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Don Jaime Alicea, and heart of Puerto Rico

This Sunday, we and our friend Dennis, had a very powerful experience. We visited Master Artesano Don Jaime Alicea in Vega Baja. Don Jaime is a maker of the traditional instrument of Puerto Rico, the Cuatro. He welcomed us into his very modest home, sited up in the hills with the La Cordillera Central in the background and just a glimpse of the Atlantic. His workshop has an uneven dirt floor and wooden shutters for windows, and yet, from the ceiling were hanging some of the most magnificent musical instruments I have ever seen. In the center was his workbench with several unfinished cuatros in various stages of construction. The cabinet doors around the shop are fully adorned with some old, some newer signed pictures of world class musicians who have come to Don Jaime for cuatros which he has created for decades from native Puerto Rican woods.

Its difficult to convey in words the quality of the workmanship he puts into the instruments but I can give you a sense of how they sound. Check out this and this and this for a bit of heaven as played by Don Jaime. He passionate playing is of the tradition of the hills of Puerto Rico - powerful and with exuberance.

We felt honored to have the opportunity to see his taller and to handle and pluck the strings of his instruments. We shared an intimate hour with him, listening to him play his powerful songs, drinking the sweet coffee brought to us by his wife and simply basking in the warmth and gentle glow of his taller.

Visitors to Puerto Rico usually focus on the high rise mega hotels and beaches of the San Juan metro area or the beaches of Rincon and the west. What are often missed are the treasures of the hills and mountains. Up high, people have been living for centuries, buffered from drag of popular culture. Here the musical traditions of Puerto Rico's past continue. Musicians like Don Jaime and hundreds and hundreds more are called marquesetta (sort of like back porch) musicians. They are passionate players of Puerto Rican music and have unbeatable skills, yet are modest, religious, and steeped in family and the traditions of 500 years. It is through this music of the island that the cultural integrity of Puerto Rico continues to be lived.

Reflecting on our visit, I realized that it wasn't just the quality of the instruments or the passionate music that we left considering. We left realizing we had just met a great and gentle man. He isn't puffed up or boastful, he is simply a master artesano of the cuatro who continues to create them to be played by others who share his passion.


Brown Booby at the Lemontree in Rincon PR

Yesterday we received a call from our neighbor. A most unusual bird had landed on her terrace. She wanted us to look out and see what the bird might be. It was at some distance but I knew at once it was a Brown Booby. Very exciting as very rarely do we see one of these. The only other time I remember was five years ago when I was working as a dive instructor on one of my first trips out to Mona Island... I was leading a tour and we had just surfaced when one of these birds landed just a few feet from me. It would duck its head under the water and look around, probably for fish... assuredly not at me. These birds are native to the Caribbean and yet are rarely seen. Here at the Lemontree we regularly see Pelicans, gulls, Frigate birds and Sandpipers by the shore, but not these Boobys.

Today I was surprised to see the bird again, but on our terrace. I grabbed my camera and slowly began to shoot moving carefully closer and closer. I was sure the bird would take off but no, he just stayed calm and kept an eye on me.

The boobys are reputed to be long lived and mate in stable pairs. When I lived in the city I never came into contact with a creature that was not man-impacted in some way. Yet, here by the shore, one has the possibility of all kinds of encounters with the world as it might have been a thousand years ago. The basic rhythms, melodies and the occasional adornos eternal.


December Sunrise over Anasco Bay, Rincon, PR

A couple of mornings ago I woke up a bit earlier than usual... although we rise typically with the dawn. Perhaps it was Irene the cat meowing to go out to greet the guests or perhaps just a sense that I had slept sufficiently. I went out to our central courtyard and lo and behold looking due East... just before the sun crested the mountains, was the most dramatic display of clouds and light and color I have seen in several months.

The posted picture really captures the vista. The reds and purples, the dramatic shape and texture of the clouds, and then the yellow with tinges of pink on the horizon following the rising sun.

Of course, many of our guests like to sleep in... after all it is a vacation and some no doubt have been out the night before... yet here by the sea many follow the rhythm of the day and also rise early... catching the cool morning breeze, ready for what the day holds.

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