were cries of joy at twelve thirty in the afternoon. The motor, perhaps dried
by the hot sun, sounded as if it might start.
---It's about to start! ---shouted some and the rest agreed. And sure enough, after starting and stopping repeatedly, the small motor took strong
hold amidst the uproar of all of us. Then, with his sore voice, but very exited,
---I told you that this little motor was something else!
We were surprised that no one showed up to rescue or arrest
us during the almost five hours that we were drifting. But, after quite some
time of navigating towards Desecheo, the appearance of a helicopter in the area aroused the tension in all of us. The aircraft began to survey the island. At the same time,
at a great distance, to our right and to our left, two large ships were navigating headed towards the west.
---They saw us from that helicopter, for sure! ---stated one of the passengers. --It's impossible that they
haven't seen us ---affirmed other.
---Do you think they are the coast guard? ---asked a woman. Pedro answered:
---I don't think
so. If it had been them, they would have already come down. I heard some one say that at the top of that island they are raising lions and tigers and that a helicopter
comes to check on them and to bring them food. I also learned that they are trying
to reduce an over population of monkeys on that island because they are threatening other animals with extinction. Among them are some rare birds.
---Any way -said Leo---, we have to find a place to hide . If they notify the coast guard about our presence, very soon they'll be looking for
us. Finally the helicopter stopped flying over the area. It descended at the
summit of the island. Arriving at Desecheo became more sure than probable now. Slowly, we saw what was once a point emerging from the water grow larger. Now we began to admire this rocky place, its craggy height and scarce vegetation. We could also see some ducks, pelicans and swallows in the area.
One of our companions discovered something very interesting at one point of the island.
---Look over there! ---he exclaimed excitedly-. There is someone
We all squinted and strained to see what our companion was
pointing at. It looked like a statue mounted on a big rock.
---It must be a scarecrow ---said one of the men. But every one doubted of this when we saw it moving from one place to another.
---It might be a monkey, didn't
Pedro said that there is an over population of monkeys on that island. -affirmed a 17 year old young man.
---Those are people! ---answered another passenger when we
noticed that another figure approached the first one who stood motionless like a statue.
A little later one of them started waving.
---It looks like they are calling us ---said one of the women.
There was a minute of silence and expectation. All our eyes were focused in the same direction. Then one
of the passengers said:
---You're right! Those are people; without a doubt, two men. The one that looked like a scarecrow is signaling us to come over where he is.
Another man said:
---We shouldn't pay attention to them. They must be coast guards...- What else could those two men be doing on that unpopulated island.
---You're right! ---said
Leo as he began to direct the yola towards the South. On the island, the man
continued to signal us. In the yola, an argument started among those of us who
believed that we should go to the island and those who thought that it was not a good idea to do so. Leo stopped the yola and with uncertainty, warned:
---Those people can arrest us or call with a radio to have
But most of the passengers wanted to go to the island. Even Frank and Pedro insisted that the yola should head towards the place where the
two men where. Pedro still looked strong.
He seemed to have suffered less than the rest of us. The dried salt gave an ashen color to his black skin. Although he had spoken very little during the crossing, he opposed Leo strongly. Quite annoyed he protested:
---If those men had wanted to give us away, they would have
done so already. Maybe they just want to help us.
If not, there's only two. Even if they're armed, they wont be able to
control all these people...-
To finish the argument, with great conviction, Pedro said:
---Let's go over there!
They might be able to kill two or three of us, but the rest of us will tear off their heads if we have to.
---That's the spirit! ---approved La Fiera enthusiastically.
Then, Leo, quite pessimistically, left the helm to Frank. He had been insisting that he should be steering the yola. A little later, we were getting closer to the small island. We're
navigating slowly trying not to crash against one of the many rocks that stuck
out from the water. Because of the inclination of the shore, as we got very close,
we could not see the men any more. At last, at three o'clock, the boat landed
on the rocky border. Directly at the shoreline the terrain began to ascend. At a short distance, there was a platform where
the two strangers were waiting. Ten of the strongest men got off the boat. Pedro was one of them and so was La Fiera. They
climbed about thirty meters to reach the two men.
I remained in the yola together with Leo and the others. I
found it hard to stay on my feet because of the weakness I was feeling all over my body.
We were not able to hear what the two men told our companions and they were not able to understand what they were trying
to say. One passenger came back to the boat and somewhat discouraged said:
---We don't understand them.
They speak English. But they seem to be good people.
Leo did not loose a second.
It seemed the problem brought him the solution too. Quite quickly, he
laid eyes on me and said:
---Oh, rent-car, you go!
Some helped me descend from the yola that was landed near the
rocks. That was one of the occasions in which I felt more intensively the pain
in my foot. I looked at it. It was
swollen up to the instep. Leo and almost all the other passengers also headed
to the place where the two English speaking men were. Hopping along, I jolting,
tried to get to them. But the two men, although they had not understood the Spanish
of the passengers, they did understand that we were starving. To get us some
food, they had moved about fifty meters to the North where they had a tent.
I arrived and found my companions starting to work with the
food. In the mean time Herman, who had arrived a little before me, with a hoarse
voice, was talking with the taller of the two strangers. He was white, albeit tanned by the sun, about six feet tall. He must have weighed around one hundred eighty pounds, all well distributed in his
robust body. His athletic body reminded me of my uncle Manuel, who lived in Santurce,
to whose house I was trying to get. My uncle is also a very tall and strong man
whose body gives testimony to the fact that he had dedicated a great part of his life to sports. I hardly observed the other man, since he looked mute; he said not even half a word. He was just looking at us like an idiot. He was shorter and
chubby. The hair of both men looked like the hair of tender corn. Both appeared to be about forty years old. The passengers
made a circle. Three companions where passing on canned fruit and bread. Each one of us was able to get a slice of bread, two slices of pineapple, two peach
slices and a little of the mixed fruit. Just a few were able to get water. Thirst continued to torment me.
