The place I knew

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I’m sure everyone has heard this by now, but I am still shell-shocked to see the damage that is ongoing in Puerto Rico. I’ve been to the island many times – I was fortunate enough to go every year for a good stretch of time – and often considered making a second home there, or retiring in that region.

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As of now, those plans are on indefinite hold. I have no idea if Puerto Rico, and the towns of Isabella and Playa Jobos where I spent most of my time there, will ever be the places I knew again. Right now all I can see and hear are the terrible stories of suffering and uncertainty from good people who shared their island home with me.

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Is the Los Morillos Lighthouse still there? Are the Rangers who maintained the surrounding park safe? Did the nameless family that helped me when I got lost down a dead-end street in Isabella lose their home? Is Junior’s Pizza, always our first stop in Playa Jobos, even standing? People are telling stories of the long, winding route down 66, which used to wend through a dense tunnel of jungle foliage, now looking like a moonscape, with all the vegetation stripped away. Of El Yunque, the only rainforest that is part of the United States, scrubbed to bare rock.

I know everyone has compassion fatigue. There are so many horrible things right now. Houston. Miami. The Island of Barbuda completely uninhabitable. Earthquakes in Mexico. Volcanos in Indonesia. It feels like the earth is trying to shake humanity off, like a dog with a bad case of fleas. You feel – I feel – utterly helpless.

But please. If you have any ability, consider donating to one of these organizations to help the people of Puerto Rico, who so desperately need it.

OneAmericaAppeal.org  – led by five former presidents of the US

Unidos – run by the Hispanic Federation

GoFundMe – crowdsourced donations from individual groups. There is no good way to say this – the US government has fumbled this situation terribly and is causing active delays in aid. Small groups of concerned citizens – many with personal links on the island – are stepping into that space to try to make up for it.

All Hands Volunteers and PRVOAD are actively looking for volunteers to help. (The PRVOAD site is in Spanish, but can be translated through GoogleTranslate.)

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I’ve written before about the sickening feeling of watching a loved place descend into chaos, the gut wrenching knowledge that things will never be the same again. I also wrote about my immense relief when it turned out that I was wrong, and that people and places are more resilient than I had ever dared hope. I want so badly to be proven wrong again.

Be safe, and hold on to what you can.

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Photo of the week: Sky Blue

I love this picture.

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It also frustrates the hell out of me, because it is SOOOOOO VERY CLOSE to being perfect, but the way that the bird’s beak sort of disappears into the foliage drives me nuts. And of course it’s the only frame I snapped like this. This is why I’m not a professional photographer.

I do love the colors though, and the sharp contrast of the blues and greens with the focus on the egret. I have no idea how I managed that. (Which is ALSO why I’m not a professional photographer)

And I like the fact that it looks so crisp and clean, when I was actually in a muddy swamp in Puerto Rico, in an egret rookery, with mosquitos the size of remote control airplanes and bird poop on my shoes, sweating like a pig.

That may be the best part.

More Puerto Rico… bookended

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A couple more pics from my recent trip to Puerto Rico, from opposite points of the west side of the Island… really I don’t know why people from the US aren’t all over PR. I don’t know if it’s because in theory the island is a part of the US so people think it’s not very exotic (I regularly meet folks that think Puerto Rico is right next to the Bahamas; in fact it’s closer to Venezuela than the states) or what, but it’s seriously one of the prettiest places with some of the nicest people, and the best pizza because everyone has lived in New York for five years and GETS pizza. And when I meet people from Puerto Rico they always seem slightly embarrassed to tell me where they’re from, but as soon as they realize I love the island (I’m usually on them like a puppy on a chew toy: “Do you know Isabella? Do you go to Mona?”) they light up and start talking about what a great place it is to live. Odd.

And you don’t need a passport to get there, for those of you who want to start traveling but don’t have the magic blue book yet.

Anyway, top photo from a little beachfront park in Aguada, which is at the far northwest-ish corner of the island; and bottom photos is more from Cabo Roja, which is high on my list to return to. Not pictured are all the iguanas we saw at Cabo, which are apparently camera shy but vastly entertaining and go up and down those cliffs like they have glue on their feet. Every time I tried to get a photo they were over the edge and gone.

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Shine a light

Puerto Rico Adventures! I’m afraid I’m going to bore you with these for a while, since it’s one of my favorite places – I’ve been fortunate enough to go there once a year for the last six years – and I just got back from a trip there a few weeks ago.

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Above is the Cabo Rojas lighthouse, and my traveling companion who is not actually making a break for it – just bad timing on the photo. The lighthouse, like all lighthouses, sits high and proud on an outcropping, facing the breakers of the Caribbean Sea, ready to guide ships thru the Mona Passage that separates the Domincan Republic from Puerto Rico. Officially, it is known as the Los Morrillos Light. We picked it as a daytrip destination from our base in Isabella planning to drive down and take pictures. My photos of the Light itself were, predictably, horrible.

