Over the Mountains and Through the…Banana Trees

First of all, bananas technically don’t grow on trees, they’re just big plants. But I digress…

It dawned on me that I never talked about a little trip we took a few months ago into Utuado, a mountain town in the central west coast of Puerto Rico. Please excuse me, I am truly trying to learn the ropes of this blogging thing 🙈.

My little brother came to visit us and he wanted to do something obscure while on the island. He read about Lago Dos Bocas and we decided to go. It was about a two hour drive from San Juan, so we packed my little PT Cruiser with snacks and water, filled up the tank and headed out. Driving out west is so pretty, in between bigger towns lay wide open green spaces, mountains and cliffs. The traffic starts to dissipate, highways are less pot-holey and you can really enjoy the scenery.

We passed through Vega Alta, which is where my husband’s father was born. The girls were very excited to get even just a glimpse of that piece of their abuelo, and stared out the windows in amazement that “he was really born here!?” Funny story: my old landlord sent a handyman to my apartment to do some random work. He knew my last name and asked (my mother-in-law, since she was still here at the time) if she were from Vega Alta. She was perplexed (and not just from what she described as his incredibly fast and unique dialect). He explained that people with our last name live in Vega Alta, that families tend to stay in their regions and you can usually guess where they are from based on their surname. That was really neat, like a little dollop of belonging!

Once you get near Arecibo, you turn southward and before we headed into what our gps showed as the middle of nowhere, we stopped by a roadside food truck.

Satellite image of the area we were about to drive into. All that green!

These food stands dotted every highway we’ve driven on, and they are all so busy! Even in more rural areas, it’s amazing to me how many people come to eat on the side of the road. A huge wood burning grill was set up with dozens of rotisserie chickens dripping their Puerto Rican marinade onto the coals, wafting that delicious scent way up the highway (mmm, is it lunchtime yet?!). Placing orders is always fun, since I still can’t understand spoken Spanish, but I heard the girl in the truck say “medio” which is half so I just agreed. Apparently it came with sides and I awkwardly gestured that I was ok with anything. We wound up with arroz con gandules and boiled green bananas–and a huge serving size at that–for less than $10! A nice old lady handed the girls lollipops, which they gracefully accepted with “¡gracias!” and held until passing them to me once in the car. It’s amazing how persistence and consistency can yield two young children who willingly give up candy on their own.

We split the large meal, most of it for my brother, some for me and a little less shared between the girls. They didn’t care about that lollipop at all, they were just excited I let them eat rice and chicken from a truck! And of course it was all delicious, even the bananas which I’d never previously eaten prepared in that way (I’ll have to learn how to make it and maybe bring to Puerto Rican Christmas sometime!).

Although I never stop to buy food when I go places, I was a little stressed about all the waste from even this quick stop. We had a big styrofoam container, two more styrofoam plates, plastic utensils for each of us, several napkins and a plastic bag. I hadn’t originally intended on stopping for food, so I didn’t have any reusable containers. But I also can’t communicate my intentions if I had been prepared. I can’t even imagine handing someone my empty steel lunch tin and in horrible Spanish trying to convey that I’m attempting to be eco-conscious lol. It’s hard enough trying to do this in the States, in my own language; people still don’t understand and I wind up having to do all this explaining or they will just refuse to fill up my own dang coffee cup! *sigh* I suppose this is when I’m supposed to just take one for the hippie team and try, even though it’s awkward, even though it’s embarrassing and will probably not even work out. But someone has to do this “work” so that it can become mainstream (oh, accountability 🙄)!

After our earth-betraying meal, we headed down I10 which was beautiful enough on its own to take a road trip to witness. We could see nothing but green, only tall misty hills flanking the narrow road ahead of us and behind us. I was driving so I sadly couldn’t take photos, but reflecting on this excursion is a lesson that I need to make a way for more documentation in the future. You live and learn 🤷🏽‍♀️. The sound of coquis, large flourishing banana plants, clouds and rainbows coming and going. It was breathtaking.

