Carib Hols II

Saturday night in the town of Isabel Secundo, the island of Vieques, territory of Puerto Rico. All day, we have been seeing the boys washing the horses. Now, as we wander the town in the afterglow of a wonderful and well-lubricated tapas meal, they are everywhere – the boys on their horses, flashing white teeth atop the unmistakable clop-clop pattern of the pasofino gait. The small horses bear their riders in a straight line down the street, the riders leaning back – never rising to the trot, because there isn’t a trot, nor a canter, just the walking gait, somehow a throwback to an earlier time, done slow or fast.

Occasionally we see a girl riding, or an older man, but the majority are teenage boys, swelled with pride. The horse are ‘free’ – wild horses roam the island and are easily caught, and have a better life if they are – so anybody with a little gumption can have one. There are those with fancy gear, some done up with old rope and a rug as a pad. There are probably 50 horses in the few criss-crossed streets that make up the town center, and all the cars wait patiently, giving way to the proud riders and their equally proud mounts.

Down this street a live band is scratching out Latin hip-hop, down that one island pop music blares from speakers in the bed of a pick-up truck; some of the horses flare from the visceral force of the sound.

Wandering the streets in knots are the tiny girls – heartbreaking at 15, 13, 10 even – dressed in short shorts and halters, hair pulled tight, pelves cocked, aching already for that first baby.

The old men sit outside the bars and watch the world go by. The tourists have their own bars where they get increasingly slurry about real estate, the state of the local management, or how cold it is back home, and ex-pats talk knowingly about all these things, each with a different conflicting story about whatever it is – the Navy, the disappearance of the coral, why the tourists are coming or not, why this island is so special.

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