Vejigantes Masks

Last night, I had the most beautiful dream. I was a butterfly flying around a gorgeous meadow. The sun was shining and I was in love with the butterfly king. I could feel myself smiling when I woke up. I sat up in bed, stretched, and opened my eyes. (SCREAM!) A bright red monster with eight horns was staring me in the face. I thought I was still dreaming, so I did what any person would do to a monster in a dream. (PUNCH!) I jumped out of bed and ran for the door.

It turns out, the boys bought paper mache vejigante masks from the market yesterday for the Carnival de Ponce today. This morning they got the bright idea to scare all us girls as we woke up. I’m glad they bought the paper mache ones because I don’t know what the ones made of a cow’s bladder would have looked like. I didn’t stick around to see who I clocked in the face, but it was pretty funny after I figured out what was going on. The other girls didn’t find it so hilarious. You should have seen all the sour faces at breakfast. LOL!

I should have known they were going to try something like that today. Today was the Festival of Saint James and the vejigante masks and costumes are a huge part of the celebration. You see, the different  masks tell the story of good versus evil. There are several characters one could choose to play during this festival; the knight, the vejigantes, the elders, or the crazy woman. The fun part about this tradition is that it’s unconventional. There are celebrations everywhere, not just in the main street or the main square in town. There are different celebrations going on everywhere, from the mall, to the street, to the airport. Yes, the airport. There are even art galleries that dedicate artwork to the vejigantes.


I was just amazed at how elaborate the masks were. They had between three and twenty horns and ranged from the traditional colors of red, black, and yellow to baby pink and lime green. I got to see a really nice one up close because one of the vejigantes pulled me out of the crowd to salsa dance to a Celia Cruz song. I must have been dancing already when he saw me and that’s why he approached me. You would not believe me if I described how awesome he looked, so I took a picture to show you. Now imagine this waking you up in the morning!


Where is Columbus?

This afternoon we went to the Columbus Lighthouse. It was built between 1986 and 1992 in honor of Columbus’s “discovery” of America. It didn’t look much like a lighthouse. The building looked about half a mile long, and the building was in the shape of a cross. The light that circulates was in the shape of a cross, and there was a beam of light coming out of the top that was in the shape of a cross too. The tour guide said that the light is so strong you can see it as you fly over, and the people on the near coast of Puerto Rico can see the light, too. Now that’s a strong light!

The lighthouse is a museum and a mausoleum. That’s why it’s so big. The tour guide said the remains of Christopher Columbus are here. Before he could even finish his sentence, this woman interrupted him and said the remains were in Spain. The Tour guide’s face got all red, and I could see he was a little angry that she interrupted his speech. Without even responding to her, he continued on about the remains and walked us to the tomb.


When the tour was over, I saw the tour guide and the woman having a heated argument in the corner. I’m not one to miss a good argument, so I walked a little closer so I could hear. The woman was saying that in 2006, it was proven by DNA that Christopher Columbus’s remains were in Seville, Spain. The tour guide then responded that his body was moved several times, but his final resting place was there at the lighthouse. There were several attempts to keep enemy invaders from destroying the body, so they had to use deception in order to ward them off. After he said that, the lady just kept saying “you can’t deny DNA.” No matter what he said back, her response was always the same.

That conversation brought up an interesting question. Where are the remains of Christopher Columbus? He was initially laid to rest in Valladolid, Spain, but his son wanted him moved to Seville, Spain. Columbus’s wife knew he wanted to be buried in the Americas, so then he was moved to the Dominican Republic. Then, when the French took over the island in 1795, he was moved to Havana, Cuba. But when the Spanish-American War broke out in Cuba, his remains were moved back to Seville, Spain, where he was proven to be through DNA evidence. Here’s the kicker, and probably what the tour guide was arguing: whether at any point anyone had looked in the casket to verify that there was a whole body in there. The guide was trying to tell the lady that it is possible that some parts of Columbus were there at the lighthouse and other parts in Seville, but the official tomb was in the lighthouse.


I know Christopher Columbus probably didn’t plan on having his body moved around so much. He probably would have liked to have been placed in one spot and left alone. But then the question would have been where? Here are two questions to make you think: Where do you think he wanted to be buried and where do you think he’s actually buried?


Puerto Rico Baseball League

There are about seventy-five players in Major League Baseball who were born in Puerto Rico, but now live and play baseball in the United States. That got me thinking. Is there a Puerto Rican league, and is baseball as popular in Puerto Rico as it is in the United States. I set out to answer these questions while we were in Puerto Rico.

Turns out, there is a Puerto Rican baseball league. Baseball has been around for centuries in Puerto Rico, but the organized league started in the early 1900s. They play in the winter time which is the opposite from us as we play in the summer. The name of the league has changed several times, but the league itself has been around for manny years. We happened to be in Ponce and there’s a team called the Leones de Ponce. Get it, Leones de Ponce? Ponce de Leon. Never mind. LOL!


