Saturday, November 13, 2010


Lago Caonillas
Pinch me please. Did I really journey over 3000 miles from earthquake central to feel the damn ground jostle me awake last night?! Note to universe: I can get that nonsense at home. Thankfully, the quake didn't achieve enough vigor to rouse me from the suddenly squirmy bed of my rural mountainside ecolodge. Half-asleep, I probably remembered that the windows above me were just screens and metal shutters, not glass. So after a groggy time check I snuggled back under my guava bubble gum-scented covers and forgot about the whole experience until dinnertime.
The last week or so has been the usual crazy pace of road travel- meeting people, getting a crash course on their lives and eccentricities, then shuffling in new personalities and geographic locations. I'm losing track of the many guesthouses I've stayed at where the owners foster and adopt out stray cats and dogs. The evening serenade of coquis is a given, louder in some places (El Yunque rainforest) than others (surf town of Luquillo). And the quest for tasty well-priced vegetarian food never makes sense. A mini-mart on tiny Culebra island carries tofu, but I've been stumped to find more than one decent meat-free restaurant in San Juan.

Monday, November 8, 2010

vieques untamed

Vieques bunker
Another swoon-worthy visit to Vieques. Though blowing the place to bits wouldn't have been my first, second or third choice for a lazy day activity, it's no wonder the Navy didn't want to leave. Wild horses graze by the side of the island's twisting one-lane roads, depositing squishy brown souvenirs on the pavement. Teenage boys ride bareback, their bays pacing a quick yet restrained gait like hip-swiveling speed walkers. Two-foot-long iguanas feast in the bough of tall trees, and weaselly mongeese dash across overgrown stretches of pavement lined with sealed concrete bunkers. Miles of solitary sand beaches buffer aquamarine sea, reached by rough dirt tracks that end in "no trespassing - dangerous explosives" signs.
I took a second excursion to the island's ethereal bioluminescent bay, this time in a completely clear kayak, like Wonder Woman on the water. Crossing the darkened bay to our tie-up spot, fish careened just under the surface, leaving silver trails like never-ending sword marks of Zorro. Dinoflagellates, microscopic marine plankton that glow when disturbed, flickered like ghostly bubbles as the boat slid through the water under a moonless sky. Jumping into the water, I watched the fairy dust trails from my limbs until the tour guide made us climb back in.
On Halloween night, the local cops set up a checkpoint in Esperanza. A half dozen guys stood around, loaded up in bulky flack jackets and bearing rifles. They stopped all cars going past, but since not many people were out, they mostly just hung around and chatted amongst themselves, looking puffed up and unnecessary. A stray dog was trotting down the street, and I had to laugh when I saw it stop to piss on a patrol car's tire.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

natural disasters & other big surprises

Esperanza on Halloweeen
A few years back while researching in Chiapas, I recall the look of horror from someone when I mentioned that I was heading on to Tabasco soon. But . . . they've had lots of rain, he stammered. I hadn't read the regional news for a few days, and when I checked it that night it just so happened that the entire state was bathing in the largesse of its overflowing rivers. Without a hydroplane, a visit was impossible, so I took a literal rain check.
Fast forward a few years. Last night I was poking around the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques, noticing that waves at the usually placid malecon were cresting and showering passing cars. Stopping to gawk, I commented to a passerby about the spirited Caribbean waters, and he dropped a tidbit about Hurricane Tomas lurking a few hundred miles offshore. You'd think I'd pay attention to these salient details by now. Little kids in Halloween costumes hung over the side of the boardwalk, screaming with mock fear when the whitewater crashed and spritzed them.
After dinner tonight, I stopped by one of the local bars to gather their details for the book. As a reggae cover band droned on, the World Series played without sound, and a handful of rapt patrons texted as they watched the 8th inning of the game. I'm not a sports fan, but I was a San Franciscan far from home without anything better to do, so I pulled up a stool and quickly made friends with an SF couple at the end of the counter. As the bottom of the ninth inning sped up, the spectacle drew me in and I teetered on the edge of my chair. At three balls and two strikes, conversation stopped near the television and eyes leveled without blinking. As the batter struck out, we exhaled to cheer, and the bartender lined up free chichaito shots for his three San Francisco patrons. ¡Salud!

Monday, November 1, 2010


I'm currently on the ground in Puerto Rico, wilting in the late hurricane season humidity while researching the next Lonely Planet guide to the island. Friends from home keep asking me if I've been snorkeling or swimming, but until the sun's almost down, I'm reluctant to expose my skin to insta-cook.
San Juan was a rush of mushrooming beachfront high-rise condos, concrete streets running between them and a public bus authority that plies the roads but refuses to publish or post route maps. A breezy woman from the tourism office insisted that everyone knew where the buses went so there was no need to produce maps. (Yeah, right.) And that buses went places that tourists didn't want to go anyway. (Um . . . sure.) A desk clerk at the guesthouse confirmed my suspicion that residents were just as perplexed by the dearth of transit information. She'd somehow gotten her hands on a map a few years ago, and she'd kept it like a sacred object. An object that she let me borrow and photocopy, thank you very much.
A few highlights from my time in the capital of Borinquen:
  • an invitation to the birthday party of a dapper sexagenarian barfly in Condado
  • drinking my first chichaito shot (passion fruit flavored!)
  • chatting with a right-on bartender inside a crazy oyster-shaped restaurant
  • biking a few miles of the undeveloped PiƱones coast on a brakeless bicycle
  • finding the coolest live music club in Old San Juan by following rock music down a dark and deserted back alley
  • realizing that the best natural foods store in town was right across the street from where I was staying