El 9, 10 y 11 de Enero, 2011 – January 9-11, 2011
El Yunque and Luquillo, Puerto Rico
After breakfast on the 9th, our guide, Robin Phillips, showed up with his son Daniel, a trunk of Gandalfian walking sticks (have to credit this term to the fabulous Adam Love), and a backpack full of rain ponchos. Our wily band of 19 made its way beyond where the road closed (due to wash out) and into the wilds of the rainforest. Along the way Robin took time to point out each flora and fauna, and we sniffed wild white ginger and swung from Tarzanesque vines (and yes, I did it too. Though I slid off as I went, only to discover when alumna Hunter Sunrise went next that the best thing to do was to grab it with your knees too. Hey, what do you want? They didn’t teach vine-swinging in the upper west side).
I have to insert here that I have been going to El Yunque Rainforest every year of my life, traipsing along the tourist-packed trails, perusing the shelves of the gift shop, only viewing what Robin showed us in the official movie shown in a dark, air-conditioned theatre in the visitor center. This was an entirely different part of the rainforest, and it was unbelievably beautiful.
We hiked for 2 ½ hours, stopping for lunch beside a man-made lake, the water clear and cool. As we ate our sandwiches Robin said, “If you’re going to jump off the bridge, be sure to do it near the second rung. The water is deepest there.”
Of course, Adam Love was the first of our group to make his way along the metal and cement structure. Not only did he jump off, but he did a back flip, just to freak me out. Gio followed, and of course I had to go. I had to. Casper Martin and I made our way along, all the time I’m thinking “what the hell are you doing, Ann? These people are in their 20s! You’re 47!” Well, I’ve never been very good about listening to authority, particularly my internal one. I jumped off that bridge, and though I swallowed a boat-load full of water I was very happy I did. Robin says the water holds powers of longevity. I don’t doubt it. I swam to shore feeling more alive and exhilarated than I had in years.
Some of our group chose to hang at the pond, but most of us continued on our way to the upper waterfalls. This part of the hike involved climbing a rusty old vertical ladder (probably 2-3 stories high), as well as scaling wet rock face. Rigoberto and I made it up the scary ladder, but chose to remain in the incredible shallow pools at the base of two waterfalls. There we sat in the cool water and reflected on the residency thus far (we were working, Louise, I swear!), while some of our more intrepid travelers made their way up the waterfall. They came down elated and feeling as if they could conquer the world.
The hike back to Casa Cubuy was much faster than the hike up, and we were all quiet, thinking about the incredible day we had just spent in an untouched part of the world. We didn’t see one other human being. No gift shops, no red-faced tourists, no trash-strewn picnic areas. Just nature, lush and green.
That evening we enjoyed a powerful reading from graduating student Becky Sernett. Her voice was accompanied by the nightly coqui song as we sat on the patio at Casa Cubuy. Laurie Alberts then lead us in a nature writing exercise.
The next day began with the final workshop, then graduating student Jennifer Koski’s excellent lecture titled: Writing Beyond the Stereotypes: Crafting Rural Characters. That afternoon, our last of the residency, our group split for two excursion options: one at Luquillo beach, the other a boat ride and snorkeling. A fabulous and relaxing time was had by all.
Our last night brought a special graduation dinner at Metropol restaurant in Fajardo. We celebrated and toasted our three fabulous graduates: Becky Sernett, Jenn Koski and Karmen Lizzul, and shared photographs from the day’s adventures. That night there was a round of student readings on the patio, and we all made our way to our rooms, reluctant to see our last full day in Puerto Rico come to an end.
Though there were a scattering of cancelled flights the next day due to storms and stranded faculty (sorry Laurie!) nothing could dampen the joy of our 8 days together. I learned so much and am so grateful for the company, wisdom and joy of my 16 pioneering companions. I will never forget the time I shared with them.
I am going to end with the piece I wrote during Laurie’s exercise. It is rough and unedited and probably rife with clichés, but it accurately reflects the emotion of the experience for me. I hope you enjoy it.
It was during a slug of water, a draft, the cool mountain spring water cascading down my throat. It was then that I saw it, the purple feathers glistening in the fading sun, iridescent sherbet darting among the waxy, green leaves. I could hear its hum…no, I could feel its hum like a harp string’s vibrato in my chest, the wings motionless in their rapid beating.
I froze, water bottle halfway to mouth, muddy sneakers perched between two slippery rocks. I watched it hover, drink, hover, then fly away. Was it two seconds? Three? My time in the rainforest had been so similar, barely 24 hours but the seconds beating so fast as to seem like days or weeks had passed. Time hovering over the lush green mountains, the warm company of writers like the flutter of wings, propelling, lifting, but passing all too quickly.
I fear the end of its iridescence.
I fear the time moving on to other nectars, other lives.