Paradise in the Spanish Virgin Islands

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Central America Caribbean » Puerto Rico » Vieques
December 23rd 2009
Published: April 4th 2016
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It had been a whirlwind journey filled with canceled flights, long cab rides, and one runaway piece of luggage that tobogganed down the long escalator toward us, but we had made it and the turquoise water and lush vegetation were worth all of the hardships. We were staying in the small town of Esperanza on the south shore of Vieques, a small island off of the east coast of Puerto Rico. The island was part of a group of islands collectively known as the Spanish Virgin Islands and it had had a tumultuous past. The island paradise was in the fledgling stages of building a tourism industry after its previous life as a bombing range for the US Navy had come to an end. We were there for several days as part of a bigger journey around Puerto Rico and we were excited to explore the mysteries of the island, some of which sounded otherworldly.

When we were doing the planning for our journey we lucked upon a furnished apartment of sorts that the owner of a lodge we would be staying at on the main island owned. They sold us on the property, so we signed up sight unseen. We arrived on the ferry in a lovely little harbor in the shadow of the old lighthouse on the north side of the island. We walked past all of the colorful fishing boats and to the land. There we found an eager publico driver who knew roughly where we wanted to go and we climbed into his minivan and were off. After about twenty minutes on the circuitous roads in the residential center of the island we pulled into the town of Esperanza and found our way to the Mi-Pana apartments. Carmen, the proprietor of the apartments, led us to a grand lime green concrete structure with a massive porch that would be our home on the island. The grand porch with its inviting hammock and its ubiquitous security bars blew us away. We quickly got settled in and then we went out in search of the waterfront.

The Mi-Pana apartments were located in a quiet residential section several blocks from the water. We walked past several well-kept homes and eventually found the shore, where the main tourist area was located. We walked slowly along the malecon and we soaked up the warm breeze as we got ourselves on island time. There were older men sitting around playing animated games of dominoes while their younger counterparts blasted pop music and did their best to look cool. There were also a few tourists milling about waiting for the suns parting journey. The town had a pleasant feel about it and the beautiful Caribbean was inviting. We walked down to a narrow beach below the trees and we dipped our feet in the water while we watched the sun set over the sea – It was Maria’s first time in the Caribbean, so it was a special moment. We celebrated our arrival in the Caribbean at a table on a breezy balcony above the sea. We feasted on locally caught lobster as we watched the last vestiges of the sunset give way to darkness and then we found our way back to Mi-Pana where we set our sights on the coming days.

We were up with the roosters the following morning. The warm Caribbean sun and the beautiful blue sky beaconed us to explore and we did not deny the urge. We found breakfast in a touristy place on the waterfront and then we searched out a kayak rental place where we planned out our day. We gathered some supplies and then we set off on what would turn into a memorable, day-long adventure. We started by paddling around Esperanza Bay. There was a small island in the bay that we set our sights on as we got accustomed to paddling together. We paused once to do some snorkeling, but the water was too deep to see much. Instead we landed near a wrecked sailboat on the island and explored the shallow reefs there. Eventually we set off from the small island and started paddling east toward a narrow sand isthmus separating the main island from a smaller island-like clump of trees. We carried the kayak across and then continued our course across Sun Bay and out into the swells of the Caribbean Sea. I was navigating with a fairly rudimentary map from our guidebook, so we were not sure if we would actually find our destination. We kept our bow pointed into the waves, which forced us on a diagonal course that led us out to sea. We passed Sun Beach and Media Luna Beach and then a narrow gap through the mangroves opened up where the kayak man said it would be. We turned our bow toward shore and rode the waves in, dodging a few big surf zones along the way. Our stomachs were happy to reach the calm water in the mangrove channel where we slowed our pace. We paddled along the edge of the channel enjoying the abundant life in the mangroves. There were birds and crabs and small fish keeping us company and other than them we had the place to ourselves. Eventually the channel opened up into aptly named Mosquito Bay. We had reached our destination!

It was a picturesque spot to paddle through the red mangroves and we followed a few channels through the trees and we even walked around a bit on dry land. Eventually the bay’s namesake became unbearable, so we found refuge floating out in the center of the bay. After a few hours and a much-needed meal from our dry bag, the sun began to set and we prepared ourselves for the natural phenomenon that we hoped to experience there. By the light of day Mosquito Bay looked like any other mangrove-lined body of water in the Caribbean. By night the bay took on another life altogether. It was one of the best places in the world to experience bioluminescence. The organisms that lived in the water were called dinoflagellates and when disturbed they glowed a bright blue-green color. We had been told that the bioluminescence had not been so bright over the last few days due to some rain and a full moon, so we were not sure what to expect.

