Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Island Adventures

Our time on Vieques seemed to pass too quickly!  We kept ourselves busy discovering what La Nena had to offer!
On our first full day, we walked along the Malecon of Esperanza all the way to the end of Sun Bay Beach.  On our way, we saw a group of people around a boat & trailer and had to see for ourselves what the hubbub was all about.  A local had two tiger sharks!  He had caught them about 2 miles out!!  The biggest was about 10 feet!  Both had already been gutted, but were still alive!  One guy opened the mouth of the big one to show us its teeth!  It was crazy! And it was the one time Chris didn't bring a camera ~ so we have no "evidence"! 
Later that same day, we walked west on the hunt for Playa Negra, a beach with black sand.  You can't walk the beaches to get from one to the next, so we were left walking the road!  We walked and we walked...and we walked some more.  We headed down a dirt road that we thought must take us to the beach (any beach), but we were wrong.  We saw some folks in a rented Jeep sort of doing the same search as us.  As we walked back to the road, we see a sign pointing to the east (from where we had come) that said Playa Negra and to the west Playa Grande!  Back the way we came, we see that same Jeep that had just tried, unsuccessfully, another dirt road.  Well, from what I read on the internet, it said we would have to walk/hike a bit down through some brushy areas to get to Playa Negra.  We felt that the people in the Jeep just weren't willing to go that "extra mile" and had turned around.  We made our way to a clearing above a ravine-like spot.  After searching a bit, we found a way to make it down to the beach.  While we didn't see a beach completely of black sand, we did see some here & there (and when we dug our feet in, it was under the tan sand).  But it was soooo beautiful here!  Peaceful, empty, the vast waters stretching as far as the eye can see!
 It wasn't a swimming beach, too rocky, so we took lots of pictures and did some exploring, then started our couple mile return walk.  As we are walking and talking, we see another sign for Playa Negra.  A bit confusing, as we thought we had just been there!!  Walking still east, we spy a guardrail on which is painted, in blue, Playa Negra with an arrow.  What?  Where were we before?  Well, we are a bit tired and hungry, but we can't not go find it!  Right?!?  We head into the ravine and walk along a tree-covered path to the real Playa Negra!  Another absolutely breathtaking beach that isn't to be missed!  I don't know how, on foot, we missed the "sign" but I can say that we are so happy we did because we would never have discovered OUR beach. 
While looking through some of the tourist reading material our airbnb hosts, Margo & Joe, left in the Casita, I learned that the 1963 movie "Lord of the Flies" was shot on Vieques, all around Esperanza!  "Lord of the Flies" happens to be one of Chris's favorite books, as well as movies.  He had no idea of the connection!  The beaches of Sun Bay, Media Luna, Navio and Playa Grande all played roles in the film!  The old sugar mill and pineapple factory were used to house the cast & crew!  The skeletons of the structures are still standing and we were able to make our way in and around them.  Chris took some eery pics, where nature has moved in to reclaim her land.
We only spent leisure time at the beach twice.  The first was an early evening on the beach along the Malecon.  The second, and longest, was our last afternoon, where we swam & snorkeled at Media Luna. 
We weren't there at a time when the sunrises or sunsets were at the water's edge south of Esperanza, but the evenings were warm & relaxing.  (And we have seen, and will see, many sunrises & sunsets along the watery horizon!)
We decided to give a scooter rental a whirl!  A first for me!!  Tuesday morning, about 11, we headed off to continue our adventurous exploring!  For the next 5 hours, we scootered to the beaches on the west side, in and out of woods, along bumpy dirt roads, never really knowing if we were going to find what we were looking for or have to backtrack!  It was one of our best decisions!  Chris did awesome keeping us safe, especially when where we were riding would have been best navigated with a 4X4!!  We found all of the beaches on our map and discovered a couple that weren't!  We saw where so many of the wild horses gather.  We felt the wind & the sun ... and the pure joy that this mode of travel affords. 
We headed up to the north to find Mosquito Pier.  Constructed in 1941 by the U.S Navy, Mosquito Pier was to be extended from Vieques to the main island of Puerto Rico; however, the project was abandoned after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Today, scuba diving within its deep waters is popular.  It is said this is a haven for sea turtles.  In the more shallow waters leading to the pier, you will find starfish.  We saw several, just standing on the rocks.  Chris wanted to hop in, but it seemed risky, as it is very rocky here.  (Of course, he regrets listening to me!)

