Vieques: The Island That Almost Wasn’t

Let me preface this post by saying that Chandler and I are PLANNERS. I’ve capitalized that for emphasis : ) We typically plan a trip at least a few months in advance.

That means we book the hotels/Airbnbs, any rental cars/flights/trains needed, and all tours/big ticket items. As the date gets closer, we (aka Chandler) look up vegan/vegetarian restaurants and start planning out the smaller things: Open days/hours, that sort of thing.

But this trip was different – we’ve simply been busy. So, when we booked our hotels on two different islands, we noticed they were sister hotels and figured they’d help us with transportation between.

Wrong assumption.

After spending a few days in San Juan (more on that later!), we were told that the Puerto Rico Ferry sells tickets online two weeks before departure – but that they only sell 20% of their tickets. The other 80% go on sale in-person one hour before the ferry departs.

The problem? The ferry doesn’t leave from San Juan – it departs from Ceiba, an hour Uber ride away. We told ourselves not to stress and purchased seats on the 8:00pm ferry just in case (it was the only one left with online tickets). We ordered an Uber to drop us off an hour and a half before we actually wanted to take the ferry (1:00pm) to try and get other tickets – everything went smoothly.

Until we got to the ferry and were told that not only was the 1:00pm sold out, so was the 3:00pm, and the 5:30pm. The only way we could get to the island of Vieques was on the 8:00pm ferry we’d already booked. Meaning, we had an 8.5 hour wait ahead of us.

Now, why even go to Vieques? Two reasons: Mosquito Bay and the Finca Victoria. The first is supposedly the brightest bioluminescence bay in the world – so says the Guinness World Records since 2006. The second? Well, I’ll just quote Condé Nast Traveler for that, “Finca Victoria features all of the accoutrements for a holistic holiday: morning yoga, a vegan kitchen and a wellness center dedicated to Ayurvedic principles, all within the peaceful, green wilds of Vieques.”

Thinking we’d arrive in Vieques around 2:30pm, we had booked a night tour of Mosquito Bay for 7:00pm. Realizing that we would instead be arriving at 9:00pm, we called and emailed our tour company – Taino Aqua Adventures – to no avail. Five hours later, they called back and graciously allowed us to reschedule for the following night.

I also needed to contact the hotel because their check-in time ends at 8pm, but you could have a late check-in from 8-10pm if you notified them 24 hours in advance. The late check-in also came with a $50 fee. After some back and forth, they agreed to wait up for us. The only problem? We were told taxis stop operating on the island after 7:00pm. Luckily, the first one we called agreed to pick us up.

Now there was nothing left to do but wait. With a beach read, iPad, some crackers, and an orange I settled in. And honestly? Had a fine day. The seating was shaded, wind refreshing, and bathrooms clean. We even had a mediocre hot meal for dinner when we weren’t expecting one.

Then, our troubles returned. Right after we got on the ferry, our taxi texted that she was done for the night. It took eight phone calls before we found a replacement taxi. Then we got a text from the hotel – she wasn’t sure why her colleague had told us she’d wait up for us, she had somewhere to be. Luckily, she sent us a video for check-in and we would no longer be charged a fee.

After a few more ups and downs (Our taxi driver showed up! It was difficult to find our room even with the video), we settled in for bed. We were both pretty grumpy and the fact that there were significantly more than zero bugs in our room (moths, mosquitos, ants, etc.) didn’t help.

Then we woke up to this:

We had literally fallen asleep in paradise – only it had been too dark for us to notice. The grounds were stunning and each building uniquely made – including our tree-house-esque room.

We started the morning with outdoor yoga and a homemade “breakfast” – served close to 10:00am and made from lentils, rice, plantains, and papaya. It was an usual combination at a rather odd time, but it was downright delicious.

The rest of the day was spent at the pool. Full disclosure, I have a hard time relaxing – but this was the most zen I can remember being in a LONG time.

I had a timer to reapply sunscreen every two hours because the only shade came from the trees. Otherwise, I alternated between my beach read + lounger and the pool. I had the space to myself for most of the day.

Chandler and I had been sick our first few days in San Juan and I was finally feeling better, so a Corona by the pool was just what the doctor order : )

This is probably where our day should have ended, but we still had our tour of Mosquito Bay. We called our favorite taxi driver – by this point we were on a first name basis with Lucy – and she drove us into town. We grabbed a quick dinner and were ready as the sun set. We boarded a bus to make our way to the kayaks.

Our first surprise: Everyone had to take their shoes off. Our second surprise: It started raining. We then trudged through a muddy, decaying mangrove forest (imagine the worst porta potty you’ve ever smelled) and couldn’t help but laugh at the ups and downs we had encountered on this tiny island.

We had chosen Taino Aqua Adventures because their kayaks are clear, which I have to say was pretty cool. But we later learned that our tour occurred on a pretty non-luminescent night. A light glow (not detectable in photographs) shone from the water every time we rowed and we could see a bit of light where the kayaks rested in the water – otherwise we were in the dark.

We had a rather informative session in the bay about the science and history behind the bioluminescence (while it rained on us). The bay had stopped glowing after the last hurricane and also in the past due to pollution – tourist are no longer allowed to swim in the bay and that has greatly helped the bioluminescence, which is caused when the dinoflagellates are disturbed. Cool.

The only thing of note to really happen was when a school of fish swam around us – they glittered and glowed the whole time and that really was magical.

After the tour, we trekked back through the mangroves, “washed” our feet with two cups of water, and were returned to town on the bus. We were ready for a shower and to call it a night. Lucy was right on time and we had gone about a kilometer when she got a phone call. Another group of tourists was stranded in town and needed to get to the ferry (last one of the night) in the next 20 minutes.

Her rescuing us the night before is exactly what led her to rescue them. So, instead of a 10 minute drive back to the hotel, it took 45 minutes.

Thus wrapped up our time on Vieques. The next morning we were up before yoga and breakfast and had a pretty uneventful ferry ride back to the main island (minus the crashing waves and about a third of the boat getting seasick).

We keep telling ourselves no more boat trips…maybe one day we’ll learn. I’m kind of glad we haven’t yet though – at least I had one magical day in Puerto Rico.

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