Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Puerto Rico 2004 Hurricane Jeanne

I’m climbing up a gradual incline on an old mountain road led by the homeowner. My interpreter is right beside me. He won’t let go of my hand. He’s an ex-marine and they never leave a man behind.

“It ain’t safe here, Miss Carol,” he was saying. So I nodded and stayed close.

We were deep in the Rain Forest. The homeowner was explaining how he came to be living in Ai Bonito, Puerto Rico. His uncle died and left him some land…about 20 acres. So he left an accounting job in Wisconsin and built a house right at the top of this mountain- that was where we were headed.

We trudge through heavy underbrush such as you often see in a rainforest. He stopped once and said, “I’ve got an old horse around here somewhere named Trixie, but she won’t never come when I call her. She’s stubborn as hell!”

“I got a daughter that’s like that,” I said. He turned and smiled.

“We’re about half-way now. Won’t be long.”

He lied! He lied big time. By the time we got to his crazy homemade house, we were winded and exhausted. It was at least a mile. He said, “Stand here on this porch and look out across there.”

So we climbed on this rickety old porch he’d made with his own two hands and we looked out. Below us, there was a vast green valley, with streams running through it. Beyond that were more marshy plains. But beyond that was the Caribbean Ocean. I had heard it was around there somewhere, but wasn’t sure where.

Now there it was, many miles south in the distance, but still visible to the naked eye. It was quite a stupendous sight. So the next day, I took a day trip down to Ponce, which is a big town on the Caribbean Coast just south of Ai Bonito. Turns out they were having a big sale at the Mal Del Caribe in Ponce. I got gorgeous bracelets with real gemstones, leather sandals, tropical-looking blouses, some jean shorts, underwear and of course 4 or 5 pairs of earrings. I had quite a fun relaxing day.

I went down to the beach to fool around that afternoon and some locals came over and warned me to leave the beach area by 4 in the afternoon. After that, the shadowy figures that rule the night come out and pretty much mess up things. It’s dangerous.

Of course, I said “Thanks, appreciate it!” but that wasn’t my first rodeo. I had worked Detroit years before. You had fast food joints with bullet proof glass and most stores and restaurants closed down for good. These street punks can be found in every city. They are too lazy to work so they do whatever necessary to separate you from your cash. I make friends with them whenever I can. They always seem to know the right people should you get into some kind of trouble. The rest of the time, I just outwit them…aint that hard really.

Well, I couldn’t approve the guy who lived on the Big Mountain for much federal help because he actually did not have much. Very little furniture. No toilet or bath or driveway or garage. Only one big room and a couple of smaller rooms sparsely furnished and dark. The wood had never been painted. No radio, TV, internet. He barely had electricity. So if you ain’t got nothing, then you ain’t got nothing to lose in a hurricane.

We started back down the one-mile trail through thick underbrush to return to my car. The guy lived alone in a remote area so he didn’t get to see many humans. He talked constantly the whole way up and back. He told us how he grew his own coffee beans and how you have to pick them at just the right time and then dry them in just the right way. He told us how he got the beans out of the shells.

He told us all about his drying process. He had screen trays and he laid the beans out in a single layer on them, then took them up on the roof and placed them there in the tropical sun for a few days to dry out. I wondered why the wild varmints didn’t come and eat the raw beans, but didn’t ask.

He seemed happy with his life there. It seemed too barren, desolate and remote for my tastes. As we headed for the car, he said something that caught my attention. He said, “This road is the only way to my house and since the hurricane washed it out, we’ve had a hard time getting up and down the road with food and supplies. It’s no longer driveable. You have to walk or take the horse.”

So I stopped dead in my tracks and said, “What did you just say?” He repeated it and my mind was buzzing with ideas. “If this is the only way in and out of your home and if the storm washed out this road, then I CAN get you some federal assistance.”

He said, “Well, all that’s true…really!”

“How far you reckon it is?”

“Probably a mile up and a mile back.”

“How much of it needs repairs?” All the time he was answering my questions, I was recording the info in his application on my computer. He needed at least ¾ mile of grading and dirt to fill in spots that had washed out. He would need a tractor to help spread the dirt and pack it down. By the time we finished, I got him several thousand dollars’ worth of equipment and supplies, plus the dirt to completely repair his road.

He seemed excited and happy. So I called him at the end of the week to see how he was doing. “Did you get your money?” I asked him.

“Yep, yep, FEMA was pretty generous.”

“Great! So now you can get your road repaired.”

“Do I have to use the money for that?”

“No! but it would be best if you did.”

“This is enough to have electricity put all throughout my house.” (He had been using long extension cords that came from a tall Electric Pole in the yard.)

I sighed. “Well, Okay, if that’s what you want to do, that’s fine. FEMA won’t say anything.”

He thanked me profusely for my help because apparently, he had never gotten several thousand dollars in the mail –EVER! I still think about that guy and wonder if he’s still living on that lonely mountain in the middle of the rain forest. I would at least go find me a wife, if I was him. Guess that stubborn horse, Trixie, was all the company he needed.

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