don’t think we ever realized throughout the day that it was the fourth of July.
We woke up and rode our bikes to the infamous Blue Beach. About 45 minutes on
the paved road, and then another 45 minutes on a dirt road. The heat and
humidity were brutal, even early in the morning. It started to rain a few times
which helped, but not enough. It did that a lot in Puerto Rico, it started to
rain, or felt like it was going to rain and got windy and cloudy, but it never
really rained. Not like it rains in Mexico or Tucson or New York City. No
downpours. Just sprinkles, at least while we were there.
We were pretty disappointed with Blue Beach. At first we thought we were lost and had to double-check the map a few times, but it was definitely the beach and definitely where the locals had told us the best snorkeling was. First off, it was hard to even get access to the beach. Even though we were seemingly in the middle of nowhere, there were vans and cars blocking all the access points. Each pull-off was blocked with Locals blaring music and firing up the grills. We walked our bikes down the beach a ways to find a somewhat private spot. When we went in the water, there was no coral and very few fish. Just sand and sea grass. We even swam out to this island that looked like it had a reef, but the reef was a sand bar with sea grass growing on it. There were remnants of a reef, like at one point there had been one, but it was destroyed, probably by the military base (which was eerily absent and no longer visibly visible). Oh well. The water was blue and warm, the beach was white. We just relaxed in the surf and got sunburned. When we rode back it was even hotter. Insanely hot. We made it back and went into Esperanza to get a Piña Colada at this touristy place called Bananas. There was some man in the parking lot that had a pig and a goat, but he was using them to get attention. It was the most exciting thing in town and people were all gathered around him. The pig was pretty cute.
went back to La Finca and just chilled out on the porch swing. Then we went down
to Esperanza but there wasn’t much to do except watch the drunken beauts
singing on the beach and out of control horseback riders riding in this
trademark frantic canter. We headed out to the Biobay
place. What a production. We had to sit, along with 60 other tourists, through
this corny spiel about the bioluminescence that really had nothing to do with
bioluminescence. They made this dog do all these stupid pet tricks, and made
references to constellations and horoscopes and whales and unicorns, and the
funny thing is they tried to make it seem like it was a “scientific”
laboratory setting, with microscopes and other scientific equipment on display
as well as maps of the solar system and anatomies of manatees. What a joke. This
American woman and some guy named Mark (who we later found out was the cousin of
Jose Alfredo, our hippie hotel manager) were giving the “lecture” in both
Spanish and English. The lecture continued on the way out on a (gas-driven)
school bus, as Mark basically told us that by going on this tour we were saving
the biobay, Vieques and the planet and inevitably the universe by being tourists and giving them our money.
This was the jist of ecotourism.
rode by Sun Bay and the locals were still partying it up, dancing and staggering
in their headlights and hooting and hollering. We got to the boat, and it seemed
like it was fixing to
storm, but it just sprinkled and never really rained. As we were rode out onto
the water you could see the bioluminescence—dino flagellates to be specific.
We could see it in the whitecaps (which were blue-green caps) and in the
outlines of the fish darting away from the boat. It was pretty cool, by far the
most intense display of bioluminescence I had ever seen, though seeing it in the
outlines of dolphins and jellyfish in the middle of the night in the middle of
the south pacific was pretty cool. But the best part was when we got to swim in
it. Then you really get to see each speck, glowing and flowing across your skin.
It’s like swimming in a warm soup of stars that were activated with any
movement. We tried to take pictures but they were just all black. Not enough
light to get on film unless you had a tripod and a long shutter speed. But even
pictures can’t show what it was like. All of this made it worth it for ten
minutes of swimming in the ether of bioluminescence.
went back to town and there was only one place open to eat (Bili’s), and the
wait was over an hour long. I made Bili promise me that we would eat something
if we waited. Anything. He promised. If we didn’t we would’ve been fucked
as nothing else was open. The service was atrocious. Basically everyone in town
was at this restaurant including Jose Alfredo and his girlfriend (and also
co-manager) who was also the waitress, but she was so stressed out that she
didn’t even recognize us. We ordered and immediately got our dishes, which
took us by surprise, as the restaurant was full of people impatiently waiting.
