The Ride to Maunabo: I love to travel this route ---I don't like the traffic. So when I go, I take the path of least resistance from Isla Verde. Which one is that, you might ask? Considering that sometimes there can be gridlock at every turn, if you turn west to take La Baldorioty, it has no lights but is a traffic nightmare. Once you approach the Tunnel-- El Tunel Minillas, La Baldorioty de Castro's slow moving traffic practically comes to a halt. Depending on the time, once you exit the tunnel to head either towards Caguas, a busted car on the side of the road can slow down traffic to a crawl. I don't even want to mention how the Caguas Expressway Route 52 is a nightmare from two thirty in the afternoon to seven in the evening-- perhaps even to eight heading towards Caguas. So what do I do?
I take the Teodore Moscoso Bridge. That's right. I fork over three dollars and thirty cents. And I do it with pleasure. I avoid the whole harrowing mess by taking the bridge, turning towards Trujillo Alto, crossing through Venus Gardens, and then coming out through Cupey Alto around El Señorial and hopping on Las Americas Expressway to Caguas. The little traffic I got this morning was mainly around that light on la"Avenida Parana." After that it only took me an hour to get to Maunabo.
It was 8:30 when I got on the Expressway and it was a partly cloudy day which was a delight. You have no idea how beautiful, lush, and green the hills are just passed the Montehiedra exit. It is a view for sore eyes. Vegetation everywhere pouring itself down the hills with shady spots all along the shoulder of the road. Fortunately, the road itself is mostly in good condition by Puerto Rico standards. Once you make the curve around the toll booths to head towards Humacao on Route 30, it is as if you let the horses out of the corral. The road widens around Caguas and Turabo. Cars scramble to get into a good position and some are never seen again as they speed into the sunset--not really but you get the idea. Then the real beauty begins.
There are mountains loping one after another on your left. You really don't want to drive. What you want to do is cry because it is so beautiful or you want to take out a camera and film it. What I really want to do is stop, set up my easel, and start painting. I want to rest my eyes on these mountains for a good long time with the overpass bridge just up ahead with the hills in the background in sequenced layers of shade and the trees as a frame. It is stunning. I can still see it.
I am driving and scouting how the Flamboyanes are doing. Most have lost their blossoms and the reddish orange flowers are very sparse now. I call them, Flamboyanes menguantes. Like the moon when it has passed full moon. Luna menguante, flamboyan menguante. Just as the flowers are dying down-- it is October after all, the green leaves are renewed, and the trees become full with the big "vianas" or seed pods. Just as the Flamboyanes are spectacular, their seed pods are not any less so. Everything has its season.
So on I go, passing exit 14, a particularly dangerous exit. I make a mental note that I need to be on the left lane when I reach this particular exit since I had an ugly encounter with a speeding truck determined to get on the road to Humacao from this blind entrance. This is not the only entrance that is especially dangerous so be warned, stay on the left lane if at all possible. In addition, the road is as rough as sandpaper where it has been patched and pounded a million times. I often find myself manuvering to the left or to the right in order to avoid a rough patch or some pot hole. It is not a picnic to drive I can assure you. If it weren't for the views and the destination, I would not take it but for this feast to the eyes. Oh my gosh, it is so worth it.
Once I get to exit 23, there is a huge green sign pointing to Yabucoa and Palmas del Mar. There is the beginning of civilization, road wise I mean. This road leads to Route 53 and Route 53 is in relatively good shape and the views are no less appealing. You actually start seeing the ocean in little peeks between the hills which are quite intriguing as well. After taking the road that leads towards Yabucoa, there is some sort of hotel or university up on a hill. I need to check it out sometime when I have time. I will write a post on it, but this conglomeration of buildings is only a distraction to what lays ahead. El Valle de Yabucoa. This is where you take a deep breath and sigh.
Nothing is really big in Puerto Rico. It is only 35 by 100 miles and there are people to throw up in the air as we say in Spanish. Gente para tirar pa' rriba...in other words we have a lot of people. So when you come to an open space, it is like finding a walk in closet in a tiny apartment. Whew. That is what El Valle de Yabucoa is. It is wide and the road doesn't touch it. It is an elevated road that respected the terrain. I love driving through it, rather above it, and looking at the plantains and banana plants below which are neatly planted in rows that look like they go on into eternity. The only thing that cradles them are mushes of tall curvy bamboo that sway in the breeze with their sparkling leaves. I could go to sleep thinking about them.
I loved this valley long before I ever saw it in person. I was meant to love it. I couldn't understand why my mother who was from Naranjito, a little town nestled in the mountains, had a picture of this valley in her living room in Trujillo Alto. In fact, it didn't even say, Yabucoa, anywhere on the picture which was easily 24 inches by 24 inches, sizable photograph at that. After several years, the picture had become discolored and it looked like a 1950's television spot. Black, white, sad blues, and grays mostly. I despised the condition of the picture, yet I had memorized each part. Why did she keep it? Perhaps she enjoyed considering the idea of the expanse, or was it her love for this island, or perhaps she remembered what it originally looked like. Who knows?
Whatever the reason for keeping it, it wasn't until crossing this bridge without the distraction of conversations with my daughters and their families and upcoming fun, that it finally hit me. This was the valley on that wall in my mother's house in Venus Gardens. It was a valley big and wide and abundant. It was that place I had seen many times, not in my dreams but in Mom's living room. And it wasn't a boring faded blue. It was alive in all shades of green with cows going out to the meadow and with field after field of plants. El Valle de Yabucoa, the Yabucoa Valley, as they say as you enter, zona bendecida. A blessed zone. It is.
And we haven't even started going up the road on route 901 to Maunabo. We haven't even started.