New Friends Make the Greatest Memories (Day 3 1/2 in Puerto Rico)

We’d been lounging in the grass waiting for Marck and Jen and dreaming of the possibilities when a shirtless kid with tattoos to his neck and a “Feliz Navidad” wasteband sticking from his shorts walked into the parking lot from the trail.  A few minutes later, Marck walked out from the falls in a pair of mid-thigh length spandex swim trunks. He led us to a red Jeep Cherokee where the Feliz Navidad guy was sitting in the front beside a plump, prepubescent teen.  He introduced himself as Nick.  While Marck helped us load our packs we learned he was Argentinean, presently residing in Chicago.  He took up conversation with Tom about recent neuroscience articles he’d read and I climbed into the back, feeling inadequate.  The dark skinned girl in the front was Gabby—sister to Nick and cousin to Jen, who had yet to emerge from the trail.  Nick and Gabby lived with their mom Felicia, and it was her house that Jen had offered us a yard to camp in.  It was awkward explaining that to Gabby without Jen’s help.

Jen and Lexi, Nick and Gabby’s sister, came out of the woods and we squeezed into the old jeep, Lexi on Jen’s lap, me in the back crammed between my pack and a cooler, Tom shoved in the middle between Marck and Jen.  Gabby criticized Nick for riding so close to the edge of the road and laughed at him for driving down the mountain in neutral to save gas.  About halfway down, smoke started sifting from the holes in the hood.  Gabby went wild.  Nick explained it was a result of turning the wheel too sharply.  The crawl down the mountain was a hilarious contrast to the lightning pace we’d ascended with James and Peter a day earlier.

____

Luquillo was only a short drive from El Yunque.  High rise hotels sprouted from the beach front.  We turned into a neighborhood of mostly one story flats painted bright shades of pink, orange, blue, yellow.  When we arrived we were met by a storm of dogs: a large Rottweiler named Savannah and her only remaining puppy and a small Yorkie named Papas and a few others.  Felicia made a brief appearance, then returned to the rice.  We were offered the entire back yard: a flat, grassy sprawl with two trees and Savannah’s dog house.

Ramón showed up a few minutes after us.  He wore a dirty white tank and greeted us warmly.  He seemed happy to have us and when he shook my hand I noticed the “Forever Felicia” tattoo on his neck.  He asked if we’d seen the water yet and then told Jen to take us in the Jeep before the sun went down.

Palms lined the edge of the beach.  Cars parked in between blasted Spanish pop and rap music.  The water was, as expected, a stunning shade of crystalline green.  Savannah played in the surf while Marck, Jen, Tom and I got acquainted.  Back at the house Jen avoided the ‘What was your major in college’ question by answering “rocket science and brain surgery”, but sitting in a girl’s favorite place on the beach and a guy’s least favorite, she told me women and gender studies was a correct guess.  She was now self employed, advertising herself as Mac support and charging old people $20/hour to help them pick out a laptop and learn how to use the internet.  “Tax free,” she smiled.  I learned many things about Jen while we sat in the sand where the waves broke the shore, many of which I will hold dearly out of loving respect for a friend.  Before we left I noticed two things that I vowed to keep my mouth shut about for at least the next few days.  One was the two horizontal lines tattooed on the back of her neck.  The other was the observation that the curly haired Greek girl in the oversized soccer jersey (which she now solely donned) didn’t shave her legs.

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