Newest Facial Treatment: Carrot Cake

You’ve heard me say before that skin lotion is a total scam, and by my experience, I stand by it. That doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to try something new.

Oh man, what a joyous event to use, not use, but EXPERIENCE the carrot cake.
Oh man, what a joyous event to use, not use, but EXPERIENCE the carrot cake.

With all the rage(s) in skin products, there must be something that really works. My search, it seems, is over.

Carrot cake, the product I tried most recently, is a marvellous alternative.

  • Instead of up to $30 per treatment, this can be had for mere nickels per use.
  • Availability is stellar, find it at most any supermarket or make it yourself. No need to drive to any uppity malls.
  • It has a cool, refrigerator-like temperature that really closes the pores down in a hurry.
  • The texture is varied, smooth for theapeutic help, with crunchy bits for exfoliation (defoliation? Can’t remember.) Plus there are chewy bits that hold it all together.
  • Carrot, a primary ingredient, is high in beta-carotine… I’m not sure what that means, but it really sounds bang-up good, doesn’t it?
  • The best part though, is that it’s non-toxic. You can even eat it without getting sick. Kind of tastes good too. Very few skin products can boast that, and this is the only one on record that tastes like, how can I describe it, like a cake made of carrot.

It’s rare that I endorse a product for fear of accusations of being a corporate sell-out. But I assure you neither the Carrot Cakers Association, nor any specific carrot cake conglomorate has paid for this endorsement. No cash, no candy, no juice was paid for my heartfelt endorsement.

I implore you to try it yourself, and write me with your own results. I’m curious to hear your experience.

 

Parque de Bombas, Ponce, Puerto Rico Doesn’t Suck

If you’re ever in Ponce, Puerto Rico and you hit the old downtown area, you’ll find it almost impossible to miss the Parque de Bombas, which is the age-old firehouse which has been converted to a free museum run by the city. It’s an odd spectacle, but at the all-time low price of “free” it’s worth almost every penny for the journey.
Pay more mind to the heft of the building than that of Miss Mama`s backside of insecurity. All grownups look big to me.

Pay more mind to the heft of the building than that of Miss Mama`s backside of insecurity. All grownups look big to me.It’s not so much a “must-see” place as a “can’t miss” sort. It’s right off the town plaza by maybe a half-block, you’ll see it from at least two-blocks away, it’s free, and it’s got the city tourist council right in the lobby.

You’ll have the opportunity to enjoy a couple different old-timey attractions on the ground floor, none of which are indigenous to the region nor particularly tourist-proofed. Upstairs, which is quite a hike for a man of my stature, you’ll find many glass cases full of things of potential interest to you, but absolutely no interest to your kids who only want to go back downstairs to tamper further with the exhibits that haven’t yet been appropriately tamper-proofed.

It’s still a “can’t miss” attraction even if just based on its unsightly and unmistakable appearance, so pop in for a spell, especially since, as a free attraction, the value is there.

There’s also a hole in the ground inside the Parque de Bombas which I called a wishing well. In there you can cast your dimes and nickels and it all goes to some charity explained in needless detaila Espanola, which is really true to the local charity I imagine it ultimately benefits.

Once you’ve finished poking around the place, thrown your nickles and dimes in the wish that you were elsewhere, you can head across the street to a large, street-value (though not tourist-priced) tourist garbage goody hole. They’ve got pictures, mugs, shot-glasses (not quite true to the local heritage but, then again, neither are the framed photos of Ponce de Leon), and another gaggle of textiles of the same non-traditional sort.

Above - It's a fine, odd, fantastical place, and a free museum for you to wander into as you will, in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Above – It’s a fine, odd, fantastical place, and a free museum for you to wander into as you will, in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Above - Once inside, there's even more to see, though remarkably little, and even less of it is child-proof... believe me.
Above – Once inside, there’s even more to see, though remarkably little, and even less of it is child-proof… believe me.

 

Gúanica Dry Forest Has Something for Everybody, Except Humans

Deep in the heart of the bowels of the east, southeastern portion of Puerto Rico lies an unusual place. Not just unusual on the island, but across the world. Puerto Rico is home to one of the exceptionally few “dry forests” and it’s a site to behold, assuming you have the hydration to behold it… which statistically, you don’t.

Here you can see Patrick, cleverly complimented by the fully photocopied handout offered to all visitors to the park.
Here you can see Patrick, cleverly complimented by the fully photocopied handout offered to all visitors to the park.

Located at the end of a winding series of poorly market roads up Highway 334 off Highway 2 about 45-minutes east of Ponce, the Gúanica dry forest isn’t just dull and conspicuously over-developed, it’s arid as well.

