Rincon, Puerto Rico
“Hey!” she was walking down the beach and laughing. “What are you doing?”
Throwing a football into the ocean is weird, I know. But that’s what I was doing.
“Okay, I’ve been watching you for like ten minutes up there and I cannot figure out what you’re doing.”
I laughed. “I know, I’m weird.”
“You’re…throwing a football into the ocean.”
“Okay, I know it looks dumb – but check this out!”
I pointed to the waves coming in. “If you time it just right…watch.” And just as a little surf was about to break I snapped the football about fifteen feet out. It splashed in the pocket of the wave, the surf broke, and the ball came spinning in the saltwater right back to my feet.
“If you time it right and get the throw right, you don’t even have to move!”
I smiled and realized I probably sounded like a five year-old who’s just discovered that Legos snap together.
Sarah raised her eyebrows and made an upside down smile. “Hmmm. Well, you keep having fun with that,” and she laughed and patted my shoulder.
“I know it’s weird,” I spun the football dry. “But I don’t care.”
“I’ll take that.”
“Hey, food’s almost ready, whenever you’re done with your…experiment.” She laughed and turned to head back up.
“Cool – be up in a few.” I wanted to watch the sun set and keep throwing the football first.
The night was perfect and the sun was doing the slow sink into the Caribbean. Duncan and Sam and the girls were up on the hotel patio, grilling fish and trying to make the perfect cocktail with fresh fruit and $2 Puerto Rican rum. It didn’t end well. The stuff tasted like gasoline and bananas. But no one really cared. We were on spring break in Rincon, Puerto Rico – and for me, it was like I was seeing water for the first time.
It wasn’t of course. It wasn’t even my first time to the ocean. I’d grown up on vacations at Myrtle Beach and random beaches and islands up and down the East Coast. But this was my first time to the Caribbean – my first time watching the sun set on a truly tropical beach without a care in the world. And I was mesmerized.
Water. The Muslims say Allah makes his throne upon it. In the Bible, Jesus walked on it, and then Peter tried, and did, but then got too rational and started to sink. Most people I know are a little afraid of it – but then again, most people I know are from Cincinnati. I was always a bit of a water baby, and I’m not sure if it was because my dad was a big swimmer or our parents put us in swim lessons every summer as kids – but for whatever reason, the water’s always pulled me right to it.
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
The “Floating Mosque” sits just off the Corniche Road in Jeddah. It’s not really much to look at during the day – it’s old and the paint is cracking, and trash floats in the surf all around it. But at night, when the water turns black and the lights around the mosque shine straight up its white walls from the bottom, it looks like it’s a mythical palace floating aloof fifteen yards from shore.
The floating mosque always looks nice driving by, but if you’re actually walking the street and see it close up, it becomes just another church – all whitewashed and basic and concrete and bland; and the walkway is beat to hell and the wood is splintered, and the surrounding beachy area is just a bunch of dirty sand, stagnant water and trash. And the whole place smells like sewage and rotting hookah tobacco.
But the Corniche is one of my all-time favorite roads in the world. In hindsight, I’m not sure whether it’s just romantic nostalgia, or if I really did love the place that much…no, I really loved it. And I drove it so often it became familiar and endeared, but not so often that it got boring. The Corniche is a little like any other coastal drive in the world – with the exception that it’s in Saudi Arabia. But because it was in Saudi meant that it ran the Red Sea. The Red Sea was always there, and mythical – and at night, looking out, it gave you the feeling of straddling the infinite expanse. On one side, lights and cars and restaurants. On the other, pure quiet black.
And I think that’s what was so appealing about the corniche. The epic duality.
I drove down from O’bhur up north, usually to eat, or smoke some hookah, or meet friends – and any trip down the Corniche usually began or ended with a stop at one of my favorite spots: Teavana. Teavana was a little chain tea boutique with a couple locations in Jeddah that served little nibbles and sandwiches and amazing tea. It was pricy, but that was because they had all manner of tea imaginable, and you could create your own mix of Citrus Orange-peel Darjeeling Cinnamon…whatever you wanted.
Then I’d jump back in the little Suzuki Swift (like a Mini-Cooper, but crappier, so you didn’t feel bad ripping the thing apart), and head south into Jeddah toward Ha’il street – or north back home to O’bhur, the sporadically inhabited beach suburb. At night with less traffic, I’d take advantage of the loose speed limits, the even looser law enforcement, and the fact the holding an American passport basically allowed me to get away with anything short of murder.
And I would absolutely fly. The smooth, wide-winding Corniche, practically begged to be a race track, and I’d downshift to fifth and cackle to myself at the Suzuki’s inch-off-the-ground suspension, which also practically begged for tight turns. I’d hit a hundred on the regular and would daydream I was Vin Diesel in the Fast and Furious.
What a place.
Saudi is where I fell in love with the water. Puerto Rico was the Caribbean affair. Saudi was the marriage. ‘Till death do us part. I’d drive, roll the windows down, and smell the sea. I’d turn off the music on the stereo and just listen to the WSHHHH! of the wind, and inhale the salty air. Then a turn. Tap the brakes. Wind dies down. Round the turn. Accelerate. 80. Downshift. WSHHHH! And all you’d hear was wind, and all you’d smell was water.
(to be continued…)