Hola, Culebra

I’m swaying side to side on the deck trying hard not to lose my balance and as a consequence lose sight of the island. I don’t want to miss a thing on this trip. A splash of saltwater hits my face and I don't even wipe it off. I’m thirsty, tired and elated. The turquoise shades of Ensenada Dákity are visible now and I decide to sit on the bow of the sailboat to get the full view. Culebra is only four hours away by sail and minutes away by plane from Fajardo. Still, I’m suddenly very far from home. Life seems lighter, saltier and sunnier here. Detached from the busy world, I am now nursed by mother nature. I feel smaller in a good way and surrounded by the vastness of this island. 

One place can easily become a universe and so is the case with Dákity, one of the many coves that surround Ensenada Honda and certainly the most popular amongst sailors. The cove is alive with people dancing in their boats, swimming in the almost fluorescent clear waters and moving around in dinghies. A couple waves at us as we enter the cove, and I realize I’m not tired anymore. 

Dozens of sailboats circle us and we take our time deciding where to spend the night. Next to the motorboat with reggaeton music blasting from the speakers or by the ocean cruisers of fifty-somethings relaxing in their cockpits with a book? We want to swim to some beats, so we look for a perfect middle way and we find it. Now anchored securely and with my bathing suit on, I jump carelessly and almost desperately into the water. I'm now submerged in heaven. João Gilberto plays in the background. I look up to the sky and smile. Ahhh, hola Culebra. This is my paradise.

Robb and Rodie's Marina Cay

Marina Cay was separate from a lot of the world.
— Robb White, "Two on the Isle"

I knew little of Marina Cay when my husband suggested we stayed there moored for the night. The island seemed like one more speckle developed to the bone, with yet another Pusser’s store and restaurant (a brand found in several islands). “That’s not the Caribbean I want to see,” I thought, not knowing that I was wrong. In a way, Marina Cay fits the plastic Caribbean description, but I was about to find an inspiring story in the background, hiding behind the touristy façade. 

As we approached the island we encountered a placid lagoon. A reef protected the area where fish hovered stilly knowing they were sheltered. And on the summit of Marina Cay, another kind of shelter crowned it: a quaint home, seemingly standing alone and bearing witness to life on the island. Marina Cay was covered chiefly with trees and undergrowths, surrounded by an active subaqueous life and made famous by a worldly, mini monopoly bordering its coast.

The house's location spoke volumes. Right on the top, right in the middle and facing Tortola -- it was surely the first thing built on the island. 

I set foot on Marina Cay right before sunset looking to explore the mysterious, lonely house and see how it came to be. So I was now following a trail that wrapped the east side of the island in search of a passage north. A crowd of people formed near me and moved towards the restaurant. Others walked to the beach -- or what was left of it. The Pusser’s store was constructed on top of the only sandy beach of the island, occupying it almost completely and interrupting the flow of the water. Seeing the destruction of a beach is infuriating. But I'm was not there to discuss faulty development, I was there looking for a house. I decided not to follow the masses and take a detour to my left.

A lovely path going up hill appeared and I figured it would surely take me to the house. It was flanked by bougainvilleas and banyan trees, making an idyllic landscape. I was elated and gleefully hounded the colorful stretch. I walked for a few minutes, and suddenly, the 600-square-foot house came into sight, its details emerging for me to capture. Simple blue moldings framed an otherwise flawed ledge. Concrete blocks peeked through the poorly executed plasterwork. The construction wasn't stellar, and yet, when the late sun casted its glow over the house, it risen from the ground with dignity and poise, shimmering in all its beautiful imperfections. 

THE house.

THE house.

Until 1937, Marina Cay was uninhabited. Then, writer Robb White and his wife Rosalie "Rodie" Mason -- who were married four months before -- found it while sailing. After living for a few months in Sea Cow’s Bay near Road Town, the couple was disappointed and looking for a new home. It is said Robb used to take his typewriter to their old 13’ foot sailboat to write because mosquitos were “eating him alive.” They sailed often searching for a new place until they came across the nine acre Marina Cay. By foot, the couple circled the small island in a matter of minutes and realized it was a tiny, deserted paradise. A perfect match, they thought, and Robb tracked down the owner in Tortola and asked if he could buy it. 

