The day was a bust. Melanie and I spent hours trying to find the alleged beaches of Fajardo to no avail. We followed windy roads, the instructions of our hotel, and could only find luxury resorts promising pools bunkered off from the rest of the town.
Though on a side note we did seemingly make a local Fajardeños’ day by attempting to converse in Spanish.
“Do you know where the beach is?” Melanie asked. The man, an older looking Puerto Rican probably in his 40’s, looked apologetic. He called out to his friend down the road, asking if he spoke English.
The man shrugged, prompting me to try out my four-year dormant Spanish.
“Dónde está la playa?”
His smile beamed from ear-to-ear. I began to wonder if I actually told him he just won the lottery.
“¿La playa?” he asked with excitement. “¡Sí, sí!”
He turned, pointing north and began to rattle in Spanish what I could only surmise were directions. Lost in his excitement of finding a gringo tourist attempting to speak Spanish, the man mistook a simple question for fluency.
We spent the next few minutes pointing north with the man in a poor attempt to feign comprehension.
“Oh, sí,” I repeated who knows how many times, nodding my head in a lie.
Finally, he returned the nod to signify the end of our conversation, his smile not letting up for a moment.
“Feliz Navidad,” I said with a wave.
“Oh!” he shrieked. Now I’m really thinking I told him he won the lottery. “Merry Christmas!” he muttered in broken English.
It was my first successful conversation in Spanish… In that we both walked away smiling. Unfortunately it did not leave us on the shores of a picturesque oceanfront. Instead, we wandered aimlessly a few moments longer before giving up and returning to the hotel.
Determined, we tried again the following day, armed with new directions from another
member of the Fajardo Inn staff. Again, we drove past resorts that were becoming annoyingly familiar. We decided to continue driving north on 987, Carretera Cabezas de San Juan, assuming we would eventually hit ocean.
Alas, we did. But instead of finding paradise, we found what looked to be the equivalent of a beach graveyard.
Seemingly thousands of feet of derelict parking lots sat empty. Broken chain-link fences and fallen coconuts laid scattered around the area as if a tropical storm hit the night before.
“This is not what we were promised!” Melanie and I were thinking. It was that moment all tourists are guilty of — overvaluing the importance of our own joy trip over any concern for an area that looked badly hit by… something.
Eventually the road turned into a neighborhood thoroughfare of sorts, at which point we decided to park and head toward what seemed to be remnants of a beach. Through yet another chain-link fence, the kind that usually signifies “danger,” there was indeed sand and water. But it lacked the vibrancy or even cleanliness we had been promised by one-off reviews on travel websites.
At this point our humanity finally caught up with us and we began to feel a little compassion and concern for the area.
Still, we decided to soak up every last drop of this beach. It took us two days and a culturally mangled conversation to find this supposed “gem,” so we damn-well were going to make it a gem out of the experience.
We trekked along the shoreline, walking carefully to avoid stepping on or tripping over driftwood, of which there was no shortage of. The sun was out, so there was at least that, and the balmy 70-some-degree temperature was still the envy of family and friends freezing their stones off back home in Cleveland.
With all the coconuts lying around, we decided to see if we couldn’t make like Tom Hanks in Cast Away and crack one open for a drink. I found what seemed to be a large one and hammered away at it like a mentally challenged caveman. No milk for us.
Next I thought it would be fun to play a little coconut baseball. We’d use driftwood for a baseball bat, and there was plenty of tiny coconuts to step in as baseballs.
Melanie offered to pitch first.
“Step back a little bit more,” I warned her as I went through my batting routine. Like riding a bicycle, the batting routine sticks with you for life. Mine, of course, looks infinitely more awesome in my head than I’m sure it does in reality.
“Ready?” She asked.
“Further! I don’t know where I’m going to hit it,” I shouted back as I wrapped my fingers tightly around the bat, picturing a runner on third in the bottom of the ninth of a tied ball game.
“Go for it!”
Melanie kindly lobbed the coconut over the middle of the plate. I swung, I imagined, with the might of Babe Ruth calling his shot. I felt the connection — that moment in time were life pauses and you can feel the ball resting right on the sweet spot of the bat. The connection was perfect. I knew this was coming hot off the bat.
I finished the follow through of my swing. Everything was in slow motion, like Robert Redford in The Natural. I crushed that coconut.
“Why’s Melanie on the ground?” I thought to myself as I snapped back to reality.
“You hit me in the head!” she shrieked, her body motionless on the beach.
I ran over to her side thinking I’d have quite the story to tell her parents from a Fajardo hospital.
Luckily, it turns out Melanie’s head is solid enough to take a line drive coconut without much trouble.
“I told you to step back further!” I said as I helped her up. Not exactly the words she was looking for.
Suffice it to say, coconut baseball was finished.
Throughout the afternoon we had noticed a handful of people, tourist-looking, walking up to the beach. Following the coconut incident, we also noticed that these people weren’t on the beach.
“Where did they go?” we wondered.
Before packing up for the day, we decided to follow along the shoreline to see if we had been missing something. Eventually we came to a sign posted in front of the woods, warning us that if you follow the path into the woods, you do so at your own risk. It was the kind of ominous sign that, depending on the type of person you are, begs you to find out what’s going on.
Without much thought, as most of my stories happen, we shuffled into the woods following what seemed to be a moderately traveled path. Tiny lizards dashed across the way with every step. We marched onward for what seemed to be at least a mile without anything particularly interesting coming up.
“Let’s give it another 10 minutes,” we agreed.
Remarkably on cue, we found an old sign, the kind you typically see on a highway, noting that Playa Colora was just up ahead. Moments later we stepped out of the woods onto the sandy paradise we had promised ourselves we’d find.
Indescribable blue waters as calm as a koala (they’re calm, right?) were as far as the eye could see. It was a place rivaled only by Playa Flamenco in Culebra. Those tourists we had seen before were all here, but it was hardly overrun with people. 10 or so max. It was a small enough number that we could still pretend that this was our beach.
The experience was made all the more enjoyable because of the trek we had to take in order to find it. Travelers always want to find something new or different in a place. We felt confident that most who fly to Puerto Rico probably stay locked up in their hotel to stay surrounded by their own. Their only Puerto Rican experience is the ubiquitous sun.
But standing on the rocky coast of Playa Colora, in a tree pose for some reason, it felt like we had found something even few natives get to see for themselves. We were Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach, wide-eyed and thankful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience that will be difficult to match.
Except, of course, without the creepy second half of the movie.