Don’t Need A Wish Today 

It’s been many, many years since I decided to include in my daily ritual: a question of reflection. A means of checks and balances that is commonly absent, without the extra effort. With so much going on around us, it can be difficult to… pause… and think about WHY it is you do the things you do.

My question for the day has always been: “What are you grateful for today?”

Some days, it’s easy to come up with an answer. Some days, it’s not. And often times, I have to inquire if, by repeating the same answers, I am dulling the top coat from its shine. Like the twenty thousandth time you’ve told your significant other “I love you” you realize the words, though true, have lost true sentiment behind it — how impressively quickly novel turns to casual.

Upon waking this morning, I stared at the post-it stuck on my bathroom wall and came to the same conclusion that I am frequently led to. But no matter how many times I respond with this same answer, it still find it –to put it eloquently– really freaking shiny.

Today, I am grateful that all things I want, I already have. It is unmistakably empowering to feel satisfied. I am so lucky for this unpredictable life and the ability to comprehend how and why I’m here.

Dear Johnny,

I’ve rewritten the first sentence of this letter over and over again, because I don’t know where to begin. Somewhere between the brain that can’t stop thinking about you and the fingers that rest upon this dusty keyboard, words fail me. Johnny baby, I hope you are reading this.

It was a quiet day. Was it a school day? Binghamton sure felt like a daydream. A soft stream of sunlight had poked its nose past the sheer fabric curtains, accentuating blonde specks of unsettled dust around us. It hung in the attic air in an ephemeral stillness; like us, the dust had nowhere to be and no rush to get there. I watched you sink into the couch groove beside me as we filled the silent room with a winding, convoluted discussion, like a tree branch with aim but no end.

In an isolated solidarity, we had brewed the best kind of friendship –if introspective minds are the perfect ingredients, we surely weren’t in short supply. I can’t recall how many hours had to conspire to drown out the sun, and I’m sure you can’t either, because in those awesome one-on-one conversations, we’d get trapped in the present like lethargic feet in quicksand. It always worked out in our favor, though, because sinking in the deep end is a hundred times better than wading where it’s shallow.

img_1066

We made a LOT of friends in college. Good ones, too. But you were one of the very, very few people I kept in touch with, because I wanted you around forever. Forever is a silly word –a selfish word, I know– but it’s a word I hung onto when I thought of people like you.

I can say, without hesitation or doubt (and I’m glad I had the chance to say it to your face): you are the most genuine and kind-hearted human being I’ve encountered on this planet. You promoted a better world. You were conscious of your actions. You led and taught others. And might I add, you did a damn fine job of doing so. My life is tremendously better because of you. Unlike most college kids, we didn’t need to smoke weed or drink beer to “have something to do” together. We didn’t discuss stupid shit; we talked about our vulnerabilities, the source of happiness, and what ways we could change the world. We had plans, Johnny.

So when I read the first half of Colden’s text last night, I didn’t understand it. It read, “Hey, hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I just got word the Johnny Cass…”

The ironic thing is, I had my phone in my hand because I was going to call you. It’d make my day when we’d sporadically check up on each other and say “I miss you.” I wanted to see how your feet were doing, and if you were following the exercise program I sent you. I was curious as to know how your solar panel projects and yoga practice were going. I was going to ask if you’re still in touch with Stummer because I haven’t seen him in a minute. I wanted to check — are we set to volunteer and camp at Catskill Chill this Fall? And remember, I was supposed to visit your house in Albany so many damn times, it was starting to become a running joke. I was actually hoping to make it happen this Memorial day weekend… Only two weeks from now.

Before I clicked open his full text, I assumed Colden was trying to say something along the lines of “I just got the word that Johnny Cass… is moving to the middle of fucking nowhere,” or that “Johnny Cass broke his leg snowboarding” or that “Johnny Cass decided to devote his life to underprivileged children in India and we probably won’t see him for another six years.”

