Life is a continuing effort to overcome loneliness. To do it, you must first have the opportunity, then, second, the permission. A resort should he a place where you are given the opportunity and, hopefully, you will get the permission.
—Esteban Padilla, architect, Palmas del Mar, Nov. 8, 1973
Nothing at Palmas will he an architectural monument. Palmas is a place for human beings. People will count. Buildings will he there for the enjoyment of the people. I will consider it a failure if people go away remembering buildings.
—Esteban Padilla, a little later in the day
Palmas is not a resort. Palmas is a state of mind.
—Esteban Padilla, later still, after a Scotch-and-water before dinner
We had abandoned the car at dusk, its front wheels in the jaws of a slash in the dirt road that had not been there the day before. If it had, Padilla (left) would have known. If a bucket of sand were removed from the beach, I was told, Esteban—Steve, the Americans of Palmas call him—would know. He bent to look at his invalid machine, for which he has respect without love, and, in amiable benediction, declared it a perfect evening for a walk.
We were at a remote tip on the southern end of Palmas. Situated on the southeast coast of Puerto Rico, Palmas del Mar, or Sea Palms, is being built by the same folks who brought you Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island, S.C. When finished 10 years hence, it will be one of the largest resorts in the world, with 20,000 bedrooms in its inn, villas, town houses and private homes.
Padilla and I were near an overlook where the granite pushes up a butte. Coulees and cliffs give it a sculptured quality, and at the base seawater springs from a blowhole. In the master plan, Padilla said, there would be a natural pool here, and people could swim in it with the tropical fish. An "amenity," he called it.
As he stood up, I remembered thinking how, for so slight a man, Esteban Padilla cast such a long shadow. More a comet's tail, one that others, including his employers, had grabbed hold of and now rode. (A modest man, Padilla objects to this image, just as he squirms at being reminded that he matriculated at Harvard at age 14.)
Once, years ago, he had come to what is now Palmas in an oxcart to swim and picnic. When he became one of Puerto Rico's best-known architects and was determined to plant his dreams here, he had walked through the coconut groves at the north end and along the six miles of coastline to the first granite rise where, now, the Palmas Inn's saffron facing glowed in the last light. Scrambling over the rocks to the harbor, "the key to Palmas," he went back around and up the slope to where we now stood.
Against the deepening dusk we could still see Candelero Point, and due east the offshore island of Vieques, which Columbus sailed past in 1493 en route to the west coast of Puerto Rico. From our vantage point, even in that light, the Atlantic's graded depths were as clearly defined as the strips on a cartogram. These are the colors that lure game fishermen. This is nearly virgin water in that respect, relatively untapped, and it is possible—likely—that it teems with white and blue marlin, sailfish and blackfin tuna, if that is a man's pleasure. What excited me for future reference were reports of light-tackle possibilities: tarpon and snook in the canals and off the beaches; telapia—Nile perch—in the small lakes and lagoons; snapper and grouper in the coves; permit and African pompano in the surf.
Seeing the stitches in the ocean off Candelero made the cuts on my hands and knees sting. A reef lurks there and the stitches mark where the surf surges over it. I had sailed a Sunfish off the beach that afternoon, launching it at a thatched-roof replenishment center called the Sun Fun Hut. (In its nomenclature Palmas strives to steer clear of stiff sounds like Beach Club. Sometimes it steers too far. The lounge at the inn will be called The Happy Jungle. Giddiness, evidently, will prevail. A Palmas man who had heard the name Sun Fun Hut once too often at sales meetings said that after a while it began to sound like a Chinese quarterback calling signals.)