Originally published at Cool Cleveland.
Cleveland is everywhere. It’s in our personality, our work ethic, our optimism, and our pessimism.
It’s also in Culebra, Puerto Rico — an archipelago 17 miles east of its mainland, nearly 2,000 miles away from the Forest City.
From the moment rubber hit pavement on the runway at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, I had a growing suspicion that Melanie and I would stumble across a Cleveland or Ohio-themed bar as I have in San Diego, Tampa Bay, and less surprisingly in Chicago. However unlikely, I assumed if such a bar existed it would at the very least be within the San Juan city limits — not on an island of 1,800.
We arrived at the port of Fajardo — a small town on the east coast of Puerto Rico — 30 minutes before the 9am ferry set sail to Culebra. Despite being sold out, we were able to finagle our way on board thanks to what seems to be a much more open relationship with “rules and regulations” in Puerto Rico. The loosely organized anarchy prevalent throughout the island suits Puerto Rico’s enviable carefree mentality. In the United States, surely some penalty would have come with boarding earlier than the possessed ticket called for. Here (so long as no one is harmed) rules, as Captain Barbosa would say, are more like guidelines, really.
The 7×5 mile island is a hidden paradise largely (and thankfully) untouched by tourism. A modest ferry filled with far more weekending Puerto Ricans than mainland Americans, and a handful of cabs shuttling arrivals to the surrounding beaches were the only exceptions.
The ride was an experience in of itself. Storm clouds closed in over the horizon, juxtaposed with idyllic blue skies to the south. Personally, I enjoyed the ferry ride over to Culebra, much more so than the portly woman holding tightly on to what appeared to be a vomit bag.
Our arrival was a guessing game. After splitting two tiny, uninhabited islands, we made our way to the front of the ship, hoping to get an early glimpse of paradise.
Maybe over there by those two ships? No.
There! That must be the beach!
Son of a… Where the Hell is this dock?
Finally, we arrived. And no sooner did we step off the ferry did a handful of locals offer to take us and other travelers to Flamenco Beach, considered by much more traveled writers and photographers to be one of the best in the world. While it might not mean much from a guy who spent his childhood swimming in a lake overshadowed by the Perry Nuclear Power Plant, Flamenco Beach is, indeed, deserving of every utopic descriptor given to it.
There’s not much to say about the four or five hours we spent on the beach. Imagine everything you’d want in a beach — that’s Flamenco. Off the grid, uncrowded, blue water and soft, white sand. The stresses of the mainland had evaporated for the time being, replaced by the carefree energy of a young pup chasing after a Frisbee.
Coincidentally, much of my time on Flamenco was spent chasing after a Frisbee.
I didn’t want to leave. Cleveland, I love you, but I could do a month or two on Culebra, especially this time of year when wind has the ability to cause visible pain. And as it turns out, home wasn’t really all that far away.
Back at the docks, Mel and I walked along the nearby strip of souvenir shops and bars to kill time before our return ferry showed up. Outside one of said bars was a sign advertising NFL football. I knew it was a longshot, but I thought we’d head in and see if the Browns were on.
We grabbed a seat at the bar alongside an older American and (I’m guessing) Puerto Rican woman. The bartender, an oddly young looking American from California, took our order. Two Medallas, a widely available, light Puerto Rican beer that beats Miller and Bud Light.
No Browns on.
“Do you guys have NFL Network?” I asked the bartender.
Before he could answer, the gentleman next to us asked, “Who you looking for?”
“Cleveland Browns,” I responded.
He then leaned back to reveal a small laptop computer playing the Browns. But that’s not all.
“Go look around the corner,” he said, motioning toward the front of the bar.
Lo and behold, a mini-shrine to Cleveland. A Chief Wahoo (why is this still a thing?) and Bernie Koser poster similar to a Fathead were on the wall underneath a television we had just walked right past. Turns out, our new friend at the bar is from Parma, now living on Culebra.
As you may expect, we spent the next hour or so staring at the computer, sulking and shaking our heads as the Browns thoroughly (and expectedly) embarrassed themselves to the RG III-less Washington Redskins (and why is this still a thing?). Despite the the balmy temperature, blue skies, and general accumulation of sand in crevices I never knew I had, it felt like another Sunday in Cleveland.
Disclaimer: Support for this trip was provided by See Puerto Rico. As always, all opinions are my own.