"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Friday, August 10, 2018

Island Time: Return to Puerto Rico, Part II




This is going to be a multi-part series where I take you guys on the personal journey that was our return visit to PR after 10 years away. This isn't just the story of a vacation: it's a whole lot more than that. I recommend starting with the first post in this series, which is this one, in order for you to understand the events that happen specifically on the day that I am about to describe.

And as usual, I am going to talk about things that make people uncomfortable. ;) In the process, you'll get to see the island not from a tourist's view, but from the perspective of a local returning to her homeland...which I think is a whole lot more fun anyway.

Shall we begin? :)


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I had purchased our flight tickets through the Hopper app, which had been recommended by my Aunt Sari for finding the best flight prices. I had requested flights leaving through D.C., meaning the Ronald Reagan International Airport. I checked us into our flight 24 hours prior on Monday morning and sent the link to Carlos so he could have the boarding pass on his phone. He texted me 10 minutes later:

"Our flight leaves through Dulles."

What?! Apparently Dulles, despite being in Virginia, is considered a D.C. airport as well and I had accidentally booked our flights through there. 

I panicked and searched for our return flights just to make sure...

We were also returning through Dulles. Phew!

We had never flown through there but thanks to Google soon realized that Dulles is, in fact, slightly closer than Reagan and parking prices for leaving our vehicle there while gone are less. We might be using them more often from now on...

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Our trip began and ended with this song. I heard it for the first time while working out in Open Gym one morning at CrossFit during the week leading up to the trip; Pandora just randomly played it. I got goosebumps when I realized what the lyrics said, and I had dropped the barbell mid-deadlift to text it to Carlos, "This is our song for the trip." 
It is Steve Aoki's and Walking Off Earth's "Home We'll Go." 
(You need to listen to the song to get the feeling of this trip. The video is stunning.)

"Don't let your head hang low
You've seen the darkest skies I know
Let your heart run, child, like horses in the wild
So take my hand and home we'll go.
The sun it glows like gold
Feeling warm as a burning coal
Let your soul shine bright like diamonds in the sky
So take my hand and home we'll go."


Our flight was leaving at 8:05 am on Tuesday 7/31/18, which meant waking up at 4:00 am in order to eat something at home; have coffee; leave the cats set up with food, water and an extra litter box; throw our stuff in the car, and make the hour drive to Dulles. 

The drive down was a  non-event, as I'm familiar with the region now thanks to my two jobs in Virginia. The parking garages were easy to locate and the shuttles to and from the terminal were prompt. We were dropped off at Departures and made the line through TSA (I laughed at the security officer saying, "Please remove all items from your pockets. Including cheese. If you have cheese in your pockets, it must be thrown out. Also: that's just weird.") We then took another shuttle to the gate where our plane would be leaving. 

As it would turn out, our flight was overbooked and it took an extra hour for the United Airlines staff to get seats sorted out. Thankfully, this issue did not affect us other than delaying the flight by a full hour. We were renting a car in PR and when scheduling the pickup time, I'd just had one of those gut feelings, "Schedule it more than an hour after your arrival time." I pay attention when that happens. And that's how I came to schedule the pickup of our rental car an hour and a half after our plane was originally supposed to land, so even with the delay we were still on time. I called Mom, who would be meeting us at the airport with the aunts, to let her know about the schedule change.

In the meantime, I fidgeted impatiently while Carlos and I looked around from our seats. 

We were surrounded by our people. Carlos and I quietly pointed them out to one another, "That one is Puerto Rican. And that one. And that one. And that one over there. That one is American. This one is definitely from the island! And that one." You could tell, in some cases, which ones were returning home to PR and which ones were visiting like us. It was all the same though:

It was going to be a plane full of our people. 

Carlos and I had been assigned separate seats, which I didn't realize until it was too late to change them, but it was okay: I was sandwiched between a thin woman in her 40s who was speaking in Spanish with a Puerto Rican accent on her phone when I sat down, and an elderly gentleman that looked like a classic Puerto Rican grandfather: salt-and-pepper hair neatly slicked back across his head, golden-tanned skin that crinkled in crows' feet around his dark eyes, a polo shirt and ironed dress slacks over carefully polished leather shoes. I had glanced at his hands out of the corner of my eye because I could tell, just by looking at them, that this man had worked in the fields when he was younger, and I was willing to bet money he was really good with a machete too. It was something about the shape of the wrists and the knuckles, the leathery texture of the smooth-worn skin over his fingers. 

My mind flashed back to when I was 10 years old, visiting my great-grandfather and watching him and his friends playing dominoes. I could have sat and watched their hands all day, their strong wizened fingers gently handling the thick ivory tiles of the game. 

The man next to me had hands like my great-grandfather and his friends. It was the same type of warm hand that would hold your tiny one securely when you needed someone to keep you safe; that would offer you a pilon lollipop to cheer you up; that would open doors that were too heavy for you, that would turn the pages of a book while reading to you. 


If your grandpa loved the water as much as ours did, those same hands would also help keep you afloat while you learned to swim. Here, my grandfather with my brother in the swimming pool of the house that I will be giving you a tour of in this post.
I sat back in my seat and grinned: the plane hadn't taken off yet but I was already home.

It was a four-hour flight. I tried reading but between the excitement of the trip and the very early wake-up hour, I had only gotten about four hours of sleep, so I ultimately dozed in and out of consciousness. 

I was woken up by the flight attendants making the rounds, offering us snacks. I took the cookies I was offered and placed them in my bag for later. We were offered refreshments as well. I just asked for water; the gentleman next to me wanted a Sprite or 7-Up. He spoke in English with barely an accent. The flight attendant asked if he wanted "hielo," which was kind of him, but my neighbor somewhat sternly said in English, "I would like ice, please." The flight attendant couldn't hear him, so I spoke up, "He wants ice." 

The cup with Sprite and ice was passed along to the gentleman. 

To my surprise, he pulled out a bag of pistachios and another of chips that he offered to share with me. He was still speaking in English, and given his sternness towards the flight attendant who had tried speaking to him in Spanish, I responded in English. I grinned brilliantly at him though because again I was reminded of the kind of thing that my grandfather's and great-grandfather's generations would do, and I wondered if something about me had reminded him of a daughter or granddaughter in turn. I had plenty of snacks in my bag though: I thanked him and pulled out one of my nut and dry fruit mixes. 

I eventually fell asleep again, waking up when we hit a patch of turbulence. 

