The Puerto Rican Smile, a short story by 44minimum. Date added: 2012-02-28. Times viewed: 2132.
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- Intro: An unforgettable vacation in the tropics
Opening the double doors, I stepped onto the third floor balcony and into the welcoming arms of the morning sun. A windward breeze off the Atlantic played havoc with the swells, sending
them crashing into the sand directly across the street. If you looked hard enough you could make out the kite surfers down on the tip of the peninsula a half mile away, launching themselves high into the air and see the beach goers moving about like ants on an anthill. I lingered a few moments, stretching my muscles and inhaling deeply of the tropical air. It was a perfect morning.
Leaving the door ajar and the curtains billowing, I retreated inside where I was greeted with the cheerful sight of a bare white ass peeking out beneath the covers. It seemed to be almost smiling at me. I hesitated, transfixed, admiring its graceful curves, the contrasting light and dark tan lines against the virgin white sheets and, by tilting my head slightly to the right my suspicion was confirmed. . That was definitely a smile. I hated to disturb it but I returned the smile then reached over and gave the shapely derriere a playful slap. "Come on,"I said. "Let's get breakfast
and go para sailing."
Lying face down in the pillow, Lisa mumbled something unintelligible.
"What? I don't speak Swahili," I told her.
She motioned for me to come closer, near the head of the bed. When I had taken two steps closer and leaned down to see what she had to say, she turned her tousled head toward me, grinned and reached her hand toward me, yanking down my boxer shorts. "What I said was, why don't you come back to bed instead?"
I contemplated the idea for half a nanosecond then made the proper decision. How could I argue with such a reasonable request? So I obliged, joining her beneath the sheets, imagining myself to be one of the conquistadors who had first discovered these lands, out to gain riches and conquer new territory. I roamed and explored her anatomy in discovery mode, scrutinizing, analyzing, and exploiting to its full potential each treasure encountered. 2 hours later her strategy had played itself out, I had petered out and we were showered and dressed in T shirts and shorts, sitting on the patio recharging ourselves with a brunch of fresh pineapple, ham, strawberry crepes and coconut pudding sprinkled with cinnamon. Traffic on the street was extremely light, smiling residents and tourists alike made their way up and down the sidewalk and the temperature was nearing the high seventies. Like I said, it was a perfect morning.
Saint Thomas had been the unanimous choice for our honeymoon and a more perfect destination would have been hard to fathom. We'd skipped a big vacation for our first anniversary, opting instead for a weekend getaway nearby and saving our money for the down payment on a house.
But after realizing we had made it through two full years of bliss and harmony, we splurged and rewarded ourselves a little for our second anniversary.
Puerto Rico was proving to be a wonderful gift, each day offered up as a present for us to open and enjoy. The island was alive, dripping with history, culture and tradition and we wanted to sample it all.
The first day, Monday, we checked into the Marriott, directly across the street from Condado beach. This had to be the floweriest hotel I'd ever seen. Vases of flowers in the lobby. Vases of flowers outside the elevators. Paintings and pictures of flowers adorning the walls. And, of course, a vase of flowers in each room. . I suppose there are worse things for a hotel to be known for. We unpacked, got settled in and hopped a water taxi across the harbor to visit the Bacardi Factory. It was interesting but, truth be told, a bit of a letdown. Presented with a video about the Bacardi family and their history, there are lots of pictures around of the factory but there's no factory tour of the machinery or the rum making process whatsoever. In order to placate perturbed visitors, I suppose, each person receives two coupons for a free rum drink. In my case at least, the ruse was successful. Thanks to this little excursion, I am now aware of a drink featuring coconut rum and pineapple juice that was almost my undoing on the island. After spending 4 hours sucking down two of these tasty beverages, learning that Bacardi produces 100,000 gallons of rum daily and is the world's largest producer of distilled spirits, we returned to our hotel room, stopping only long enough for a couple of shrimp tacos at one of the cleaner looking street vendors cart. Our evening plan was to rest a bit, shower up then hit the flamenco bars at 11:00 PM. The plans were hijacked sometime after I took a shower and lay down on the bed for a moment to watch wrestling on television while Lisa showered, primped and primed herself to perfection. Unbeknownst to me, I was snuck up on and suckered into unconsciousness by the sleep monster, leaving me oblivious to the nearby goings on.. When I awoke it was 1:00 AM, Lisa was under the covers fast asleep and I was confused. Oh well. It didn't seem to be anything that a few hours of sleep wouldn't cure so I took off my towel and climbed beneath the sheets, being careful to hog some of the covers from off of my wife. Fair is fair and I had to make sure that I had at least half of them. Besides that, she was a party pooper, sneaking into bed for the night just when I was about to get up and make myself presentable. Wouldn't it serve her right to wake up and start wondering why it was so chilly?
