Island Hopping Part 2 - Birthday on Vieques

May 08, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Continued from here....


The following day was my birthday and the treats started coming right at the airport.  Flights from San Juan to Vieques are on tiny puddle jumpers that have very strict weight limitation.  The first flight out was delayed because of exceeded capacity and I was so happy that the Mann had booked a later flight (as the group from the first flight was still waiting for a resolution).  We were in a zombie apocalypse area of San Juan airport and stressed that there was going to be an issue with our flight as well.  But minutes before our scheduled takeoff, we were called and taken onto the tarmac to meet our (lady!) pilot and craft.  My first treat came: I got to sit up front with the pilot.  I'm not sure if it was actually a birthday treat or just the proper weight distribution, but I'm calling it a treat.  I had a great view of the coast line and was even able to see Fajardo, where we spent a few days last year.  We flew over the water for a few minutes and then landed at one of the smallest airports I've ever seen.  The whole trip took about 20 minutes.  We got off the plane, walked over to the "terminal" and waiting for the car rental company shuttle.  Within about 10 minutes, we were picked up, brought over to Maritza's Car Rental and were in our Jeep about 15 minutes later.  The whole process was pretty smooth and quick, even by island-time standards.  

The airport and car rental are on the north side of the Island and our hotel was on the south in Esperanza so we headed out for our first Vieques driving experience.  The streets are narrow and hole-y but that just added to our adventure.  It took about 15 minutes to get to our beautiful hotel, El Blok on El Malecon, the main drag of Esperanza.  El Blok is a contemporary cement structure that is as much a piece of art as a building.  At three stories, it is the tallest hotel in the area (more on that later).  It is eco-friendly, human-friendly, unique, welcoming, chill, beautiful and so much more.  We quickly checked in with our new friends in the lobby and headed up to our room.  The Mann hit one out of the park again.  The rooms at El Blok are minimalist and playful.  No TV, no phone, just a huge bed, a little bathroom with a very clever shower and a spectacular wrap-around balcony perfect for afternoon lounging and creative photoshoots (which I'll post about in detail soon!).  

photo courtesy of El Blok

After settling in, we headed back out to explore the island.  Vieques was occupied by the US Navy from 1941 until 2003 which, sadly, made much of the island uninhabitable due to environmental pollution an unexploded munitions.  Along with the occupation, the beaches of Vieques were renamed with colors (Seriously?! Is it that hard to learn a few Spanish words??).  Our first beach stop was at Green Beach/Punta Arenas on the Western tip of the island.  The drive to most of Vieques's beaches is an adventure on its own along tight dirt roads.  We stopped at a stretch of beach near a Radar Station.  The beach was practically deserted and very beautiful.  But the surf was pretty strong and it was quite buggy on the sand so we explored for a quick moment and continued on in search of other treasures, such as the 300+ year old Cieba tree near Mosquito Pier.

 

We had read about a series of old bunkers in the jungle and found them pretty easily.  They are in the same area as Punta Arenas down even more deserted and more narrow roads.  We had a moment in the deepest part of the reserve where we weren't sure if we'd make it out.  The road barely fit the car and the surround trees definitely didn't. We scratched up the car which, luckily, the car rental company didn't care about.  A pack of horses hung out with us during the drive and were not phased at all by our presence.  

Our next stop was an abandoned sugar mill that is right off the road near the bunkers and has been taken over by the jungle.  Nothing has been restored or preserved so we explored tentatively without going too deep.  I can't wait to go back with better shoes, clothes and hydration.  

With our adventure fix satisfied, we headed back to El Blok for our first sunset on the island.  We soon learned that the entire town seems to come to El Blok for the spectacular view, friendly bartenders and weekend music (a band on Saturdays and DJ on Sundays).  We made some new friends from Vermont (everyone in PR seems to be either a local or from New England) and lazily enjoyed the evening.  The band was great and drew a local crowd and the DJ was perfection, timing Michael Franti's Sound of Sunshine as the sun dipped behind the horizon and then getting the crowd up for a night of dancing.

Esperanza's main drag, El Malecon, is filled with guest houses, restaurants and bars that are all directly across from a long stretch of beach on which rests a wrecked, rusty boat.

We planned to try each bar and restaurant, but soon found a favorite that we couldn't get enough of, Banana's.  Banana's is a beachfront grill with indoor/outdoor seating and is attached to a guesthouse.  The atmosphere is very casual and the food in fresh, well priced and delicious!  I kept going back for their tropical salad that I have tried to recreate at home but can't seem to get right.  And, of course, the Mann got fish tacos which were made with the lightest batter we've ever tried.  Similarly, Duffy's, right next door offers open air, casual bites perfect for lunch or drinks.  They have several big tables that are great for groups.  We also enjoyed Bili, still casual, but less so than Banana's and Duffy's with a more refined menu, especially at dinnertime.  Their pulled pork empanadas blew my mind.  We were also repeat guests at Belly Buttons for delicious breakfast sandwiches and chats with the staff.

Finally, the food at El Blok is fantastic.  Continental breakfasts and gourmet dinners are offered in the mail lobby area and lunch and afternoon snacks are available on the rooftop.  We had my birthday dinner at the restaurant downstairs and we were both fully impressed with our meals, especially the signature taste of everything coming off the mesquite grill.  Wow.


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