the caribbean sea
The thing about vacation is the suspension of time, isn’t it? Or maybe it was Sam’s rigorous schedule that had our days merging together. It was a visceral, humid, delicious heaven. And yet, there was also something intangible about those days. It couldn’t have been so good. The island couldn’t have been everything we wanted. The one half evening I had to myself, I walked to a bookstore that had caught my eye when I first arrived. It had high ceilings and red wainscotting. Attached was a industrial style bar/café. I’ve always felt like public gathering places such as these are fraught with possibilities. Strangers float about you, each in their own little worlds. I think perhaps my eyes will meet a tall dark stranger and an exciting affair will ensue. Of course, the few times people had started conversations with me, I was horridly uncomfortable and fended them off. After the books, I walked a little ways down the street and saw groups of people entering an art museum. It wasn’t until our last morning that we walked about its interiors. That night, I climbed the front steps into the grand entrance hall of the white colonial building and lingered. Everyone was decked out in suits and dresses. No one seemed under the age of 30. I approached a portly, middle-aged gentleman with full lips and glasses. I asked if he spoke English and inquired about the hours of the museum. He obliged and proceeded to tell me about the conference or gala that was taking place. Apparently, the attendees were celebrating a medical trial or breakthrough of some sort. It was a lengthy, detailed explanation with a lot of medical terminology. At least 15 minutes had passed before I felt I could politely excuse myself. I parted with his phone number and the promise of contact if I was interested. One of those stranger meetings, right?
Aside from that incident, and when Sam lost our rental car keys in the Caribbean, every day and every night felt like a vibrant, real, and beautiful life - entirely separate from what we had lived before. Before wasn’t life as it should’ve been - long stretches of time and routine punctuated by small, infrequent moments of delight and wonder. Now there was newness everyday. There were adventures and obstacles. There was an awareness of every moment - all the excitement, discomfort, feelings of inebriation and satisfaction. Those 4 days lasted a lifetime.
It was indescribably luxurious to have late suppers - 10:00pm, 11:00pm, midnight. All day we would swim, hike, snorkel, and go back to the hotel exhausted and exhilarated. We’d shower, shave, apply lotion, dress, put on fresh makeup, brush our hair until it was smooth again. Dinner reservations would get pushed back once, twice, three times. We’d put on our heels and walk down to the hotel garage, past the croaks of invisible coqui coqui frogs. The drive was a symphony of navigation, rerouting, and pop music karaoke that would delay us even further. My favorite meal was at Dragonfly. The food was a fusion of Asian and Latin cooking. My order of shrimp and vegetables arrived still sizzling on a wooden pan mostly plucked away by my friends before their own food arrived. The most beautiful place in which we dined was a colonial government estate our last night on the island. The building had 2 branches extending out on either side, enclosing a large courtyard and fountain. Balconies wrapped around the length of each floor. The upper levels were accessible from the courtyard by way of long sets of stairs attached to the balconies. The whole property was enclosed by black iron gates. It was a Monday night so the only populated tables in the dining room were occupied by my friends and I and a large rowdy group of suited businessmen. It was an achingly sophisticated space with red velvet curtains, white table cloths, and classical oil paintings. I felt severely out of place but our waiter put me at ease. He was a soft-spoken gentleman in a crisp white shirt and black vest. His demeanor was the most professional I’d ever observed. I don’t remember the food but I do remember the drinks. Our waiter narrated the history of the building we were in and suggested an after-dinner liqueur. It was small and dark and deliciously potent. Monisha and Sam became extremely intoxicated and tumbled out of the restaurant. Sam was determined to find a pool hall as only a drunk person can be in pursuit of a certain something. We ended up in a dingy little bar in downtown San Juan. The bartender said that he had a pool table upstairs and we followed him up a dark, narrow flight of stairs despite my apprehension. The space was oblong and lit at odd intervals. A dusty, unused bar with a grimy mirror behind sat at one end and a dirty pool table the other. In between hung a random, torn up punching bag. Beyond lay the only attractive feature of the place: a pair of wrought iron balconies that looked out onto the streets below. I stood on a balcony and let the cool night breeze wash over me as my drunken comrades set up. We played a poor, drawn-out, but entertaining game. Halfway through, some male patrons and the bartender came up drinks in hand and chatted around us while eyeing the game. More and more men appeared as we kept playing. I dragged my friends away at the end despite the protests of the bartender. Our time in Puerto Rico was comprised of these times of bright beautiful days and the uncertainties of night. What’s fun without a little danger?