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The Four Seasons - Summer, Vivaldi
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Hugo Montenegro, 1968
Sisters, Irving Berlin, 1954
Brand New Day, Sting, 1999
Friends, Bette Midler, 1973

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Moving to Vieques, Puerto Rico
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The Gringarican Handbook - stories about moving to Vieques, PR, life in the slow lane and becoming a Gringarican

Moving to Vieques, Puerto Rico

The Four Seasons - Summer, Vivaldi

The roosters are still noisy but not under my window  I'm ready to get up by 4:30 anyway.  My first workman is to be here by 8am.
 
Its a revolving door at Rosada - workmen, bed delivery, Emily borrowing the cart for a Morales run, intermingled with phone calls, jackhammer and concrete drill - all before noon.  Oh, yes, and our realtor - a bottle of Veuve Clicquot in  one hand and two necklaces for repair in the other.
 
I spend the afternoon making more lists, making phone calls and working on those damn windows again.  I keep losing the little clips - why don't they include extras?  With some cleaning, patching, paint and new screens, they will look great.
 
We are adding a half bath in the master bedroom - a skinny, long room that was probably divided into two in another life.  The workers have left me with a nice big hole from the side yard into the bedroom and I catch an interested cat on his way in.  I stuff it with an old towel and then put a milk crate over the inside hole.  God knows what else will come in!  I'm okay with lizards, but would just as soon keep everything else out.
 
 
I then do my Morropo bag lady routine, expecting a few boxes at the post office.  On the way I stop to see Gilly who is running a restaurant in Isabel for awhile.  I can use her Internet, or the internet on the town square, until ours is hooked up - another feat that could take months or an act of God.  Its a package deal, phone and internet, so why don't they get hooked up at the same time?  Don't ask.
 
I have purchased two Puerto Rican kitchen essentials - a calderone (pot) and a tostonera (to smash plantains, of course).  My maiden voyage on the pilotless gas stove (brand name Mabe  dubbed the "maybe"- maybe it will work and maybe it won't) is successful and I heat last night's leftovers in my new calderone while sipping a little vodka.  Life is good.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Hugo Montenegro, 1968

 
What a man!  He went all night.  And if I catch him, and her, and their kids, they'll be soup.  Anyone who thinks roosters crow only at dawn has never been to Vieques.  Maybe they are attracted by all the rotten breadfruit and mangoes that have dropped in the yard?  I must get someone to help me clean up the outside.
Today will be a Clint Eastwood day - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  That is how I have categorized the curtains.  All but one set must go,go,go.  Hopefully, I can find something to fill all the holes I'm going to make in the walls.  I see alot of white paint in my future!!.
 
Isn't there a song about a plastic Jesus?  Well, we now have one, compliments of a past owner.  He will stay on the refrigerator until we find a proper spot.  I pray to plastic Jesus when I take a chance on the shower and find that its not a problem - however, a little scary to shower with an electric cord hanging so close to my face.
  I organize my first day's errands - pharmacia, muebleria (order twin beds), post office, Carolyn's (home items), Health Food Store, Morales and fish market.  After dragging another load up the hill, my next job is to continue cleaning and get the guest room ready for bed delivery.
I move onto the stove/oven.  There is a large center oval burner that is intriguing.  The oven is calibrated in degrees centigrade, so I will have to convert whenever I cook.  Taking down the curtains greatly improves the entire room, however, hardware removal is time consuming.  Many of the "works" of the windows need replacing.  I'll add that to the growing list of things to purchase at the hardware store, appropriately named "Nales".
I haven't had a real meal in two days, so I clean up and head down the street to the Barefoot Bistro.  Hungrily thinking of food makes me remember a dish I recently made for a friend -
Ensalada de Pulpo (Octopus Salad)
2 tins octopus drained (unless you can get fresh and cook it in the pressure cooker)
1 green plantain - cooked aldente and large chop
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, large chop
chopped red pepper             chopped green olives
chopped cilantro                  minced garlic
1 bunch green onions, sliced   minced fresh ginger
capers                                 lemon/lime juice
adobo seasoning                    olive oil
Mix above together.  Delicious!!
Emily from next door and a friend invite me to share their table.  Its a delicious, fun evening with the girls and I have no problem falling asleep from exhaustion.

Sisters, Irving Berlin, 1954

I need my sister.  Its 9:45pm and I am finally eating something - cheese, crackers and vodka.  That's a selection from several of the major food groups - dairy, grain and booze.  I did buy these three food (?) items when I bought downtown Morales out of cleaning products.
 