At some point we turned onto a side road and wound through hillside communities. Small shacks of homes sprouted up too near the road, their properties inhabited by cows and papaya trees. I had to yield more than a few times to crossing dogs who clearly believed I was trespassing on their land.

Our gps no longer in service, somehow we made it to the lake! It was incredibly quiet here, a few cars parked in the small lot, but no people as far as I could see. A building was near a dock, but neither seemed to be manned. Luckily as we walked toward the dock a man approached us and I clumsily tried to ask if we could get on a boat just to look at the scenery. (Quiero…ir? En el barco. Solo mira. Paga?) A boat was coming up to the dock and it seemed that the gentleman said we can get on and pay the driver, $5 for adults, children free. So we get on and another couple has arrived to go for the ride as well. The driver spoke absolutely no English and did not ask the other riders to pay, so we were confused. But we figured we could pay after we turn around come back, so we strapped into our lifejackets and began the approximately 15 minute ride through the lake to the other side.

It was so lovely! It was a cloudy day so the weather was perfect for just having a look around. The man-made lake is situated right in the middle of towering hills (mountains?). There are several houses sitting in these hills and I can’t even image how those residents get in and out of their properties. The boat service is for locals who live or work on the other side of the lake and it is all very laid back. At the dock, the other couple got off and still did not pay, and we stayed put while I tried to ask for him to drive us back to the other side. I fumbled with my phone translator a bit, but no service way out here! He was very nice but was clearly trying to say we had to get off the boat. His gestures seemed to imply that he had to leave and would return, so we just disembarked.

Wikipedia image of Lago Dos Bocas

The short dock was at the foot of a very steep hill with a narrow path up to a restaurant. We had nothing to do for at least 40 minutes, so we headed to the bar for Medallas. One was served to us completely frozen (I don’t think too many people are in and out of this lake restaurant lol). I ordered a pineapple juice for the girls to share, so at this point it’s the greatest day of their lives 😆.

With time to kill, we wandered around, and it appeared as though one must pass through the restaurant in order to get to a small neighborhood hidden behind it. Camouflaged amongst the rocks of the hill we spotted a toad, to the girls’ delight. A family having finished their meal, headed down to the dock with fishing poles and leisurely caught and released several fish, also to the girls’ delight. What a delightful day they were having lol!

Soon the boat appeared, without passengers which made us wonder even more why we couldn’t return with the driver (was it his lunch break?). He greeted us cheerfully and we loaded back up for a second round of peaceful lake-gazing. We were not asked for payment upon docking but just gave him the fee plus a tip, to thank him for tolerating my accidentally referring to the watercraft as la bota (which is boot, in case you didn’t know 🤦🏽‍♀️ I didn’t realize until later in the day that I had been mis-speaking…no wonder he was looking at me crazy).

I pulled the towel from my cinch bag and we sat in the grass to eat the lunch I’d packed. This is the point where my baby girl told me she needed to poop. Oh, you didn’t have to do that when we were in a restaurant with indoor plumping? “Do you think you will be able to hold it?” She says yes, but I already know she won’t be able to and I’m trying to find a solution. We aren’t near any place she could relieve herself discreetly, and there’s no way she can wait until we get home. Five minutes pass, “I really need to poop!” I remember the bag of trash from the food truck and I empty it, I move the passenger seat of the car all the way back, and have my child squat off the edge of the front car floor, holding the bag beneath her and tell her she can let it rip. Oh, parenting is glamorous as fuck sometimes! But now I’m thanking the food truck for the disposable napkins that are doubling as scratchy TP, and this shit emergency has been solved! There is a dumpster just past the parking area so I can dispose of the *ehem* waste (thank goodness! Because I couldn’t just leave that out on the ground somewhere, and I DEFINITELY didn’t want to drive it home with us 😷).

We pack our things, take a last look around and start to make our way out of Lago Dos Bocas. Not long after we made it back onto the highway, it started pouring down rain, so our timing was perfect. We all enjoyed a nice full day of kinda doing nothing; but doing nothing is exactly what we need sometimes!

Photo credit: Jordan Knox

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