I sat on my roof deck lulled by crashing waves and coqui chirps. I took a deep breath of salt air and humidity as I giggled to myself. At what? I don’t remember, buzzed off of happiness and piña coladas. It was almost midnight, almost my birthday, and I was exactly where I wanted to be. Alone. In Rincón, Puerto Rico.
I think I cried and puked on my princess dress at my second birthday party. Suffered and smiled through the subsequent ones for nearly three decades in between. Secret? I was in it for the cake and often found everything else a bit anti-climactic. Sure, usually a pretty great time with friends and family, but very little to distinguish them from other nights in the year. That’s the problem when you become addicted to doing cool shit; your birthday becomes that day of the year when eyes are on you to be grateful and happy. A few years ago, when Couchsurfing in Switzerland and spending my birthday with complete strangers, I found the secret sauce. Doing something new. Something different, exciting, uncomfortable, ideally both. Last year, I was in three different countries and had an epic weekend with my Mom and friends in Portugal. This year, days before my birthday, I still had no idea what I was going to do.
I traded in the red tiled roofs of Lisbon last year for Puerto Rico
I thought about what I needed. What my body was truly craving. Peace. Relaxation. I decided that I wanted to spend my birthday surfing. And not just going to a surf spot with friends, because that inevitably lead to me just hanging on a beach, frolicking in the water and watching my more proficient friends take on waves. No, I needed to do this for myself and not get gunshy.And then as if kismet, while on a photoshoot, I met a handsome angel from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. Luis Ocasio. Well if this wasn’t Gabriel telling me where I needed to be, I don’t know what was.
This is a photo diary that I’ve been meaning to share since this summer has taken on an even more poignant meaning with the recent hurricane devastation — my solo travels through the western half of Puerto Rico, namely Cabo Rojo and Rincón. I’ve shared a video, Instax Diary and Perfect Stay of this trip previously but also wanted to share my photo journal of this cathartic journey. There’s so much need out there and if you’re searching for a place to give, and to ensure that 100% of the money you donate goes to Puerto Rico, donate here. My childhood friends Jenny and Amaris held an event in Brooklyn for which the proceeds went to this fund aimed at getting Puerto Rico back on it’s feet. Donate with Lovers Rock Benefit in the comment.
This is probably the most important aspect of my trip. Picking up my rental car from Charlie Car Rentals. I’m a NYC kid. I did not get my license until my 20s and I don’t drive very often. When deciding on Rincón, it was a pretty big deal for me to choose a place where I’d absolutely have to drive to get around, drive on a highway and drive for HOURS. I have to admit I was shaking when I got into the car. Sweating, nervous, finicking with my google maps because I didn’t have a sound attachment and I couldn’t listen to music lest I miss a direction. This was exactly what I wanted. A solo roadtrip. By the end of the weekend, I was handling those windy town roads in the Caribbean downpour quite nicely. That’s fear of driving in my rearview mirror.
The food, from a delicious burger at Casa Verde to an energizing morning smoothie at BD Cafe, Thai to classic Boricua, Rincón has such a delicious variety of food to satisfy any appetites. I must say though, my favorite spot for dinner was Tamboo Rincón. Recommended by Luis, it has delicious food and is the best spot to watch the magical sunsets this area is renown for.
And the sunsets are magical. One day I had the pleasure of driving up the coast during golden hour. I relaxed and smiled as I drove past picturesque Puerto Rican landscapes bathed in the sun’s glow. Every time I see a sunset, I am in awe of Mother Nature’s marvels, God’s work, in my opinion. The sunsets in Rincón will leave you breathless.
The house’s proximity to the beach was amazing. I’ve gone through many different phases of my meditation journey from avid, to sometimes, and I must say, it’s quite a bit easier to take a moment in a setting like this.
Taken with my iPhone after destroying my DSLR
photo by Nneya Richards
photo by Nneya Richards
My first afternoon was spent exploring the house and the town. Then, a little anxiously. I hit the road.
These beautiful trees were like guardians of the road stretching out to embrace me on my journey.
The Royal Poinciana, or Flamboyant Tree
First stop: the salt flats. Las Salinas. I was disappointed when I first reached the observation center I was a bit disappointed. The lake looked well, brown, murky. The gentleman at the information center told me that morning was the best time to see the algae come alive bright pink. The other visitors from other parts of Puerto Rico seemed disappointed as well. Oh well, I thought, on to the beach!
Rules were meant to be bent, just a tad.
I was driving and out of my window I saw a pink lake! Gated off, it seemed a sort of observation area. But what’s a gate? Especially if you’re a bit leggy like I am. That gate couldn’t possibly be meant to stop anything. I parked my car on the side of the road, grabbed my tripod and hopped out. A car actually stopped and asked if I needed help. By the time I was finished, 6-8 cars were parked behind mine. Happy tourists, relieved that their trips to see the pink lakes of Las Salinas weren’t a bust.
Yes, I brought a shirt to match the flats.
Well, I didn’t make it to Malta in time to see the natural rock bridge, popularized on Game of Thrones before it collapsed but El Puente in Cabo Rojo is definitely a rival beauty without all of the crowds. Really, I was there during a Saturday in the summer and I had over 30 minutes to myself before I saw another couple.
On my way back, I stopped in the beautiful town of Boquerón for fresh oysters. This was my late afternoon birthday snack. If you’ve never travelled alone, it might be a strange thing to revel in this moment.
And what about that goal of surfing? For 2 days (the third I spent driving down to Cabo Rojo and exploring) I let my body be rocked by waves. I was exhausted by days’ end as I sipped a Corona on the beach enjoying sunset. Getting up and staying up wasn’t a problem for me — I didn’t think it would be based on experience surfing in the past. It was learning the patience to recognize a good wave. I’m still working on that stillness, that intuition. There is little I find as invigorating as rolling up on a wave. With every hour in the water, I feel my endurance building. It’s the reset that’s my biggest problem. Riding a wave, hopping off and then swimming back to make another one. Waiting for that slow rumbling. There’s a lot of waiting. A lot of time with your thoughts and the water. No screen. As I laid out on shore drying. I was proud of my body and all it had done in a days work. Small, but a force.
Walking home to Casa de Rincón with a skimboard after an afternoon surfing. Photo by Robert Ibarra
I came to Puerto Rico for relaxation and reprieve. I also wanted to take a quick trip WITHIN MY OWN COUNTRY. As a brown person, there are a lot of places within the United States that do not feel safe to me (check out my mum’s friend’s Rahawa’s experience on being a black female thru-hiker on the Appalachian trail). I’ll choose biking alone through a Peruvian desert than walking a mile through a populated town deep in Trump county. This feeling of ease, safety and kinship that drew me there on holiday seems directly in line with why the administration is dragging their feet on aid and celebrities, even reality TV stars are stepping up. Can 2005 Kanye come back and state the obvious here?
Rincon has been largely cut off from aid shipments as well as contact with the outside world.
Again, if you’re looking for a way to help Puerto Rico, please donate to this fund via Generosity: