Hey, I’m all for parenting. But does every vacation with a kid need to be defined by the antecedent “family”? My hope is to balance some of what I want to do with some of Kai’s demands, just as I would with any friend with an unnatural affection for rubber dinosaurs and sand-castle construction. I’m doubling down by traveling without my wife, who couldn’t break away from work for this trip. My main rule: no resort day care (too easy).
After a three-hour drive from San Juan, we pull into Rincon, which tumbles from a blunt, hilly peninsula into the sea. The town’s beaches are renowned for surfing, although those on the sheltered southern side are often glassily calm even when swell is pumping just around the bend.
It takes me a while to orient myself: The main plaza is a few blocks from the coast, and many beaches are separated by winding roads that snake uphill. But most eventually merge with Route 413, which runs along a ridge smattered with surf-themed shops, inns and restaurants.
Along one crooked road we find our lodging, the Boarding House, a pleasant guesthouse in an otherwise residential neighborhood. It’s also a surf school, with boards piled in the driveway. Before even finding our room, we ascend to the rooftop deck for a view of lush forest cascading to the sea, which looks to be a long walk away.
But we set out along a narrow road that ends at bikini-girl-and-her-son beach, known properly as Pools.
“This is Robert,” the blonde says, patting her son’s head. “We’ve met another family with a boy named Kai! He’s 5.”
Her name is Michelle, and she’s from Ventura, Calif. Along with her boyfriend, Rob, 6-year-old Robert and her friend Jessica, she’s renting a stately pink house right on the beach. The cove is idyllic in appearance, but it isn’t Rincon’s best surf break, plus the rocky waters discourage kid swimming.
Then, as if reading a script from the vacation gods, Michelle says, “We’ve been taking turns surfing and watching the kids. If you want to join us, we usually head out around 9.”
Kai and I walk across a street overhung with tropical vegetation and dine at a thatch-roofed cafe and hotel (also called Pools), where the portions are small but the rum punch is redemptive. The bonus is the adjacent swimming pool, which occupies Kai and a few other kids while I have my second uninterrupted adult conversation of the afternoon with an entrepreneur from San Juan and his wife. Not bad for Day 1.