August 8, 2017
Vieques, Puerto Rico
The house we are sitting, here on Vieques, Puerto Rico, is in a barrio called Monte Santo, which is right smack dab in the middle of the island. There are two towns on Vieques, Isabel Segunda (Isabel II) and Esparanza. Highway PR 997 is a two-lane, cross-island road between the two towns. To get to this main thoroughfare, we travel on a .75 mile stretch of road called La Recta Marta.
We have renamed it Mango Dump Road.
At any given time, you will see horses grazing along this road. When we first arrived here, I ran from our house, down to the end of the road and back, as part of my morning exercise. However, we live on a very steep hill. Getting to the end of the road was a snap, but the last leg getting home was a killer. Old knees do better on even terrain, so eventually I found other running trails.
During June and July, when we were up to our earlobes in mangos, we took the peels and fermenting fruits down the hill and dumped them for the horses. Thus, our name for it, Mango Dump Road.
After a week or so of this dumping ritual, the horses began to recognize our Jeep and would come to the windows, ready for their treats.
When we mentioned our dumping and my running to friends here on the island, we found out that La Recta Marta is seeped in history, humanitarian/ecological projects, tragedy and urban legends. Here are a few.
We found out that there used to be wooden houses and streets that were joined at Mango Dump Road. When Hurricane Hugo hit Vieques in 1989, all of these homes were completely destroyed and never rebuilt.
Now the jungle/forest has reclaimed the area, but every now and then we will see a horse emerge from the woods. Evidently, the trails that were once streets still exist.
We’re not sure about whether it’s folklore, truth, or just a good story to scare the bambinos, but several locals have shared tales of masked robbers on horses who would steal from anyone frequenting the road at night. Some older islanders will take the long way around to get home after the sun sets, to avoid this road.
And, to add to the eerieness…
At the “dead” end of the road there is a vacant house. If you were coming into our neighborhood and came to the end of the road and didn’t turn right or left, you’d crash right through the front door of the house. You can’t miss it. Legend has it that the house just might be haunted, because an angry husband strangled his unfaithful wife there.
A few years back, Viequense, Eddie Ras had a vision for the beautification of this legendary road. Eddie had grown up taking this road to town and was saddened to watch it become a dumping ground after Hurricane Hugo.
After his son, Marley, was born in 2015, Eddie spearheaded a project to plant 175 Flamboyan trees (Royal Poinsiana) on both sides of the road. His dream is for his son to grow up watching the road grow into a path blazed with flamboyan color.
This was no easy task because the ground along the road is rock hard. Eddie and supporters spent hundreds of hours digging holes then filling them with water to soften the ground, so that the holes could be expanded to the proper planting depth and width. The project was completed in 2016 and now it’s up to Mother Nature to continue the project.
From robberies, murder and disaster to a father’s dream for his son, La Recta Marta has come full circle. Our efforts to contribute to a happy, mango-fed equine population on Vieques seems minor compared to this rich history, but the horses love it…and we do too!