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PUERTO RICO HERALD
A Stormy Getaway In Playa Jobos
By J.A. del Rosario
October 10, 2003
I am lying on a beach chair looking at a vast expanse of ocean before me. I am not talking about your standard picture of a Caribbean beach: sunny skies, fanning palm trees, and a gentle tide lapping against the shore. Try ominous gray skies, turbulent currents, large swells and crashing waves sweeping against a seemingly infinite and empty shoreline. It is just another Sunday morning in Playa Jobos, a beach on the west coast of Puerto Rico that is a favorite spot of local surfers. But the surfers usually congregate on the northern part of the beach. In the area where I am sitting, the stormy seas are all mine.
I got here by accident. Initially I thought I would visit Boquerón, another western beach with plenty of seaside restaurants and a noisy nightlife. The only problem was that I felt sick and tired of beaches, seaside restaurants and boisterous nightlife. In fact, I was feeling pretty sick and tired of Puerto Rico in general.
When you live in an island with an area of 3,500 square miles, a recurrent feeling of claustrophobia is inevitable. Im not the only one troubled with these feelings. The claustrophobia is real. Six months ago, Laura a friend of mine who moved to Puerto Rico from Austin, Texas realized -- after three months of dating -- that her current boyfriend is related to her ex-boyfriend.
"Everyone is connected here. Its an incestuous pool. I feel like I am traveling down the river in Deliverance," she told me.
All right, the "Deliverance" allusion is wandering in the neighborhood of hyperbole, but Laura is right. Ask any environmentalist and they will tell you 3.8 million people in 3,500 square miles equals too many people for the space. While in the rest of the world everyone is connected through six degrees of separation, here you can have the same effect with 1.5 degrees. Which means that unless you are staying in a posh resort, playing 18 holes in a wide open golf course built on a landfill; if you spend enough time in Puerto Rico, eventually you will feel space deprived.
Which is why at 5 AM on Saturday morning, while the sun starts blazing behind me, I am racing my old Shadow motorcycle down Highway 22, heading west.
My plan was to head to Boquerón and stay the night. Go to the beach, get a few beers and relax before heading back home and writing about it.
Highway 22 is an open road lined alternately by rocky mountains with toupee-like patches of green grass and open valleys with rolls of hay and grazing cattle.
Why go west and not east? Because the eastern side of Puerto Rico is full of dense, humid tropical vegetation. The east is perfect if you want to find infinite shades of green, but not the right recipe if you are trying to create a false sense of space for yourself.
Racing down Highway 22, the Boquerón plan started to unravel in my head. I wasnt in the mood to do the wandering traveler bit. Drink a little, eat a little and talk a little just to have fodder for a column full of festive adjectives.
I found I had no tolerance to describe sunny beaches and perfectly toned women in skimpy bathing suits running down the shore in slow motion a la Baywatch. No patience to sit in joyful restaurants with well-priced food and make friendly conversation with the waiters. I didnt want to talk. All I wanted to do was blast Lucinda Williams on my portable CD player, get better acquainted with the pervading sadness in my chest, get on my bike and escape.
And it was around the time that I stopped at a traffic light in the town of Isabela, that I finally said "!?X?!" under my breath and turned left on Road 110, which leads to a practically abandoned Army airport on the west coast.
Road 110 led to another, and that one to another until I was standing in front of a place called the Oceanfront Hotel, with an old motorcycle on the verge of overheating.
The Oceanfront is a small inn overlooking Playa Jobos. Partly out of cynicism, and partly out of curiosity I decided to walk in and verify how "oceanfront" the place really was.
"You can step out into the terrace, if you like," said the desk manager with a smile. And I did.
I walked down a narrow hallway to a back door that led to a wooden deck overlooking one of the angrier corners of the Atlantic Ocean. A water beast howling and spewing white foam under the sun. The boom of one crash mixing with the next, and the next. Here, amid the violent swirls crashing one after the other, was something angrier and sadder than me.
"Do you have vacancy?" is all I asked the desk manager when I returned.
And now I will tell you what you need to know. I will tell you that room rates go from $65 on the off-season to $100 during the peak of the tourist season. I will tell you that the rooms are modest and clean, and some have a great view of the ocean. I will tell you that this place is very "oceanfront." I will tell you there is cable TV in every room. And you can arrange to go horseback riding on the shore. I will tell you that they have a fine restaurant on the ground floor where you can get some good seafood. And if you are in the mood for something different to eat you can walk down the road to several seaside restaurants.
But the truth is I didnt want to watch Cable TV, go horseback riding or look for a place to eat. The truth is I called the Oceanfront restaurant and ordered some fried calamari and a beer to go, and sat down on the wooden deck to listen to the roaring tide as the sun started to set before me. And I didnt say a word. And there was space.
And there is one more thing you should know about this Sunday morning in Playa Jobos: I am smiling.
J.A. del Rosario, a business reporter for The San Juan Star, is a remedial guitar player and an incorrigible nightcrawler. He can be contacted at: : email@example.com