We bounced down the rutted hill in our rented Vitara and cruised along one of the island’s narrow, twisting roads towards Isabel II, the larger of Vieques’ two settlements.
The town itself struck me as shabby and disappointing. We passed row after row of boarded up businesses and deserted-looking houses. The whole thing had a bombed out, apocalyptic air to it.
But then we turned a corner and there before us at the end of a long, broad street lay the ocean, cobalt blue now, choppy and glistening and altogether beautiful. Suddenly everything clicked into context and the town seemed quaint and charmingly run down. And I loved it.
We had no idea where we were going, except that Michael had spotted a strip of beach in this general vicinity from our balcony and he was navigating us toward where he imagined it might be. Which wasn’t easy considering that once you made your way through the dusty little town and passed the ferry dock and headed back up the hill the roads became so twisty there was absolutely no way to know where you were going unless you’d lived in the neighborhood a couple of centuries.
Until we drove right up onto a little beach at the end of the road and got stuck in the sand.
It wasn’t a bad beach, for what it was. More than anything, it reminded me of Smather’s Beach in Key West, a narrow strip of trucked-in sand punctuated by prickly bushes and a couple of anemic palm trees. Here, the palm trees looked healthy enough and the sand was clearly indigenous, but even so this couldn’t be one of the four-star beaches we’d read about online.
Michael, slightly crestfallen, got out and walked around the car. “Yep, I think we’re stuck.”
The very thought of putting my shoulder to the task of getting us unstuck was almost more than I could bear, but I smiled gamely and said, “Let’s try to find some boards or something that’ll give us leverage.”
I hoisted myself slowly out of the car and began teetering along the beach, concentrating on not fainting. Michael came up alongside and took my elbow.
This made me feel somewhat pathetic, though after a few moments’ consideration I decided to enjoy the attention. The secret to being a good invalid, after all, is surrendering wholeheartedly to your illness (so long as it has been satisfactorily diagnosed as harmless), having a good wallow in self-pity, and then allowing your unfortunate companion to do absolutely everything but breathe for you.
Such was my happy state of mind when we encountered The Iguana. First of all, let me say that this wasn’t my first iguana sighting. Once when I was walking along 15th Street in Washington I’d come upon a bright green foot-longer languishing on the sidewalk as its harried owner rushed out of her apartment screeching, “Help me find my iguana!” (I pointed to the dead-looking creature and fled.)
But that puny little thing was a mere gecko compared to the tongue-slithering six-foot dragon standing before us now. Huge. Prehistoric looking. And no more than three yards away.
An image popped into my head of Japanese businessmen shrieking in terror as they fled down a Tokyo street.
Michael was the first to speak. “I’ve always heard they’re not dangerous unless they’re provoked.”
This was vaguely comforting on an academic level, but I wasn’t sure what the average iguana considered provocative. Pink polo shirts? (I was sporting one.) Flip flops? (Check.) Also, it’s well known that true predators go for weak prey—low hanging fruit, and all that—and I’d never felt more puny in my life.
“If he charges I won’t be able to fight back, but save yourself,” I said in my best Christian martyr voice, only half-joking.
To his credit, Michael didn’t laugh—well, not much.
Instead he reached for my sweaty hand and led me slowly but firmly back to the car, which he got unstuck in no time.