Tuesday morning greeted us with a gloomy gray overcast, stretching as far as the eye could see. It had drizzled half the night and outside activity was minimal. By the time we had brushed our teeth, dressed and had breakfast, cracks were beginning to show, razor thin slivers of sunlight breaking through the clouds. We lazed our way down the beach the half mile to the point and back and by the time we returned the sun was blazing. Flagging down a taxi, he drove us 3 miles across town to the bay where we hopped aboard a dive boat, Taino Divers, for the 12 mile ride off shore to Desecheo Island. The peons in the group were content to splash about the surface in their snorkeling gear while a few of us desired a more immersive experience. We made good use of the dive gear, each of us using up nearly two tanks of air in the hour and a half spent under water. Visibility was good, the vertical wall began practically at the edge of the island and dropped down 100 feet or more to the ocean floor. Sergeant Majors, Groupers, eels, sea horses, lion fish, fan corals, brain corals, barracuda, all of the colorful sea life you would expect in a healthy marine environment was present in abundance. We made our way back to Old San Juan for a late lunch, headed for the Plaza De Colon and one of the surrounding little outdoor cafes. Several local dishes were tried, most of them quite tasty, even the monfongo. A nap was next on the list then at 6:00 PM we left for the hour-long drive to Parguera. Our guide met our little group and made certain that each of the boats had chem lights (glow in the dark sticks ) fastened front and rear, then he paddled off precisely at 7:30 PM. We made sure to stay behind him, in our tandem yellow kayak. 45 minutes later the darkness was complete and we discovered exactly how useful those lights were. We had reached our destination, a creepy, narrow tunnel carved out through the mangrove trees, branches interlocking themselves overhead and closing out the sky. Nine kayaks in all, the lights were the only thing that kept us from running into each other in the blackness. 400 yards further along we emerged from the mangroves into an alien world. This was a smaller bay, seemingly cut off from the rest of the world and the water emitted an eerie blue light. Bioluminescent Bay. One of six places remaining in the world where the millions of phytoplankton in the water cause it to glow. The slightest disturbance, the dipping of a paddle, a hand splashing, a rock tossed into the water agitated the microscopic creatures, causing them to glow even more brightly for a minute. The group of us paddled about, swam, took photographs and just generally goofed around like children in the 2 hours spent there. On the way back, just before entering the mangrove tunnel, we saw shooting stars in the eastern sky. We returned to our room at 11:30 PM and were happy to climb into the comfy bed, for some sleep. Very cool day and difficult to top.
Wednesday was the perfect morning already described. After brunch we staked out an umbrella on the beach and there we stayed throughout the afternoon. People watching, sun tanning, snoozing, reading, sipping umbrella drinks, all of these were accomplished with equal aplomb. Part of the time I spent just observing my wife. Damn she looked good in her bathing suit. Or out of it, for that matter. At 5:00 we left the beach to check out EL Morro, a 500 year old fort built by the Spaniards to protect the city. It resembled a castle, high walls built to repel intruders, towers at every corner, multiple levels for the barracks, dungeons, and ammunition storage, wide lawns for the parade ground and cannons protruding from the wall at every opportunity, standing sentinel over the city still. The towers offered a commanding view over the entire city and it was easy to see why the fort was built in this location. The gates closed at dark, so we spent a couple hours exploring Old San Juan, built right outside the 15 foot thick walls of El Morro and stretching all the way to the bay. Restaurants, fashionable clothing stores, tiny shops, merchants of every kind occupied these ancient buildings. We picked out Stone Crab Alley And The Hurricane Room for dinner and it was indeed a wise choice for the seafood enchiladas and broiled snapper with white rice, topped with mango salsa that we tried.. Returning to our hotel room, we got ourselves ready and finally made it out to the clubs lining the wharf area. First, it was off to Cudeta to hang out with the young and fashionable, then it was Nuyo Rican for some authentic flamenco dancing. A drink was consumed, then another and before you knew it it was 2:00 AM and I was ready for some serious siesta time. Hand in hand we walked beside the outer walls of El Morro, down the ancient and dimly lit cobblestone streets. Hearing something, I paused. Then it came again, nearly unmistakable this time. Sounds of the clanking of chains clamped around the feet of the prisoners and the slaves in the dungeon awaiting their fate, the breeze popping and snapping the sails of the Spanish galleons tied up at the wharf, the clinking and clanging, grunting and cursing of pirates locked in a sword fight to the death in a distant alleyway. Or was it just my imagination?