The flight felt like forever. I had not been this impatient for a plane to land since having the long-distance relationship with Carlos while I was still living on the island. And then, my impatience had been for it to land in Tampa, where Carlos lived at the time.

It was finally announced over the speakers that we would be landing soon. My neighbor and I simultaneously looked out the window next to him...but only the sea was visible at the moment. 

I leaned back against my seat and tried to read the magazine I had brought but the words on the page ran together into meaningless symbols as my eyes scanned over the page. My attention span was exactly zero. 

I felt my neighbor suddenly go very still as he leaned closer to the window. I looked at him and then followed his line of sight. 

Turquoise waters led the eye to a never-ending line of orange beaches that then flowed into thick green jungle that thinned out into civilization. And beyond it all, rolling emerald mountains, hazy from the humidity of the hot summer sun, just barely touching the cloud ceiling above them. 

It was the island. My island.

A sob escaped me before I could stop it. I had not seen her in 10 years. An entire freaking decade. How? How had I let so much time pass?

And I thought of Fiel a la Vega's song, Boricua en la Luna, which I had had on repeat for the three days leading up to the trip. The song is based on a poem by Juan Antonio Corretjer, a famous Puerto Rican poet. It is the hymn of the Puerto Rican expat...and I thought of the dad in the poem, who died on a factory floor without being able to return to the island to see it one last time. (Translation in English is after the Spanish lyrics):


Como los olas del mar
Son besos a su orilla

Una mujer de Aguadilla vino a Nueva York a cantar

Pero no solo a llorar 
un largo llanto y morir

De ese llanto yo naci

Como la lluvia una fiera

Y vivo en la larga espera

De cobrar lo que perdi

Con un cielo que se hacia
Mas feo mas mas volaba
A Nueva York se acercaba un peon de Las Marias
Con la esperanza decia
De un largo dia volver
Pero antes me hizo nacer
Y de tanto trabajar
Se quedo sin regresar
Revento en un taller

De una lagrima soy hijo
Y soy hijo del sudor
Y fue mi abuelo el amor
Unico en mi regocijo
Del recuerdo siempre fijo
En aquel cristal de llanto
Como quimera en el canto
De un Puerto Rico de ensueño
Y yo soy puertorriqueño sin na, pero si quebranto


Y al echon que me desmienta
Que se ande muy derecho

No sea en lo mas estrecho de un zaguan

Pague la afrenta

Pues segun alguien me cuenta

Dicen que la luna es una

Sea del mar o sea montuna

Y asi le grito al villano
Yo seria borincano aunque naciera en la luna!
Y asi le grito al villano
Yo seria borincano aunque naciera en la luna!



The translation of the song for you guys:

From the waves of the sea
that roll in to kiss the shore,
a woman from Aguadilla
came to sing in New York.
But she arrived only to cry
a river of tears and died.
I was born from that river
like a beast born from rain.
And I live the long wait
to regain what I lost.

Through a sky that grew
uglier the longer he flew
toward New York, came a
worker from Las Marías.
His hope, he always said,
was to some day return.
But first he made me,
then from overwork, he died;
before he could return home
he collapsed on a factory floor.

I am the son of tears
and the son of sweat.
It’s my grandfather’s love
I remember best; it was
the only joy I could see
through that pane of tears,
like a chimaera in a song
of the Puerto Rican dream.
And I am Puerto Rican;
I am broke, but not broken.

And that poseur who denies me?
Let him walk a straight and narrow
path, let him beware of a row
in the winding of an alley,
because someone once said:
they say the moon is one thing
though it be mountain and sea.
And as I defy the villain, I yell:
I would be Boricua even if
I were born on the moon!

Being a Puerto Rican born in Oklahoma is pretty much right up there with having born on the moon.

And here I was returning to claim what I had lost.

You cannot understand the fierce love we all share for our land, especially those of us that live outside of it, unless you are Puerto Rican. Sometimes not even Puerto Ricans that choose to stay behind on the island will understand the ferocity with which those of us that leave fixate on and embrace our heritage, our culture, and the land where we come from. Those that stay will sometimes take for granted what they have, like I did when I lived there...it's when it's gone that you realize what you lost. I had not realized how much I had taken what I had for granted until after the storm, when I wanted to see ordinary places, the things that no one thinks to take photos of, and couldn't find a single damn picture on the internet. In fact, this is when I realized I had no "before" photos of those places taken by myself so that I could have compared to...you don't think about taking photos of the everyday ordinary stuff of the place you live in. 

One of my major intents with this trip was to fix that. 

And to share it with all of you in the process. Because I want the internet and the world to have the photos that I couldn't have, that show what my island is really like from a Puerto Rican's perspective. All of the photos that I plastered IG and this blog post with during our cruise had just been a trial run of what I wanted to do for our PR trip.

I looked out the window alongside the gentleman next to me, my eyes scanning the urban areas of the San Juan metropolitan areas as seen from the sky, desperately looking for one single thing that I could recognize. And then I saw it: the tower of El Parque de las Ciencias (Sciences Park), looming high on the mogote on which it was constructed. One of my favorite high school parties took place in the ballroom at the top of that mogote. Grinning in relief at recognizing something, I sat back in my seat and waited for the plane to land.

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The plane doors were finally opened and we all started to stream out.

All pretense of being English speakers had flown out the window the moment the plane touched down: we all dropped the American costumes that we wear while on the mainland and stepped forth as the people we really are: loud, happy, obnoxious boricuas. The plane was suddenly filled with Spanish. Not just any Spanish: it was one single accent, one single slang. It was our Spanish, and it was music to our ears.

I glanced at Carlos, who was two lines behind me at the very back of the plane. He was animatedly talking to the flight attendants in English because suddenly they had become the "others" on the plane. He caught my eye and grinned from ear to ear though.

We had arrived. I called Mom to let her know. "I'm here with Mari and Lucy, your three witches waiting for you," she said. I could hear the grin in her voice. All four of us had loved Practical Magic when I was growing up because there were so many parallels between Sally Owens and myself, and the Owens aunts and their house with my mom, my aunts and the great house that my grandfather built.

We finally stepped off of the plane, blasted by the island's humidity as we walked through the jet bridge to the terminal of the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.

"OH MY GOD CARLOS! WE'RE SURROUNDED BY PUERTO RICANS AND EVERYONE CAN UNDERSTAND ME!" I shouted in Spanish in the middle of the airport.

He just laughed.

I ran to the nearest window because it was an entire wall of glass through which I could see my mountains in the distance, and snagged this picture.