But then we got there… and found THIS!

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Los morrillos Light is actually part of a larger nature preserve, the Cabo Rojas Wildlife Refuge, which includes major bird migration area and a turn of the century salt-flat operation, where salt is gathered by water being directed into shallow lagoons and raked up as the sea water evaporates. It sounds like incredibly hard, hot, backbreaking work, and I’m glad I don’t have to do it. The lagoons are a huge resource for wildlife and as we drove down the dirt road to the lighthouse, in what now seemed like a terrifyingly small Ford Focus (seriously, we could have lost the whole car in the ruts), birds and butterflies flew everywhere around the car.

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At the end of the  road was this lagoon, which was a semi-secret swimming hole for the locals. Los Morillos is on a point with Bahia Sucia (Sweet Bay) on one side, and Bahia Salina (Salt Bay) on the other, but this little lagoon doesn’t seem to have a name. It did have a security guard, playing Reggaeton music in his jeep. We hiked up to the lighthouse and took our photos and were endlessly amused by the resident iguanas, and then went back down to the lagoon to join the swimmers. I was thanking my lucky stars that my companion had insisted on throwing our snorkels in the trunk.

The water is about 4 feet deep and the high lime content from the surrounding cliffs make it an amazing powder blue color. It feels minerally – you come out of a swim feeling slightly powdery, like you’ve just dusted yourself in chalk – and it was absolute hell on my contact lenses. We swam for about an hour, snorkeling around the sea grass and seeing little aquarium-style tropical fish, then jumped back in the car to try and beat the incoming rain (we didn’t).

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It was seriously magical – the views, the secret bay, the feeling of discovery – as if we were the only people who knew about this hidden lagoon. Which of course we weren’t – it was obviously popular with local families, people lounging on the beach, kids splashing in the shallows – there was even one couple that had brought a full-size picnic table umbrella, poked in into the shallows in about two feet of water, and were lolling in the shade and the waves AT THE SAME TIME. That’s some serious forethought there.

Another person who knew about it was my friend Chuck, who’s uncle owns a house just north near Rincon. When we told him about the lagoon, he replied, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been there. You know that area is famous for being a breeding ground for Atlantic Tiger Sharks…”

AAAAAAAAHHHHH?!?!?!?!

Sure enough, when I looked up Cabo Rojo to find some links for this post, one of the first mentions of the Mona Passage was “the area is noted for it’s teeming shark population, which use the passage to go from breeding grounds to the south to feeding areas in the north….”

Yikes! Given the people at the beach I’m guessing that the shark activity is out in the Passage and the deeper bays, not the little four-foot-deep lagoon we were in. And I’ve just learned (while scaring myself silly researching this post) that there are occasionally whale sharks off of Isla de Mona, the large island that sits about 30 miles west of the Puerto Rican Coast and is famous for it’s scuba diving and ability to see large pelagics, in part due to it’s protected status as a wildlife refuge. I really need to learn to dive! Maybe for next year. But I’ll be looking over my shoulder a bit more this time…

(on an added note, I wrote the title for this post and couldn’t figure out why it kept echoing in my head like a song lyric, and my mind kept worrying at it until it popped into my brain: this song. Really. Why COULDN’T Brad change that tire?)

Photo of the Week: Into the Blue

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Just returning from back-to-back trips to Puerto Rico and Montana – one for vacation and one for work – so expect to get some pretty beach pictures as well as the occasional I-almost-ran-over-a-chicken story. This is from the  Cabo Roja lighthouse, which has some of the wildest scenery in Puerto Rico – about 2 hours south of Rincon, if you’re familiar with that area, and smack on the southwest corner of the island if you’re not. Highly recommended and more pictures to come….

Photo of the Week: Amazing

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This is a photo taken recently on a trip to Puerto Rico, and I just cannot believe how good it came out. I love rainbows but they’re devilishly hard to photograph, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a shot as good as this one. When I got home from my trip I actually gasped in amazement after I finally saw the full-sized image. 

I’ve spent a lot of time gasping in amazement this week – as I mentioned last week we are doing a Kickstarter for my first film, a nature documentary about the southern Georgia Coast called At The Edge of The Sea, and I cannot believe how many people have opened up their hearts (and wallets!) to make donations for the project. We’re still a long way from funded, but we are only 33 dollars from hitting the 25% mark, which is a huge milestone. Amazing!

With that, I’d like to implore any fans of the Constant Holiday who’d love to see a film instead of just still images to mosey on over to www.kickstarter.com and make a donation if the spirit moves you. You can donate as little as a dollar, and for us every little bit helps – we (myself, Phillip Spears, our director, and Orlando Thompson our DP) are financing this project ourselves, so donations mean more to us than I can possibly say. Thank you, thank you, thank you to all the kind folks who’ve already donated, and to whoever will start their weekend by moving our film one step closer to reality. You really are the best.