I was the only one who could understand what Herman continued
to say to the man. At first, I was just listening, but later, little by little
I got involved in the conversation. The face of that man reflected such a great
compassion for us, that I myself felt even more pity for us. The women and most
of the men looked like deteriorated rags. This
was not counting those, who in the worst condition, remained in the yola. The
man continued speaking sensitively. Followed by Herman and I, he had already
descended a few steps, enough for us to see the shore. He was looking for something,
then after an instant he pointed with his finger and said:
---Look down there and over there..! ---he was pointing to
the rocks of the shore, where the waves continued to hit. It was easy to see
what he was pointing at: lots of floating boards moving by the constant oscillation of the waves at the shoreline of the rocky
island. Then he told us something that we had already figured out:
---Those are the rest of many of the fragile wooden boats coming
from your country. Their passengers were not as lucky as you were to get here
I tried to justify our reason to make such a trip. But he interrupted me to say:
---It doesn't surprise me that you risk your life like this. We are biologists and work for the Unites State Government. We are here studying the wild life of the island. But, on
professional business, I have gone to Santo Domingo's Zoo. On my second trip,
just a year ago, I noticed the growing misery of the neighborhood near the zoo, (Cristo Rey). The men and children of that
neighborhood approached me to ask me for some money or tried sell me something. I
was also impacted by the very poor houses in which people live there.
Herman and I were translating the man's words into Spanish
while most of our companions were sitting resting under the very hot sun. But Leo, with great effort, got on his feet and interrupted our translation to say:
---Thank them and tell them that we must continue on our way.
We passed Leo's message, but the man, as if he had not heard
---Among other animals, this island has a great number of wild
goats. You only have to hide yourself some where and we'll hunt and cook a goat
for you so that all of you can satisfy your hunger.
We repeated to Leo the man's words. But, without hesitation, he insisted:
---No! Thank them, and tell them that we have to continue our
refused the offer, although being more than tempting and in spite of the fact that many insisted that he should accept it. The captain looked quite nervous and uncertain.
He was looking in all directions like a scared deer. The situation,
of course, put him under great stress. It was obvious that he was being consulted
and that the order to leave was coming from him. Any ways, I thought that if
he had known English, he would have trusted a little more and would not have rushed us so much. He might even had accepted the man's offer to hunt and cook the goats for us. On the other hand, the taller of the two strangers, given our denience of his offering, told us:
---We beg you not to mention this incident to anyone. We are not supposed to help people enter illegally into territory of the Unites States. But, since very early in the morning, with the binoculars, we saw you trying to get
to this island. We suspected what it was all about and decided to help you... Good luck and may you be successful ---were his last words.
While leaving, many of the passengers, in a broken English,
expressed fervently their gratitude to the two men. A few minutes later the overloaded
yola was leaving the shore. Nevertheless, the organizers had no intention of
continuing the trip to Puerto Rico at that moment. Leo, instead, started to navigate
close to the shore around the rocky island. After a while he murmured:
---We had to find
a convenient place that allows us to hide the yola and to rest until the night comes.
In the dark we'll get to Puerto Rico with less risk of being discovered and arrested.
Although we were still thirsty and hungry, we were also excited. Puerto Rico could not be so far away; in the distance, we saw the silver light of
the sun over the green mountains of Aguada and Rincon. After circling around
the island, we found an adequate place to take shelter and to hide the yola. It
was a dark huge cave. We landed at its entrance.
---We have to put the yola into the cave so that no one can
see it from the outside.
With a great effort, many of us dragged the yola a few meters
over the sand and the rocks until it was completely inside the big cave. Then,
some of us remained near the yola. Others went further inside and found darker
places. We all lay down on the dim sand.
We looked like wounded soldiers, abandoned on the battle field. I had
sore eyes because I had not slept for the past few days and because of anemia and exhaustion.
I thought it was going to be so easy to sleep and rest. So I stretched
onto on the sand and got ready to take a much deserved rest. However, minutes
went by and although I tried, I could not sleep. No position or effort helped me get to sleep.
My efforts just increased the exhaustion of my demolished body.
After more than two hours of fighting with all kinds of anxiety
and unwelcome thoughts, I stood up from the creamy colored sand. I started to
inspect the yola. I found it hard to concentrate at one fixed place. I continued to see spots. I felt my head going around in circles
and occasionally I lost my sight or saw all the space in front of me oscillating in the same way that the yola had been during
the thirty six hours that we spent in the sea. I felt like a tiny particle moved
by a sieve. Without being able to sleep and due to the afflictions that affected
me, I started to scrutinize the yola. I realized that it had lost all the resin
with which it had been caulked. I took out a plane screw driver from the mechanic
tool bag. I tore off some cloth that I found in the cave and I used a stone as
a hammer and started stuffing cloth in the place where I noticed that water had been filtering in the yola. My work disturbed some who were sleeping or intending to sleep. Pedro,
from a dark corner of the cave shouted at me:
---What the fuck? Leave that shit alone! You're gonna end up fucking it more than what it is already.
I paid little attention to his words; I persisted until I was
pleased. My attempts to repair the yola encouraged a few. They got up and tried to start the big motor which we had not been able to use.