Day 24: The House is Alright and The Bees of Monte Carmelo
Both doors were still locked when I got back to the house and I was relieved to find my laptop in its proper hiding place under the futon. The cowboy bandits must have robbed someone else while I was away.
In the morning, I realized one of the banana trees was toppled over. I assumed it was the horses. I watched them eat the tree’s leaves in the past and they probably got greedy when they realized I wasn’t home.
I hung up the premature bananas to ripen. Just looking at them made me nauseas.
It was the third day of the new year and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The recent week had been more rainy than usual so I decided to go to the beach and take advantage of the good weather.
I hitched a ride with Maria, a charming, spunky old lady that sings while she drives and talks politics like a late sixties activists. She was the widow of Señor Carmelo, the man who built the first house on the mountain where I was staying. Hence the name, Monte Carmelo.
She told me the whole story. Monte Carmelo lies in a “buffer zone” between US Navy land and civilian Vieques. There were no signs or fences to mark the Navy’s territory so Señor Carmelo claimed the top of the mountain for his family. They built a white, castle-style house and a road to the island’s main thruway. The Carmelo family lived a peaceful life in the mountain. Word got around and other squatters moved to Monte Carmelo to claim their own plots of land. The community bloomed in a sort of wild, wild west fashion.
In the late 1980s, the US Navy informed the Carmelo family their house was built on restricted land and asked them to leave. They refused. The story became big news on the island. Imagine, one Puerto Rican family against the US Navy.
Eventually, the Navy tried to force them out. They sent a few men into the Carmelo house to begin moving their furniture. The entire community surrounded the house and taunted the men as they loaded pick up trucks with Señor Carmelo’s belongings.
Then, while no one was looking, someone snuck in the house and left two wooden boxes that contained live beehives. When the movers picked up the boxes they agitated the bees. Within seconds, the men were chased out of the house by a swarm of 70,000 bees. The community rejoiced in victory.
Señor Carmelo has since passed on, but Maria keeps the spirit of rebellion alive.
Before getting out of the car I asked her what she thought about the large number of Americans moving to Vieques.
“I don’t mind them, they can do what they want, but it’d be nice if they could learn some Spanish. Even if they tried just a little bit, it’d make me happy. But no, most of them come here, to a country that isn’t theirs and expect us to all know English,” Maria said.
“Show a little respect, that’s all I want,” she added.
It was true. Most Americans that I met on the island never attempted to speak Spanish. Even worse, some of them had been Vieques residents for decades.
I thanked Maria for the ride and walked towards Navio beach.
In my opinion, Navio has the best water in Vieques. It’s clean, crisp and wavy. Best of all, access to the beach ain’t easy. The road is rugged and floods often so annoying families shy away from Navio.
I spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and rock climbing while thinking over the Monte Carmelo story.
© Diego Cupolo 2011