How do you write about travel when you’re not traveling? We’re sequestered. Our wings are clipped. Definitely a fallow period. Here are a few memories of our favorite places while we wait to continue our travels (we hope) later in 2021. Let’s go!
No wonder Hunter S. Thompson adored this place – this is gonzo living. Wild horses, dogs and roosters rule. Pelicans circle overhead. Fragrant street food is sold at rickety roadside stands. Hibiscus flowers grow to the size of dinner plates. A few lazy sea turtles paddle past as we arrive, which we consider a sure sign of welcome and good fortune.
Our first glimpse of the Caribbean is profound. The sea goes from greeny blue to bluey green with a solid line of deep turquoise at the horizon. The shallow tide laps gently at the shore leaving the beach soft and clean. Tiny sand-colored crabs wear their eyes on top of their heads like Ricky Martin wears his sunglasses.
Breakfast of Champions
Our potent morning cocktails are as friendly and uncensored as Ricki, our server. Her partner, Lyman, stands behind the bar grinning like a fox. Ricki says Lyman honed his technique in St. Thomas or was it Paris or maybe San Francisco which we discuss in great depth with a lot of early morning vigor.
When we pile back into Bill’s white beater with cups of rum punch we’re ready to begin a fine day of sightseeing and tales of love, honor and tragedy from before any of us were married or even house-trained.
We keep the magic going at the farmer’s market where we sip, savor and explore. We grab colorful tropical blooms from Lali, the flower queen of Vieques, which brighten the boot of Bill’s island beater. She gives us prickly island soursop fruits for a special gonzo blender drink. The fruit is ugly – really kind of forbidding – but we’re already thinking about the rum.
Eat, drink, nap, repeat.
Today’s conch fritters are deep fried balls of chewy sea heaven with garlic aoli. “Lechon,” the island’s legendary slow-roasted pork, is tender and falling-off-the-bone. Succulent. We pick up our pre-ordered pork at 7:00 a.m. — a warm, weighty, foil-wrapped packet. It lives up to the pre-dawn hype, wow.
Salads here are sort of a bore, okay, but island fruit is wildly sweet and almost extraterrestrial-looking.We enjoy legendary rice and beans from Shaunaa’s, and avoid Puerto Rico’s ubiquitous “mofongo,” deep-fried yucca mash. We stalk delicious roadside ceviche, muy bien! and wash it all down with plenty of Medallo beer.
Don’t miss Siddhia Hutchinson’s gallery — those are her roosters at the top. At Gallery Galleon, Pablo Neruda’s poems are reimagined by artist Richard Giglio in stunning poem-paintings. “May whatever breaks be reconstructed by the sea with the long labor of its tides.” The work is huge, unforgettable, glorious.
The Way Life Should Be
We visit Becki’s friend Min at her beautiful island home, and it starts to dawn on me that a person can have a pretty refined life in this eclectic tropical paradise.
We especially love Min’s pool with ironwork ceiling open like a basket to the sky. Her bed, painted with calla lilies and draped in mosquito netting, isn’t bad, either. If I ever decide to grow up, I vow to capture Min’s relaxed Boho vibe.
The Wild Isle
Bill’s natural curiosity and joie de vivre make him an outstanding tour guide. Our rambles include a crumbling sugar plantation with rusty cauldrons, antique brick and stonework, a jungle hike through lush trees with giant termite’s nests the size of Volkswagons, and best of all, a tangled woodland trek where we see a sensitive wild fern that curls like a ticklish child at the touch of a finger.
All this local color is followed by a posh lunch at the W Resort (Bill loves contrast), where I enjoy an outstanding octopus salad. The outdoor dining room is posh and breezy. Nice. It’s Dave’s birthday and our celebration includes many more Medallo and a game of beach bocce. Bill lets Dave win – it’s his birthday. The word “bromance” leaps to mind as I watch the two of them bobbing amiably in the turquoise surf.
A hairy coconut sits next to me and bit of teal fishnet sways, occasionally obscuring the view from my little “bohio” beach shack. I’m too lazy to push it out of the way.
Becki finds a spiky little sea urchin, and we feel like the 21st century chick version of Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday.
A Touch of Spice
The mysterious blender drink from Lali’s prickly soursop fruit is cool, milky and eponymously sour. Bill adds vanilla, cinnamon and of course, rum, which makes it vastly more interesting.
We sip and admire the graveyard across the street with its jumble of white monuments like sugar crosses in the sun. Beyond, it’s sparkling Caribbean blue all the way to San Juan. Ah.
With its vibrant views and a relaxed, hipster vibe, the wild-isle of Vieques is perhaps one of the best kept gonzo secrets of the Caribbean — a boho paradise. •