Monday, October 6, 2008

Walking on Culebra

I've had a car three times on Culebra, two of them briefly, one for a year or so. The rest of the time I've walked. Walking to town is a little over a mile and a half, not much of a walk, really, when you think of marathon types. But I am not one of them. Really.

The walk is, for the most part, along the water's edge. If a breeze is blowing and the shadows are right, it is pretty much a delight. If it is still and the shadows are wrong, and my arms are laden with books to return, or hot sauce to bring in, it can be a trip ending in dripping sweat, sort of like being gently but completely beaten before the day has started.

When I first moved here, knowing no one, I walked all the way a LOT. But slowly, as people got to know me, I often got (and still get) a ride along the way. At first, it was people who knew me and that I knew. As time passed, it was people who saw me often, but didn't know me. That happens over and over again, sustaining an old Culebra tradition of picking up the walkers. There weren't so many cars on Culebra, not so long ago, and walking was the norm. Maybe that is why we have people here who live to their 100's plus.

It isn't unusual to see people in their 70's and 80's walking to the stores and post office from their homes, then walking on to check in on their parents. Really. A friend of mine told me the other day that her grandmother and greatgrandmother lived to 116 and 114 respectively. As often on Culebra, these were not blood relatives. Often, women have taken in children for a variety of reasons and raised them as their own, sometimes over 20 or more children have called the same woman Mami. They all walked. And now, when some have cars, and have come to believe that I am an acceptable person to pick up, they give me a ride. I am honored.

Sometimes it is someone who speaks no English and my Spanish is mala...bad. We exchange greetings, I do my sign language thing, but mostly we sit in comfortable silence until we get to town. I indicate I'm going to the Post Office by taking off my seat belt at the corner by Hotel Puerto Rico, give deep mucho gracias and we go our separate ways.

Sometimes it is a gringo. As in, the other day I went to Genesis (pronounced Henesis), the local market closest to me, for some juice. Someone came along before I got there and said they were closed. At the same time, along came Chuck. I told him they were closed (we didn't know why, it was Saturday, mid-afternoon...who knows?). He asked what I was looking for and offered me a ride to the Panaderia, which in these days of pretty awful driving on that stretch, was quite an offer. I waffled, not wanting, really, to walk back. He got it and said, of course I'll bring you back, I have a car! Another random act of kindness.

I've had locals see me walking and leave their homes to drive me to town or to home, seeing me sweating my brains out and being kind beyond any measure in these modern days. Women going to church have picked me up, we end with blessings. Men apologize because a door handle doesn't work, I must sit in the back. We laugh. I've been given a ride on a horse once. That was amazing, as I got to *drive* while the owner of the horse sat behind me, smoking and chattering on in Spanish.

These are the moments that I fall in love with Culebra over and over again. Walking, while sometimes enough to have me grinding my teeth, has also brought me closer to the people I'd never interact with otherwise, and for that, I am grateful.

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