Six years would’ve sucked, but I could have swallowed it. Forever, though? It’s beyond me. I’m going through these rapid bursts of anger, curiosity, contentment, regret, sadness, inspiration, denial, and every other affect in the rolodex of human emotion. I’m feeling so much at once that I’m starting to feel numb. Sensory overload is a lot like sensory deprivation –we would’ve gotten a kick out of discussing that.

When I found out, I could’ve gone out for a drink or two or eight. But I figured you would rather have me meditate and do hot yoga (of course), so I did exactly that. But Johnny, I swear, I looked like a fucking madman, choking back tears in half moon, grilling angrily at the sad mess in the mirror for ruining my focus. Could you blame me though?


Today is a little better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be a little better than today. It sounds like some cheese quote you’d post on Instagram, so I know you’ll appreciate the thought, ha.

You once posted this quote: “If the only prayer you said in life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” I thank you, Johnny Cassaro. Thank you for loving me, brother. Thank you for having an impact on me more than most people ever will.

I said I repeatedly rewrote the first sentence because I didn’t know where to begin. We were right, Johnny; life does come in full circle. I keep rewriting the last sentence over and over again, because I  don’t want this to end.

Love, Jane

The Unharbored Harbor

15H

In a trembling hand, I held the broken edge of a coffee cup. It was stained, not with coffee, but with streaks of blood.

Glowing specks of heat –mixed pieces of ember and ash weightlessly cascading through the thick air like snowflakes from Hell– illuminated the walls of dusty ravines around us. A deafening blast from behind had struck my senses numb, diminishing my perception of the world to a muffled residue of what it used to be. I could see her silhouette shifting to view from underneath the pile of wreckage; her face, splattered by war, defined agony in textbook form.

I drunkenly stumbled sideways, submerged by a deepening ring resonating in a spiral of disorientation and chaos. When the body is faced with shock, it either gears into action or shuts itself down. Mine seemed to linger in limbo, undetermined whether to pursue the former or the latter. Had I been trained, or had even expected the slightest bit of danger, I could have been better prepared.

But I wasn’t.

It was early Sunday morning, and I was sitting across the patio table from the woman I’d like to call my wife. As the silk of her robe danced with the gentle breeze, I admired the soft curvature of her womanly frame. Her features were mild, but pleasant — even the fragrance in her hair cast a hypnotic serenity over me.

As I drew the mug to the edge of my nose, I consumed a large waft of coffee vapor, but the fumes of espresso turned to fumes of burnt flesh before I could process the slight of hand.

“Glenn, darling!” she cried out to me, pointing to my periphery. I turned in time to see a flock of bombers headed directly our way. The aircrafts were shedding lines of missiles in a similar manner of water droplets trailing a wet bullet against the wind.

I knew, in that moment, the house was not enough. The naval base, the doberman. Oahu was supposed to be our home in paradise. I had promised her a sanctuary for our child, but it dawned on me that he will only know the inside of his mother’s womb.

Clutching both shoulders, I dragged her lifeless body behind a pile of bricks and held her up to my chest. She had fallen unconscious. I could feel her breath slowing, so I grabbed her tighter, as if somehow I could contain the oxygen within her body using the width of my own. If I could give her life, I would.

Panic shrieked as missiles struck around us; in a crumbling terror, I closed my eyes and guarded the only two in the world I was too late to save. To this day, I am still afraid of the dark.

December 7, 1941

Lesson #9: Give ‘Em a Taste And See If They Bite

img_0493

March 26, 2016 @ Caramel’s Apartment (Condado, PR)

THE SUNBURN IS FINALLY GONE. I’m more of a toasted cookie now.

img_0506

In the morning, I tip-toed around the house, munching on a couple protein bars. I had packed loads of Clif Bars and Quest Bars back when I thought I was going to be camping in El Yunque. I figured that if I get lost and die eating dry rations, I might as well die happy. Come on, surrounded by chocolate chip Clif bars? I couldn’t think of a better way to die.

I walked around the front patio, juggling emotions that had been stirring all week. In just 10 days, I met a lot of amazing people and experienced things I’ll never forget (the greatest part about keeping a written record online). Considering I have a life that hasn’t paused for me back in NY, I was prepared to go back, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had unfinished business here. Mentally, I was plotting my next return trip, and I hadn’t even left yet.

img_0449

I wasn’t supposed to meet up with Caramel until late afternoon, so Doel and I started binge watching the Walking Dead. It was simultaneously the greatest and worst idea, because it triggered the start of a show addiction. And now I hear there’s Fear the Walking Dead, too. What the hell did I get myself into?

In the middle of an episode, I randomly blurted out that I wanted a fruit smoothie, so Doel suddenly grabbed his car keys and headed out the door. An episode later, he came back with fruits! Bags filled with papayas, kiwis, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, raspberries — you name it, he got it. Doel came in clutch with the last minute smoothies. I felt like doing a dance. Wait, in fact, if I’m remembering correctly, I did. While he chopped, I danced. It was a damn good time.

He made me a list of my best traits and gave me a wonderful set of photographs to bring home with me.

PS- The onion is a Shrek reference.

PPS – Es necesario tener el corazon del hombre para vivir en este mundo. *flex*

Later, I returned to Condado, where it all began. Caramel and I took a quick dip in his condo community pool, then spent some quality time together while our suits dried. It’s hard to put into words, but I get a good feeling when I’m around him. It’s comfortable, but exciting at the same time. We have this tastefully witty, playful dynamic that keeps me interested in the banter. And I guess it doesn’t hurt that the man is, well, real fun to look at, too.

When the sky began to dim, we walked over to one of his favorite local joints. It was there I finally got to try a mofongo. Plantains are a big deal around here, and for good reason. Cut, fried, smashed — they are pretty delicious. The crab meat was a good addition, too.

After a lengthy conversation, we jumped in a cab and headed to La Placita de Santurce, a neighborhood social spot lined with music, food, and bars. The energy was fantastic and packed with life, but given the relatively early hour, it wasn’t overly crowded (which I most definitely prefer). We passed men and women of all ages who were out, having a good time on the open streets. I saw a couple people with canes, even. It was almost like people watching at Union Square but 1000 times better.

Caramel had called out his friends, so I ended up meeting someone I will refer to as Cranberry. He had a well-groomed beard, appealing features, and an athletic build, along with a spotlight personality that drew attention the same way a storyteller would. He, Caramel, and I shared a drink or two, chatted up a bartender, and briefly danced a little salsa until Cranberry left to go meet up with his lady.

img_0552

So, the two of us headed back to Condado, where we laid side by side, staring at the ceiling (or maybe our eyes were closed, I’m not too sure at this point) until the hours passed through to single digits. I mentioned to him, at one point, that people tend to feel an obligation to fill gaps of silence, but it’s nice to be able to enjoy the presence of company without having to try. And I can honestly say, in that moment at least, there was no need to.

Even if 2 days isn’t long enough to get to “know” somebody.

At one point, he mentioned that when his friends back in NY come to visit, they bring their best selves. Cranberry had also brought up the concept of censorship — how he and Caramel are screening what they say because I am there to listen. On the airplane ride, the two comments sporadically clicked in my head, and I realized this: that’s what happens when you meet someone while traveling. His image will refresh every so often we meet, and it will always be the frame with the best lighting that gets taped inside my head. It’s fun and harmless to crush, but the question is: does the actual cake taste as good as it looks? I think it’d be interesting to find out, but whether the opportunity will arise is up in the air.

img_0546-1

Doel picked me up at 2am and drove me to Ponce for my 5am flight. We made cat noises and talked of our experience together as if this were goodbye, but we both knew that I’ll be back.

If Katie, Caramel, Doel, Lilly, Ela, Martii, Lentävä, M, Jesse, Daniel, Demi, John, Max, Emily, Leo, Kevin, Joe, Frenchy, Erin, Nikki, Mario, Linda, Tommy, and Cranberry make up a fair reflection of the kind of people Puerto Rico invites and breeds, then I wouldn’t mind doing it all over again. A few treasures hang on my wall to remind me so.

img_0551

 

Lesson #7: “When Girls Fidget, It Means They Want You To Kiss Them”

img_0699

March 24, 2016 @ Dewey’s Main Dock (Culebra, PR)

I tried to beat the sun, but she was up before I was. She had already unfurled her tangled web of golden locks across the blue cloudless sky. I used a light jacket that folds into a bag (clothing companies can be so innovative these days) to pack sunscreen, a phone, and a wallet. If I was going to jog across the entire island, I had to do it light.

