Revisiting a past life in Aguililla,Puerto Rico

Bioluminescent Bay photo on Google

Revisiting a past life in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

Nina as a child in Aguadilla Puerto Rico

 Every time we arrived at a new facility it was pretty much the same. We met with a few people or a group and then toured the facility and detailed out the work we needed to complete.  We had gotten lost trying to find the facility location and I cringed as I looked around the conference room.  I was expecting about four people and I was mortified to see at least thirty people who had been waiting for us.  We made our best apologies in Spanish and got on with our work. .  We had stayed after the morning meeting to talk with the director, Lucy.  I love these casual conversations because they often break down barriers.  Lucy asked if we spoke Spanish fluently. I laughed and said no.  She said our accents and language in our initial greetings were quite good and it made her wonder if we could speak fluently. She also asked if we had ever been to Aguadilla before.  I was beyond thrilled to answer this question and enthusiastically said “yes, I lived on D Street when my father was stationed at Ramey Air Force Base.”  “You must take time to visit! It is all still there, the houses are largely the same and the base is mostly intact.” she replied.  I was astounded as it had been about 50 years since I left. This was where I had spent the very foundation of my life.  I was about 6 months old when I arrived and a little over two years old when I left.  Oddly enough I have vague memories of being here.  I wanted to explore those memories more.    

At lunch we were invited to see the talent show in the cafeteria.  There was a richness to the audience as they fully participated in the festivities singing clapping, and swaying to the music.  A corporate environment is an unlikely place to see belly dancing but it was a beautiful colorful display of culture performed by our tour guide Salina. She exuded enthusiasm wherever she went.   We had asked for some advice on how to get to the bioluminescent bay and Salina, our guide, immediately told us she and her husband would take us and spend the evening with us.  That evening as we drove to the boat docks, I could hear the unique and melodious sounds that filled the Puerto Rician forest.  Ko-kee ko-Kee.  Salina told me it was the sounds of a very tiny tree frog about the size of your thumbnail. Legend has it that frog is singing “I love you”.  For some reason the frog spoke to me and awakened more long dormant memories of this island. The sound was very southing to me and I listened closely and let the music fill me.   We arrived at the  boat dock ready to set out on our adventure. It was a balmy January evening and as we approached the bay the water in the wake of the boat became luminous. There are not many of these types of bays in the world and apparently their ecosystems are quite fragile. The whole reason they survive is because they are so isolated and the water of the bay is deep and cool and surrounded by Red Mangrove trees that provide the food source for the organisms to survive. When the micro-organisms in the water are disturbed they send off a blue-white neon glow It is really magical in the dark of night to see the water light up.  They brought up a bucket of water on the boat for us all to dip our hands into.  The water sparkled and was almost electric.  I wish we had had the time to take the kayaking tour so we could have been closer to the water and lingered longer. 

After work the following evening, John drove me around the old air force base. We saw all the old airplane hangars and my old neighborhood. We did not find the exact house but we found the street where I lived with the small 1950’s style homes. I am pretty sure we had a 3 bedroom 1 bath home and   I wondered how my family of seven lived in such a small environment.  My grandparents came for a long visit one summer and stayed right in the house with us.  Every photo I can remember of my family in Puerto Rico was taken outdoors; there was just not enough space to stay indoors.  Seeing the neighborhood put more pieces of the puzzle from my early life into perspective.

The island food was not at all what I expected.   I was looking forward to great fish with fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead the cuisine consisted of the familiar staples of rice and beans along with plantains and fried chicken or pork.  Fast food was plentiful everywhere but vegetables were largely absent. After searching for restaurants in the area and finding them to be mostly roadside and rundown, we ate most of our meals at our hotel which had a very nice variety of fresh foods.  One afternoon at work the team took us for lunch to one of their favorite places.  “Happy Belly’s” was a little ramshackle, open air restaurant right on the ocean.  We sat by the window with the ocean so close you could feel the mist; we ate the typical fried food and did not care one bit

On our last day John and I knocked off about noon and went to Crash Boat Beach to do a little snorkeling.  “Ah” this is real life snorkeling in the warm waters of the Caribbean in January.   I knew I had been here before; it was a big wide beach perfect for families and was used by the air force to rescue downed aircrews. It felt good to absorb the sun and relax after a full week and a busy schedule.  Crash Boat was the perfect solution.

Even though I did not have many distinct memories of living in Aguadilla, there was a lot of familiarity for me.  I had spent one of the most formatives times in my life here learning the basis of language as we as learning to walk.  Even my name came from being here. For years we spoke Spanglish in our house. At the table we interchanged milk for leche and mantiquilla for butter. I can remember my dad saying vamos (let’s go) all the time. The language dropped into our conversations so often I am not sure we even noticed.  We had a maid to help my mother while we lived here and I remember spending a lot of time alone with Amelia inside the house.  My feelings were strong and it was as if she was a surrogate mother to me.  I have vague memories of her holding me, feeding me and I remember sitting on the ground watching her iron.  She spoke to me in Spanish and call me “la nina”. She could not say my given name, Ellen, as two L’s together make a Y sound in Spanish. I am pretty certain that since I was the last of five children, I was left with Amelia while my mother ran her errands and tended to my siblings.  I have not been able to verify my memories since my parents were both gone before I returned to Puerto Rico, but my feelings were strong enough that I knew intrinsically there is some truth to what I felt.

This trip had been much more than I ever expected. I knew we would accomplish the necessary work abut I never expected it to stimulate my memories so strongly. It was as if I had found a long forgotten part of my life and was able to rebuild and strengthen my very foundation.

After leaving Aguadilla, two of the people I had met came to San Francisco and I toured them all over the city for a day, it was great cultural exchange. The thing they loved best was walking on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Crash boat beach
Typical house on D Street, Aguadilla

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Mark Justycky | Reply 10.03.2013 20.13

As a kid, I spent my summers in New York state. As an adult, I have had many recurring dreams about going there. I have gone back and the memories rekindle.

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09.05 | 12:43

Nina, so enjoyed your description/s of place and experience/s. It almost felt like I was right next to you throughout your journey! Thank you for sharing!

24.03 | 20:01

Great article, Nina. Now I wish I had gone there when I was in Bath. Hopefully, there will be another opportunity to go there someday....

18.03 | 18:48

I've been to Bath twice myself. And have gone to Sally Lunn's twice, too. Took my English cousins to Bath. It was their first time there and they loved it.

10.03 | 20:13

As a kid, I spent my summers in New York state. As an adult, I have had many recurring dreams about going there. I have gone back and the memories rekindle.

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