I have learned that being different in whatever way you happen to be is a blessing if you allow it to be. When I was a little girl, I lived in Puerto Rico. I still miss the beautiful clean soft sandy beaches of the island and the sea breezes. I have a recurrent dream that I am living right by the beach in a secluded beach house.
Alas, here I am living in the now frozen Midwest and dreaming, dreaming, dreaming. When I was a teenager, I was not sure that being Puerto Rican was “all that”. If I was proud of anything it was that because we moved, I was a New Yorker, living in the greatest city in the world. Now that I am an adult, I realize that being from Puerto Rico was the best gift my mother ever gave to me. She was fiercely proud of her heritage, as are most Puerto Ricans you will ever have the pleasure to meet.
But I digress. I have been to Puerto Rico many times, but never to Vieques, a small island located just six miles off the southeast coast. We flew into San Juan and took a small plane to Vieques. If the budget does not permit the added expense of the air fare, there is a ferry from Fajardo that is inexpensive. In Vieques there are countless beaches, all with the soft white sand of my youthful longing, and with very few people to disturb the taking in of the backward and forward motion of the ocean’s currents. Like all Caribbean beaches, the water is warm and it is a deep blue.
Vieques is a very small island measuring approximately 21 miles long by 5 miles wide. It only has two main towns, Isabel Segunda and Esperanza. I liked Isabel Segunda the best because it had more restaurants. We stayed at the Hix House, a few miles away from the towns, and located in the trees. Hix is a different hotel, very modern and ecologically minded. Its guest rooms are completely open to the outside. Birds fly in and out of your room, and due to my fear of anything that flies in my house, in order to sleep I had to use the mosquito net and canopy hung over the bed. I got used to the uninvited visitors after a day or two. The room was largely unadorned and everything was minimalist, made with good solid concrete. All of the rooms have a kitchen and you are provided a breakfast of homemade bread, coffee and fruit every day of your stay. It was all very good.
Apart from the beaches and the birds, Vieques has good food to offer and friendly, helpful people. There are the usual little tourist shops. What Vieques has that is unusual are wild horses that live out and about the island. There is not a lot of lush grass and the feral horses are thin and mangy. They are descendants of horses that were brought in by the European colonizers. Many young people use the horses as transportation. It is fun to sit at the outdoor cafes and watch the kids ride the horses with youthful abandon.
The other very special attraction in Vieques is the world famous Bioluminescent Bay, repudiated to be the world’s largest and brightest. For a nominal fee, you can take a guided boat tour. The luminescence is caused by microorganisms- dinoflagellates, which glow like neon lights whenever the water is disturbed. It is fun to swim in the water and when you do you literally light yourself up, and although swimming is curtailed to preserve the site, it is available with limits if one takes a tour.
The history of Vieques is dominated by the previous presence of the United States Navy. In the 1940s and until 2003, the island was used for bombing ranges. The natives were forced to live in the middle of the island, and the military had installations all over. There are still areas that are marked off-limits, and the Navy is still the largest employer in the island, focusing its efforts at cleaning up the damage done by the bombing.
I will go back again. We plan to rent a house and have our relatives join us. Viequenses, as the natives call themselves, speak English but my native Spanish is spoken throughout. I have learned to celebrate my heritage and enjoy what it has to offer. As they say in Puerto Rico, welcome: my house is your house — “Mi casa es tu casa”.