The coach is on the mound and is already signaling for the lefty. So I get the call. Yes, I get the connection…coffee…me, but this is more Marce’s kind of story, after all it’s her family that had a sugar plantation in the early 1800’s called Hacienda Bagatela nestled in the flatlands of coastal Ponce, probably with a few slaves thrown in to do the work. My family, by contrast, was probably making pea gravel out of large rocks in the mountains of Romania.
I may have already mentioned that we had a Sidney car rental here in Salinas so when we heard there was a restored functioning coffee plantation called Hacienda Buena Vista high up in the misty mountains above Ponce, we gassed up the Fiesta.
Driving in Puerto Rico is like taking an advanced master course in collision avoidance. You’ll round a corner only to stare into the grill of some kind of Toyota blithely driving in your lane. Yikes! Oh, it’ll be a bump in the road or some such irritant that they want to avoid. Bumps in the road take precedence over all other rules-of-the-road in Puerto Rico, so one can often meet an on coming car with nothing more than bump avoidance instead of head on avoidance foremost on their mind. No one drives in the right hand lane on the highway…it’s less bumpy in the left lane and it’s normal to find an old car tiptoeing across a bump in the left hand lane of a sixty five mile per hour highway. The closing rate is a pucker inducing eye opener of the first rate. They aren’t looking out for you so you’d better be watching out for them.
As I say we corkscrewed up and around the most awesome mountain vistas, in and out of cloudy mists and more than a few bumps in the road until, while negotiating a tight righthand switchback we came upon a formal guarded entry gate. This is unusual for PR but we queued up behind the ubiquitous Toyota and as ordered, we waited. Soon school was out and the class ahead of us filed out and the Toyota and I filed in, all very orderly. Nice grounds, unusual touch to enter and exit through the gift shop where Marce succumbed to their temptations with a few needed purchases.
I was immediately impressed with the amount of work and expense building the tremendous infrastructure required to house and feed slaves, animals, and family on the side of a mountain, and then to divert a mountain stream through a long series of aqueducts and culverts to run all the necessary machinery to produce coffee and mill corn. All the machines are in working order and are demonstrated for your edification but the best was a waterjet-powered turbine corn mill which uses the force of a 75 foot vertical drop of water to squirt out of two opposite-facing high pressure nozzles. We were very clever back in the 1800’s. The machine was manufactured at the West Point Foundry and shipped to Ponce at incredible expense. If you want to see a Barker Hydraulic Turbine working you’ll have to go to Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce, Puerto Rico, because it’s the only one there is.
The next class was waiting and orderly at the gate as we finished the tour and started winding our way down through the beautiful mountains. It takes a while to unscrew yourself from the twists and turns, what with dodging all those bump-adverse Toyotas in the wrong lane so it was dark when we arrived at the marina dinghy dock for another nighttime burger at the snack bar and a 200 foot dinghy ride back to Escape Velocity, motionless in the stillness of Salinas Bay. As my grandfather used to say, “there and back in the same day.” I was never sure what that meant but it’s always good to get back to our home.