October 19, 2021

Destination of the week

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Puerto_Rico_01Ken Ferries: All good things must end, even visits to Caribbean islands

By Ken Ferries From Kokomo Tribune

I am finding that one of the perks of semi-retirement is the ability to get up and go whenever (or at least as often as the checking account and credit cards permit). As much as I love Indiana’s winter wonderland, the thought of white sand and azure seas also held a certain attraction. So the missus and I got up and went.

After plowing through such weighty matters on this page over the last few weeks as Donald Trump’s hairstyle and Bernie Sanders’ lack of one, it was a nice change of pace to just kick back and appreciate “island time.”

esperanza-sun-bay-vieques-islandInitially, we stayed with some friends who have retired to Vieques Island, a speck of volcanic residue just off the coast of Puerto Rico’s main island. After careers of Midwestern respectability, our friends have gone native — pony tails, earrings, sandals, colorful shirts and tattered shorts — and that’s the guy. Still in the process of assimilation into the local culture, they refer to themselves as “Sorta Ricans,” which I thought was kind of cute.

One of the friends in residence grew up in a farming family. You can take the farmer off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the farmer. When we arrived, nothing would do except a guided tour of his banana grove, his cashew tree (who knew they grew on trees?), and all the other subtropical flora within the compound. “You just stick a seed in the ground, and it grows,” he said in a hushed tone of rapturous awe.

The first floor of the main house was built to Puerto Rican proportions. I am not. Should it ever be necessary to find samples of my DNA, feel free to scrape it off the underside of the ceiling beams.

Until the late 1990s, there was a major Navy presence on the island. The U.S. used it for target practice for decades. Almost 20 years later, the cleanup continues. There are islets a few hundred yards out to sea with big signs advising folks to stay off. If you should go ashore despite the warnings, the billboards continue, “Don’t pick up anything suspicious — report it!”

The beaches are as spectacular as the hard-baked, unpaved, treacherous trails leading to them. Nothing less than a high-clearance Jeep is recommended. Bring extra pillows to sit on.

What sets Vieques apart are the wild horses all over the place. Descended from a breed developed for plantation work by the Spanish, the term “wild” requires qualification. The local joke is that if you injure a horse, it has five owners. If the horse injures you, it has none. Teenagers don’t ask to borrow the family car. They put a crude rope bridle on a passing pony and trot off to wherever teenagers go on Vieques. High-end riders toss on a horse blanket first.

After a couple of days decompressing, we headed to San Juan to join up with a group of friends escaping the blizzard that was shutting down the East Coast.

Our hotel was a dowager in the heart of Old San Juan that had seen better days. It had one decrepit elevator that was just large enough for luggage and one passenger. After detailed instructions on operational quirks, and a signed release, we stuffed in the luggage and drew straws. The loser accompanied the luggage. OK, the signed release is a bit of literary exaggeration, but my legal-trained mind tells me it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Around the corner we found a restaurant that claimed to be the birthplace of the piña colada (1963). The come-on was a “free” 5-ounce sample. In a spirit of scientific inquiry, we all tried one — which, of course, led to a full-sized follow up, or maybe even two. For the few dollars more invested in the full-sized version, I think they actually added rum.

Then the cruise. Once aboard the oversized city block passing itself off as a ship, we began to island hop, and the islands and the impressions began to get jumbled together (the unlimited beverage package didn’t help either).

There was the optimism of the islanders. Almost all of the construction is cement block, and almost every first floor was crowned by a picket fence of reinforcing bars intended to serve as a foundation for a second floor — if they ever get around to adding it.

There was Raoul the taxi driver on Barbados, a transplant from Brazil. Whatever goods or services you required, he had a brother, sister, uncle or maiden aunt three times removed who could supply it — at a discount.

There was my new BFF Benard the bartender, born in Kenya and raised in Dubai. His face lit up as he showed me the picture of his 3-year-old being raised back in Kenya by his mother. He also introduced me to a little frozen bit of heaven called a mango piña colada.

OMG.

There was Santina the server from Jamaica, who teamed up with Benard in delivering those little frozen bits of heaven to our table, and who, to my everlasting egalitarian embarrassment, insisted on referring to me as Sir Kenneth.

There was Sharon (pronounced Sha-RONE, as in Ariel) the tour guide on St. Lucia who was so transparently proud of her country’s decision to invest heavily in education and a single-payer national health program. Ironically, that night I listened to Nancy Pelosi chastising Bernie Sanders for proposing something very similar, dismissing it as “not going to happen here.” (Last weekend, Bill Clinton took a similar shot. Makes you wonder. Watch this space.)

There was the thrill of watching a KLM 747 passing a hundred feet directly above us and our fellow beach bums as it settled in for a landing at the airport on St. Maartens. Keep a close eye on your credit card, however. Within a day of that visit, we were allegedly buying shoes in Italy, train tickets in Germany, and who knows what else. So far the fraud tab is at about eight grand, and climbing. Happily, we are not responsible for the charges.

We disembarked on Sunday, began the Monday of the Iowa caucuses sitting on a bench in the beautiful and more-than-400-year-old Plaza de Armes in Old San Juan, and ended it in Indy just as the results were beginning to come in.

It was good to get away from the political circus for a few days, but all good things must come to an end.

Or maybe not. Did I mention the mango piña coladas?

Ken Ferries is an adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College and served as Kokomo city attorney for 25 years.

For more on this story go to: http://www.kokomotribune.com/opinion/columns/ken-ferries-all-good-things-must-end-even-visits-to/article_3ce0ddec-d10a-11e5-8197-33cde344ed2a.htmi

IMAGES:

vieques.com
en.wikipedia.org Old San Juan

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