I had a lot of trouble sleeping because of my cold and seasickness (oh no, it never goes away right away!), but I still got up at 9:15 feeling much better than I had on the ship. I went to make coffee, and we had breakfast on the patio. I was so happy to have decent Puerto Rican coffee, too.
We showered and got geared up for the beach, which required more work than you might think: we needed towels, cooler, beer, lots of water, some snacks, sunscreen, cold medicine and kleenex, and beach chairs (which we found in the closet at the hacienda). We piled all those things in the Jeep and headed toward Blue Beach, the one the people at the airport had liked the best.
I noticed when I turned the Jeep hard to the left that the steering wheel kind of caught, and I had trouble steering. I figured maybe that was just a Jeep thing, but I wasn’t sure. Driving that big bouncy thing around with vertigo was pretty entertaining, too.
The turnoff for the nature preserve was a few miles down the road toward Esperanza. From there it’s a few miles on a potholed, washboard road covered in horse poop, because there are wild horses wandering around everywhere. It’s fantastic.
There are a few beaches along the way, but we wanted to go to the one that was known for having signs about unexploded bombs. There was a mysterious detour along the way, near some mysterious gates with multiple ‘no trespassing’ signs. We got to the beach access road, and drove until we found a little parking area that had the fewest cars (there are 13 beach access spots, and apparently 11-13 have gazebos; they were the most crowded. We went to 7, right by the road closure.) There was a sign there warning us to stay on travelled paths, because otherwise we might be blown up by 1950s bombs. SERIOUSLY.
We’d been told by the people at the airport that theft was a problem at the beaches, with all those untended cars sitting around. The solution was to take everything with you, and just leave the windows of the car open so they didn’t get broken.
So, yeah, check out just how crowded Blue Beach was.
There weren’t any shady spots to be had, so we set up our beach chairs and cooler and covered ourselves in SPF 50. We cracked some beers and just hung out looking at the ocean. There was an island that was fairly close to shore, and there were signs all over it warning people to not go onto the island because of unexploded ordnance. (Pictured in the header above.) Snorkel boats were bringing people to swim at the reef right next to it, though.
We went to swim for a long time, which mainly consisted of bobbing around in the water. The temperature was perfect. After that we sat in our beach chairs again, and decided to cut open the mysterious fruit I’d picked up at the bodega the previous day. It turned out to be the world’s largest yellow avocado, so we ate that with a bag of plantain chips.
A guy named Brandon (who Matt termed the “one-man brodown”) showed up with three women, and they picked a spot far too close to us, since we could hear all the immense douchiness Brandon was broadcasting around the beach. We decided that was a good opportunity for us to go get lunch, so we packed up our stuff, threw it in the Jeep, and headed toward Esperanza. We met these horses along the way:
The town was about five miles or so from the entrance to the nature preserve, on the south side of the island. It was right in the middle of the lunch hour, so the tiny town was crowded. There were a bunch of food trucks and some trinket tents set up in the parking lot at the pier, and a few open-air restaurants facing the malecon. We drove slowly through town checking out our options, and had to go down a few blocks to find parking. We ended up parked next to Lazy Jack’s, a combination hippie restaurant and hostel. (I’d decided from their ad on the tourist map that I didn’t like it, but I really have no idea why.)
We wanted to have lunch at El Blok, a new Jose Enrique restaurant that was also illustrated on the map. It was about three blocks down the malecon, so we headed that direction. We rounded the corner to find the spot that El Blok would be, once construction was finished. It wasn’t even close. (Don’t ever change, Puerto Rico.)
We turned around and decided on Duffy’s (another place I’d judged as a crappy bro-bar based on their tiny ad on the map, but that wasn’t true at all; I don’t think that’s really possible in Esperanza). We got a seat, and were greeted by an awesome server. Their menu said they had the island’s largest selection of craft beers, and that was no joke; there were some selections from the Old Harbor Brewery that we’d visited in San Juan, and a beer fridge full of craft beer from all over the place. I ordered an Abita Turbodog and a veggie burger; Matt had a Stone IPA and a pastele with pork. (Pasteles are traditional Christmas food in Puerto Rico, but the server said they had the guy who made them chained up in the back because they were so good. The tostones were amazing, too.)
