|We sailed to Puerto Rico-Laura, five year old Sam, and another in the oven, to be named Sophia. It was an end of a chapter, a time I will always treasure, a time of carefree Caribbean adventure. We had lived aboard "bamboo", worked and played on St. John, and eventually sailed the lesser antilles and the north coast of South America. We started a family, started a business, and I began another lifelong interest-bamboo.
Laura had her landscaping business on St John, and I did my bamboo work, making everything from lamps to complete bars and store interiors. Our love of plants was somewhat hindered by the liveaboard lifestyle, we could not grow. So, it was a natural evolution to finally realize our need of land, and end our life on the water.
The soon to be additional crew member was also a factor in our decision, and, after some false starts, and some investigation, we settled in Rincon', a small surfing town on the Western tip of Puerto Rico. Here was the land, the soil, the rain, and the sunsets. Though the cultural and language barriers of this decidedly latin island were formidable, we soon fell into the local scene, a scene not without a sizeable contingent of continentals-surfers, retirees, and a few other St. John refugees.
The search for land, an almost daily task involving bicycle treks throughout the Atalaya peninsula, was disappointing. Most houses were of the Puerto Rican genre, cement mausoleums with bars over the few windows, small, airless rooms, and all situated close together on the road. Having lived in St John, with a tremendous variety of open air architecture, and the quaint traditional, West indian cottages, we were not at all impressed with this "style". It became apparent we would have to build, but where.
I thought I had biked every road there was, but, backtracking sometimes, I'd find something else. Finally, I found a road of unbelievably rural quality, with few houses, views of the ocean, and bikeably close to the beaches. As I coasted down a hill, I noticed an overgrown path/road, closed off long ago. I came back to it, maneuvered through the barbed wire, and followed the path to a grove of ancient mango trees, two giant genip trees, and a ruined foundation in the center. This, I thought, this is it. It was so magical, so heavy with a sense of place, I knew I had found my place. The porch stood in almost perfect repose, its moulded concrete flower pots peaking through the overgrown foliage. It was of the 50's vintage, when Puerto Rico was in the midst of operation bootstrap, an economic program that included bringing affordable housing to the populace. A classic example of the classic houses of that era, before iron bars and flat, leaky roofs that eventually became ubiquitous.
I did my research, and it was indeed for sale. The old farmer who had lived here, who had finally died at the age of 92, had had his final event the year before. His kids didn't want the land, and I did. Long ago, the land was sugar cane, supporting numerous families along the ridge, in near poverty. Then, when sugar prices fell in the 50's, most everyone moved to New York City. The land then reverted to cattle, and finally went fallow for the better part of 15 years. When I arrived, the almost 12 acres was covered in vines, impenetrable, and seemingly in dire need of attention. The road had been a foot path in the 50's, and another footpath went along the ridge and passed the old foundation.
That was in 1992. In the next seven years, we raised our new family, built our "Tropical Treehouse", landscaped the land, and sold our boat. It has been a labor of love, the culmination of every day-dreamed idea, and a fine place to grow up, for all of us. As I worked the land, I collected the evidence of the old mans' longevity, placed alongside tree trunks and rocks- his beer bottles and Phillips milk of magnesia. We found old shoes, chamber pots, perfume bottles, and door hinges, the remnants of a bygone era. We found royal pams, sour orange, sweet orange, African tulip trees, flamboyan trees, all struggling to exceed the grasp of the vines. They did, finally, with our help, and now stretch for the sky. We planted hundreds of native Puerto Rican hardwoods, fruit trees, bananas, and of course, twenty some species of bamboo. I dammed the quebrada (intermittent stream), and now have waterfalls after our periodic gulley washers.
We experienced three hurricanes here, the last of which, Georges, was the true test. We survived, and though we lost many trees and bamboo, you would not know it today, such is the regenerative power of the tropics. The house, and, most happily, my bamboo hooch, stood almost unscathed, though the contortions I witnessed as the storm buffeted the hooch, wore heavy on my confidence.
My family now has opted for a sabbatical, a taste of the North. Sophia has not seen snow, and Sam and I would like to try snowboarding. So, though it is difficult to leave this lovely valley, we are doing it. We will return, but for now, our home is available for other like minded people, and we would be happy to spread the wealth.
|| Home | Details | Selected Topics | Vacation Home | Treehouse Story ||