Week 2: Music & Mountains
The week started off with a bit of frustration when we received a notice letting us know one of our thirty one packages had a arrived. So Monday we ventured down to the post office. The workers at the Peñuelas post office seemed like a completely different species than the Plant City USPS. These seemed like actual humans and, believe it or not, they smiled. Unfortunately, the package that arrived was our tinctures and the one medicine I really needed, magnolia, had drained completely during the voyage. New goal: locate magnolia trees asap and make a new extract (which takes 8 weeks).
Tuesday came around and we were all extremely tired. We managed to push through our daily routine and complete some work. John and Cisco went to a cousins graduation and lunch while I stayed and worked on the office. We decided not to make any plans for the weekend since we had been doing so much but that night we did visit the local cinema. They have a Tuesday special of $4.50 a ticket even for night time showings so we managed to catch the new Deadpool movie.
Wednesday we had to venture back to the post office to pick up the rest of our packages. Once again I found myself livid with the USPS service. Don't get me wrong, I expected the packages to take some damage or that I didn't pack everything perfectly, but our boxes were ripped and beat up pretty bad. Even the postal worker was concerned by how bad our packages had been treated. He told us to file claims immediately because our packages shouldn't have been damaged like that. We still don't know the extent of damage to our stuff or what is missing. On top of it all, I discovered that two boxes didn't even arrive and are still sitting in Jacksonville Florida for the last 12 days with no way to get an explanation. Needless to say, the USPS became the focus of my compassion meditation for the rest of the week.
After transporting twenty eight packages back to the house John and I decided we needed to connect with nature and it was time to explore the backside of the home property. The house has a sloped hill behind it that stretches down into a small valley and then goes up the hill on the other side. The climb down wasn't difficult for us since we are active but it definitely was a work out. Eventually there will be stairs all the way down and a garden area at the flat spot in the bottom.
On the way down John showed me the Almond tree that was knocked over during Maria and his family thought it was dead for a while. It regrew from the fallen trunk as well as produced many saplings from the almonds it had dropped around it. John also discovered a pigeon pea (gandules) shrub growing on the slope that his grandfather had seeded.
Another plant I discovered on the way down showed the powerful affect of mimicry in nature. Hidden among the Flamboyant trees (which grow everywhere here) I discovered a tree that looks just like it except for the fact that it has giant thorns all over it. This one tree among at least 10 flamboyant saplings was perfectly positioned at the bottom of the hill for catching yourself if your momentum took you down too fast. The only problem was the thorn that went into my hand as I grabbed it. Fortunately that was the only injury I endured during this little adventure.
While the flamboyant tree is a nuisance here, through the lens of permaculture, its full potential can be realized. One use, is as a carbon source for composting toilets. John and I were concerned about what natural carbon sources we would have (saw dust being ideal). The leaves of the flamboyant are small and dry to a perfect consistency for the compost toilets (a theory we still have to test to be positive). It also is a legume and nitrogen fixing. We hope to introduce more natural bacteria in the area that assist the legumes in the nitrogen fixing process because this land on the coast is nutrient deficient and facing drought conditions.
I also noticed through my permaculture training that the flamboyant trees grow very similarly to moringa. Their leaves are similar as well as their seed pods. Hopefully we can replace this plant with moringa in the areas where we are cultivating human spaces to cut down on the spreading of this naturalized tree.
When we reached the flat space at the bottom I felt an instant energy shift. My heart soared as I connected with this area instantly. First, we discovered more wild damiana growing here. Secondly, there were giant rocks over looking the ocean. I instantly climbed on top of the largest one and took it all in. Another reason I connected so strongly with this area is because I needed to find a nearby area where I could connect with nature and get away from all the humans. After living on a sanctuary for two years where there were hardly any people for many days, followed by weekends of massive amounts of people, being around this many people every day feels a little strange. I also wanted somewhere I could practice my meditations and spirituality without stepping on the spiritual toes of anyone else.
Thursday we spent the day working on the front area that has been heavily neglected since Maria. After Maria, John's parents began constructing an addition to the house that was paused due to property line issues. Along with the drought, the construction has also caused depletion to the naturalness of the front area.
There is a terraced garden area on the front slope where the electrical box is located. We began clearing the grasses and wild plants that now over run it, and training the thorny bougainvillea. The construction crew had dismantled one of the garden walls so they could build the addition. We decided to use these excess blocks to start building a water fountain and koi pond at the front entrance (along with the left over pool liner just laying about). When completed, it will feature a waterfall filtered by plants, as well as a geyser tower that will drop fish poo water through herbs and other edible plants that will be available right beside the front door.
Friday came around and I couldn't be any more excited. It was the first trip to the Tierra Nueva Property. Which we just call La Finca (the farm) for short. Skipping our morning walk and yoga we set out to pick up John's grandfather, Papa Tolin, and to La Finca we went. Along the way I snapped a million pictures because there were so many mountains that I hadn't seen yet.
Along the mountain road we came to an area where half of the bridge had washed away (due to Maria) and is in jeopardy of going completely out. We are going to have to contact the government to try and get it repaired. There are many mountain dwelling families living on this mountain and losing the road would keep them, as well as us from being able to drive to the properties.
Once we reached the property (where the road dead ends), we were sad to see that piles of garbage had been dumped. However, we know that many of these people had no trash service for a long time and the land has been "abandoned" for a while. Fortunately a lot of it is carbon that will break down. The rest is mostly plastic bottles.
With machetes in hand, we set off exploring the land. Instantly I started recognizing plants that I was familiar with, hidden amongst hundreds of others I have yet to meet and connect with. The smell of bittermelon vine being chopped, wafted through the air as we ventured along the rocky waterway. I'm not sure if we should call it a creek or a river, but none-the-less its beauty was undeniable and I was amazed by the number of rocks covering the land waiting for us to use them.
As we ventured further up the river the pools became deeper and clearer. More plants that we recognized revealed themselves and the terrain became harder and harder. I found the first sign of mushrooms since coming to Puerto Rico and it made me smile. Along the water I found snail shells that Papa Tolin believes the Taíno people use to eat. There were a lot of minnows and fresh water shrimp as well. He also pointed out many markings on the rocks that he believes came from the Taíno people sharpening their blades. I also found holes on one of the stones that looks like they were drilled.
As we went through the property Papa Tolin pointed out banana trees, mango trees, avocado trees, bread fruit trees, coconut trees, and even coffee trees. John was excited to find the coffee plant and pulled one up to bring home and pot. He tried to claim the plantain plant we found but she was seeding and too happy to be moved so I convinced him to leave her and take some of the seeds.
At some point along the way I realized I had scratched my leg and within 10 minutes mother earth had already tried patching me up with her natural band aid. I looked down to find sticky seeds perfectly covering my wound (and only my wound). John however wasn't so fortunate and hit himself in the leg with his machete. His father (a doctor) later said he needed at least 2 stitches but fortunately for us our magical natural salve healed it up better and quicker than any stitches ever could.
Once we reached the "end" of the property line we found a very nice deep pool. John stripped down and took a swim. I strolled through it a bit but boy was it cold! On the way back we climbed up one side of the mountain to check a patch of yamas (white yams) that his grandfather had planted. After harvesting those, he led us to the old house that had been partially constructed. From there we had to do a lot of work to clear the path all the way back to the beginning. There he showed John the 2 acres of flat land that needs to be cleared to use. We had lunch in the car and headed back shortly after.
Friday evening John's cousin Alex and his friend Yamel came over to talk with me about music possibilities. Alex is an aspiring conscientious rapper (in Spanish) and Yamel just started studying piano. So not surprising, it turned into music lessons for both of them, and gave me a chance to start learning music terms in Spanish. Alex also rapped two of his songs for us, and impressed his cousins who had never heard him rap before. We made plans to start recording and writing music together, as well as continuing his lessons. I can't wait to see what those projects bring forth. Alex ended up coming over Sunday too for more lessons.
Saturday morning John went with his father to the market near la finca and purchased some plants. He's been working hard on finding the Spanish names of the plants that we already use, as well as learning the native or naturalized plants that we weren't using. I spent the day working on the feng shui of the back porch, organizing tools, and created a dining area outside. That evening we visited his mother's parents (Papa Tolin & Mama Lydia) for the weekly dinner and dominoes.
Before we left for John's grandparents house his parent called to inform us there was an accident on the highway to go "the other way". The other way was a narrow mountain road that wound through areas of tall grass and trees growing right up to the road's edge cutting off any view around the million curves that we traversed. Not only was it crazy curves and plants every where but it was also night. John and Cisco found it amusing that I sat in the back trying to breath correctly and praying that a paper bag would manifest out of thin air and into my hands before I hyperventilated.
John found it an ideal moment to show me their old house on this mountain road and tell me how they had to abandon it because it was built on top of an underground river and part of the mountain washed away. Then he followed it up with the lovely tale of how his mother almost got into a serious accident on this road with them in the car because of this very narrow curve, that of course we were about to be coming up to. Oh, and then he adds the details of how they almost went over the cliff. He concludes it with, "But I probably shouldn't be telling you this story right now?" Two heart attacks, a partial aneurysm, and four panic attacks later we made it to the base of the mountain in one piece, at least physically. I concluded two things: one, that the crazy highway drivers are definitely less stress than the mountain roads, and two, I may never ever drive here unless its riding a horse.
Sunday we wound up at the home depot getting supplies for composting, tools for working the plants and land, water hoses, pumps for the fountain, and of course more plants including peanut and purple oxalis (which I had never seen before). We forgot it was memorial weekend and the parking lots were insane.
Even though we had said we weren't going to make plans for the weekend we ended up doing a lot. Sunday night we wound up hanging with the Lago cousins at Titi Sandra's house for a basketball game and to collect their weekly compost including their rabbit poop.
As we finally wind down we look forward to the coming week with excitement. More compost buckets to paint, more house work to do, more plants to plant, and above all else more smiles to be shared. Oh yeah and more Spanish lessons with my new girlfriend Fluencia (an online program); many more lessons.