Our Tropical Journal

La Lucha Continúa

This is so tough. In addition to the grim issues facing us, just learning how to balance the required responses, with life, is hard. Life. Remember life before this takeover/election/inauguration? Remember spending time thinking about what to cook for dinner? — how best to finish that quilt for a grandchild? Choosing the right paint color has lost some appeal these days.

From one of our kid guests

A favorite guest letter from a little boy we taught to catch tarantulas.

Like most of us, I’m drowning in emails, calls and letters; trying my best to share the truly most important articles, petitions, and bits of information, helping to organize small, or attending large, community meetings. Granted, other than the finca, I’m retired, so I find days filling up, and overflowing, with it all — and with no end in sight. This afternoon I’m listening to a national call from the ACLU, about forthcoming lawsuits. The other day, we listened to an Indivisible/Move-on/Working Families call with over 25,000 others. I have to say, it’s encouraging to hear experienced professionals share very pragmatic strategies and tactics. Yesterday I wrote postcards with a group of women over coffee. All the while I’m wondering — am I doing enough? Too much? Not enough? And you’re likely wondering how does this have anything to do with the finca?

It’s interesting. Yesterday I was starting to spin out and bog down from it all. When do I get to get my glasses fixed? When do I stop feeling overwhelmed with dread ? Sitting at my computer, determined to get something done for myself, invariably, my fingers continued to click on links. Insidious news stories keep creeping up the right margin of my brain. I’m supposed to check on a technical glitch in our site, but, instead of the the next horrendous news item — I press on our reviews.

That’s where you come in. Our guests. I spend the next half hour drenched in finca love, reading a handful of sweet notes from folks who’d stayed just this winter. A magic healing balm. To read about how much guests love the place always feels good, but I read more. I noticed people wrote about the shared main house kitchen, how they made friends with other guests, how they’d never done that before, and how the place lent itself to openness and sharing. And that felt more than good. Like we had done something that mattered. If we can do anything that helps brighten your stay, great. If the finca can change the way we work with, interact with new people, or travel more openly — all the better.

Now let’s be clear, I’m not at the finca, right now. Scott and Bill T are at the helm, working their _______ (flip flops?) off this winter. Bill P and I have to be in the States for medical stuff, so I take no credit for being the consummate hosts that they are. Heartfelt thanks, and great reviews go out to them! We are up here, remotely trying to manage the final steps of the solar array, paying the bills, finding groups to lead workshops. It can feel pretty removed from the place. But suddenly, reading these kind words —  I am not only back there in the palms and sunshine, I’m part of a bigger effort that is built on love. Love of people — all people, of the planet, of honesty, of creative self-expression, of community. And it’s in Puerto Rico, a place, at least comparatively, missing racism, anger or pretension; a place of love and tolerance, where warmth seems to come as much from my neighbors as it does that strong sun. A place that has taught me so much, like looking every person you walk by, in the eye, with a “hello” — at the very least. The place we’d be if only we could. Thanks to this crazy online world, and the folks who take time to share their sweet memories and good wishes,  I get to share in the love vicariously.  And that helps me find the balance I need.

Who knew? Who would have guessed that a hotel review can be one more way of sharing the love? Like saying “buen día” to everyone you pass by, ride the elevator with, or share the main house kitchen with. Who would’ve known that just being kind — in the littlest ways — could matter so much?

“La lucha continua”, as they say on Vieques,  — the cause, the struggle lives on. Sprinkling kindness into the mix sure helps.

 

(( My Tropical Journal is my not-so-regular blog — on lafinca.com. la finca vieques, the oldest, maybe only, dedicated eco-resort on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. We’re a cluster of five handmade houses and a sweeping rustic villa for groups, families friends, romantic getaway offering a more community alternative to mainstream inns or the separateness of airbnb online rentals. No-chemical pool, three acres of natural landscaping & fruit trees (we love to share!) and a score of hammocks…and you have the coolest place on the coolest island. #caribbean eco resort, #back packer hotel, #eco travel, and #off the beaten path to boot! Learn how to escape. The magic of la finca vieques eco resort.#green travel, #group travel #gay friendly, #family friendly #slow travel… giving all inclusive a whole new meaning! ))

To birthdays, solstice, & the light returning

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It’s an interesting sort of birthday this year…

All I really want I can’t have…I want the electoral college to save our nation, the suffering in Syria and every where else to somehow end, and Bill’s cancer to go away.

Consequently, I’m having a hard time figuring out quite what to do to celebrate, or how. Usually by now I’m blasting the house and neighboring jungle with my favorite tunes, as we cook up a big dinner for friends. This year few friends are here yet and I can’t find the cable that connects my iPod to the speaker.

