven gravel pathway which though more unstable seemed wider. Wider is better when you are making an ascent that will take you up to three thousand eighty-eight feet with slippery drops on one side of the trail. These risks have to be considered.

This two feet wide path, proved to be a concern when other people were either coming down the trail or coming up behind you. Someone has to step off the trail to make it through. So the climbing has to be a matter of engaging with other people and negotiating the path. Once on the trail we encountered some younger hikers and most of the time, it was a no brainer, and they simply stepped off the path onto the gravel and went on their way. On our way down though, being a bit more cautious since it was raining and streams of water were intermittently flowing down the path, we encountered a multi-aged group. Among the group was a rather large boned lady coming up of the path. When she saw us, she decided that she would keep her feet on the path and lean on the edge of the mountain and jutting her rear end out and expected us to skirt around her. I sized up the situation rather quickly and realized that if we did that, we risked slipping and falling down the ravine. I declined her kindness and simply stepped off the path in a small gravel clearing before her and next to the mountain's side. I didn't need to say a word. She simply responded"Oh!" and I let them pass. In other words, use common sense. Always defer to the side of the trail that is safest, not to the side where you can break your neck!!!

But whether the trail was narrow or wide, made of cement or gravel, with three shelters or not, the climb was the same. It was steep, curvy, and wet. For people in top shape it takes 45 minutes. It took us two hours. When we reached the top, there it was. A small tower no larger than a turret but not well maintained. It really needs a good cleaning with a pressure washer. The steps down could be just as slippery as a soapy water and in some places there were no rails but slimy wet walls.  That is the truth. So ironically for me the summit proved most treacherous, but we made it!

At the top of the tower, it was windy with clouds swirling, lifting up our ponchos, and buffeting our faces. Occasionally clouds would thin out and we could see the Mt. Britton spur next to us about 700 yards away but that was the extent of the visibility. It is not called the Cloud Forest for nothing. So no majestic view for us today. That is a reality. The triumph is in the journey. If you get a view, it is a bonus.

Why did we do it? We did it because it was there and because we wanted to go. It took us a week to actually find a day that would work for us but I think, Victor had to think things through before taking the challenge. More was riding on this climb for him. I was more or less going for the ride. At least that was what I thought. It was as much of a challenge for me as for him.

As we climbed, I would tell him I was not in a hurry because I didn't want him to feel rushed but most importantly I could not be rushed. I found the climb was not as exhausting as I expected. It just took us more time. Providentially, it rained that day cooling the forest considerably and with the constant breeze and sometimes heavy rain and wind, keeping the temperature down especially under our ponchos. I realized that these wet conditions actually were what allowed me to go up this mountain. I am so grateful and encouraged to get into better shape and perhaps do this again in the near future. Perhaps another trail? Perhaps another mountain? Perhaps another challenge? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps? Certainly!

Update:  Unfortunately, it will not be with Victor.  Victor, my Yunque friend, or as my niece says, my Yunque buddy, has gone up to another mountain, Mt. Heaven, where I believe he breathes deeply now and can climb any mountain he wants to climb.  Descanse en paz buen amigo.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Out of the Shadows 3

Here is a picture of my elegant grandparents around 1920 with their first four children. Modestia aparte!
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Que lindo esta Esto!

No se puede apreciar el fresco que hacia aca arriba en el monte. Era por lo menos 10 a 15 grados mas fresco aqui que en el pueblo de Naranjito. Me queria quedar pero sabia que tenia que regresar. Nunca me quiero olvidar de este paisaje.
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Dando una Vuelta

Verde luz de monte y mar
Isla virgen del coral
si mi alejo de tus playas....

Que bella es mi isla!

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Naranjito: El Mirador Las Lagrimas

If you are on your way up the mountains to Barranquitas there is a pull over on the side of road for scenic pictures called Mirador Las Lagrimas. I thought these small falls were called Las Cataratas, which means waterfalls, but it's not. Las Lagrimas means tears. That is understandable tears may be profuse at times but tears are mostly a trickle as well. Today there was barely a stream going down, but take tomorrow after a rain, then you see a lot more. Believe me I've seen them.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

Out of the Shadows Part 2

Talking to Doña Gina the other day was like taking a time machine to the past. She filled me in with information that was just as descriptive and colorful as a trip to my mother’s home in the nineteen twenties and thirties would have been. Her information wasn’t simply coming from copies of flimsy papers with dates and names but rather with the insight of an eyewitness. It wasn’t so much a story as much as an objective account of life on my grandfather farm. She filled a gap I had always had since I was only two years old when “don Pepe,” mi abuelo, had died. So I barely knew about my family’s past, other than what my mother had told me which was barely nothing other than that she ran up the hill with her brothers after lunch was over and she had washed the dishes. Not an easy task when you have five brothers and four sisters. She had told me about la vega (the meadow) and la laja (a big rock in the middle of the river), both places on the family farm that she found beautiful. Unfortunately for me, by the time I was a teenager and had returned to the island with my parents, the farm had long outrun is original glory.

