By Zachary Moses
This is the second in a two-part series. Click to read Part 1.
The flight to Vieques was absolutely stunning, not to mention that it saved us 5 hours of travel time compared with taking the ferry. It was so much fun. The charter planes are meant to carry 8 total passengers, including the pilot. There were only three of us passengers, so we each got our own bench. From up here you can see all the islands of Puerto Rico and even into the rainforest on the main island.
When we landed on Vieques, we were met by Brian and his wife Gladys who run the bicycle company on the island. All five of us crammed into a 4-passenger Jeep CJ5 with our luggage on our laps and bounded out to the hacienda. As we all tumbled out from our clown car and stretched, I was waiting for someone’s pants to rip and 500 knotted rainbow handkerchiefs to come flying out.
After settling in at our lovely lodge, we walked just 15 minutes down the road to thewaterfront of Esperanza. On the way I found a mango tree in someone’s front yard, and because I am not a single-event learner, I again found myself with sticky juice in my beard (didn’t I just do this in Part 1?). The waterfront was beautiful – I imagine it felt like this in Key West, maybe 30 years ago.
Brian and Gladys met us this morning with our brand new bikes (they give you the luxurious new ones when making a site inspection) and we set off on a beautiful morning ride. As we neared the old bombing range, the road narrowed to about half the size and banked toward the water. We rode along a pristine beachfront until we reached a gate and the road became a dirt track. The track veered inland and started to climb a little, until we were riding on a dirt and mud trail through the hilly jungle. They don’t cut the jungle back very often, so it was all left stunningly pristine and beautiful, with views completely different from what I expected.
As we neared the junction with the main road, we parked our bikes and cut into the jungle on foot to look at the ruins of the old sugar plantation. It’s amazing how much was going on here before the military shut it all down and moved the local people into the center of the island. (Until recently the outlying parts of the island were used as military bombing training grounds). It’s also amazing how quickly the jungle has overgrown and destroyed buildings when left unchecked. It was an entire village of ruins. Some of the ruins were really amazing, and others would be more so if it weren’t for the nests of killer bees. (*shudder* – they may have been perfectly nice bees, but I like to refer to all bees as killers.)
We turned our bikes downhill and cruised through wild horse pasture. Seriously, the horses are wild, and they are everywhere! The horses are remnants of the Conquistadors’ heyday. From here we rode up the mountain to look at the old bunkers. It was a long shlog up the hill, but one wild ride on the way down. From the bottom of the hill, we headed into town for sushi. We passed by the fishing pier, which is really the unfinished remnants of an ambitious plan to build a bridge to Isla Grande.
After lunch, we met our guide Sam, and planned our multi-sport adventure for the next day. He is an exciting person that makes you want to follow him into adventure. I knew right off that he would make a good local guide for our group. He was originally a paragliding instructor in Iceland and has sailed his small sailboat across the Arctic Ocean. He currently holds the record for being the smallest boat to do so.
After our meeting, we explored the Viequenzi capital city of Isabel Segunda (named after the same Queen Isabella II of Christopher Columbus fame),Downtown Isabella Segunda and bought our ferry tickets for two days later. Afterward, we rode back over the mountain to Esperanza to our hotel. While riding through jungle our guide explained how long-term military use of the island has kept the most beautiful beaches and jungles completely undeveloped and full of wildlife. Soon we came upon a roadside BBQ cart and stopped for some food. We found a pub on the main drag of Esperanza and enjoyed a cold beer.
Later that night, after a disco nap, we set off to tour the Bio-Bay. Our taxi took us to Sun Bay, considered one of the best beaches in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico has a lot of these). We loaded into a van that drove us through the dark jungle on dirt roads to our kayaks. When we started kayaking into the bay, I splashed my hands around in the water, and nothing happened. However, as we moved deeper into the bay, and it got darker, the bio luminescence began. It was absolutely stunning, several people likened it to an acid trip. (I have no idea about this).
Every time I moved the water a million heavenly sparkles glowed all around me. As we paddled along we would spook the fish, who would race away, and their glowing streaks lingered in the warm water. This was the closest thing to heaven I’ve ever imagined. Like all unearthly bliss, though, it is difficult to photograph, at least without special equipment. This version of heaven is best viewed in absolute darkness, so we have scheduled our upcoming trip around the New Moon, for maximum bio-luminescent loveliness.
In the morning, Sam came to meet us in our hotel. Our first item on the day’s agenda was to drive to these gigantic granite boulders, where the earliest inhabitant of the island was discovered. His bones date to 2 or 3 thousand years ago. This is the site for voodoo on the island. I did my best to conjure up a little voodoo, but I lack the specific talent required to wield such power.
Our next trip took us right into the restricted zone to look at the undeveloped beaches. These were by far the prettiest beaches I’ve seen ever. (I know I said the same thing about Culebra in Part 1, but these were even better!) There was absolutely no development; these beaches look like something out of Castaway or Lord of the Flies – just absolutely amazing.
We launched our kayaks and paddled through the mangroves and out into the open water. There is a beautiful old lighthouse that you can visit out here, as well as limestone caves that can be snorkeled into (when the ocean is calm). We paddled into what is jokingly called Chicken Beach, for those afraid of the waves, and did some snorkeling from the shore. I grabbed an empty conch shell to bring home to my son, since it’s illegal to take them from the waters around Key West. (Ask me sometime how my suitcase smelled when I opened it at home, blech).
On the way back in, it began pouring rain so we decided to stop our outdoor activities and head back to Isabel Segunda. We waited the rain out in the old fort, which is now an art museum featuring only works by local Viequenzi artists.
Vieques is by far one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. It was hard when Doug knocked on my door at 5:30 am announcing that it was time to grab our cab to the ferry. But, I hopped out of bed when I remembered that the next adventure would be in El Yunque (America’s Tropical Rainforest)!
[To be continued…Read Part 3 HERE]