Luckily, Tito our gardener came by with Buchi, his friend with a backhoe. They wanted to talk to us about how best to push back the jungle. They brought us homemade coconut and guava arepas. Suddenly all was not lost. I had a birthday breakfast. And, in fact, it’s still a beautiful day, from my favorite vantage point, the swing on the deck of the main house, where the palm fronds rattle and dance in today’s warm winds; where Smidge curls and purrs next to me in the sun, and clouds glide steadily across the Caribbean headed west and north, like we will Thursday. Way too soon.

They say we never know how much something means to us until we’re about to lose it. Like our health, like losing our winter down here this year — and of course possibly our democracy, free press, speech, climate science research et al. not to mention the federal wildlife refuge here on Vieques.

But what about our sense of humor? Joy? Celebration? Have the scoundrels figured out how to take all that too? I want and need to be stronger and better than that — for the kids and grandkids I’m coming home to, and all my favorite young friends. I have to be that fun old lady…if I, and the rest of us who are ascending into that third chapter, don’t, who the hell will? Who will light up their lives?

Speaking of which, there’s a Lights out Inauguration Day protest I’ve been asked to support. For some reason — that one I just can’t get in to. I can’t stand the idea of sitting in the dark that day and night as we tumble into this uncertain future. Times are dark enough. I want the lights and music on and blaring! I want friends over for great food and wine and laughter.

Guess I better find that cable.

Happy solstice friends, and any all of everything you celebrate. With love, corky 

(( My Tropical Journal is my not-so-regular blog — on lafinca.com. la finca vieques, the oldest, maybe only, dedicated eco-resort on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. We’re a cluster of five handmade houses and a sweeping rustic villa for groups, families friends, romantic getaway offering a more community alternative to mainstream inns or the separateness of airbnb online rentals. No-chemical pool, three acres of natural landscaping & fruit trees (we love to share!) and a score of hammocks…and you have the coolest place on the coolest island. #caribbean eco resort, #back packer hotel, #eco travel, and #off the beaten path to boot! Learn how to escape. The magic of la finca vieques eco resort.#green travel, #group travel #gay friendly, #family friendly #slow travel… giving all inclusive a whole new meaning! ))

Different Ways to Escape

La Finca

La Finca

Remember that post…way back last winter, when I proclaimed “This is where and how it would happen?” Ahhh. Such confidence. Such naïveté. Even at my age. I showed my little makeshift desk in the quiet corner of Casa Nueva, drenched in that first sweet honeyed-morning light, surrounded by the day’s early twitterings of birds and bugs. Things that the finca offers up so beautifully, like the warmth itself.

I say now, sort of numbed by the news. Wrapped in a thick sweater, looking out on a chilly grey post Election Day… I am not at the finca, I’m at our little homestead on the Olympic Penninsula. A world, and now almost a lifetime away from Vieques la finca, and that post back in January. Of course the election has turned me upside down, inside out. Sending this out now seem sort of ridiculous. But…I’m determined to try and regain my footing, carry on and get to work. Writing does that for me. Connecting with our finca friends really helps. I want to get our Love Trumps Hate offer out to you. So, onward!

The good news is — it did get done. Not there, and not then, but I wrote the flippin’ book. My 250-page graphic memoir manuscript is sitting here next to me. After 5 years, that feels pretty darn amazing. I’m a starter, big picture gal, and a chronic team player. To finish a book, you have to keep going, relentlessly, go into the detailed weeds of odd, maybe neglected garden patches you had maybe hoped to be done with. And you are most completely, alone. None of these are very comfortable for me.

But if there’s one thing that is easy for me, it’s loving the finca and sharing her stories. The finca has always felt like a fourth child of mine. Like any proud mama, I can brag endlessly about our award winning, little Caribbean eco resort, and the number of stars she earned on Trip Advisor this week, or the blog she was mentioned in. How she’s so friendly, she’s eco-friendly, gay-friendly, family-friendly. Heck, our little la finca makes friends with everyone who comes to visit. Yep. Just get me started, and I’m hard to stop. So out the stories poured.

Treasures

Treasures

It didn’t happen last winter as I had pledged, though. Within weeks of that blog post Bill was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My silly book became the very last thing on my mind, and a morning routine to call my own, the last thing to happen. But over the past 10 months as he has fought both the tumor and the chemo, life has settled down for us. Now we can breathe, laugh, even sail, relax, work, garden and hike, again. Bill is doing great. We continue to learn a lot, and life is good despite our sharing it with cancer. I have managed to carve out time for myself again. In fact, the writing has been my salvation; focus, escape, and reward. So what do I do now? Now that he’s feeling better and the writing part is done? Guess I like to complicate things. It’s going to be a graphic memoir, annotated, almost finca scrapbook… So now I dive into all the visuals. It’s my hope that when it’s done, done, you dear reader, one could pick up the book and escape into the finca just reading it, like I have, writing it. Give me a few months, and maybe you’ll be able to do just that. If not…there’s the sure fire escape route. Come on down! We will be there late November, and as always, we’d love to see you!

