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