They look so puny in this photo...you'll get better ones as I get into the story of this trip, believe me. ;)
We walked down to baggage claim where my very own three witches were, indeed, waiting for me. I took off running the second I saw them and leaped into Mom's arms, both of us crying as if we had not just seen one another 6 months prior. I then snagged Aunt Mari and Aunt Lucy, whom I had not seen in person in 10 years.

Like I've explained before on the blog, Aunt Mari is the free spirit of the family; the hippie, the wild child. Aunt Lucy is the mature one, the reasonable yet passionate one. My mom is the stubborn Zen center that brings balance to the trio, more so than she realizes, I think. Temperament-wise I am a distinct mixture of Aunt Lucy and my mother, with an undercurrent of Aunt Mari's rebelliousness.

We rushed over to the Alamo car rental desk, which was right outside the baggage claim area.

I had requested a mid-sized sedan-type vehicle. The clerk found us in the system and then asked us, "Would you like to upgrade to a Jeep?" (All conversations from here on out took place in Spanish IRL, though all characters in this story were fluent in English because that's how it is in PR. Carlos's and my first language is Spanish with its Puerto Rican flair and that's the language we speak with one another; I simply translate for blog purposes. :) )

I startled. It was like he knew. I looked at Carlos, who was again grinning from ear to ear.

You see, when I had initially gone to make the reservations for the car rental, the first company I had come across was offering smaller vehicles and Jeeps for the same price...which was crazy expensive. We had decided to just rent the Jeep and were pretty excited about the idea...except I decided to do more research and found car rental companies with both better reviews and much better-priced options. The mid-sized sedan was the second least expensive option with Alamo and that's what we had chosen.

We had still been dreaming about that Jeep though: I kept visualizing us driving around the island in it with the top down so we could feel the full blast of the hot tropical sun...and for whatever reason, in my daydreams it was always a gray Jeep.

I had always said that if I moved to the mainland, I wanted a Jeep Wrangler...which in reality was not practical for long commutes, hence the Corolla I currently own. Carlos loves them too. I mean, c'mon: who doesn't want to drive a Jeep Wrangler while adventuring?

So now the Universe was giving us that Jeep for just $20 more/day, which was still $150 less than the price of the first Jeep we had almost chosen to rent. Like I always say, when the Universe presents you with something you asked for on a silver platter to boot, you take it without asking questions.

Carlos and I now said in unison, "Dale!" ("Heck yes!") DUH. Lol

We signed the paperwork (guys, if you visit PR and rent a car, DO take the extra insurance the rental car company offers. Driving on the island is not for the faint of heart and it is better to be safe than sorry) and were told where to pick up our vehicle.

Note the color: gray. That's the color we were offered.
Did I bring this to life by casually visualizing it, or had I been daydreaming about a future reality?
Your guess is as good as mine. #basicwitch
We piled into our ride with Aunt Mari, who would give us directions to get to their house. Mom and Aunt Lucy went their own separate way in their car, since Mom had to make a stop at the bakery.

Is it silly that I was excited about this Spanish "Stop" sign leaving the Alamo parking lot?
The majority of Stop signs on the island say "Pare."
Carlos drove, and the first thing he did while trying to leave the airport was use his signal lights. He could not change lanes: no one would let him. Drivers in the next lane would see his signal blinking and accelerate to cut him off.

"Turn those off!" Aunt Mari and I had said in unison. I am neither joking nor exaggerating when I tell you that you can't use signal lights while driving in PR if you really expect to change lanes. Carlos turned the signal off...and like magic he was able to change lanes by darting between two cars that were two car lengths apart. (Did I tell you you also have to be ballsy, defensive and assertive while driving in PR? Because you need to be those too. Again: see getting the extra insurance when renting a vehicle in PR.)

To get out of Carolina and to the heart of the San Juan metropolitan area, you have to take the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge. I ran it on foot twice as part of The World's Best 10K. I used to love the alternating Puerto Rican and US flags all the way down its length.

Teodoro Moscoso bridge, as it used to look driving towards the airport.
(Photo from the internet.)
The flags are gone.

The bridge now, driving towards the San Juan metro area. The flags are not a huge loss because when the island has been on survival mode for almost a year, there are plenty of things that are more important than replacing a bunch of flags on a bridge.
(This photo is by me.)
The missing flags were not important but they were just the beginning.

Aunt Mari had come with us so she could give us directions. We had just gotten off of the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge when she had us make a turn and then said, "Hmmm...I have no idea where we are."

This should not surprise you. We burst out laughing but it didn't surprise us: one advantage of living on an island is that sooner or later you reach the coast and you eventually figure out where you are. I tackle Frederick the same way, except my logic is that sooner or later I'll reach a mountain and that means I have to turn around. ;) Carlos started teasing Mari about it and never stopped for the length of the trip. We put Waze on my phone with Mom's address and then had another good laugh over the app trying to say Spanish words in English: "Make a left onto Luis Muñoz Rivera Avenue." Carlos and I would be like, "What???" and then I'd look at the app and be like, "Oh! She means 'Loo-ihs Moo-ñohz Ree-veh-rah.'" This would be another theme throughout the trip.

We sobered up pretty quickly as we kept on driving though. The areas of Hato Rey and Rio Piedras that we drove through were unrecognizable, and it wasn't just because of the missing trees. 


Grass on the medians is not supposed to be that overgrown. Under normal circumstances, that would have been trimmed just like stateside. Can you see what else is wrong with this picture? 
More overgrowth on the sides of the road. 
Dark street lights. This was right by my mom's house in Guaynabo. This was not the only one we would encounter on this trip.
I didn't take pictures of the potholes. Roads in PR have never been amazing (and yes, I am talking exclusively about paved roads), especially when you leave the highways. They are even worse now: we had been warned by the in-laws and friends that had visited post-Hurricane Maria that you absolutely had to watch out for potholes as you could lose an entire tire in some of the deeper holes. 

They had not been exaggerating. Not all roads were that bad, but we did encounter some back roads in the cities that were horrible, especially having just come from the mainland from an area where potholes are an anomaly. My Aunt Mari confirmed this as she gave us directions for navigating: "Watch out for that pothole coming up: you want to avoid that one or else it will strip your tires."

