My wife Mary and I already knew that we were going to be in St. Thomas until 6/14, so we thought "why not visit Vieques while we were 'in the neighborhood'?" TripAdvisor was invaluable during our research - particularly the Trip Reports - so it seems appropriate to return the favor. We wanted to be close to the nightlife of Esperanza, but far enough away to have peace and quiet. We zeroed in on Hector's by the Sea and were delighted to learn that they could accommodate our brief trip. Through Hector's we also arranged to rent a vehicle from Chepito's. We booked one-way airfare from St. Thomas to Vieques with Air Sunshine, which is where I'll begin.
TripAdvisor recommended that we call Air Sunshine to confirm our flight a day in advance. It would prove pivotal, as our 4:00 PM flight was moved to 11:30 AM. The airline had called our home phone and left a message, but we probably should have left a cell phone number instead. In any event, the change in schedule meant that we'd be in Vieques in time for lunch, so it was a welcome surprise.
To say that Air Sunshine runs its business casually would be an understatement. We arrived at the airport in St. Thomas an hour and half early, only to find an empty check-in counter. We dialed the toll-free number posted on the counter, only to have a recording inform us that the office was closed on Sunday and that we should call back during business hours. I kept calling the number until I finally got through, and was ultimately told to sit in the commuter arrivals section of the airport and to wait for the pilot to greet us about 15 minutes before the flight was scheduled to take off.
True to her word, the tiny Air Sunshine plane landed at 11:15. The pilot hopped out of the window, removed all of the luggage from the plane, and then walked over to where we were sitting, reading our names from a mimeographed sheet of paper. He "weighed" our luggage by picking up each piece and making mental notes, after which he loaded us up and took off. Our luggage wasn't screened, nor were our IDs checked. When all is said and done, however, we arrived on-time and in one piece, so my take on Air Sunshine is ultimately positive.
Hector and Mary had instructed us to take a público from the airport, and there was a driver waiting inside the terminal when we arrived. He knew exactly where Hector's by the Sea was, which set our minds at ease. The públicos in Vieques are vans that will accommodate 6 to 8 people and will make multiple stops. In our case, it made 2 stops in Isabela Segunda and then drove us to Hector's. The fee was $15. I gave the driver a $20 bill and seemed to make his day.
As expected, our casita at Hector's wasn't ready for our early arrival, but our rental car from Chepito's was waiting for us, so we drove into Esperanza and had lunch at Bili's. We ordered typical Puerto Rican tapas - tostones, mofongo, etc. - tasty, simple and plentiful. A good experience.
When we returned, our room was ready. Hector gave us the run-down of its features: ceiling fan and A/C if we needed it (most nights we didn't), kitchenette with sink, plates, bowls and utensils, microwave, small fridge, etc. The casitas were designed and built by Hector and had a cozy but open and welcoming feel to them. Hector has four horses who remained in a small, contained area for most of the day but were free to roam the lawn between 1 and 5. For that reason we were encouraged to close the gate behind us whenever we took our car into town.
For dinner, we elected to eat at Mucho Gusto. The single greatest regret of our short trip was not visiting El Quenepo on the only night it would be open while we were there. Suffice to say, Mucho Gusto was a disappointment - my wife's chicken and my swordfish were overcooked, the beans were watery and the rice clearly not fresh. I must have picked a dozen bones out of my "fillet". We were the only ones in the restaurant throughout our meal, and now we know why.
On Monday we walked from Hector's to Black Sand Beach (Playa Negra), a short 15-minute walk/hike across sand and rocks. As Hector warned us, one should wear shoes/sandals one doesn't mind getting wet during the trip to get there. It also helps to have some traction, as some of the rocks are a bit tricky. Once we got there, we were treated to an empty beach with just enough sand for us to lay our towels. The ocean was warm and - once we got beyond the initial waves - the sand was silky smooth. We spent about an hour there and then returned to the casita to regroup.
Lunch was at Banana's in Esperanza - a decidedly tourist-oriented place. I don't even remember what I had to eat. It wasn't bad - but it wasn't memorable. Dinner was at Bili's - and we're glad we came back. My wife and I split a paella appetizer that was particularly flavorful. Then my wife had chicken breast while I had snapper. I should note that unless a menu reads "fillet" you are likely to be served a whole fish, as I was. I quickly got past my initial surprise and had myself a great meal.
Tuesday started out rainy and remained that way, so we decided to venture up to Topacio in Isabela Seguna for lunch. As was the case at Mucho Gusto, we were the only ones in the restaurant, but it was a very different result: our meals were excellent. I had lobster and penne pasta with a Creole sauce. Very tasty! We had dinner at Trade Winds - an excellent choice. I had a local fish fillet with rice and beans and sweet plantains, and we enjoyed the thunder and lightning over the ocean.
That night we settled up with Hector, who invited us into his home and talked about family, careers, etc., making us feel right at home. Terms at Hector's are cash, check or travelers' checks - credit cards are not accepted. We also paid Hector for the rental car (also cash). We were told that we could drive the car to the airport the following morning, park it in the lot and leave the key under the mat - which is exactly what we did - once again far more early than necessary. If only I had known that the airport featured free wifi! Our Cape Air flight to San Juan was uneventful - a good thing - although it meant that we were gone too soon from a place we already miss...