ESPERANZA – Vieques, Puerto Rico
18.1269° N, 65.4239° W
This is the place if you need to: unplug | commune with wild horses | swim with sea turtles
Last January, I spent more than a week off the grid. I traveled with friends to Vieques, an island in Puerto Rico. This was a time to enjoy the rugged beauty of the Spanish Virgin Islands. Commune with the wild horses. Swim with the sea turtles. Taste the local passionfruit and mofongo.
I took no laptop, no iPad, no smart phone. On purpose. For a digital media studies professor – for anyone really – I believe that digital naps are imperative. Taking a break helped me understand how hooked I really was …
The powerful (ahem – addictive) urge to tweet/Instagram dissipated in about 48 hours. The tweet-like thoughts eventually disappeared. You know, that short pithy commentary that springs fully formed –as if the Twitter muse had fashioned it just for you from somewhere beyond. While there were many tweet-worthy moments, my mind ceased crafting them into consumable content – thankfully. I just was. I just let moments be, with no need or desire to repurpose them into some vague personal branding enterprise. I was also freed from the tireless stream of status updates. I felt truly relaxed for the first time in years.
While there were many images of beautiful bays and delicious coconuts to share immediately while on vacation, I had to ask: what would be the purpose of this status post right now? To share my life aquatic with my friends and family? To inspire travel to Puerto Rico? To incite jealousy? To receive confirmation? Instant gratification? To see how many friends would like it? At that point, I didn’t care who liked or didn’t like what. I liked it. And I needed a break.
I found peace on Vieques, sipping punch, lazing with the iguanas in the bougainvillea. Watching the sunset, smelling the jasmine. During these moments, I reflected on the act of seeing through mediums. These days, when we have an experience – something beautiful or exciting we are often viewing it through a medium. A beautiful sunset – quick grab the camera. An impromptu concert in the streets – must be recorded and shared.
The trend is toward more mediated (indirect) and consumable experience. We create value through the recording and sharing of an experience. But what are we really sharing? And what is the value of a direct, unmediated, unshared experience? Does an undocumented experience still hold meaning and value?
If you want to plan a trip to Vieques – please allow me suggest going easy on the planning. And to leave your chargers at home.
We took a quick flight – a tiny Cessna – from San Juan to the island. The pilot took us low, hugging the postcard perfect aquamarine coastline. The five of us rented a villa with a wrap around terrace overlooking the ocean. It was glamorous (in a very shabby chic way) without breaking the bank.
There is a swanky W Retreat & Spa on the island, too. It’s currently winning awards for being a hot spot. It is hot, with all the expected W charms. But for something truly stunning, try the Inn at the Blue Horizon.
Here’s how we spent our days:
Breakfast was always a simple affair that involved lingering over a strong café con leche (or two) and a cuban pastelito (or two) and the morning paper at a local bakery, like Roy’s Coffee Lounge.
When the urge hit us, we foraged for provisions in town (ginger beer, banana chips) and hit one of the island’s beaches with our snorkel gear. We needed an SUV – beach hopping felt like a tropical, Indiana Jones jungle adventure. And hop we did – there are 41 beaches on Vieques. Blue Beach, Green Beach, Pirate’s Point, Playa Navio, Playa Negrita (a stunning black volcanic ash beah), Playa Prieta (secret beach). Each one unique. All glorious. The beaches were often secluded. Sometimes we each had our own palm-shaded lagoon.
Midweek, we acquired a machete at Black Beard Sports, so we could hack our way through some jungle. And open all those tempting coconuts. A beach guide can be found here. Black Beard can also arrange PADI dives and nighttime kayak trips to the bioluminescent bay.
On our way back from the beach, sandyfooted and sunsoaked, we sampled the parcha (passionfruit) punch at a low key place like Lazy Jack’s or Bananas. It was all too easy to spend hours in the lawn chairs, sipping out of plastic cups and telling tales of the day’s discoveries – sea turtles, tidal pools, starfish.
After cleaning up and another round of parcha punches back at the villa, we headed out for dinner. If you are a foodie, you will be delighted to hear that the restaurants on Vieques were marvelous – try Tradewinds, Bili’s, El Quenepo, and Chez Shack . No reservations necessary. The focus was on the freshest seafood (ceviche, shrimp, scallops, conch, Caribbean lobster) and local produce (passionfruit, guava, mango, plantains). And then there were the specialty rum flights.
Right now, Vieques is the best of both worlds. Just the right amount of development. Where you still have a sense of discovery. It feels a little like Tulum did in the mid-90′s, before the resorts and yogis came. The perfect, low-key place to unplug.