The hardest thing for me to cope with though, was the fact that I recognized nothing. Nothing was familiar as we drove through Hato Rey and Rio Piedras on the way to Guaynabo down streets that at one point I had driven twice a day 5 days a week on the way to and from the university. The scenery now was post-apocalyptic: the number of abandoned buildings on the sides of the main road, both businesses and homes, far outnumbered those that were open and/or inhabited. Many still had windows and doors boarded up from the storm, layers of paint stripped off from the exterior walls as if they had been blasted by a pressure washer...because that's how strong the winds of a Cat 4 storm are: they will strip paint off concrete walls. That's not something that they tell you.

"No one had ever heard anything like it, the way the wind churned around the houses, destroying everything in its path," Aunt Mari said right then, voicing what I was thinking. 

My friend Anibal, whom I had gone to high school with, had posted a video with sound on Facebook during Maria, right before he lost power. The sound of the wind in the video had made every hair on my body stand on end in terror because it had sounded like a living monster trying savagely to claw its way into the house. By then, my mom's phone signal had been gone. It was horrible in an entirely different way to experience the storm over the distance, from safely outside of it, knowing that this hurricane was going to make history in the worst way possible and you were unable to do anything to keep it from happening, to protect those that you loved the most that were stuck living it, and completely unable to reach them for days, weeks, months, to make sure that they were okay.

It was a level of despair unlike anything I had ever felt prior. And if you need to know what it was like, you can read about it here.

Back in the present now, it was Carlos that pointed out the tents of homeless people tucked up underneath the overpass of the Tren Urbano ("Urban Train," San Juan's version of the NY Subway). I didn't take photos because this was not what makes my island itself. 

But you guys. It is normal for it to take time for the trees and vegetation to grow back after a major hurricane. That can take years. But it is absolutely NOT normal for the most heavily urbanized areas of PR to still be this devastated 11 months after a storm of this magnitude. This is what happens when a mainland government that hates Latinos does not provide the assistance it is supposed to provide the land it invaded (because we did not ask to be a part of the US; we were invaded...) that pays US taxes just like any state.

I finally couldn't take it anymore and chose instead to focus on the mountains I was seeing in the distance. My green volcanic mountains that were more like Hawaii's mountains than the Appalachians I have come to love so much. 


Back road of Guaynabo heading towards my mother's house. 
Once we were in Guaynabo, the scars from Hurricane Maria became less evident. Again, there were less trees overall but the grass on the medians was neatly trimmed and weeded, the houses painted, the gardens tended to. 

Guaynabo, my hometown.
Guaynabo. This looked exactly like I would have expected it to pre-Maria.
I breathed a sigh of relief.

Like so many Puerto Ricans, especially those living in Guaynabo, my mom lives in a gated community. Only 10% of homes on the mainland are in gated communities, whereas in some parts of PR it is a majority: access control on the island is considered the hallmark of a safe neighborhood.

Since Aunt Mari was in the car with us, she pre-approved our entrance and had the security officer add us to the list of my mom's visitors, also writing down the Jeep's license plate number.  

We finally pulled up at my mother's house. 

My mom and the aunts moved in there 10 years ago, shortly before our last visit to the island. They needed a smaller, newer house that would be easier to keep up with than the 4,000 square foot home with its swimming pool and two acres that my grandfather built...the old house constantly needed work in some form or another, and Mom and the aunts just didn't have the time nor energy to keep up with it all. 

I had "met" their little house during our last visit. It is one level with 3 bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large covered outdoor terrace with a small yard. Like the best Puerto Rican homes, it has no central AC. Instead, it has walls of endless windows and gates that open to the exterior, allowing the ocean breezes to flow through its interior. The house's character had easily molded itself to my mom's and aunts' lives, radiating with the same familiarity of the house I grew up in despite the physical differences. 


Door leading to small front terrace. 
One of the bookshelves that my grandfather built, brought in from the old house.
Family photos. This faces the dining table. You can see the kitchen through the opening in the wall; there's a little breakfast nook with tall bar seats directly on the other side of this opening. Note the ceiling fan in the kitchen. :) Note also the art supplies: my mom is always working on some project or another to teach her students. Off to the right of this photo is a gate that leads to the outside terrace, where my mom prefers to work.
Above my Aunt Lucy's desk.
Detail of the living room divider.
Yansan, the orisha of storms, wind, lightning, death and rebirth. I painted this when I was in university; it was the cover for the university's English literary magazine Tonguas.
Another bookshelf built by my grandfather in the room that Aunt Mari has converted into an office.
You can see where my love of books comes from. ;) Note also the infinity of paintbrushes!


Aunt Lucy's orchids.


My mom's yard and the side of the back terrace. Those are banana trees. :)
They are a common, ordinary sight in Puerto Rico.
This is my "normal" just like apple trees are normal for so many of you. :)


My mom's wind chimes. I can't live without this sound: I brought some of them with me when I left the island. We have always had apartments with balconies where we have hung those wind chimes.
The other big difference during this visit though, was the animals. 

My family has always had a multitude of pets. When I moved to the mainland, I could only bring one pet with me and so I brought my cat Shakti with me (I was the only human she loved so it made sense)...but I left behind not only my horse, but two dogs and a second cat. It was too many animals to fly over on a plane into circumstances that I yet had no idea how they would pan out. My pets were all friends and companions to my mom's and the aunts' pets, so I had the peace of mind of being able to leave them my family and knowing that my absence would be far less upsetting to their routines than me bringing them across the ocean into the unknown. If I had not had that luxury, I would not have left, plain and simple.

I still missed them though I knew they were in the best hands possible. 


Shakti was my first cat. She was a dilute torbie (tortoiseshell tabby) that very loudly chose me at the shelter.
Ananda was a Dalmatian mix that showed up at our doorstep as an emaciated puppy that stubbornly decided I was her person. Ninuk was a Whippet mix that I adopted, and her story is pretty unique: there was this TV show called "El Condominio" (The Condominium) about the quirky residents of an apartment building. One of the characters, Dona Soto, was known for her dog Wendy. The thing is, every time Soto showed up, Wendy was a completely different dog. The leasing manager was always noticing the different dogs and questioning Soto about it. "What dog is that?? You know your lease says you're only allowed one dog!"
Dona Soto would innocently respond: "What are you talking about? This is Wendy. You know her. Wendy is on my lease."
Technically, Dona Soto was a dog hoarder with over a dozen dogs. The cool thing about this character? All of these dogs were featured on the show because IRL they were available for adoption at local island shelters or through foster homes! One day a little Whippet mix was the episode's Wendy and she was so painfully shy she had to be carried throughout her entire scene. I had jumped up when I saw her on television. "I want that dog!" I told Mom and the aunts. 

