This week’s dream
Vieques after the storms
Slowly but surely, Vieques is coming back to life, said Jan Benzel in The New York Times. Six months after hurricanes Irma and Maria battered this “lush, wild” island east of mainland Puerto Rico, power remains spotty, dependent mostly on generators. But the recovery effort is in full swing, and loyal travelers are returning to a rustic paradise even cheaper and less crowded than before. Vieques (pop. 9,000) has never been a fancy, “umbrella-drink-served-poolside” kind of Caribbean island. “Wild horses roam so freely that drivers have to wait for them to amble off the roads. And then there are the island’s jewels: palm-fringed, soft-sand beaches, stretches of which you may well have all to yourself.”
When I visited more than a month ago, damage was still visible in the town of Esperanza, “but the mood remained lively.” After sunset, construction workers, vacationers, visiting doctors, and dreadlocked Viequenses all gathered at a spirited local bar. As the chef worked a mesquite grill, diners flowed from table to table—“as if they were at a party.” I wound up talking to Mark Martin-Bras, a biologist who’s working to preserve Vieques’ Bioluminescent Bay, a natural marvel that draws sightseers from around the world. He was optimistic: “Now that we have the essentials covered—there’s food in the supermarkets, beer in the bars, music in the streets,” he said, “we have a chance to create tourism that’s more community-oriented, more nature-oriented.”
Another day, a guide and I roamed the island in a van, exploring the National Wildlife Refuge created in an area once used for bombing practice by the U.S. Navy. “Now, beachgoers can poke along dirt roads until they find gentle waters in coves, waves breaking on rocky cliffs and caves, palm-shaded sand, or prime sunset watching.” In Isabel Segunda, the island’s other town, people barely shrugged when the generator quit and applauded when it came back on. The use of solar energy is meanwhile spreading fast, and when I called around just a couple weeks after leaving, I learned that two more restaurants had reopened in Esperanza and were feeding full houses. “Good news travels fast on an island that depends on it.”
At Hacienda Tamarindo (haciendatamarindo.com), doubles start at $178 through April 19.