At eight, five hours after we got to Desecheo, the yola was
launched into the water again. The sea, now, had an ironic serenity. As well, the cloth stuffing which used to repaired the yola turned out to be very
efficient. It limited the amount of water that continued to enter through the
sides and through the bottom. The sea was not our greatest danger any more. Now our challenge was to get to shore unseen by the coast guard or by any one that
could give us away. That was our fear. But the ever closer welcoming lights of
the island convinced us that everything was going smoothly.
In order to make less noise, the small motor was being operated at its minimal speed.
There was great joy, great tension and an extreme level of alertness. Pedro
was at the helm; Leo gave him some instructions. Pedro had to pass Mayaguez to our left while navigating towards the southeast, to Cabo Rojo. That less populated area was the final destination of our yola. The
rotating lights of just one ship was seen in the direction towards which we were heading.
But it was too far away, it represented no danger to us.
---At last, we're gonna make it! ---said one of the women.
---Yeah we're here! -said Ana, who had not said much during
the voyage but now, just like a few others, made her presence known. Ana suggested:
---Señores, let's count ourselves, we still don't know exactly
how many we are.
We started to count ourselves.
After some recounts, we agreed that, including Leo, Frank and Pedro our total number was exactly sixty seven people:
twenty one women and thirty nine men. After the count, Ana said:
---Señores, don't you think that any one who is successful
in coming to Puerto Rico the way we have done should be received with a medal of honor and after that be given all they need.
We all laughed. One
of the men agreed with Ana. He said:
---That's the way it should be.
As well, some of us should be granted an honorific certificate that gives credit to them as professional water extractors.
After more than five hours of slow navigation, the water remained
serene and land was near. Many of the passengers started to revise their
plans. One said:
---Remember, Ramoncito, when we arrive, let's not get separated,
wherever I go you go.
---Oh no! We're
not going to divide up ---said Leo---; when we arrive at shore everyone must follow directions. We have to remain together until the end. This is not one
of those trips in where once at shore every body goes their own way.
Just a few houses were seen on the shore; no movement was perceived. Further on to the south, many bushes could be seen, dispersed along the shoreline. Among all the trees, the coconut palms stuck out because of their height. Later we got closer and were able to see the area better. Our
great conviction that the danger had passed was alive until a companion sounded the voice of alarm:
---Look over there! ---he said with a rushed and frightened
Then we could see the figure of a man on top of steep ridge.
HE had discovered us. Pedro steered the yola towards the south. But the man got up and started to run along the shore in our direction.
Shortly thereafter, he stopped and lifted his hand and started to make signals like those made by the ground crew at
the airport. Then the organizers realized what it was all about and there was
no reason to be afraid.
We arrived at the shore right in the place where a river was
delivering its water to the sea. It was a sandy place and rocky. When we were close to the shore, we stopped the yola and started to get out. Water reached up to our waists. My foot was painful and swollen
and I could not feel my behind. My whole body had become weak, enervated and cramped.
Frank and Pedro helped some women to get to the shore. Two men took out
of the yola a very thin young woman that looked like she was dead.
---Is she dead ---I
---No! Almost dead. She swallowed a ton of water and shit,
rolling around in the bottom of the yola.
---Sink that fucking yola! ---ordered Leo---, Let's not allow
it to give away about our presence; besides I'll never travel again in that yola.
Three companions sank it very easily. At that moment, the guy that was signaling us from the shore arrived.
He was a young Puerto Rican with Indian traits.
---Oh I'm so glad that you could make it ---he congratulated
us---. The only thing wrong is that the guys that were waiting for you with transportation got tired of waiting and left last
night. Oh man, they thought that you had drowned some where! They waited for two days and last night they took off.
Before showing us the road, the young Puerto Rican guy hid
the motors and tanks among the bushes. Where the sea water ended, the thicket
started and from it a narrow and rarely traveled path emerged. Frank and the
Puerto Rican led the group. We entered deep into a forest of thick but low vegetation. The road became muddy due to the passage of so many feet. Some fell down because of weakness and because of the wet road. I
had taken out from the yola my school bag, and, although I did not bring too
much in it, I found it heavy just like I as I did the jeans and the yellow t-shirt that I was wearing. I decided to carry just my tennis-shoes. And I threw the school
bag to one side of the road. Upon throwing it into the bushes, I told myself:
-"Well, I'm in Puerto Rico.
Clothing is cheap here and if I work, I'll make a lot of dollars".-
I felt the weakening of my body. I frequently had to shuffle my feet and hold on to the bushes along the path in order not to fall down.
Our wet clothes increased the cold caused by the humid forest. The branches hurt
me and, with each step, the sandy ground bothered my wounded foot. We stopped by the shore of a river, at five hundred meters
into the forest, under trees that completely close out the sky.
---Wait here ---said
Leo--- We need to get transportation.
Many wanted to accompany him, because he was going to the Puerto
---I told you to wait here ---Leo insisted---. People around here are always on the watch and if they suspect
our presence here, they'll spread the news.