A week later, this particular Wendy was mine and she told me her name was Ninuk (I just blurted it out of the blue one day and she responded to it from day one.) 


She was the absolute sweetest. She had a submissive grin that was reserved only for me.


My girls Ananda and Ninuk. They were ride or die buddies for the entirety of their lives together.
Oonah showed up at the Arroyo beach house on the morning of my 24th birthday right after I had told the Universe, "I want a second cat." She was a tiny, tiny little kitten that fit in the palm of my hand. 


Oonah as a kitten with our friend Jerry.
Again, when the Universe gives you what you ask for, you take it, no questions asked. 


Oonah the day we brought her home.
Shakti had hated Oonah on sight but dear Astarte, my brother's cat (the same Astarte that would later be brought to me when we lived in FL and my brother moved to OH) decided Oonah was the bestest buddy ever and they became fast friends and companions.


Astarte and Oonah playing box tag.
All of these animals stayed with my family and my family's existing pets as cherished members.

They had all died of old age-related problems (aka a variety of different cancers) during my absence. All of their illnesses were correctly diagnosed by me over the phone with my mom while my heart broke into tiny little pieces because I got to say good-bye to exactly none of them. 

So Lucero was not the only four-legged family that I had lost while away. 


Enter Lucrecia ("Loo-kreh-zyah" or just "Lu" for short) and Lilly.



Lu is currently about a year old and was adopted by my mom as a puppy, around the same time that she had declared she did not want any more young dogs. (Sometimes the Universe has a sense of humor.) Lu is a large sato dog of unknown origin. She has Pointer or hound in there somewhere judging by the freckles on her ears, shoulders and paws, but that's about all I can tell you. The rest of her is completely nondescript. She has these enormous ears that remind me of a Pharaoh Hound when pricked. Your guess is as good as mine:



Lilly is a Jack Russelly-Chihuahuaey-Daschundy mix, classic small Puerto Rican sato. She is also the Queen Bee. She used to belong to a neighbor who thankfully had her spayed but still allowed her to roam, so Lilly soon became the community pet: she had specific people she would visit and hang out with, and who both loved and watched out for her. Her favorite place was my mom's house: she would make her rounds then stay on my mom's front patio for the rest of the day, guarding the house from potential invaders that she didn't approve of. At dusk, she would return to her own house. This went on for a couple of years!

One day Lilly was attacked by a stray and had wounds that needed medical attention. My mom ended up taking her to the vet and since Lilly would require medicating that her owner was not willing to do, my mom offered to just keep the dog and her owner said yes. 

And so Lilly has lived happily ever after at my mom's house. 


Lilly curling up on two giant beds princess-and-the-pea style.


Lilly out for a walk. She decides the destination of these walks, and she often chooses to go visit old friends. Damian is a neighbor's red Golden who is one of Lilly's faves. She loves to flirt with him through his front gate.
She is aloof with visitors and I had been told to give her her space, as she would try to bite if she felt like you were invading her personal bubble. 

In typical young sato fashion, Lu was joyfully all over us despite never having seen us before and I waited until she settled before greeting her. Lilly didn't really want anything to do with us, so I said that I would pet her when she came to me and asked for it of her own accord. I knew she would sooner or later because she is a sato dog. The only thing sato dogs love more than food is pets. Remember that. ;)

I...fell madly in love with Lu. The feeling was mutual.




Mom also has two cats: Felicidad (it means "Joy" and his nickname is Feli) and Pancho. Feli was one of the street strays that was having a really hard time holding his own against the other neighborhood stray cats. He adored my Aunt Lucy and would curl up in the crook of her neck when held as a kitten. So he was taken to the vet for a full check-up and neutering, and he was brought inside to be an indoor-only cat. Pancho was adopted from the shelter to be his buddy and they adore one another: they share their areas, sleep together and groom each other. 

Upon meeting me, Feli acted like he had always known me, jumping into his favorite box for me to pet him. He kept reaching up for my face so I lowered mine to his and he rubbed his nose and forehead all over mine. My mom saw the whole thing. "Lucy is going to be jealous!" she said.

Pancho did not want to be left out. They came up with this solution:


"We will sandwich ourselves together so you can pet both of us at once, yes?"
Note Pancho's little white paw on my leg, "That means 'pets nao' btw. Not 'take pictures.'"
Puerto Rican animals are just <3 <3 <3 <3

My mom had asked repeatedly what did we want to eat. I kept drawing a blank: I wanted stuffed mofongo (we had already chosen the destination for that) and island fruit. I wanted mangoes and avocados grown on the island. That's what I kept coming back to. You have not tried a mango nor a real avocado until you have the ones that grow in PR. Haas avocados are amazing...

Until you've had one of these babies:

That avocado was as big as my face and that was a small one. You can pick them off the tree even bigger than this. The inside is pale yellow with the same creaminess as Haas avocados, but with so much MORE avocado!
And yes, I was wildly excited about fruit from my land!
I had avocado with every dinner and mango (and Puerto Rican pineapple and papaya) with every breakfast. Just like apples and peaches don't taste the same when imported to PR, mangoes, pineapple and papaya don't taste the same when imported stateside.

After getting settled at my mom's, it was time for the first mission of the day: we were going to the old house, the house that I grew up in that now belongs to my uncle Rafa, for the first time in 12 years. The last time I saw it was only a year after I moved stateside.

This would not be difficult, as it was only 15 minutes from my mom's house.

Mom drove us.

So much of this route is still the same...and so much of it has changed.

Guaynabo is...special. It was run by a mayor from the statehood party for decades and he was so bent on the whole "being a state" thing that Guaynabo became sardonically known as "Guaynabo City" (in English) and it was the first municipality to have street signs in English like this one. Normally this "Yield" sign would say "Ceda."

