By: Nicole Alvarez
It hasn’t rained in a few days so the water level in Rincón’s Grande brook, formerly known as Calvache River, is so low that anyone can walk through most of the river without getting drenched. Chunks of concrete, car parts, and a kitchen sink are mounted on the edge of the river behind a home, and this trail of trash and water contamination can be followed all the way up to the river’s spring, known as El Salto, in which a discarded rug is laid out over the entrance to the pool below the spring.
Led by tourist guide, Carlos “Joey” Feliciano, a group of adults and children explored the Calvache neighborhood with the mission of cleaning a river that is used as an illegal garbage dump but that could become the next eco-touristic attraction of Rincón.
At least Feliciano is determined to make it that way. He organized the event through Facebook, driven by a desire to maintain his hometown clean. As a tour guide, he feels an obligation to preserve the ecosystem, provide accessibility to the location, and unite the community in the process.
“This was my pool, where we learned to swim” said Feliciano.
Members of Sea Grant’s Journalism with Science program from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus, joined Feliciano’s crew as they trudged through the brook with plastic bags and gloves.
The group worked in unity with the town’s recycling program, which transported some of the trash in a pick-up truck. Many objects, however, such as car doors and a television set, were too heavy for the group to pick up. Other objects were buried deep under rocks and soil, and were impossible to remove.
The spring, known as “El ultimo salto,” or the last jump in Spanish, gets its name from the tragic story of a man who committed suicide by jumping into the stream, for many of the volunteers who came to clean it the waterfall is the source of fond memories. A myriad of fruits and medicinal herbs can be seen along the trails and the sound of its water falling against the rocks provide a soothing soundtrack for those visiting the site.
The Calvache River is also seeped in cultural history and sentimental value. It boasts its own legends of buried money and countless childhood stories. Roberto Duprey Valentín can still remember those childhood days when he swam up river, competing with friends to see who could catch the most shrimp. His excitement at seeing a mere fish in the water while helping to clean up the river brought back memories of the river’s better days, before trash bags and sheets tied plants together on the river shore.
Carlos A Gonzalez, Director of Culture in Rincon and part of the cleaning group, explained how geological causes have lessened the water flow. He believes road construction, houses built around the river, and rocks removed from the area near the spring have all affected the water flow which has been deviated.
Before construction affected the river, it was possible to spot in the water some marine life, particularly shrimp which traveled from the ocean. Cattle and agriculture, like sugar cane plantation, were plentiful. Medicinal herbs such as Higuereta and Salvia, and fruits such as mango, coconuts and papayas were all quite common and frequently used by inhabitants of the neighborhood.
The community’s effort is just the tip of the iceberg for Feliciano. With gloves over his hands and a plastic bag filling up with car parts, empty cans and plastics, he proclaimed that the next step in the improvement of Rincon was to help develop an ecological consciousness among the townspeople. He expressed he was tired of seeing so many condos built along the shorelines of the town. He believes Rincon should be known for more than its popular waves.
“We want to give Rincon a new face.” he asserted. Feliciano is currently involved with a project in search for eco-touristic alternatives for the town, specifically along the mountains. Rincón’s Vigía Mountain and the Calvache stream are two of the sites that he would like to develop as touristic attractions for Rincon. He explained the possibility of finding archaeological artifacts in the Vigia Mountain, which could allow the area to be preserved for historic and ecological reasons.
“We have to keep watch so that when these [children] grow up, they can have a clean environment to breathe in,” Ana Salcedo, one of the group members, said while looking at her grandson who delighted in splashing about through the river. Like Feliciano, she is also against the construction of condos in the beach area. People see Rincon as beach and surf…” Feliciano explained.
After the long walk up river Feliciano relives his childhood memories and enjoys a refreshing swim by the spring along with the children in the group who delight in standing over the falling water and climbing up the spring. Despite the metal and plastics surrounding the pool, it provides much fun and entertainment as could be heard by the screams and laughter coming from the water.
While a complete cleanup of the river would require municipal help, it is hoped that the small group’s community service will bring more attention to the river and inspire further care for it.