November 19, 2018
Journey
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Puerto Rico
The Last Vacation

Enjoying bittersweet days of determined togetherness, as the last child goes off to college

The coastline came into view when reached the top of the hill. As the car crawled down and around, the wind coming in through the open windows blew my sister’s golden locks away from her face. My hand swerved up and down, swimming through the air as my father sang,”Sin ti, sin ti vivir, estarse muriendo sin morir,” a surefire sign that the stress from work was beginning to fade.

Every year my family tries to find the time to take a vacation, just kick back and get away from the stress of school or, in my Dad’s case, work. Usually we go to Isabela, a beachside town on the other side of the island. Isabela is two hours from our home in Humacao, a small town on the east coast, about 45 minutes southeast of San Juan. This vacation was our first real time together since my sister went away to college, and my last opportunity to be with Mom and Dad before going to college in the U.S.

We pulled into the parador Villas del Mar Hau, where we were staying, the gravel crackling under the tires of my Dad’s Sequoia. A line of colorful cabins that decorated the shore of Montones beach immediately came into view, finishing off on the west end of the beach with a seaside restaurant. The car doors swung open and we hopped out taking in the sounds of the oceans. “Finally,” Dad said, more to himself than us.

This was me and my sister’s first time staying at Villas del Mar Hau. My parents had been there before, and the way Mom tells it, Dad fell in love with the parador the first time he laid eyes on it. It’s been his getaway ever since.

Mom checked us in and we made our way to our cabin. Along the way were tennis courts, a mini gym, a pool and a basketball and volleyball court. The cabins faced the sea and behind them was a large green field that eventually grew into a hillside forest. The soft chatter of families and couples in their cabins and on the beach could be heard drifting through the area, giving the place a familial, calm atmosphere.

Our cabin was blue. It sat four cabins away from the restaurant, Olas y Arena, and had two bedrooms, a living room with a television set, a kitchen and a front porch.

My sister, Lourdes, collapsed onto the hammock on the porch and said: “I’m ready to work on my tan.”

“I want to check out the waves,” I said plopping down on a beach chair. Mom walked over to Dad and took hold of his hand. “And we are ready to take a walk and do some snorkeling?” she asked.

As my sister wanted, we hit the beach first. We decided on Jobos, Isabela’s most popular beach and our favorite, just beyond Montones. I ran and jumped down the beach, splashing and often falling, while my dad stopped every five seconds to pick up and examine a shell he would then stuff into his pocket. Mom took pictures and Lourdes sang along with her iPod, her voice drowned out by the crashing of the waves.

Fifteen minutes into our walk, we reached a big rock that separates Jobos from Montones. It was massive with crevices and small pools of water left there by monstrous waves long gone.

“Hey guys, come here, look at this!” Lourdes yelled out from ahead. She was looking at a gaping hole that led down into the water. It was like a blowhole, the walls of which were jagged and sharp.

“Step back, you’re too close!” my dad said from behind us. “Take a picture, dad,” Lourdes said, offering up the camera. “Step back first,” Dad responded. Lourdes rolled her eyes and took a step away. The wind was strong and the currents rough, causing the waves to explode with a boom in the well. Every time a wave crashed, a spray of salty seawater bathed our faces.

Dad was right: it was best not to mess with this particular hole. It could be a death trap.

The hole, our dad told us, is called El Pozo de Jacinto. Legend says that a young farmer named Jacinto used to tend to other people’s cows on the greens near the beaches here. One day Jacinto was walking with one of the cows, which he had tied to his arm, when the cow was startled, and began to run uncontrollably. Frenzied, it fell into the well, taking Jacinto with her and costing them both their lives.

The next day the owner of the cow went in search of Jacinto and the missing cow, yelling,”Jacinto bring me the cow!” Every time he called out, the water in the well stirred, and crashed furiously against the rocks. It is said that, today, if you stand near the well and call out: “Jacinto, bring me the cow!” the waters below will still stir and crash menacingly.

“Jacinto, bring me the cow!” I screamed into the well. The water thrashed in the hole, making me jump back a bit. “Cool,” thought, even though the water had been thrashing all along.

