We had been living in the van all summer long, had left our New Mexico home already and were in a traveling limbo period before moving to Culebra.
On this same day, this year – yesterday – we found our new house!
This feels like a very significant thing, this house.
We came from New Mexico to a very very expensive (read from that ridiculously, unscrupulously overpriced) vacation rental turned long-term rental.
We had imagined that once on the island we would have the time and space to make connections, friends and roots and that we would be able to then find a place that fell into alignment with our lifestyle and budget more fittingly.
Then some changes in our client base back in November of last year somewhat forced the issue as we struggled then to make these over-inflated monthly payments, that by then had begun to feel like rent plus extortion.
We looked for housing for several months and found nothing.
We put out feelers in the community.
We found nothing.
We asked people directly.
I felt a strange sense at times of metaphorically carrying my lunch tray around a high school cafeteria looking for a space that wasn’t marked by a bag, or a foot. Carrying my food for so long that it was no longer hot.
No bites. No seats. No room at the inn.
Then we found Pirate Camp.
It was at this point that I feel that we really fell in love with the island, for it was the point when we were really living with her; but it also represented a turning point in terms of our experience living with the people of this tiny island.
As we were leaving the beach one afternoon, a neighbor, reacting to our dog Alfie running on his property, charged at us, red in the face and wielding aloft a machete, shouting that he would cut our dog’s head off if he came into the yard of his vacation rental again.
Yup. That happened.
Ziggy had nightmares for three consecutive nights, and this man’s name became synonymous with the bogey man for our young son for quite some time.
The following week, while at the beach, Alfie wandered off again, onto the same property looking for cat food. We called him back, kicked ourselves for not being more vigilant, were screamed at by the wife of the duo this time.
The next morning the police came round, being led by our friendly neighbor in his vehicle.
Our neighbor began by screaming at us that he was going to call Social Services to tell them that we were ‘living like this, back there, with children’. His disgust rained like acerbic spittle on my family and our visiting friends.
The contrast of this man’s ill-feeling towards us, with our own simple joy at living off-grid, of trying to make something of Senora Azul’s property, was a stark reminder of the realities of the messed up culture that pervades this blessed and divine ball of rock we are all lucky enough to call home for a brief moment.
We handled the situation with grace and peace. We assured our neighbor that Alfie would not again set paw onto his yard. We shook hands, invited our neighbor into a cordial and amicable relatedness, and took off with our friends for the day, somewhat shaken but glad to have good friends with us to put the light of intimacy and respect onto this alienating and disenfranchising experience.
We had no further run-ins, bar a chance meeting in a local eatery, whereby the she of the duo, upped and left, making snide remarks to the establishment owner about not staying where we were.
That was the only direct contre-temps we encountered during our time in Culebra, but it was a lingering one.
We were visited one day by a messenger, bringing us the news that the local homeowners association was hoping to gather for a meeting about how Senora Azul was ‘using her property’. We learned that there had been not insignificant inquiry taking place as to who or what we were doing on the land, neighbors had been quizzed, the wheels of small-minded, speculative humdrummery were spinning, albeit at an island pace.
Millionaires were pissed off. Something was happening within their eyesight that they didn’t understand. There were poor people living on the island, in their neighborhood, near their homes. Poor people who weren’t working in service, cleaning homes, serving food and wiping backsides. But people who were trying to build something else. Something peaceful and non-bothersome. Something non-destructive and ultimately something that they sought to share. But something unconventional, not a scuba business. Not a restaurant. Food. Food and alternative living.
Until said poor people asked themselves ‘¿porque?’. Or rather ‘¿porque aqui?’…
A local expat said to me at the beginning of our time on Culebra, that ‘people don’t have friends here’, which, at the time struck me and subsequently stayed with me for the remainder of our time on the island.
Others told me that the island spits people out that she doesn’t want.
It is true that some places work for some and not for others; and it is certainly true that people are drawn to the people and places that resonate with them. And it is also true that we are sometimes drawn to people and places that do not ultimately suit us for the long term, but that allow us a period of discomfort from which is born greater commitment to our path.
I can’t say that I feel ‘spat out’ by the island of Culebra, but I definitely felt like I had spent long enough in a relationship that wasn’t working.
We arrived on the island wide open after seven years in cooperative, progressive, earth-focused, wild and soulful community in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. We were not really prepared for tiny island life, to be honest. To us, community was – and still is – something real and necessary to survival. Something earthen and accepting, inherently supportive and accommodating, where the hand of friendship is extended with a pulsing heartbeat, where the food is local and good and shared, where newcomers are welcomed and cooked for and offered tea. Where everyone does indeed know everyone’s business, but where the underpinning sentiment is tolerance and open-mindedness, where belonging is underwritten by the sealedness of lips regarding what they know to be your business; rather than tongues wagging about what their owners speculate about your affairs, without ever truly knowing who you are.
We and our children did make some friends while we were in Culebra, we did enjoy the company of others and felt welcomed by several families and couples. We received some consistent friendship from these quarters and I hope that these people, if they read this, know who they are, and know that we cherish them and are grateful for them in our lives.
We just did not fit into the larger fabric of life there. Not for the long term. We will be back to the island, and we have open doors here to any and all of our friends who feel like heading over this way for a visit.
Feels kind of like the south of Spain meets California in the Caribbean. It’s an interesting mix. It’s open.
We have been welcomed, I have lost count of the people who have looked me in the eyes with an open face and told me ‘Welcome Home’.
In one waxing phase of the moon, from New to Full, we have gone from fleeing from our camp in the woods, sodden, to the bugle horn of the Universe bellowing ‘Go West! Now!’; to landing in an alien environment of itty bitty houses and teeny tiny lawns, quiet streets and concrete-a-go-go; to farmers markets, art markets, beaches, rivers, the homes of new friends, learning centers for children that are based on values we cherish; and now to a HOUSE!!
In the rain, at Pirate Camp, as we were packing and lashing down belongings, while our children watched Aladdin upstairs in Senora’s house, and Justin was loading the car, I fell to my knees.
In the rain, onto the Earth, I looked up to the sky, blown wide open, chest wide, arms clasped in prayer and I prayed, aloud, for God/Goddess/the Universe to help us, to guide us and to provide us with a home. A home that we can afford, that we can all thrive in – plants, animals, adults, children. A home where we can flourish, where all our needs – family, business, music, art, garden, piratehood – may be met.
And – boom – on the anniversary of the cremation of our home on wheels, we found that very place. A yellow house, in a quiet, spacious neighborhood, across the street from jungle behind which lies the ocean. A house with two large bedrooms, a separate two-storey guest house with three areas: business, music, art. A large grassy yard, all fenced. Fertile soil. Mature trees. A HUGE separate, attached lot behind the house, overgrown, full of trees, offering ample food (and space) for goats, birds and horses, and the perfect spot for re-situating the Soulpad and stewarding an edible forest garden and magical fairy woodland.
The downs: no oven. But we do have our portable solar oven, hurrah (and toaster ovens are cheap).
No washing machine. We’ll get one.
Needs cleaning, a lot. We’ll enjoy the process of cleansing, smudging, preparing.
The deal: $700 per month.
Two weeks. Prayer asked to prayer answered.
We sign tomorrow on the Full Moon.
Gratitude abounds, for experiences had and for lessons learned, for new friends, new opportunities, new adventures and the re-rooting of a happy family in a home of their own.
For a while…