First, there is water. Air thick with salt sweat and a deep blue landscape dotted with the lacy imprints of coral. There are trees that rise in mounds from the scattered fingers of islands like forest green muttonchops or particularly dense broccoli. Land and sea boast of their fertility; the earth is rich with color.
There are boat rides and hair that tangles like an anemone in the wind. There are locals who offer you a cigarette, and there are streets made of sand, full of golf carts whizzing past. There is the decision to walk a mile dragging your suitcase humbly to the hostel where there is no hot water. There is laughter and jerk chicken and a man from Jamaica playing 1980s hits on an acoustic guitar poorly whose sincerity makes you cry.
There are Mayan ruins in sweltering heat and men who have illegally captured small crocodiles who beckon you to touch them and then hassle you for tips. Afterwards, there are mosquitos and sand fleas and a host of excuses to paint your legs with itchy, pink Dalmatian spots. There are inner tubes through caves and tiny bats illuminated by headlamps. There’s river swimming past chalky, limestone cliffs and ziplines above them that hurtle your body through the rainforest canopy like an unruly howler monkey.
There is scuba diving. There is the uncertainty that you will be able to breathe underwater and the fuzzy brain gremlins that cause you to eject out of the ocean again and again. There are moments when your anxiety spits you right back into your breakup, his palms on the steering wheel while screaming at you to GET OUT. There are calm men with experience who hold your hand and listen to your fears. There is trust that builds confidence. There is confidence that builds joy.
There is being 60 feet underwater and trying not to laugh as a sea turtle swims right past your nose. There is life: nurse sharks and coral made of neon filigree and moray eels and parrot fish and manta rays like immense, rubbery pillowcases with the gift of flight. There is stillness enough to think, wander, and roam. The sensation of being an undersea astronaut is wonderful in its slow-motion elegance. In between it all, there is a dance party at the bottom of the ocean and a girl who learned to swallow her fear.
There are locals who buy you beer and wander through back alleys to show you the cheapest, tastiest Salvadorian food in the city. There are tourists who throw their money at literal chicken shit and watch as a bird’s hazy stumble makes one person in the crowd very wealthy. There is a man with dreadlocks who plays bass in a reggae band and climbs coconut trees with bare feet like a frantic, island carny. There are people who relish drunken escapism.
There are long walks on the beach that feel like eternity and a welcome respite in a bar where young men who have had hard lives teach you to play dominos and solve brain teasers after one too many rum punches. There is a bartender who free dives who you wish would pull you into the bathroom hallway, kiss you, messy your hair, and dip his hand under your dress.
There is the feeling of missing the mountains and the frequency of human touch one often associates with home. You know in your bones that you are ready to leave.
In the rearview of the ten-person plane that soars out of your island getaway, there are constellations of coral reefs sprinkled across the sapphire waterscape. There are women who serve you coffee and meat pies at the airport. Despite the incessant mosquitoes, there are people who look you in the eyes and smile and mean it. There is a long flight with one too many Netflix episodes about the queen of England and an old friend waiting in Los Angeles with a car and a bouquet of roses.
There is strength hidden in your unfounded loneliness. There is life in spite of struggle.
(Big thanks to Shawnte Salabert for the writing prompt idea on this one. Check her out!)