Up at 4am - well, make that 3 to catch the 4am shuttle to catch the 5:30am plane.  I arrived in Vieques in record time, but unfortunately my checked baggage didn't, so the publico driver I had secured just left my carry on sitting on the sidewalk and took someone else while I was talking to the baggage guys.  Nice guys those drivers.
 
My bag should be on the next plane, arriving in ten minutes.  OK, this gives me a chance to get some dog love from two recently uncaged Chessies and exchange a few pleasantries with their mother.
 
Once at Rosada I open every window that isn't stuck and turn on every fan.  I have my work cut out for me and don't know where to begin, so I just walk around.  I start a list of cleaning supplies.  I can't put any of my clothing away because there's nothing to put it in, plus I need to clean.  Its a Catch 22.  So, I just pull things out and leave a mess.  Unbelievably, the phone works!!  This took an act of God and many phone calls and countless time on hold.  All well worth it now!
 
There is activity next door - the girls with the Chessies that I met at the airport - crazy!  From Las Vegas, Emily will be renting for 3 months with an option for longer.
 
After buying $100 worth of cleaning products, I lug my groceries up the hill (no car).  I have an appointment with the local used car dealer in the morning so hopefully my days of dragging my cart around and looking like a bag lady will soon be over.  At home I am again confused.  At least I cleaned the fridge before I left.  I pile my "products" on the "kitchen table" and let the scrubbing begin, starting with cabinets, which I empty, clean, sort and rearrange.  Where did all of these ugly pictures and curtains come
 from?  I will leave the curtain and picture project for tomorrow as well.
 
The fan in the bedroom only has one speed - slow.  We definitely need more ceiling fans.  The electric cord hanging in the shower is scary.  I can hear my neighbor talking in his sleep.  I want my sister.  I could use a good pants wetting laugh!
 

Brand New Day, Sting, 1999

Buying and selling property can be compared to a love affair - one that goes wrong.  But, that doesn't stop you from doing it all over again!!
 
Although Rosada needs work to make it habitable, Fred and I are ready to take a plunge.  Now that we are partial owners of a Vieques property, we feel comfortable putting the Vermont house on the market.  Real estate sales are slow everywhere, so we figure our house should sell within a few years.  If the Vermont house sells before our Vieques home is built, the other partners agree that we can move into Rosada.
 
We are still waiting and waiting to move forward with our new home.  We turn our attention to Rosada.  My sister and I drive a U-Haul truck from Florida to Maryland, where we will store all items bound for Puerto Rico.  My mother has some small scale furniture that will be perfect in Rosada and I have been collecting other household items needed there. 
 
LaRosa Del Monte is a moving company with offices across the country and in Puerto Rico.  I contract with them to move a load of furnishings from Beachville, MD to Vieques, to arrive at Rosada in early April.
 
On a sunny March day I assist two wonderful men (originally from Puerto Rico) from the Philadelphia Branch of LaRosa Del Monte, with the loading of enough household furnishings for a kitchen, living room, study, patio and two bedrooms.  Each item is meticulously itemized and hand covered in cardboard, from the smallest pillow to the largest bureau.  In Philadelphia it will join other goods bound for San Juan and travel in a container, by ship.  From San Juan it will be loaded onto another truck for the ferry trip to Vieques, hopefully coinciding with my April arrival.  I will have just over a month to organize the house and make some needed repairs before my summer show season begins.  Fred will join me for the last two weeks.
 
Fred and I are on a Colorado ski vacation mid March when we are notified that our shipment has reached San Juan!!

Friends, Bette Midler, 1973

I return to Vieques in February to close on the pink house - to be  known affectionately as Casita Rosada Dulce - sweet little pink house.  The last two months have been a flurry of emails, faxes and priority mail between Puerto Ricoand various U.S. towns.  The house will be in my mothers name, as well as mine and my sister's.  As my sister and I are married, our husbands must be on the deed as well.  Nothing is easy, but purchasing Rosada is much easier than what our lot has been.
 
Since I am the only one attending the closing, Powers of Attorney must be executed by all other parties.  Puerto Rico POA's are necessary, which consist of documents prepared by the attorney, signed in front of the U.S. notary and then the notary info must be documented in the state capital.  Three states, Florida, Maryland and Vermont are involved.  I coordinate closing, money, POA's, insurance and all of the other things that go along with the purchase of a house.
 
Luckily, a dear friend from Vermont will be at her home in Vieques during the house closing and I will stay with her.  Since she is a real estate broker, it will be good to have her counsel and expertise.
 
