It's been our plan all along to move to Vieques, Puerto Rico. It's a small island off the east cost of the PR mainland. They call it the mainland here and really, it does fit. Puerto Rico is a large island by Caribbean standards. It's not large in comparison to Cuba or Hispanola (Dominican Republic + Haiti), but large compared to just about everything else down here. So it's called the mainland here in Vieques and on our sister island Culebra. “Have you been there?” people always asked, and were always surprised to find out that no, we've never been there. We're just moving there, sight unseen.
Anyone who's read much of this blog at all knows that these plans were shredded by last year's hurricane season. Two weeks before we were to get on the plane, Maria plowed through Vieques and Puerto Rico, just a couple weeks after Irma plowed Culebra and went on through the Bahamas, Florida Keys, etc. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, but with some persistence and a willingness to be flexible, we have managed to make it here.
So yes, we moved here sight unseen. But thanks to the Internet, to the Google, to Facebook, to all of those pictures taken by visitors and locals alike, we kind of feel like we nailed it. I personally feel like this might just be home. Now, the island is beat up pretty badly by the Cat-5 Hurricane called Maria (remember, we're seeing it 4 months post-hurricane so this is nothing compared to what it was!). The greenery is coming back in full force – the place was basically stripped of all leaves by the storm. There are still many damaged homes and businesses, with a good portion of those beyond repair. Piles of rubble are getting cleaned up but there are many of them around the island, reminding us of what was. Even our house has a blue tarp on the back porch overhang but is otherwise unscathed save for the landscaping.
Power is coming back, but it's not back for everyone by any means. We have power and are thankful for that, but we feel for those who continue going along with a noisy generator running a couple of hours a day, or by simply living (and living simply) without it. The island is powered now by a couple of diesel generators with fuel supplied by FEMA. Fingers crossed that this remains (surprise, there is some politics involved) until they get a new undersea cable run from the mainland. The original one was damaged, apparently on purpose 🙁 by someone who ought to be in prison.
But I'm getting ahead of myself again. This post may be another blathering of random thoughts, sights, and experiences, but here goes. On the first day (really half-day – we got here in early afternoon) we just sort of sat on the back porch (which is wonderful BTW) and marveled that we were finally here. The weather was perfect and honestly it has been every day since then (high 70's/low 80's in the day, and low to mid 70's at night). It has rained some but mostly at night, and not really even in the same universe as the rains we experienced in the Bay Islands of Honduras. There has been a constant sea breeze, and we're told that's pretty consistent here except for a couple of months in late summer.
The climate is said to be semi-arid but you wouldn't know it by the greenery. You would know it though by how pleasant the air is – we and our things are starting to dry out. I think we can finally win the battle against mold on everything. We did some serious unpacking, which was a little different because we were unpacking for a more permanent situation. We don't have an end date here. We don't have a Visa problem looming; Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and we can stay as long as we like. There is no government clock ticking on us. We have a 6-month lease on our house, which seems like an eternity to us. We can really unpack and settle in to this cozy little island and this cozy little house.
We do have a TODO list, there are many things to get done, and the sooner the better. Remember the trifecta of utilities (water, power, and internet)? 2 out of 3 ain't bad! Well, we didn't have the trifecta the first week or more, but we did have water and power pretty consistently (only a couple of power losses, less than an hour each time). Here, the water flows even if we don't have electricity. And the water is clean – it is drinkable! I'm a big fan of this. It's so much simpler to brush your teeth and wash dishes (and get a drink when you're thirsty) with clean water. But Internet and cellphone coverage has been a different story. Cell coverage was gone the instant our small plane touched down, and we needed to get Internet service at the house.
Losing cell coverage in 3-2-1...
Without any sort of communication, the only choice was to go to people's places of business and talk with them. Such a 20th century concept! This island is big enough that walking to all these places, at least from where we live near mid-island, well it just isn't very practical. So, step one, we needed transportation. We'd heard of a guy named Chulo who rents cars far below the going rate. And he lives in our neighborhood (barrio). Perfect! I'm all in for a cash deal that may or may not be totally legal! While we were still in Honduras we left him a phone message, but got no response.
So once we arrived we walked around the neighborhood and just asked people where he lives, in our best Spanglish and Englañol. The first lady got us to his street where we found some more neighbors outside. We started to talk with them in Spanish when the first 2 guys said “no oir” - they couldn't hear, they were deaf. So that was an interesting conversation if you could call it that. There were several people around so we worked it out and found Chulo's house, it's only a block away from ours. It took us two tries before we found him at home but then it happened quickly. He took us over to the airport to pick up a car and off we went. We still haven't paid him but I'm sure he knows how to get his money! 🙂
Once we had wheels, we went everywhere on the island we could think of but found virtually zero T-Mobile cell coverage. The most we ever got was one evening in a 5 minute period (out of a week) when Deb got a few emails and texts from the back porch. My phone never got more than a whiff all week. If we had cell coverage we could get a slower version of the Internet, which would suffice for a while. But that never happened and we spent a lot of time in beach bars borrowing their bandwidth. This was expensive communications (buying beers and appetizers!) for an hour a day and it wasn't going to cut it long-term.
