We just arrived home last night (1 am) from Vieques so everything is fresh in my mind and also very blurry due to lack of sleep, long day of travel and lack of luggage. Yes travelers, our luggage is still in Miami...sigh... We are supposed to leave on another vacation today to drive up to Northern Michigan (boyfriend's family for the week) but we have no clothes to wash and re-pack! Hopefully it will be here this afternoon so I have plenty of time to write my trip report!
First of all we went at the WRONG time so my trip report might not be so favorable and it's not due to the island itself but more the timing and the weather. We had to deal with lots of rain, high-HIGH humidity, very high temperatures due to both hurricanes going on last week and this week. We also had to deal with very high dust levels because of the Montserrat Volcano eruption. Mother Nature...sigh...
We arrived on July 4th, right after the "holiday weekend." It is a very big weekend with lots of people coming over from "the big island." A lot of restaurants were out of a lot of things and lots of places were closed. Also, no trash pick-up for 5 days (all workers off) and I've never seen so much GARBAGE in my entire life. Every place we went to was very littered (beaches, mosquito pier, in-town(s), roads, etc.) and there were tons of garbage bags everywhere and it got worse when the bags opened and spread all over the road. That made everything look so "trashy" and dirty and just plain ugly. I hear it's much better when you're NOT following a holiday! They still have a big litter problem but at least there is regular garbage pick-up. On the second day my boyfriend started taking pictures of the garbage because he thought I brought him there for all the "garbage monuments" - it became a running joke about our parking spot is next to the garbage. It really was bad and took away from the beauty of the island.
The animals on the island are incredible - horses, dogs, chickens, roosters, goats, cats, bulls, little scurrying critters all over the place! It's really cool and very fun but be careful because they are all over the roads (I use the term "road" loosely) and you watch out for them, they don't watch out for you. Luckily we never hit anything but we had an interesting bull encounter. We met a lovely male couple (just adorable!) at Maritza's car rental (very good, highly recommend) and we were warned about the bulls and to let them have their way and don't disturb them or try and go through or around them because they will "charge." Low and behold our first night out and we meet our first bull! There he is taking up the whole road just standing there like he's watching a movie or something. No movement whatsoever, just standing and standing and standing.... He finally moved towards the side of the road and I encouraged Chris (my boyfriend) to "go!" and he didn't but a car going the other direction did. This made the "leetle bull very angry" and he turned toward the car and grumbled and stomped then turned towards us standing right in front of our Jeep...face to bull face. Chris had the interior light on and I was politely encouraging (ok shrieking if you must know) him to turn the light off so the bull didn't think he was looking at dinner. He got comfortable and then just stood there staring at us. I called the restaurant (Trade Winds) and told them we are sitting in the road staring at a bull (we were already 10 min late) and we'd be there when we got there. We all just laughed and waited. Mr. Bull finally saw some of his bull friends trotting along side a fence and decided to join them so he moved along side our Jeep and slowly walked away. We were now on our way to a fabulous dinner!