I secured the jacket-bag across my chest before walking out to the closest deli. Almost every store on Vieques and Culebra that I had seen was cash only, and with the scarce, dysfunctional ATMs available, I was down to my last couple bucks. This place had a card minimum, so I tossed in a couple granola bars and a bottle of Robitussin to make my Aloe drink purchase (which ended up being a horrible idea, because when you jog with hot sugary liquids in the sizzling sun, it becomes more of a syrup than fuel).

(And apparently, if you jog with hot cough syrup, it turns into dollar store fruit roll-up).

The walk was just over 2 hours by GPS — I figured, I could run it in less than half. I, however, didn’t account for intense, winding hills and the brutal, searing sun. In case you haven’t been keeping up: I am in the process of recovering from a systemic infection. Unable to swallow or breathe properly, I was spitting and heaving down the dirt path like a fat baseball player with asthma. Yes boys, I’m single. One at a time, please.

It was too hot for clothing, so I used my shirt as a cape. I could feel and see my shoulders blistering from the penetrating rays. The sun showed no mercy. She clawed her nails through my skin; my calves began swelling as well. I had to alternate between jogging and walking (and dying) the whole way there.

BUT IT WAS SO WORTH IT.

Zoni Beach is my favorite beach of all time. I stripped to my birthday suit and sprawled out underneath a set of coconut trees. I napped for quite some time. The walk back home was just as difficult, if not more, but I got to finish the hike with an ice cold cup of orange juice and a fresh shower. It was the best feeling in the world.

Sometimes, you need to physically push yourself to the absolute limit. When you reach the point of quivering muscles and screaming fatigue, you challenge your inherent willpower to another level. Only when you move past it can you appreciate the fact that you’re still standing and mediate acknowledgement of accomplishment. Life is a mental game, and without practice, you lose.

Back at the hostel, I ran into the cutest girl. So petite I could fit her into my pocket. Helen had a dark pixie haircut and eyes that seemed to glitter. She was nice enough to share her dinner with me, so we talked for a while until the rice and beans were swept clean by our forks.

At night, it rained while I followed Joe around the bars. I guess two person barhopping with only one person drinking is lame (I could sense it in his drunken expression), so instead, we climbed up the side of the main bridge in town. Flip flops, metal ladders, and rain don’t mix, but it worked out fine. You can’t see from this grainy photo, but it was gorgeous up there. Perfection.

We smiled, sharing an apple and gazing at the soft reflection of Dewey on the waters beneath us. I guess it was a good moment for something cheesy, because he slipped a hand behind my back and tried to pull me in for a kiss. I held a hand out and backed away.

“Oh. When girls fidget, it means they want you to kiss them. You kept moving around. I thought you wanted it.”

“Don’t get me wrong. You’re extremely attractive. But that doesn’t cut it for me. Besides, that’s not what I do when I want someone to kiss me.”

“What do you do then?”

“What you just did. Try to kiss them.”

“Really,”

“Yeah, what’s the worst thing that could happen. Rejection? If I really want something, I am assertive about it. Simple as that.”

“Right. That’s respectable. Me too.”

I guess it’s a good thing I have a thing for brunettes with light eyes, because they seem to have a thing for Korean chicks with barefaced opinions as well. This happened 4 times in the time I was there. It’s just too bad the desire to pursue doesn’t come often.

I went through a brief, pointless phase after my last ex where I was serial dating left and right to fill the void — mainly free time I didn’t have before. But now, I’ve grown to be a bit more selective, a bit more perceptive of physical attraction and how it can falsely augment cognitive appeal. A hot body for the night — where’s the challenge in that? Yawn.

