In our last post, we discussed having been gone from the States for an entire year, starting in October of 2017. Well Deb and I were talking this week and she said she can’t believe how well we’re actually doing what we said we wanted to do! That’s not easy you know, it takes a lot of luck but also a lot of good planning to try to make our dreams come true. And now, I would say everything has worked out exactly like we planned! Every last detail was meticulously thought out, every task was perfectly executed, and everything has been absolutely perfect.
It’s amazing, isn’t it? Yes it is. And also not true.
OK, OK, let’s see where we done good (yes, I’m from the South), and where we went a little off course. Did reality meet expectations or did the expectations need a little course correction of their own?
This all started of course when Hurricane María changed our plans entirely, knocking us off course for four months. Honduras and Belize was a fantastic side adventure that forced us to do something we’d wanted to do, but probably never would have done. We also learned a lot about how some destinations can be different from what you see on the Internet. So when we finally were able to go to Vieques, we expected things to be different from our expectations. 🙂 That sounds like a lot of nonsense, but the point is that the real feel of the place can be dissimilar to what grows in your mind while researching a place online. We wanted to find out if the feelings we had from our research would translate well into real life, and whether the hurricane damage would change all that. Quite a bit has changed in these last few months, but here are a few good sites for your own research:
Before getting here, when we told people we were going to the place sight-unseen, they would ask, “What if you don’t like it?”. We told them if that’s the case, we’ll move! At this point in our lives, we could live anywhere in the world, assuming we can afford it. But as it turned out, Vieques is a better fit than we imagined it would be. People still ask us questions like “How did you choose Vieques?”, and “How many times did you come here before deciding to move?”. We always tell them that we found it on the Internet and had never laid eyes on the place before in our lives. We always get a polite chuckle and “Oh, wow!”, which tells me they think we’re cracked in the head. Or Gypsies. Or both.
What we found online was an island that you can’t get to from here. Well, you can, but first you have to go to another island. That sounded so romantic and adventurous and remote! And it was. It was also somewhat difficult to get to, of course! That’s what we wanted and that’s what we got. Actually, it’s not at all hard to get to from the eastern parts of the US and Canada, it’s just more difficult when your starting point is farther west. I really shouldn’t complain even a little bit; we know a great couple here from Alaska. They must be a lot stronger than me, because that trip must be grueling!
We also saw pretty pictures on the Internet, amazingly pretty pictures. They were mostly of beaches, but what have we been talking about (a lot!) but beaches? We love soft sand and blue water, and all the activities surrounding these sunny, wet, salty places.
As we went along, we learned more about Puerto Rico. Our little island is part of Puerto Rico after all, and Puerto Rico is part of the United States. In spite of its financial troubles, as a U.S. Territory Puerto Rico allows us to enjoy many advantages over other Caribbean destinations. It starts with the U.S. dollar as currency, so there are no exchange rates. Here we could forget about exchange rates and the worries of getting “ripped off” on money exchanges, or finding unchanged money in our luggage long after leaving.
It also has a measure of security that as U.S. citizens we may not have elsewhere. The political riots in Honduras didn’t affect us directly, but the secondary effect wasn’t all that great. When the government cancelled the 30-day Visa extensions for us, right when we needed it, that impacted our bottom line by forcing us to leave the country for a few days (we went to Belize!). It was a great trip and I’m glad we did it, but the whole Honduran election cycle last year wasn’t a great look.
As far as the language goes, there was a surprise in one big way. In the Bay Islands of Honduras, they spoke mostly English, because that’s their heritage, separate from that of Spanish-speaking mainland Honduras. But Puerto Rico is a bit of a reversal. The official languages of this U.S. Territory are English & Spanish, but government documents, announcements, and all official business is done in Spanish. Most locals in Vieques speak English also, but only about 20% of Puertorriqueños are fully fluent. School kids are taught in Spanish, with English as a second language. So there’s much more Spanish here in our daily lives, in this U.S. Territory. Can you get by here without Spanish? Yes of course, and many people do, but life is easier the more you know. Besides, we enjoy stumbling around in the Spanish language and trying our best; people seem to appreciate the effort.
Once we arrived in Vieques we had a fun time figuring out yet another new place. This island had been our target for over a year before we retired and the hurricane wasn’t going to kill our curiosity. We had expectations, which were really just guesses, and we feel we did pretty well with those.
What did we expect? We expected beautiful beaches, and you know, we got them in spades! We spend so much time at the beach and in the water some days it seems we only come home to shower and grab food. Whether it’s paddleboarding, fishing, swimming, snorkeling, or just standing in the water chatting with friends, we really love the sand and the sea.