The expansive, imposing wildlife preserve is home to a number of species of plant and animal endemic to the forest. By “a number” I mean a couple, and by “plants and animals” I mean plants… but boy is this place arid.

guanica-dry-forest2Left – Here you can see a member of our staff doing the very best possible to make light of a well-lit situation. See the rampant frollicery and try to, at least in small part, share in the revelry.
(CLICK TO ENLARGE UNTO GREATEST, MOST GLORIOUS ENSIZAFICAION.)

If you’re so insanely inclined, you can set out on a number of hikes or even see the caves that have begun forming in the last lackluster bunches of thousands of years. If you like caves, do yourself a favor and go see the real ones.

Have I already mentioned how hot it gets? Well, it does get hot, and there’s not a whole lot of shade, and nary a drop of water to be found unless you’re an iguana, which if you haven’t noticed, we’re not.

Have I mentioned that this place sucks? Well maybe that’s because it doesn’t.

There are all kinds of unique or at least rare plants to be seen around every corner (once you get out of your car and head down a trail or two) and if you like chasing small lizards only to discover that larger lizards are also running away from you, this place is pretty uncommon.

Above - Here you can see me and my brother getting our jog on, despite heating our stroke on, and de-ing our hydrate off.
Above – Here you can see me and my brother getting our jog on, despite heating our stroke on, and de-ing our hydrate off.

A dry forest is the result, in this case, of a many-millions’ year old coral reef being pushed up and out of the ocean in a region which is routinely muggy yet enjoys less than 10% of Puerto Rico’s annual rainfall.

If you’re in the area and happen to be a nature lover, or bored to near death this place is a “probably do better off not missing” attraction.

Above - There are ruins all around this "dry" forest which date back to the times of Spanish rule (well over 100-years ago) despite what the tourist handbook says -- which is limited to Flora and Fauna (two people I've never met). The park ranger will tell you this if you take a moment to talk to him.
Above – There are ruins all around this “dry” forest which date back to the times of Spanish rule (well over 100-years ago) despite what the tourist handbook says — which is limited to Flora and Fauna (two people I’ve never met). The park ranger will tell you this if you take a moment to talk to him.

Click this for another big picture, silly-pantalones

 

 

Tourist Assaulted in Puerto Rico by Rogue Wall

On a pretty normal day, a day not unlike today, I expressed midway through a movie-film that it was time for me to take my leave and empty my teeniest, tiniest bladder against the best chronological conveniences of those around me. Mind you, we’ve had all kinds of problems with movie theaters in Puerto Rico, but none compared in my mind to the assault I suffered unto the face upon merely not paying attention to where I was walking.Photo only slightly enhanced to show the injury suffered by a rogue wall attack.

Photo only slightly enhanced to show the injury suffered by a rogue wall attack.

It’s crazy. We were so unusually bored in Puerto Rico that we went to see at least a movie or two every week while we were there. Sometimes we’d go into town, or the other town, but other times we’d drive 40+ minutes in either direction to hit a cinema showing some something we hadn’t yet seen. That’s bad enough, but that’s just the tale of living the outback life.

What’s bad is that, of all the movies we saw, which was literally about ten different ones, we never paid the same amount twice. Sometimes it was $12 for all of us and other times it was $19.50 for the gaggle. Sometimes they’d take the baby Dominic at his age, and other times they’d call him a kid, despite his unwavering certainty to sleep through the film without any personal enjoyment whatsoever. It’s not like he carries his identification around with him all the time, especially on account of us technically being within the great-48 (plus two and some territories), so we just paid the extra on such occasions, however ridiculous it may have been.

I mean, seriously, the movie studios can’t possibly expect that he went in to see Hot Rod for the sake of actually seeing Hot Rod. He falls so far outside the demographic that, once he’s eaten his fill of unbuttered, unsalted popcorn (the only sort available in Puerto Rico), he’d promptly fall asleep without enjoyment or memory of fairly mediocre reel-or-three of cinematic quasi-magic.

Here’s an ounce better. I went out for a potty break only to find the bathroom was off-limits. Turns out that, unlike normal places where you may suffer a power outage, in Puerto Rico you’ll routinely suffer a water/sewer outage… wait, what? Yep… Daddy had to drag me back out and up the ante. He said, “Your broken bathroom or your lobby floor, your call.” Turns out with those choices, mini-men are entitled to pee pretty much anywhere they please short of all over the lobby.