I made this huge so you can see: these are seven of Guaynabo's roundabouts. That is not all of them. My mom has been complaining about these for the past decade. Apparently the Guaynabo mayor discovered that he could save money on street lights by just putting up roundabouts everywhere. Now, Americans sometimes have a hard time with these. Puerto Ricans, whose concept of "right of way" = the person who's ballsiest, drives fastest and has the biggest vehicle, have an even harder time with them. Guaynabo's residents have kinda-sorta figured them out in a "survival of the fittest" kind of way, which is a good thing because more and more of them keep cropping up.
Puerto Ricans never half-ass anything. I think I'm living proof...
Canta Gallo was the Guaynabo barrio that I grew up in. The entrance to Canta Gallo has been re-routed and it completely threw me off.
Puerto Rican flag flying proudly above a house. Note the banana tree leaves. :) Note also the neatly painted houses: while Guaynabo in general looked fantastic post-storm, rural Guaynabo looked even better than some of the suburbs.
The explanation? People in rural communities decided to not wait for help from the cities after Maria and took matters into their own hands in cleaning and rebuilding. This would be a theme for this trip: concrete evidence of the tenacious, obstinate survival spirit of Puerto Ricans.
I drove down this street every day to and from home.
And I rode down it on Lucero in dreams so many times after the storm. In driving through with Mom now, I realized that I had been doing reconnaissance trips in dreams. The changes were startling not just because they were changes, but because in seeing them now in real life, I realized I had already seen them in dreams. The changes weren't the weird shifting reality of dreams, where you know you are in one place despite your surroundings being completely different, no. In my case, the differences seen in dreams were the true altered state of a current reality.
This all used to be mountains and vegetation, and is now being turned into yet another development. "They keep building and building, despite less people being here to occupy all of this new housing!" my mom said.
The story on the island is that already close to half a million Puerto Ricans have left post-Maria.
I always said I lived in Canta Gallo, but the old house was technically located at the very edge of Barrio Santa Rosa, which is next door to Canta Gallo. All of Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities (aka towns or cities; each municipality (municipio) has its own mayor) are divided into smaller sectors known as barrios. My uncle did his Master's in History dissertation on the story of the Puerto Rican barrios and the origin of their names. It's a published book that you used to be able to buy on Amazon, btw. (It's currently out of print.)
The barrios are another one of those island peculiarities that is very different from the mainland.
Shortly after, we were pulling up to our long, steep driveway with its gated entrance. Yes: our house was one of those with its own electric gate that opened and closed at the touch of a button. There was a second gate with barbed wire along the top that we could manually close during power outages after hurricanes with a heavy chain and padlock.

This photo barely does it justice, but it was taken from the passenger seat of my mom's Corolla. I think when you think of it that way, you can appreciate how steep it is. You also can't really see the 2' deep ditches on each side of the road. This driveway was not for the faint of heart: it is just wide enough for one car to go up or down. We had many visitors that drove too close to the edge and had to be towed out of the ditches. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 19 because I did not want to deal with having to drive up this driveway. I had quads of steel when living on the island because I used to do hill sprints here, way back before HIIT became trendy. 
The house, as seen facing the winding driveway. Cars were parked at the top: you can see my mom's Corolla on the right. That top balcony wraps around two sides of what used to be my grandmother's bedroom. Basically my grandmother's bedroom alone was the size of our current apartment's dining area + living room + kitchen, which is around 700 square feet.
View of the Guaynabo mountains as seen standing underneath the balcony, looking towards the driveway. Note the swimming pool trampoline on the right. Yup: we had one of those. I learned to dive off of that trampoline. And a slide, which historically has been the one place on the entire property where you could get cell phone signal after major hurricanes. Maria was no different: I was able to get that info through to my Aunt Sari and she climbed up to the top of the slide to discover she could, indeed, successfully pick up enough of a signal to make phone calls. You would think you could get signal on my grandmother's balcony, since that was up higher than the slide but nope.
After big storms, that slide became the portal for communication with the outside world.
This is real life, not some sci-fi movie.
I walked around the house and the property directly adjacent to it, just looking. I was mentally matching up reality with the images collected from the photos my uncle Rafa and his wife Sari had posted on FB after the storm, while holding it up to what I remembered from my past. So much had changed. 

I was standing at the far corner of the pool here, looking towards what used to be my grandfather's cottage (the red roof you see in this photo.) There used to be a fence here, and an enormous tree that shaded the pool on long hot afternoons, with the most fragrant flowers that filled the air with their sweet scent and the hum of bees during the summer. It usually bloomed around my birthday. You were not able to see our land from the spot where I'm standing here because the tree and the vegetation surrounding it were so dense.
This photo was taken when I turned 15. I'm the girl with really long hair that has her back to the camera on the left. In the photo above this one, I am looking directly at the spot where that white fence and tree used to be. (Note the pink flowers of the tree.) Yes: it's a huge difference.
The fence and tree were long gone before Maria though...I believe the fence gave way to the natural erosion that has constantly changed the landscape of our property, and I can't remember what happened to the tree. The bane of living at the top of a mountain in a tropical rainforest climate is that you trade the potential for flooding for the eternal battle against erosion.

My grandfather's house. Photo by Carlos. Taken from the same spot I had been standing in the previous photo.
View of the driveway and road in front of our property, also taken from the same spot.
I walked around to the back of the property, past the basketball court (yes, we also had one of those. People think all Puerto Ricans are poor and live in slums like in parts of Brazil or India. While we do have shanty towns in some parts of the island (think La Perla in Old San Juan, where the Despacito video was filmed), they are the minority. (Fun fact: apparently Despacito has turned La Perla, home of drug lords and considered one of the most dangerous parts of the island, into a tourist hot spot! O_o) Our house was, and is, pretty epic. At one point in history, my family was in the top tiers of the upper class...I mean, my mom, the aunts and my uncle had a driver that took them to school...until my grandfather declared bankruptcy. The big house was built when he was making a comeback from that stage in his life and it provided his kids (and later us) with everything they could possibly want when the family became more firmly entrenched in the middle class.) 

I wanted to hike down the hill to my flamboyan tree.

When I was 10 years old and my brother was 7, my mom had us skip school on Earth Day so we could go to a nearby park where they were holding a celebration for the holiday: they were giving away baby trees of different varieties for people to plant. My mom never did this kind of thing (I was a straight-A student that rarely missed class, even when sick enough to warrant it, because I actually liked school and learning, and remember my entire family are educators) so this was a Big Deal. 

I chose a flamboyan tree. Flamboyans are known in English as royal poincianas. They typically have brilliant blood-red scentless flowers that look a little like lillies and usually bloom in the summer months. Every once in a while you'll find them with yellow flowers, with blue being the rarest variety of all.

Flamboyan tree in full bloom in Ponce, PR.
Photo from the internet.
My flamboyan was barely a foot tall when I chose it, a thin little thing with the tiniest, most delicate bright green leaves. I kept it in its pot in my grandmother's garden, watering it on days when it didn't rain, until it was a good 5' tall. Once it was big and strong enough, we planted it on my favorite part of the hill that is our property, where it continued to grow ever taller. 

