After seeing and hearing about various rigging failures we decided to completely replace our standing rigging — that’s the system of guy wires that hold up the mast, and our running rigging — that’s the collection of ropes that control the sails. In the grand scheme of things, it’s small potatoes but we got estimates from riggers and they wanted a lot of dough to both fabricate the parts and install. Through our online Manta tech list we were lucky to have a very generous offer from Dan of Sunny Ray, who said he would install the rig if we sourced the parts. I went into shopping zombie mode, not easy when you’re doing business via Skype on marginal wifi connections. Eventually we got the standing rigging and most of the running rigging ordered and after being driven nuts trying to figure out where to send it I came to my senses and contacted the nice shipper in Miami that we’d used to get things to Grenada. Could she help me? Why yes! The vendor, Rigging Only, could ship to Miami for free, then Miami Mimi would overnight it to us when we gave her the high sign. That meant I had a few days of not having to research, source, order or coordinate shipping on any boat parts. For now. That means tourist time.
We drove to Ponce and took the one dollar tram tour around the old city. We were told the tour would be in English but as it turned out, the only thing the driver did was point to various buildings and yell out “1845!” Or “1920s!” Still, it was fun and Ponce is beautiful.
Ponce is where one branch of my family is from, and I wanted desperately to visit the local archives and do some research. The women at the tourist office directed us to the right building and as soon as we pushed open the door my heart sank. We saw nothing but stacks and stacks of archive boxes. This didn’t look good.
I told the receptionist why I was there and she made a call. In a few minutes a friendly, English-speaking older woman asked if she could help. She was the archivist and when I explained what I was looking for she sighed. She told me they had all kinds of records that would help me but they were all packed up to move to another building and wouldn’t reopen until mid-February. I wrote down my name and contact info and a description of what I was researching and she promised to dig around once they get unpacked and organized. I was glad to have a contact at the archives, but disappointed the I couldn’t poke around in the records myself.
We still have tons to do while we wait for the rigging to arrive so we moved down the list to “get travel vaccinations.” Jack found a vaccination clinic in Ponce and we located it without too many wrong turns. The place was deserted when we arrived. We told the desk clerk we needed travel shots and gave him a list of countries we planned to visit and a couple of minutes later he ushered us into the doctor’s office. We had a nice chat about our trip, decided on what shots we needed to get, choked on the cost, got a scary rundown on possible side-effects, and finally submitted to a course of increasingly painful shots.
As we were leaving I happened to mention that I had family in Ponce I haven’t met yet. I asked the doctor if he knew the Oliver Funeral Home.
“Jackie Oliver? He’s my patient! You have to meet him.” Jack and I looked at each other and cracked up. What are the odds that the random doctor we pull out of a list to give us travel vaccinations ends up being my cousin’s doctor? The doctor told us where to find the funeral home and it was nearby. I was just going to take a photo but when we saw that the parking lot was empty something came over me and I leapt out of the car and up the steps, Jack struggling to keep up with me. I asked for Jackie Oliver at the reception desk and a few seconds later a dapper man came out of an office door.
“Are you Jackie Oliver?” He looked slightly suspicious when I announced that I’m his cousin, and I recited the begats back to our common great-great-great grandmother, Cecilia Purdie Echevarne. His eyes lit up. “Echevarne. I know that name.” And he ushered us into a small room where we sat at a granite table and I showed him the family tree on my iPad. Jackie’s son Jose joined us and with each ancestor I pointed out, Jackie shared a story.
We mentioned we planned a drive to San Juan to pick up our rigging at the airport and Jackie suggested we visit a couple of cousins who live there. He called Betty Oliver and put me on the phone.
I wrote to Betty and several others in Puerto Rico nearly 20 years ago but lost touch and didn’t know how to find them. I was thrilled to hear her voice and we made plans for later in the week. “I love you!” she said when we signed off.
Jackie is a character, and a wealth of information on Ponce and the family. His funeral home also doubles as a museum of all things Ponce and he gave Jack and me a quick tour. Every photo, every piece of equipment or memorabilia prompted a story and we could have listened to him for days.
We had a long drive back to Salinas, though, and the sun was going down and we cruisers turn into pumpkins after dark. We said a reluctant goodbye and posed for a family portrait.
Every time I make another family connection –no matter how distant — I see a more complete picture of the people and events that led to this day and this place and to the person I am. And I’m reminded of how connected we all are to one another. I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.