Thursday, July 31, 2014

Vieques Vacation - for lovers of the wild Caribbean, families and peace seekers

vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comVieques is a wonderful, off-the-grid vacation spot for laid-back, outdoorsy families. Long held by the United State as a military base used for practicing tactical procedures, the island, 8 miles east of Puerto Rico remained off the tourism grid for most travelers for decades. As a result, the canopy is as lush now as it might have been when pirates still trolled the Caribbean in search of plunder.

vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comAnd the charm of Vieques is in the wildness of it. The verdure of the overgrowth and the ruddiness of the roads together offer the immediate sense of truly having left civilization. The unmarked and uninhabited beaches, the wild horses left behind by Spanish conquistadors some 500 years ago, the roosters and dogs and mongoose that populate every shady bend and beach let you know you had totally “dropped out”. It’s no wonder so many hippie ex-patriots and LGBT couples have found their way here. It’s a zen heaven for peace seekers and nature lovers. And now that the Navy is gone and the world has smartened up about paving  the planet, I suspect it will stay the same. It’s clear, commercialization has no business here.
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In fact, be prepared to pack everything you will need when venturing to the beach, as they are all completely spare of the tee-shirt and jewelry wallahs you’ll find on pretty much every other Saint Somewhere. You can’t even buy water and there are no toilets, nor are their formal parking areas save for the one at Sun Bay. You simply park your 4wd Jeep roadside and follow a path to one of
vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.com100 breathtaking coves, assuring you that the inconvenience of letting go your need to be herded and directed is totally worth a glimpse of those very spots buccaneers and privateers likely used as stopovers on their way to terrorize the colonies and the islands. Secluded, calm, rife with sea life for easy snorkeling and covered in wild overgrowth to create your own cabana, these beaches are the most beautiful and peaceful I’ve ever visited. Orchid and Blue, were runners up for #2 on the many we visited but Secret Beach, a recommendation from our property manager, Joe, was hands down the most perfect spot. We went there a few times. You should too. Guide to Vieques Beaches

vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comAnd speaking of property managers and property, in general, Joe and pretty much everyone else we met assured us of two things – if you leave your Jeep unlocked on the deserted roads by the beaches, you won’t lose your windows. And if you deadbolt your rental, you won’t lose your belongings. Opportunist crime is the only you really need to worry about. The dirt from the unpaved roads can be a drag, but the hard hit on your credit card if your rental is vandalized is much worse. 

vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comBut don't let the opportunist crime warning give you a bad taste. We found the Viequenses to be quite friendly and very helpful. Residing within the residential neighborhoods of Esperanza made for an inclusive feel. We walked daily from our rental La Vista Caribena to the local bakery and bodega for bread, beer and pastries. My parents rented a similar spot within walking distance, neighboring a local tour operator and a former chief of police. On several occasions we were assisted by the locals, one lead us, in his car, to the destination we couldn't find and another served us fried fish and johnny cakes on the beach as part of the Loaves and Fishes tradition from the Bible on Easter Sunday. We ate, shopped, drank and swam with the locals and found them all to be very, very nice folks.
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In terms of getting around, though the beaches are a spread out, and the drive is slow because of the road conditions and the abundant wildlife you've got to watch for, our rental location was super convenient to the Malecon, Esperanza's boulevard bustling with local eateries, water sports, shops and nightlife, well, as bustling as this little village gets, which was just fine with us.You could go car-less and swim in the cove at the Malecon and have everything you needed within walking distance. We opted to rent because we wanted to see everything and the good beaches, well, they are worth the rental price to get you there.
vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero
We cooked at home most nights while prepping beach lunches (grilling and swilling to the sound of the
vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comjungle is not so rough). As travelers with kids, we typically get our groceries on the island but bring proteins along with us (I order from Omaha Steaks and hit McKinnon's in Danvers, MA). As long as the bags are sealed tight, not opened along the way and you keep ice packs inside, the freezer bag makes it solidly frozen to most island destinations. Foreign meat cuts can be a challenge, as we spoiled Americans are accustomed to having everything trimmed down to the easiest, leanest possible form. The more
remote the island, the more expensive and less convenient are the grocery items. Our grill was charcoal on this trip, which definitely slowed the process of preparing a meal - I'd rent this house again if they upgraded to gas.

vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comThere's a big supermarket and the best fruit comes from the Fruit and Tire Store, no joke. The owner will lead you into what seems like a scene from a mob movie, a reefer truck driven straight up the the back of the bay full of beautiful produce. He isn't trying to ice you. He's just showing you the freshest wares.

