So I always thought the wild dogs of Detroit were kind of crazy; roving in packs, many of them part Pit Bull or Rottweiler or German Shepherd. Sure, I've encountered a few truly scary former fighting dogs that seem to have been dumped due to their injuries and a few mutts that seemed rabid, but after a week in Puerto Rico I no longer think having stray dogs all over the place is that big of a deal. I've been to countries before where a few well-fed hounds lounged around in the sun, but I couldn't believe the sheer number of strays we saw in Puerto Rico. I didn't have my Polaroid with me but I still couldn't help taking a picture of this tiny thing we encountered heading up into the mountains near Utuado:

Someone had dumped her some time ago at an isolated scenic overlook that wasn't very scenic. We gave it all the food we had and my wife almost couldn't handle leaving it there. I just didn't have the Spanish to explain to some indifferent veterinarian or dogcatcher-equivalent in the next town that my wife gets very sentimental about tiny, frail creatures that are clearly dying. "Besides," I said to her as the pup mournfully watched us drive away. "You lived in Cambodia. Remember that French restaurant in Phnom Penh where you felt those tiny hands reaching through the wall behind your back begging for scraps? In parts of the world, creatures like that dog are human beings."

There comes a point where you have to accept that there's a tolerable level of cruelty to the universe, or else you just wouldn't be able live with yourself, I thought, considering my gut as I drove up into the mountains and our $135 a night hotel.

The next day we drove all over Puerto Rican coffee country between Utuado and Jayuya, the area where ancient Taino culture was best preserved due to the relative isolation from the coast. It was beautiful country. These were towns where a horse or two was tied up in front of every roadside bar or, in this case, Texaco station:

The roads up there were built about one-and-a-half cars wide, so around every harrowing curve you either meet your doom or another car still just far enough away to cause only a mild jolt of panic. To make matters worse, Puerto Ricans achieve maximum speed up and down the mountains by driving directly in the center of the road. They make Italian drivers look like lost Grandpas navigating 1972 Oldsmobile Delta 88s around a church parking lot.

In Jayuya we ate a traditional meal of roast pork, greasy flank steak, pigeon peas, and some fried things, some of which were plantains. Twice-fried plantains (tostones) seem to always come served with this disgusting sauce called "mayoketchup" in which my daughter dipped everything she consumed. About halfway up the mountain she started complaining from the backseat that her stomach hurt. "Keep coloring," we said, busy trying to figure out where we were headed among the endless twists and turns. In the rearview mirror I noticed a car tailgating me with one of those massive roof-mounted dual-bullhorns that seem to be popular among Puerto Rican lunatics who feel compelled to share their apocalyptic visions and salsa music with everyone within a quarter-mile of their vehicle. At a wide spot in the road I pulled over to let him pass, and then went on our way only to find him parked in the middle of the road a mile up, out of his car and waving at us frantically. For all I know he was just making sure I was going to VOTE FOR GOMEZ but I didn't stop, narrowly missing him with half the tires skimming along a slate ridge.

"My stomach really hurts," I heard from the backseat, but I paid no attention because suddenly I was James Fucking Bond in a rented Nissan Sentra, actually living out that fantasy with both hands on the wheel handling those mountain curves at nearly twice the recommended speed. Suck it, Steve McQueen, I thought once I put enough distance between our car and crazy car-roof-mounted dual-bullhorn guy.

That's when the pack of dogs started chasing us.

I've been chased by wild dogs before, but we were going almost 25 mph around those curves and those dogs were still right on our tail. I couldn't shake them. Juniper quit complaining about her stomach long enough to get a laugh or two at the stupid mutts, and I begged my wife to take a picture while I drove. This is what she captured during the confusion:

After a while they got tired, and I looked at my wife: "Are we dragging a dead goat carcass?" We continued down the mountain, but the constant switchbacks and swerves finally took their toll: from the backseat we heard the unmistakable sound of vomit and smelled the pungent stew of sugary orange drink, mayoketchup, and stomach acid. Then we heard the sound again.

A few seconds later we pulled into the roadside parking spot at some old woman's hovel and my daughter was crying on a rock in her underwear, the two of us bathing her with handiwipes when crazy car-roof-mounted dual-bullhorn guy finally pulled up and started shouting at us through his dual bullhorns. I fantasized about the electric sizzle those bullhorns would make if I threw a fistful of vomit into one of them, but the kindly old woman (onto whose parking spot we were squeegeeing what looked like thousand island dressing from our daughter's body) yelled at him to go away and he did, just as two of her neighbors came over to stand around speculating. It was probably the most exciting thing to happen in that parking spot all week.

Eventually we cleaned everything up and drove away, and even though the car had a new smell there was a softness in the air, the softness that comes whenever your child is truly sick and all the whining and complaining is lost and forgotten, and all you can think is how brave she is and how much you love her. I thought back to my own childhood, remembering my father standing at an edge of road on Pike's Peak with a hose in his hand, washing out a car he'd rented that I'd filled with the sludge of pancakes consumed that morning, a story I heard time and time again whenever we spoke of our first big vacation.

I looked at her face in the rearview mirror, redcheeked, recovering. "You'll remember this, kid. I promise."