The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hola de Veiques

I hope you have a few minutes 'cause this is a long one.....

So here I am, sitting on the beach in Vieques staring out over the Carribean Ocean. This island is so peaceful and a world away from, well, the rest of the world. Vieques has so far escaped the
over-developement that has engulfed most of the Carribean Islands. It's only about 20 miles long and 5 miles wide and most tourists get no closer to Vieques than the main island of Puerto Rico which is about 6 miles to the north of this sleepy little island. Those who do find their way here do so because they are looking for the peace and tranquility that can't be found on the more well known islands, such as St. Thomas, St. Crouix, Antiguia or Barbados.

Vieques has no nightclubs, no Starbucks, no McDonalds, no malls, no golf courses, no casinos, no resorts, and no highrise condominiums. Not even a movie theater. What it does have is 56 miles of gorgeous coastline that includes dozens of inlets, bays and breathtaking beaches. Because most of the rest of the world has yet to discover Vieques it is not unusual to find yourself the only person on whatever beach you have chosen for the day, especially during the week when the local residents are mostly working and the kids are in school.

The *hub* of the island is the town of Isabel Segunda which has everything one would expect to find in a small town: a bank, schools, a police station, a medical clinic, family owned restaurants, etc. There are a handful of grocery stores (not supermarkets) on the island as well as hardware stores, several small beauty salons, a couple of gas stations and whatever else the local population deems necessary for daily living.
On the other side of the island from Isabel II is the even smaller town of Esperanza with its open air restaurant/bars that face the water.

The tourists who do come and the people who live here have 2 choices of transportation to get to and from the Big Island: a small 8-10 passenger plane that makes 3 or 4 trips a day or the ferry which also runs several times a day (both times I've been here I've flown in on the little *puddle jumper* plane from San Juan).

Catering to the tourists are a couple of car rental places, locally owned and operated sightseeing/tour businesses, small hotels/guesthouses and a fair number of pretty pricey vacation rental houses. These houses are mostly located in the hills that make up the ridge that runs about center of the island from one end to the other.

My friend, Karen, is a transplant from Arizona who moved to Vieques almost 6 years ago. She has built herself quite a nice business here by *managing* 17 of these vacation homes for the absentee owners. She has a team of about 9 people who work for her and she sees to the the care and maintenence of the houses when they are empty as well as readying them for the arrival of the owners coming for vacation or renters who have contracted with the homeowners for the use of the house, usually for about a week at a time. Most of the houses that Karen manages are used as vacation rentals on a regular basis. She also does the meet and greet for the arriving guests and is their contact should they need information or assistance during their stay. After they leave she and her team clean and close up the house OR work like madmen to turn it around and ready it for the next group or family who sometimes arrive later that same day. She stays very busy to say the least! The owners of these beautiful houses range from nationally known politicians to people in the entertainment industry or big business to just plain people with big bucks.

As luck would have it, just as I was planning my visit to the island, Karen, on behalf of the owners, was arranging for some outside plastering to be done to one of the houses as well as the installation of some new windows. With all of the scaffolding up the owners were a little uncomfortable with the house being unoccupied while the work was being done. But they couldn't very well have scaffolding up and workmen around while they had paying guests. "Weeell," says Karen, "I have just the solution for that".
So......guess who gets to stay at this lovely big house with its beautiful hilltop ocean view? The work is going on at the back of the house and I'm gone most of the day anyway so I hardly even notice that anything is being done. I just wanted to come visit my friend in paradise and here she sets me up with a gorgeous house and even made an arrangement with one of her other clients for my use of their car while I'm here!

It's been really nice to see Karen again. We've stayed in touch since she left Tucson (she better than me) and she's a really good friend. I've been promising her that I would come back to visit ever since she moved here; about 5 months after the first time I came with her (my first time, not hers) to visit her cousin, Colleen, who has now lived on Veiques for about 20 years. I'm just wondering why it took me 6 years to get back here. But I'm here now and savoring every minute of my visit.

Life is good!

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile


Nikki said...

Oh my--!

Take lots of pictures!!!

And relax, have fun, stay safe, and all that good stuff. 'Cause there's a lot more adventuring to do this year... ;)

Shauna said...

Ooo, how peaceful and relaxing! Thanks for the detailed description, I'm currently sitting in my office at work, and just got to take a 5-min vacation. :)

Funny you mentioned the over-developed tourism packages that have kind of spoiled other islands. I'm currently scoping out Steve's and my trip to Crete, and started with some kind of over-idealized image of bucolic splendor, replete with olive oil farmers and traditional fishing villages. Well, ha, HA! What a fool am I -- apparently the entire northern coastline of the island is comprised of an unbroken block of highrise condos and package resort beaches. Mm, relaxing!

I guess many of the vacationers come to the island to spend a week being pampered in the sun, and not necessarily to see the island itself. But it's disappointing for those of us who do, and want to see Crete instead of the inside of some resort. It seems like if someone developed a tour package that included staying in local village houses and touring the farms, it would find a market and give locals a slice of the tourism pie, while preserving some of their culture.

Anyway, done ranting! Fortunately if you go far enough away, there are still unspoiled places to be found. :) Glad you're in one!