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Although I'd stayed at the Maravilla Guesthouse before, it had been a number of years since my last visit; Underhill hadn't been completed the last time I'd been around. Margo and Mark were sure that the guest house, tucked seamlessly at the end of a small private road, surrounded by lush vegetation, was going to be to my liking.

Little did they realize. Little did I realize, for that matter. Although I was immediately taken by every aspect of the place (I'll get to what those were shortly), I had no idea what an emotionally and physically liberating experience it could be to find a spot that put you so easily within range of the living outdoors, all the while providing every amenity of casual comfort.

Underhill itself is set up in a unique way. Mark has designed it so that the indoor/outdoor dichotomy is left open-ended. Some walls have been structured so as to be retractable. You're entirely cozy in your own little cloistered apartment one minute, sitting in an outdoor lounge (although literally in the exact spot) the next. It's hard to describe how good this makes you feel. At one level, you're entirely connected to the pulse of life in the jungle. There is a constant breeze. There are the songs of thousands of birds, the hooting of owls, and hummingbirds and butterflies hover. At sundown, these noises give way to the night sounds of the coquis. You are at almost no remove from these things. Slide the walls up, however, and you are in a completely self-contained space, as solidly indoor as a room in any fine guesthouse. I just loved it.

I couldn't wait to sleep in that idyllic spot. But something weird happened that I couldn't understand at first. I turned in early, lay back luxuriantly, listened to the coquis, felt the breeze, breathed deeply, and prepared to drift off. Nothing happened. No matter what, I couldn't sleep a wink. My body went through an all-night series of cramps, spasms, clenching, and pinches. I'd never experienced anything like it. It wasn't until the next day that I figured it out; my body was taking the opportunity to entirely decompress. It never has a chance to do that. It was so grateful to be in this restorative environment that it jumped at the invitation to get itself right. I think maybe sometimes you don't know how much you need something until you go through this kind of reminder.

Once my body had gotten the benefit of the uncommonly good mountain air and the fresh spring water, augmented by Margo Miller's remarkable vegan meals, I was game to try some new things.

The first one of those was horseback riding. Let me preface this by mentioning that I've never had a great yen to try horseback riding. And I'm a livelong non-athlete with no great aptitude for anything strenuous. I'm also a coward; I wouldn't get up on a horse if I thought there was much chance of being hurt.

Mark got onto one horse. My sister, with whom I was spending my vacation, got on another. And I was shown how to swing my right leg over the third (a small even-tempered fellow named Mocha.) Much to my surprise, I found myself loving the ride. The trails were incredibly beautiful. From horseback, the vistas that take in both the mountains and the entire expanse of western Puerto Rico all the way past Desecheo Island are suddenly laid out in front of you. Puerto Rico is one of the most gorgeous places I've ever been; but swaying down the mountain paths, the steep drop-offs only inches away but negotiated perfectly by all three horses, makes it transcendent. There are waterfalls, hidden springs, and explosions of flowers that can turn up anywhere. At one point, my sister and Mark wanted their horses to run a little bit. I felt so good about the entire ride that I decided to give it a try. It was great. These horses know exactly what they're doing. I actually couldn't wait to ride again the next afternoon. It was even better the second time.

Basically all I did for the short time I was at Maravilla was walk, nap, eat (Margo's cooking makes this something worth doing more often than you might at home), sleep, and soak in atmosphere. In a very important sense, the last was the most important element. I wanted to have a feeling of well-being to take away with me. That's the thing about a successful vacation: you can use it to clear your head and to help deal with your day-to-day life much more readily than you otherwise might. I can honestly say I left Underhill at Maravilla in Las Marias, Puerto Rico in far better emotional and spiritual shape than when I'd arrived.

Could you ask more of any vacation? I'm already planning my next visit.

Responses (2)

  • jeni's avatar
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    Posted by jeni at 11/09/08 06:38:54

    any other suggestions for vegan travel in p.r.? I am going in may or june. thanks!

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    Posted by Jaspar-Sharster at 08/05/09 12:03:47

    Everything about this place was amazing - including the food. If you can imagine a jungle tropical paradise, this is the place that comes to mind.

    We stayed in the little cottage down in the woods. The whole cottage is a work of art. Mark has put subtle, artistic touches into everything - the door handles, the hot tub, the furniture, the fire pit. The main house is full of Mark's livable art as well as Margo's artistic touches, the whole experience is such a breath of fresh air from anything conventional/industrial/commercial.

    We traveled all the way across the island having numerous adventures along the way. Tired and exhausted, we arrived after dark and were greeted by a four course, candlelight vegetarian dinner in the middle of the tropical forest. Margo was very accommodating and forgiving with our schedule. Afterwards, we returned to our cottage where Mark had built a lovely fire in the firepit and we relaxed in the hot tub with nothing but the coquis, stars, and dancing of the firelight. An incredible experience.

    The breakfasts were out of this world. Fresh fruit, homemade bread, homemade tropical jellies, smoked seitan, coconut pancakes, vegan scrambled tofu, and undoubtedly the most delicious hash browns/home fries that we have ever eaten. The only problem was that there were so many delicious things to eat, there was no chance we could finish them all.

    We would definitely return. We were sad to leave. After two days, it felt more like we were leaving good friends than people we had only just met.

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