Black Night Voodoo Flood in Old San Juan

From James Aliberti’s first trip to Puerto Rico to work as a biologist on The Mona Island Iguana Project:

After the thrilling barracuda snorkel, Carlos proposed a night on the town in Old San Juan as a send-off before we said goodbye to civilization for the next 3 weeks of work out on the tiny 27-square mile Mona Island. That little speck straddling the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean would only be about 9 miles long and 3 miles wide; and the only place the Mona Island Iguana inhabits on the entire Planet! Amazing. 

How long had they been there? 

How did they get there? 

Were they small aquatic iguanas that swam there and grew into enormous land lizards? 

Did they walk over land during an Ice Age when sea level was much lower? 

Did birds of prey drop living juveniles onto the jagged limestone, who survived and grew to be massive, breeding adults? 

And most importantly; would I actually get to see one of these living dinosaurs; a relic from a past period?

My imagination swam with anticipation.  

When we arrived at Carlos’ house that afternoon, I noticed a strange jar atop the refrigerator containing a dull yellow liquid. Nosy me, I picked it up for scrutinizing examination. It looked like a small piece of paper floated inside. 

“Um, don’t touch that,” Carlos told me directly. 

I apologized and immediately put it back. Upon inquiry, he told me his sister cast a spell upon a man. After writing his name on the ripped scrap of paper, she recited an incantation while constricting it in thread, then urinated in the jar. Before I could head to the sink to wash my hands, it was already too late. At that moment, Carlos’ sister entered the kitchen. We were introduced, and as I gingerly shook her soft hand, I looked into her yellow eyes with astonishment. Her irises shined a golden bright yellow. I had never seen anyone with that color eyes before, and never have since. They matched her frizzy, sandy-blonde hair. Suddenly, a bright flash was quickly followed by booming thunder, and then torrential rain ensued (see pic).   

Moments later, when I looked out from the porch, I could see that the dry streets had quickly flash-flooded into a river. 

I said to Carlos and the others, “I guess our night in Old San Juan is cancelled.” 

Carlos assured me that this kind of flood was usual, and that everything would return to normal before we knew it. He proved correct. 

As night fell and we walked to dinner, I could hear frogs squeaking and crickets chirping in the humid air. I could smell a full-sized pig turning on the rotisserie, and next to it, two smaller spits with whole rabbits. The meat plates were accompanied by halves of tropical fruits. After a succulent dinner, we headed out to a bar, where the men pointed with their lips, and everyone immediately called me Flaco. 

Suspiciously, I questioned Carlos, “Did you tell them to call me that?” 

To which he responded, “Ha ha haaaa, what? I don’t know these guys.” 

After a couple of Cuba libres, I went to the men’s room. Upon exit, I ran into a Puerto Rican girl with long black wavy hair and a round face. 

With a quick iguana-esque nod to the air, she wondered, “Where you from?” 

I responded, “Here.” 

She smiled and said, “No you not.” 

And I said, “Is it that obvious?” 

She replied with a laugh, “Very.” 

She pronounced her V with a B sound. I bought her a drink and we started to talk. 

Next thing I knew, we’re walking out on the unlit beach. We talked for hours in the pitch blackness. She said soon she would be flying to Sierra Leone to work as a missionary, teaching young African kids about the bible. Once in a while I got a glimmer of eye-shine on the moonless night, but mostly, even with my sight adjusted to the darkness, we couldn’t see each other. Then, she gave me a big kiss on the mouth,  . . . and we made out for hours, . . ., and hours. She explained to me that just like with Carlos’ parents, her parents had also been married and divorced three times. 

She stated, “Dis is a Cat-O-lic country, so no sex before marriage. Everyone get married young, then get divorce, then get married, then divorce.” 

As the morning light started to rise, I exclaimed “Oh crap. I’m going to Mona Island today.” 

As we said goodbye, she gave me an address so I could write her in Sierra Leone. 

So freakin’ dehydrated, I frantically ran back through the streets, trying to remember where Carlos’ house was. Sweat poured down my forehead. (Ahhh, the priorities of a 23-year old so quickly catch up with thee.) All of the four-story houses and cobblestone streets looked the same. Suddenly, I saw our crew out on the sidewalk, packing gear into a shabby pickup truck. Carlos was holding my large green backpack with my hiking boots I had laced to the top exterior. 

“Oh Flaco, you made it,” Carlos announced. 

“Just barely,” carped the grumpy UC Davis Professor. 

Turns out, he would always be grumpy before his morning coffee, and this would turn into a sticking point between us out on the island. The two women slid into the cab with the driver, while the three of us dudes had a kidney-busting three-hour ride in the back, from Old San Juan all the way to Cabo Rojo. 

Next, we met Denga (pronounced den-gay) and boarded La Pulga (The Flea), but that’s for another story. 

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *