In the sparkling morning sunshine, we open the door to our efficiency to find a cat, possibly stray, which Kai immediately befriends. As I pack for our day — stegosaurus, triceratops, T. rex (and maybe sunscreen?) — boy pulls tail, cat bites boy, crying ensues, prompting soothing laced with genuine worry (bleeding wound!) and the eventual evaporation of 45 precious vacation minutes. All this, mind you, before coffee.
Next up is a strident campaign for a screening of “Curious George II: Follow That Monkey” on the iPad, which culminates in my buying the movie on iTunes so that we can take it mobile, vs. relying on WiFi to stream it over Netflix. (If you’re baffled by that sentence, I am so envious.)
To really check out the town and beaches, we have to drive. We stop on Route 413 at the Banana Dang coffeehouse, a Rincon icon with a laid-back vibe. The coffee is wonderfully strong, and I need the boost when Kai pitches a tantrum after spilling the last two ounces of his smoothie. The only consolation is to buy another one, of which he takes one sip before declaring that he’s done.
By the time we arrive at Pools beach, Michelle and crew are gone. But there’s a Puerto Rican girl about Kai’s age and her dad, who sits on a shaded rock making cellphone calls while the kids play around a tide pool. Somewhere, parents are surfing while boys frolic, but I can’t in good conscience shove my kid back into the car for a wild goose chase. I unfurl a towel and a New Yorker magazine and settle in.
I decide that this will be a Kai day, a wise move given that Kai had long ago decided the same thing. For lunch we drive up the hill to the El Batey grill, an outdoor counter where chef Carla grills a juicy chicken kebab as we gaze down to the white-capped sea and the rocky silhouette of Desecheo, an uninhabited island 13 miles offshore. Carla says that she regularly spots whales from here during the winter migration.
Our reverie is broken by a rumbling cavalcade of motorcycles, then a pickup loaded with surfboards and finally a dude on a long skateboard, in a focused crouch, pointing straight down the precipitous road. It’s all part of Rincon’s proudly burnished surf town vibe, spiced with a defiant Puerto Rican edge.
“We don’t want to be a state,” Sonia Berrios tells me as I browse through her tropical boutique, Caribbean Casuals, sandwiched between a surf shop and an open-air bar at Maria’s, the town’s main surf break. “We are a commonwealth. Once you become a state, you give up all your culture and language. Who would want all that?”
As I struggle for an answer, a clothing carousel starts to shudder, not from seismic action but because my son has crawled under the hanging beachwear and is shaking the rack. Sonia is not amused, so I drop to the dusty floor to retrieve the cackling Kai.