(Cost of Living in Vieques)
We're working on our third (calendar) month in Vieques now and are starting to get a good feel for what it costs to live around here. It's clear we can afford it, as long as we don't live too high on the hog. But we knew that was a requirement going into these adventures. One of the challenges of this early retirement plan was to see if we could live on a tropical island within a budget, and still have plenty of fun. The lifestyle that we traded in for this certainly provided us with more money, but left me continuing to work in the meat-grinder of high-tech.
Some of the costs on Vieques are skewed a little by post-hurricane chaos, by direct and indirect effects which may push the cost of something up. For example, someone that used to import beer or some favorite speciality items may have left and not returned. So someone else may pick up that business as a sideline and not do it as cost-effectively. That said, at this point 5 months post-hurricane, I suspect many of these costs are relatively close to normal.
We're still trying to figure out if the costs here are higher or lower than Roatán (we already know that almost all places we're likely to visit are going to be more expensive than Utila).
But let's compare a few items, some of which are in the fridge right now. (I put the highest costs in bold below)
- Utila - from our landlord's yard chickens, $2.00/dozen ($4.00/dozen from the store)
- Roatán - from the store, $2.55/dozen
- Vieques – stamped USA, $2.40/dozen
- Dog Food (Small Dog)
- Utila - Dogui Brand from Honduras (low-ish quality), $1.30/lb
- Roatán - Dogui Brand from Honduras (same), $1.61/lb
- Vieques – Purina One Brand (better quality), $1.76/lb
- Utila - Bag Lettuce (variety, washed, from Roatán), $3.80
- Roatán - Bag Lettuce (same brand, same everything, from Roatán), $3.40
- Vieques – Package of Romaine Lettuce, 4 heads, $3.50
- Utila – (good, from Honduras) $2.65/lb
- Roatán – (good, from Honduras, same brand) $3.50/lb
- Vieques – (very good, from USA, Sunbest brand) $5.70/lb
- Vieques – (homemade, best of all) $2.00/lb
- Utila – (Honduras, Salva Vida, basic pale lager) $18.25/case
- Roatán – (Mexico, Negra Modelo, dark lager) $29.00/case
- Vieques – (Puerto Rico, Medalla Light, basic pale lager, 10 oz. cans) $22/case
- Vieques – (Puerto Rico, Borinquen craft Blonde Ale) $36/case
- Vieques – (USA, Lagunitas IPA, best beer I've found, but always out of date) $48/case
- Utila – very good, $5.00/lb
- Roatán - very good, $6.20/lb
- Vieques – good, but not quite to the quality of Honduras, $5.25/lb
- Orange Juice
- Utila – fresh squeezed on the mainland (very delicious), $7/gallon
- Roatán, fresh squeezed in Roatán (very delicious) $5/gallon
- Vieques – USA, Simply Orange brand (very good but not fresh squeezed), $5.75/gallon
- Utila – from Chile (very good), $8.40
- Roatán – from Chile (very good, same wine, same price) $8.40
- Vieques – from Chile or Argentina (very good), $9.50
- Utila – Flor de Cana brand from Nicaragua (very good, 5 year) $12/liter
- Roatán – Flor de Cana brand from Nicaragua (very good, 5 year, same rum, more $s) $18/liter
- Vieques – Don Q brand from Puerto Rico (excellent) $13/liter
- Taxi (short distance)
- Utila – Tuk-tuk, $1.50/person
- Roatán – Van, $7.50/person
- Vieques - Van, $3.00/person
- Fresh Fish
- Utila – from a street vendor (very good, filleted red snapper but sketchy source) $2.00/lb
- Vieques – from a street vendor (excellent, whole yellow-tail snapper) $2.00/lb
- Utila - whole chicken from Utila, $1.50/lb
- Roatán - whole chicken, $2.00/lb
- Vieques - whole chicken, $1.75/lb
- Almond Milk
- Utila – Silk brand, $4.65/quart
- Roatán – Silk brand, $5.00/quart
- Vieques – Silk brand, $3.30/quart (a cheaper brand is $2.60/quart)
- Utila - 4 room apartment, includes Internet, $550/month
- Roatán - 6 room condo, over the holiday season, $1500/month
- Vieques - 6 room house, with carport, +free electric due to hurricane chaos, $750/month
- Utila - useable but slow, and went down every time it rained, $0/month
- Roatán - very slow, very limited, very frustrating, terrible, $120/month
- Vieques - 3Mb/s download, pretty steady, good, $70/month
It seems to me that the cost of living here is comparable to Roatán, some things higher, some lower. It's probably a little cheaper in Vieques but to be fair, we weren't in Roatán long enough to learn ways to save more $s. It could be even better, but is driven up a bit here because so many of the foods, basic and specialty, are from the U.S. The quality tends to be high, but so is the price. But it's not a huge difference. In a way I'm surprised that the cost is comparable to Roatán since that island is so tourist-centric (more so than Vieques), which would drive up costs.
