Isla de Vieques, Puerto Rico

January 9, 2014.

Several feral Paso Fino horses grazed along the edge of the winding, narrow road. White birds perched next to them, and a couple stood on the horses' backs. Memories of the frozen New York City we had left just hours ago were quickly fading into the distance. We had traveled by cargo ferry to Isla de Vieques, a small sparsely developed island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. The ferry ride left us mildly sea sick, but the cargo ferry from Fajardo was only a 45minute ride, 45minutes faster than the passenger ferry. Both options ended up being cheaper than flying to Vieques from San Juan, so we left our rental car in a $5/day parking lot by the ferry terminal. The horses ignored us as we leaned out our windows to snap photos and we continued on our drive to Esperanza, a town in south-central Vieques. We drove past the small strip of restaurants overlooking the sea just as the sun was setting, and people crowded the patios, tropical drinks in hand. Just down the road, we pulled up to our inn, the Malecon House. In a seemingly orchestrated gesture nodding to our arrival, a rain cloud pulled away revealing a double rainbow in the sky above.
We immediately set out to explore, excitedly venturing out onto the slippery rocks of the cove. A rusted boat wreck was decaying on the shore, and as the sun dipped behind the distant mountains in the west, the godlike rays painted the boat a golden hue. The gnats began biting and we decided it would be best to dull the itch with frozen piña coladas, tostones, and coconut encrusted red snapper at Bananas. The next morning, after fresh mango & papaya topped cereal provided by the Malecon house, we set out early, battling the rough dirt roads leading out to Playa Chivas in our rental Jeep. There we found the most beautiful, natural, pristine, and nearly deserted beach either one of us had ever experienced. We parked off the road under coconut trees and ventured out onto the hot white sand. The turquoise water was clean and clear and we had no hesitation getting right in. As the day went on, other visitors came to the beach, each down quite a ways from the next. Our stay in Vieques was amazing, and even though our time there was short, we still had time to experience some of the island's wonders. We hiked along a dry stream bed to experience the black sands of Playa Negra. Dozens of crabs retreated into their sand holes as we passed. We came upon Gallery Galleon and admired the work of local artists who had clearly been inspired by the island's culture and the colors of the natural landscape. That night we joined a tour group to experience the bioluminescent bay just minutes from our hotel. Our guide told us about the shark nursery below us as we swiftly paddled our kayaks above the black water. As we settled into the center of the bay and the moon hid behind the clouds, the water began to glow a bright blue as our paddles stirred the ocean. We dined on amazing shrimp ceviche, lobster mofongo, and teriyaki mahi mahi with mango salsa at El Quenepo. At night the loud chatter birds lulled us to sleep. Less than 72hrs later, we made our way back to the ferry dock and set out for the next leg of our journey, Old San Juan.