Hix Island house was HORRIBLE. We arrived on Monday and stayed two nights. The concept is wonderful, the execution extremely poor. Just because you put up a cool concrete structure that basically takes care of itself doesn't mean everything else does. Everything was very dirty and in poor condition. Dishes/mugs were chipped, everything was rusted (due to being in open air all the time) and all the wood was very "weathered" and we even got splinters. We had two lounge chairs and a hanging bed (foam) as our furniture (loft 1) but they were left all sandy and dirty and had not even been touched since the last guests were there. The beach chairs and cooler bag were in the same condition - all sandy. Our bed was a big piece of foam, no mattress and it wasn't all that bad but you definitely knew you were sleeping on a piece of foam lol... The mosquito netting had lots of holes in it and they tried tying them back together but holes are holes. I don't think anything in the loft has ever been replaced which is a shame because it could have been in much better condition and quality. Everything was painted silver and it was all chipping off (windows, fan, refrigerator) so it just looked in poor condition. Upon arrival we had a chunk of bread and fruit in our room and we were starved (it was around 3:00 pm) and we were told we could go ahead and eat it as a snack and we'd have new bread and fruit for Tuesday morning. That never arrived. On Tuesday I asked about it and was told we'd get it replaced (also with juice) and it never arrived. On Wednesday we still had no bread, fruit or juices so that was a real disappointment as well. We also inquired about restaurants and making reservations and were told we'd receive the information we requested and never did. Also our reservation was never made so we just made our own after that. The pool was "aue natural" so it had turned into a dirty, green, growing pond. Dirt footprints were all over the bottom of the pool and nothing was ever "scooped off" the top. It was a great pond for insects and animals but not for people. We also noticed upon our arrival on Monday there were sheets and bed covers on the lines drying in the trees outside our loft. The SAME sheets and covers were still there on Wednesday when we left and after multiple storms and such I can't imagine them putting them on a bed but I'm sure they did and it was just their way of getting them closer to nature. I guess that's what Hix is all about - total nature and nothing else. Let everything rot and rust and chip and never replace or take care of anything and also give no food and service. Camping is MUCH MUCH BETTER because you can control and clean everything yourself! When we left my boyfriend said I'm so glad you never looked under the bed. I just about squirmed out of my skin thinking what was under there and he said it was a "bug cemetery" and there were just tons of dead bugs and insects (and giant palmettos) all over the place. They either went there to die or were swept under there...
On Wednesday we moved to Hacienda Tamarindo. I can't say enough good things about the place. Everything was fresh, clean, well-maintained and there were people working constantly on keeping it in tip-top shape. No hot water in the shower but who needed it? The pool was absolutely beautiful and so clean! When you were in the pool you also had the ocean view and it was just gorgeous. They served breakfast in the morning and it was just wonderful, you could order whatever you wanted. The owner, Burt was there and he is a very delightful man and is very on top of everything. Everybody that worked there was so pleasant and helpful and followed through with everything. Also, the air-conditioning worked so well and we were craving it after our Hix experience! Like I said it was SO hot and humid this past week it was nice to have some A/C at times. Barkley the dog and Shaboo the parrot were also a great addition to the guest house. It's a beautiful property and lovely place to stay - A+ and highly recommended!
Restaurants were overall very good. Trade Winds was our favorite and seemed to be everybody else's as well. Great food, service, staff, etc. I loved the local Dorado fish and my boyfriend became quickly addicted to the flank steak dish that was amazing. Bili was very good as well. The mahi-mahi was so incredible with a mango, red pepper chutney served over a pumpkin (and some other root vegetable) puree - every bite was heaven! The table next to us (giant group of teenagers) ordered the red snapper and it was quite a site. Chris even took a picture, it was quite amusing. They deep fry the entire fish and serve it in a circle with the rice and beans and such in the middle - truly spectacular and I hear quite good! A little too much for me with the eyeballs and bones lol... Banana's was fun - very typical tropical bar with bar food but all was very good. Hit Al's for drinks, it's great and Al is quite a character. Mamasonga's in Isabel is DELICIOUS and huge portions! Go there for breakfast or lunch, you'll love it. Very reasonable, fresh and large portions. I got the vegetable quesadilla for lunch one day and Chris had the burger - they were truly delish! Also quite huge...go hungry! There are also little stands and tiny spots you can pop in for local Caribbean delights. Try the mofongo, tostones and amarillo's - all different plantain recipes and wonderful! My boyfriend got addicted to Arepas but who doesn't love fried bread! Yum! Definitely no food problems, all is very good! Service is generally good but be patient a lot is cooked to order and everything is very SLOW there. Definitely worth the wait though - SLOW SLOW SLOW and relaxed...drink and relax...
The Tiki Hut in Esperanza - GREAT sandwiches for beach trips. We had awesome chicken salad sandwiches and wraps. It's a new owner and he's really trying hard to build his business and he's doing a great job, he's such a nice guy with great, quality food!
