[cont. -- In Search of Chupacabras and Dino Flagellates in Puerto Rico (and Discovering Entropic Quantum Chaos in its Place)) Day 2]

July 3 Ė Vieques

Woke up in Old San Juan. Had breakfast in the courtyard and wandered around the gardens and hung out up on the roof. Then we walked down to the fort, which was actually pretty impressive. Kind of like the fort in St. Augustine, Florida but the setting is much cooler, on a jutting peninsula and surrounded by graveyards, groves of sea grapes and a vast expanse of Bermuda grass. It was massive. We clambered around the fort walls and poked around the nooks and crannies of the fort, then retreated back to the hotel and played with the parrots while we waited for our ride to Fajardo. The cockatoo took a liking to my shirt and took a death-grip bite and would not let go. 

  Our taxi showed up on time, Alberto was our driver. He was a displaced Dominican that blared salsa music and tried to interest us in the various foods that roadside vendors were selling, and we even tried the Alcapurias (sp?), but not impressed. Everything just tastes like grease and salt regardless of whether its plantain or yucca or whatever. But I suppose you have to try it. I tried to inquire about Chupacabras, but it was no matter to be taken lightly. Turning down the blaring Merengue music, Alfredo confided that he personally had never seen a Chupacabra, but was sure there was a lot of strange shit out there (decapitated goats, cattle, crop circles, etc.) that defied normal explanations.

 

The road from San Juan to Fajardo was basically one long strip of strip malls, used car lots, Wal-Marts and burger kings (BK definitely wins the fast food wars in PR). And it wasn't even a highway, but we hit stoplights every 1/2 mile, so it was stop and go the whole way with not much to see except the enshrouded El Llungue lurking at the top of the mountain (where according to Alberto, people mysteriously disappeared like it was some sort of El Llunque triangle).

The Fajardo-Vieques ferry. A phenomena in and of itself that is a case study in human entropy. What could be a simple thing of showing up and getting on a boat, is made incredibly convoluted and complex by unclear directions and conflicting schedules. Instead of consulting the usual three sources and taking two that corresponded, you had to consult 5-7 sources and take the average and multiply by numerous other incidental factors. And the schedule on the official Vieques Port Authority site is furthest from the truth. We were told by at least 65% of the people we asked to show up 2 hours early to buy tickets for the 3 PM ferry at 1 PM, and were told by the port authority police that the ticket counter opened at 1 PM. Tons of people were gathering and forming a somewhat haphazard line in the hot sun, but nobody showed up to sell tickets til around 2 PM. And once the ticket counter opened, the line started bleeding in on the edges up front so it only proceeded to get longer and longer. Everyone felt they were an exception to the rule so they would cut to the front and flash their Vieques identity cards or say they had a crippled child in a wheelchair, and then they were all purchasing thick wads of dozens of tickets. It was insane, and I don't think there was any rational reason for the insanity as it was a huge boat. And getting the tickets was only the beginning of it. After that, everybody was freaking out scrambling and jockeying for position in line, which I don't think anyone even really knew where the boat was coming in at. We went and got a sandwich (one thing for sure, the poultry products rock in PR) and chilled for a while, then felt like maybe we should join in the riotous scrambling or we might miss the boat or at least the full ferry experience. Interspersed with the toothless, drunk and tattooed day-trippin' Puerto Ricans were scared and ridiculous looking white people that looked like missionaries in long-sleeved shirts and straw hats, complaining that they felt like they were in barn full of animals and trying to figure out the logic behind the system. For example, the logic behind the "line for senior citizens" that was chocked full of all sorts of able-bodied walks of life, and once that line opened, all hell broke loose and everyone stampeded over to that line to try to push their way through, trampling any old or weak people in line. A beautiful display of survival of the fittest in the animal kingdom.

And after all this, once we got on the boat it was only half full and you could pretty much sit anywhere, at least in the overly air-conditioned interior. The captain was handing out barf bags, but it wasnít that bad. We had a good seat outside on the deck and enjoyed the ride. There was this little girl on the ferry that was really cute and haughty. I didnít think to take a picture of her.

 

When we got to Isabel II in Vieques, we called up Karl the bike guy, and he was there in seconds with our bikes. Once the crowds cleared, we realized that Isabel II was not really a town after all but just a place for the ferry to land. Karl is an American guy who decided to move to Vieques and open up a mountain bike shop. A perfect idea for an island the size of Vieques, but unfortunately not something most people took to. Matter of fact I think we saw more people on horseback than bike. But the preferred method of transportation was definitely the car. Puerto Ricans love their cars. Nice big SUVs for single-lane roads. But for the most part they were pretty good about steering around us. How could you not take pity on two pathetic Americans, drenched in sweat and top heavy with backpacks, grueling their way through the mountainous jungle trying to find the way to their hotel?

We finally found it, La Finca. I figured out it was the hotel because the dogs in the front yard didn't attack me, so I figured they were used to strangers walking into the yard. A couple was playing backgammon on the porch and directed us to Jose Alfredo, a laid back and perpetually shirtless hippy Venezuelan guy. Using less than 10 words, he showed us around the compound, pointing out items of relevance such as the pool and the toilet, and the star fruit tree that was the only tree that was in season. The house itself was a sprawling shack-mansion made of plywood of tin with all sorts of extensions and rooms added to it. It had huge porches and hammocks hanging everywhere and everything was open and shared.

 

By the time we got there it was just before sunset and, doi, it occurred to us there wasn't a pizza-by-the-slice place next door and we had to fend for ourselves if we were to survive the night. Jess was still recovering from the trip up, so it was up to me to switch over to hunter-gatherer mode and speed down the hill like a bat of hell to the town of Esperanza a few miles away. The first store I came to had dozens of drunk people hanging outside in the dirt yard shooting the shit and throwing their beer cans in a big trophy pile. I ransacked the store for anything remotely edible, the only vegetables they had were onions. Got 4 liters of water, a six-pack of beer, a can of beans and a bottle of coqui fire hot sauce. We were set. Lugged it all back up the hill before it got dark. Good thing there was a pool waiting. Floated on my back listening to the birds and bugs.

[Next - July 4-5 - Vieques]

 

(c) 2004 Text and Photos by Derek White and Jessica Fanzo