We asked around quite a bit and decided that Fire-Fi was the right choice for us for Internet. So we went to the Fire-Fi store (it took three trips there before we found them open during business hours) and set that up, and it was just installed (antenna on the roof – line of sight to various towers placed high on the island's hills). In the same store, they sold Boost Mobile phones and coverage (pay as you go) so we decided to try that. It's working out so far and yes, we now have the trifecta! (Except for generator maintenance done every 3 weeks when we lose power for 8 hours).
Next on the TODO list was buying some bicycles. We found the local sporting goods store, Black Beard Sports, and discussed renting them long-term. But it quickly became obvious that with the rental costs, we'd end up buying them within 3 weeks, without actually owning them. So, we worked our best deal to buy a couple of used rental bikes – mountain bikes that should be able to handle potholes, curbs, and rocky beach roads. We're about to give Chulo back his car and see what kind of trouble we can get in on 2 wheels on this island. Stay tuned on that!
We've already seen some interesting wildlife, and not-so-wild life. On the first day, a herd of chickens strolled through the yard like they owned it. The chickens are not penned around here, they walk the neighborhood as they please, with the biggest rooster sort of running the show. He watches over the flock, moves the little ones along when danger appears (a human, or a dog). He'll sometimes even hop up on the fence to oversee things (ruling the roost!). The parade comes through a couple times a day, as they walk right between the rungs of our steel gate, march around the side yard, and into the sloped back yard. They scratch for seeds and bugs, and devour the star-fruit that drops to the ground faster than we can eat it. They hang out in our yard quite a bit, but we don't mind, it's island entertainment.
This island is really famous for it's horses – they run wild, literally. Some of them are owned by people, but that doesn't mean they are kept in fences. It can be a problem when they stroll into people's yards and destroy property. We see them everywhere on the roads, in the barrios, the beaches, just everywhere. Of course they leave their evidence behind but all those years in eastern Colorado make that a non-issue for us. The Humane Society has taken to shooting the females with a sterilizing dart so they can't get pregnant, so that should help over time. One day the kids on our street were chasing them out of the barrio, probably directed by their parents, throwing their flip-flops (chancletas) at the horses to move them along. I don't think a chancleta got within 10 feet of any of the horses, but it was a comedy show to be sure. They don't come down our street every day, but we certainly see them every day around the island. Often the horses have riders on them - it's just transportation for some of the younger people.
Another surprise was the sheer number of iguanas. These things are very common, including in our backyard. They are roadkill around town too, the locals don't even slow down for them. We stopped for two iguanas crossing the road and upset a Mom in a minivan with places to go, LOL! We even saw a big dog, a chubby yellow lab, walking down the road with a huge one hanging out both sides of his mouth. It was about 3 feet long and obviously freshly killed, based on the blood trail. He was strolling along like the cat that caught the canary, looking for a nice place to have his meal.
We've been spending a good part of our days lately going grocery shopping (to stock up from nothing), as well as getting fresh fruits and veggies at the stand just down the road. We've been very happy with the variety we find there. At the grocery stores and small colmados the variety is pretty good too. They carry a lot of products you would find in the U.S., but often at higher prices due to the shipping costs. We want to get as much out of the rental car as we can, while we have it so we've been running a lot of errands, hitting a lot of different stores. Deb says she feels like a hoarder with all this stocking up. I say as long as we are stocking up on beer, it's all good.
We also spend a lot of time on the back porch, enjoying the water view in the day and the relaxed setting at night. The doggies love the porch and also that they get to go down 4 easy steps into the yard. It's a small yard, but just right for little boys like them. Both places in Honduras had at least 12 steep steps, which were a challenge for Kirby especially. In one we had a yard, but no containment so they couldn't roam free, and in the other it was a dumpy parking area with no decent place to do their business. So this yard is a God-send for the Littles with things to explore, lots of plants, and interesting terrain. But even with the car, we haven't spent enough time yet at the beach. Our few trips though have been amazing, the beaches here are right at the top of all the places we've seen!
A few other random notes: there is definitely more Spanish spoken here than in the Bay Islands of Honduras. If you go to places like Esperanza on the south coast you might not know they speak Spanish on this island. But in most other places, especially in town, you will hear it spoken as the primary language. We've found that getting our basic wants and needs met is pretty easy, so fears of some crazy Puerto Rican Espanol, though warranted for hanging out with people and chatting, isn't an issue for taking care of day to day business. We've had a couple of conversations that were a bit more confusing but it is probably more to do with our weak Spanish than anything to do with Puerto Rican Spanish.
Deb met a statesider named Kevin in the town square who turned out to be here working for FEMA. There are lots of FEMA and US Army Corps of Engineers people on the island, working disaster recovery. Real camouflagued Humvees are a common sight on the streets, and military helicopters fly around the skies as well. And there are lots of linemen from the states here also, those guys get a lot of well-deserved kudos from locals as they restore power to the island. Anyway, Kevin's here for a month at a time, as are most of the FEMA people - I think they evaluate once a month and decide when to phase out. He was really impressed with our "sold everything and moved here sight-unseen" story. He told her, "that's so cool!" and said he liked it so much he got chills! We expect we'll see him around town again while he's here.
That's all for now, we're getting settled in, we're excited, and most of all we're really happy!
PS. The two most common conversations in our house: Q: Was that a mosquito? A: Just kill it!, and Q: Was that a roach? A: Just kill it!
TODAY'S SPECIAL: “Island Boy”, by Kenny Chesney. I'm an island boy, just a stone's throw from St. Croix!