We also went to the Crow's nest for happy hour on Tuesday. Lots of fun and anybody that is visiting on the island will BE THERE. Stay for dinner at Island Steak House - great place and real nice owner. At happy hour they give you a playing card and at the end if they draw your card you don't have to pay! Unfortunately it wasn't the 7 of spades that night...sigh... Seems like we tried not paying, the owner tracked us down at Taverna Espanol afterwards and Chris thought I paid, and I thought he paid! lol...can't get away with anything on the island - they will find you! Not that we were trying, we just both thought the other one had taken care of it, they didn't really do much to "collect." Very funny...
Our day trip on Wednesday for Bio-Bay was cancelled due to the weather. We were able to reschedule to Thursday night for the 2 hour kayak trip to bio-bay. We went with Abe's and it was very bad, I'd NEVER recommend him to anybody. Abe was leaving for Florida so we never met him and he sent somebody else to take us out. He was extremely late (over 30 min) as we watched all the other bio-bay trips go by but the timing all worked out. He didn't tell the other family to have transportation so we gave them a ride to the bio-bay, no way they could walk! We wound up taking them home as well, certainly couldn't leave fellow tourists stranded! Our guide didn't give us much guidance so we all grabbed our kayaks and headed out. He had told us to put our valuables (keys, wallets, cameras, phones, etc) in the dry bag but LEFT the dry bag on the beach! It totally ruined the trip for my boyfriend and myself because we were miserable knowing all of our important belongings could be gone. He did kayak back to the beach but no luck on finding them. He kayaked over to the boat tour and the guide there said the bus driver has it and told us we would get it when we got back. We were still uncomfortable about that and the mood was ruined. One couple didn't care because they had nothing in the bag lol... The worst part was the guide didn't take any responsibility and BLAMED IT ON US! He said he wasn't responsible for our belongings and it was our fault they were left back. I spoke up (how unusual!) and told him he was our GUIDE and if he didn't want to be responsible he should have given the bag to Tourist X and told them to hang on to it. We were out there in the dark not knowing what the heck to do or what was going on and he was supposed to be the LEADER and guide for us and we were definitely disappointed. We did get our valuables back and all was well in the end. The bio-bay itself is AMAZING! You must see it! (Just don't go with Abe's) Everything glows and flashes and it's quite a site to see, you get mesmerized with the water and every drop and sparkle you can't get enough of. Definitely don't miss this one! We went on a no moon night, perfect. Abe's E- rating and below 0 on the scale...NO NO NO....
We went sailing on Thursday morning with Captain Bill. He's indescribable and quite a character! His boat is a total mess and has seen better days (along with everything else) but sea-worthy and dependable. This man knows his sailing, knows his waters, knows his fish and coral and will take you to places you can't see by car and tell you things you'll never hear anywhere else. I highly recommend going with Capt Bill, it's an adventure you won't forget! We were the only two people on the boat and took the 1/2 day trip out to a reef and sailed around a bit. Unfortunately the weather wasn't so great so you couldn't see very far or the other islands (Culebra, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas) very much, just faint little specks here and there. It was due to the storms and the dust from the volcano. I had an asthma attack in the middle of snorkeling and couldn't breathe anymore and had to go back to the boat. Capt Bill was so helpful with the "incident." He really wanted me to see this large coral we were heading too so badly and we had gone so far to get there he didn't want me to miss it but I just couldn't make it - I totally couldn't breathe at all and it was getting to a very bad point. He came back and held my hand all they way back to his boat and made sure I was ok and they went back out snorkeling with Chris. He was very calming and I felt at ease with him. I sat on the deck and coughed and gasped and wheezed the entire time they snorkeled and saw fish, coral and even a shark. When they returned Capt Bill showed me a photo album of everything I missed and told me to put my mask back on and he'd throw water on me so I could have a virtual snorkel experience of the things I missed. It really was funny. I couldn't figure out what had happened and why until we were on the way home the woman next to me on the plane was coughing the whole trip. She was also asthmatic and said because of the extremely high dust levels on the island it was making her cough and have a sore throat and that's exactly what happened to me - it was all the dust in the air and through that snorkel I guess it was too much and I had an asthma attack and no inhaler! On the way back my boyfriend got seasick and threw up the whole way back and went through a variety of shades of red, white, blue, green, etc. I think it was due more to the rum and cokes the night before than the ocean... It was quite a sailing trip!
