I spotted him in a blue Speedo standing in the waves in front of the Atlantic Shores Hotel. He had jet-black hair and a beefy, smooth body. He was short and very handsome. The sun was setting behind some clouds, and the soft, diffused light gave him the aura of an aqua dream, a Botticelli male Venus rising out of the sea.
At least, I was hoping this was him. We had emailed back and forth, and he said he would meet me on the beach in Condado, the Miami-esque district of San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Gucci shops and flashy renovated hotels were struggling to overtake the derelict liquor stores and empty shop fronts. It was one of those places halfway through its adolescence, where street crews courageously attempted to fill potholes and repair sidewalks in what looked like a losing battle against urban decay. It was off-season, in the thick heat of a Caribbean summer, when only an odd handful of lost tourists (like myself?) seemed to be eking out the idea of a vacation amidst the stained buildings.
My “suite” on the third story had décor that looked like 1980s Golden Girls, with rickety wicker furniture and faded tropical bedspreads. But I almost felt comfortable in the time warp of it all, like I had stepped into some old movie although it had aged to the present day. I would join the small clumps of people on the hotel’s outdoor patio, sitting on plastic chairs. They would tell me how great the Atlantic Shores used to be years ago, how the Sunday tea dances were enormous, how the rooftop used to be a nightclub with the hottest guys, how I should come back in season since it would be better then. I kind of didn’t care — I liked the idea of having the place to myself now, when you could see it for what it really was. The area would soon be happily modernized like everything else, and all this would be gone.
After watching the late-night figures floating along the shoreline at night, and not being sure whether they were hustlers, thieves, horny married men, or all of the above, I resorted to the internet to cruise the locals. My jet-black haired man lived nearby, evidently didn’t want me to come over to his place, but would rather meet outdoors in the dying twilight.
I took him into the water and hugged him. We kissed and I was surprised he was so open about our entanglement, he being a guy from the neighbourhood and all. The sticky saltwater embraced us, forming a cocoon around our bodies. The sun slowly died and eventually we waded out of the water, trying to hide our erections.
He was a lawyer, in his early 40s (although looking 10 years younger in that Latin way that makes me so envious). He was smart, coy, and had a gleaming smile.
“Can I take you out to dinner sometime?” I heard myself saying. He just smiled and laughed. I’m usually the last person to offer a date after a first kiss on the beach, but I just felt like I wanted to spend more time in his presence.
After a quick rendezvous in my suite (the management said no guests allowed upstairs, but I escorted him up without a hitch), he pulled on his trunks and disappeared back into the night. I emailed him again, called him, and walked the empty beach, trying to stay in the streetlights and away from any strange figures.
He had faded away as quickly as he had appeared, maybe back into the sea where he had originally come from. Maybe another night with him would have made him too human, too flesh and blood. I felt lonely, but maybe it was better this way — he would remain my fantasy, and never my reality.
The Road Warrior series of columns first appeared in The Guide, our print edition that was the predecessor to dailyxtratravel.com.
Check out our feature on Puerto Rico for more on the dos and don’ts for a hot winter getaway.
Matthew Link is an award-winning travel writer, documentary filmmaker and frequent TV guest/commentator. The founding editor of Out Traveler and Sherman’s Travel magazines, Matthew has served as an editor at Frommer's Budget Travel magazine, and contributed articles to Newsweek, Time, Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness, among many others.His numerous TV appearances include a regular guest spot on NBC’s Early Today. Among books, his writing is included in The Best Travel Writing 2008: True Stories From Around The World. Check out his author page on Amazon.com.