After his beer, Matt ordered the house special, the Parcherita, which was a passionfruit margarita with a salt and demerara sugar rim. I just tried his, since I had to navigate a Jeep on the world’s narrowest roads. Our server said people loved them so much that they’d had them as the cocktail at their weddings in Vieques. I couldn’t argue with that, because it was delicious.
By that point, I’d started to realize just how much Esperanza reminded me of Negril, just much tinier. It was really laid-back, everybody was friendly, there were locals drifting in and out of bars, and everywhere you looked there was an amazing view. Even better than Negril, it was clearly gay-friendly… there were rainbow flags everywhere. I was suddenly very, very happy to be there.
We wanted to stay all day, but we had more beaches to visit. We headed to the Jeep and made some phone calls, both to the house’s owner who was checking in, and to make reservations for the BioBay tour on Monday night. Esperanza was one of the few places on the island where we reliably had a phone signal, if not internet connectivity. The owner said the house had wifi and that we just needed to get the password off the router, but that it was also very common for the phone company to “accidentally” cut the lines for DSL, and it would take forever for them to repair it. I told him we’d check and let him know.
The Jeep was still having that weird steering issue every time I made a tight turn (like a u-turn, which I did a lot in Vieques), so I was going to call the car rental place to ask them about it. Matt suggested we just drive over there, since it was only a few miles away. Vieques is indeed tiny! We headed over there, along one of the roads that ran north-south across the island. The road was very windy and forested. We saw a couple places along the way that we wanted to stop – one was an awesome-looking bar with a corrugated aluminum roof, and one was the place we were planning to have dinner later.
We got to Maritza’s, and I stopped into the office to describe the steering issue with the Jeep. They summoned the mechanic, and he took it for a spin (literally) in the parking lot. He said it was just low tires, so they filled them up and we were on our way again. Everyone there was super-friendly, too.
On the way back, we decided to stop into Tin Box (the corrugated-roof place) for a drink. The parking lot was fairly empty, but it appeared to be open. We parked and as we walked in, a older lady working there barked “WE’RE CLOSED!” I asked when they’d be open, and she said “Tuesday”. As we left, there were a few people walking up in obviously wedding-related clothing, so we were pretty sure it was closed for a private event. (That would be the one crabby person we talked to on Vieques.) We got back on the road and headed to Red Beach/Caracas (every beach in Vieques has two names – a color, and a local name).
It was down the same road as Blue Beach, inside the nature preserve. It was “crowded” when we got there, in that there were probably 50 people on the entire beach. A lot of them appeared to be packing up to go, though, since for some reason morning is beach-time. There was a large group of hippie-looking people partying at the far end of the beach, and also there was a nun. A BEACH NUN. I was so excited.
We also saw Brazilian Derek Jeter strutting up and down the beach in his Speedo. He kept going in the water to splash his crotch. I have no idea, but it was pretty entertaining to watch. We hung out and had some beers, then went to swim until about 5:30.
This is my absolute favorite time of day on the beach, when the sun starts to get low:
When we’d been in the water long enough to get cold, it was time to head out. We very nearly had the entire beach to ourselves at that point, too. We dried off at the car, put clothes on over our bathing suits, and headed back toward Esperanza for dinner. When you’re on an island, you don’t have to be that classy. (I did tell Matt I thought we were under-dressed, but he disagreed.)
Next Course was on the road near Maritza’s, and I was glad we’d driven that way before, since we’d have to drive it in the dark. Between the narrow, curvy roads and the lack of street lighting, I was pretty wary of having to do that.
