Journal: Feb 24 – Vieques, PR
The beauty of El Yunque and view of San Juan and Fajardo welcomed me this morning. The rooster crowed and other wildlife slowly woke up from their comatose state as the sun inched higher in the Caribbean sky. Today I’m making my way to Fajardo to catch the ferry to Vieques. There I’m going to bum on the beach and explore some Taino Indian ruins.
Fajardo is a small town. I parked in the lot for the ferry, bought my ticket and had hours before I departed to the small island. I walked by Fajardo’s pier and ventured towards the smell of food. Fried food specifically, Puerto Rico’s specialty.
A small roadside hut was selling the best of Puerto Rico’s fried foods — sorullos, empanadas, plantains, the list goes on and on. I grabbed two sorullos for $2 and hunkered down at a rickety table. My heavy, green water bottle that the waitress filled diligently made the table waddle away from me and towards the afternoon sun, away from me in the shade. Locals began to the fill the shaded cafe ordering potato salad and meatloaf, others ordering the deep fried delights boasted on the sign outside. Most locals also asked from their favorite sauce, mayo ketchup, which was also becoming mine as well.
I ate my sorullos in the shade of the tin roof and listened to the older men talk about the weather and their plans for the day. The waitress joked with a local asking whether the food was good. She teased him saying that it couldn’t be “just OK.” It was either “bueno o malo.”
On the cement boardwalk locals set up their carts for their daily business and others gathered around tables to chat. Palm trees gave them the necessary and adequate amount of shade. The ocean smells different here. It’s more earthy and muddy by the docks. The salt isn’t as potent as it was by the forts of San Juan, where the salty mist spray in my face.
My Uber driver was right, the ferry was rocky and nearly made a dozen passengers seasick. Everyone is kept inside the ferry. Passengers press their noses against the plexiglass to catch a glimpse of Vieques’ beauty. Some adapt quickly to the rocking of the ferry, standing still as marble statues. Others, like me, wobble and pray to get their sea legs sooner rather than later.
After 45 minutes, a little speck of land starts to emerge on the horizon. Travelers are forewarned by the number of ships and sailboats dotting the ocean waves. On the west side of the ferry dock in Vieques is Saint Mary and a small marina for fishing boats. She faces Vieques lighthouse with her arms raised towards the heavens. She prays for safe passage for the voyagers of the sea. The lighthouse is gray and stoic next to the bright color wheel of business and homes that decorate the rugged coastline.
Walking out of the ferry gates, visitors are plopped into a marketplace of pure madness. Autobuses (another form of taxis specific to Vieques) whirl near the sidewalks and honk their horns at travelers. Tourists jumble into large groups pointing and shouting in confusion. Locals join in the noise of honks and shouts begging the traffic to move and for tourists to get out of the way of their normal commute.
The horse ranch I’m staying is a five-minute walk from the ferry. I make my way up the steep hill away from all the commotion.
On my way to Colon, a while tax van approaches me. The driver honks, shouts in Spanglish, “Mami, you’re going to get hit.” And tells me to hop in. He drives me to Colon for free and tells me his name is Jorge, but he goes by Georgie, and that he’ll take care of all my travel needs while I’m on the island.
I take five minutes to settle into my new room, which is sparse. There’s a small rickety chair in the corner with a tarnished mirror and a bed in the center of the room. I dress and go to ask Georgie to take me to Caracas Beach. But, he doesn’t want to. In the end, we compromised, or rather, he convinced me, that he would take me to Sun Bay Beach on the other side of the island near Esperanza.
Georgie whips around corners and speeds down streets slamming on his brakes and honking at tourists. “Ok!?” he yells out the window and gives them a thumbs up. This is the universal sign of taxi drivers in Vieques seeing whether they can assist other tourists passing by.
About three minutes into our commute he stops for a beverage, which I’m fairly certain is alcoholic. He asks if I want to join in the festivities before slamming the door on the white, rusty van that threatens to fall apart any second. He returns with his fiesta in a cup and we journey towards the beach again. We start to talk and he asks me about my plans on the island. He wants me to add having dinner with him on my to-do list. The rest of our conversation he calls me mami, mamicita and bebe.
He tells me he’s a New Yorker and he’s on the island looking to have fun, with beautiful women in particular. He flashes me his white grin and asks if I’m involved with anyone. When I say yes, he exclaims, “You should have fun while in Vieques, bebe!” It’s like Vegas, he explains. “What happens on the island stays on the island.” I shrug and distract myself by looking out the window to avoid further embarrassment and awkwardness.
We made our way through the nature preserve where the wild horses live. They graze on the hills and by the roadside. Georgie doesn’t pause for the horse who graze on the roadside and continues barreling towards the beach.
At the beach, Georgie has arranged for me to have a chair and an umbrella. Also using the umbrellas are other Americans who are tanning topless. After hitting on the women and giving out his phone number, off Georgie goes.
The bay is horse-shoe shaped with a large island in the bay’s opening. Sailboats drift pass and if you listen close enough you can hear the reggae music playing on the party ships.
The other Americans tan and talk about their relationships. Once in a while, they break as a group to take their coveted Instagram photos. Meanwhile, I take a dip in the Carribean and soak up the sun. I arrived at the beach at 3 p.m. and the sun has already made significant progress in its descent.
At the beach, I developed a routine of swimming in the sea for 20 to 25 minutes then return to my beach chair to dry off in the sun’s warmth. I repeated this process for the rest of the afternoon until the sun dips close to the horizon.
The group of girls leaves me at 6 p.m. then the beach is mine. Totally mine.
I pick up my sandals and towel and decide to walk towards Esperanza in search of food and a place to watch the sunset.
Along the beach’s treeline, there are campers who are braving the ocean’s short for the evening. I am the only person walking the beach. I cross under an abandoned pier, now a weathered skeleton of what it once was.
A colorful staircase appears where the beach is completely swallowed up by the sea’s surging waves. The staircase opens to a stone boardwalk where vendors are selling jewelry made of sea glass and shells. On the opposite side of the street, there are restaurants and tour guide shops that offer Jeep rentals and boating tours.
The sun sinks deeper and is about the disappear behind the ridge where the lighthouse resides. The sky is painted in magnificent hues of purple and pink with a splash of orange, the same shade as the meat of a cantaloupe.
I watch the sun disappear under the Spanish-styled railings of the boardwalk. As Twilight emerges, the streetlights flicker on above.
I venture into the Lazy Pirate, a colorful Americanized bar and grill, that looks out onto the sea. I order pork tacos and the Puerto Rico famous Pina Colada.
The sky fades into deeper shades of purple, then blue, before making my way back onto the board to flag down a taxi to take me home.
Now to figure out how to get back to Colon.