We went into Isabel Segunda for a bite to eat.  We were starving and pretty thirsty, having only one bottle of water that we rationed for 5 hours!  We gassed up the scooter, grabbed some produce at the farmer's market (just as it was closing) and returned to Esperanza, buying another liter of sangria at La Tienda Verde.  The next morning, we were up early, as usual, and hopped back on the scooter to visit beaches along the east.

We returned the scooter a couple hours early (to avoid using up any more gas because the only 2 gas stations are in the north).  After a brief rest stop at the Casita, we re-packed our beach bag, to include snorkeling gear we borrowed from our hosts, and walked to Media Luna beach.  We enjoyed a most relaxing afternoon of sun, sand and salt water.  Chris snorkeled.  I tried to snorkel!  I swam and sat on my beach towel.  We drank our sangria and ate hotdogs (warmed from the sun in our bag!)!! 

That nite, our last nite, we did a bioluminescent bay tour!  A MUST when you come to Vieques!! Pictures cannot do it justice.  You simply have to be part of the experience for yourself.  The sky was full of stars and numerous constellations ~~ it was like being inside a planetarium, but you are out there, in a kayak, looking up into the dark, vastness of our amazing galaxy! 

There are three bio bays in Puerto Rico, with the one at Vieques' Mosquito Bay (not to be confused with Mosquito Pier) ranked the best.  It is actually ranked among the top two or three in the world!  Years ago, tour operators would allow guests to get out of their kayaks and swim in the bay.  Not really knowing or understanding the delicate ecosystem of the dinoflagellates, what make the bay illuminate, the owners & guides were messing with the balance.  Last year, I believe, the bay went completely dark!  For months!  I feel this was Mama Nature going dormant in an effort of self-preservation and to show humans that it was imperative they/we recognize the need to treat the bay differently! 

Now....let me tell you a couple things:  You are out there in complete darkness.  The best time to take the tour is near a new moon (they won't even do tours near the full moon).  The water is a black abyss.  The bay is accessible to the Caribbean Sea, which means that anything out there can come into the bay.  One of our tour guides said that 12 species of shark will be in & out of the bay!!!  She also said that one nite while she & another guide were sitting in kayaks in the middle of the bay, a manta ray, with a wingspan as long as the kayak, swam beneath them!!  And two couples on our tour saw something large swim below them....a shark, for sure!  That said, there is no way, if it were still permissible, that I would get in that water!!!  Even without the knowledge of how many species of shark or the manta ray story ~~~  this girl would not have been tempted to get out of the safety of the kayak!!  No way, no how! 

We saw fish swimming and jumping, their paths illuminated around us.  I scooped up water a few times to see it like glitter in my hands.  (And when our guide said it was good for the skin, I scooped up a bit more and bathed my face with it!!)

A woman from California was bitten by a shark a few years back.  Because of this tragedy (she survived, it wasn't severe), rules & regulations that had been in place for years, but ignored, were now enforced.  The entry to the bay saw improvements, too: a new parking lot, an illuminated walkway and a cleared dock/entry into the bay (where you get in the kayaks).     

There was much we didn't experience, like walking the city streets of Isabel Segunda, finding the old military bunkers or seeing the archeological site where 2000 year old bones had been unearthed.  There are a few well-known beaches on the east to which we didn't ride, but we saw so many others and wanted to just BE at Media Luna for hours (it is our favorite of all of the beaches, save for, maybe, Caballo Beach ~~ one we found and named!).

Vieques is an island about 4 miles long and 21 miles wide.  It has beaches, forest and much in between.  There are wild horses all around.  You can spend your days exploring and/or lounging.  There is no one way or wrong way to take in the splendor.

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