2000s Archive

An Island in Bloom

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We climbed back aboard Willo, pulled up anchor, and set sail again. Willy manned the helm while Captain Bill went below to get us libations. He gave Willy a beer and me a 7-Up but said it was too early for him, so instead he mixed himself up something he called “the captain’s cocktail.” The whole episode reminded me of growing up in the 1970s in Connecticut, where men in blue blazers worked hard and drank harder. Every once in a while, a character in jeans would happen onto the scene, someone who came out of the blue and didn’t have the same pressures of profession and family that the rest of the grown-ups did. They seemed to just kind of get by with a little house painting or carpentry. My father called these characters “dropouts from the leisure class,” and, indeed, we would learn later that they’d grown up in privilege in places like Princeton and Montclair but had ditched it all for a bohemian existence. And here was Captain Bill, divorced at least once and estranged from his adult children, living in Vieques with all his possessions below deck. This is exactly the allure of the island: It’s remote, it’s sleepy, a place to escape to, live a simpler life, work if you feel like it, start a business, or just become a dissipated drunk.

We went back to Café Media Luna for dinner on our last night. When we walked into the dark bar downstairs, the Puerto Rican proprietor greeted us like regulars. And there was his wife, the chef, a willowy Indian woman who left a career at J. P. Morgan to tend an open kitchen in Vieques, having a drink with Baby Llenza. It was the perfect small-town scene. Willy said, “Let’s move here.”

The Details

Staying There

Accommodations on Vieques are as varied as the fish that feed on the reefs just offshore—from super fancy to cheap and cheerful. If you want all the modern conveniences, stay at the Wyndham Martineau Bay Resort & Spa (787-741-4100; wyndham.com; from $335), which is perched on the Atlantic coast with Spanish stucco architecture, three secluded beaches, two tennis courts, a full-service spa, and the requisite swim-up bar. Sitting high in the interior of Vieques, Hix Island House (787-741-2302; hixislandhouse.com; from $210) is a completely different kind of compound. There is no maid or room service, but …there is a gorgeous pool, and the concrete lofts have full kitchens and staggering views. ¡Bravo! hotel (787-741-1128; bravobeachhotel.com; from $160) is the island’s answer to the W chain—sleek, modern, and spare—though it’s only got nine rooms and one villa. At the Inn on the Blue Horizon (787-741-3318; innonthebluehorizon.com; from $160), shades of sugar plantation grandeur live on in private casitas and regal landscaping. Just up the hill, Hacienda Tamarindo (787-741-8525; enchanted-isle.com/tamarindo; from $165) really does have the air of an old, lived-in farmstead—tiny balconies, individually designed rooms, a green parrot that whistles at the ladies, and breakfast served under the tamarind tree—that has thrown its doors open to wayfaring guests. Nestled in a grove of rubber trees, La Finca Caribe (787-741-0495; lafinca.com; $5,000 a week to rent for up to 27 people) is an extremely casual shared-bathroom commune that feels like a friend’s funny old beach house. There’s a big open common room with sandals in the corners and random paperbacks on the shelves, hammocks on slanted porches, ladders leading to bedrooms, and a very cool Venezuelan guy running the place. The Trade Winds Guesthouse & Restaurant (787-741-8666; enchanted-isle.com/tradewinds; from $75) is one of the oldest guesthouses on the island. The rooms are modest and comfortable, and the restaurant at breakfast time is a great place to debate local politics while drinking orange juice from a Ball jar. Hector’s by the Sea (787-741-1178; hmbtc@hotmail.com; from $130), owned by a native Puerto Rican who worked for years in New York City, is a gorgeous work in progress, with three small peach-colored stucco suites and a roof deck for outdoor massage—on rolling property that ends in the Caribbean. Rainbow Realty (787-741-4312; enchanted-isle.com/rainbow) is a good source for villa rentals, like a waterfront three-bedroom with a deck and a pool for $2,200 a week.

Eating There

No one goes to the Caribbean for the food, but there are some renegades on Vieques that just might raise expectations. Café Media Luna (351 Antonio G. Mallado, Isabel Segunda; 787-741-2594) highlights an inventive mix of flavors and textures in dishes like red curry duck wonton napoleons. Out of a new kitchen at the recently relocated Tropical Baby (340 Antonio G. Mallado, Isabel Segunda; 787-608-4261) come thick multigrain pancakes with caramelized bananas for breakfast and fresh salads and wraps for lunch. Chef Michael’s FoodSpace (1 North Shore Road, Bravos de Boston; 787-741-0490) is an airy café and shop with meats, cheeses, produce, prepared foods, and an outstanding inventory of wine. For dinner, M Bar (Route 200 across from the Martineau Bay resort; 787-741-4000) serves crowd-pleasers like garlic shrimp and steak with chimichurri sauce on an open terrace. Go to Chez Shack (Route 995, km. 1.8; 787-741-2175) for the congenial scene of beat-up 4x4s lined up along the road and back-slapping North Americans who’ve been on the island for more than 30 years.

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