So if you would like to hear more of this trips' adventures...click on the green "READ MORE" down below on the right.
First Stop - Florida
Some of the gang went to PR a little early this year. John and Patrick took family with them and planned on getting in some quality time together taking in some sites and great food. So they were absent on the day I arrived.
I had a non-stop from Columbus to Miami...sorry Jay...but no directs to Fort Lauderdale. But as always, Warren was there to greet me and be my chauffeur for the day...and he wanted to eat some mangoes as well.
Warren was pretty much my first Florida tropical fruit hunting companion and we've been good friends now for many years. And now the rest of the gang are all pretty close. Lots of fine people in this hobby.
Brandon was hosting the fruit tasting and BBQ again this year. Brandon has a fantastic yard full of all kinds of fruit trees, a lovely home, and even lovelier family...who understands our crazy hobby and allows him to gallivant off with the gang on fruit hunting trips. What's cool is that they join us as well for some of them.
Back to the yard. Brandon has some really cool things going on out there. Luc's garcinias, achachairus, multiple varieties of annonas, as well as many others. Was a real treat to check them out.
Along with more fruit, Brandon fixed us all a wonderful BBQ with sausage and chicken. Quite a feast and very much appreciated. I want to thank Brandon and his family once again for not only inviting us into their home and making us feel welcomed, but feeding us as well.
A little later, Warren and I loaded up and we headed to my hotel where he dropped me off for the night. Thanks again Warren for the fine dragon fruit and for driving me around. Had an early start tomorrow to catch the first shuttle to the airport at 5:00 a.m. We had a good flight into San Juan and met up with the rest of the gang. Our first stop was going to be the Pork Highway for some lechoneras in Guavate. Then on to Jardines Enaidas.
Jardines Enaidas - July 24
I know this sounds like a rehash of all the previous years we've gone to Puerto Rico. I agree. I get the following from a lot of people...mainly my wife. "Puerto Rico again?". Yeah...again. Why? Well, it's a beautiful country that has lots to offer. It has history and culture everyone should experience. The sites and landmarks are extraordinary. There are rain forests, jungles, even areas that are close to desert conditions, and all things in between. Something for everyone. There's tropical fruit, which is one of our trip's goals. The areas we were in can pretty much support everything and anything one would wish to grow. Let's not forget the food. From the pinchos and rice and beans to mofongos and curries. From the roadsides to the lechoneras to fine dining. The food is awesome and one of the things we look forward to most. Then there is the people. For the most part, the majority of people we meet in PR are generous and welcoming. PR is a territory of the US, so no passports are required and the laws and regulations are pretty much the same. You're still in another country, but... And it is affordable...to some degree. Still cheaper than flying to Thailand or Hawaii. So what is not to like? Well...still don't like how these folks drive. It would be difficult to get used to. They pick a lane and would not move over if God himself were coming up behind them in a monster truck! But that is my only negative.
So yeah...some people might view our trip as same old same old...seeing the same farms, the same trees, and eating the same fruit year after year. Seems that way, but to all of us, its more than just seeing and eating the same things. We've all formed a pretty tight bond over the years and became good friends. Same with our hosts. We actually enjoy spending time together and this is our opportunity to do so seeing many of us are from different parts of the country. I started this back in 2009. It's a great get away with lots of benefits...like mangosteen, pulasan, and durian!
Steven is one interesting dude and has traveled all over the world tropical fruit hunting. He is also asked to be a speaker at many festivals and conferences around the world. He had an endless supply of stories concerning his farm and trips...constantly entertaining us during our trips to and from the farms. And boy does he know his trees! So it was great having him along with the group this year.
In the pics above, we are going thru Enaidas' rambutan patch. As you can see, everyone is enjoying them.
Again with the lack of pictures...Ian had brought a couple of durian from the farm and shared them with us after the tour. Nor did I take any shots of the number of plants others were loading up into the vehicles. Enaidas is a wonderful source for grafted plants. They have a nice selection of really cool varieties including rambutan and some garcinias. And the prices are very hard to pass up...especially with characters like us!
A great start to the week. We thank Jardines Enaidas for once again letting us loose on their farm. They are wonderful folks with a passion for plants. Now it's time to head north to Rincon. I always forget it is late afternoon on a Monday rather than a Sunday. Then it hits me that we have to drive in the traffic going thru Mayaguez...which is a complete pain in the ass!
Gwenn rented us a big, 2 story house right on the beach in Rincon. 11 rooms and at least 7 bathrooms. Several kitchens too. We filled it up. I think we had around 20 people total. By the time we got to the house and unloaded, it was getting time to get cleaned up to meet Ian for dinner as is our norm.
Getting some of the gang ready to leave for dinner was harder than others. Steven?? LOL! He passed out as soon as we got back from Enaidas and we had to pound on his door to wake him up! But he made it!