Boo hoo, I know, but if we can’t deliver a uniform product at the very-darned-least, we should at least be able to predict a uniform price. I know, I know, I’m crying on deaf ears, but if I don’t do it, which ears will feel the fall of my tears?

And if you want to talk about tears, you and me should really get back to the headline at hand because that’s as cry-worthy as the lead photo may suggest. I got hit, hit hard, and verily hammered, and sadly at the hands of the movie-film-cinema.

I walked out with that Mama woman I’m so often stuck hanging out with — I love my parents, but I’m no mama’s boy, so I hang out with her more for her benefit not ‘cuz I need it or anything — when I got distracted in my walking as I stared up at a poster for some upcoming movie… and yep, I bonked my handsomest face straight into the corner adjacent the bathroom.

It was bad enough I was expected to do my undue, duly un-requested, self-initiated duty in the first place, but she had me steering towards the ladies room. Last time I checked, rumor has it, and I’ll confirm it right now, I’m not a chick. Crazy in-and-of itself, but then on the way in I have the misfortune to bonk my pretty mug into a shrapnelly corner? That’s bad.

To our good luck, we had a lady at the concession stand who was raised in the States. She was late-teeny, pudgy and perfectly beautiful, not to mention kind. She took her time out, gave me wrapped up ice, ample sympathy, and pretty face-like distractions that almost led me to believe I hadn’t been attacked by some random wall… which I had, thank you (NO thank you) very much!

So if Caribbe Cinemas wants to give me something for free to show a sign of good faith they should so totally do so now. Not because it’s worth anything to me, because offering me unlimited supplies of anything at a location I will never again show my face will invariably cost them nothing.

To wrap this already protracted piece right quick, let’s say this: Puerto Rico movie theaters charge unpredictable rates, offer lackluster cinemas, and their walls will attack you in the head, even if you buy $12 worth of pop and popcorn even though it comes without butter and salt.

I know, it’s a real wah-wah situation, and for that (alone) I make no apologies. For the rest, well, that’s a different matter. But seriously, when in Puerto Rico, us travelers need to be on the ever-diligent lookout with watchful eye for the prominent possibility of the ubiquitous rogue wall. Should you let your attention lapse, however briefly, they’ll get you, they’ll knock you in the brow in a way you won’t forget anytime soon.

Above - I do my best to show a stiff upper lip, but I'm all soft and spongy and not one to deny it. Still, for the sake of documenting my injury, I will be strong. I will not cry (and more).
Above – I do my best to show a stiff upper lip, but I’m all soft and spongy and not one to deny it. Still, for the sake of documenting my injury, I will be strong. I will not cry (and more).

 

Chaseable Pigeons Revel in Survival-Based Fitness

Unbeknownst to most animals, they are among the chaseable creations. I have proven that even scavenger and parasite species that require our presence to survive are never more than a few rapid steps away from being chased. Research further proves that these chased critters just love being pursued.

Seen here in the Ponce, Puerto Rico plaza, doing my best to exercise the local pigeon population.
Seen here in the Ponce, Puerto Rico plaza, doing my best to exercise the local pigeon population.

For my research I used pigeons. It’s not because they are simple, though that’s true, and it’s not because they’re durable, though that seems to be the case as well. I chose pigeons because we were at a park when my brother yelled out, “Dominic, chase the birds!”

Maybe the research study is really on me, but I’m a classically trained (or at least conditioned) creature of habit so when I heard it I couldn’t help myself but comply. I tore off after those birds with grabby, higher mammal paws outstretched, trying my best to reign them in for a quick hug.

I’m a lot like a horse whisperer, but with pigeons, and I’m more of a frantic screamer than anything else.

At first the outside observer may think I’m being cruel, but perhaps it’s my inherently crumby scent that draws them to me, as they kept drawing near to me for additional rounds of being chased.

The outside observer would then be wise to wonder if I have a desire to contract an avian illness, but my handlers intermittently shoed birds away from me, and me away from birds, so such an opportunity could not arise.

If you’re ever in a plaza, park, or nearly any urban setting, consider the chaseable pigeons yourself for fitness. Statistically speaking, you need a good run and it’s almost equally likely the birds do too, so if not for yourself, do it for the birds.

And if you think that chasing pigeons is for the birds, you’re right. They need it as much as we do, and it’s really great fun, even if you don’t catch any.

I’m sure there’s a strategy to catching them though I don’t want to know it. The thrill is in the hunting not the catching, so count me among the blissfully unaware. And if there are pigeons of the unchaseable variety, I hope not to meet any. Where would be the fun in that?