(( My Tropical Journal is my not-so-regular blog — on lafinca.com. la finca vieques, the oldest, maybe only, dedicated eco-resort on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. We’re a cluster of five handmade houses and a sweeping rustic villa for groups, families friends, romantic getaway offering a more community alternative to mainstream inns or the separateness of airbnb online rentals. No-chemical pool, three acres of natural landscaping & fruit trees (we love to share!) and a score of hammocks…and you have the coolest place on the coolest island. #caribbean eco resort, #back packer hotel, #eco travel, and #off the beaten path to boot! Learn how to escape. The magic of la finca vieques eco resort.#green travel, #group travel #gay friendly, #family friendly #slow travel… giving all inclusive a whole new meaning! ))

Swingin’ high…and Sometimes low

Even time in a hammock has highs and lows. Even life here in “Paradise” (a term I actually never use to describe this complex little island of ours) can get down right challenging. Seems like no matter where we live these days, the challenges are harder to escape. They’re environmental, political, socio-economic, racial, and educational.

it's how we roll...

it’s how we roll…

Human rights, common sense and courtesy seem almost relics from the past. As my neighbor, (who’s fighting three kinds of cancer) said, as she stopped to see how Bill and I were doing. “Name me one thing that isn’t broken these days!” as she laughingly bemoaned the state of the world. The answer was easy. The flowers in her hand she had grown and was bringing us; they weren’t broken. They were perfect. But still, I know all too well, what she’s talking about. Remember when finca blogs and posts were about our cute cats sprawled in the warmth off the deck, or the evening cheeping of frogs and crickets, the laughter of new friends — our guests — in music jams or charades games up at the main house? Lately our posts are geared to get you to sign this or that petition; to save Vieques National Wildlife Refuge land, or Puerto Rican public beaches from being sold to developers, or to let know you know about the “bail out” (another term I don’t use to describe that travesty). With all this going on, I can forget we are in the vacation business; the business of helping people have FUN. Sounds a little silly and superficial for these trying times. But ya know, maybe carving out time to laugh and relax is more important than ever. AKA vital. Last year my son asked me for some help with this “whole meaning of life thing.” After a few days, it came to me: maybe it’s just: FIND JOY (and if you can’t then) CREATE JOY (and when you do) SHARE JOY. (And if you can’t get started — then ask for help!) It’s simple, but I haven’t found anything that makes any more sense. It dawns on me that this little formula is at the core of being an innkeeper at the finca. We love to share the joy. So, voila! The answer to what ails ya! Now’s the time! Go on, or plan, a vacation to the finca!

A recent joyous 60th birthday at la finca

A recent joyous 60th birthday at la finca

Perfect except, for one thing. Zika. Yep. Now, just when you would think folks would be more than ready to escape, they’re avoiding Vieques and Puerto Rico because of Zika. Can’t say I blame them. The media makes it sound, like we’re swimming in the stuff. Meanwhile, the last I heard, there hasn’t been one official case from Vieques. The one friend who had it, over on the main island, said it was a mild week-long flu. Of course there’s the chilling possible birth defect link, but no one seems to know how much of a link there is. I look, but can’t find real answers. I’m not saying the media, or government sources are wrong, or that I know better. Hardly. I don’t have a clue what’s going on. Nor do any of our Vieques friends and neighbors.

All we know is that poor Puerto Rico is hurting. Tourism is pretty much on hold right now. We wait. Some island businesses have already folded. All of us are struggling to get through; cost cutting every hurting pinch of the way. We were hoping Congress might have done something before another recess; but no such luck. We’re stuck with waiting…

There’s a hospitality mantra: “Never let ’em see you sweat.” That’s because we don’t like to burden anyone with our woes. We like to keep your fun, FUN. So I’m sort of breaking cardinal rules, by letting my hair down … But how can I not? We don’t want anyone to come down and worry about Zika — that wouldn’t be any fun at all. But we do want you to come. So…how about this? If, for whatever reason, you aren’t worried about Zika, here’s

FIND JOY & 50% OFF ALL FALL for you, your friends and family. Seriously! A stay at the finca for HALF OFF! Now to Dec 15th, or

SHARE JOY in the new year with a super insider’s good-buddy rate, on any five-day house or cabin rental. You just need to call us for rates and details, at (787) 741-0495. Oh…what if it was that easy? What if we could all help CREATE JOY! and that, in turn, helped create more!

Hope you can come on down and see how high the hammock can take ya…even in these trying times. And, if not now… Let these crazy times lighten up soon! — c

doing good business

It’s sort of funny to think of aging hippies as business people, but we can be. As “radically left,” and dedicated to the common good as I strive to be; as off-beat and casual (aka quirky, wacky) as I hear I am, I’m figuring out I’m a business person, an entrepreneur — by choice, by avocation. (There’s nothing that says you can’t be both. Both Main and Wall Streets might work better if there were more alternative businesses around, but I digress…) I realize now that I thrive on making concepts come alive, and I love connecting people. I’m starting to recognize that that’s what business, at its best, may mean — at least for me. Of course, with the finca, being my favorite lil’ business around, I’m all the more excited about new business we are drumming up; the growing number, and kinds, of group stays we’ve been hosting. It’s good — in all sorts of ways — business.