My uncle would periodically send me photos of my tree, and it was the first report I got from him after Maria, "Your flamboyan survived! <3"

Naturally I wanted to visit my tree now. I wanted to touch it. I wanted to see if I could still climb up onto its branches. 

I marched onto the back of the property, my mom and Carlos following quietly a ways behind. I came to an abrupt halt in front of an enormous wall of thick, matted jungle of brush and vines that was as tall as I was and that I would have needed a machete to cut through. The topography of the hill had completely changed and while years ago I would have been able to venture onto it without needing to see the ground beneath the vegetation in order to know where I was placing my feet...that was not the case anymore. 

I resigned myself to seeing my tree from afar and snapped this photo:

29 years and one Cat 4 storm later, it is the tallest tree on the property. <3
"Your grandfather is there."

I startled. My mom had silently come up behind me. She indicated the wall of green in front of me, barricading my path. 

"We spread his ashes there."

I had not known that. I looked searchingly at the jungle before me, as if maybe by looking hard enough he would materialize out of the blue. Of course that wasn't going to happen. 

"Of course this is the spot that I would go to first," I said. 

My mom just nodded sadly. 

I took a few more photos.

See the tree in the center of this photo? My grandmother had a tire swing hung from it when I was in middle school.
I would swing from it in the afternoons after rough days in school and pretend that I could fly.
The house as seen from the spot where I was standing. See that big tree on the upper left corner? That's a mango tree. Yup: I had mangoes in my backyard!!
I marched back to the house, looking around the outside terrace. Uncle Rafa and Aunt Sari have done a lovely job fixing up the house again. 

Facing north. The current property ends beyond the brush line at the front of this photo. 
I loved these little lamps and the way they caught the light.
Facing east of the property. The sun rises behind the hill you can see beyond the trees.
Some of my grandmother's flowers. 
More of my grandmother's flowers.

And then it was time to go indoors. 

Rafa and Sari have fixed what needed fixing and changed some things up in a way that has still preserved the house's character. They've done a beautiful job. I had seen photos of the work they've done, of course, but it was awesome to see it all in person now. 

The wall of windows on the right faces the pool and mountains.
That's the dining table on the right, followed by the living room and an open office area. Aunt Mari and I used to share that office area for our artwork.
My grandfather both designed and built this house in the late 1960's. He was doing open floor plans WAAAAAY before it was trendy!

Walking past the living room area towards the office. The doors leading out to the pool are completely updated and I love how they let so much more light in. All the floors in this house, both upstairs and downstairs, are polished concrete, which I always adored because it looked like marble.
Guess what? Polished concrete is really "in" right now too. Yet another vogue thing about my grandfather's vision and engineering that was way ahead of its time.
Office area. See the black bookshelves? My grandfather built those too.
Standing in the living room area, facing the dining area.
Breakfast bar in the kitchen, facing the dining area at the end. You can see the corner of the bar in the previous photo.
The front door, facing the driveway. This door was also updated by Rafa and Sari.
We used to set up our Christmas tree in the corner where the chest of drawers is now.
Going up the stairs. Those are built-in bookshelves that my grandfather built. The stairs are also polished concrete, with wooden railings painted that deep espresso brown that is also so trendy now.
The lamp hanging above the stairs is new and I love it!
What was I looking at? More green. This window was also updated by Rafa and now you can actually see outside through it.
This was at the top of the stairs. It's The Garden of Eden by Myrna Baez, one of the most important painters and printmakers of PR, who is also a lifelong family friend. (Like I've said before, I was "somebody" in PR's art circles. It was really hard moving to the US and being "nobody," which is why I had to start over in a non-art related field.) This particular piece belonged to my mom and was hung in every house we lived in when my dad was stationed in the US. She gave it to my uncle for this house.
This was my bedroom. The wall of windows faces the mountains. The furniture was different when I lived here: my bed was smaller, and I had an enormous chest of drawers and mirror that used to belong to my grandmother before me. Back then the walls were plastered with posters and artwork, most of which are now on the walls of our apartment stateside. This room and the beautiful antique bed are now my cousin Michelle's when she visits PR.
This used to be my brother's room. The windows face the same mountains as my room. It is now our cousin Javier's room.
This used to be my mom's and Aunt Lucy's room; Uncle Rafa turned it into his office/library.  
Talla de santos of the Three Kings on my uncle's bookshelf. Wooden carvings of the island's saints is one of PR's oldest traditional art forms and it has been around for centuries. The real deal are not usually sold at souvenir shops: you have to know where to find them. These are originals, as is the small nativity scene I have on one of my own bookshelves in Frederick, MD.
The next thing I wanted to do was to go onto my grandmother's balcony. Her bedroom is now Rafa's and Sari's but the door was locked. They had known we were going to stop by (both of them were at work) so we respected the fact that the door was locked. There were other ways to get to the balcony without breaking rules and I was familiar with all of them. :) I lived in this house for 18 years after all.

My uncle's office and Javier's room both share a back balcony from which you can jump onto the terrace roof, which would lead you to my grandmother's balcony. 

Except...the doors to this back balcony were also locked. 

Who has doors that lock with keys from both inside and outside? Puerto Ricans do! Each door in this house had at least two different locks, including the bathrooms. Basically every room in the house could be converted into a safe room if necessary. Not all homes are this extreme but my grandparents were really big on safety and this house had layers upon layers upon layers of security. 

I went back outside, Mom and Carlos still trailing behind me to see what I would do. 

I was going to climb up onto the terrace roof, I just wasn't sure how. 

Carlos knew what I was thinking. "You could practice pull-ups to get up there," he joked. 

"I'm not quite that good yet," I laughed. "And it would have to be more of a muscle-up, but I ain't putting my hands on the edge of that zinc roofing." The wooden terrace roof had zinc over it, which sounds lovely when it rains. But its edges are razor-sharp. I knew better than to even try that route. 

I walked around the house, searching for a way up, something I could jump up from. 

"Use a ladder," Carlos said.

"If I could find one..."

"They are everywhere," he replied. "I've seen three just lying around the house." 

I stopped looking at the roof and looked around. He was right: there was one on the floor against the back terrace wall, another on the terrace roof, and a third out in the corner of the back lawn. 

I grabbed the one from the terrace and he helped me prop it up against the edge of the roof. He went up first and I followed. I walked along the roof and jumped the railing onto my grandmother's balcony. 