Above - As close as they may appear, don't be fooled, these birds will take flight quicker than you can beleive, even if only for the mere sake of very survival.
Above – As close as they may appear, don’t be fooled, these birds will take flight quicker than you can beleive, even if only for the mere sake of very survival.
Above - Run like hell, like the wind, or like crazy if you prefer, but don't be surprised if you come up with only a few errant feathers as your trophy. It's not that these birds are smart, it's that they've faced faster chasers than you before. Do not be discouraged nor take it personally, it's just what they do to avoid being eaten by bigger animals all the time.
Above – Run like hell, like the wind, or like crazy if you prefer, but don’t be surprised if you come up with only a few errant feathers as your trophy. It’s not that these birds are smart, it’s that they’ve faced faster chasers than you before. Do not be discouraged nor take it personally, it’s just what they do to avoid being eaten by bigger animals all the time.

 

Fun Valley Park Celebrates 6th Anniversary

It’s been a tough go for the good folks at Fun Valley Park in Puerto Rico, and they’ve weathered the economic and political storms quite well. Most of their local competitors have fallen since they’ve been around, but smart business, and fun business too, has made them a veritable staple of the Puerto Rican landscape of entertainment, despite a most unfortunate beginning.If this go-round ain`t merry, I don`t know what is.

If this go-round ain`t merry, I don`t know what is.

It all started six years ago today. Years of planning and an untold wealth of investment all but insured the launch of Fun Valley Park would go off swimmingly, save for anything but the unimaginable. That was September 9th, 2001, and just two days later, the unimaginable would happen. In case you’re a hermit, wayward time traveler or, like myself, were only born since then, I’ll give you a quick update on contemporary history. Two-days later was September 11th, 2001 when much of the world changed.

Travel and tourism all but stopped for a while – a critical while if you’re a brand new amusement park – and United States funding for all things Puerto Rico got a severe nip in the bud. How they survived can only be chalked up to exceptionally conservative planning, since many of their longer-standing rivals went the way of the dodo.

But it’s been six years now and Fun Valley Park in Arecibo, Puerto Rico is going stronger now than ever before, and I say this with authority because I’ve been there and, along with my editorial brothers, had a blast running every last attraction they offer half-way ragged for the journey.

Fun Valley Park is a campy, carnival-style amusement park. There’s boisterous music blaring from the front gate, a good assortment of rides and attractions, and all of it is included in your admission charge. Don’t kid yourself into thinking this place is Disneyland, because it isn’t. Luckily though, for what one person pays to see Disney, your whole clan can come in here, so the value is right on par with what you would expect.

Above - The historic, narrated (in Spanish) tram ride was easily the silliest, cheesiet, and most fun attraction there. The parents were afraid we wouldn't like it, but we actually asked for it by name and went on the ride a second time.
Above – The historic, narrated (in Spanish) tram ride was easily the silliest, cheesiet, and most fun attraction there. The parents were afraid we wouldn’t like it, but we actually asked for it by name and went on the ride a second time.

Some of the rides give off a carnie air like they were just set up and like they might be taken down tomorrow. This isn’t the case, of course. The rides have been there for years and are regularly tested and licensed. Really it’s all part of the atmosphere, and for that matter, part of the charm. Once you’re in, you get unlimited rides on everything they have to offer so complaining would be silly. Your time is better spent checking out all the rides, really.

The place feels a lot like a county fair in terms of the fun you’ll have, but without a number of drawbacks of a fair. Fairs often draw in an undesirable teenage element of boys looking for younger victims, whether for theft of otherwise. Because of the rural setting of Fun Valley Park, these types don’t find their way in. Better still, unlike a fair, where you pay to get in and pay to go on rides, once you’re in you are basically done spending money. The objective of the fair is to nickel-and-dime you to death, eking out every last shekel they can manage.

Above - If you don't like the merry-go-round, I'd have to argue that you don't know how to have fun. It's got fiberglass ponies, music, rotation, and fast-moving lines with short wait times as well.
Above – If you don’t like the merry-go-round, I’d have to argue that you don’t know how to have fun. It’s got fiberglass ponies, music, rotation, and fast-moving lines with short wait times as well.

Once inside Fun Valley Park, you won’t find pay-per-play games, overpriced trinket booths, or $10 scones. No, once you’re in, your wallet is done, and that’s a welcome change.

