Pa’ La Playa, Puerto Rican-Style

Cerro Gordo Puerto Rico beach

Cerro Gordo, Puerto Rico

This essay is Part 2 of La Playa: Beach Stories, Latin-style, showcased this week on the Tiki Tiki.

By Kali Amanda Browne

I remember one time when my madrina and her husband planned a beach outing to Cerro Gordo in Puerto Rico. Her kids were coming, her two sisters and their kids. Then my grandmother added us to the joint, and a couple of the neighbors decided to join us as well.

By the time all was said and done, we had a caravan of almost 15 cars – and somehow managed to pick up a few more as we stopped at the gas station (for gas and extra bags of ice), and then at the panaderia and la lechonera.

It wasn’t someone’s birthday or even a holiday. This was just a summer outing to the beach: a simple family affair.

I told some friends about this and their reaction was priceless. For them, all Americanos, a beach outing meant a small cooler with sodas and a few cheese sandwiches, and a few bags of chips on the side. I grimaced, desperately pitying them their sad lives.

When I shared my memory of this particular outing, their mouths hung open and although sounds came out none of it could be classified as words.

Setting Up La Comida

As my cousins set up chairs, a few hamacas, and cleared a space in the shade for everyone, the women set up the food.

Once we were settled in, the men and the women divided the chores.

The tiny lechón we’d ordered, already on a spit, slow cooked on a pit in the sand the men had quickly put together when we arrived. A small barbacoa cooked marinated pieces of chicken. The men handled this.

We’d brought a caldero with arroz con gandules. Someone prepared a fresh salad on site; nothing fancy, just lettuce, tomato and a few avocados. There were containers with potato and macaroni salads, and a jar of guineitos en escabeche.

Coolers had a dizzying array of soft drinks that could easy stock any corner bodega — grape and orange soda, the big three brands, and a bottle or two of seltzer, juices and maybe a Yoo-Hoo or two. There was beer for the adults and always, somewhere hidden from the prying eyes of the women, a caneca of rum, (because it is a known fact that turning a spit or a chicken leg, in the heat, is thirsty work).

Did we bring sandwiches and chips? Of course, we did. Those were snacks for the kids to tie us over until the food was ready. These usually consisted of two kinds of sandwiches: white bread with potted meat or cheese cut in quarters. For chips we were given a variety of salty treats. The fresh bread bought as we embarked on our trek to the coast had been consumed on the ride to the beach.

We also brought bags of fruit, some of them picked on the road on the way to the beach. Mangoes, guavas, quenepas (mamoncillo), tamarinds, and those tiny and super sweet bananas…

Swimming and Laughing

As the men set up the space, and the women put out the food, the kids jumped up and down until an adult supervised the taking off of the clothes and two adults were designated as official escorts. Then the kids spent as long as we were allowed carousing in the water. A new guard would come in to relieve the first shift, but the kids rarely left the water (unless extremely hungry or thirsty), because coming back required another volunteer adult. Usually by the third shift, we were all reigned in to eat lunch.

This was usually at the point the sun was right on top of us and after lunch, the kids and several adults took naps. Siestas at the beach! The others would sit around telling stories and jokes and the occasional gossip (las cosas que no se dicen al frente de la gente).

After that two hour break, the kids went back to the water and the women started to clean up the space. The men, who’d been hitting the rum for a few hours, would always pick this time to turn up the radio and insist on dancing. The young lovebirds took the opportunity to go for a little nature hike and the boys would climb the rocks to see if they could glance any sharks in the distance.

Just How We Do the Beach

It took me years to realize how much work this was for the women, which is probably why we did not go to the beach every weekend despite living in a tropical paradise. They loved it because it gave the family a chance to be together and it wasn’t a funeral. Their biggest concern was for the kids. Los niños had their day in the sun and our total exhaustion mixed with intermittent giggles on the ride back home made them happy.

That’s not the typical story my gringo friends have about their beach outings. There’s nothing atypical about mine. That’s just the way we did it. Always! I thought that’s what it was for everybody. Who knew?!

Kali Amanda Browne was born in New York City, came of age in Puerto Rico and has lived her entire adult life in Brooklyn, NY. She is a writer, food enthusiast, devoted daughter, marketing specialist, technology analyst, big mouth with a daemon tongue and super geek with pagan tendencies.

You can follow all her projects at Amapola Press – from fiction, short stories, and cookbooks, to online articles and commerce, blogs and social media. You also can read her blog


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By Contributor on July 3, 2012 · Posted in headline, the habla habla

9 Comments | Post Comment

Lisa ~ AutismWonderland says:

Oh my goodness…this one definitely brought back memories of going to the beach with my family!

It was funny – just the other day, I was talking to someone who had come from the beach. He said he was sitting next to a family, very similar to yours, silently salivating over the pot of arroz con gandules and chicken while he had not choice to eat his cheese sandwich. He said ‘It’s hard to be a white boy at the beach.’

Posted on July 3rd, 2012

Maria Amelia says:

My best childhood beach memories are from Luquillo in Puerto Rico with my father’s cousin Angel Manuel. He taught my sister and I how to jump into the waves and how to love the water. Thank you for bringing that back.

Posted on July 3rd, 2012

Christina says:

You forgot the desserts! We always had a couple of choices. Turron, and the cafecito…yes that completes the perfect picnic at the beach! :)

Posted on July 3rd, 2012

Kali.Amanda says:

A friend of mine mentioned flan. For some reason I cannot remember a dessert, but of course there had to be one! At least one.

Posted on July 3rd, 2012

Kali.Amanda says:

Pobrecito. We would have fed him. We took in stragglers. :)

Posted on July 4th, 2012

Ruby says:

This is awesome! It didn’t matter where we were going if there was room anyone could go and best believe food was always a must. The craziest thing we had at the beach as some caldo I was like how in the world did they bring this here and why are we eating it HERE! It was delicious and such a great memory.

Posted on July 4th, 2012

Ericka says:

This post really reminded me of my honeymoon! Thanks for the memories! :D

Posted on July 6th, 2012

Viviana Hurtado/The Wise Latina Club says:

This essay brought me back to my summers in Colombia. Our extended family would go to Coveñas where we vacationed. Long days playing in the water, lots of food. I didn’t know then how lucky we were. We lived in the present and were perfectly content in the moment.

Posted on July 6th, 2012

Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™ says:

Siestas at the beach are wonderful. You get to tune out everything and everyone around you. I’m nowhere near a beach but love taking naps on our hammock in the front yard. Especially if it’s a breezy day! ;)

Posted on July 8th, 2012