The few times we did venture out (I am a foodie and I need to have SOMETHING to talk about in the way of local cuisine), we were very pleased. Here are our favorite spots for nosh:

Belly Buttons, in Esperanza
Owner Craig Button proudly displays his well-fed jolly girth and proclaims it the venue' namesake.The barbecue at Belly Buttons is THE BEST I'VE EVER HAD. Sticky ribs fell off the bone and smoky, sugary glazed chicken had us licking the bones clean. We washed it all down with coconutty Pain Killers (one of my favorite
island drinks).If you love bbq you will go back twice. We did. Breakfast here is the bomb, as well. Giant fried egg sandwiches are served on
slightly sweet local bread. For the kids, they have ice cream cones. It's also a great spot for people watching. We witnessed the filming of an episode from the HGTV House Hunters International, the second time they've covered the island. We recognized the stars of the first in the audience that night. I'd run into them at the market as well. It's a very small island.

vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comBuen Provecho, in Isabella Segunde
This is GOURMET HEAVEN for foodies on an out-island. The island's gourmet provisioner offers fruit, bread, sauces, house made charcuterie and house cured sandwich meats. They also carry wine and have an espresso and cocktail bar within the shop so you can sip whiles you wait. Sandwiches here are the tastiest, most eclectic beach lunch on the island. I LOVED my lunch.

La Viequense Deli, in Isabella Segunde
vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comThis bakery is the source for that sweet fresh local bread you'll find all over the island as toast, crostini and for sandwiches. The faint sugary quality is not so pronounced as in Portuguese sweet bread or Nissu, or Anadama. It's far more subtle, which makes it suitable for both sweet and savory meals. Sandwiches here are also terrific for para llevar lunching. Note that they only take cash, they do have an ATM and there are two separate lines - one for ordering food and the other just for bread, which presumably services the island's entire restaurant industry.

Chicken King, on the road to Isabella
Always packed day and night, Chicken King is like homemade Kentucky Fried with all the Caribbean bbq accompaniments. I don't know what the seasoning is, but it takes Finger Lickin Good to a whole new level. We grabbed a bucket to share over a game of dominoes at the house and although we all hit it hard, there was still enough in the fridge at bedtime to lure one or two of us from our rest to grab another piece. They also have really tasty ice cream.

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Esperanza Riding Company
vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero
THIS DRESS (on the left)
The world's most beautiful equestrians offer the island's most comprehensive instructional tour on horseback. Our group felt very well informed and well taken care of as this trio led us on a 3 hour tour of beach and jungle. And what a way to spend Easter morning! We hit a black sand beach, mucked through gullies and climbed above the canopy. The male guide looked and sounded just like Matthew Mcconaughey. And his name was Matt McCoy. T-shirts available for sale befit the cowgirl beauties with slogans like, "Well behaved women seldom make history". I wouldn't ride anywhere else. Just don't.

Stand Up Paddleboard/Snorkeling
vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comOur SUP trip was a bit of a fiasco, through no fault of the family snorkle and SUP rental company who's name I CANNOT REMEMBER because of the PTSD I'm experiencing from that day that set us up in Esperanza. Walking down from our villa to avoid having to resolve for an unlocked car and an expensive-to-replace electronic jeep key, we brought our cash and the rental key in a sandwich bag, which my husband promptly dropped, in the ocean. The paddling was fun, if choppy up till I needed to obtain
vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comsnorkeling gear to scour, with the help of 20 young Viequenses, the cove in front of the Malecon. Alas, the search for Los Llaves Perdidos was futile, much to the chagrin of one toothy smiling youth who requested "one hundred money" as reward for the return of our keys and the $40 that sank with them. Fortunately, the island is small and everyone knows everyone so the rental shop keepers knew how to get in touch with our property managers (our phones were also locked in the villa), who met us within 20 minutes of calling the search quits. Bad day, nice people. An opportunity to experience human kindness. I'll call it a win.

Funky Beehive
I want to go back to Funky Beehive just to buy stuff. Super hip, island comfy gorgeous clothing in this sweet little shop operated by a former east coast school teacher. The dress I bought here was around $50 and it gets more oohs and ahs than most other ropas in my closet. And, the owner is an absolute doll.

Lucky 1 Pallet
vieques puerto rico review jennifer amero 90secondsandvelvet.blogspot.comRe-purposed pallets become funky furniture. The owner is from California and her work made me take about 2000 pictures. Not convenient for shipping but if I lived here my whole space would be tricked out with her work. I'd DEFINITELY stop by.

Jet Blue is our totes fave for Caribbean travel. Several direct flights run from Boston to San Juan daily. From there it's a choice. Either stay in San Juan overnight, grab and early taxi to the Lanchas ferry dock in Fajardo and prepare to wait in lines designed for cattle until the very rough crossing on the island's only ferry can be made for a couple bucks (maybe $5 each way). Here's a link with information and complaints. Read it and then fly.Fajardo to Vieques Ferry

OR grab a charter or small commercial flight out of San Juan for considerably more but spare the cost of taxi and hotel and precious wasted vacation days you'll spend in transit on either end.. Several small airlines operate between the islands and chartering often means you pay the same price but pick your times.

 Airlines that fly from Puerto Rico to Vieques
 I HIGHLY recommend spending the money to fly. We took the ferry over after a couple days visiting the historical sites on the main land and knew before we docked that we were flying back. Life is short. Vacation is shorter. YOLO.

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