Yoga by the pool: tamar melen photography

Yoga by the pool by tamar melen photography

A few blogs back I asked folks if they might be interested in leading a group workshop or retreat at the finca. Too vague. I got a handful of noncommittal responses in return. So I decided to go a bit deeper. I started reaching out online to people who lead groups, in anything I could think of — yoga, writing, watercolor & sketching, bird watching, paddle boarding, or drumming (etc etc etc) and introduced them to the finca, as a place they might want to check out for the future. That worked out great. The leaders are delighted of course, because the participants have a great time, and because they were able to either make a little money, or pay their travel, food and lodging for a week at the finca, and usually all of the above.

As I saw how relatively easy it was to organize and pull off these successful group retreats and workshops, I started seeing opportunities for friends, colleagues, and neighbors, who could, and dare I say, should, be leading their own. I decided to keep going, and go deeper. And that has been really fun.

First was Elizabeth, a writer/professor at SUNY. Elizabeth was editing my book when we started talking about the benefits of writing retreats. From years of teaching, she has scores of online and classroom students. She mentioned she’d love to do a memoir writing retreat week with them sometime. So what now? It was an on-going dream she’d had for years, without any idea, when, or how…it would ever happen. So voila! Why not now? I helped her with some basics on structuring it, (ironically this was just as she was helping me structure my book) a few marketing ideas to get the word out to her students, and some travel logistics. The next thing you know, she’s filling Casa Grande, and hosting her first writing workshop. That was last year. This June, Elizabeth will host her second retreat; with more students than last year’s, and some repeat participants who didn’t want to miss out. That says a lot, but it’s not uncommon. elizabethdcohen.com

Then I started thinking about Vicky, our Spanish teacher, at our local community college — up in Port Townsend, Washington. Vicky has taken a couple of her students with her to Spain. I’ve told her about a Spanish language week we’d enjoyed so much in the Pyrenees last year. Bingo. It dawned on both of us, that together we could pull off a great immersion-like language “camp” for intermediate Spanish students, centered on Vieques — and its natural and cultural history. We worked together to plan the week’s activities, organize the food service and what all else. Vicky held her first week this last winter and has just released the dates for next year’s. Think she’s pretty well booked (some of her students called last year’s “The best vacation ever,” so word has gotten out) but if you’re interested, check out SpanishLanguageCampVieques

bird watching at the beach

Our first Spanish language camp

After years of watching groups from the sideline, whether they’re writers, yogis, divers, or marine biology graduate research students, I’ve learned about what it takes to make workshops really work — easily, wonderfully for all concerned. I judge our success rate by the numbers that sign up for another the next year. Sometimes it’s the same participants who want to return for more. The group often expands over the years with more and more folks signing up.

It’s fun to watch their “business” grow, as well as our own. And in addition to the array of interesting group leaders, the finca, itself, is part of the success. I like to think it works it’s magic on folks. There’s something about group stays at the finca; I’m intrigued how the place seems to make people just feel at home. Is it just the impact of the buildings? – its funky worn lumber? Or the sounds of these palm fronds in the breezes, on the roof? Something here helps folks connect with themselves, and with others. It really does become the group’s own tropical summer camp.

Last week I was explaining all this to my Goddaughter; how much I love this win/win/win thing we have going, and helping folks realize a dream, sharpen their professional leadership, or just make some money. They win by learning they can do something they didn’t know they could. I feel empowered by empowering them. The finca wins, and the guest, the participant, who has just spent a great long weekend or week in the sun, learning and playing, wins. She immediately thought of her friend Chelsea, who founded Wildcraft Studio School in the Columbia Gorge. She’d been looking for winter ideas for her peeps; her every expanding list of Wildcraft participants. As soon as Chelsea and I connected in email, we both got excited about the possibilities. She’s off now, conjuring up some great Wildcraft week at the finca. Stay tuned…wildcraftstudioschool.com/

By now I have distilled the secret sauce formula for what it takes to make a winning retreat or workshop, down to three things: — a fun, knowledgeable leader/content provider — an easily transportable subject matter or activity (i.e. sketching vs. steel sculpture, yoga vs. weightlifting) — access to a database list of your own/potential participants large enough to get you a minimum of seven, maximum of 25 participants. If there’s anything else, it’s a sense of adventure, a bit of trust, and sense of humor.

La Casa Montessori School has been coming to the Finca for 17 years!

La Casa Montessori School has been coming to the Finca for 17 years!

