First impressions


“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds.  When you’re traveling you are what you are right there & then.  People don’t have your past to hold against you.  No yesterdays on the road.”
-- William Least Heat Moon from Blue Highways

After Miguel dropped off “Doug’s sodas”, he drove me to one of the three towns on the island – Esperanza – to check-in at Bananas.  The sky over the island was dark as Miguel drove me down an asphalt road (it turned out to be 997, the main vein between the two) with no edges, guardrails, or lights, through the jungle.  Even in the double-axle van we swerved to avoid the sporadic potholes & Miguel warned “Stay away from the edges [on the scooter].”

I wasn’t entirely sure that my reservation was airtight at Bananas because when I initially called two weeks ago the bartender took my name but told me to call back the next day to give my credit card information.  I called at all hours of the day & left messages but had not talked to a Bananas employee since the bartender.  As Miguel pulled up to the bar/inn it was a busy place.  I told the guy my name, but he assured me he had no reservation nor rooms available. Miguel excelled at keeping his word whereas Bananas completely screwed me over.  I tried the parador a.k.a. guesthouse next door but they too were booked.  I was homeless.

As I attempted to secure a bed, Miguel had been imbibing at the other end of the malecon a.k.a. waterfront at Tradewinds – his bar of choice.  As much as I wanted to find lodging nearby, I confided in Miguel that I could not afford more than $75 por noche a.k.a. per night & Bananas had been the only affordable option in Esperanza.  Miguel said he understood.  He made a phone call then relayed his good news.  He knew the owners & most of the workers at Tradewinds and was able to persuade them to lower the price of their only vacant room to $75 (which included breakfast)!

The room was the perfect size for me. I heard the birds – or were those frogs? – still cooing outside thanks to the fact that the room had no glass windows; only shutters (that were already open) and mesh screens. Elated that I wasn’t going to have to sleep in a sketchy motel, I didn’t unpack & rushed back to the bar to celebrate with my new friend.
Miguel was seated on a bar stool at a tall wooden table for two people, chatting with Candy.  I rewarded my travels with Malibu rum & pineapple juice.  Miguel introduced me to Kathy, the woman who lent me the room.  Everything on the menu sounded mouth-watering: catch-of-the-day, plantains (my favorite), and seafood galore.  With much dissonance I ordered the house salad loaded with yellow peppers, cucumbers & a homemade passion fruit dressing.  Candy accidentally brought the wrong meal to our table.  Miguel jumped on the opportunity and whispered “Hurry up & try it, that way they can’t take it back [to the kitchen].” I dunked the ball of deep-fried conch fritter into the cilantro, lime cream sauce and was in gastronomic paradise.  That accidental appetizer & my light salad was just what I needed to revive me.  Miguel tossed back more Medalla Lights, as did I with my Caribbean drink, and we chatted about his business, my life in Ohio, and my itinerary in Puerto Rico.  Upon hearing I visited the country solo, Miguel responded “estas loca a.k.a. you are crazy.”  I wasn’t offended.  In fact, it was very satisfying to be sitting in the island breeze conversing candidly with someone I had known for just an hour.  I never felt like an outsider and Miguel generously introduced to me all the people he bumped into (and he seemed to know every local).  The full stomach, alcohol, and exhaustion caught up to me an hour later and – much to everyone’s dismay – I bowed out to shower and sleep.

Going to bed relatively early, the Caribbean heat, and my sheer excitement to start my vacation in Puerto Rico meant I was wide awake by 7:30.  The lively, dimly lit bar from last night had a different ambience today.  The mood lighting was replaced with bright sunshine & the bartenders were replaced with Tradewinds’ cleaning crew.  As I drank my passionfruit juice & ate Zucaritas a.k.a. Frosted Flakes, I couldn’t believe this was my view:
I was only spending 48 hours on Vieques so I felt the need to cram as many activities as possible. Around 8:30 I arrived at Fun Brothers’ wooden shack on the malecon to pick up my scooter as Miguel & two other tan, younger guys were setting up shop.  While chatting with Miguel he inquired where I was staying tonight.  Oblivious, I just said “Como? a.k.a. Huh?”  Miguel answered “They didn’t tell you the room is only for one night?” I was ready to take the 125cc Yamaha motorcycle, explore the island & dip my toes in the sea, but now I had to deal with this mess. I was aggravated by this obstacle but – like a great friend – Miguel offered if I didn’t have anywhere to stay, he could sleep at a friend’s house & I could lodge at his house in Monte Santo.  I was floored by his generosity. Yesterday, I would have declined for fear of being murdered in cold blood, but today I declined because I did not want to impose & put Miguel out of his home.
So instead of driving to the beach, I walked back to Tradewinds & quickly repacked (I had unpacked everything when I thought I had the room for two days).  I asked Evey at the front desk if she knew anywhere I could stay.  I braced myself for the price tag & pulled out my cell phone to call Alta Vista a.k.a. Top View.  Yet, Evey picked up her cordless phone & called for me. Though Alta Vista was just two – uphill – blocks away, it was already humid and I was pulling 20 pounds of baggage. Evey told me it was a yellow building on the right.  I had walked past a few yellow buildings – all of which resembled houses – so at the next yellow building on my right I decided to ask the two police officers standing in the driverway.  “Permiso, donde esta Alta Vista? a.k.a. excuse me, where is Alta Vista?” “Aqui! a.k.a. Here!” was their response. Oh.

Leary of my newfound lodging, the owner – who doubled as the front desk staff – was helpful and informative.  He gave me an overview of the island and pointed out other useful places like a panaderia a.k.a. bakery, grocery store, and Puerto Diablo a.k.a. Devil’s Port, the southern point of The Bermuda Triangle.  Even better, the room only cost $65! The owner carried my bag up to the second floor, down a narrow outdoor hallway and handed over the key.  “You don’t have a balcony but you have the best view…the roof” and directed me to the terra cotta staircase next to my room.  As he returned to his post in the lobby, I climbed to the roof.  Now I understood why the parador was called Alta Vista.  I was delighted to see a panoramic view of Esperanza, 996 curving towards Mount Pirata in the west & Cayo Afuera – the tiny island off Esperanza’s coast.

Despite now having a room to sleep & leave my belongings, I still felt frustrated that I lost most of my day (since my bioluminescent bay tour was at 14:00) to minor complications.  But when I looked at my watch it only read 10:00!  Thank goodness I inadvertently awoke so early that day. With a full stomach & full tank of gas, I could still squeeze some beaches into today’s schedule!
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* Tradewinds bar, restaurant, gift shop, and inn  787.741.8666
* Alta Vista which was never mentioned in my internet searches nor Lonely Planet 787.741.2440

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