Eventually the sun disappeared behind the mangroves and the sky darkened. We watched the water that our paddles disturbed for any sign of the famous glow. After another ten minutes or so passed the sky was dark enough to see the faintest glimmer of light. Once the sky was black the show began. Each paddle stroke glowed a bright blue and when we brushed our hands through the water they were engulfed in the otherworldly light, too. As we paddled we could see fish darting away from us followed by bright blue comet trails that crisscrossed the black expanse of the still water. We accidentally splashed some of the water on us and were amazed as we watched tiny pinpricks of blue light flow across our skin like magical fairy dust. While we were marveling at the fairy dust we noticed a big, slow moving spot of glowing water ahead of us. We approached the phantom and its ghostly blue glow took the shape of a large stingray! We could clearly see all of its features, from its eyes to its long tail, perfectly highlighted in the blue light. We watched in awe as its fins slowly undulated propelling it forward through the stardust, trailing a magical blue comet as it swam. We followed the bioluminescent stingray for a few minutes and then we left it in peace – It was one of the most amazing natural phenomenons I have ever seen, on par with the Antarctic auroras and the comet dolphins I saw while sailing aboard the bark Europa! We found a spot in deeper water and we went for a quick swim. Maria was making what looked like a glowing snow angle as she tread water – It was an amazing experience! Eventually my phone rang. The kayak man was on the other end telling me that the next group was about to arrive and that we needed to head to the prearranged meeting place. We paddled through the stardust and we watched a few more comets as we went. Eventually several other big groups surrounded us and a cacophony of oo’s and aah’s shattered the peaceful magic of the place. We reached the shore and handed our paddles to the kayak man and our magical voyage through the surreal galaxy beneath the sea came to an end.

We rode back to Mi-Pana with the kayak man. We got cleaned up and then we went into town for a celebratory dinner at a colorful fish restaurant near the sea. After dinner we took a stroll along the sea and then we made our way back to our home and collapsed in exhaustion – It had been an amazing day!

We ignored the roosters and woke up a bit later the following morning and we spent a while lazing about and enjoying the solitude of Mi-Pana. Elvis, a humorous black and white cat that had made himself at home when we moved in, joined us in the kitchen while we cooked breakfast and kept us company. We ate our meal on the porch and then we sat and sipped coffee as we planned our final day on the island. We had heard of some amazing beaches to the east of Mosquito Bay, near where the old bombing range had been, so we decided to go out there and take a look.

We rented two scooters from the kayak man and then we set off into the unknown. We retraced the route we had taken back from Mosquito Bay the previous night and we continued past the familiar turn off. The road was long and straight, turning into a gravel road as we headed eastward. Eventually the flat terrain grew more hilly and the vegetation more lush. From the top of one of the hills we got a sweeping view of the verdant coastline and the beautiful turquoise water. A short time later we came to a small turn off and parked our scooters beside a lone jeep in a tiny sand lot beneath the trees. We changed into our swimsuits and walked down the narrow sandy path to the beach. It was paradise! We had found Silver Beach, a white sandy playa in a small bay located at the end of the road. To the east a rocky outcrop reached out into the sea from the green hillside, splitting the curving beach into two sections. The turquoise water gently lapped on the shore and the breeze was calm and warm. If all of that wasn’t enough to call it paradise, the fact that the beach was completely deserted, apart from a lone umbrella in the distance beyond the rocky outcrop!

We quickly got into the water and started snorkeling. It was Maria’s first time with a mask and fins on, so we took it slow as we explored the grassy expanses in the bay and the rocks near the outcrop. We found conchs and urchins and a giant starfish hidden in the grass, but it was fairly quiet. After we had snorkeled for a while we went back to the beach and took it easy for a while. When we were ready to get back into the water we decided to move west past Punta Conejo to Blue beach were there was a lovely green island named Isla Chiva a few hundred feet off shore.

There were a few fish about at Blue Beach, but most of them stayed hidden. Just as we were turning to head back to the beach a large eagle ray swam past, which made for an exciting encounter. In the surf near the beach we found a small stingray and a few yellow and black fish. When we had our fill of snorkeling we sat down on the beach and took in the view for a while. After a few hours on the beaches we decided to head out in search of food, so we packed up and said farewell to our little slice of paradise and we headed back to the scooters – We never expected to have such a lovely beach all to ourselves in the well-traveled Caribbean!

We spent the rest of the day exploring the north side of the island. We had a ball riding on the winding roads with the scooters and the scenery stayed grand. We found lunch in Isabel Segunda, the town we arrived in on the ferry, and then we explored a bit further west. We found a beautiful ceiba tree past the airport and we took a break to explore its massive buttresses. We watched the sunset with the fishermen on the old navy pier and then we turned our sights back towards Esperanza. Riding the scooters at night on the unfamiliar roads proved to be a challenge, but the evening was pleasant and we had a lot of fun. We ate dinner at a small roadside restaurant on a deserted stretch of road somewhere along the way. There we watched a small parade with lots of Christmas lights and Santa riding in a decorated truck – I love Christmas in the Caribbean! It was late when we made it back to Esperanza and to our wonderful home at Mi-Pana. It had been another amazing day and we were ready to do some relaxing in the hammock.

The following day we said farewell to the wonderful island of Vieques. We returned the scooters to the kayak man and we found a ride back to Isabel Segunda. We bought our ferry tickets and then we walked a little more around the lovely town. Later as we boarded the ferry we took one last look at the beautiful lighthouse and the verdant hills above the town and we knew we would be back. We turned our thoughts toward our coming adventures on the island of Puerto Rico as we watched the turquoise water flow past…

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