This article is already getting pretty long, so let me wrap up the things we loved most about Fun Valley Park in a quick-and-snappy list:

 

  • Unlimited rides on anything they have with no hidden charges.
  • The staff all genuinely seem to love their jobs, which is something we’ve seen nowhere else in Puerto Rico. (We asked the manager about that, and he cleverly asked, “Do they like their job, or do they like their boss?” I’m guessing the answer to both is yes, and somehow tied together.)
  • It’s a family-run business, as it always has been.
  • The concession stand is a better bargain than fast food, (but I’ll cover that in a whole, separate article, because it deserves it.)
  • Even the silliest, cheesiest rides are enough fun that we asked to go on them again.
  • The rides are appropriate for ages three through adult, and I’m not exaggerating. Go-carts, bumper boats, bouncy house, historic tram, merry-go-round, arcade, and an assortment of traditional carnival-type rides are all onsite.
  • They’re just good people, and we’ve met enough in our travels to know the wheat from the chaff.

 

Fun Valley Park is located about 90-minutes west of San Juan towards Arecibo. Take Highway-10 and head south, where you’ll find them on the right after a few quick miles. For seasonal hours and current rates, check them out online at FunValleyPark.com.

Leaving Fun Valley Park is the only thing not fun about it Above - As the day wore on, we wore out, and even rides like this one, which is plainly beyond my threshold for thrashing around, was enough to dampen my weather-moistened spirits. For the best though, I'd missed my union-mandated mid-afternoon ciesta.
Leaving Fun Valley Park is the only thing not fun about it
Above – As the day wore on, we wore out, and even rides like this one, which is plainly beyond my threshold for thrashing around, was enough to dampen my weather-moistened spirits. For the best though, I’d missed my union-mandated mid-afternoon ciesta.

 

oo the Only Place Not Run by Monkeys

I’ve traveled far and wide; I’ve seen zoos in four different countries and I’ve loved them all. Nothing surprises me at the zoo any more, but plenty of things delight me. What does surprise me is how poorly visitors are treated in Puerto Rico pretty much everywhere except for at the zoo. Leads me to believe the zoo is the only place in Puerto Rico not run by monkeys.

The bug house at the Mayaguez zoo is as cutting edge as any you`ll find anywhere.
The bug house at the Mayaguez zoo is as cutting edge as any you`ll find anywhere.

The Mayaguez Zoo in Puerto Rico has an undeserved reputation as a second-rate zoo. Some of the guidebooks say things like, “they’ve come a long way from just cages, but it still leaves much to be desired.” I tell you, if there’s one group of people lazier than domesticated monkeys, it’s Caribbean travel writers. When was the last time they came to this place?

Truth is, most travel writers for Puerto Rico never leave the San Juan metropolitan area which happens to be why we intentionally chose a house on the opposite side of the island. Of course we hit San Juan, but being all the way on the wrong side of the place, we hit everything else too, and it feels like we’re the first writers to do so in about ten years.

That’s not fair, I shouldn’t say it feels like it, since there’s no qualification to that. What I should say is that, of all the media reps we talked to, only two said they’d seen a travel writer in the past five years.

I may be four-years-old all the time, so it makes sense I’ve been there in less than five years, but that’s pretty crazy. That means even the guidebook people are cutting corners like crazy, and that’s not good for anybody but the writer’s spouse, who luckily gets to see them more often.

monkey-zoo2Left – I was a bit put off by the fact that birds of prey may nip at kiddo fingers, but I reluctantly heeded the parental caution just the same.

But let’s get back to the zoo.

The Mayaguez Zoo is very new by zoo standards. They’ve only been around about 30-years, which isn’t very long even in dog-years. They don’t have dogs, by the way, but you can find plenty of those domestically anyhow, so not a big worry. Zoos are among the last funded and the least funded of all governmental projects, so making a respectable go of it in any place is always a challenge.

So let’s talk about what the zoo does right and why they are absolutely not a second-rate attraction:

 

  • They have rhinos, which are uncommon anywhere on account of how difficult they are to maintain.
  • The butterfly exhibit is top-notch. Easily in the top two I’ve ever seen and I’ve probably seen seven. Butterfly exhibits are tricky because their constantly changing states from caterpillar and they don’t all like to eat the same things.
  • They have a fairly new, multi-million dollar insect house. This is built in the contemporary standard of museum exhibits complete with dramatic lighting, extensive informational placards and interactive exhibits designed to engage each visitor at the level he or she best responds to.
  • The birderarium is cautiously guarded with double doors and showcases as wide a variety of glorious featheries as can live together without feeding on one another.
  • The rest of the place has everything you could want, like giant snakes, ostriches, giraffes, geese, and even raccoons. That made me feel like I was back home. I guess one region’s vermin is another region’s exhibit. Now I understand why the ubiquitous tropical house gecko appears in our zoo back home instead of just all over our walls in Puerto Rico.
  • Everywhere we went there was staff on-hand to answer our curiosity questions, and even did so in reasonable English (which they should being that we are still in America after all), oh, also, they were glad to do so.

