Vieques Puerto Rico Part 2 - Bikes, Beaches and Blow Outs
So, are you nice and settled in your accommodation of choice? You have scoped out the local bars and taken a quick dip in the sea to wash off some of that airplane fug? Surely no one comes all the way to Vieques just to mooch about a tiny fishing village right? Damn straight, they come to explore.
And here starts the eternal debate in Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet forums about how best to navigate a country with no discernible public transport system . Puerto Rico in general has very poor public transport following as it does the US model where the car is king. Unlike the rest of Latin America which has a fantastic bus and coach network servicing pretty much all the big cities and rural back waters if you don't have a car you are basically seen as a wierdo or a bum and are left to the whims of others.
Vieques is no different from the rest of Puerto Rico in so much as there is no proper bus service but an ad-hoc system of private publico mini-buses that circumnavigate the island and drive along popular highways hoping to pick up a fare. You can't be in a hurry as there are no timetables and no guarantee when and if a van will show up. As it happens when we got off the plane there was a chap sitting there waiting to take our 15$ p/p fare to Esperanza, which is just as well as I made the controversial decision not to hire a car.
Understandably many visitors insist that the only way to get around the island is by rental car booked as far in advance as planning will allow (apparently there is a "shortage" of rentals) in order to guarantee your freedom. Whilst it is undoubtedly more convenient and a must for the elderly or families with kids I felt cycling would give me a better feel of the island ultimately and be less hassle. It was the best decision I made.
I hired a bike from rambunctious outdoorsman Garry from Vieques Adventure Company . He has no premises so like many things on Vieques everything has to be done over the phone. The 3 day rental was $75, non negotiable, but decent value as you are supplied with a good quality Trek mountain bike with disc brakes, helmet, rucksack, pump and a couple of inner tubes (you will need them). After I handed my money over and told him about my plans he gave me this pearl of wisdom
"Speed up when you see dogs, they aren't too friendly round these parts"
First day I thought I'd take it easy and check out a number of the nearer beaches on the south side. First up is Playa Media Luna a very easy 3 mile ride past the palms of Sun Bay on a dirt road and into the bush. It is a secluded, calm crescent shaped beach which is good for kids as the water remains shallow for a distance. Scenes from classic film Lord of The Flies were filmed here but despite its history it is a little tame for my tastes.
If you continue another mile or so along the bumpy road you will get to Playa Navio which is a fun little beach with aqua marine water a few more waves. Contrary to popular internet opinion the waves weren't really good enough for body surfing (lugging the body board there was a waste of time) and the Sunday afternoon game of beach volleyball failed to materialise. One of the nicer beaches none the less.
To complete my south side sweep I headed West from Esperanza along the PR997 and PR201 which are decent tarmac road (funding from Washington in full effect) and with less traffic as it heads away from the "action". Down this way I experienced the dog problem Garry warned me about. There is nothing that gets you pumping the pedals quicker than a mangy mutt snarling at your heels. Perhaps Lance Armstrong should have tried that trick instead of juicing on steroids.
Things get interesting the further down this road you go. There are funky little shacks with people wiling away the afternoon on their porches. In places bizarre pick up truck sized boulders litter the verdant landscape and the countryside takes on the air of the Wild West. About 5 miles down this road you get to Playa Grande, a truly untamed beach which feels like it could be off the set of Jurassic Park. There are imposing views of Mount Pirata and the untouched palm lined coast. Not a soul or a man made structure to bet seen for as far as the eye can see.
On the way back to Esperanza about 3 miles on the right is the turn off for Playa Negra. You can have your own little Indiana Jones adventure as the beach is accessed through a jungle path down a semi dry river bed. I wheeled my bike through the foliage and over tree trunks to get to this seldom visited beach and to be honest it was a little underwhelming. I have seen better black sand beaches as the volcanic sand seemed to have be diluted lessening its dramatic effect.
On my way back the detour was made worthwhile by a herd of wild horses which appeared out the jungle and blocked my way out. I don't know who was more surprised, them or me. After a brief stand off they slinked past eyeing me with suspicion to a drinking hole created amongst the bows of some old logs.
Feeling pleased with myself as I traipsed back along the riverbed I heard the noise that every cyclist dreads.
At this point I kind of was hoping it for a Fer-de-Lance or Black Mamba wrapped around my to my leg, anything would be better than a puncture. As I wheeled my way back up the path and onto the road I tried to pump the tyre back up hoping it was a slow one that I could fix in the relative comfort of the Inn. No such luck. As I turned a corner the tyre blow out and I nearly went headlong into the ditch. I was a good 90min walk from Esperanza it was getting dark and I would have to negotiate those dogs on foot unless I did a roadside repair.
After a few aborted fittings where my mind entertained thoughts of falling foul of machete wielding Puerto Rican gangbangers (Eh Gringo! you are a long way from home my frieeeend!) I got the tube changed and cycled back joyfully, my body coursing with endorphins of relief. Those dogs would have to find dinner elsewhere tonight.