In the past year since I have been traveling for work back and forth to New York each week, I have had the pleasure of going to some really incredible places on alternative weekend travel in leiu of returning home. I have a few great trips I’d like to share but to start I will talk about one of the most beautiful places I have ever been – Puerto Rico, and more specifically, the island of Vieques.
When I decided to go to Puerto Rico, it was pretty spur of the moment and only “planned” two weeks in advance. I’m not really sure how I even decided it would be a good weekend trip, as it is a four hour flight from New York City. Not only would this be my first flight across an ocean (yes, I know, late to the game) but I decided to go solo – pretty daunting when you think about going somewhere unknown (and to a secluded island) in a place that primarily speaks Spanish. Although I took 3 semesters of Spanish in college, it turns out I know nothing beside a few basic phrases – definitely not enough to keep me alive if I had gotten in a questionable situation.
I left for San Juan on a Thursday night after work. I was not going to arrive to the island around midnight and could not get a flight to the other island so I booked the Sheraton in Old San Juan. My good luck started with a First Class upgrade both ways. On the runway, I discovered my spirit animal (pictured below). This nameless man had me laughing before take-off.
The flight was pretty smooth and I got to see an amazing storm out at sea since we flew the entire time over the Atlantic. And finally we landed in San Juan and it looked incredible all lit up. After flying over pitch-black nothing for so long it was good to see some life.
I realized upon arriving at the hotel that everyone In Puerto Rico would come to assume I was a Latina and native Spanish speaker. Almost everyone I encountered on my trip would begin speaking to me in Spanish and only would switch to English after seeing my deer in the headlights look and realizing I was actually just a tan-dark-haired-English-speaking-American.
I was pretty exhausted when I arrived to the hotel and was planning to go straight to bed. That all quickly changed when I got to my room. I had booked a regular room and somehow I got the Presidential Suite (the luck hits again) for the night – I had a dining room, living room, patio and bedroom…with a really great patio with views of the Fort and port. As I started looking at what the hotel had given me, I noticed five $5 bet coupons. For this I needed to go to the casino downstairs and for every $5 I played in Blackjack they would add another $5. I was clearly tempted with a good time so I went downstairs and took $40 from the ATM machine.
I found the lowest bet BlackJack table with $5 bets. I’m more of a Craps girl but that was not an option. This Blackjack table was getting pretty exciting and I was eager to join in the fun. Most of the other players were Spanish speaking but the only other girl at the table spoke English and turned out to be quite the Blackjack guru! She was so sweet and taught me some tricks. I went up and down with my $40 for the next 2 hours but ended up leaving the table with exactly what I’d started with! I learned how to double down and also won quite a few $1 bets on getting dealt doubles (I have no idea what that bet was called but I had killer luck with it). I cashed out and headed to bed knowing that I had a really terrifying journey ahead of me in the morning.Friday was decidedly a vacation day when I threw together this trip knowing I would have to get to the other island. I got to the airport to start my journey to Vieques, which was ironically called Isla Grande. To call this an airport is a slight stretch but in their defense it’s just small planes that go in and out of here taking tourists to various Caribbean islands. Isla Grande is a far cry from Hartsfield, or the Binghamton airport for that matter – there is no security, essentially all they require is your weight in order to figure out seating to balance out the tiny aircraft (definitely no Delta plane).
Naturally, the thought of flying on this seemingly toy plane (a small 6 seater Cessna) revamped my newly discarded fear of flying…only for a second. Luckily, I had gone skydiving the previous week making this flight seem like a piece of cake. I’d jumped from 14k feet from a pretty sketchy plane and depended on a stranger to safely guide my body to the ground without becoming an unrecognizable splatter on the ground. It’s a good thing I quickly got over it because my pilot was unimpressed with everything. He was a very disgruntled man and could have cared less about making us feel comfortable, to each their own. Thankfully the couple I shared the plane with were so kind and quickly became my adopted translators. The couple was visiting from Miami. She, originally from Columbia was clearly gorgeous and he, from Uruguay, gave her a run for her money.
We took off from the airport and after a slightly choppy climb we steadied out around 5k feet. Due to the skydiving the week before I had quickly convinced myself that should anything happen on this a plane I could easily get myself into the ocean safely – because 5k feet sounded laughable after clearly mastering the art of free-falling and jumping from sketchy planes. The view was absolutely breathtaking as we flew along the coast of the big island to the East toward Vieques. Soon it became obvious that Puerto Rico is extremely mountainous and dense with forests (fun fact they hold the U.S.’s only tropical rainforest).
After a short (and slightly terrifying) 20-30 minute ride, we safely bounced to the runway in Vieques. You basically get out and grab your bag and there you are, in paradise. I had booked my stay at the W Vieques Retreat. They actually have a lounge at the airport (which was even smaller than Isla Grande) where you grab a drink and wait for your escort to the resort. I’m typically not a “W” type of girl anymore but the pictures I’d seen were breathtaking. I’d set my standards a little low assuming they’d been photoshopped but boy was I in for a surprise.
The five minute ride to the retreat had me REALLY starting to wonder what I’d gotten myself into. I was basically alone (well, still with my new South American friends) on an island off an island…When I finally got to the hotel, however, all my fears were at ease. It was BEAUTIFUL and more than I could have ever imagined.
Luck was still fortunately on my side (let me please say, I am NOT a lucky person and this never happens, let alone for an entire trip) and I was given some extra awesome villa. It was love at first sight. The decorations were exactly my style and it was spacious with an amazing bathroom, by far my favorite part of the villa.
At this point, I’m torn. Do I stay in this gorgeous villa or go outside…well, after enduring and surviving a NYC winter (fake blizzards and all), outside won. I don’t think it took but a few seconds for me to be poolside lounging and contemplating how I could convince them to let me stay forever. I knew that Vieques is home to the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world and really wanted to go the first night I was there. Unfortunately time was not in my side, and I was not able to go. I turned in early after a long day and promised to check the beach out in the morning after a fabulous dinner at their restaurant.
The morning began with mimosas and some fruit – because I feel like that is what you should always have for breakfast in a place like this. Soon enough, I was off to check out the beach, which was basically my personal beach for the next two days. It was incredible. The sand was so clean and the water was the bluest-blue I’ve ever seen.
I wish I had more to tell you about my time in Vieques, but I simply can’t, because it was completely spent checked out with not a care in the world and only a few thoughts that I would allow to pass thru my mind. I highly recommend anyone visit this hidden gem. As I sulked unable to find a way to stay there “forever” I headed back the the Vieques airport the same way I came in. The only good part was that I had a really nice Polish pilot and that he let me ride shotgun going home. I prayed the entire time for his safety because Lord knows I was unable to land that plane safely….
Until we meet again, Vieques…
*all the photos in this post are exclusively the property of notfornothingyall.com and should not be reposted or reused without permission*