Trip 34 -- Vieques Walk
Day 3: Destino to Esperanza
Friday, November 18, 2022
Today: 15457 steps/12.14 km/7.54 mi/2h 22m
Total: 61457 steps/49.17 km/30.55 mi/9h 12m
The Isla Hermosa's peacock and four cats watched me prepare to leave the property. The cats always seemed to be vaguely attempting to block my path but with the acknowledgement that they had no ability to do so, like a bad football defense. The peacock looked in as I removed my remaining belongings from the refrigerator in the common room. When I opened the door to exit, all the animals scattered.
It's a good thing I was walking, because a maintenance crew had cut down a tree, which was now blocking the access driveway. A car would have had a long wait, but I climbed around easily. I rejoined the main road south, following yesterday's route to the wildlife refuge. At one ungated house I thought I might have to deal with the large black dogs guarding the porch, until I saw that they were goats.
A car stopped in front of the remains of a building entrance. I knew that farther west were the ruins of a sugar plantation, and I asked whether this was something similar. No, he said, it was a sports complex that had been almost completed but never used. The entryway was now open and overgrown all the way back to the main building.
He offered me a ride, as did someone else. Another driver asked where I was going. No other island has been this concerned with getting me to my destination safely. Or were they suspicious of this newcomer? Could they have taken me for one of "los de ahora," someone scouting out a bit of land to scoop up and use for income?
Whatever the case, they were friendly and accepted "I'm just walking" as an answer. I hoped I might take the dirt road south and reach the bioluminescent bay at Puerto Mosquito, and then find a shortcut to Sun Bay Beach, but I was deterred by a puddle at the outset, which would have repeated the shoe-soaking experience from El Yunque.
Instead, I continued on the main road and came to the sign, emblazoned with the flowery lettering of a carnival sideshow, marking the site where a man's remains were found in 1991. "Area Arqueológica -- Hombre de Puerto Ferro. Represents Archaic Culture with 4,000 years of antiquity."
That's all there was by way of captioning, however. The dirt track brought me to a field of boulders, whose presence was just enough to provoke curiosity. No one knows how they came to be there; there's no similar set elsewhere on the island. It was in the center of the circle of boulders, now occupied by trees, where the remains of a skeleton thought to be 4000 years old were discovered.
It was also a nice opportunity to enjoy the shade for a few minutes before continuing to the main entrance to Sun Bay. Here I turned left and past a horse pasture before reaching the beach. Two men were picking fruit off a tree, biting it and then throwing it away.
"What's it called?" I asked.
"Noni," one answered. "Good for the health, but...stinky."
I picked one myself. It was green and looked like a knobby version of a pear. I bit into it. It didn't reek, but it was horribly bitter. I didn't swallow it.
I continued past the beach, taking the gravel road into seclusion and across puddles that were just barely passable if I picked my way along the side, hanging onto tree branches.
It's from the end of this road, a small, stony launch area with clear water similar to La Platita's, that the boats leave for trips around Vieques's bioluminescent bay, which is even brighter than the one at Fajardo on the main island. A driver had approached me asking for directions to Media Luna Beach. I had looked it up -- "Just follow this road to the left and bear right" -- and she'd asked whether I'd been there.
"No," I'd said. "This is my first time."
"First time on Vieques? This is my fourth. You have to go to the bio bay. Fajardo doesn't even come close. We saw a stingray, all lit up. May I turn my car around?" she'd finished, instructing me to move and then being the one person I might have thought would offer me a ride, when she saw me clutching shrub limbs to avoid falling into the mud puddles, but didn't.
I retraced my way out of Sun Bay and soon reached the left turn toward Esperanza, the smaller of Vieques's two main towns. A boardwalk, or malecón, runs along the water, with restaurants on the inland side of the street. Only one, La Nasa, is on the beach side, and according to Prof. Galanes, it's the only one that's Viequense-owned. However, it wasn't open for lunch.
In my effort to support Viequense-owned businesses, I headed a long block inland, to Rancho Choli. I placed my order at the entrance and found a seat next to a boxing team from the Bronx that was in town for a match tomorrow. They had ordered all of the chicken, but I wanted fish anyway: an enormous whole fried yellowtail snapper, with rice, beans, and passion-fruit juice -- the place is nestled among passion-fruit vines.
I rested at the Vieques Guesthouse and then headed down to the malecón for a sundowner or two. La Nasa was still deserted, and the two nearest places -- Bananas and Duffy's -- seemed to take great pride in diluting the sunset experience.
"May I sit upstairs?" I asked at Bananas.
"No," he said flatly.
"Will it be open later?"
"It'll be open later in the season."
"Just for crowds, then?" I respected that opening the balcony would mean more work for the staff, but why not capitalize on having the best sunset view?
"It'll be open when we need it."
The exchange felt very "los de ahora," I thought as I headed next door to Duffy's.
Here the bar area didn't face the water -- this was fine -- but all the shades were drawn, as though the diners were determined to enjoy Esperanza as long as they didn't have to watch the sunset.
A little farther west, at Lazy Jack's, I found an outward-facing seat where the sun wasn't blocked by vegetation and settled in with a rum punch. Just as the sun was disappearing, a man approached me.
"Have you seen the green flash?" he asked.
"No! I've heard of it but never seen it."
"Watch the sun," he said. "It's going to turn green just as it disappears completely."
And it did, for just a second or two, a phenomenon that happens due to the refraction of the sun's rays when it's in that position.
"Oh, wow!" I said. Or something even more forceful than "wow." "That's amazing."
La Nasa opened after sunset, but they weren't going to be serving food. I hung around the malecón for an hour or two and then went into Duffy's. Now that it was dark, the shades were open, without the danger of a beautiful sunset to ruin people's holiday. I had a canoa (a "canoe" consisting of a sweet plantain split and stuffed with ground beef) and a pair of marinated pork chops and then crossed the street to La Nasa.
There was one non-Viequense-owned kiosk on the waterfront side a long time ago, Prof. Galanes recounts. The owner of Danny's Burger, a true arrival "de ahora," made no friends when he sold burgers for more than the going rate, appropriated a municipal trash can as his own, advertised the accessibility of toilets that belonged to another business, and then tried to sell his business on Craigslist for $62,500, which included only the food cart and not the land it occupied. In 2008, in the middle of an April night, Danny's cart was set on fire.
La Nasa, meanwhile, carries on, despite attempts from new arrivals to shut it down. It occupies a former fish market, and restaurateurs from the north have made the absurd claim that it therefore shouldn't sell alcohol. It brazenly plays loud bachata music and sells $2 local beers, undercutting the competition.
I had a couple of those cheap beers and eventually the dancing started, locals and visitors, people who knew the moves and those who were figuring it out as they went along. The music was rousing and tuneful, with an emphasis on the horns. LEDs formed circular patterns on the floor. I could have stayed much later, and $10 worth of beers might have gotten me up on the dance floor, but tomorrow's walk is moderately long, and I need a clear head and a somewhat early start.
I'm also confident that La Nasa will hang on at least until my next visit to Esperanza.
Go on to day 4