Dinner this first night with Ian was at the Shipwreck. Only about half of us went. I've always enjoyed the food and staff here. This night, while the staff was on point, the fish sandwich I ordered fell way short of expectations. The skin was left on the fish and it was like rubber. Had a hell of a time taking a bite let along trying to chew it. Had to end up just cutting the skin off to enjoy any of the fish. But hey...that's the very first time I've been disappointed here and we usually eat here every year. The wings Brandon and I split were very good. I know...of all the "fresh" things we could have gotten as an appetizer, we got wings. Worth it. The beer was cold.
We had an awesome time at dinner with Ian. His sister Mish...hope I'm spelling this correctly...joined Ian on this trip. She was a very nice addition to our group and I really hope she enjoyed her stay and our company. Dinners are long, drawn out affairs with this many people and squaring away the check usually is beyond our abilities.
Back to the house. Everyone is beat! Not much chatting going on and we hit the rack. I slept great on the bed in my room and it was icy cold in there too. We'll all be ready for Ian's farm tomorrow.
Ian Crown's farm - July 25, morning
As you can see, the day is starting off absolutely beautiful. We get a move on because it normally tries to rain around noon or so. We had a couple new guys join us. Paul, who had contacted Ian prior to the trip and was invited to join. He is from Chicago. Nice guy and another tropical fruit crazy. So he fit right in. Adam was another. He was doing a theobroma study while in PR and has spent time on Ian's farm in the past and has also stayed with Felipe. Both were a welcome addition to the group.
A great morning at Ian's is in the books. As predicted, it is starting to rain as we are loading up. We are on our way to Juan's farm and we hope these are just some passing showers. Storms can get really wild up here in the mountains. They have a tendency to knock down trees across the road or completely flood sections with raging torrents. All this is usually accompanied by some of the harshest lightning we've experienced. But so far so good. It's not far to Juan's.
Juan Miranda's Farm - July 25, afternoon
The pics above show just how much work keeping a farm down here can be. Juan and one helper cleared these few acres by hand since January and has already planted out a gang of rambutan and pulasan. Every time we visit, there is crazy progress like above. The guy never seems to stop working. This comes from a deep passion for the land and his plants. The ridge above the cleared section was done the last year or two. Those trees are only a few years old and already have unbelievable growth and most are already producing.
We had invited Paul and Adam to join us as well today and they followed us from Ian's. Always nice to show new folks around, especially those who appreciate the experience and opportunity as much as we do.
The trail going up was like walking in a fast moving stream. The water was just rushing down the hill. Slippery too. But Juan being the gracious host that he is, continued to educate us along the way.
But what about the fruit?! Juan normally has an abundance of different fruits for us to try. Chief among them is his pulasan followed by marang. Unfortunately, the weather gods were against us this year. Rambutan was late and still green. His pulasan just didn't produce like he hoped. The marang was loaded, but like the rambutan, we were just a tad early.
But it's not all about the fruit. Yes, it is a huge part of it, but we are also there to spend time with these folks and learn some things as we go. So we did get to spend time with our friend and we always learn. The rain was not letting up much and this system seemed to be settling in for the long haul. Everyone was pretty much fed up with it and physically beat as well. So we beat a hasty retreat. We all felt bad for leaving Juan so quickly, but man, we really were wiped out...and soaked. It was time to head for the house and get out of these wet, stinking clothes!
Brandon and I once again got wings...but our own portions! They were good. I truly forget what the hell I had for a main course. I'm sure it was good. The beer was cold and went down well. Time to call it a night.
The Late Felipe Osborne's Farm. July 26 - morning.
I've mentioned lots of times before what a character Felipe was. We would hang onto every word that came out of his mouth. I bet he had a story behind every single tree he planted on his farm! He was a hell of a man.
The farm is up for sale now and by this time, may already have been sold. We can only hope that whoever purchases this farm will attempt to continue what Felipe started here. There are probably varieties of garcninas, theobromas, herranias, and more not found anywhere else on the island or any state in the US. It would be criminal for someone to let all this go.
While a few of us got to see a bit of the farm last year and eat some incredible durian, it was by no means a given that would would get to visit the farm this year. Ian was close to Felipe and he wife, Elba. So we left all of this up to him. We certainly wanted to respect any decision Elba would make. As it turns out, Elba was more than welcoming.
We met Elba for the very first time last year. She impressed the hell out of all of us. What a strong and beautiful lady. Gracious and hospitable...to a bunch of strangers...welcoming us all, wet and dirty, into her home. Incredible. Maybe she saw a little bit of Felipe in each of us. She told us to tour the farm and enjoy. By the way, if you have not seen earlier blogs of Felipe's farm and home, the above two pictures is the view from most of the rooms.
The above area was pretty much the only spot we found where we could walk without fear of being swallowed up by some man eating plant. Unfortunately, that particular trail petered out leaving us no choice but to claw our way back up the hill.
While we were out on the farm, Elba and Mish went out and bought some lunch meat, bakery items, and soft drinks! Unbelievable. Once again she not only invites us into her home, she feeds us!
Elba took us all over the home giving us the grand tour. The little alcove-like structure you see above is just outside of their main bathroom. Again, completely open and that alcove has no roof. The shrub in the corner is actually the shower. Notice the on/off handle near the ground? Pretty wild.
What a morning...and heading into the afternoon. Elba...from the bottom of all our hearts, thank you for your kindness, hospitality, the stories and memories. We wish you the best.
We made it back to the house in good time and it was absolutely gorgeous out. I had some items to send out so Ethan ran me up to the post office real quick...allowing me to get this chore out of the way.
Some of the gang who stayed behind this morning was out and about. We were going to hit the beach and water. It was great. We just hung out in the water and shot the shit. Noel and I walked down the beach to this enormous hotel beach bar. This place was hopping! We ordered this crazy large coconut drink that was served right in the coconut. A big bastard too. There had to be about 32 oz. of drink in there. I think Noel said there were 4-5 different rums and he wasn't kidding. I didn't drink much of that...not being a fan of the heavy handed liquor. So back to our little stretch of beach.
Dinner with Ian tonight was one of our favorites. The Lazy Parrot's downstairs pool bar/grill. Everyone joined in the fun tonight. Brandon and I once again had wings for an appetizer and they were fantastic. We followed this up with a delicious personal pizza. I normally get their salad...which is the best salad I've ever had. But was just too much food.
The younger kids enjoyed the pool before dinner while the rest of us enjoyed telling stories and laughing. A great evening for all. We had a big day and had an even bigger day planned for tomorrow.
"Every fruit is someone's favorite." Felipe Osborne.
Ian's Farm - July 27, all day.
We had a big group today and the pic only shows a portion. Some stayed back under shade while some took off for other parts of the farm hunting fruit, scions, and of course more dropped durian...the rest of us thank you for your efforts!! And it was another hot freaking day.
We walked our asses off today. I think it is the most we've covered in one day in a long long time and everyone was feeling it. We were all soaked from the heat and humidity and just plain beat. I am seriously lacking pictures this year and this tour in particular. I was just fed up with the phone. Definitely bringing a camera with me next fruit hunting trip. Have I said that before?
The potluck was a great success too. Lots of food. Another big thanks to Esther on the dishes she made. Delicious! Everybody had plenty to eat. It was getting on towards the middle of the afternoon and if I could have found a spot to lie down, I would have. I've still got to go collect some mangosteen scions to bring home.
Once any of this fruit hits the market, people are a little shocked at the prices. Well don't be, and I'll tell you why.
Remember all of the pics of the steep hills most of the trees are growing on? Some are so steep, Ian's crew start digging small footpaths in the sides of the hills about 10 years ago. The farm is networked with these paths. While these definitely help out, there is still nothing easy about navigating them...and they still have to reach the trees. These guys work their asses off believe me. But we're just getting started.
In order to ship mangosteen to the states, the USDA makes sure that the fruit is clean...free of disease and of course free of insects. The pic above on the left is the first step. The fruit must be washed. Leaving the sepals on comes with a cost. The next step is to make sure no insects are hidden away beneath those sepals and just washing the fruit in water does not dislodge anything. The second pic above shows the crew using high powered air compressors to send blasts of air beneath those sepals. This is not only loud, but very very time consuming. Every individual fruit to be shipped must have this done thoroughly. If the USDA finds any insects in just a few fruit, the entire shipment could be refused. The fruit must also be sorted to weed out damaged fruit.
This is a lot of effort. So the next time you see exotic fruit like mangosteen in the market, you will understand the cost a little better.
Dinner tonight was at La Copa Llena. Another restaurant right on the beach. This is one of our favorites...always serving a black fin tuna dish of some sort. The wait staff is always fun and attentive. Ian seems to know the owner as well for she stopped by often. Maybe all the attention stems from the durian disaster of last year and they were keeping close tabs on us to prevent a repeat? Naw...would we do such a thing twice?
No wings tonight. I got the black fin tuna poke last year which was stellar, but wanted to try something different. The appetizer on the left was chorizo, peppers, onions, with a fried egg on top. Sop it all up with some bread. Very good. Main dish on right was black fin tuna in a coconut curry. Delish! Washed all down with a few Coronas. We were all so full, we felt like we needed to be carted out of there.
A bittersweet evening though. It was time to say farewell to Ian and his sister Mish. After wishing them safe travels home, the rest of us headed back to the house to finish packing. We hung out at the kitchen table yapping for a while while Ethan finished up his seeds and scions. He was going to be a while.
We were up early. Ate some breakfast and said our goodbyes to everyone. It was a great trip and I believe everyone had a good time. Ethan, Steven, and I loaded up the car and got started to San Juan. Nice ride back. No issues. We had plenty of time to stop off at a post office in San Juan and mailed out Ethan and Steven's plants and other stuff.
Steven was staying on in San Juan for the night and then driving back to the west side of the island to spend a couple days with Bryan Brunner. Ethan and I each headed to our security and USDA check points. Only had one hiccup on the way home. Had a minor delay out of Atlanta but still got home in time to relax with my wife and dogs. Saturday would be busy planting seeds and grafting mangosteen scions.
Well, that's all for this adventure. I will post grafting updates on my Facebook page when there is something noteworthy to post. I'm hoping to go to Thailand next year. Going to bring back a few pulasan plants if all goes well.