Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dreaming with Places

When people think about their Favorite Place on Earth usually the first set of images that passes through their minds involves fantastical, exotic, far way places with robust, intriguing cultures that can evoke many different feelings in a person. However, if we introspect long enough we might discover that our favorite place tends not to be a remote slice of paradise, but an area that holds a deeper, more sentimental meaning to us. I have to admit that when I first thought about “my favorite place on earth or the one I longed for” I immediately started mentally creating a list of all the places I would love to visit; one of these places – siting at the top of the list – being my beloved Puerto Rico. From the second place onwards the list included all the countries I fancy globetrotting. Places like the United Kingdom, Spain, Greece, Rome, France, Russia, China, Japan, India, and Africa are all listed there in no particular order. There is something about their traditions and different cultures that have always fascinated me.

Regardless, the only places I have ever been to are, my home Puerto Rico and Florida, USA. Ironically, of the places I have visited – all few of them – the one that holds the title of My Favorite Place on Earth it is not Disney Land, or Miami, or Fort Lauderdale; it isn’t El Yunque, Culebras, or Gilligan’s Island. Oh no, my favorite place on Earth is a small patch of forest crisscrossed by a river right behind my childhood home. The river is called Cibuco and it crosses my whole town beginning at the Cuchilla neighborhood, picking up smaller streams going in a northbound journey until it joins the Atlantic Ocean at the North of the Vega Baja municipality.

I was 6 when my parents move out from our first home into what became my childhood house; giving me the opportunity to discover this other world. Since the moment I arrived, that river and all its surroundings became my favorite place ever. Regardless of the amount of houses in the area, the river feels like an oasis that is not quite from this planet. It can be seen from my old bedroom window with its many big slabs of rocks, its trees shadowing a knee deep water level that becomes extremely enticing around summer season.

That particular river section has this beautiful rock formation that looks like a demolished chunk of stairs, which I used to pretend that, once, it belonged to a castle. It has about twenty low, narrow, jagged steps which are extremely porous due to passage of time. They sit on top of an even bigger flat stone the barely brakes the water surface and at the same time separates the stream between the calm area behind it and a more rapid one in its front. The stair-like rocks have always intrigued me; those steps seem to have been literary cut into the rock, with a perfectly straight “backside”; to me they always felt like someone just placed them there. One theory of mine – albeit a bit far fetch one – was that they indeed belonged to an ancient structure, perhaps a building, and that the current had wash them out and deposited them there somehow.

If you walk the river in an upstream direction you will reach a series of huge rock slabs forming a natural pond of sorts of about four feet deep. Half the pond is surrounded by forest; and the other half is enclosed by the rocky face of a mountain. Is on this side that the thick branch of a tree used to protrude over the pond allowing for a rope to be tied up there and used to jump-dive into the water. With the help of neighbors, potato sacks were filled to increase the pond’s depth to about eleven feet so that the actual diving would be less risky. There are four mayor rocks surrounding the pond breaking the water flow into smaller streams that rejoin again once they have cleared the larger slabs. One of my favorite pastimes was to lay on one of the smaller stream that fell to the right side of the main formation; it was narrow enough that only one person fit in it, yet the current was strong enough that it felt like the water was roughly massaging your back; strong enough, in fact, that if you didn’t sat in a particular position the water flow would slowly dragged you along with it.

As much as I enjoyed the rush of diving into the pond, there was another reason for me to visit this place. Beyond the pond – up stream – the river thinned a little until it reached a wall blocking anyone’s passage. The mountain that borderline the river was no longer in just one side, but enclosing most of the area; here the river disappears almost completely from view. One can literary walk no more, the only option is to either turn back or climb the wall. Climbing this wall was an obsession of mine for many years, but without gear it is impossible. You see, the wall itself, on this particular area, is completely smooth and tall enough that the top could not be seen. The only holes in the rock wall are so scarce and so apart from one another that there is no way to use them. Jumping from one to try to reach the next is foolish at best; if one manages the first few, but then slips on the higher ones and falls, what waits for you at the bottom is not the river, but a bunch of flat stones. That however, as a kid, never stopped me from fantasizing about what mysterious places could be found beyond the great wall.

For some reason, every time I thought about what could lay ahead, I always picture myself reaching the top, to find an old, wooden, hanging bridge so high that the river running under it could barely be seen. I dreamed with this more than once and every single time I got this urgent sense that if I managed to crossed that bridge I would no longer be in my world, but in some distant land that could only be reached by crossing over it. Now that I think about it, it was because of those dreams that I was so obsessed with that wall in the first place.

The area itself is very simple, just a patch of forest with a river crossing it; no different than any other area that can be found all around Puerto Rico. But to me it was the most beautiful and dangerous place I ever got to go. It was there that I played with my neighbors and friends pretending to explore other lands when we were kids. It was there that we got chased by all kinds of imaginary evil. Those are the rocks that – literary – bare our drops of blood due to the countless times we fell over them. And it was to this river that I escaped to every time I needed a moment to myself.

For the good times I spend there, for its ability to transport my mind somewhere else, for its tranquility when sunny and its ferocity when rainy; this section of the Cibuco River behind my childhood home is and always will be my favorite place on earth.

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