To experience the island you really need a Jeep, a map and lots of time to just explore and poke around. When you see a hole or road go on it and investigate! That's how we found the grounds for the "Puerto Ferro Man" that has now become Vieques version of Stonehenge and a sacred place they cherish. Giant boulders, ancient burial grounds and a eerie but calm feeling in the air. A place to see if you can. You can view it as a bunch of big rocks or really get the feeling of life on the island in the times before us. There is no markings to get to it anymore but it is located close to Sun Beach and the road is marked with big concrete pillars that have vertical lines and circles in the top of them. There used to be a sign in the middle (how they got that out I have no clue!) but it's gone and is only marked with the posts - go down the road!
The beaches are amazing. I wish we had found the beach with the sea glass but we never did. Just not enough time for everything. Navio beach was my favorite (when it wasn't filled with giant waves, rain and everything blowing!) and the water is an amazing color of blue/green. Media Luna is wonderful as well as Red Beach. Green Beach is on the other side of the island and I hear wonderful in the morning but in the afternoon full of biting bugs! We went mid-day in the middle of a rain storm (just exploring) and finally the rain stopped and bugs swarmed us like we were a buffet in a matter of seconds. Truly a beautiful beach but go in the morning or armed with bug spray and covered in armor!
Lots of remnants of the Navy and it's so sad they didn't clean up and take everything off the island. Tons of razor wire everywhere on the roads and you'll see all sorts of Naval sites. We didn't venture into the bunker areas or anything like that - again only so much time and fighting the elements.
We were very happy we took Vieques Air Link over and not the ferry due to the long ride and the HOT, humid weather. It was about a 20-25 minute flight and well worth it. We went from Isla Grande (only $86 RT compared to $156 from SJU!). The trip over was a nicer plane with air conditioning but still very small. My giant 6' 7" boyfriend was crammed in like a sardine. We encountered some bad weather and squalls but felt very safe and made it no problem. Going back we had an even smaller plane (giant boyfriend went from sardine to contortionist and giant snail), no air and it had looked like it might be it's last flight but we still made it no problems. It was also incredible to see everything from the air, definitely glad we flew - well worth it!
We spent the first night in Old San Juan. We stayed at El Convento and loved it. Very charming little place, just beautiful. We had dinner at their tapas restaurant, El Picoteo and it was just wonderful! I had the best Mojito (ok, make that plural) I've ever had in my life and I've tried a lot of Mojito's! Completely FRESH ingredients, no mixes and spectacular. Every sip the mint just swirls around in delight and makes you tingle all over - definitely not a "one drink" drink! The service and food was very good and the place was so beautiful but very HOT. It was very conveniently located and we walked around and found a cute little bar afterwards and met some locals and hung out there way too late but it was so fun and well worth it! El Convento is just wonderful, definitely consider it you'll savor every moment. I wish we had planned more time in Old San Juan and were able to see more of the island but that's the way it goes... We did walk over to the fort in the morning and it was spectacular as well as the views (unfortunately so darn hot we thought we were going to melt or spontaneously combust!)
Like I said in the beginning, the weather and the timing had a lot to do with the trip but overall Vieques is a wonderful little island and the people are so friendly and nice and there are lots of stories to be heard. The island is so small you see the same locals and visitors every day and night so you get to know everybody quite quickly and that makes it special and fun.
I've covered a lot but if anybody is still awake and has any other questions or comments I'd be more than happy to answer!