The leaders who are both “go with the flow” and pretty darn organized do the best. Or maybe just have the most fun. In all the amazing folks who have wandered through our doors, there has got to be at the very least a few more adventurers who are not only capable of the stretch of “hosting your own” group week with us, but who might benefit from it…financially, personally, professionally. Heck it’s a free, paid week at the Finca.

Like I said, I love having the chance to connect with people. It’s why I love being an innkeeper. If I can help you connect with other great folks, all the better. We’re building a network of friends; folks who like learning and doing in a beautiful natural place. Whatever this finca magic is, utilizing and sharing it just seems like good business.

Making work play,
corky

When and Where and How it’s Going to Happen

At pre-dawn; dark with a wash of lightening periwinkle to the southeast, behind the lace of the silhouetted flamboyan tree, one or two last strong stars, before they bow out, and the backdrop of last cheeps and chirps.
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They change at this time of day, from the all night bug chatter to birds. And these literal early birds won’t last past sun up; another shift takes over then. For this next hour the birds and frogs and crickets, and really who knows what, all make these crazy noises overlap into a cacophony. It’s a wonder most folks sleep through it. I don’t usually. I don’t like to miss this beauty, quiet, cool, alone time – when the finca is most mine.

Not of course that I don’t love to share it. You know I do. That’s what the finca is all about. But this winter, my life down here is all about my book, which for now I’m calling Duct Taped Dreams: the Story of the Finca and How We Pulled it Off. I finished its first draft this past fall, sent it off for editing, and now, with that, the holidays, the transition of moving back, and getting settled — it’s time for me to get to the revisions; the scrubbing and the reworking, akin to housework and puttering, or even daily inn-keeping. Nothing too hard; enjoyable really — in any of them, I’m working with something imageI love; either my home, the book, our guests, and the finca. All life is work. But I love it. And now, the first moments of silence for over 12 hours. Remarkable. The frogs and insects have folded up and hunkered down. The first shift of birds have had their say. The valley’s dogs and chicken have must have all been fed while I was writing…so other than the hum of the fan here in my jungle cabin, it is silent. Even just for a moment, this total quiet is so rare as to be startling, and precious. Ahhhhhh…there are the roosters. And the rattling of dishes over in the cabana. New birds are tuning up. It’s another day starting at the finca and I have work to do.

In gratitude for that, and all of this, c

Thinking of you

Ok. Do me a favor. Let me know if you still get this poor neglected blog, that I haven’t looked at in over a year. If you do, and you actually read it, awesome. I’m flattered, surprised, impressed the systems are all and working, and now I’m going to let you in on a little secret, that I’m excited about.

A very rough draft of a cover page collage idea...

A very rough draft of a cover page collage idea…

I’m actually doing it. That which many of you have asked about. I’m finally really sitting down, (as in most days, and for many hours) and writing the finca story. Or guess it’s more accurate to say “my” not “the,” as I’m sure there are many, many other perspectives and versions of this crazy place from all who’ve wandered through over these 19 years. For me, I’m just trying to answer the question y’all ask so often; the how and why behind it all.

For some reason, the stars have aligned and I’m taking myself, or at least this writing project somewhat seriously. The good news is, I’m having a ball doing it. (How could I not, writing about the place and all of you?) The sad part is, it’s going to take a while because for some crazy internal drive on my part — most every page will be illustrated, annotated, collaged. At least that’s the plan for now.

That’s why I haven’t written here. I was afraid writing a blog would distract my focus, but now, I’m thinking differently. At AWP, the enormous amazing writers’ conference I went to last week I heard over and over again how writing here to you in our blog, can help me with the larger project. So bingo!

But here’s the deal: I’m giving you fair warning that I’m going to be posting these silly bloggy finca missives more regularly (how’s that for vague?) maybe monthly? Quarterly? Who knows…But don’t worry, you can get out now, or whenever you want; just unsub, if you’re not interested in getting another blog in your inbox. No hard feelings, I will never know…Otherwise, come on in, get comfortable, and let me know that you’re with me.

But, you should know, by signing on, I’m apt to use you as motivation and encouragement to keep going. Not quite sure…but If I ask a question, I’m seriously looking for your input, and want it! Even if I don’t, I’d LOVE to hear from you.

All I know about this amorphous “you” that I’m writing to, is that you signed up for this blog on the finca’s site or while making a reservation, either intentionally, or inadvertently. That means, I’m guessing, you’ve probably either stayed with us, or wanted to… So I’m assuming, for those who didn’t unsub yet, that you are one of “us;” a friend of the finca and therefore a pal of mine…even if we haven’t met. Gotta say, as a writer, I’m very lucky to have met so many of you over all these years. It makes it that much more fun to be able to conjur images of you, your families, and friends, and the good times shared at the finca.