Robb was offered Marina Cay for the sum of $60. Yes. Sixty dollars. The equivalent of $961.02 today. Excitedly and in awe, the couple bought the island. Obviously.

Robb and Rodie moved right away (against her mother’s recommendation) and lived in a tent while slowly building their humble abode. During this time, they were able to hack a cistern out of the rocky landscape and ship what materials were available to continue the construction. But more astoundingly, they survived a tropical cyclone, forestalled a depraved Nazi skipper, and aided Jewish refugees. 

The pair was able to live on the island for about four years only, leaving the Caribbean when Robb was called to serve in the military during World War II. Sadly, they lost Marina Cay when the British government denied them a title of ownership, claiming Robb’s writings regarding the BVI’s were misrepresentations of the place.* 

Robb and Rodie moved to Thomasville, Georgia and had three children. They later divorced. Robb married twice again, and at age 76 -- four years before his death -- wrote Two On The Isle, about his memories with Rodie on Marina Cay. In the opening lines of the book, Robb wrote, “Marina Cay was separate from a lot of the world.” He also seemed happy to learn about the kind of visitors Marina Cay attracts today -- those who are not looking for “any of the typical tropical plastic entertainments.”

Robb and Rodie really loved Marina Cay, but sadly, they never returned. 

As I walked inside their former home, recalling the story and the courage it took to leave it all behind for a dream, I was shaken. The love and the felicity they shared were palpable -- it could be felt on the uneven walls, the crooked window panes, and even in the Spanish lime tree outside. Remnants of a great adventure now reminding us that life is oh-so-short and inviting us to live our most intimate dreams, no matter how unconventional they may be. 

On Starting Over

What if you want to delete everything and start from scratch? 

What if you feel, deep within your soul, that your chosen path is longer the right one?

There comes a time in your life when big changes need to take place. If things are no longer flowing and you feel like you're smashing your head against a wall every time you try to make it work, it's time to change course.

It will be scary as hell. It will be hard to explain to others. You might even regret it later on. But you owe it to yourself to take a chance on having a better life, on living in peace and going with the flow. 

On the Power of Maitri

I was sitting in the back of the open-air bus filled with locals, moving through the streets of Puerto Vallarta—the smell of tamales, fumes and dirt perfuming the air. I was meditating on the place and absorbing the energy, when suddenly, I felt electric. I felt so alive and connected to the surroundings that I had an urge to cry. I'm not kidding you. I had a natural need to cry out of love for the place I was visiting and the strangers sitting in that bus with me. Very hippyish, I know. But I had a sudden realization that I was not just sharing a bus with these people; I was sharing life. We were all alive together, breathing together, traveling together. Together. 

I held back the tears and started to pray, wishing them happiness, health and prosperity. I was experiencing such an intense connection to them, I had goosebumps all over my body. And then, immediately after sending a wave of affection towards them, a few of the passengers in front briskly turned around as if hearing me call their names. They looked straight at me. "What the f*%#@," I told myself, jumping on my seat and placing my hands on my mouth in pure shock. Then they all turned their backs again, seemingly confused, and I was left puzzled, like a young Potter when first discovering he had powers.

To this day, I've never had an experience quite like the one on that bus in Mexico, but I practice the delivery of good wishes to complete strangers almost every day in hopes of helping them somehow. Curiously, after some research, I found that the Theravāda school of Buddhism calls such experience maitrī—a compassion meditation, a close mental union on the same mental wavelength. The people on that bus felt something and knew it came from me at the exact moment I was purposely sending them my love. That to me, is no coincidence. 

I had never heard of maitrī before in my life, but knowing it's real has taken my spirit to a realm so precious, I've dedicated myself to cultivating it every day. Maitrī is not just about loving others, it's also about loving yourself. Unconditionally. It's what we're here to do. I know it's what I'm here to do, it's why I'm a writer. And I think Maitrī's silently dictating the decisions I'm currently making in my life. Because I want to tap into that magic, that space of belonging, of being human. And isn't that what all writing is about? Isn't that what reading a book or watching a movie is all about? Why we fall in love, have children, go to church, etc.?

Aren't we all seekers of that same connection to life—seekers of that same human experience?

Think about it. Maitrī might be the answer.