The beach was packed with families and friends. Coolers, towels and umbrellas of various bright colors decorated the sand. The shrieks and laughter of children mixed with the music coming from the bar, not far from the rock we were standing on. I smiled and walked on, leading my family. The smell of traditional Puerto Rican fried foods from the kiosks made my mouth water as we skipped awkwardly across the burning sand.

We picked a spot near an American family emitting a very strong Coppertone smell, and laid out our towels.
“Put sunscreen on,” Mom ordered, taking a bottle out of her bag. Lourdes and I whined, but gave in and let Mom cover us in the white gunk.”Do have any white anywhere?” Lourdes asked worriedly.

“No, you’re clear. Me?”

You’re good,” she said stretching out on her towel.
The sun was beating down mercilessly, blanketing everyone with its scorching rays. Thankfully, the breeze provided a slight relief from the humidity and heat. Swiping a droplet of sweat from my brow, I noticed the waves were not half bad: a good five to eight feet, big enough for fun but not big enough to terrify me.

There hadn’t been enough space in the car to allow me to bring my trusted board along on our trip, so my dad walked with me to a surf shop, where I was able to rent a nice 6′10 board for the day.

“Thanks Dad,” I said carrying the board out of the shop.

“No problem, my pleasure. Just be careful out there. Watch the current and the other surfers.”

“I will, Dad. You think Mom will watch me this time?”

Dad put an arm around my shoulder and laughed.”Mom gets nervous when you’re out there. Afraid something is going to happen to you.”

My head dropped. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to stress you guys out. I’m fine out there though - swimmer, remember?”

“Liz you could be a lifeguard, marine, sailor, whatever, and your Mom would still worry.”

I looked up and smiled at my Dad.

Mom was already reapplying sunblock when we got back. “Be careful please, don’t go out too far,” she said offering up the sunscreen.

“Are you going to watch me?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“I’m going to go snorkeling with Dad. “I’ll keep an eye out though,” she said, then stood up and gave me a hug.

After I waxed my board and stretched a bit, I strapped myself to the board and paddled out. New beaches are slightly terrifying for me to surf because, not being local, I am always a likely candidate for hazing. I shook the horrifying thoughts of defensive locals out of my head and paddled on. Once in the line-up (where surfers wait for waves), a young local of about 18 paddled over to me and struck up a conversation. His name was Asriel and, luckily for my 17-year-old self, a very attractive young man, with emerald green eyes, tanned skin and a killer smile.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

Was it that obvious that I wasn’t a local?

“Humacao,” I answered, trying not to look intimidated. Humacao is’t the most exciting town in Puerto Rico.
“That’s a long way to travel for a decent set of waves,” he said chuckling, causing his abs to tighten and my eyes to widen. Asriel stayed with me the rest of the time I was in the water. He advised me on what waves to take, and sometimes even cleared them of other surfers. I’d definitely lucked out as far as locals go.

After two hours in the water, my mouth raw from the taste of salt, I was thirsty, and my tummy was beginning to rumble. Mom and Dad, who had been snorkeling, were also ready to get their grub on. We went home and got the car so we could more efficiently scout the town for eating establishments. Available for everyone’s eating pleasure were a number of restaurants and shacks, all of which served traditional Puerto Rican food: fried codfish, fried plantains, rice and beans, pork, seafood salads and seafood turnovers. Dad’s eye, however, was caught by a cheerful sign that read Happy Belly’s Sports Bar and Grill, a casual seaside restaurant overlooking the Jobos coastline. True to its name, the service was friendly and efficient, and the menu boasted a variety of delicious meals that, to my father’s satisfaction, didn’t break the bank. They served everything from ethnic dishes to the more common burgers and fries. I decided on mofongo relleno, or mashed plantains with seafood.

“I sure am going to miss this when I go to college,” I said taking in the sight and smell of the food in front of me. “We’ll have a buffet ready for you when come back on break,” Mom said forcing a smile.

I knew it was going to be harder for Mom to deal with my leaving than it would be for me.

I savored every single bite of that mofongo, each one bringing my departure closer.

“Are you ok?” Lourdes asked, putting down her fork.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied.

My slow eating gave me away; usually I’m done ten minutes before everyone else.

“Comon, I’m almost done, and you’re barely halfway,” she said pointing at my mofongo.

“College,” I mouthed attempting to look untroubled. She winked and dropped the conversation.

