The Importance to the Whole Planet’s Eco-System of Rebuilding Puerto Rico
A little more than 30 years ago, I opened the first La Casa — La Casa de Vida Natural — located in the foothills of El Yunque — the Puerto Rican rainforest (the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system).
I opened La Casa because I had fallen in love with the island, and wanted to have a place where I could share my knowledge and enthusiasm about living close to nature, eating a plant-based diet, the value of detoxification, swimming in the nourishing ocean waters, and more. Spending time there has been, and remains, vitally important to my own health, as well as to the many guests that we have served.
In 1993, I opened a sister La Casa center in New York. It carries the distinction of being the oldest wellness center in NYC. Because of my decision to send my daughter to a NYC school, I concentrated my attention on the NY center, and eventually closed La Casa de Vida Natural.
Almost three years ago, I decided to re-open my center in Puerto Rico. I re-named it La Casa Spa and Wellness Puerto Rico. We spent a year and a half renovating the existing buildings. I had scheduled my first workshop there, Sept 20, 2017. However, on that particular day, Jet Blue could not fly. Hurricane Maria was the only flight in the air happening that day.
In spite of not having electricity for six months, and ordinary life being a challenge in terms of food and water, we soldiered on. We have spent the last almost two years essentially renovating the renovation. We have completed a yoga platform; a yurt; tubs for salt baths and cold thermogenesis; a colonic room; infrared therapy; veggie gardens. We also offer horseback riding; waterfall back-massages; ocean swimming; ocean kyacking; and more. We are nearing completion of construction of three new dome homes.
While the construction has been in progress, we have offered our accomodations to Airbnb and Vrbo travelers. We have met so many wonderful people through these venues. We’ve gotten fantastic reviews. Our visitors have fallen in love with the property, just as I did so many years ago.
As we prepare to re-open La Casa de Vida Natural as a destination holistic center, it seems useful to think about why we should continue to support the efforts of so many who are endeavoring to rebuild the island to its former glory. These facts may surprise you.
UNIQUE NATURAL RESOURCES
- The importance of Isla de Mona
Besides the more well-known islands that are part of Puerto Rico — Viequez and Culebra — the island of Mona lies 41 miles west of the main island, and connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. It is a protected nature preserve, and is a key shipping route from the Atlantic to the Panama Canal.
- The importance of Rio Camuy:
Río Camuy is part of the third largest subterranean river and cave system in the world. It is home to more than 13 species of bats, and hundreds of other insect, arachnid and frog species.
- The importance of El Yunque (the rain forest):
La Casa is situated at the edge of the El Yunque rainforest– the only rainforest that is protected in the U.S. The rainforest is one of the most diverse areas within the U.S. Weather conditions in El Yunque are perfect for many types of plants and trees to thrive. There are thousands of native plants and trees, including at least 240 species of trees (with 23 known to exist only in this forest), 150 species of fern, 50 species of orchids and many species of vines and mosses.
No large animals reside in the rainforest, but countless small animals do. These include 50 species of birds (including the endangered Puerto Rican parrot), 11 species of bats, eight species of lizards and 13 species of the coquí frog, the national mascot. There are also many types of snakes and insects.
- The importance of the International Biosphere Reserve:
The driest place on the island is a desert-like forest known as Guanica Biosphere Reserve and State Forest, located in the southwest region. The Cordillera Central mountain range blocks most of the rain systems in a phenomenon known as a rain shadow. The nearly 10,000-acre forest has been protected since 1919 and was declared a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1981.
There are at least 700 species of plants in the Guanica Reserve, including 48 endangered plants and 16 that are endemic to the region, including the gumbo limbo tree and the guayacán tree. The largest variety of birds on the island, at least 185 species, lives in the reserve. That includes most of the 16 species native to Puerto Rico, such as the Puerto Rican woodpecker and the endangered Puerto Rican nightjar. There are also countless reptiles and amphibians within the reserve, including the national coquí frog.
- The importance of the clay:
Puerto Rico is a now-extinct volcanic island-arc terrain that started to grow approximately 190 million years ago. The red clay on the island is ancient volcanic mud, high in minerals and iron, and is useful in treating a variety of conditions. Pelotherapy, the use of clay for therapeutic benefits, is a popular practice at spas and wellness centers worldwide. Clay has many nutrients and minerals that are helpful in getting rid of toxins, heavy metals, impurities and chemicals from the body. Many animals eat clay to help remove poisons from their systems during illness. The clay’s neutral pH levels as well as its high content of phosphorous and magnesium makes it an ideal and popular anti-aging material. It allows skin to heal, and maintains a fresh, natural glow. Native Americans called clay Ee-Wah-Kee, the mud that heals.
We are fortunate at La Casa to have an abundance of this red clay. We have used it successfully for skin conditions, digestive ailments, inflammation, fever, and immune disorders. We have found it to be a highly effective therapy.
- The importance of the Puerto Rican Trench
Puerto Rico is surrounded by deep waters, including the Puerto Rico Trench — the deepest trench in the Atlantic Ocean. This trench is called the Milwaukee Deep, and its deepest spot is 26,247 feet. For comparison, the average depth of the Atlantic Ocean is 12,881 feet. Ocean trenches are unique habitats, home to a diverse number of species, many of which are new or still unknown to science. Studying the adaptations of deep-sea organisms to their surroundings can give scientists insight and information that may lead to biological and biomedical advances. Researchers have already discovered microbes in deep-sea hydrothermal vents that show promise for new sources of antibiotics as well as anti-cancer drugs.