 

Above - If you think ostriches frighten easily, you should see how we reacted when confronted by the mighty, feathered beast. Glass or not, I wished I had a pile of sand to stick my head in.
Above – If you think ostriches frighten easily, you should see how we reacted when confronted by the mighty, feathered beast. Glass or not, I wished I had a pile of sand to stick my head in.

The only thing I can think of that I didn’t see there was a tapir, and that’s not to say they don’t have one, just that it’s such an ill-adapted and insipid beast that I can’t imagine why any zoo would bother to keep them in stock (though the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle does just that.

The zoo in Mayaguez is an affordable day out, and a fun one, assuming you like animals. Ignore what the guidebooks say; those writers haven’t been to the zoo in the last ten years, if ever at all. I’d guess they’re just recycling second-hand information and my guess is educated, because I’ve been there and I got educated.

Above - Call it a big, dumb bird if you like, but this guy followed me from one side of the exhibit to the other, just waiting for a yummy morsel from my curiously pointing hands.
Above – Call it a big, dumb bird if you like, but this guy followed me from one side of the exhibit to the other, just waiting for a yummy morsel from my curiously pointing hands.

The zoo was a good day, even though we were hot and cranky. Even cranky, I’m going to guess you’ll feel the same. If you’re in Mayaguez or Rincon and traveling with kids, the zoo is a fine place to pop out for half-a-day’s unwinding. It’s not a destination to traverse the island for, but if you’re close, it’s worth your time.

For current hours and costs, review their Spanish language website (sorry, English not currently available, fortunately for us though, numbered digits look the same in both our languages).

Oh, and if you see an American guy running a concession stand, buy some ice cream from him or his wife and tell him we told you to. They’re good people there and super friendly. It’s not a big profit business and they’re just doing their best, so spread some love around and tell him thanks for the gumball-quarter he spotted us when my Spiderman cone melted onto the ground. He’s down two-bits off me, the least I can do is give him credit for it.

Above - Dominic was delighted that he found a bird to match his attire for the day. Oh Dominic, what a slave to fashion you are!
Above – Dominic was delighted that he found a bird to match his attire for the day. Oh Dominic, what a slave to fashion you are!

 

Crush on Dora of Explorer Fame Finally Realized

Like any good American, I watch an inordinate, almost embarrassing amount of television. Personally, I’m partial to cartoons and shows involving adults dressed as oversized animals, typically dancing around while pretending to teach some lesson or other, but what I’m most partial to is that most alluring of child-centric starlets, Dora the Explorer.

I didn`t much care for the cameras catching us holding hands, but the hand holding made it worth it just the same.
I didn`t much care for the cameras catching us holding hands, but the hand holding made it worth it just the same.

She’s got it all: amazingly good looks, a bunch of cartoon friends, proficiency in two of the most prominent languages on the planet, and even a cool cousin named Diego. I don’t even think she wears makeup, but she still manages to look great every day and I, for one, love her for it… okay, well, maybe there are more reasons behind my love of Dora, but all those things still probably count for something.

So you can imagine my delight when I arrived in Puerto Rico to find that most girls of Dora’s age are smart, bilingual, and of astoundingly good looks. I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I didn’t know that the eye of the beholder is in Puerto Rican preschools. I don’t know how Diego can get his homework done around here. No wonder he needs his rescue backpack just to get his assignments done.

We recently threw a lavish blowout for Patrick, the sort of thing fitting for a summer kid to usher in his age of ocho and all the cool kids were gleefully in attendance. There was me, him, our other brother, and a bunch of the locally flavored juniors as well. It was no big deal until about an hour into the party when I saw her.

dora2Left – Early in the evening, even before the sun had set, I was already tired, fussy and fidgety. My nerves would later settle once I met the first love of my life. Oh Dora, how I remember you to this day upon seeing your smiling face in photos.

I played it cool at first, hiding behind furniture and staring like a stalker. She was everything I imagined a real life Dora to be. She spoke fluent Spanish in addition to as much English as I do; she was older than me and she was verily slathered in the sort of good looks you only see on PBS between the hours of 7-8am, 2-3pm and at odd hours over the weekend. She was the total package and she must have seen me coming a mile away (though she didn’t notice me behind the leafy potted plant, which was a huge bonus.)

And no matter how strong the sun had been all summer she didn’t have any of the splotchy pink patches of sunburn my whole staff had suffered.