We went to see the Leones de Ponce play the Senadores de San Juan at the Estadio Francisco Montaner in Ponce. We wore red and white to fit in with the home crowd in the packed stadium. It looked like a typical baseball stadium in the United States. People were heckling the batter and there was music. The DJ kept playing some track with a trombone as the main instrument. I guess it was their version of the baseball instrumental.

As I looked around the stadium I saw the typical advertisements and sponsors you would see at a stadium back home. There were car companies, cell phone companies, the typical alcohol companies, and local mom and pop companies. It was cool because the banners were in the same places. There was one surprise though. One of the players hit a home run and the DJ started playing “Who Let the Dogs Out?” The people were dancing and singing along as if it were a new song on the radio. We were cracking up!!!


There are five teams in the Puerto Rico Baseball League, and the winner of the Puerto Rican equivalent to the World Series goes on to play in the Caribbean Series. It’s like the Olympics of baseball for Latin America. Now that I think about it, I think I remember seeing something on ESPN Deportes about the Caribbean Series being held in Puerto Rico in 2011. That’s just confirmation that baseball really is big in Puerto Rico.


Juan Luis Guerra

Tonight was awesome!!! We went to the Juan Luis Guerra concert in Santo Domingo. You can’t imagine how handsome he is. He’s super-tall, like 6’5”, with long, dark, wavy hair (almost always covered by a hat), light brown eyes, and a full beard. He got his height from his father, who was a famous basketball player, but he got his looks from his mom: she was amazingly beautiful.

I was completely engulfed in his music. The band was rocking and his voice was so angelic. I couldn’t put my finger on his style. It was a mix between salsa and merengue and bachata with little flecks of soft rock. For a minute there, I could almost hear some gospel, jazz, and Afro-pop. Now, I believe the jazz part because he studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, but where did he get the gospel and Afro-pop from?


The band, Cuatro Cuarenta, has two women and one other guy. I heard a story about how they used to pile up in an old VW Beetle and drive to their gigs before they got famous. They would ride around on their days off and hope they’d hear their songs on the radio. That sounds like something I would do. LOL!  I also heard that Juan Luis used to write jingles for a living when he first got back from Boston. I think that’s a cool way to get started in the business.

When they played my favorite song, Ojalá que llueva café, I had to close my eyes and sing along. When I opened my eyes, I swear he was smiling at me. OK, maybe he was smiling in my direction, but I like to think he was smiling at me.

OK, I’m exhausted and going to bed now. Thanks for the good times tonight, Juan Luis Guerra.


Bombos, Congas, Timbales, Güiros, and Maracas

Today, we went to a music studio to learn about the instruments that make Puerto Rican salsa music so special. When we pulled up to the building, there were no signs, no people, just a plain blue, concrete building. It didn’t look like much, but we went inside anyway.

On the inside, we were escorted into a room that looked like a dance studio by two guys, Ricardo, who is the Director of Music and Javier, who is the Director of Dance at the studio. The room was well lit and very spacious. There was a wall of mirrors with a balance bar attached. The floors were a light-colored hardwood with a smooth, shiny finish. I figured this was a salsa studio once I saw the instruments in the corner. I sang in the show choir in school, so I never got to know the instruments. Everything looked like a drum to me, but I knew they each produced a different sound.

Ricardo showed us how to play each instrument. He started with the snare drum with a cow bell attached, called a timbale in Spanish. He played this little beat that I had to mimic. It went rat-tat-rat-tat-tat. He told me to keep playing that beat over and over again. He said I could do it on the cow bell or on the drum, but I had to keep the beat.


While I kept playing, he told Aunt Rita to get on the congas. I’d seen those before, but had no clue there was a method to playing them besides banging away. Ricardo told Rita to do a 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and count. Once she got the count, he told her to speed up. She went through the faster count and he told her to speed up again. He told her to speed up one more time, and by this time, she had caught up to my rhythm.


Of course Andy and Janet knew how to play the güiro (it looked like a bee hive with a stick you rub against it) and the bombo (a large drum). Their dad is a music teacher who taught them a lot, so they naturally chimed in and found the rhythm. Ricardo kept the maracas (large rattles) I was so concerned about my beat that I didn’t realize Ricardo had paired up Patricia and Mack, Tess and Tim, and was teaching them some new salsa moves. Our music was awesome! I did really well for having never played an instrument in my life. Ricardo asked us if we wanted to switch off and dance, but we were having so much fun we didn’t want to switch.



Time really flew. Before we knew it, it was time for dinner and we were hungry. Ricardo and Javier complemented all of us on our natural talents. I asked him if we were ready for the “BIG TIME” and he said yes with a smile. I think we’re ready to record our first hit! You’ll see our CD in a music store near you. LOL !!!