We are camping Playa los Dátiles.
Dátiles is a small rocky beach where locals and ex-pats set up residencies. There are tents large enough for a family, picnic tables, clothes lines, and countertops with sinks just feet from the shore line. A community on the sea. An open-air neighborhood.
In our few weekends here Wynn and I met friendly ex-pats who live on Dátiles. These searchers and seekers, friendly and open, wake up in a tent on the beach each morning when it’s just too cold to do graphic design or construction in Wisconsin or Minnesota.
Wynn strings my hammock between two trees, knotting the ropes tight. I do not tell her that this my first time camping anywhere that isn’t a backyard in Wall Township, ten feet from a house. Tonight I will be sleeping in a hammock on a beach, without a tent, just my backpack on the earth beneath me. Wynn will be in her hammock a few feet away, between two other palms.
Even though Culebra has nearly no crime, and I do not have much cash, I tuck my wallet into my yoga pants, resting on my hipbone. I put my phone on my other hip, wrap my sheet around me and settle into my hammock, under woven tree branches, bright stars and a full moon.
The official campsite for visitors is Flamenco, one of New York Time’s 6 Carribean Beaches to See Before You Die. We spend our days on Flamenco. Flamenco is farther away from town and Dátiles is where the locals camp, so it’s safer than touristy Flamenco, probably.
We packed trail mix, apples, an avocado, sandwiches, and beer in our backpacks to sustain us for the weekend, and hammocks to sleep in. Ladies on an island on a budget. I brought Dharma Bums, feeling that Keroac would be an appropriate read. Eventually I put the paperback beneath my head as a pillow, and close my eyes in search of sleep. I think of the most comfortable place I’ve ever slept… my bed in college. Topped with memory foam and covered in duvets, that bed was a cloud.
I always keep a poem taped to the wall next to my bed.
For a few years it was “Bridge, Moon, Professor, Shoes” by Dorothea Tanning…
“Slept dreams, they say, take just a few seconds
no matter how long they are. Or how far
I walked on that bridge of spider silk
with the moon beside me like a friend.
Her light trapped us in a radiance of bliss so
pure, hours weren’t hours, or minutes minutes
as we passed my old lecture hall, its professor
stopping in the middle of his question: “Can
someone here tell me — ?” to stare at us as we
floated along, my insouciance blurring a little
with a sense of guilt. Had I a right to this?
Could such joy be mine for free? If I had
a purpose — say, shoes. Find shoes. On earth
we don’t walk on air — not like this windless
void riding underfoot, its force backing me
into the immensities, their black nowhere.
Such bouncing’s tiresome. Where’s the bliss?
The moon reaches for my arm. I jerk away.
What a pie-face she is in her chalky pallor.
Why did that professor turn his back on me?
Oh, if I find shoes (size seven) they won’t be
on too soon to get me home, home home.”
I read these lines each night before sleeping, and watched others follow the lines with their eyes and wondered what they thought. There is a certain mystique I admire about this poem, an essence I thought would energize my space well.
My reminiscence is interrupted when a stooped man holding a Medalla staggers up to me and slurs something in Spanish. Frozen I respond “I don’t know.” He walks away. I tuck my sheet beneath both sides of my body, all the way down my legs, and reach for my flash light, to shine at Wynn. She is a shadow sitting up in her hammock. “We’re okay!” She laughs, I laugh. We’re fine. I close my eyes again. A few tents down, one of our new friends explains to the stooped man that we’re alright, we’re friends of theirs. The man’s name is Chico. He lives here.
I don’t sleep well in my hammock, but better than expected. At some point it begins to rain. In my mental mist between sleeping and waking, I calmly recognize that my only shelter is my sheet. I listen to the pattering drops, feel them settling through my sheet, through my sweatshirt, chilling my body. I pull the sheet taut, too tired to think about it. The pattering slows to a stop, and the rest of the night is dry.
I dream of sleeping through the sunrise.
The sky becomes light in an instant, as if the sun rising was the flipping of a page in a children’s book, illustrated. I wake up. My dying iPhone reads that it is too early.
The sky is mauve. I step out of my hammock and into flip flops, feeling the residue of bug spray and sweat and salty dew that coats my skin. I walk a few steps to the shore line and lean back on a sea washed rock to watch the real and gradual sunrise.