I can hardly believe, 19 years ago today, the love of my life and I were on a beach on my very favorite Caribbean island, him shirtless and wearing a Speedo, then later that evening, we enjoyed a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner on la isla del encanto.
Ahhhh… cherish the memories.
Our recollection of that week and that particular day…
…begins with my dozens of visits to Puerto Rico in the ’80s and ’90s after many strong storms devastated parts of the island. Back in the day when I was working in a response and training role, I went to PR many times. I love the people, the vibrancy, the excitement, the positive attitude, the fun-loving and passionate approach to serious work. And when they relax and party, they know how to have a great time!
So back in January 1995, I was fussing about the local (DC) cold weather to my partner, then of only a year+ of being together. I suggested, “do you want to take a vacation in February to a warm, sunny beach? Do you want an adventure?”
He said “sure.”
I arranged two free tickets (frequent flyer) and off we went to la isla del encanto. We arrived on 10 February after a very delayed departure due to snow at home!
I had made arrangements to stay in San Juan for two nights so my partner could see the tourist sights. I remember that I had a voucher for two nights in a posh hotel in the Condado (tourist area.) We enjoyed walking around and visiting Old San Juan. However, to me, it was much too much “tourista” stuff. Expensive, crowded, and not the Puerto Rico I had grown to know and love.
On 12 February, I rented a car and we drove to Cabo Rojo, at the far western tip of the island. This is a beautiful, magical, place. We stayed in a Parador — like a small private cottage — in a small town. The local people were very friendly and very native. Didn’t speak a word of English. Thankfully, I had learned enough Spanish during previous visits to Puerto Rico that they were receptive to us, and welcomed us during our visit.
I swam in Bahia fosforescente (phosphorescent bay) that evening, watching the sparkle of phosporescent dinoflagellates glow as I splashed in the water while my partner watched from the boat. Since he is not a swimmer, he did not want to enter the water, especially in the dark (not knowing what sea monster might get him LOL!)
On the 13th, we went to a very private beach on the Caribbean Sea on the southwest end of the island. This beach was recommended by a friend. We lay in the warm sun and later under a palm tree. The water was calm and warm. I remember holding my man afloat in the sea, which he agreed to do because the water was so clear, he could see the bottom and he could stand up because it was so shallow. I brought a lunch that we put together at a local market, filled with fresh local fruit and fish… a delight to eat while feeling the warm breezes off the Caribbean Sea. It was truly a magical day.
The morning of the 14th, Valentine’s Day, we awoke early, snuggled, and gave each other cards. We went to a local place to have a bite to eat for breakfast. Watching the sun rise was special. We ate with local fisherman who were going out for a day’s work. We had other things in mind to do that morning.
I drove to another private beach, more directly on the West Coast. The surf was stronger, being on the Atlantic Ocean. I tried surfing, by having lessons from another friend, an experienced surfer who only speaks Spanish. Let’s say it was difficult for him to teach me, the world’s #1 klutz, how to surf by yelling directions at me over the noise of the surf using words that I did not know.
But I had fun and my partner laughed while watching me get pummeled by the surf and falling off the board each time I tried to stand on it. By mid-morning, I finally “caught a wave” and rode one into shore. To the applause of locals (and my partner) who were watching me, I thought I should quit while ahead. I took a bow, then toweled off.
My partner and I changed into street clothes and I drove us back — the long way — via a coastal road around the western end of the island to the northern end, then east all the way back to San Juan. We arrived in the afternoon and checked into a hotel in Isla Verde so we would be close to the airport for departure on the next day.
Valentine’s Day is a big deal in Puerto Rico. The liveliness, vibrancy, and excitement were palpable. I had made reservations at a nice seafood restaurant frequented by locals. While it is usually a very dress-down place, I remember that many of the diners that night were dressed up. Suits & ties for men, dresses and heels for women. I think my partner and I were the only gay men there — and dressed far more casually.
I think what took the chill off our reception when we walked in was — by then — my native fluency in the language. We were shown to a table with a great view of the ocean. We lingered over a long dinner and enjoyed it.
On our stroll back to the hotel, my partner bought a single red rose for me from a street vendor. I smiled, held his hand — in public. It was a marvelous, romantic, and beautiful end to a perfect vacation in one of my favorite places in the world.
Ahhhhh…. I wish we could return. Someday we will. Someday my spouse will have surgery to repair his physical disability. Someday he will be able to be seated comfortably in an airplane. Someday.
Life is short: keep dreaming!