When we got hitched 10 years ago, my bride gave me a copy of a book entitled “1000 Places to See Before You Die” with a nice inscription in the front that referenced wanting to visit a bunch of them together. So, any time I know I’m going to a new city, I enlist its help in choosing what to see, where to stay, where to eat, etc.
When our 10-year anniversary came up in early November, I thought a trip (albeit a short one) was in order for the second weekend of the month, since on the actual anniversary, I had to serve our country at the local military installation (though we did have dinner on the evening of 11/7–the actual date–at Marcel, one of the best meals I can recall having in quite some time).
But where to go? I was too busy at work to miss more than a 3-day weekend. So, it couldn’t be too far away. I looked at a few road trip destinations 3hours or fewer from Atlanta, but then I remembered that I needed only 3000 miles to reach “platinum” status with Delta. My bride wanted somewhere warm, and I wanted somewhere not too expensive (or far) to fly for a weekend. So, I decided on Puerto Rico. My bride had never been, and the tour book said the island of Vieques had a lot to good things to offer for a 3-day weekend (except for all the murders).
We booked 2 nights at the Hacienda Tamarindo (recommended by the book) and left Friday mid-morning, landed in the afternoon, and drove from San Juan to Fajardo to try and catch the ferry. I found a gravel parking lot with an old man sitting on a lawn chair who spoke no English. A loud and angry Rottweiler was on a chain at the other end of the lot, so I figured that was as good a place as any to leave the rental car for the weekend. I think the old man said it was $5/day. He gave me a yellow piece of construction paper, and I walked off.
We were the last 2 people allowed on the very full ferry; we sat on the top level (outside) and headed east to Vieques. It was about an hour to the smaller island; we walked off, got in a courtesy van, and picked up our Jeep Wrangler for use on the narrow, windy, and often unpaved roads of Vieques. While in line to pick ours up, we talked to a young couple from the main island of PR and asked them where they’d recommend having dinner. We took their advice and ate at Next Course, where I ate what was, quite possibly, the best pork chop I’ve ever had.
The next morning after an outdoor breakfast at the hotel, we went on a boat tour of the southern shore of the island that included a stop to go snorkeling just off the southeast corner of the island. Our guide showed us nurse sharks, turtles, colorful fish, and a barracuda. The water had such a high salt content, we didn’t even have to swim to stay afloat, so it was easy to slow down or float just below the surface to watch the aquatic life below. Our guide brought his underwater camera and took pictures of our excursion.
That afternoon, we explored the eastern side of the island, where the U.S. Navy had control until 2003. We had a picnic lunch on Blue Beach, likely the prettiest (and most deserted) beach I’ve visited.
Exploring Vieques by car can be a harrowing task, as the island is inhabited by 3000 wild horses that like to walk in the middle of the roads (they’re great great-something grandhorses of the ones the Spanish brought hundreds of years ago).
That evening was the activity I was most anticipating (and was, in large part, the deciding factor in choosing Vieques over another destination for our 3-day weekend): the bioluminescent waters at Mosquito Bay. We got into our glass-bottomed kayak and followed our guide into the blackness of the bay under a new moon. Each paddle stroke created bright blue/white orbs in the otherwise opaque waters, and glowing bubbles passed under our boat’s glass bottom. I assume this is what kayaking in Chernobyl is like. With more visible stars over our heads than I’ve seen anywhere but the Iraqi desert, shooting stars and constellations were easy to identify. Our guide pointed out several of the more well known constellations with a laser pointer during a break from paddling. It was magical.
We returned to the little village where we’d parked and had fish tacos at Bananas Beach Bar before returning to the room.
The next morning, we boarded the 6:30am ferry to the main island and drove into Old San Juan for breakfast at El Convento (another suggested hotel from the “1001 Places” tourbook) at the Patio Del Nispero. It was excellent. We left the car there to explore San Juan on foot, stopping first at Castillo San Felipe Del Morro – an enormous old Spanish fort. We saw actors demonstrate how to shoot muskets and a cannon, then walked throughout the many rooms and levels inside the stone fort.
We really wanted to look at some art to buy, so we started down the street to Puerto Rican Arts & Crafts, but along the way, we stepped into a tobacco shop called Don Collins Cafe & Cigars. Don himself greeted us and invited us to sit down, handing me a glass of aged rum and a cigar. Half an hour later, I was buying a pack of cigars and some of his coffee beans after talking about his going to law school in Atlanta, practicing in New York on Wall Street, and then finding himself in Puerto Rico in the coffee, rum, and tobacco businesses. We had lunch at Barrachina, birthplace of the piña colada (and sampled one–it was delicious).
We didn’t have much time left before our flight home to look at the art store, but we did pick a couple paintings for our house and new office (my bride and I just signed a lease on a commercial space near our house for when I don’t want to drive downtown) before running back to the car and quickly driving to the airport.
It was a great trip–my bride even said it was the only trip she can recall going on in which when we boarded the plane to head home, she wasn’t ready to come back (she usually misses the children too much to want to stay somewhere very long). I hope we can return and bring them when they’re old enough to participate in the activities we enjoyed on Saturday.
And on Monday afternoon, I got the email I’ve been hoping for the the past 3 years:
Meaning, 2016 will be a year of frequent first class upgrades! I can’t wait.