March 2019 found us back in Vieques, Puerto Rico. I was certain that this was trip number three to this little island in the Caribbean but, I reread a post from 2016, in which I said that was our third trip. I’ve never been good with numbers – more of a words guy. But be it three or four, you lose all sense of time in the tropics.
Being the Vieques regulars that we are becoming, we knew what was in store. A whole lot of nothing. However, that doesn’t make for a very interesting blog post, now does it?
As in previous trips, we flew down with my brother-in-law Pat and his wife Laurie to their island home: The Vieques Garden House. On this vacation we would spend a week with them and then about a week on our own.
As travellers who get jazzed about taking in as much as a place can throw at us in terms of culture and activities, we’ve become pretty adept at unplugging and zoning out while on Vieques.
On our first trip we did the handful of tourist activities – stand-up paddleboarding through the mangroves, nighttime kayaking in the bio-luminist bay. There are several white sand beaches, with shallow, turquoise water. Lots and lots of sun and snorkelling galore.
Hurricane Maria was a game changer for all Caribbean islands and the smaller ones, like Vieques, were decimated.
Because The Garden House was built in the last ten years, it was relatively unscathed. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for most neighbours and the rest of the island. The vegetation across the island took a terrible beating and countless homes and businesses were destroyed.
Recovery happened at a snail’s pace. Vieques was without its power link to the main island of Puerto Rico for 15 months and was solely reliant on generators that would go offline, regularly.
This was our first trip back since Maria, and despite heroic efforts by locals to repair and move forward, her devastation could still be seen everywhere.
Tourism dried up in the wake of the lashing winds. Damaged hotels were shuttered and have yet to re-emerge. Ironically, the jungle vegetation that was cleared to make way for hotels, has now come back with a vengeance and has reclaimed some of the desolate and abandoned hotel sites. Nature. Go figure.
And all the while, pre Maria and post, Laurie and her animal rescue team (Our Big Fat Caribbean Rescue), shifted into overdrive — many of them from a distance, continuing to help the people of Vieques get their island set right.
The feral dog and cat situation, although significantly reduced because of the team’s years of free spay/neuter clinics and off-island adoptions, wasn’t just going away because of a pesky hurricane. There was and remains much work to do on that front.
Our arrival this time at The Garden House was three years since our last visit and 18 months since Maria.
Wanting to do nothing but relax for two weeks, we unpacked and promptly took up residence in the pool. Blessedly, pool noodles kept us from slipping below the surface during mini siestas.
Those first few days are always the same.
Float in pool.
Leave pool for bathroom break, to refresh drinks, eat and sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.
After several days of this meager routine, we were sufficiently pruney and in need of activities that would allow the sun to reach our lower extremities and provide just enough exercise to keep full atrophy at bay.
The Garden House is about one and a half kilometres from the closest town (Isabel II). We would slather on the sunscreen, fill our water bottles and set out on the windy roads past lovely villas, rustic homes and spectacular ocean views.
In town we’d stop for a beer and tacos. We’re fancy that way.
On one such adventure beyond the gates of The Garden House we set out on foot to visit the El Fortín de Conde Mirasol, an “attraction” we’d not visited before. This 19th-century fortress is now an art and history museum and offers sweeping, panoramic island vistas (and some pretty steep hills to climb to get there).
On another sunny afternoon, the four of us set out by car to the other side of the island in search of a pop-up island social party with promise of drinks and dancing. On an island of only 9,000 people, casual social gatherings are the norm. Hearing about where and when they are happening is through Facebook groups. Actually finding the location of these socials (in this case an open field off a side road then down a long, heavily rutted driveway) is most certainly part of the adventure. We found drinks and a DJ. No dancing but, again, the views made it well worth the trek.
Not all Vieques socials are that gritty. One of our traditions is to visit El Blok – one of the few hotels that survived Maria. El Blok is a solid concrete structure and the rooftop bar is the perfect spot for a sundowner cocktail or three and a view over Esperanza, the only other town on the island, and the endless coastline.
We love Vieques. It’s by no means glamorous – and the best part is it doesn’t even try. For those who need a squeaky clean, all-inclusive, Disney-esque atmosphere and endless excursions this might not be their idea of a holiday.
For those who can go with the flow, love beaches and warm and inviting locals, this is paradise.
If you’re looking for us this August, check the pool at The Garden House.
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