But, I haven’t had my coffee yet, so I’m going to scoot. Just woke up with you on my mind I guess…even when I’m not on my shift, there at the finca…I’m thinking of you. Thanks so much, for coming there, and being here…corky

Accidental Farming on Vieques

Right now is one of those magic, peaceful moments when things are wondrously quiet. All houses, cabanas, casitas and the whole guest house, are full, but still sleeping — despite the roosters from the farm access the valley, who seem intent on waking the world. Rustling palms muffle the crowing I guess…

Botones naps beneath the nursery, an old sink we found under the main house.

Botones naps under the nursery, an old sink we found under the main house.

Drinking my coffee, looking out into the banana grove, I see something brown and small flying amongst the branches. And then, I see. It’s just a lizard. You know, one of those flying lizards, the ones that know how to launch from who knows where, and somehow land on the slightest twig of a papaya branch. Boom…. there he is. Happy to be on the bouncing branch, like I am happy to be watching.

Honestly, am I just easily impressed — or is that really cool? Bill agrees. He has become our fruit tree guy, monitoring and picking ripe fruit for the guests. He knows the secret hiding banana bunches, and when folks are most likely to see the hummingbirds who come to visit the giant blossoms. The papaya tree alone, makes us both smile. It’s one of the many volunteer papayas now popping up all over the finca. (Thank God for green papaya salad!) We have volunteers and accidents aplenty.

Like my garlic plant; the one that’s been growing up and out of our kitchen sink-drain. Truth is, I found it a week ago, poking through the slots of the dish drainer. (Okay, I’m sure there are plenty of folks who might have spotted him earlier) but there it was, a green and growing thing! A healthy, determined, sprouted garlic clove in our manager’s cabin sink. Loved him like a pet, I did — for a week — then I finally admitted he’d be happier in real dirt (more than my sink offers) so I moved him our to my budding nursery, where I plant my baby cuttings, young herb and veggie starts; seedlings I’ve gathered from farming friends on Vieques.

I get joy from the accidental garlic, and his new neighbors, the gandule (pigeon peas to savvy northerners) tree seedlings that grow easily an inch a day. These proud and strapping young cuties are the direct descendants of the trees that line the walk into Jorge’s homestead. If you knew Jorge, and his amazing one man piece of farming heaven, you’d be impressed, trust me. His is my favorite, truly awe-inspiring, traditional Puerto Rican hill top vegetable farm on the island. We took Alice Waters up there to visit last year when she’s stayed with us. Even Alice, whose probably visited more cool farms — well, certainly more than anyone I can think of, or imagine, even she admired Jorge’s green handiwork.

When I admired the young trees, last week, Jorge snapped off a couple of pods for me to take home and plant. So maybe they’re not quite accidental, but remarkable nonetheless. (Read up on gandules all ye interested farmer types) – and here they are here, thriving in my little winter nursery pot, among the racao, the rosemary, the mint. All of whom, like the papayas, like the cocos, and bananas, starfruit and even pomegranates, have come our way through friends and neighbors, bird droppings, or kitchen sinks. La Finca Caribe is not a farm, we’re a funky old guesthouse and a odd assortment of little houses, scattered across a south-facing hillside. But we’ve somehow gathered lots of growing goodies to share, and happy guests to enjoy them with.

By accident? Some folks say there are no accidents. My mom used to say, “we’re all accidents.” Who knows?…And who knows where that lizard went? I gotta go do laundry.

Launching the site

Working on the siteMuchas gracias! How many folks helped build this new website and for how long? Three years, more maybe? The fits and starts, crazy mishaps and what not, would bore and confound us all. Argh. What’s important is — its here! Finally — a site worthy of our beloved finca! So…sigh… Muchas, muchas gracias to the A Team! Anne T. and April for the long haul and beautiful and functional site!! Anne B. for her illustrations, Anika for the original concept and Andrea for her efforts. Oh! and to Bill for floor plans, maps, and drawings…and all else. xox

Now we have a finca blog to play with friends! A place for us to share memories and drawings, wild ideas and suggestions etc etc. Important finca news like Little Buddy, the teeny tropical frog whose lived in our bathroom sink drain for the past few years just having babies!! I know its a mystery to us too. One, we thought Buddy was a guy, (not sure why) and Two…how’d we miss the tadpole phase?? Nothing like looking down the drain, when you’re brushing your teeth, wondering if you’re spitting on a swarm of tiny tadpoles. Ahhhh…the mysteries and magic of life at the finca.

The even bigger news is that our dear friends and great managers, Captains Pam and Graham, are leaving us, to return to their life at sea. So, come December, when we take over for the winter again, they’ll take off for saltier adventures. This is too small a space to express our big thanks for all that they’ve done(!) They’ll be missed…but they have the place in their blood now, so they’ll be back — at least for dinner and playing music on the deck the next time they need a few days on dry land.