Once in Vieques we just want to relax, but she is gracious to lend me her car for must do tasks of banking (certified checks required for all transactions) as well as changing electric and water company accounts.  The actual closing process with the Sellers, Realtor and Attorney takes about 4 hours and then, finally, I am a Vieques homeowner!!  One of the first homeowner duties is to change the locks and luckily, friend Lisa is well versed in this skill.  She also takes me on a familiarization tour of all of the island hardware stores.
 
Luckily, we have a bit of socialization time and get to spend beach time with Gilly and a Valentine dinner with friend, Harry, an island contractor.  Isn't he lucky to have two Vermont beauties as his dates!!  I am thinking his services are definitely in our future!
 
Living in the potted palm in the front courtyard of our new house is a tiny kitten.  I promise to look after her if she's still there when I return in April.

Boxes, Malvina Reynolds, 1962

A big day today - we view the "pink house" at 10:30 and meet with contractor Ernesto.  We had viewed the house on line and there were no real surprises - good or bad.  Located near the lighthouse, the neighborhood of Morropo or Morropouse, was the headquarters for the North Shore fishermen.  These homes served as part lodgings, part machine shop and part fish market to each fisherman and his family.  Some changes had been made to modernize the house - opening up smaller enclosed spaces and replacing tile, but there is still much work to be done.  As long as there are no major structural defects this could be a good investment for my mother and a place for us to call home when visiting Vieques.
 
This house could be cute.  Ernesto checks the roof - he shows us how the under roof is crumbling and a new roof just was put over, rather than removing the old.  Okay for now, but could be a problem in the future.  In the back yard (is it still a yard if it is all concrete?) are two raised concrete pads.  Apparently one was the base of the old outhouse and one is the current septic system. 
 
So, as we see it, short term necessities are clean, exterminate and paint.  There is currently no hot water with the exception of the "puerto rican electric chair" or "suicide shower".  So, a tankless hot water system is needed.  The current furniture consists of an overstuffed loveseat (overstuffed, over large furniture is typical in small rooms in PR houses that we have seen), a double bed mattress and frame in one bedroom and a cot in the other.  The kitchen table is the plastic patio variety.  Anything will be an improvement.
 
There is no place for landscaping.  Everything will have to go in pots.  There is no outdoor sitting space away from the elements.  So much against this house, but the price is right and there is potential.  Calls back and forth to my mother in Florida, calls to the Realtor, calls to the owner.  Offers, counter offers, negotiations.  Spanish flying between the neighbor, the realtor and the contractor.  Within hours of our departure from Vieques, we have a deal.
 
You realize what a small island Vieques really is, when you start recognizing people, and even stranger,when they recognize you!! Much of the island holiday activity centers around the plaza in Isabel II. This year's parade theme seems to be cartoon/storybook characters complete with Flintstones and Cinderella - Cinderella played, of course, by Her Royal Highness the mayor of Vieques.  This is always an exciting time and EVERYONE attends.  And, what would an event on the Plaza be without a stop at the famous Bar Plaza for a drink?  If this doesn't but you in the holiday spirit, nothing will.
Unfortunately we are no further along on OUR property.  Now the attorney says he is hoping for a court date in March.

Lights, Journey, 1978

At least someone on Vieques is extremely excited by my return.  That someone would be my Oscar.  He jumped around and had "the squeaks", hung out for awhile in the yard ,rolled around and then disappeared into the foliage.
 
 
For all the years we have been visiting in Vieques, we have never been to the BioBay.  We just didn't feel like "a schedule" but this trip it is first on our list.  We choose Island Adventures electric power pontoon boat trip over the kayak excursions - mostly because we want to swim in the Biobay and it is an easier maneuver from a swim ladder vs getting in and out of a kayak.  We board the school bus and snag the first seats - less bumpy ride.  Gee, we forgot how HARD these school bus seats are - and we definitely have more padding now!  Coming from Vermont, the land of the potholed dirt roads, and being used to the Vieques beach roads, the road to the Biobay is no big deal for us, however it is an experience for others.  Its a tight squeeze when we meet a vehicle going in the opposite direction.
 
The scene is amazing, beginning with stepping out of the bus.  The sky is sooooooo close and looking just like a planetarium with an amazing array of constellations, pointed out to us by our guide, Mark Martin, an expert on marine life and Vieques.  The lights of the hills of Monte Santo are said to detract, but they are quite beautiful.  As our boat maneuvers the calm waters, the prop churns up luminescence and we see flashes in front, side and behind as fish dart.  It is like lightening in the sea.  We anchor for an opportunity to swim.  Each person is given a buoyancy belt and then departs into the water.  Very psychedelic - light surrounds your every movement like it is shooting out of your hands and feet and around your arms and legs.  Drops of water on my shoulders and chest become a cascade of brilliant stars.  It is truly amazing.  We enjoy paddling around in blackness, glowing and throwing stars in every direction.  In the middle of our bumpy ride back, some moron thinks he has lost his car keys on the boat (he has) and some of the other passengers want to string him up and kick him out.  Luckily, staff takes him back to look and we continue on. 
 