Although our knowledge about the ocean trenches is limited, because of their depth and remoteness, we do know that they play a significant role in our lives on land. Seafloor earthquakes can come from these trenches, including the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake that caused the devastating tsunami. By studying ocean trenches, scientists can better understand the causes of the natural disasters that originate in the trenches.
Scientists are also finding significant information from the genetics of these deep-ocean-living organisms that will help us to understand the origins of ocean life, and the history of how life spread from the depths of the ocean to the rest of the world’s less deep oceans.
- The importance of the Arecibo Observatory
Because of the large sinkholes in the karst region of Puerto Rico, Arecibo offered perfect cavities for a very large telescope dish.Until 2016, it was the world’s largest single-aperture telescope, and is used in three major areas of research: radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and radar astronomy. The discoveries using the telescope have been numerous, including the awarding of a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1974. Also, in that year, the transmission of the Arecibo Message began, an attempt to communicate with potential extraterrestrial life.
- The importance of the Puerto Rican monkeys
Cayo Santiago Field Station is a 38-acre tropical island off the coast of Puerto Rico and home to approximately 1,500 rhesus monkeys, earning it the local nickname, Monkey Island.
The Cayo Santiago Field Station is the longest-running primate field site in the world. Since it was founded in 1938, generations of monkeys have lived out their lives there, with humans keeping a watchful eye. Only monkeys live on the island. The staff takes a 15-minute boat trip from Punta Santiago to Monkey Island.
Over the past 80 years, important and diverse research has taken place on Cayo. While some scientists have studied cognition, analyzing how the monkeys think and solve problems, others have studied where the monkeys are looking. Researchers have asked such questions as: can the monkeys reflect on their own knowledge to know when they don’t know something — a hallmark of human reasoning? (The answer is surprisingly, yes! Monkeys can think about what they are thinking about.)
Scientists have observed the monkeys’ interactions to learn who is friends with whom, who gets into fights, who has suitors for affection. Because of this research, we know everything about their family life.
Yet another research project has been to study how hormone levels affect monkeys’ sexual development. This translates into a lot of time scooping up monkey poop.
Working on Monkey Island is nothing if not humbling. While the monkeys are free to wander all over the island without restriction (after all it is their home), the scientists, on the other hand, eat their lunch in a large metal cage. Researcher Giselle Carabello-Cruz suggests that we think of the island as like a zoo where the monkeys come to see the humans.
Researchers are now at the point where they are asking questions in the fields of biology, anthropology and psychology that can’t be answered anywhere else.
After Hurricane Maria struck, scientists in the U.S. attempted to make contact with students and staff in Puerto Rico who had worked at Cayo Santiago Field Station. Photos and videos sent back showed absolute devastation of the island. A photo taken from a helicopter surveying the damage showed a large chalk message: “S.O.S. Necesitamos Agua/Comida” — We need water and food.
Yet, in spite of all: the monkeys were spotted! Defying expectations, many of the Cayo monkeys had survived the storm. Over the next several days, staff traveled to Cayo and started searching for each individual monkey.
Researchers from around the world started organizing relief efforts. The most immediate concern was water: a system of rainwater cisterns had collected fresh water for the monkeys to drink. We have to thank the researchers, and send blessings to the amazing monkeys who have and will continue to teach us so much about our animal ancestry.
BIO AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY:
- The importance of the diversity of the island:
Puerto Rico is an exceptionally diverse region, with a mountain range, coastal plains, a desert and a rainforest. With more plants, trees and animals, the soils improve and become stronger — less prone to erosion, drought and flooding. Biodiversity is of great importance in order to maintain stable ecosystems.
- The importance of the Puerto Rican culture
Puerto Rican culture is based on a blend of Taino (Indian), African and Spanish traditions, food, music, art and language. There are also influences introduced by immigrants from China, Italy, France, Germany and Cuba.
Cocina Criolla, the local name for Puerto Rican cuisine, has its roots in Taino, Spanish and African specialties and cooking styles with influences from European and Chinese immigrants. The Taino people lived primarily on tropical fruit, corn, yuca and seafood. The Spanish introduced many types of food, including rice, wheat, olives and olive oil, beef, pork, garlic, sugarcane and coffee. Enslaved Africans brought okra, taro and plantains. Sugarcane was and still is used to distill rum, a favorite drink in Puerto Rico. Today’s cuisine, with a liberal use of indigenous ingredients focuses on many of the same ingredients that have been used for centuries.
Several instruments that are traditionally used in Puerto Rican music date back to the Taino people. The guiro is one of the instruments. Several others, including the requinto, bordonua, cuatro, and tiple were adapted from the six-string guitar brought over by early Spanish settlers. Percussion instruments such as panderetasand maracas have been popular. Dances choreographed to match the music include the bomba, plena and variations of the salsa.
Puerto Rican art also shows a blend of the many cultures in the island’s melting pot. Taino art included jewelry, pottery and baskets made from gold, shells, wood and stones. The earliest religious carvings were called cemi. These were highly revered small statues that stood within all the villages. Religious figures dated back to the 16th century were known as Santos. Masks also date back to earlier centuries, and are still popular during carnival time.