For those interested in the personal story behind the finca, I’m including it here to help get us started. Warning though…it wasn’t written as a blog…just ramblings that come from my trying to answer the often-asked how and why did we ever decide to do this? So have at it — if like me, you’ve ever wondered “what the heck were we thinking??”

Careful What You Wish For…

There’s a goat leg in the front yard,

            a tiny frog who lives in my shower,

                      a bong on the front desk,

                                 and some guest’s underwear soaking in the sink

Isaak_Poster

This blog is going to be about la finca caribe, three acres, and a cluster of cabins in the hills of Vieques, a small island east of Puerto Rico; about me and my family finding it, loving it, and holding onto it, despite the odds and fact that we had no idea what we were doing. Somehow, at the same time, we were making one of the biggest and best decisions of our lives. Maybe ultimately, it’ll be about how much you can learn from a place. It’ll be an interesting challenge to write personally, honestly about something that’s also a business. Careful what you blog… (it isn’t my fault one of our dear guests kept wanting to do her hand washing in the main house kitchen sink…)

I like to think and write about the choices we make, and the choices that make us; the dreams that drive them all. I’m interested in the signposts we choose to read, and the flashing orange warning lights we pretend not to see.

It’s about listening, even in the din of tropical depressions, to a spirit place inside, and out; and figuring out how to stay standing, with luck, even grounded, when everyone tells you not to bother. It’s about being okay when goat legs and horse skulls arrive on your front yard, and learning to sleep alone through thunderstorms that rattle the roots of your teeth. It’s about learning how to at least appear gracious and forgiving, when it’s the last thing you feel, and, about the silly futility of asking “por que?”

I’m writing because our guests ask. They often ask the why, and the how behind it all. But I never know how serious they are, or how much they really want to hear. Sometimes I wonder if they’re really asking for the steps; the instructions: The DIY How-To Ditch the Work World Ten Step. They want to know if it’s safe, or how hard it is? Do you have to be a weirdo? I see it in their eyes. But I’m usually busy hanging the laundry, or duct taping a fix to some emergency, so I can dodge the question. And now that I’ve started all of one whole page, I can point them to the blog.

I don’t really know the full “why,” behind the finca. But I like thinking about it. I don’t know what made me have the guts, or foresight, or just missing marbles, to fall in love with a piece of property and this little island. Not just a passing fancy mind you, but acting on it, and making a commitment. And Puerto Rico, a foreigner no less. If that’s not scandalous enough, I was forty, old enough to know better, already married, with children…But Vieques was too tempting; a rugged, sun-drenched, non-conformist. Add a Spanish accent and palm fronds tossing like open arms…well, better not get me started. Or, maybe you already have.

Yep, a lot can happen to a gal in 17 years…

…or a family, or a small, Caribbean island.

When we first got to Vieques in 1996, it wasn’t included on most maps of the Caribbean. I called it “almost undiscovered,” and all of us were “young,” (in varying relative terms). You could wear cut offs and flip-flops anywhere on the island; clean if you were going out. There was no “shopping;” restaurants were open-air shacks mostly. The beaches were empty and wild. And the finca was just a part of all that.

Over the years, with the advent of the Internet, Google maps, and social media, we’ve seen the world shrink, values and styles change. Early in the new millennium, Vieques was no longer a secret, so I changed to call it, “undeveloped.” Like so many other places, with the secret out, a wannabe celeb-inspired lifestyle came to the island. And, even after the last economic fall out, and leaner times for most folks on the island, conspicuous consumption became the rage.

So now I refer to the island as “changing” and the finca as “rustic” to help distinguish it from what new comers are calling “luxury.” Luxury — what a funny term. One man’s shadow and shadow and all that. Infinity pools and expensive restaurants never meant luxury to me. I always felt at my most luxurious if I was able to grab an evening swim alone in the pool.

Granted, the finca’s pool is cracked and pretty discolored, with a few missing tiles. But, if you look up — as float on your back — you can ignore all that. You can forget the pool installer who never came back to finish the job, the various repairers who ripped you off, the caretakers who tried to hide they used the pool to bathe their long haired Samoyed, or the photos you found of the other caretakers’ parties, showing them smoking dope on the pool house roof, then diving from it, into the six-foot “deep” end. Shudder. Or there was the frat house group – with adult supervision mind you — who put all the garden furniture in the pool one night, and then the reality show video crew — who doused their teen stars in olive oil before rolling them down the grass hill, into the pool, and the resulting matted green globs all over the water and ultimately the pump…

Yep, if you let yourself float and drift, and look up long enough, you can learn to forget all that, and the new designer vacationers running all over the island, looking for an authentic, but air-conditioned restaurant. And then, if I’m blessed with a jet black, star-studded sky, that’s when I’ve found my full-on dream-come-true luxury setting; when I know I’m living larger, luckier than I ever dared dream…grateful to my warm, floating bones.