The place had a steep driveway going down to a hairpin turn to a parking lot, which had a line of four or five Jeeps that were basically identical to ours, all backed in to the spots. We did the same, laughing because the one next to ours was even the same exact color. The place wasn’t too busy yet, but it was small enough that reservations would definitely be required later in the evening.
They gave us a spot on the balcony, overlooking the line of Jeeps, a valley in the middle of the island, and the coast of Puerto Rico in the distance. It was hard to complain about that.
Their menu was excellent, both food and cocktails. It was sort of California-style Caribbean cuisine, with lots of local ingredients. I had broiled watermelon with goat cheese and radish greens, and Matt had oysters Rockefeller.
Then I ordered a wild mushroom pizza, and he got butter-poached lobster with crab risotto and fennel cream. We didn’t want dessert, but when the menu arrived, we noticed that one of the options was to buy the kitchen beers for a dollar apiece. Our server said there were four people working back there, so that seemed like a pretty solid investment for four bucks. They deserved it.
The place was pretty much full by the time we left, and Matt was right – there was a wide array of dress there, though people did tend towards fancier. (I was wearing a dress, at least.) When we got to the Jeep, I understood why everyone had backed in – the parking lot was full, and there were cars parked along the wall across from us. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to get the Jeep out of there, but after a few well-executed manuevers we escaped.
The drive back was as harrying as I’d expected. I was driving slow enough to have cars stacked up behind us, but I didn’t care. It was hard to navigate by landmarks at night, too, but luckily the road in Destino had some streetlights. We found the ramshackle, and decided to drive up to Colmado Mambo, the not-as-shady-looking bodega, for Barrilito and a few other things. As we passed the road to our neighborhood, there was a car sitting there with running lights but without its headlights on.
I pulled up in a spot out front, and Matt said he’d run in. I looked over at another vehicle parked there, and saw a bunch of faces looking at me. It was super-creepy, to the point where I was conviced we were going to be robbed. I decided to prepare for it, by hiding the only thing we could not lose: Bally Basketball. I put him under Matt’s seat and then played with my phone, not looking at them, til Matt FINALLY emerged from the store. It seemed to take forever.
He said that nobody in the store could be bothered to do anything, and that though there were a bunch of cars out front, there was no one in the store. I pulled out of the spot, passed the creepy van, and went to make a U-turn in the street just past the parking lot. Just as I did that, someone laid on the horn and freaked me out. I didn’t think they were honking at us (since we weren’t in anyone’s way), but then I remembered the headlight-less car waiting by our hacienda and decided that we were most definitely going to be murdered.
I was trying to figure out what to do if we got there and the car was still waiting, because the police station was most definitely behind us, and ahead was a whole bunch of marshy, empty area and the ocean. We were totally dead, and someone was going to steal Bally. I was so freaked out by the whole thing that I missed the turn by the ramshackle, and the car wasn’t even there anymore. Somehow we had CHEATED DEATH.
I didn’t tell Matt about this non-murder-plot til we were back in the house showering, because it was too embarrassing. He agreed that the people in the van were definitely shiftless and creepy, though!!
Our hacienda hadn’t been hard to find in the dark, so that made me feel better about driving around there, since our BioBay tour wasn’t until 10pm the next night.
We hauled our leftovers and other things into the house, did dishes from the previous night, and I started laundry. Then we went to play Moby Dick, the nerdiest card game ever, on the patio. It calls for a “measure of grog” to pass back and forth as an indication of whose turn it is, and Matt had conveniently purchased an actual half-gill measure at Nelson’s Dockyard in Antigua. Our nerdiness was absolute.
After our game, a moth flew up onto the patio and started flying all over the place like it was crazy. We decided it was horny, and headed inside before it attacked us anymore. While we were bringing our things inside, we discovered a little coqui that had taken up residence between the slats of the chair to spend the night. So cute!
Matt played an Indonesian drum in the house for a while (because why not?) and we went to bed around midnight. I was smart this time and took dramamine, which meant I slept far better. I still had my cold, but there was something about being on an island that made me barely even notice.