Quinta La Esperanza.
Roughly translated it means Villa of Hope.
Where I lived no longer exists.
It’s a weird feeling.
It’s a little like Avalon, I guess.
I was recently pinning my little heart out, setting up boards of places I used to live, reminiscing about my time in those places. It was a nice jaunt down memory lane, remembering when I was living there, remembering both the good and bad, but more who I was at those times.
There was one place we lived that was off the beaten path. I was young then, about 9 years old. I knew I wouldn’t find pictures of the area as it barely existed even when we were there. It was an aging area, with one section kept pristine for the nostalgic interests of the owners.
It was on the beach, outside of Ponce, Puerto Rico, three miles down a dirt road from the airport through sugar cane fields. The estate compound was generations past it’s prime when we lived there. The owner, an elderly woman, in age only, not in spirit, who would become our surrogate-grandmother and endearing influence on us, kept her home where she had lived her life with her husband and extended family. It was their vacation home then, right down from their business (they owned the Don Q Rum company). Her husband had died over 10 years prior when we had met her.
The compound consisted of a gate house with a full gate, at the entrance to Quinta La Esperanza, as it was called. There was a party kiosk with a full working kitchen near an over-grown tennis court, temporary stables and a corral. A short walk away in one direction were the remains of several large homes which had been empty for decades.
The other direction lead to our home, down a stone-filled dirt road lined by freshly painted white rocks. The drive way area to the home was lined by palm trees, painted white at the bottom, and leading to a circular drive in the front of the home. The center of the circle was also lined with white rocks and had several white painted palm trees in the middle. It was a beautiful resort-like entry that defined the ghost-town feel of the compound overall.
The main house was large, and had an apartment-like home on the top, with an enormous roof-top patio. Off to the side were two small guest cottages. The entrance to our home, which was the upstairs home, was around the back, which was the beach side.
We only lived there for a year, but it was a magical time for me. I remember living in the other homes leading up to that time, but something about that place was different. It was the first time I really experienced solitary living … there was no one for miles, ever, when I had always lived in neighborhoods filled with other kids my age.
The house, as I said, was right on the beach, and obviously it was completely private. The downstairs covered patio was clearly one of a grand generation, and was well kept, complete with glorious furniture and a full bar. The white stucco concrete of the house was offset by the consistent aqua blue paint, that was continued through the outdoor furniture and tile.
Doña Lina had showed us pictures of the area when there were parties, one to celebrate the wedding of her two dogs, two Yorkies, when they had “finally tied the knot” after having 27 puppies together. The newspapers had gotten hold of one of the invitations, which she said she had sent out to for her nieces and nephews, and the elite of the island showed up for the grand party.
The path leading from the patio to the beach ended at the bushes and the large tree. From there on, she told us, was nature, uncontrolled and beautiful. It was about another 100 yards to the waters edge, and she said that space was needed to allow you to ease into the rawness of the Caribbean Sea.
The beach was private. It wasn’t stunning, it had black sand that is all over Puerto Rico beaches (except the high end resorts where they import white sand). It was rustic and natural, but it was a different time. There was no crime there, no litter, none of the dangers we would expect in today’s world, in our mainland life.
It was a fun time, and a pivotal time. It was a magical time, for me anyway. My brother and I climbed trees, went swimming, exploring, and made our own way. I spent a lot of time in my head when we lived there, since there were no kids to play with, and if you have a sibling you know that gets old pretty quick. The house area we lived in was pretty small, but the outdoor patio, and the endless grounds was where we spent our time. Inside was just too close, and besides, it was Puerto Rico, on the beach. Who spends time inside?
It was a funny time, too, thinking back. Mammaia, as we called Doña Lina, taught my brother and I how to bet and bluff at poker, how to “read” horse races, and even let us shoot her gun once, under complete supervision, of course. She occasionally took us to her San Juan to her apartment and showed us the local candy and ice cream stores. More often than not we would hang out and listen to her stories of her world cruises and watch TV shows in Spanish with her.
The hurricanes hit the island every year. We had gone through one when we lived there and got totally stranded. As kids we had fun swimming and jumping around in the muddy water. Eventually Mammaia had an 18 wheeler drive in and “rescue” all of us (there was no electricity or water, since the water to the house was sea water, so …)
But it’s gone now.
As I said, it was only there for her. A few years after we left the island we heard she had died. Given the location right down from the airport and on a large stretch of private beach, I had just assumed the land would be developed. After all the beach was perfect, not too rough, not too calm. It was natural, which meant there were fish and jelly fish around (I know, I got stung!), but it was wonderful.
I had heard it hadn’t been. The hurricanes went through, as they did each year. A few hit that part of the coast pretty bad.
So as I was pinning places I lived I checked Google Maps. I was surprised to see that there was a satellite view of the area. But there was nothing there. There were the outlines of where the homes had been, perhaps even still the foundation. I could see the faint circle of the grand entry drive and the outline of the foundations of the small guests houses.
It was worse than driving past a home you used to live in. There you can see either the good or bad people did with “your” home. You can picture other people living in the house and even make up stories about how they aren’t making full use of it.
But the magical land of my childhood no longer exists. It now only exists in my memory, in my imagination. It has receded to the grasp of time and nature.