We nibbled at our plates waiting for her to bring knives, then she came back and
said they screwed up the order (even though the two dishes were what we had
ordered) and these weren’t ours. She asked if we had eaten at the meat, and we
said no, just the rice and vegetables. She said that was okay, and started to
take the dishes away like she was going to give them to someone else. But I
guess she came to her senses and brought them back and told us to just eat them.
So we did. There was this other couple that had been there way longer than us
(they were on the biobay tour too, but probably had a car), and it was obvious we had
their meals, but what were we going to do about it? They eventually got so fed
up they left without paying. Oh well. We needed it more than then they did,
because after dinner we had to get back on our bikes with saddle-sore asses, in
the pitch dark, with drunk drivers on the road, and slog our way back up the
hill. Good thing we had our headlamps, that helped a bit in the dark jungly
parts. The moon was full which helped in the open. We passed the familiar landmarks, the Brahma bulls, the barking dogs, the
mango-eating horse that never budged from the middle of the road, the feral
cats. Back at the ranch we chatted with some couple from NYC that had been
staying at La Finca for 10 days. Ay yi yi. I would go apeshit. One day was
enough for us.
morning woke up leisurely. Chilled out in the hammock under the huge rubber
tree. Took a shower in the open out by the star fruit tree. Tried to get a hold
of Karl to return our bikes but his cell phone was stolen (after his lecture the
day before about how he knew everyone on the island and nobody would steal
anything). Just to make life easy, we left the bikes at La Finca (of course Karl
and Jose Alfredo were buddies, its all rather incestuous). We decided to walk,
which sounded like a good idea in theory. We walked this other road we had never
been on through more pristine jungle. It was hot as hell. The most interesting
thing we saw was a dead bullfrog on the road that leaked all this blood when I
flipped it over. When we got to the airport we found this taxi shuttle guy who
took us in to town for a few bucks.
Now it was time to experience the whole ferry chaos again, this time it was even more insane. The line was going nowhere. When I finally got to the front, there were locals cramming in from both sides shoving money and their identity cards to the cashier. When I told them to chill out, that we had been waiting for hours in the hot sun, and they could wait for one minute, they just laughed and said they were locals. La di da. The whole system was fucked. The sad thing was that the only reason there are locals on this beautiful island is because of tourism. Puerto Ricans like to think they are independent, but also like all the privileges they get from being associated with the U.S. (like getting a welfare check even though they don’t pay taxes). Even the Dominican cab driver Alberto was telling me this. Puerto Ricans are stuck in the middle of wanting the best of both worlds. But in the end, it just breeds apathy and hypocrisy.
met us at the ferry dock. This time he had his wife in the front seat. They were
going to the beach after taking us to San Juan. Even if the cab was $70, at
least I knew it was going directly towards the well-being of this guy and his
wife. They were very nice, and it was good to drive in a cab where you didn’t
fear for your life. He dropped us off outside the water club on the ritzy beach
of Isla Verde. We had our backpacks and our clothes and couldn’t find a place
to change. We were denied at the Inter-Continental, but then were able to sneak
into the Wyndham and even used the pool until I got brave and greedy and asked
for a towel, and then the guy asked for the room number, and then the police
helicopters hovered overhead and we got paranoid and realized everyone had wrist
bands except for us, and decided to get the hell out of there before we got
kicked out, so went to the beach and rented beach chairs and swam in the ocean.
Not a bad beach considering its right there in San Juan. But it ain’t no South
Beach that’s for sure.
We stalled for time, drank some Piña Coladas, walked around, went to the casino at the Intercontinental and Jess quickly won $15 before we were kicked out for not having proper attire (no “shower clogs” as the security guard called them), They wouldn’t even let us walk around anywhere in the hotel. It was lame. The Wyndham was better, besides being really cool in an old school way, all mahogany and huge chandeliers like I have never seen before. We had dinner at this ritzy Italian place (“Piccolo” something) at the Wyndham, was pretty decent. Then we lounged in the various couches in the lobby listening to the piano bar music and people-watching. Jess got some sleep in. Then we went to the airport. We were way early, thought we might be able to get some sleep in, but there was nowhere even to sit besides the cold marble floor. It was surreal. Finally they let us check in and we slept some down at the gate. And slept a little more on the plane back. Got back to JFK at around 7 a.m. and got a cab back, and went straight to work.
(c) 2004 Text and Photos by Derek White and Jessica Fanzo
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