 I did fear a mutiny. 
 
One more reason why I would never take a cruise.  I don't really trust crowds. 

Morning Dance, Spyro Gyra, 1979

Hearing roosters and dogs at 4am does nothing but make me smile.  We are home!  Accompanied by friends Jane and The Wiz, a Thanksgiving day arrival does not pose a problem.  Mambo market has all the necessities - rum, tonic, juice, eggs, muffins, cheese yogurt, coffee.  The yard offers us fruit - coconuts, limes, bananas, but no starfruit.  Bili Restaurant in Esperanza offers a fabulous dinner - no turkey for this crew.  We go PR all the way with pork chops, mofungo, yucca, mahi and guava custard cake.
 
A great find for us this trip is Alamencenes Morales - the cash and carry store in Isabel, located across from Bar Plaza.  We can buy beer, wine and liquor at a discounted price and other items are available like shrimp and meats.
 
Our first order of business after the holiday is talking to our contractor and our realtor.  We are on a mission for my mother, who has decided she, also, would not mind a property in Vieques.  Online we have seen a small house, well priced, that might fit the bill as a nice place to own as a vacation rental.  Located an easy walk to Isabel, near the lighthouse, it is a short walk to a beach.  It has potential.  Although we don't seem to be getting any closer to closing on our property, this is an exciting vicarious alternative.
 
Red Beach is our first stop for sun and surf.  Alot more people than we are used to, but by no means crowded.  We are happy to be warm after frigid Vermont.
 
We enjoy outdoor dining at Bravos House and I have made sure that this necessity is included in our dream home plans.  Culebra and St. Thomas are so clear this evening that we feel we could reach out and touch them (or at least swim there). 
 
At the fruit & veggie truck, Mundo has introduced us to recao.  New to us, it is a leafy vegetable, almost like a small romaine leaf, that smells like cilantro, a favorite.
 
White Beans With Recao
2 cans white beans, drained (unless using white beans in tomato sauce)
1 bunch recao
1 onion chopped
fresh or canned tomatoes
White wine or vermouth
Goya Adobo to taste
 
Adobo is a spice that is available everywhere.  It comes with or without pepper, with or without cumin, and probably some other ways. 
Saute onion in olive oil.  Add white wine or vermouth.  Add recao and cook until wilted.  Add beans, tomatoes and Adobo. 
 
We spend clear sunny days reacquainting ourselves with Secret Beach (no longer a secret) and Blue Beach.  We also reacquaint with old friends, meeting Gilly at the Blue Moon Bar for a sunset toast.
 
We must mix a little business in with all this pleasure.  Ernesto, our potential contractor, stops by to chat about our future project.  He has an engineer he likes to work with.  Apparently the engineer we were originally told about has multiple lawsuits against him.  The engineer will take my dream house drawings and execute them into building plans.  Cool.
 

Here Comes The Sun, The Beatles, 1969

Good morning Vieques!!  We are up before the sun,but not before the roosters!  I can still hear the night creatures in the palms as I take an outdoor shower. I think an outdoor shower is a great invention and have designed one for each level of our soon to be (?) dreamhouse.  Nothing like showering with an ocean view.
 
We must be living right, as the previous day's travel went too smooth - early arrival at SJU means we can grab the 11 am Cape Air flight.  House manager picks us up at the airport, drops me at Maritzas and takes Fred and luggage to Bravos House.  By 12:15 I am at Morales with a long shopping list.  We are home.
 
An island drive is a must do for our first full day back.  We are eager to see what's changed, and happy to say, "not much".  However, the road to Red Beach is now paved!!  Those lomos (speed bumps) every 30 yards will certainly help keep the speeds at the posted limit.  We know there is a hefty fine for speeding within the Fish & Wildlife area and are respectful of the roads - and our rental car!
 
Shopping is still a mysterious venture at times.  I think I have purchased some very nice pork chops to grill for our evening meal.  Instead, I find I have purchased ham steaks.  The package said "cerdo chuleta ah".  The word ahomar (smoked) was cut off.  Next time I'll know!
 
