Puerto Rico Paradise

I am a vacation planner extraordinaire.

Just ask my family. Well, maybe not, just ask me; I will tell you. They will do a significant amount of eye rolling and grimacing. I know this translates to vacation planning gratitude. You might read it differently.

When we have the good fortune to take three surly teenage sons to Puerto Rico, I know I am up to the task. I’m that good.

A lesser vacation planner might take the obvious route — the all-inclusive resort. This would allow the consenting adults to sit on the beach sipping umbrella drinks while the crew of sons chooses from a multitude of structured activities. Followed by a family dinner, where we would laugh about the adventures of the day, faces glowing with sun and fun.

That would be too easy.

For our vacation week, I want for us to discover the true Puerto Rico. I read a multitude of reviews, scan endless travel books, and talk to experienced guides. All agree that Vieques, a small island off the coast of the larger one, is the real Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico that used to be before the all-inclusive resort became status quo.

Of course, there is an all-inclusive resort on Vieques. Each travel expert recommends it for our stay. Neophytes. Eye roll. Too easy.

I get in touch with the owner of a small inn on Vieques. If you stay with us, you will experience life as an islander, he says. That is what I want.

We arrive at 10am. The inn is small and sweet and nestled in a Vieques neighborhood. A neighborhood of graffiti-ridden houses, toothless men, stray dogs, and underfed horses. Oh, and roosters. Our room is scheduled to be available at 3pm, island time. This means 3 or 4 or perhaps 7pm. Island time, hmm.

“Island time!,” I say to the boys. “How cool is that? We wouldn’t hear that staying in one of the fancy resorts! We’ll just hang out and see the sights until the room is ready.”

(Insert teenage eye roll here).

And so, we begin our Puerto Rican adventure, dragging our suitcases. In the rain. Because shortly after we arrive, the beautiful blue sky turns angry and gray. It pours. And we discover that when it rains in Vieques, the locals go home. The tourists go to the all inclusive resort. The toothless men go to the bars. With us. Where we learn all sorts of things that you can only learn at 10am in a bar, a more robust curriculum than one taught in any school. And we are on day one.

Days 2, 3, and 4 are similar. It rains. We go to bars, because they are open. We become educated in ways we do not expect, by tour guides we do not hire. We learn that horses run wild until they are caught by 13 year old local boys, in a ritual of catching and taming a horse and setting it free when, at 16, you get your license to drive. We learn that there are no traffic lights on this little island, but that is ok, because no one is ever in a hurry. We learn that it rarely rains, but when it does, it does. In buckets.

We eagerly anticipate our snorkeling trip, which is cancelled due to rain. Our mountain biking tour. Cancelled due to rain. And our horseback ride through the real Vieques. Cancelled. Rain.

We eat a lot of food. I mean A LOT of food. To be fair, the food is excellent. But it isn’t Burger King. On day 5, the middle son has complete and total Burger King withdrawal. He needs a Whopper.

“This is the real Puerto Rico,” I tell him. He scrunches up his face and heads back to the bar.

The nights are as real as the days. The main occupation on Vieques appears to be raising roosters for cock fighting. Cock fighting, we learn, is not just a hobby, but a livelihood for this community of islanders. They keep their roosters jacked up on steroids, ready to fight at all times. The roosters crow their fighting availability.

All. Night. Long.

After several nights, we are fine with it. Because the rooster crowing, mingled with the sound of the driving rain and the drip, drip, drip in the buckets provided for our leaky roof, is a beautiful cacophony. Sort of.

Living like the natives.

“What is cock fighting anyway?,” asks he youngest. “That’s when roosters rip each other apart until one dies and everyone cheers,” responds the oldest. This goes over as well as you might expect. Which is good, because now we have sobbing to drown out the sound of the rain, the drip, drip, drip, and the crowing. Restful nights. Island style.

And then it happens: the sky clears.

The night kayaking trip, which I book months in advance, is not cancelled. Our van driver, long blonde hair and an island attitude you’d expect from a guy named Dax, tells us stories of runaway horses, magical dogs, toothless men, and escaped roosters. He is the real Puerto Rico, originally from New Jersey.

Dax tells us the highlight reel of our trip is tonight. He is right. Because when we get into those boats, and paddle out in that bay, we see the most amazing thing. The Vieques ancient biobay.

It is the brightest of the six biobays that exist in the world. A lack of modern development on the island, cool water, and a small channel allow tiny sea creatures, bioluminescent plankton, to thrive. They light up the ocean each time an oar disrupts the water. Everything swimming beneath us — sharks, stingrays, monstrous jellies, even bigger fish — is magnified and illuminated and wow. Real. So real.

“Do you think that is one of the seven wonders of the world?,” a son asks on the way home, happily munching on a culinary delight we’ve named the Vieques Vhopper.

“Yes. I believe it is,” I reply. Because I am a vacation planner extraordinaire.

Anyway, so, for our next trip, I’m looking at this all-inclusive in Punta Cana….

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top