My point is, it’s essential to know your self worth. Whether your intention is to hook up, date, or commit to a relationship, you should still aim high, regardless. Don’t settle — it inhibits the growth of confidence, and without confidence, you are restricted to a fraction of opportunities in life.

Enough of this Dr. Phil BS. I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow. Goodnight my loves.

Next Up: Road trip across the north coast of Puerto Rico

Lesson #6: Don’t Kick The Drunk Horse

img_0695

March 23, 2016 @ Culebra International Hostel (Culebra, PR)

She opened the bottle that had arrived by plane and poured the pills out, one by one, into a Ziploc bag. Some have the resting bitch face. She had a resting bored-out-of-my-mind-when-can-I-clock-out face. I could tell, because that’s a face I sometimes recognize in the mirror at work on Wednesdays. With the stroke of a ballpoint pen, she scribbled some notes on the plastic baggie before handing it to me.

“This is it?” Confused, I lifted the contents to eye level. “You’re not giving me the full prescription?”

Peering through her eyeglasses, she said, “That’s all you get.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. I suggested, nervously, “Well, I’m sure you know why I need the full round. I don’t want the infection to come back stronger.”

She held out a hand and replied, “You’ll be fine.” She then glanced down at her palm then back at me: “We accept cash only.”


 

The rest of the day, in contrast, went a lot smoother. I walked approximately halfway to Flamenco Beach — the most popular beach on the island — before a young man named Jarvis offered me a ride. He gave me such an uplifting boost of energy. It was a good way to start my morning, not to mention: Flamenco Beach was absolutely gorgeous. I am so glad I got there early in the morning, because by the time I left, people were pouring in faster than rain. Even the clear, crisp blue waters can look polluted when the foot traffic is heavy.

I took a público back, then reapplied sunblock for the walk to Zoni. I made it a small fraction of the way there before locals started offering me rides. It’s funny how you can’t go for a walk without being offered a lift. People are that considerate here. So much for exercise.

Culebra made me feel extremely safe, which is why hitchhiking wasn’t a big deal. Normally, I’m more careful about these things. Kevin –one of the nicest people I met on the island– explained to me that this close-knit community looks out for its residents, for the tourists, and for the island itself.

I got to witness how he takes care of everything and everyone around him. He’d wave non-stop Hellos as he drove, able to recognize every passing car. At night, when a girl was walking along the side of the road, he stopped to give her a ride, then handed her $40 from his wallet because she was having a rough night and wanted to grab some drinks. When I dined at his restaurant, he handed me a checkbook with nothing inside because he had put my entire bill on his tab. The next day, when I jogged to Zoni, he dropped off water bottles so I don’t dehydrate from the walk back. We had established a strictly platonic relationship, so it was amazing to see how his actions were derived from good upbringing and natural kindness.

We swam around for a bit, then he dropped me off back at the hostel. I went to an awesome dock bar called Dinghy Dock’s, where I sipped on orange juice with Mario (the owner Linda’s husband), Nikki (employee/family friend), Joe, and a girl who I’ll refer to as Frenchy. They toasted to the night, as life and laughter roared around us.

I guess Joe and Frenchy had enough drinks because when the topic of skinny dipping came up, they were eagerly on board. Another shot of no-pulp OJ and I was down, too. We ran over to the ferry, but I guess they were feeling shy, so we ditched the idea. Once in the water, I swam over to the side to take my Fitbit off. As I headed back to Joe and Frenchy, they stared at me for a good 5-10 seconds before passionately making out. Now, there’s a fine line between invitation for third party and being the third wheel; since I didn’t RSVP for the former, I ended up being the latter. They tried to get me in for a three person kiss a couple times, but I flashed them my tonsils and used a get out of jail free card on that one.

Soon after, we tossed on some clothes and stumbled into Sandbar. The police don’t care about open containers, so most people buy drinks from the bars then bring it outside/walk the streets. The salsa bar had a DJ/percussionist playing to an empty room; we opted to stay indoors. However, as you can imagine, a three person salsa is dangerously awkward, so I did my own thing until one of the workers swept me away into her arms.

