“All the woulda-coulda-shouldas layin’ in the sun,
talkin’ ‘bout the things they woulda-coulda-shoulda done…
but all those woulda-coulda-shouldas all ran away and hid
from one little did”
-- Shel Silverstein
Though Miguel made me practice riding the 125cc scooter in the sand parking lot, I was a tad wobbly when I pulled onto 996 and continued to ride with my feet suspended outward for balance. Turning right onto 997 was awkward. I expected it to be similar to steering a car or four-wheeler like on Santorini – using the wheel or handlebars. But the Yamaha was more like steering a stand-up jetski, where simply leaning into a turn translated to the vehicle turning as well. Like I learned in skydiving (and it applied to all aspects of life) where your head goes, your body will follow. I’m sure I looked unsteady as I putted down 997 and Jeeps overtook me at every opportunity.
997 looked vaguely familiar and I realized it was the same road Miguel and I traversed the night before to reach Esperanza from the ferry dock. I was starting to draw my mental map of the island. I approached The Seagate – as it is referred to by locals & Lonely Planet – which is actually the entrance to Vieques’ Wildlife Refuge and many of the island’s beautiful beaches (i.e. Garcia Beach/Playuela [locally] & Blue Beach/Bahia de la Chiva).
(Courtesy of Steve the magician)All of the southeastern beaches diverge from this solitary road, so you really just need to decide where to turn off. I passed Playuela and considered following the trail at the second turn-off to Red Beach/Caracas (locally) but I had my heart set on finding, ironically, Secret Beach/Pata Prieta & Playa Plata/Orchid Beach. Yet, after Caracas the main road was replaced by a less motorcycle-friendly dirt road. I pressed on, the only motorized vehicle I could hear in the area. I fully planned on going as far east as possible (anything north of the road was restricted due to live mines leftover from the United States' Navy) but there were neon orange construction signs stating the bridge was under construction, so I backtracked a few blocks & followed the rutted trail to Pata Prieta. I bounced around, veering to miss huge ditches, and locked up the brakes in time to stop on the plateau of a rocky and steep hill. I immediately shut the bike off and rolled it backwards up to the plateau with much resistance (since there was no reverse). From the hilltop I could not see Secret Beach and seriously doubted that mi motocicleta a.k.a. my motorcycle would have enough horsepower to make it back to the top once down. And if it couldn’t, I knew I physically could not push it up the slope… geez, I struggled just to backpedal a few feet. I considered hiking the rest of the way but had flip-flops on and gauged myself far away from the sea. I had not been expecting the roads to be in such terrible shape (the map that most places in Vieques provided, drew the trails as thinner, gray, paved streets) so I sadly turned my back on my dream of swimming at Pata Prieta.
(Steve found Pata Prieta!)My options were limited to Playuela and Caracas because they could be reached from the paved main road and they had wider, more level trails. However, after I emerged from the jungle trail, it hardly seemed I was short-changed with Red Beach/Caracas.
The menacing clouds continued to be blown eastward, and in a short amount of time the sun reappeared with guns blazing. Although I wore SPF 50 sunscreen, I smelled my skin tanning. Yet after enduring months of snow & freezing temperatures in Ohio, I welcomed finally feeling warm. I opened the 500-page novel I brought from home and started reading.
Then my curse kicked in…
I started thinking I had read too long. I wondered what time it was. I looked at the map & wondered what beach I could visit next without being late for my 14:00 appointment. Then, the new me shook the old me & roared “GET A GRIP SISTER!” Good grief. I thought I had unwound compared to when I first arrived in Puerto Rico, but I was on this picturesque beach constantly checking my watch – and in essence waiting for the time that I would leave. Realizing the little devil on my shoulder was about to strangle the little angel on my other shoulder, I mentally took charge of the situation. I wanted to enjoy this beach & this vacation. I desperately wanted to let go – if only for this week – of my old routines such as always next-ing. Right then & there I refocused myself: Michelle, your heart brought you here to experience the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world. Let go of everything else…
And you know what? I truthfully did. It was like I could physically feel the weight lift as my motives shifted and timelines extinguished. My mood changed from rushed & tense to carefree. And you know what’s even better? I remained this way through the end of my trip. You are here. Tonight you are going to quench your heart’s desire. You overcame yourself. I knew you would do it, I silently congratulated myself.
The bay was calm but waves continued to break on the rock walls that comprised the western end of the beach… and I wanted a closer look. The sun now beat on my back & I was grateful because the front part of my body needed a break from its UV rays. There were maybe 10 other people that I shared the entire beach with, so there were no on-lookers as I watched crabs maneuver in & out of the pock-marked rocks. The wall of rock jutted into the Caribbean Sea and I saw two teenage boys jump off the point.
Back at my towel, the palm trees swayed in Vieques’ breeze. The pavilion in the lawn started to fill with tourists hauling large coolers. I continued to read & even reached the point of nodding off, but around 12:30 the beach became noticeably more populated. Three pairs of wives & husbands situated themselves rather close to me. I endured the couples for twenty minutes but they were the loudest, most obnoxious clan on the beach so I interpreted their cackling as a sign it was time to go.
En route to Alta Vista to clean up, I stopped by Miguel’s malecon shack to say hola una otra vez a.k.a. hello again. He was overwhelmed with beach-goers in need of gear and didn’t really care when I paid him. I didn’t really care either so I said I would call or talk to him soon. At the parador I grabbed my waterproof, disposable camera, money, and multiple Ziploc bags I brought from home.
I decided to grab lunch at Bellybutton’s on the malecon which doubled as the meeting location for Abe’s Snorkeling’s tours. I had a great view of the bay. Unfortunately, the menu was limited and contained typical American sandwiches like a Philly cheesesteak or ham sandwich. Likewise, there were only unhealthy side dishes like potato chips or french fries. I was hardly impressed – especially given the so-so service & steep pricing – but I only had 30 minutes before the bio-bay tour. The numerous ceiling fans oscillated but it was so humid they merely moved more stuffy air around. As I sank into the bar chair, it sort of felt like I was suffocating. I also became aware of my sunburnt face, shoulders and forearms. My greasy lunch arrived and about half way through the sandwich this little guy showed up, panting. I didn’t want to encourage the stray – and possibly rabid – dogs but he was adorable & if I was dying in a swimsuit and beachwear, he must have been miserable.
Around 14:00 a very tan, tall, blonde young woman wearing an Abe’s Snorkeling shirt started collecting money. It was time to accomplish the major -- and really only -- goal for this entire trip...