Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The island of Culebra, Puerto Rico

Culebra's airport
Culebra, a small island to the east of the main island of Puerto Rico, and one of its 78 "municipios" or districts along with the larger sister island of Vieques, is fascinating for a number of reasons. First, it is enough off the beaten path to have the feel of a remote place, but close enough to be accessible by ferry from Fajardo or by air from San Juan. Second, it boasts Flamenco Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches to be found anywhere. Third, there are interesting people there, including a small population from the mainland US that seems to have created a niche for themselves.

From a cultural standpoint, it has the Spanish language but is influenced by the culture of the English-speaking Caribbean in subtle ways, like when I listened to the radio there and heard a reggae concert. The reggae was sung in English, but the singer addressed his audience in Spanish. Another example of the mix was in the repertoire of local conga drummer Wiki Munet and his band WIKI Sound Machine, who plays at Mamacita's Restaurant in the island's lone town of Dewey (aka "Pueblo") but also plays with a religious music group at the local Catholic church. One of the rhythms he plays he calls "suki." I couldn't figure out what it was because it was the first time I had heard the name, but it may be a different way of spelling and pronouncing the French Caribbean dance rhythm of "zouk."

I met Wiki by striking up a conversation with him after Mass, and was immediately invited to the porch of his house after lunch to hang out with him and his family and neighbors, including the parish priest, and take a welcome cold beer to beat the heat. Wiki didn't want to play drums because one of his fellow musicians was off island, but he put on a CD of one of his performances at Mamacita's for us to enjoy.

Nothing is perfect, and the best reminder of that in Culebra are the mosquitoes. I didn't recall them being annoying at the beach, but I did get bitten on other occasions, so it's best to have repellent handy. However, the delights of Culebra far outweigh the itching of the mosquito bites.

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