My Quickie Culebra Vacation Part I
The events that led me to arrive in Culebra all clicked together in such a way as to seem supernatural. I won't go into the details but it certainly was a strange series of events. Things that can happen only in a South Florida environment as chronicled in many Elmore Leonard novels. Me tailing the Spanish SUV Guy on the street; an arch enemy of mine almost being beat up by an enraged Big Mama who outweighed him by at least a hundred pounds; picking up at the last minute swim fins, new mask and snorkle, and dive net. You sort of had to be there to fully appreciate what happened. Okay, I'll give you just one example:
The Angry Nerd has been an enemy of mine for years. Actually I didn't realize he was my arch-enemy until the day before I left for Culebra. The Angry Nerd is so insignificant that he never really came up on my radar except on Thursday, Nov. 12. I was at the Swap Shop in Fort Lauderdale looking at the last minute for some dive equipment to take to Culebra. One of my swim fins had broken so I needed a replacement pair. I was asking around to different folks, including to the Angry Nerd. His reaction: to ignore me. Then I sat down at a bench between the Angry Nerd and Al the Vendor's sidekick, Larry.
"Hey Larry! You see anybody selling swim fins?"
Larry told me no. Then I asked the Angry Nerd again thinking maybe he didn't understand me. The Angry Nerd replied in the worst accent imaginable:
"No hablo English."
Now I was pissed, since he spoke barely a word of Spanish but put up that dopey pretense to avoid answering. Fortunately at that moment I became perfectly attuned to what the Angry Nerd's whole deal was. He hated anybody that was extravagantly extroverted which folks have usually described me as being. The Angry Nerd has such a stunted personality, that it bugs him that there are others who can easily relate to others while he remains forever trapped by the shell of his own mind.
"CAMISA!" I yelled, pulling at my shirt.
"ZAPATOS!" I screamed, pointing at my shoes.
"EL CIELO!" I barked, pointing at the sky.
The Angry Nerd got up and started walking away.
I JUST WANT TO HELP YOU LEARN ENGLISH, MI AMIGO!" I roared which caused him to walk even faster.
Suddenly I came upon the phrase that I knew would really get under his skin:
The Angry Nerd hesitated a moment before continuing on.
"SWIM FINS!!!" I repeated.
Judging from his body language I knew I found the Angry Nerd's weak spot. Vengeance is mine sayeth the PJ.
Sooooo... For the next few hours I'm wandering around the Swap Shop looking for my nautical stuff but with no luck on finding the swim fins. Every once in a while I spotted the Angry Nerd which inspired me to repeat "SWIN FINS!!!" several more times. I knew the Angry Nerd would crack...and I was right. It was my final encounter of the day with the Angry Nerd.
And it was then that the Angry Nerd broke out of his shell...possibly for the first time in his life.
"I have a swim fin for you!" he responded angrily as he placed his hand over his crotch and made an obscene flapping gesture. Well, ol' PJ about to reply with something like "Sorry, that swim fin is way too small," when I heard an outraged roar just behind me.
It was Big Mama who outweighed the Angry Nerd by at least a hundred pounds. Big Mama had mistakenly thought the Angry Nerd was making that gesture at her...which was fine by me. The Angry Nerd froze like a deer in the headlights as Big Mama began a loud stream of curses as she waddled quickly in his direction. I had no doubt she fully intended to beat the crap out of the Angry Nerd which would certainly have made my day. However, at the last moment, the Angry Nerd broke out his trace and scurried away like a frightened rabbit while I was bent over laughing. I mean tears in my eyes. It was just that funny. And I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the Angry Nerd is right now hiding under his bed waiting for the All Clear signal. Yeah, the ONE TIME in his life he broke out of his shell and he almost got smacked down in a most humiliating way.
Okay, so what happened to Culebra you're probably wondering? Well, this was one of the events just prior to my trip which just clicked together so perfectly so sorry for my digression but is life itself not a whole series of digressions? Therefore I will get back on the road to Culebra so I won't bother you with an account of how I had to follow the Spanish SUV Guy on the road except to say that he caught me tailing him, stopped his SUV in the middle of the road, and ran back to my car yelling, "PORQUE ME SIGUES?"