I awoke on Thursday with something weighing heavy on my chest. Specifically, one five foot six inch, 120 pound blonde maned tiger hell bent on tickling me to death. The game was on! Two can play at that game and I reciprocated in the frolic, albeit temporarily. My head ache quickly bested me and I cried uncle. Aspirin and water came to my assistance, producing me fit enough to partake of the room service delivery. 2 hours later I was ready to face the day and after a brief deliberation we decided to pay a visit to the Museum Of The Americas where we learned that Columbus discovered Puerto Rico on his second visit to the new world. Apparently the Arawak and Taino Indians that had already been living here for hundreds of years did not know that the island needed to be discovered and it took a European to pronounce it so. Then we learned how the Spanish had eliminated the Indians, all about the pirate era and how the United States acquired the island after the Spanish American war. Very neat exhibits and quite educational. At 1:00 PM we stopped in La Bombanera for a traditional Puerto Rican lunch followed by a stroll down a tiny side street previously neglected by us. I had my arm around Lisa's waist and we were passing The Parrot Bar when I felt her stumble. I turned to see what was wrong and found she had stopped and was looking at the patio section of the restaurant.
"Oh my gosh!" Her hand went over her mouth.
"What's wrong?" I asked..
"I think that's........" she pointed. "That's Paul," she said matter of factly.
By this time a man sitting at the table had noticed Lisa pointing at them and he poked his friend who turned around to look our direction. After a moment a broad smile crossed his friend's face.
"Paul Stanton," Lisa replied. "He was my first real boyfriend," she added after she noticed the blank look on my face. Oh. That Paul. I had heard about him before, along with the rest of her dating past. This had all the makings of a potentially awkward situation.
Both men stood and came over to the sidewalk. Lisa dragged me over and introductions were made. I didn't know if proper protocol dictated that I shake hands or not so I didn't. Lisa and Paul spoke for a couple of minutes and he invited us both out for the evening. We politely declined and they said their goodbyes.
We had been on our way to Ft San Christabol on the other side of town so we started off again in that direction. Lisa said not a word. 10 minutes later I nudged her with my elbow."Hey, you OK?"
I could tell she was tense, either mad or emotionally upset. "Hey, talk to me," I repeated as I drug her over to a park bench beside the street.
"It's just that, well I haven't seen him since graduation and I hadn't really spoken to him for two months before that. I had told myself all of the things that I would say to him if I ever saw him again. That was seven years ago." A tear crawled from the corner of her eye.
I reached up and wiped it away. "That's OK. Just sit here and calm down for a minute. Do you want to go back and talk to him? I'll come and wait outside the restaurant."
A few minutes later she was better. "I think I'd like that," she said. " But just stay here, will you. I'll be back in a little while."
After she disappeared I looked around to see what was available and finally made my way into a gift shop. There I purchased a traditional Puerto rican necklace, full of colorful shells and polished, dark pieces of coconut shell.
10 minutes later I spotted Lisa coming down the sidewalk, walking quickly. Uhoh, she was either extremely mad or really happy. As she got closer she smiled widely. She took my hand and we continued down the sidewalk, speaking not a word, feeling the unspoken bond between us growing. After a while I could stand the suspense no longer.. " Well?"
"Well what? " she asked.
"Oh, we started talking and within 5 minutes I was reminded of exactly why we broke up in the first place," she said. "And he got fat," she giggled. "End of story."
"Come here," I told her, swinging her body around in front of me for a long hug. "I got something for you." And with that I placed the necklace around her neck.
"I love you," she said, jumping into my arms.
"No regrets? " I asked.
"None whatsoever," came her definite response.
Screw Fort San Christabol. We chose to occupy our time that afternoon with a soak in the Jacuzzi tub in our room and then meandered the narrow streets, poking our noses in whatever shop appealed to us at the moment. As darkness approached a pizza followed us to the beach where we sat on the end of the pier, content to watch the remnants of the setting sun while we munched away. We finished with a long stroll along the sand beneath the palms with only the moonlight to guide our path. It was a perfect evening.
Late Friday morning we packed our belongings into a rental car and headed northwest out of town. We were migrating. For the last two nights of our trip, Friday and Saturday, we were going to El Yunque national park, the only tropical rain forest on U.S. soil. In the mountains, we had reserved a tree house hotel room, situated high up in the canopy. From there we would be hiking through the rain forest seeking out hidden waterfalls and keeping a sharp eye out for 60 species of orchids. Just great. More flowers. That part was all her idea but I could go along with it for a little while at least. Saturday at noon we had a zip line tour through the tree tops scheduled and Sunday at 1:00 PM we had a date with our airplane. I hated to acknowledge the fact but our time was dwindling.
As we weaved our way through the countryside dotted with pineapple fields and banana plantations in the rattletrap passing itself off as a rental car, Lisa was leaned against the door, eyes closed. I glanced over at her, squeezing her arm at the same time. " All right, you've been rather quiet. What's the deal? "
"I'm tired," she replied. "I don't think I'm going to do as much hiking as we'd planned. I'm going to sleep."
"Are you sure that's all? You're not still thinking about that Paul guy are you?"
She turned to face me, squinting her dark eyes and turning up her nose in that cute little way she had a habit of doing that always made me laugh. "Paul who?"
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