The sun filtered between the palm trees as the sand sifted between my toes. The chattering of tourists blended with the constant crashing of the surf as the occasional bell of the ice cream vender and the coo of the pigeons interrupted the lethargy.
“Are we human?” wondered Nathaniel as we all laid on our backs, looking up at the unripe coconuts bundled underneath the palm trees’ leaves.
“Debatable,” answered Alexa, beer in hand.
The sun streaming through the unclosed curtains in our condo in Old San Juan, PR woke us up at 7:30am. Begrudgingly we got out of bed and ate our breakfast (bakery bread and ripe pineapple both bought the day before). The weather forcast: mixed but hopeful.
“To the beach!” exclaimed Alexa.
We were out by 9am. A stop for the customary Puerto Rican cheap beer, Medalia, and we were off to the beach. While walking along a newly built boardwalk, we past an abandoned hotel graffitied: “muerte a la opresión” “Libertad y socialismo” and “Yankees go away.” Naively, we practiced our Spanish by saying them out loud.
Once at the beach, we noticed that two groups of tourists had beat us, but the lifeguard wasn’t even set up yet. In the parking lot, a cop car oversaw the palm trees and out-of-order restrooms. We planted ourselves underneath a tree, cracked open a beer, and stared out at the turquoise waves.
The next few hours were a series of moments that flowed with the same pace and rhythm as the waves: Wading waist deep in the water, fighting the push and pull of the surf. Filling empty beer cans with sea water to aid the construction of a sand man. Dozing in the sun as Alexa turned our sand man into Zander the Sand Alien. Bananas, bread, and ham for lunch. Watching a birthday party set up camp in the shade. Listening to two tourists chatting with locals over cans of Medalia. Drifting in and out with flittering of the shadows of the palm tree leaves.
Hours later, when we were turned away, preparing to leave, we heard someone say:
“Did you see that?”
The Madalia-drinking tourists had just been robbed. The locals had run off with their bags. The tourists had taken off in pursuit but everyone knew they weren’t going to catch the thieves.
With our own bags safely in hand, we walked along the sand, the beach not much more crowded than before. We side-stepped bikini-clad bodies and beer-drinking bros to reach a grassy hill that laid just beyond the sand, the sight of some old Spanish ruins. We stood at those weather beaten walls and gazed out into the waves. Nearby, the tourist hotels and time shares of Ocean Park were lost in the glimmer of the heat and the spray of the sea.
On our way back to Old San Juan and our Airbnb, we passed the Medalia-drinking tourists reporting their theft to the cop in the parking lot. We walked on. We then encountered another tourist (at least he looked like one). Bearing scratches on his nose and a hosting a swollen hand, he told us his story about how he and his father wandered into the wrong area, got beaten and robbed, and now their hotel won’t help them with the cap fare from the hospital. We gave him our singles and walked on.
Sun and heat and a mile of walking later and we were back in the condo. Shower, rest, change of clothes, and we were out again. Dinner: plantain tamales stuffed with pork, red peppers, and one olive paired with rice and beans and fried cod flat bread, all topped off with vanilla flan. The others had good food as well. Much better than last night. A no muss, no fuss eatery that served tourists and locals alike.
We roamed around the street of Old San Juan again afterwards, walking off our dinner and buying postcards. The orange street lights turned the world sepia-toned as the sidewalks emptied and we reached that awkward time between dinner and drinks. Undaunted, we stopped at an empty reggae bar for happy hour-priced alcohol. Two mojitos and one rum punch ordered amongst us. As we were sipping, the bar tender wrote us a list of things to do and places to party while we were here on spring break. He was eager and adamant that we both had fun and see things and places that he, a local, knew and loved (and were safe). We thanked him and gave him a big tip before going home for the night.