She assumed I knew how to dance to Latin music, but I quickly admitted that though my hips are swinging, my feet have no idea what they’re doing. My lovely new friend taught me salsa, merengue, and bachata; I was having so much fun that I didn’t even notice Joe and Frenchy had ditched me at the bar. Funny, could’ve sworn Frenchy was telling me about the love of her life just minutes before Rounds 1 and 2 of tonsil hockey. Somewhere out there, in the corner of the universe, I swear… monogamy exists (Well, I hope so).

I really enjoyed hanging out with the bartender, my salsa partner, and the security guard. We joked around outside in the perfectly warm and breezy weather; we were probably out there for less than an hour before two drunken men, swinging empty bottles, rode downtown on their horses. I stared in amusement as the trained horses trotted sideways and in disconnected circles. Los caballos están ebrios, también.

The security guard walked over to one of the guys, muttered something along the lines of that pretty girl wants to ride your horse, and next thing I knew, I was being lifted into the air by two sets of burly arms. Nervously, I clutched onto the horse who apparently had a reputation for jumping, bucking, and running off into the distance. Lucky me.

Don’t touch the stirrup, he warned me, or he’ll go crazy. Shit, you bet I won’t. I had my feet extended so far out I looked like the poster child for a gynecological exam.

My salsa partner grabbed ahold of my phone (to take a photo of me, she said… See how nervous I look?), but I caught her scrolling through my private text messages. Guess they were a bit more heterosexually suggestive than she had hoped. Giiiiiiiiirl, if you wanted to know my sexual orientation, all you had to do was ask. Heh.

At the end of the night, I had a one-on-one conversation with Mario. He had recently lost a daughter, the one who I got to know through stories they had been sharing — she was an avid marine biology researcher and turtle advocate who humorously and viciously would defend turtle eggs from predators using fanned leaves — and by the end of the night, we came to a sentimental understanding. Mario and I reflected upon the saying: you die twice, once when your heart stops beating and once when your name is last spoken. We emphasized the importance of mental processing and emotional expression, in outlets such as writing. I promised to write about Nilani on this blog, to perpetuate her existence in text.

I ended the night in Kevin’s backyard, watching the full moon contrast the night sky like Yin had slipped away from Yang. It was a painting of brilliance. For a second, I lost myself in the feeling, because it felt so much like home.

Next Up: Jogging Across Culebra

 

 

Lesson #4: Skinny Dip and People Will Follow

img_0182

March 21, 2016 @ Lazy Jack’s Hostel (Vieques Island, PR)

I’m the type of person who gets up at 5am like clockwork. It doesn’t matter if I’m on vacation or if I’m sick — my body is a morning person and my mind is a night owl, so it’s a given that I’m chronically sleep deprived. So, one would ask: why do I have so much energy? Beats me. I run off Clif Bars and 3 hours a day; I keep telling myself I’ll make up the sleep when I’m old.

I grabbed a quick breakfast: toast, protein bar, smoothie, and a bag of chocolate chip cookies. Donned in a bikini top and basketball shorts, I walked barefeet to the nearest dock and managed to practice a bit of yoga before getting distracted by the beautiful view.

After a meditative start to my morning, I greeted the locals. Like a newborn fascinated by a rotating mobile and unaware of its repeating nature, I walked up and down the streets to exchange morning greetings. Call me a dork, I don’t care, but these simple interactions made me really happy. One thing I love about Puerto Rico is the sense of community. People say hello, help one another, and best of all — they smile. Yeah, for no apparent reason. I can’t even remember the last time a New Yorker stopped me on the streets just to smile and say hello, void of all sexual or marketing intention. I want to live in a place where “hiking etiquette” is the common practice among the residents, like it is here.

I sat on a picnic bench and talked to three Puerto Ricans here on vacation (they go to school in the states). They taught me about the art, the word Tainos, social behavior, and seemingly odd religious ceremonies that happen on Holy Week (the people walk from their homes to the church as the leader uses a speakerphone to lead a parade-like group on the streets).