I told him what I now tell you, it was just one of the mysteries of the universe...except it really was vital that I followed him on the road to get to Culebra.
Okay, let's get going with that. But to do that I have to flash back to several weeks before my trip. I told my wife we should leave on a Thursday and return on a Monday but she didn't want to take off from work (she has Friday's off from her clinic job). I told her to PLEASE ask for a couple of days off.
But we need that time to...
"It's ridiculous! We arrive on Culebra on a Friday night and then the next afternoon we have to return to Puerto Rico."
It was no use. No amount of arguing was going to sway her.
So flash forward to the night before we were to fly to Puerto Rico. I was at my brother-in-law's house which is not far from the Miami airport. I had fallen asleep early and was happily snoring away when my wife woke me up.
"Maybe I should have taken some days off from work."
"Oh, now you figure this out!" I groaned and fell back to sleep, a bit peeved.
The next morning we are at Miami International Airport which for some reason requires folks to be long distance walkers to reach their departure gates. Every time I thought we were at our gate, we had to walk for several minutes longer. What's up with that?
However, the worst part came when we were boarding our flight. My wife asked whether I preferred the window or middle seat. Well, I do prefer the window but I thought my wife would enjoy seeing the Bahama islands as we passed over them so I gallantly offered the window seat to her. Big mistake. As we approached our seats, I saw a mini Jabba the Hut sitting on an aisle seat.
"Please don't be me that has to sit next to him," I silently prayed. My prayer was answered by a look at the row number which told me I would have to sit next to Jabba. This guy was short, barely over 5 feet tall but what he lacked in height, he more than made up for in fat. I mean Jabba the Huttian type fat that flows over the arm rest and squeezes against me. That's how fat he was. So for the rest of the flight I am being CRUSHED by Jabba the Hut's fat as my wife barely ever looked out the window. So much for gallantry.
I have tried to put that miserable experience out of mind, so let us fast forward to landing in Puerto Rico. It was my first visit to that island since leaving as a kid after spending five years there. I could tell you who the first person I ever spoke Spanish to at the tender age of eight but you simply wouldn't believe me. All I'll say is you can see the guy's name at the San Juan airport.
As you can imagine, this was definitely a Back to the Future experience for me. Puerto Rico had changed so much that it was frightening. Yes, I did recognize some places but just barely. I was overwhelmed by that change and it made me quite uneasy. Oh, one thing about Puerto Rico did remain the same: heat and humidity. Yes, we are used to heat and humidity in South Florida but it rarely matches that of Puerto Rico. Plus this was the middle of November and it was in the 60s when we left Miami that morning.
However, this isn't really a chronicle about Puerto Rico. Culebra was the goal.
Well, we reached Fajardo, the easternmost edge of Puerto Rico and the jumping off point for Culebra via ferry. And the first thing I discovered there was that it was a waste of time to rent a car since you have to plan way in advance to ferry it to Culebra. So we parked the car in a Fajardo lot and waited a couple of hours while waiting for the ferry.
Oh, and on that subject, could someone tell me what the deal is at the ferry landing? Its filth and decay was frightening. I mean the paint was peeling off the walls, general filth everywhere, and flooded bathroom floors. Meanwhile the Fajardo civic center was sparkling and beautiful. I know this because we took a wrong turn in Fajardo and ended up at the civic center before backtracking to the ferry landing. To a skeptical mind the word "corruption" could pop up. But enough of politics. I was on vacation and fully intended not to follow the news nor even think about anything political.
Finally the ferry arrived and we boarded (only $4.50 per person round trip). However, I just remembered something that I had forgotten. Seasickness pills. I'm the guy who once actually got seasick sitting on Cleopatra's Barge in Caesar's Palace in Vegas years ago. Fortunately, the entire trip turned out to be enjoyable without a hint of nausea. WHEW!
About an hour later Culebra appeared in the distance. Already I knew there was something different about it. Was it the unusual shoreline with the surrounding smaller islands? I wasn't sure then but now that image appears to me nightly in my dreams.
Then we arrived at the town of Dewey. Pop. 2000 give or take a thousand depending on how many tourists are there.
And at this point, I will take a break in my tale. In Part II, I will describe my experiences on the mystical island.
(Continues at: MY QUICKIE CULEBRA VACATION PART II)