Wednesday 3 Apr, SVI day 10: Scootering the beautiful island of Vieques.
So much for an early start, we eventually get ashore and on a rented scooter by 10am. At $55 a day plus tax, it’s not cheap, but we are compensated by an almost new scooter. No rattles, lose steering or vibrating brakes on this one. A real pleasure to ride, and we start thinking that maybe we should sell Horris-the-Harley and buy a good scooter this summer when we are home.
Before setting off we are warned on two things: lock the bike and also secure it to something solid with the provided bike cable-lock. They have apparently had 5 scooters stolen already this year! The second is to watch out for the wild horses, of which there are an estimated 10,000 on the island!
Our journey starts westwards along this south coast. Very quickly we are into the rural area and we start to see the horses, but not before we saw the horse poo, that is all over the road. Most are very skinny horses, and seeing the meager grass around, it’s not surprising. Goats, seen on most other islands, will eat anything but horses are more particular.
We pass Playa Negra which apparently is a must-see black sand beach. But having seen whole islands that only have black sand beaches, like St. Vincent, we don’t bother to investigate.
Further along we enter the western wildlife refuge area. In general, all the areas of the island that were US Navy bombing ranges up to 2008, are now designated as these refuge areas. Seems a bit of an irony that for years the poor wildlife must have been bombed to hell, and now it’s a refuge!
After passing a military radar station, the first beach in the area is long and backed by palm trees with a sandy road behind, making for a very nice off-road ride. No one on the beach. In fact we haven’t yet seen any person or vehicle since leaving the town!
After the beach, the dirt road heads inland and soon turns into a neat single-lane hard topped road. There is a complete network of them weaving all over the countryside, each one with a set of ex-military bunkers. Some with doors locked, one with doors open and piles of old computer equipment strewn all over the place and some open and completely empty inside. It’s an odd feeling seeing all these abandoned facilities. We wonder why they could not be put to civilian use. Each one would make a nice little business unit.
Around this part of the island everything is very lush green. This western end obviously gets all the rain. The narrow roads wind their way through lots of mature trees. And the horses have kept the undergrowth down, making it feel like we are riding through a manicured country park. A really nice place to ride. And again, no one about, anywhere. Wonderful.
At the western tip of the island the road stops at a “red” area boundary. According to a sign, the ex-military areas of the island are divided into “green”: clear for public use; “yellow”: public entry with caution; “red”: strictly no entry, extreme danger of unexploded ordnance. That same sign shows that where we had been anchored in Icacos Bay was a “red” area. Ooopsy!
There are a few people here on Arenas beach at this western tip of the island. It’s a small but very sheltered beach. We decide we will anchor here as a last stop before we head over to Puerto Rico.
Talking of which, there it is, with its mountainous outline, right in front of us as we look westwards. We can also see a wind farm covering a hillside. We thought it must be under construction because one pole was 1/2 built and another had just one wind blade installed while the rest didn’t have any blades. Later, we found out that it had been a working wind farm but it was destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. We always wondered why the islands don’t get power from the ever constant wind … here is the answer: because hurricanes knock them down! Come on you engineers, there has to be a solution to this!
Next we ride back eastwards along the north shore. Half way to Isabela II, the main town of Vieques, we come across and ride up a long man-made causeway that stretches at least one mile out to sea. This was made during WWII to shelter the entire allied Atlantic naval fleet, should Germany successfully invade Great Britain. Very interesting.
Now it is home to a new but dormant ferry terminal at the deepwater end of the causeway. Locals say this terminal was a project built with federal money using corrupt contracts and then never used. If true, it’s sad that these US owned islands suffer from similar-minded financial parasites as most other Caribbean islands do. Corruption really sucks the money out of all these islands it seems.
As we drove off the causeway and head east again, the grey clouds finally open up and we get absolutely drenched. Where is somewhere to shelter when you need it?
Just as the rain stops we find shelter when we come across a large open area with what must be over 100 horses hiding under a set of magnificent mango trees. And, just out of horses reach, each tree is laden with mangos! We jump up as high as we can and just about manage to pluck off some low hanging fruit. But after I successfully manage to feed these to a few horses, who love them, we have to pick more for ourselves. We are thinking of Thai green mango salad. Yummy.
After passing the small airport we start to enter Isabela II, the main town of Vieques. At first it’s the usual ramshackle assortment of buildings but as we enter the main old town we find it quite pleasant. In general very tidy and a definite Spanish flair to some of the buildings. There is also a large town square, which really reminds us of Spain.
Lunch today is at the recommended Mama Mia pizza restaurant. It’s not our best pizza but definitely generously loaded for the price.
After that we need to stroll the streets for a while to settle our food. And while doing so we notice that every single building has framed bars across doors and windows. Hm, are there really serious security issues on Vieques? None of the previous islands had such bars which make houses look like prisons. Yet, in all of them there was serious crime going on.
Next plan is to see if we can penetrate the eastern half of the island which is totally designated to wildlife refuge. We go up hills, down hills, along windy roads but each time our google-directions are thwarted by a fence. And during this time we encounter quite a few large lizards crossing the roads. They do have a very funny walk, especially when they are running!
Feeling defeated in our quest we head back towards the boat, then suddenly we unknowingly come across the main entrance to refuge! So in we go.
The roads, all ex-military, are perfect. They each lead to different beaches along the south coast. We visit a few, namely: Caracas, Tapon and Pata Prieta. Caracas is very organized with beach shades, BBQ areas, parking and toilets and has lots of people on it. Tapon turns out to be quite a walk off the road and Priete, or Secret beach, is more of a wild beach with no one on it. All having their own charm.
On the way back to the boat we stop briefly at the huge beach in Sun Bay, where we plan to anchor and have a beach day. But it’s now 6:30pm and officially closed, so no one there except the usual crowd of horses and foles who are munching at the thin layer of grass behind the beach.
Before we head back to Cloudy Bay we aim to stop in the bar Cafe Del Mar for a sunset drink. And for once, our drinks are served in proper glasses not plastic cups. Now that is luxury for us! And so we enjoy our drinks accordingly.
There are quite a few locals at the bar and we start chatting to them about life on the island. There is also a couple who came over for a day trip from their holiday on Puerto Rico and decided to stay the night. A pleasant enough couple until they started to push themselves on us to come aboard Cloudy Bay tomorrow. We made several obvious hints around the word “no” but the guy persisted, asking again and even saying they would be OK to accompany us all the way back to Puerto Rico. Some people have balls!
Needless to say, one drink turned into a few and we find ourselves being the last customers to leave at 10pm. Yes… they do close up early here!
The jetty we are tied to no longer has the decking top on it. It’s just lines of thin concrete joists on even thinner posts into the sea. In daylight these posed little problem to walk along. But in the darkness and a drink or two too many, balancing our way back out on the jetty was a challenge! But we made it without incident to the dinghy.
Where something is not quite right. The engine cover is no longer tight around the top of the engine cowling. We doubt it could have slipped off like that without meddling human hands. But nothing is missing. Maybe someone was scouting to see what make and size the engine is. Tomorrow we will put the dinghy on the other dock, closer to town, which should be more safe. Thank goodness we lock the outboard to the dinghy and the dinghy to the dock!
What a great day it’s been. We really loved scootering around this island and the evening was also very entertaining. Tomorrow will be a chill day.