As the sun increased in intensity, Lily and I met up to check out Sun Bay. I was getting sicker by the day, but considering the lack of AC and medicine available on the island, I opted to stay outdoors instead of the stuffy hostel room. I set up my hammock and napped amongst the coconut trees while Lily planned the rest of her itinerary (we both traveled here alone with no plans or housing reservations).

On our walk back, we passed countless rows of tents and hammocks; a young man named Leo explained that during Holy Week, locals will camp on these islands for weeks, even months, at a time. It was hard to pay attention because he had these hypnotizing, glossy, hazel eyes that drew me in as a question does to a conversation. He invited us to join his camp, which I politely declined (I had already paid for a room at the hostel). I told him he could catch us at Lazy Jack’s later.

Lily and I watched the ruby red sun set; it felt like life in slow motion, as heated candy would melt on glass. There are no common words in the English dictionary that could capture the sentiment that stormed in my heart, and photos don’t do it justice, but it’ll do for now. If you want the real thing, just go.

Upon returning to the hostel for a shower (from all the sunscreen and salt water, I must have taken 8-10 showers a day on this trip), I ran into new travelers who had just checked in for the night: Demi, Jesse, and John.

John, who works at the hostel I stayed at in Fajardo, had an adorable smile and excitable attitude. Demi and Jesse were nurses from Cali; upon first glance, it looked like an Ariana Grande and Ken doll had stepped free from their packaging. They were all extremely easy to talk to and seemed like a good time. My judgement ended up being spot on.

A group of us girls went to Bananas for dinner, then about a dozen of us sat around sharing cheap rum (2 dollars for a small bottle!) and debatable opinions. It was then I met Max and Emily, a very cute couple from Marquette University who were equally well-spoken and of genuine character. Max had this great ability to direct his attention in a way to make you feel like you’re the only one who matters, and Emily had a sweet demeanor about her that made it hard to imagine she’s ever had a foul thought cross her mind. My imagination as a writer fills in the gaps, sometimes.

We joined Jessica, one of the hostel workers, on a night hike to Coconut Beach. We combined with other campers and hostelmates in the area, and set up a roaring bonfire. Word got out, so many locals –including Leo– showed up as well. We must have had around 50-60 heads happily dancing around the powerful flames. It was such a great time.

Earlier, everyone had talked a big game about skinny dipping, but no one was initiating. I guess all it takes is one crazy naked person (or two, in this case) to start a movement, because when Jesse and I stripped to our birthday attire, about a third of the group followed suit. Another third jumped in with bathing suits. And Daniel, my free spirited Swedish friend, started dancing naked near the fire, junk swinging in circles and all. There was nothing sexual about it. We were just bodies in the night, drunk off the atmosphere we had created. The music stifled by crashing waves, the energy of the delighted people, and the soft illumination of innocent bodies — these elements brought the night to a new height.

Jesse, Daniel, Lily, Demi, Max, Emily, and I jumped in the back of a pick up truck. The local partiers dropped us off at the hostel. It was so nice riding out in the open, with the warm breeze passing through our hair. Max and Emily called it a night, and the rest of us took a night hike past Sun Bay, towards the tip of a peninsula. We stumbled across rocks and through the pitch black woods using an iPhone flashlight. We were all pretty tired and pained, but Jesse’s eager energy kept me afloat.

Daniel, on the other hand, kept me laughing.

D: Jane… like Jane and Tarzan.

J: Yes, but without the Tarzan.

D: You? Have no Tarzan!?

J: Nope. Jane might want Tarzan but Tarzan doesn’t live in NY. Do you have a Jane? Or a Tarzan?

D: I like Tarzans! But no Tarzan for me either.

J: It’s okay. Why need Tarzan when you can have bananas?

D: BANANAS! YES! *Jumps up and down*

As the night stirred to an end, we sat in the sandy darkness, overlooking Ensenada Sombe. I laid back, staring at the stars cast in the jet black sky, muttering soft, tired thoughts until my body ran out of fuel. We napped there for some time. My time in Esperanza was quite exciting, but I was ready to keep on moving.

Next Up: Culebra, PR