It was a summery evening, and the heat was pleasantly intense. Wandering through Old San Juan’s blue cobblestone streets hand in hand, soaking up the history of the stately old buildings around us, my fiancé and I felt like we had stepped into another era. On some streets, particularly the older ones, we felt as if we were in Spain at the time of the conquistadors, while on others, the French colonial influences were unmistakable, reminding us of New Orleans. Colors were everywhere around us, in the dress of the well-tanned Puerto Ricans, in the fresh fruit juices, smoothies, iced teas, and ice-cream on sale on nearly every street, in the bright kites soaring on the azure sky in the distance.
Yesterday, on the day of our arrival here, we had settled comfortably at the charming La Terraza de San Juan, a centrally-located hotel which captures so well the spirit of the place. After refreshing ourselves in the swimming pool on the rooftop, we had gone on a quick tour of the historic forts and fortresses which San Juan so abounds in. Following our Puerto Rico road map, we discovered the wonderful places the first Spanish settlers had built on this beautiful island, the San Juan National Historic Site, a fort with 20 feet deep walls, and then admired the sea from the lofty heights of the Castillo San Felipe del Morro. We found a pandemonium of colorful kites hovering over the grassy field of El Morro, and we joined in the fun, laughing and teasing one another like little kids, trying to see who could fly the kite higher. Our hearts had leapt toward the sky with our kites and, paying no mind to the onlookers, we had kissed like teenagers.
‘Does it still burn you?’ my finance asked, rubbing my back gently, interrupting my revelry.
‘A little,’ I said.
All day today we had been at the beach — the best beach we’ve ever seen: the Flamenco Beach in Culeba. When we emerged from the palm trees and saw it we couldn’t believe our eyes how white the sand was, and how crystal clear the water that bathed it. And it wasn’t half as crowded as we had expected. The sand was clean and smooth, like baby powder. It felt so wonderful under our feet that we stripped to our bathing suits and rolled in it like kids, forgetting about our sunscreen. Later we quenched our thirst with those colorful light rums that the Puerto Ricans love some much and which are so cheap here. My fiancé then picked me up gently in his arms and carried me to the shiny crystal water, into which he dropped me with a splash. We swam and splashed together like two happy dolphins, floating blissfully into that warm watery abyss, under the benevolent gaze of a cheerful sun. It was as close to paradise as we can get here on earth.
As darkness began to creep over San Juan, we put an end to our wanderings and stopped at the El Jibarito, close to our hotel, for some delicious traditional Puerto Rican food. We started with some Morcilla, a dubiously delicious sausage whose ingredients I better not tell you, and then my fiancé ordered some Cuchifrito, a crispy snack of pig trimmings cooked in a deep frier, and a Medalla light frosty beer, while I had my favorite, Mofongo, a crazy stew of beef, chicken, pork, seafood, and plantains, bathed in a delicious garlicky broth — it’s a lighter dish than it sounds! We washed down all that with the best rum in the world.
‘Back to the beach tomorrow?’ my fiancé asked.
‘You bet, I said.
I don’t know how many beaches you’ve been to so far, but the Flamenco Beach in Culeba is unique. The moment you lay eyes on it, you’ll fall in love with it, like we did. So next time you feel the vacation mood coming over you, grab a good Puerto Rico road map and head over to San Juan.