ISABELA, Puerto Rico- When I first began traveling I thought the ideal beach was one that didn’t have any people on it. I thought it had to be pristine, completely natural, and molded only by wind and waves, and flanked by a little foliage. I would search for these types of beaches that were, as a rule, ignored by the travel guides and arrogantly rank them higher than the “people beaches” which would be full of body-stuffed swimsuits sitting beneath colorful umbrellas sipping cocktails from hallowed out pineapples and listening to that same effing Best of Bob Marley album playing on an endless loop. I would go to these latter beaches, sure, but I’d look down my nose at them and probably declare how I preferred remote beaches that were … quote, unquote the real thing.
I had to laugh at my former sentiment as I sat on a beach near the northwest corner of Puerto Rico that would have met my early 20s traveler criteria. There was nothing there but blue waves, smooth, tan sand, rocks, seashells, and a row of brambles separating the beach from the rest of the world. No other people anywhere. I even had to park the Jeep on the side of the highway and had to trudged along on a trail to get there.
I was initially excited as I trotted out barefoot into the abyss of emptiness. I just drove out from San Juan, and this was the first beach I visited outside of the city, and I was washed over with the feeling that you get when you first arrive at your destination. I’m honestly not even sure what the name of this beach was — it was just to the west of Poza de Teodoro but was unmarked on my map — but it met every standard of that a beach could hope to aspire to.
But when I got way out to the middle of it I did a three-sixty turn and then got this sinking feeling.
I kicked around in the surf for a few minutes and then turned and headed back to the Jeep and drove back to a place that people were.
The paradox of pristine beaches is that they’re pretty boring places.
I spent my first years of traveling trying to get away from people. Patagonia. The Andes. The Atacama. I’d been around people my entire life and I wanted to see what was beyond that sphere. But all I found was an appreciation for the cities, towns, and villages where there are stories, jokes, fights, dancing, garbage, exhaust, bars, bad music, and life. Human life.
It is people that make places.
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