When we checked into our room in Esperanza, our host gave us a plethora of insider information about the island. Sun Bay beach caught our attention because its where the locals go, and was close to the hotel. Emily and I packed a bag for the beach and jumped in the Jeep. We drove 5 minutes down a dirt path until we saw a perfect spot to set up camp.
Getting me to a remote beach is an arduous undertaking. I’m blown away by Emily’s willpower to help me with what able-bodied people see as an easy task. We sat in the Jeep and discussed a plan. Emily started carrying our bag and my chair to the beach. As I sat in the Jeep watching this extraordinary woman my thoughts became words. I was literally sitting there cheering her on with excitement. But the cheering stopped when she kept walking further down the beach. She finally vanished from my view and I became confused. I thought maybe this was the moment when she was gonna make a run for it.
When she finally returned to sight I felt relieved. I wondered why she walked so far down the beach but kept my mouth shut because I knew she was helping me and didn’t want to be critical. I loaded onto her back and she started her second pass. This pass was a much heavier load than the first one. The weight isn’t the only difficulty she’s enduring. She’s walking through sand!
I imagine we have much different feelings in these moments. Mine are filled with excitement, happiness and joy. Her feelings are probably focus, determination and why can’t this dude cut back on carbs!
As she continued down the beach I understood why she choose the the spot she did. It was magnificently beautiful.
We were in a secluded area and the only souls on the beach. There was also a safety rope attached to buoys about 30 meters into the ocean. I suspect she wanted that extra safety net since it was my first time in the ocean in over 11 years. I am always calculating risk versus reward and the risk of the ocean taking me was worth the reward of this once in a lifetime experience. I mean, there I was on a remote Caribbean island beach with soft white sand, wild horses roaming around us, the bluest sky and crystal clear water.
After Emily set me down on my chair I crawled to the sand. Getting into the ocean was probably a hilarious sight to see. Getting past the breaking waves was difficult with only half my body functioning. The ocean is strong and my legs are...nonfunctional. It was a fight at first but I eventually won and was swimming in a calm spot.
I was thrilled to be in the ocean and this was only the beginning of the excitement. Emily swam to me and we held each other while swaying up and down with the swells. The sense of freedom in water is indescribable. Being eye level with each other is something we don’t experience often. It was as if time slowed down. Our lips finally met and it was exactly like one of those romantic loves scenes you see in a Hollywood film.
We swam around for sometime appreciating earth and the ocean surrounding us. When we eventually made it to the beach the child in me arose. I loved building sandcastles in my youth and apparently I still do. My architectural skills have decreased over the years. What I built wasn’t quite of castle quality; it was more of a backyard shed, but still a structure nonetheless.
After the beach we napped to recharge before a hike. I’ve never been able to nap during the day but to conquer our daily activities naps are needed so I’ve had to learn to do it.
Next, we wanted to hike to Playa Negra (black sand beach) to watch the sunset.
When we arrived we met a group of hikers on their way back from the beach. They were sure we would be able to make the hike but the able-bodied perspective is completely different from mine.
The first part of the hike was on a dirt path that vehicles could drive down.
We hit a fork in the road and decided to stay on the vehicle path. It ended at a small cliff that was definitely not black sand beach.
This is when Emily and I split paths. We set a plan to find each other after a certain amount of time just in case one of us didn’t make it to the beach or the car. She bouldered down to the water to back track down the beach and I went back to the fork in the road.
I took what looked like the path less traveled. I covered what I thought was a great distance but the path eventually disappeared.
I contemplated trying to make my own path but figured I’d play it safe. I’ve been medi-flighted once in my life, sooo I’d rather not do it again, especially in Puerto Rico. Emily describes the beach to me - secluded with strange and cool black sand.
I was sad I didn’t get to experience it, but all that matters at the end of the day is that I tried. The recreation world isn’t set up for people with challenges like mine, and given the destruction of the hurricane it’s even less so. I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to try. I know not everyone is as lucky.
Speaking of the lack of opportunities: After our hike we drove around the rural areas of Vieques. This is where we saw some heartbreaking scenes of what the hurricane left behind.
Some houses completely ripped from their foundations.
We also saw many houses abandoned. I’m guessing the occupants were some of the 600,000 who left Puerto Rico after the hurricane.
We wanted to check out what the locals did for fun, so we drove into the tiny town of Isabel, the capital of Vieques, for dinner.
This part of the island doesn’t have any tourist which is exactly what we were looking for. As we drove through town we picked a few places we wanted to visit. Our first stop was Williams Pizza.
Choosing pizza for dinner while in Vieques may sound ridiculous but we were interested to see if Puerto Rican pizza was different than pizza from home. New York style is completely different from Chicago style right? It was different. The dough made the difference and I still don’t know how to properly explain it besides saying you should try it.
Like most people we’ve encountered here in Puerto Rico the staff went out of their way to make my visit enjoyable. Few buildings follow the ADA accessibility codes to the T. People with disabilities aren’t forgotten though. Most buildings have a source of accessible access. The negative is that the ramps are usually too steep for me to push up myself and they aren’t accessible without asking for help.
I’m extremely independent at home but if I lived here I would always need someone with me to get around. It’s an issue that saddens me. I’ve yet to see anyone using a chair here, besides the fella in the mirror looking back at me. I wonder where people with disabilities are?
I’m interested to learn more about the government here and to see if there are groups pushing for equal access. California seems to be ahead of most places but the fight is still ongoing. Puerto Rico has had major financial and infrastructure issues because of the hurricane. Finding solutions to these issues may be of more concern at the moment but that doesn’t mean equal access isn’t important. I can see hope. Ive noticed the people here have a lot of pride. I’m looking forward to meeting someone who will rise to the occasion in fighting for disability rights here.
After stopping by a few shops and grabbing a drink at a local bar.
We went back to our AirBNB to read more short stories to each other. This journey isn’t over yet. We still have a lot to experience and learn from. We’ve grown closer to each other and I’m grateful that we’re able to live our lives like we are. These experiences are beneficial to our personal life, our work life and our community service life.
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