The zinc terrace roof that I walked and the swimming pool below. (The pool is currently being repaired.) The wall of windows belong to the bedrooms that used to be my brother's and mine.

The corner of my grandmother's balcony.



I wanted this view. 

And I wanted to capture it.
I stood there for what felt like a long time, Carlos hanging out with me in silence, before I was filled with whatever it was that I had needed and jumped back over the railing onto the roof to walk back to the ladder.

I stopped one more time.
And finally did this because you can't freaking embrace a place; it is impossible.
I did this because literally everything that the light touched, all of the land that you see in this photo all the way to that mountainous horizon at the edge of the sky, at one point belonged to my family.
It is not ours in name anymore but it is ours in spirit.
It is mine by cultural inheritance. This land is part of the blood that runs in my veins.
This is mine.
I climbed back down the ladder, followed by Carlos. 

"I have to see the house," I told my mom. 

She knew what I meant: I was talking about going to my grandfather's cottage halfway down our hill. 

I again led the way.

The entrance to the cottage was overgrown but passable. The house had been mostly untouched since my grandfather's death 14 years ago, but two thirds of the wooden balcony that had encircled it was gone, victim to erosion and the inevitable accelerated weathering of wood in the tropics.

My grandfather had built the small one-bedroom cottage with its balcony and Japanese-inspired peaked red roof for my mom and dad when they first got married. Some of my first memories of the island took place in that little house with its red shag rug, the wooden floors, the sliding glass doors and narrow windows overlooking the mountains. The memories are of warmth, of love, of late afternoon light shining golden through the windows, of my parents' enormous Doberman named Hans who towered over me and guarded me as if he was my nanny, and the sound of my dad's guitar. 

Those memories were superimposed over the course of 18 years with the gentle sound of my grandfather's voice, the smell of his Dove bar soap, the news radio station that he always had playing in the background, and the feeling I had every time I stepped through those glass sliding doors of entering a world where I was both safe from everything that I was afraid of, and where anything was possible. 

All I had to do was ask. Like I did for my first horse.

My grandfather had hung a rope from the beams of the cottage's ceiling and told me that the day I was able to climb to the top of that rope and touch the knot that was flush with the beam it was tied to, was the day that he would get me my horse. "A good horsewoman must have calloused hands for protection against ropes and reins," he had said. "This rope will help you develop those callouses."

I never did get callouses from that rope. I never did get callouses on my hands from working with horses...I got them from playing guitar and now, much later, from working with the barbell. I always think of Abuelito when I catch sight of the callouses across my palms, and wonder what would he think of them. 

When I was 13 I made it to the top of that rope and two months later, on November 4 of 1992, Lucero materialized in his stall in my grandfather's yard. 

He kept his word. 

He always kept his word. 

Abuelito and his house had been sanctuary for all of us, not just for myself. For my brother, for Mom, the aunts, for my uncle. All we ever had to do was step through the glass doors of that cottage and into his presence to remember that the world might be upside down on the outside, but there was nothing that couldn't be fixed or resolved. 

Like I said in my first post, my running away from the island the same year that my grandfather died was not a coincidence. I had not physically set foot inside his house since his death. 

I went up to the glass sliding door now and remembered that it had always been secured shut with a broomstick as well as the lock when Abuelito wasn't home. I removed the broomstick and Mom and I unlocked the door, and I stepped inside. 

I had been dreaming about this for years, way before Hurricane Maria, of walking into the house and finding it frozen in time, as my grandfather had left it...except for the missing balcony. But the mural that my brother and I had made for Abuelito with the Three Kings on horseback galloping across it wa still hung on the wall above his desk. 

Walking into the house now, I realized that they had not been dreams. 

I had visited. 

Just like the roads leading home, the house looked exactly as I had dreamed: 

The mural over his desk.
The calendar above his desk had never moved past the date on which he died.
His work helmet still hung by the back sliding door. He worked as a civil engineer until he fell sick from the illness that killed him only two weeks later. He was 74 years old.
There used to be balcony through that door, but now you have an unobstructed view of what used to be Lucero's stall.
Just some of his books and his collection of caps. He was always wearing one when outdoors.
This. <3
Despite 14 years, the house still smelled the same: of his Dove bar soap. It was like he would come back home from work at any moment. I choked back a sob.

I love the great house that we grew up in, but I had adored this little house. It is because of my grandfather's house that I love small houses in general and it is the reason why I would want my house, if we ever get to own one, to be a small one. 

I wasn't thinking of that now though. I was just looking around at all of the remaining things that had been his. 

"We didn't have the heart to remove anything after he died," Mom said quietly. She had tears streaming down her face too. 

"If there is anything you want, you should take it," she said. 

I made a beeline for one of his shirts. It was a pinstriped long-sleeved button down white, red and green that he had worn so many times while accompanying me when I was riding Lucero. I also snagged a white and blue one from the clothes rack behind his desk. On one of the bookshelves, Carlos found a first print of Stephen King's "The Stand" that he was quite excited about. 

"You should take that," I said to him. "It was him that led me to you." Carlos knows that story. He hesitated initially, but he did bring the book with him and spent the rest of our vacation re-reading it. 

I then went down to the stall. 

It was overgrown, now used as storage for wood for repairs just like it used to be before we had laid down the concrete floor and brought a horse home to reside in it. The second stall that we had converted into a chicken coop/feed room was completely gone. 

I took some more photos. 

The mountains as seen from my grandfather's yard.
Beautiful overgrown jungle in front of Lucero's stall, facing the street below. 
My job was done. We walked back up to Mom's car and headed back to her house. 

The rest of the afternoon was kind of a blur. Mayra and her husband Ricky stopped by to bring this enormous, amazing meal of paella with salad, sweet plantains and mofongo just for us. I had not seen Mayra in person in years but we had gotten in touch through Facebook after the storm. It was good to see her again!

I didn't think to take a photo of the paella until we were halfway through dinner...

My uncle and Sari stopped by and had dinner with us. By then it was getting late and the reduced sleep + long day travelling + the emotional roller coaster of the afternoon had caught up to me and the memory is as blurry as the photos. 



All of the people I love the most in this photo, including the person that took the photo, which is Aunt Lucy. <3

I spent some more time just hanging out with Lu. 



She would lick every inch of you if you let her. So freaking sweet!

Carlos and Mom hanging out. It tickles me that he fits so seamlessly right in with my family.
And then we went to bed because Carlos and I had a long day planned the next morning. 

To be continued...