We also expected/wanted/hoped for at least one idyllic little beachfront “on the sand” Tiki bar, complete with a roof made of palm fronds, but alas we didn’t find one here. The closest thing to it was a very rustic little waterfront bar, right on the sand in the bay. But it’s concrete floor was undercut by the hurricane’s crashing waves, making it unsafe and forcing the owners to close it indefinitely. I see a business opportunity for someone who wants to make money at the beach everyday but that’s not me mind you. I know all you kneedeepers want me to “get back to work” but I’m not ready yet, and may never be!
Like silly old Norteamericanos, we expected the trash to be picked up on Tuesdays, because well, Tuesday is our trash day. Now hold that thought, because it will become important. Let’s talk about the rooster that tried to muscle his way in to the neighborhood. He was obnoxious as he tried to carve out territory from the friendly neighborhood roosters. Let’s call him Bugsy, OK? Now, Bugsy was loud. I mean he was “stop your conversation and wait till he’s done” loud. “Turn up the radio so you can actually hear it” loud. “Wait for the train to go by” loud. And he wanted everyone to know his greatness, so he went on and on all day long and half the night with the cock-a-doodle thing. The whole neighborhood knew about Bugsy. And Bugsy was making inroads, strutting around like the big bad cock he was, terrorizing us all with his vocal chords.
And then one day, just like that, all was silent in the neighborhood. We came home to a dead rooster in the street in front of our house. It was Bugsy, and nobody was sad about it. Nobody wanted to talk about it either. It was the code of silence in the barrio. So we didn’t talk about it, but we had to do something about it, because the prevailing wind was taking that smell right across the street and through our house. The smell wasn’t bad right away, but this is the tropics after all. I knew how it was going to go, so I grabbed that carcass, double bagged it, and tossed it in the trash.
The smell grew of course, and the double-bagging didn’t stop it. In fact, it really hardly slowed it down at all. Our trash is out front so that aroma kept wafting through the house, but it was Tuesday, so the problem would take care of itself, right? But Tuesday night came and went, and then it was Wednesday. The problem was growing dramatically and still there was no garbage truck.
Finally, on Thursday, we’d had enough, we were getting nauseous just sitting in our living room; forget about preparing food in the kitchen! So I went out with gloves, grabbed that bag, and held it out the car window while Deb drove me a mile down the road to a commercial property where we knew they were picking up trash. I’m sure we were a sight driving down the street with a mysterious black trash bag hanging out the car window, but I did NOT want that bag leaking in my car! That big bird was getting heavier as we went and worse with every bump, but we made it without dropping the damn thing, and the problem was finally solved. Bugsy got what he deserved, that’s just how trouble gets dealt with in the mean streets of Vieques. 🙂 And the trash truck came Friday night at 8pm, just as you would expect.
There were lots of things we found that we didn’t expect. We didn’t expect the island to look as good as it did when we arrived just four months past that devastating storm. It was certainly down but not out. We’d heard of the wild horses but we didn’t expect to babble like fools every time we saw a baby horse! We didn’t expect two-lane roads that are really only one lane wide. We didn’t expect the friendly faces that greeted us when we walked into the local bar that first day, carrying our little white doggies. We didn’t expect the absolute dearth of draft beer on this island. I should say I’ve recently found a couple of places with draft beer, so things are looking up!
We didn’t expect to find and join a disc golf club and meet a bunch of cool people there. We didn’t expect so many friendly Statesiders, as we’re called here, to help us join the community. We knew coming in that this is a small island with less than 9000 people. From that, we should have expected, but didn’t, to see people we know almost everywhere we go. But that’s Vieques. One guy, Bill, told me “you don’t choose the island, the island chooses you”. He’s right, but we didn’t expect that!
We did expect to do some volunteering and we’ve been able to do a bit of that. We’ve helped out on a couple of beach cleanups with a local group named Ticatove (tee-cah-toh-vay), a sea turtle conservation group. Ticatove is named for the Spanish names of turtles – TInglar (Leatherback), CArey (Hawksbill), TOrtuga (Turtle), VErde (Green). There are great people there, as are the folks at the Vieques Humane Society where Deb is currently volunteering, helping with scared puppies found on the street. There is another group called Our Big Fat Caribbean Rescue who gets strays shipped to forever homes in the States. These two groups were a motivating factor for us to come here, knowing there are real efforts to keep the stray pet population in check. We expect to do more volunteer work over time.
You could imagine that moving to a place without having been there, well, that might result in at least some of it not turning out as planned. And you would be right, but after all what did we expect? So far it’s turned out very well thank you, knock on driftwood. Sometimes it’s planning, sometimes it’s luck, but we’ve found the better we plan, the luckier we get.
TODAY’S SPECIAL: “Calma“, by Pedro Capó – Vamos pa’ la playa, Pa’ curarte el alma, Cierra la pantalla, Abre la medalla, Todo el mar caribe – “Let’s go to the beach, to cure your soul. Close the device, open a Medalla, the whole Caribbean Sea“. This is pretty hard to argue with, wouldn’t you say?