She was almost a whole head taller than me with dark and curly locks, hands that were soft and sometimes clammy, she had pretty on tap, which is what I think first drew me to stare at her in silent embarrassment from behind people, places, things and other such nouns.

She said her name was Jerrica, which I think is Puerto Ricanese for Dora. Like the real Dora, she had a half-trained monkey with her at all times, but she called him her brother so I could relate. We danced in circles much of the night, rarely sharing a word. Sometimes one of us would fall down and cry but it didn’t matter as long as we had each other, juice, and maybe just a bit more cake to ease the pain.

At the end of the night we exchanged numbers. I told her I was three and she told me she was cinco, which I think is Spanish for “angelic.” We said goodnight, swore we’d meet again, then each went home to never see each other again. If I was a dedicated stalker, I could track her down, but what we shared was worth more than that, and I won’t tarnish the memory. Instead I’ll just let it fade and tuck this entry into my journal for future reminiscence.

Hopefully when I think back on the troubles of my childhood, I’ll see this as the chapter it was; a day I got to foster a crush, express it, and not have my feelings hurt. Oh Latin ladies, I swear you’ll be the death of me someday.

My first crush Above - I think I was supposed to pay more attention to her baby sister, and I'm sure she's plenty nice and all, but I had found my Dora the Explorer, and I wasn't about to tear my gaze away.
My first crush
Above – I think I was supposed to pay more attention to her baby sister, and I’m sure she’s plenty nice and all, but I had found my Dora the Explorer, and I wasn’t about to tear my gaze away.
Above - We stood on the ramp for a while. I wanted to muster the courage to say something suave, but could only muster my name and a sloppy pail of gibberish. I think she understood me well enough, because she kept giving me looks like, well, like I don't know how to explain. Fortunately I don't have to explain because this is the look right here.
Above – We stood on the ramp for a while. I wanted to muster the courage to say something suave, but could only muster my name and a sloppy pail of gibberish. I think she understood me well enough, because she kept giving me looks like, well, like I don’t know how to explain. Fortunately I don’t have to explain because this is the look right here.
Above - We held hands and danced throughout the night. We did the clockwise circle, the counter-clockwise circle, and the awkward-unsure-of-directional rotation dance as well. Sure, we didn't have training, rhythm or any concept of music or dance, but we did have hands held in clammy hands, and for me at least, that was enough. And by the way, I was recently asked if I thought Dora was "pretty" or "ugly", and I shocked the crowd by saying that she's "beautiful"... I even said it in a drawn out way... Yep, I'm pretty sweet on that Dora alrighty.
Above – We held hands and danced throughout the night. We did the clockwise circle, the counter-clockwise circle, and the awkward-unsure-of-directional rotation dance as well. Sure, we didn’t have training, rhythm or any concept of music or dance, but we did have hands held in clammy hands, and for me at least, that was enough. And by the way, I was recently asked if I thought Dora was “pretty” or “ugly”, and I shocked the crowd by saying that she’s “beautiful”… I even said it in a drawn out way… Yep, I’m pretty sweet on that Dora alrighty.

 

Hurridean Cain is Super, Man: Category-3

We’re a bit behind the ball reporting on this one, but Hurricane Dean swept through our Puerto Rican quasi-paradise, and we lived to tell the tale. Sure, you might point out it was barely a category-3 hurricane when it swept across the open ocean some 300-miles to the south of us, but we were pelted with torrential rains, screaming winds, and it was still the sort of thing that makes news, and not just by our own admittedly low thresholds of newsworthiness.

Me on a touristy bus, all in the midst of the hurricane weather, holding on for dearest self.
Me on a touristy bus, all in the midst of the hurricane weather, holding on for dearest self.

We got calls from all kinds of loved ones before, during and after the storm, each wishing us well and begging to know we were alright. We were indeed all right, but this Hurridean Cain was truly super, man (or some recombinant encombination thereof, naturally.)

As the storm system came aground — as it just barely did by meteorological standards — we were tucked snug in the arid confines of the southern dry forest area of Puerto Rico. Though the rainy season, the odd inches of rain we received in a single day were as much as the county generally gets in a year. Needless to say, there was to be none of us playing outside, as we have done so much of this summer.

The rain came down in waves of sheets of wettest, warmest, windiest nastiness. A quick sprint from door to car was enough to soak us through from lightest t-shirt to soggiest Huggies, as whichever of the relevant cases may have been.

The winds were the sort of thing that knocked us sideways in our all-out run, and the parents fared no better, despite their respective masses of self-proclaimed “working on it” magnitudes. Even they were tossed around like gigantic, squishy rag dolls in the wind.