I look at Vieques, at the finca, our guests, at my kids, and I look in the mirror. All of us growing, aging, and changing over the years; somehow amidst the craziness of it all, learning to stay true to our passions and careful what we wish for.

Puerto Rico

I had been to San Juan once before, for a two-hour layover. But sometimes that’s all you need; like falling for the cute guy in the truck next to you at the red light. Just a brief smile is enough, and you drive away certain its l-o-v-e. How will you ever find him again? Puerto Rico was like that for me.

That was before airport security stations, so out into the hot dark night we ran– trusting our publico driver to take us, quickly, to the best Puerto Rican food near by. The Metropol. A long-time classic; the sort of place Tito Puente would have gone to. More than the look of the place, or any one aroma, the air itself felt almost palpable to me. It seemed redolent of the island’s mix of cultures, layered with tropical overtones, and imbued with a cool, they say suave, Latin pride. Love or infatuation, who cares? I was totally smitten.

Puerto Rico, this oddly organized island nation/culture, has a unique ability to blend the totally classy with complete funk. It offers a mix of traditional and new-fangled, almost cheesy without missing a beat. Maybe it harkens back to the first, and no doubt very formal Spaniards stepping onto the casual sandy shores of this tropical paradise, which it must have been. Maybe that dichotomy helps explain why Puerto Ricans care a lot about important things — like the taste of the food and the grace with which they serve you, but not a hoot about pretensions. The music, the pescado criollo with black beans and rice, the waiters in Guayaberas, their classic white linen shirts; the tempo of their walk. The flowering hedges everywhere. Life here seemed based on taking it easy. Maybe that was why it called to me, and felt familiar. Its values just lined up with my own. Puerto Rico worked its magic on me without even trying; it’s brief Latin version of the red-light smile.

So here I was again, a handful of years later, with a whole family in tow. San Juan was our port of entry, the jumping off point for our quest . Our itinerary focused on two islands, “the Spanish Virgins” that lie off of Puerto Rico’s eastern shore, between it and the US and British Virgin Islands, as well as exploring the main island itself. Traveling and exploring came naturally to the kids and us. We were ready.

David and I, were both in our early 40’s, and married 12 years. Still happy. Tyler was 11, passionate about baseball, backpacking and Nirvana, Gus, seven, spent half of his time in a fantasy world with his GI Joes doing math in his head, and five-year old Xing Ji, missing both her front teeth, changed her American girl doll baby Matilda and she listened to her Little Mermaid soundtrack over and over again. Looking back, I think everyone was remarkably pretty darn happy no matter where we went.

We were united then, in those early fledgling family days as we are today– by a common love of adventure. It could have been in the very process of forming then. What an amazing time in our family’s life together; just plain fun. Curious, exuberant, optimistic fun. President’s Day 1997. I guess fun was our priority – and we were at ages where one sort of fun worked for all of us. God! how I love thinking back to those sweet days. Before any illness, economic collapse, 911, divorce or teenage angst. That trip may reign supreme in my family memories. I’ll have to check in with the kids when I see them next. I wonder how much they remember.

After a night wandering the alleys of Old San Juan and savoring what we all agreed was the best fried chicken that any of us had ever tasted, we took off in a small plane for Culebra, the first of our island exploration. Our red headed Texan pilot, Trixie, had large, bright, honest-to-God plastic flowers in her large, bright red hair. She laughed a lot and loudly. More importantly, almost surprisingly, she sneaked the plane through the hills and their notorious narrow approach, landing us in Dewey, known among the sailing crowd for its rather remarkable protected harbor and canal cutting through its center, and for its ungodly flight path by everyone else.

Culebra offered up its spectacular beaches, a surprisingly nice bagel place, even way back then, and a good Mexican restaurant. But we weren’t there for Western ways. In between our time at the beach and snorkeling with the sea turtles we looked at property. There was even a bed and breakfast for sale. It was all fun. No magic. I wondered how would I know it, if and when I did ever find it? How many travel vacations for how many years would it take? I wasn’t worried or impatient…This would be just the first of many such explorations.

After a few days staying in an old coffee plantation up in Puerto Rico’s Central Cordillera, my Puerto Rican romance started kicking in again. There was that feeling I couldn’t identify or explain. What is it about this country and its culture? Tropical flowers have little fragrance. This was an earthier allure. Maybe the café con leche or the smell of the roadside lechoneras, where whole pigs turn on spits. No time to waste wondering, we were off to our final stop, a week on…

Vieques. Isla Nena…
Instantly I’m feeling at home. There were no bagel places and no Mexican food. There was hardly an open restaurant. Stepping off the boat into Isabel Segunda, the island’s largest town, you are surrounded by, and oddly suspended in, a long term state of disrepair, ranging from maybe recent hurricane damage, to long term tropical decay and total collapse. Amazing plant life, grew up and over it all. Magenta and apricot-hued bougainvillea woven through ornate wrought iron balustrades, philodendron take over a wall.