All I remember about the old farm was el ranchon and the big wooden house on the top of the little hill with its spacious front rooms creaking as you walked in the house, and a cool breeze that trailed through it from the wide front porch to the kitchen in the back. That was all I could remember. I had seen a picture or two but had heard bits and pieces about these mysterious people who were my close relatives. One story was about a stingy uncle, yet it was the Great Depression after all. Another was about a difficult uncle who drank too much and had angry outbursts and moved far away; then the story of my much loved uncle, Tio Angel, who went off to war in Europe, and finally how eventually most of the family moved away to remote San Juan, and someone tearing down the old house and leaving only a rocky stump where the old foundation had been.

So what kind of farm was it? As I questioned Doña Gina about the farm I also learned about what kind of person my grandfather was. You see Gina was close to my mother’s age, and she had her eye on a handsome young man who was a peon on the farm. She was only 12 then and blushingly told me how she found an excuse to see him daily by taking him some lunch. The farm which I thought was only big enough to sustain the Morales clan, actually was large enough to hire 15 peons, who helped around la finca by tending cows, feeding chickens, pigs, and ducks. Other than the animals, la finca also had cuerdas (land) for planting guineos, plantains, rice, and tobacco. This was not to mention the annual gandules and habichuelas, as well as orange, grapefruit, breadfruit, coconut palms, and avocado trees that are still on the land today. With that same produce they made and sold some of the best pasteles in the area.

Peons were paid 25 cents a day. My eyes must have shown surprise as Gina reminded me this was during La Gran Depresion. Though the laborers were only paid 25 cents a day, they were also paid with a sack of produce as needed once a week for their own family’s needs. "Nadie nunca pasaba hambre que trabajara en la finca." No one ever went hungry. More than one time in that conversation she told me about how generous my grandfather had been and how much he was loved in the community. That is why, on the day he died in the early 1950’s, there was much weeping and consternation in Las Lomas in Naranjito. Who would take over the farm now that Don Pepe was gone? How would they be able to make it? Ahora que ese arbol de roble habia sido derribado que pasaria con ellos? Now that that old oak tree had been hewed down, what would happen to them? He had been their source of income and influence. It was indeed a sad day in the community and you could almost imagine someone singing El Lamento Borincano.

In addition she told me she knew so much about my family because she became part of the help in the Morales farm and that Mami was one of her favorites. She recalled bringing water up from the river with a big can braced on her head. Later this water was boiled and filtered for consumption. She mentioned un anafre having to do with the water. Now all the water running must have been before they built the cistern whose walls are still up there on the top of the hill. It was quite large so I am sure getting water from the river happened when there was a dry spell.

Gina told me that some years later she found work in the tobacco factory in town. When that factory closed down a flower factory opened where she also worked with my aunt, Titi Georgina. Years later Titi Georgina showed me some of the flowers and supplies she was given when in turn that artificial flower factory had shut its doors.

Random facts were added about other members of the family that I had only heard mentioned by name and some not at all. She mentioned that my great grandfather, Don Tano, "Papa Tano" for the family, had mostly coffee on his plantation, and that he had a best friend, Evaristo Nieves, who was nicknamed Don Baro and was blind. Don Tano, Don Pepe, and Tio Elias all were good friends with Don Baro and often visited. Just knowing that speaks well about their character, doesn't it? She added that my dear aunt, Titi Sarita, my mother’s oldest sister, had her own seamstress shop, in a wooden building separate from the main house where people were constantly coming to order shirts and pants to be custom made for them.

Was this an eye opener? The answer is a huge yes! I got a new appreciation for my ancestors. The organization skills it took to run a working farm of that size and manpower, to not only sustain a family of twelve with ten children and two adults, but also at least 15 other families in the community, astounds me. I had no idea. It makes me proud to know I had such an admirable grandfather. Whereas before he was in the shadows, now he has come into the light. God rest his soul.

So that is what happened to me on a quiet Tuesday afternoon as I visited Mami in El Hogar El Quijote en el barrio Van Scoy in Bayamon. I wonder what will happen today?


Abuelo- grandfather

Guineos- bananas

La finca- the farm

Cuerdas- Spanish size measurement for land, smaller than an acre

Gandules- Pidgeon peas

Habichuelas- beans

Pasteles- plantain based tamal wrapped in banana leaves

Sunday, July 15, 2012

So afraid no more

Last year when I saw my granddaughters in these dangerous waters I was so frighten.  I don't know why I wasn't so much this year.  I think it was because I had prayed and felt God's peace that they would be okay. It also helped that they had a decent respect for the waters and only waded into it.  My daughter also explained that there was no undertow that she could detect.  Well it is obvious to see the girls had a grand time and so did their grandma.

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Walking up a hill

Just a couple of treats on my way up a steep hill. Many times the joy is in the journey we find so strenuous turns out to be the gift.

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