The worst of all of it was the — and I’m not sure I’m saying this correctly — dunder and lightning. The two are indiscernible to me, since they’re both elements of God’s seemingly random will, but I know one is flashy, and the other quite loud. Like more flashy than indoor photography, and louder than those obnoxious advertisement trucks that roll through the neighborhood at a quarter-to-seven on Sunday mornings extolling the virtues of early enrollment in the nearby trade college.

Seriously, it was that bad and only slightly less useful.

When all was said and done, which we made sure of by weeks prior to publishing this article, the storm had passed with minimal utility interruption, zero road closures, and only shoe-deep puddles of stagnant mosquito water by which to remember it… oh, also the mosquito bites and risk of dengue, but it’s a small price to pay for having survived Hurricane Dean, Hurridean Cain, or whatever it was we called this tropically weathered madness.

Now if only the driver’s could have been bothered to slow the heck down for it, why then we might have had a truly newsworthy story. I tell you people, these drivers here are just about off their nuts when it comes to respecting mother’s nature and nurture. It can be sheer madness I tell you, whether in light of hurricane weather or otherwise.

Above - The rain came down like nobody's business, except perhaps for Weather.com's, but even that nonsensically inaccuarate website wasn't as accurate as looking out the window. Never is, but what do I know I'm just a fourling?
Above – The rain came down like nobody’s business, except perhaps for Weather.com’s, but even that nonsensically inaccuarate website wasn’t as accurate as looking out the window. Never is, but what do I know I’m just a fourling?
Hurricane clouds in Puerto Rico Above - This is the actual view from the balcony of our house. It may look ominous, but only because it was. You should have heard the thunder, or lightning, whichever one it is that makes all that noise.
Hurricane clouds in Puerto Rico
Above – This is the actual view from the balcony of our house. It may look ominous, but only because it was. You should have heard the thunder, or lightning, whichever one it is that makes all that noise.
Above - We spent a couple minutes on the balcony watching the storm unravel all around us and it was loud, loud, loud, certainly nothing we wanted to be outside for.
Above – We spent a couple minutes on the balcony watching the storm unravel all around us and it was loud, loud, loud, certainly nothing we wanted to be outside for.
Above - Even inside, safe in our concrete house, the thunder was enough to make us cover our ears... if only there was some kind of visual cue that would come before a thunder clap, perhaps by a few seconds, that would be just great, don'tcha think?.
Above – Even inside, safe in our concrete house, the thunder was enough to make us cover our ears… if only there was some kind of visual cue that would come before a thunder clap, perhaps by a few seconds, that would be just great, don’tcha think?.

 

We Be Jamón

You thought that jamón was a thing of the past? No, no, we bee jamón, and I think this ham is gonna last. Being in the Caribbean, I think of all other things Caribbean, no matter how loosely associated. So when I see a sign that offers jamón y queso, I know I just have to say the word and we’ll be jamón ’til the morning comes.

Oh, I get it. This is ham AND cheese, hammoncheese.
Oh, I get it. This is ham AND cheese, hammoncheese.

Of course, Carlito brought us the jamón, and it turns out it’s just ham, but that didn’t stop me. Not because I’m terrified of embarrassment (which I am) nor because I love cheese so much, (which I do), but because when God gives you lemon-braise, you make honey ham, specifically on a hoagie, more specifically with mayonnaise.

If there’s one thing that can make a misunderstanding go down more smoothly, it’s got to be French Fries with a condiment such as ketchup or catsup, at least one of which was in a solo ounce dollop cup beside my saltiest, most delicious potato fritters. There’s no bitter pill to swallow when you’re elbow deep in fried po-tates.

This article was going to be longer and more in depth, but that was before I found out what jamón actually is. Thought I was on the cusp of something really insightful there, but it just goes to show you how much revelation one can experience in the face of a hammoncheese sammich.

If you’ll excuse me, I must trouble maestro for an additional napkin or thirty. In the meantime, you keep jamón worth much more than gold.

Above - I'm not sure if I'm doing this consciously or not, but I'm plainly pointing out what will shortly be my folly with a finger other than the one traditionally used to do so... it's as if, whether I knew it or not, I kind of did know it. Nothing against ham & cheese or anything, just would have liked to have been in the know before I ordered.
Above – I’m not sure if I’m doing this consciously or not, but I’m plainly pointing out what will shortly be my folly with a finger other than the one traditionally used to do so… it’s as if, whether I knew it or not, I kind of did know it. Nothing against ham & cheese or anything, just would have liked to have been in the know before I ordered.