At 5am last Monday morning, I caught a bus to Logan airport where I flew to San Juan and met the rest of my family; my mom, my dad, my brother, Micah, and his longterm girlfriend, Jackie. From there, we took a TEENY TINY plane to Vieques, which is an island about 8 miles off the Eastern coast of Puerto Rico.
The funny thing about traveling: when we first stepped out into the hot air, it felt surreal and inappropriate. I had my winter boots on and my down coat over my shoulder. Within half an hour, it made so much sense that I couldn’t even picture the snow in my driveway. It seemed like a sad dream from long ago — the details fuzzy and no longer important.
While we waited to board the plane, the baggage handler pointed at me and asked, “co-pilot?”
And so in I went, next to the pilot who drank a hot Starbucks coffee and had beads of sweat clinging to his forehead. I was at the front of the plane. I couldn’t have been any closer. (This is where I should mention that I have a real fear of heights. Not the kind of fear that prevents me from sky diving, the kind of fear that affects how I walk down a flight of stairs).
But for some reason, I felt calm and confident and I’m not sure if it was the vacation vibes sinking in, but I even enjoyed myself.
My family was crammed in the back, looking exactly like they were all catching a ride to a soccer game, which was also oddly comforting. My dad snapped these pictures:
Once we arrived, we were immediately introduced to the Vieques way: which is to say, caaaasual. Impatience, itineraries — those are things that slide off the island like oil on water.
One thing I loved about the island: the horses. They’re everywhere; eating grass by the road, walking through town, sleeping in the hot sun. Some of them are owned by people on the island, but most of them roam free, moving out out of the way for cars and trucks at their own leisure.
“Horse!” we exclaimed every time we passed one on the road. It became a compulsion. I wondered how long it would take for us to pass one with the same indifference that we pass squirrels. It didn’t happen.
The hotel we stayed at is owned and designed by John Hix, so our rooms were big and open with one side completely exposed to the jungly outdoors. A room with three walls, I described to friends.
It took a little while to adjust, especially on the first night, when I felt acutely aware of how exposed I was. I could hear a horse loudly chewing on dry grass, and at one point, a confused flying thing (a large insect? a bird? a bat?) came diving into the room before quickly zipping out. I crawled under my mosquito net and read my book, and by the third night, I really enjoyed it, flicking beetles off the net and brushing the sand out of my bed like I’d done it my whole life.
In the mornings, a sweet woman would arrive at my door holding a laundry basket filled with goodies. While she chatted amicably to me in Spanish, I would nod and sleepily accepted breakfast: homemade sesame bread, local eggs, cold pineapple juice, fruit, and coffee.
On the second day we headed to the fish market in town, which was a big room with just a weight, a few coolers, and some handwritten signs.
We picked out three groupers that had just been caught hours before. The fishermen hosed down the buckets outside while one man scaled the fish and then insisted that I take his picture:
That night, we made Piña Coladas and my dad pan-fried the fish with salty olives and capers.
Micah and Jackie’s room was right next to mine, separated by a thick cement wall, so we made plans this way:
In the afternoons we went to the beach, and I would sit on a rock in shallow water and feel like a mermaid while I read my book, lifting it over my head as the waves crashed around my legs. One day, we went to the beach on the late side, and the light was so stunning that I think I said, “The lighting! Just look at the light!” about five hundred times. It turned everything a silvery opaque color that I wanted to greedily bottle up and keep, hidden under my shirt. As pretty as the photos came out, they still don’t do that afternoon justice. The colors reminded me of the pearly insides of a clean oyster shell.
While Micah fished and Jackie strolled along the shore, I took what I call an “old-fashioned selfie.” (taking a photo without using the mirror image option, ha).
Micah caught about fifty of these while we were on the island:
I loved being in my room, too — in a new place that instantly felt like my own, where I could hang out and drink a pineapple juice and watch the old horse graze in the field.
On the last day I cut up an apple and threw her some goodbye slices, and she ate them with the grace and nonchalance of a Vieques horse. On her time, at her pace.
Special thank you to my parents, who made this trip happen, and a Happy Birthday to my mom, who celebrated her 39th birthday while we were there.