The trail, from your gently puttering rental car, has gotten cold here on your third day in Puerto Rico. You pull over to the side of a crumbling road in the shade of overgrown brush. Fumbling through a jumbled pile of airline boarding passes and reservation print outs, you dig out the contorted paperwork with the phone number to the exotic fruit orchard. Befit as an advertisement written by a real estate agent with a golden pen, you are heading to a beautiful cabin in the midst of a lush rainforest blessed by exotic fruit trees and a heavenly view. You will drift to sleep to the sound of calming tree frogs and wake to freshly harvested fruit, yet as you glance about, there and here are clearly two different places.
A gentleman answers the phone with a warbly “hello.”
“Hi we are trying to find your place and…”
“Where are you now?”
“We aren’t sure but…”
“Have you passed the bridge?”
“Yes we just passed over a bridge although we aren’t sure if…”
“Great, from there it will be 13 curves in the road and I am located on the left,” he exclaims.
The phone clicks dead.
There is a reason the universal directional methodologies don’t rely heavily on curves. You may think, as we may have thought—and quite correctly so—that a curve is indeed a curve, but, what you may not have wondered, and what we soon realized, is that while a curve is a curve, what happens when a curve is not a curve? This is when problems come about.
And so there you are, driving along and gently pulling on the steering wheel wondering if that ever slight tug counted as a curve. And when you pull at the wheel to the left, then slightly to the right and then to the left again, was that one curve or three? Surely, those blind turns where dump trucks come screaming without warning are counting as a curve, but are you at 7 curves or 10?
And so with or without curves, you have lost count and are, just as before, lost in a landscape of dilapidated buildings, stray dogs, roadside trash and, as any proper road trip should have, the nice warm air blowing in the window. And then, despite the perhaps not so useful directions, you see an old wooden side—weathered, rough-edged and pocked with sloppy handwritten paint—noting your final destination.
Standing in khaki work pants at the edge of the road, at the bottom of a crudely cut driveway, is a thin, old man waving you up.
“This is a forest cockroach,” he proudly declares, lifting the glass jar for you to discern the large black splotch against the cloudless sky. “They eat book bindings,” he adds while staring whimsically at it; certainly an interesting check in procedure to your exotic getaway.
He places the jar down after an uncomfortable amount of smiling at the captured beast, pulls out a messy folder of papers and unfurls a crudely drawn map. “Okay, let me show you some nice trails,” he offers. “This one here I highly recommend. Park your car in this spot here and you will need to bypass the fence with all the markings on it. If you see anyone on the path, you might want to hide, but it is a very nice walk.”
“Let me take you to your cabin,” he finally says. He grabs a machete and you follow him up a hill with overgrown shrubs. “Don’t trip on this wire,” he mentions, motioning throw a thick growth of weeds. “I used to have a goat chained to the wire to keep the pathway trimmed.”
“We don’t have running water,” she says. She heads back to the kitchen.
“How do they make the rice without running water,” you wonder, “and how do they clean their hands?” Two skinny dogs lounge in the corner of the restaurant, periodically biting their fur invariably in search of fleas.
Gray, pallid gristle-pocked chicken sits on a mound of rice. When she goes back into the kitchen, you pick up a piece and flip it over to the dogs. The dog looks at it, confounded. “Eat it,” you whisper, “eat it!” The dog probably only knows Spanish. You get up, take a step from your chair and kick it closer to the dog. He looks quizzically again at it and finally eats it.
The waitress-cook-owner woman comes out of the kitchen. He is working it through his jaws, endlessly chewing, but she thankfully fails to notice. You have several more pieces for the dog to help you with. By the end of the meal he is laying lifelessly on his side.
The door opens and a couple strolls in, the only other guests you’ll see tonight. “It’s our honeymoon,” they announce to the waitress.
Minutes later, you are pulling limes off a tree you are passing on the roadside for their helpful acids that, you hope, will counteract whatever you just digested. Satisfied with your medical dosage, you continue onwards to the relaxing chatter of tree frogs.
Just a few more curves to heaven.
This was the toilet – not a joke: