|Day 9: Rum factory & family
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
We drop off Ian and Anna at the airport in the morning and say sleepy, fond farewells. When we return to the home base, we suddenly find ourselves drained as the pressure to entertain is off. We sit around the house before going to Bebo's for lunch for more pasteles and arroz con gandules. Afterwards, we meet up with Cheo and Magali to go the Ron del Barrilito ("Rum from the Barrel") facility. It isn't a distillery, at least, not any more. They didn't have the cash to upgrade their still after the repeal of Prohibition, so when they resumed production, they switched to purchasing 180-proof cane distillate from Bacardi. They apply their own secret formula of herbs and spices and age the rum from six to ten years in charred oak barrels. The result is most desirable, particularly the three-star variety of which Marco and I are very fond. Since the operation is family-owned, the rum is produced in limited quantities and only exported to a few places: California, New York, Italy and Japan. It's also quite expensive outside of Puerto Rico, when it can be obtained at all.
The Ron del Barrilito head office.
They don't really have a tour, unlike the Bacardi distillery. You simply drive up, park and find the crotchety foreman (who's also the owner) and he shows you around. Since I'm the only non-native Spanish speaker and the foreman has a limited command of English, we get the tour in Spanish. I pay close attention and am pleased to find my comprehension going up.
I kick myself repeatedly for forgetting the dSLR at the home base.
A few hundred barrels of the good stuff.
The family holds nationalist views, so they have a special barrel set aside, to celebrate the day that Puerto Rico achieves its independence. It was first filled in 1947 and receives regular top-ups. As the foreman remarked wryly, "It's not rum any more. It's Armagnac!"
We purchase several bottles of the three-star variety before returning to Cheo and Magali's to celebrate the visit with a bit of guavaberi. Magali brews this Dominican liqueur, made with a simple syrup from a berry that only grows in the Dominican Republic and a vast quantity of three-star Ron del Barrilito.
Bottling mechanism. Shiiiny.
For our next expedition, we find Marco's old scoutmaster at home. (My boyfriend was an Eagle Scout.) He's ecstatic to see Marco. He's been scoutmaster for fifty-five years total, over forty of which were spent in Puerto Rico. This man is ninety-two and still sharp as a tack. He tries to keep track of all his former scouts, at least the ones who received eagles. We spend several hours telling him about London and he catches Marco up on the lives and whereabouts of all the scouts he used to know. As his daughter, who's visiting for the holidays, escorts us to the door, she tells us we've made his day.
Marco & scoutmaster
After we return to the flat and recuperate for a short while, Marco begins the monumental task of contacting his relatives. Inevitably, his Tio Luis invites us over for dinner. This particular uncle loves being the social hub, and he's just made a big pot of arroz con gandules, lechon and pasteles. He stuff us with food and talks our ears off in boricua Spanish that sounds like machine-gun fire to my non-native ears. After dinner, we drive around searching a number of locations at which Marco's father could possibly be. He's difficult to locate, partly because he refuses to give any of his family members his mobile phone number. We spend over an hour trying to track him down without success, and Tio Luis says he'll leave some more messages that Marco's father might receive. We go to home base, watch a couple of episodes of the second Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex series which I was ecstatic to find earlier, and crash hard.