“What’s going on? Dad asked. “She’s just tired from the surf, Lourdes responded casually. I smiled at Dad, confirming the response.

We left completely satisfied, and stuffed beyond belief. Wiped from a day of surfing, Lourdes from a rigorous tanning session and Mom and Dad from snorkeling, we decided to stay in for the night.

Our evening entertainment consisted of watching the day darken into night. Our front porch proved the perfect viewing area. Mom and Dad sat side by side in each other’s arms, while Lourdes and I popped a squat on the beach chairs. The sky was a dazzling canvas smeared with a combination of pinks and purples, changing tones and shade every few minutes, as the sun descended into the sea.

“I see a bunny,” Lourdes said pointing at the sky. I love that game. I hadn ‘t played it in a very long time.

“Fish with a top hat,” I said, pointing in a different direction.

“I think I actually see that too,” Lourdes said laughing.

“Flower,” Mom said, followed by Dad’s “Evil cow.”

We all laughed and played until the color was drained from the sky.

Once our full tummies from lunch deflated, we were ready for dinner. Most of the same restaurants were open for dinner, but since we were all tired, we decided to give Olas y Arena, the parador’s restaurant, a try. A variety of wine made Mom and Dad’s evening complete, while their selection of cocktails put Lourdes and me at ease. My sister ordered her favorite cocktail, a Mojito, and I ordered mine, a Cuba Libre (Bacardi Rum and Coke with a lime slice). Lourdes argued that Mojitos are the better choice, perhaps with a salad and grilled mahi-mahi, but I begged to differ. I said a Cuba Libre and some fried calamari were always the way to go.

“Do you want some of my fried deliciousness?” I asked Lourdes, waving some calamari in her face.

“That is so fattening,” she said, following it with her eyes. “But what the hell,” she said, grabbing my wrist and snatching the squid of my fork.

“We are on vacation, we are allowed to splurge,” I said forking some more calamari.

“You guys are still young, enjoy it while you are,” Mom said. “Just always remember to exercise so you stay healthy,” she added, lifting an instructive finger.

“Remember to eat well while you’re gone,” Dad said seriously. “Kids forget to eat well, with studying and all,” he continued, focusing on his food.

“I won’t, I love food too much,” I said, trying to lighten my Dad’s sudden seriousness.

“So how are everyone’s drinks? Mom said, catching my hint.

“Delicious!” Lourdes said raising her glass.

Our meal again left us pregnant with a food baby. We walked back to our cabin and sat around talking about everything and anything before turning in. Mom and Dad were the first to go, leaving me and Lourdes to enjoy the night.

“Were you excited to go to Texas?” I asked, swaying in the hammock. “Oh yeah, finally on my own,” she said, lying back in a beach chair.

“You don’t miss Mom and Dad?”

“Yeah, I do, but it’s nice to get out, you know.”

“I feel bad that I’m so excited.”

“Don’t feel bad, it’s normal. I mean, you’re going to college! Lourdes leaned over and punched my shoulder.

“Yeah, they’re going to be all alone, though.”
“Make sure you call all the time, don’t waste your time out there, and they’ll be happy.”

“I guess,” I said, pushing off the wall.
We sat in silence for a while until the coming and going of the waves lulled us slowly to the point where dreams and reality are inseparable.

The next morning I awoke very early, at about 6. Lourdes was still asleep. I tip-toed out of the room. After making a pit stop in the bathroom and seeing my disheveled hair, I stumbled out to the living room. The door was open; only the screen door stood between me and the outside world. I assumed Mom and Dad, always the early birds, were out walking on the beach. The sun, just having come out of a late night’s sleep itself, was lightly covering the beach in a soft golden light. I pushed open the screen door and plopped down on the hammock. The gentle breeze slowly helped me out of my drowsiness while I took in the view.

Just as I was about to scan the kitchen for breakfast, Mom and Dad arrived.

“You hungry?” Mom asked, grabbing my chin and kissing my forehead. Dad stood on the last step of the porch, taking in the other side of the island not many people care to explore. He took a deep breath, turned to face me and smiled.

“Yeah, lets eat,” I said, walking over to my Dad and putting my arms around him.

2 comments about “The Last Vacation”

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  2. mode20100 says:

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