If you’ve ever tried to get to San Blas from Panama City, Isla Baru from Cartagena, or -in our case- Culebra from San Juan, you’ll find that you need to leave early. As-the-sun-is-just-setting-up-for-its-shift kind of early. D & I know we have to wake up for 6 am but we want to go out dancing, so like responsible adults, we give ourselves a curfew. We have to head home at 2 am.
Our first stop for the night is for food. We walk into a restaurant on the corner of a busy street. Inside is dimly lit in a dark red hue, Latin music is blaring from speakers and people cover almost every inch of the small space. We’re told menu items are limited since the kitchen is closing so we place orders for whatever’s available, and two shots of tequila. In a few minutes, D’s birthday will be over. Conveniently, the DJ starts to play “Happy birthday”. It’s for someone else but I sing it for my friend anyway, filming on my phone as we mouth the familiar lyrics.
The restaurant space is so packed that we can’t get the server’s attention when we’re ready to leave so we walk up to her stand, arriving at the same time as she does. She holds a finger in the air to tell us to wait and hurries off. While waiting for her return, I ask the DJ who’s next to me to play something by Nicky Jam. He turns to me in surprise. Nicky Jam is one of his favorite Puerto Rican artists. We laugh at the coincidence though it’s not shocking to find people who enjoy the Boricua’s sound.
I’m singing along to “Hasta el Amanecer” when our server appears with the check. I ask her if I can pay with a card but the DJ waves his palms and tells me not to worry. Confused, I pull out cash instead to hand to her. “He says you don’t have to pay, he’s the boss,” she clarifies in Spanish. “Oh!” I say turning to look at the owner, “thank you!”. “No problem, enjoy Puerto Rico” he responds. When I tell D who didn’t hear any of it happen, she’s just as shocked. “What did you say to him?”, she asks. “NOTHING!” We just talked about Nicky Jam!” I reply emphatically.
Later, at club Brava, we spend the night dancing together and with people until our backs drip with sweat and it’s no longer comfortable to stand on stiletto heels. We head home just in time to make our self-imposed curfew.
The last of 5 alarms I set goes off at 6:15 am. My head is throbbing from the lack of sleep. I roll over and nudge D several times before I can get her to wake up. “Get up, Carlos will soon be here”, I say. Shower sounds from the across the apartment confirm the other ladies are awake. They must have gotten at least 7 hours of sleep. I’m jealous.
As light streams into the room’s floor-to-ceiling windows, we busy ourselves with getting ready; simultaneously texting and calling Carlos – the driver who’s late. When it becomes obvious that he’s abandoned us – probably to sleep in like we should be doing- we try our only other option, calling an Uber to drive us 1hr away to the harbor at Fajardo.1hr and 30 mins later, we arrive at the ferry harbor, pay for tickets and wait in a large white marquee to board the boat. On the 45-minute journey from island to island, the girls and I drift in and out of sleep, covering our exposed skin with towels to stay warm inside the unexpectedly chilly vessel. At some point, it’s so cold that I have to step outside to stand on the deck.
Culebra’s stunning mountainscape comes into view as the boat docks on the island.
We step off the boat and are bombarded with signs held by people renting golf carts and jeeps. We decide on a golf cart and drive it the short distance to “Playa Flamenco”.From the walkway to the beach, it’s easy to paint a pretty picture. Green leafed trees and light-yellow sand fill the foreground, in the background turquoise-colored water flows at the base of a verdant mountain. Speechless, I pull out my camera to frame some shots.A large umbrella and towels are set up on the sand, sunscreen is sprayed on skin.We shuffle between shooting photos, eating barbecue from the beachfront stands and playing in the water. We duck in and out of waves, laughing when the waves hit unsuspectingly; drowning one or more of us in seawater.For a few hours, it’s sunny enough to tan our skin at least two shades darker but it’s not the tropics without rain, so a torrential pour sends us packing. By the time it stops we’re ready to leave, so we shower, clean off as much sand as would come off, and ride our golf cart back towards the port. Later, we spend the entire night in Old San Juan and come home with enough time for a 1hr long nap before heading to the airport.
Good to Know
Boricua – A word Puerto Ricans often call themselves; pronounced / boh- ree- kwa /. The r in the middle is a rolled r.
Ferry – $3.50 for a round trip to Culebra.
Uber to Fajardo from San Juan – $70
Shared Minivan from Fajardo – $65
Where we stayed – Airbnb Apartment in Old San Juan. You can use my code to save $40 off your first booking.
thank you for reading.
All photos of me shot by my friend Dera on iPhone.
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Same footprints, Different Sands