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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Visiting the New Vieques -- A Cause Everyone Can Support
By Natalia de Cuba Romero
May 9, 2003
While the other reporters who flocked to Vieques last week for the exodus of the U.S. Navy were after the news story, I was there to find out about fun. Many people have stayed away from La Isla Nena since the protests started. Now there are a whole bunch of reasons to go back.
For starters, Red and Blue beaches on former Navy land are now permanently open. I had a look with Kate, my beach-crazed visitor from land-locked Prague who's got me on a massive Puerto Rico tour. The curving beaches embraced by lush, green headlands are as beautiful as ever. The dirt roads to get there are as rutted as ever too. You wouldn't want to get stuck, so bring a cell phone, water and a hat.
For accommodations, I visited that perennial favourite, Inn on the Blue Horizon (787-741-3318, http://www.enchanted-isle.com/bluehorizon/) near Esperanza. Their master suite now boasts a massive king-size four-poster bed which, combined with the onshore breeze, is a slice of heaven on earth. The sweeping vista is extraordinary and the antique furniture with modern sensibility is so peaceful. Among the other guests was rock en español group Fiel a la Vega, who performed at Thursday's celebration concert.
One of my favourite parts of the Inn is The Book, a massive tome with detailed instructions on enjoying your stay. Mind you, if you actually read the whole thing, you wouldn't have time to enjoy your visit.
Dinner at the Inn's Blue Macaw restaurant was lovely. Rick Gallup and Hope Stanley sold their Maine restaurant to take over last November. The couple has been coming to the family home in Vieques for 25 years, so this move is their lifelong dream. On the eclectic menu the spring rolls were especially fantastic. The candlelit atmosphere is super-romantic.
Our next stop was Hix Island House (787-741-2302; hixislandhouse.com), a most unusual small hotel. All the structures are made of cement and the grey starkness is quite a contrast to the beautiful greenness all around. I love the minimalism -- so minimal that an entire wall is absent from each unit so you're living on a terrace open to nature rather than a room. With kitchenettes and open-air showers, this is stripped-down chic for independent and eco-minded visitors. Ask for the circular house -- there is a dinner table for six.
Wyndham's Martineau Bay Resort & Spa (787-741-4100; http://www.wyndham.com/hotels/VQSMB/main.wnt) is the island's first proper resort. The 156-room property is tropical beautiful. Located on a breezy bluff overlooking the sea and the big island of Puerto Rico, it features three intimate beaches. The resort opened very recently, so we encountered some glitches in the service as the staff settles into rhythm, but the exuberant friendliness of the resort and the spacious and charming rooms with gorgeous tubs and the most comfortable mattresses on earth open up the island to families and business meetings. I'm looking forward to visiting the Golden Door spa when it opens.
Another transformation has been in dining, thank the Lord.
Tropical Baby restaurant (787-608-4261; firstname.lastname@example.org) on the waterfront in Esperanza, offers Asian-influenced cuisine. Puerto Rico native Baby Llenza, who has owned restaurants in Bali, studied in Paris, worked with Norman Aiken in Miami and consulted in San Juan, has opened a casual, small establishment based on fresh bright flavours for lunch and dinner. Buy Baby's legendary mango hot sauce and chutney when the mangoes are ready in the next couple of weeks.
Nearby Chef Michael's (787-741-0490; email@example.com) gourmet shop offers fresh fruits, fresh-baked bread, excellent cheeses and -- as his license should arrive by press time -- a solid wine selection. Micheal can also provide chef services and picnic baskets for the beach.
At Bayaonda (787-741-0312; firstname.lastname@example.org), just outside Isabel Segunda, Isla Grande-Isla Nena couple Gustavo Marín and Wanda Rivera have put together one of the most eclectic menus I have ever seen, with an emphasis on homemade. We ordered appetizers to taste as much as possible -- grilled baby octopus, duck and rabbit paté, seafood cakes, pork sausage·it was all so good. Tropical Baby and Bayaonda are BYOB.
And Café Media Luna (787-741-2594; medialunaVQS@aol.com) is back! Owners Ricardo Betancourt and Monica Chitnis have just had a baby boy (joining Gabriela, 2) but Monica has returned to the kitchen (to the relief of many a Vieques resident) with more splendid Eastern-inflected fusion dining and jazz nights on selected Saturdays. If you want to ensure a terrace table for a jazz night, call two weeks in advance.
Finally, don't die without visiting the bioluminescent bay. It is a lagoon with a high-density of dinoflagellates -- one-celled creatures that glow like fireflies when disturbed at night. The reaction looks like clouds of fairy dust under the water and the Vieques bay is the best example of this phenomenon in the world.
In the past I've toured it with naturalist Sharon Grasso (787-741-0720) by electric boat, but for something different, we took an eight-hour kayak and snorkeling trek with Blue Heron Kayaks (787-615-1625; http://elenas-vieques.com), starting through the mangroves, hitting a deserted beach for snorkeling, bonfire and meal in the afternoon and then witnessing the spectacular sunset over the lagoon before leaping into the waters to be bathed in the eerie glow. There are shorter tours for those who feel unfit, but honestly the kayaking was not bad and we weren't sore the next day. Visiting the BioBay remains one of the coolest things to do on earth.
For ferry service from Fajardo call 787-863-0705. For flights from Fajardo, Isla Grande or Luis Muñoz Marín International try Vieques Airlink (888-901-9247), San Juan Aviation (787-722-9922) or MN Aviation 877-622-5566. Hint -- flights from Isla Grande are about $30 cheaper than from Muñoz Marín. If you're coming in from the States, take a $13 cab to Isla Grande airport and STILL save money, especially if there is more than one person.
So, now that the Navy has exited, it seems fitting that we support the island's efforts to make a proper living. The win-win way to do that is by visiting!
Natalia de Cuba Romero is a freelance travel, food and arts writer. Her column, "Sights, Sounds & Tastes of Puerto Rico", appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald. She can be reached at NataliaHerald@centennialpr.net.