In spite of what he said, Leo, the Puerto Rican, and Frank
departed taking with them the young woman that looked dead, Herman, the ex-mayor, who was also in a precarious situation with
his health and Ana. The rest of us got ready to rest. We lay down on the wet ground. I stretched out by Papín close
to the trunk of a tree. We fixed up this spot a little bit with some of the clothes
that we found on the site.
---These fucking mosquitoes are going to finish the job of
killing us! ---said one of the women while passengers defended themselves against insects by swatting at them with their hands.
---Shit, they're are attacking us in a swarm! ---a man exclaimed.
Papín, who, with rag was defending himself against the insects,
---My God, Raul, I have never seen so many mosquitos and ants. This ground is covered with ants. And they bite...-
I could not sleep because of the insects and the anxiety. I killed ants and mosquitoes until daylight.
Now, with clarity, we could be sure that we had not been the first passengers that had arrived here. We saw articles of clothing all over.
---Whoever wants to change their clothes just has to find something
that fits them ---shouted one of the women.
There were shoes, pants, shirts, brassieres... all over. At nine in the morning, I put out into the sun a
thin light weight pair of pants because mine were still wet and bothered me. Papin
also found something more comfortable than what he was wearing.
At ten thirty, the Puerto Rican returned. He brought a big bag with fresh breads, ham and a few gallons of bad quality orange juice.
Quickly, we gulped down the food. As well, the people asked for Augusto and for transportation. With
regard to this, the Puerto Rican said:
---Your buddy telephoned Santurce but he could not contact
any of the people that were supposed to pick you up. He could not even get in
touch with anyone that he trusts that could drive you there. So, after he rested
a few hours he departed for Santurce himself, looking for some one trustworthy to take you to the Capital.
After saying this and a few other things, the young man stressed:
---Remember: you've got to stay here to avoid being seen! As soon as your captain solves the problem he'll be back for you.
Having said this, he scratched his head and added:
---I must leave now. I have other things to do.Then he left, lost through the thick bushes.
After having eaten, we had more energy. Some in small groups were lying by the trunks of some trees. Others were telling stories, some told jokes while others were making plans. I felt beat up. I stretched out my body
and yawned. Then I told my friend:
---Look, Papín, I feel so weak that if the guards come to arrest
us, I won't even make the smallest effort to escape.
---I feel the same way, Raul, but if that were to happen, at
least I'd look for a place to hide...-
A young man that had not lost his sense of humor shouted:
---Pedro, what wrong with you?
You don't look good.
Pedro was sitting on the ground, he lifted his head and with
serious faced murmured:
---What a question!
Another man bellowed:
---Pedro is just anxious to see his beautiful Puerto Rican
girlfriend, the one whom he is always mentioning and have all her charm at his disposition.
Pedro with a rough voice said:
---The way I feel right now, they could bring me the Princess
of Monaco with all her charm and I wouldn't lay a finger on her.
People continued chattering like this, while La Fiera, nestled
in near the trunk of a coconut tree, was snoring like a pig. In the afternoon,
we felt more hunger than thirst. The dried salt on the skin of some flaked it
like snakes. The desperation felt due to the tardiness of Leo continued to grow.
One of the women complained:
---He might not even come back!
Or maybe he's still sleeping
It was hot. The
burning sun continued to filter through the branches of the trees causing the temperature to rise more and more. My body seemed to exaggerate the heat: Never before was there
a day so asphyxiant, the air overloaded and that so damaged my dried-up throat The
heat and the thirst increased the chronic weakness that just about obligated me to remain sitting on the ground. It occasionally made me forget the pain in my wounded and swollen
foot as it throbbed.
Thirst was burning me, reducing me to nothing; it had transferred
itself to a place in me; it was asking me for water, just water. The water of
the river was undrinkable, salty as was the sea water. My companions were complaining
of thirst; but I believed that I was the thirstiest of all. I felt one of my
tennis shoes heavy and water logged and there was no way to fit the other one on my swollen foot. So, barefoot, falling down as I struggled to get to my feet,
I walked along a narrow path that went near the sea. I was crazy for water...
My sight appeared darkened to me, just like my own existence. But seeing no houses,
I continued along the narrow and muddy road. I reached a place with lots of coconuts
trees. Under one of them I found a mug that contained a small amount of dark
and very dirty water. I brought the mug to my mouth and with a sip of water I
wet my sore throat. Then, somewhat more encouraged I persisted looking for water. Shortly thereafter, I reached a narrow caliche road.
A little further I found a shallow pool of dirty water that the sun had not drunk completely. I kneeled on the ground and, like a thirsty dog, I licked the salty water until I was full. My thirst was not quenched completely, but I went back to my companions who I had left a kilometer away. I arrived precisely when people began to distribute among themselves gallons of clean
and fresh water; the Puerto Rican "jibaro" had brought it. I drank again and