But Puerto Rico's proximity to the U.S. keeps costs up, as do some of the draconian laws around this U.S. territory. There is a U.S. law nicknamed the Jones Act, which requires that all goods transported by water between U.S. ports be carried by U.S.-flag ships, constructed in the U.S., owned by U.S. citizens, and crewed by U.S. citizens and permanent residents. I'm a proud American, but this restriction favors the U.S. maritime industry at the expense (literally) of the little people who pay more for goods because of it. We absorb the cost and move on, but sadly there are many poor people in Puerto Rico who are hurt by the higher costs associated with this century-old law. BTW, people in Hawaii, Alaska, and Guam hate the law too!
As for us, at this point we are spending in the neighborhood of about $3500/month. I believe this will settle around $3000/month once we're fully settled ourselves. A few one-time expenses here and there drove it up a little, for example the travel in January, and bikes, other “stuff”, and stocking up on food, but we haven't yet bought a car or anything really expensive like that. It doesn't hurt that we don't have an electric bill, which likely would run a couple hundred bucks a month. It's either because FEMA is paying for the diesel to run the town generators, or because our electric meter on the house is demolished, or both. Probably both, which means even when they get us hooked back up to mainland power, we won't get an electric bill until they figure out which houses have broken meters. We could get free electricity for months! Haha! Umm, don't tell anybody, OK?
One of the keys to inexpensive living for us is getting out and enjoying the island on bikes, going to beaches, visiting sites like the abandoned naval base buildings, or the pier that the Navy left behind. All of these things are free, and there are countless more places to explore even as we wait for more of the nature preserve to open (more beaches!).
We are also fans of yard food and we've certainly been blessed here. We are still using up the last of the carambola (starfruit) harvest; we had so much we had to give some of it away to friends. We've been told our avocado tree has the best fruit on the island, although it may be a while before it recovers from the hurricane shock. Also, it's about 20' tall - not exactly pruned for high yield or for harvesting. But we do have a small bunch of bananas growing low on one of the many banana trees in our yard.
We are also surrounded by breadfruit trees which are yet to produce. There are several of them, but as a result of 175mph winds, at least 2 of the largest ones are leaning at a 45 degree angle, onto the mango tree. This breadfruit species is not waiting around to see what happens in the next storm, they are sprouting from the roots all over the place, by the dozens, working to maintain the bloodlines. We're trying to select the right sprouts, some of which are 3' tall already, and cull the rest. The mango tree is another beast, it's about 25' tall so harvesting will be a challenge. That one is really testing our patience because we love mangos!
And then there are the cherry tomatoes which volunteered all over the yard. We enjoy them, and funny, so does Kirby the dog. He goes searching for cherry tomatoes and comes back proudly carrying his booty to eat on the porch. It's pretty good individual gathering skills for a species that's known to be pack hunters! We have a seemingly endless supply of these little treats. Deb also discovered wild cilantro in the yard so she is cultivating that. Although I have to be careful with her, back in Colorado she was known for feeding the kids and I weeds from the yard and calling it a salad (she claims to this day that it was arugula that she planted)!
We've got a long way to go when it comes to knowing how things work and how to get stuff done. One day we killed two birds with one stone in this area. We often walk by our local Colmado store+bar and there's a taxi van sitting right there, right next to the bar entrance, but really in the driveway at the house next door. We always wondered if the driver was inside the bar drinking. Well we kept walking that day and a couple of blocks down the road he happened to come our way, so we flagged him down. He didn't smell like beer so we got in. 🙂
His name is Sebastian and he lives there, right next door to the Colmado. We rode with him into town for an appointment and some errands. When that was done we noticed Sebastian sitting waiting for a fare over near the ferry dock, so we hopped in again. He was talking to a guy and we heard him say "vecino" which means neighbor, cuz we are his neighbors! 🙂 On the way home we noticed a van with a hand-written sign that said $20 for cleaned fish – we couldn't tell how much fish, what kind, etc. But Sebastian immediately pulled over and waved the guy over. He got out and came back with a bag full of fish, dropping it into a dishpan between his front seats. Obviously, he'd done this before! There were probably 8 yellowtail snappers in there, easily over a pound apiece. They had no smell and looked like they had been swimming in the ocean that morning (clear eyes, good color). While I was evaluating the fish and starting to come to the realization that we should have bought our own bag of fish, Sebastian had us halfway home. But next time we're getting the fish!
So, can we do it? Can we live here on a tight-ish budget and enjoy our lives? We are enjoying our bike rides, meeting new people, learning new traditions, and exploring the island. We'll be able to do more of that when we have a car, but of course there is expense with that. We couldn't do this if we ate out every day, but we wouldn't enjoy that anyway - we've never been big restaurant people. We probably eat out once a week, and have drinks out a little more often than that. It works well with our lifestyle. It remains to be seen long-term if this will all work out, but I can say without a doubt – so far, so good!
TODAY'S SPECIAL: Livin' Easy, by KBong (feat. Stick Figure), cuz we jam dis aw da time on da beach, yes I !