This is the second post about our recent Puerto Rico adventure. If you haven’t read the first post, you need to do that first. You can find it here.
There is poop on the path.
I didn’t do it. Neither did Cass or either of the Ts. But on the sandy path ribboning from our villa to Aylor Beach someone, an animal we suppose (and hope) has pooped. I’m no free range poop expert but it looks like a dog’s work to me.
T2 is both grossed out and delighted and takes every opportunity, when either coming or going, to point at it and yell a warning of “POOOOOOOOP” loudly. I mean, we all do it, he just does it the loudest.
It’s shadowy on the path, he explains. He doesn’t want anyone to step in it.
We are a classy, classy bunch.
Trail poops aside, the villa is wonderful. We made a trip to a local grocery store and stocked up, buying eggs and milk and the more illicit, vacation only things, like sugary cereals. I like Fruity Pebbles but only buy them when I’m next to a beach.
I clean a lot. I can remember, during the vacations we took when I was a kid, my mother always cleaning. I can remember thinking, “Why doesn’t she just chill out with the cleaning? We’re on vacation.”
I realize now that beach vacations are sandy affairs and there isn’t a dishwasher so without constant vigilance our place would be covered in dunes and dirty dishes.
We walk down the beach and find a place selling plastic sand buckets. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. We aren’t in a touristy area and so one little sand bucket and a couple of plastic little shovels cost us $10 and are, Cass I and I both agree, the only time on the whole trip we were taken aback by how much something costs.
That afternoon T2 and I build a massive sandcastle. It has high walls and multiple moats, cleverly designed to keep the water away from our stronghold. Standing inside the main building the walls come above my knees. The next day T2 is both indignant and delighted that there is nothing left of the castle, no sign remains whatsoever that we spent hours building it. He becomes fascinated by the status of the tide.
One day we actually get T1 a surf lesson. The woman who owns our building gives us the number of someone she recommends. It ends up being a man and a woman team. They are older, both silver haired and deeply tanned. The woman is an American marine biologist who, in keeping with the trend, showed up in Puerto Rico several decades ago and stayed. The man is a local. He looks exactly like the Most Interesting Man in the World from the Dos Equis adds. T1 refers to him as surf Yoda.
We meet them down at Jobos Beach. It’s a protected cove with waves the perfect size for learning to surf. On the other side of the beach a long spit of rock the curls out into the ocean is a gigantic cliff and the waves smash into it and the water geysers high into the air.
For several hours T1, under the watchful eyes of his two teachers, paddles out, catches waves and tries to stand. He’s a natural athlete and actually picks it up pretty quickly, managing to get up and stay up on his second attempt. It’s hit or miss after that and he is exhausted by the end. Happy, but exhausted.
While he is doing that, I introduce T2 to snorkeling. He is grouchy about it, not wanting to wear the mask or mess with the snorkel. This lasts right up until his puts his face in the water for the first time and then he is hooked. There are small coral and rock formations and the sea life is abundant. His pure joy at being able to see the fish and crabs is fantastic. Initially he makes me stand in waist deep water. He holds onto my legs and floats. After he gets the hang of breathing through the snorkel he is off and we spend the next few hours chasing fish. I eventually have to drag him out. Cass joins us a little, but mostly she sits in the shade of a big mangrove tree and watches her boys.
That night, Cass wants to drive to a different beach, a place called Crashboat Beach, and watch the sunset. She is, as is the pattern, met with resistance. I don’t want to do it but am grudgingly going along with the idea. Neither boy is enthusiastic. It’s a fifteen-minute drive past the Coast Guard Station and into the town proper. When we get there the crowd is thin. It’s the middle of the week. The beach itself is wide and smooth and the water and waves are gentle. The boys body surf. T2’s hair is a wild mess and his laugh rolls over the crash of the waves. He loves being with his brother. T1’s skin is tanned the color that white girls at suburban swimming pools aspire to. The sunset is fantastic. Per usual, Cass wanted to do something, the rest of us didn’t but she was right.
The next day she arranges for the marine biologist to take us snorkeling.
Shacks, the beach on the opposite side of us from Jobos, has an absolutely amazing and gigantic coral reef that is maybe thirty yards off shore. We get our flippers on but it quickly becomes apparent that T2 isn’t going to be able to go, the water is simply too deep. Cass elects to stay with him and Surf Yoda, who is also a certified ocean lifeguard, in the shallow water. T1 and I venture out into the reef.
The water is crystal clear. Fish dart in and out of the coral. It doesn’t seem real.
When I was little I wanted to be a marine biologist. I suspect 33% of kids do. I would snorkel on our family vacations and have been on snorkeling excursions before where you leave your cruise ship, get on a boat with twenty other people and float around somewhere, but nothing like this.
The water was deep and the walls of coral stretched fifteen or twenty feet from the ocean floor almost to the surface. It was like a maze and we followed the natural path of it in and out. Once, coming over a coral ridge, the bottom seemed to drop away completely. We saw an octopus hiding under a rock shelf. Our guide pointed out brain coral (good) and the mustard colored fire coral (not good). The fish ignored us. Our feet barely touch the ground for an hour.
It was amazing. It was beautiful. I may live to be 100 years old (I hope so). I may croak tomorrow (hopefully not). In either case I will never forget that one day Cass paid for me to go snorkeling and it was exactly like I always imagined it being and it never was.
That afternoon I am walking down the Aylor Beach trail by myself, scanning the brush for iguana when I suddenly realize I am not alone.
Walking towards me down the middle of the trail, dappled by the light through the trees is a big black and brown colored mutt. Real big. He’s got a wide, square head and a nose that is flecked with little black scars. He is limping with his right front foot but doesn’t seem particularly concerned about it. I stop. He looks up and me and wags his tail.
I suspect I have found the trail pooper.
I ask him if he is okay and he walks over to me. I cautious give him a scratch behind his ears, thinking of T2’s comment on the cat lady from a few days before. He gives me another friendly tail wag and heads off down the trail towards the beach, breaking off about halfway there to head into the jungle. Hurt foot aside, I suspect he has a good life.
Cass and I leave the boys alone to nap and walk down to Jobos. There is an actual beach bar there, a little open air shack not any bigger than our back deck. We sit and look at the ocean and drink mojitos. We listen to the two burn out American kids, neither of them older than mid-twenties, both of them just sort of randomly wandering the island, compare notes.
Cass and I talk about the kids, and how much we love Puerto Rico, and life. I so value her.
I could sit with her forever.