Relaxation is our goal and it is much too easy to soak up sun on the bedroom patio and then move to the covered porch when we need to cool off.  I get a notion for seafood, so I run down to the docks and get 5 pounds of conch and 5 pounds of lobster, fresh off the boat.  In fact, I help the diver carry the lobsters from his boat.
 
At the refuge beaches, particularly Red, we are noticing many "W" purple towels.  Of course, now that the road is paved more are coming.  We are happy that the road past Red has remained unpaved and move on to a less populated beach. 
 
There are some must do's - we must get a smaller Post Office box, we must meet with our realtor and attorney and we must set up a bank account.  The fact that the U.S. Postal Service is alive and well in Vieques is a plus.  Also the fact that banking is similar to the states and the local bank even has branches in Florida and New York.
 
We are pretty much in the dark as far as the process to secure our lot.  We're not the only ones.  The listing realtor says she has an inside scoop that the municipality will not contest the adverse possession case for the title.  The attorney says that he thinks all the legalities could be wrapped up by December!  So, in anticipation of a closing within the year, we execute a Puerto Rico power of attorney ($$$) so I may close on the property without Fred in attendance.  Its only April now, but we will be ready!!
 
Just when we start to miss canine companionship, along comes Oscar.  A friendly fellow who likes treats and belly rubs (okay, so who doesn't) and is content to hang and enjoy the sun with us.  He becomes our morning wakeup call - he sits by the bedroom doors and gives us a morning hello.  He also feels the need to warn us of any cars coming too close to the house and accompanies me on a lime picking excursion.
 
We have made many friends during our travels, some we have kept, and some we hide from.  Tom has become one of the latter.  A Norte Americano with a home in Vieques, he has "been on the island longer than anyone", is best friends with everyone from the mayor to the street cleaner and has done everything.  He wouldn't use our builder, or our lawyer.  Don't ask why I invited him to dinner, though I invited our friend Gilly too, to act as a buffer.  When she saw him arrive, her eyebrows shot up and she got a look of fear in her eyes.  We endured him together.  That's real friendship.  Fred dislikes Tom so much that he takes care of all the dishes, just to get out of the room.  Lesson learned.  At least the dinner was good.
 
Fresh Lime Cake
 
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temp                             1 1/3 cups self rising flour
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar                                   2-3 large limes
2 eggs, room temp                                                1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk
 
Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour an 8" pan.  Cream butter and 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar.  Beat in eggs one at a time.  Beat in milk, then flour.  Transfer to prepared pan, smooth top and bake 35 minutes.  Grate 1 T lime peel.  Squeeze 1/4 cup lime juice.  Mix peel, juice and 1/4 cup sugar.  Poke holes in the cake after removed from the oven and pour half the lime syrup over the hot cake.  Cool.  Whisk remaining 1 cup powdered sugar and syrup.  Drizzle over cake.  Let sit 1 hour.  Good with coconut ice cream.
 
On our last day we meet some Bravos House neighbors.  They give us good tips on building, engineers and contractors.  Since our realtor is confident that we will have a closing by the end of the year, this is all very useful to us.
 
We say goodbye to Vieques and Oscar, for a few months.

I Love A Parade, Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler, 1932

The annual Christmas parade is a cross between Carnivale and a local talent show.  It seems that there are more people in the parade than watching the parade!  Some bands and dancing groups even come from the main island.  Once the parade is over (of course it begins about 2 hours late) each group appears in front of the Plaza stage for a mini performance.  Bands, baton twirlers, dancers and prominent citizens are introduced.  There is a prayer, the tree is lit, and then fireworks.  The festivities go on until the wee hours, but we head to a quieter spot for a snack and comfort a frightened dog.  Not everyone enjoys fireworks!
 
Although we are on vacation, we can't help but try to hurry things along on our property.  We are content in knowing that one day we will be owners, but are frustrated that between the realtors and attorney, nothing seems to be progressing. No one knows much, and what is known continually changes.  We keep being reminded that it is a slow process (duh) and it will be worth it in the end.
 
We visit the Fort Conde de Marisol, located above the town of Isabel.  A beautiful building from the 1800's, totally restored, it is the perfect venue for the art exhibits and interesting array of books.  We enjoy the exhibit of the Valientes - brave people who helped win the island from the US Navy.  From our limited Spanish, we gather the stories are very bitter.  No wonder.
 
Our last day and we spend it at Sun Bay.  Only 4-6 people on the beach and someone has the nerve to park right next to us!!  Its getting to be that time of year.
 
Perhaps by this time next year we will be under construction?!!!!
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