Thursday, 6 December 2012

Trip Report: Vieques Puerto Rico Part 3 - Piers, Bunkers and Isabel Segunda

After yesterday's adventures I felt confident enough to tackle a long ride today. They don't come much longer or hotter then cycling from Esperanza via Isabel Segunda to Playa Arenas on the North-western tip. You need to take plenty of water and fill up when you can because its definitely thirsty work.

From Esperanza the easiest way to the North coast (if not necessarily the quickest) is to head up PR201 over the spine of the island past the turn off for the Wildlife Refuge beaches. The road is perfect with forest on either side and respectful motorists even though I saw only one either cyclist the entire day. Its only 5 miles to Isabel II but you do have to negotiate a reasonably large hill. The freewheel down kind of makes up for it though (I'm lying).

Compared to soporific Esperanza, Isabel II is a bustling metropolis with that typical faded Latin port charm that you find in the Caribbean. It has a lot more locals here so you do get more of a BoricueƱo experience. There are banks, hardware stores and estate agents but its not a particularly pretty town as all the original Spanish architecture has no doubt been wiped out by the regular hurricanes that lash the coast.

I grab some provisions from a colmado and head to the only historical structure of note, Fortin Conde de Mirasol, situated on a bluff overlooking the town. It a nice enough fort with some cannons, a museum and impressive views of the town but compared with the grand offerings in Old San Juan its like watching your local park football team after seeing a Barcelona master class at the Nou Camp.

From Isabel II its 10 miles west to Laguna Arenas and the first leg out of town isn't the most picturesque. People wonder why I bang on about cycling but there are a disproportionate amount of cars for such a lightly populated island and most of them congregate on this stretch. Luckily, you only have to put up with exhaust fumes for the first 4 miles of the PR200 because as soon as you get past the airport the traffic melts away and you are left with some wonderful countryside with a 28 Days Later vibe.

Just past the airport is the island's famous 300 yr old Ceiba tree. The Ceiba tree is respected in this part of the world and rumoured to have mystical powers and connections to the underworld. It just looks like a big thorny tree to me. There is a little beach here where I hang out with a Puerto Rican family doing what they do best; chilling on the beach. They pull their van into the shade of some palm trees, crank up the salsa music and get the barbeque going. Bliss.

A bit further along, Mosquito Pier is something of a curate's egg. A mile long stretch of concrete sea wall built in the 1940's it was initially planned to stretch all the way to the mainland and would have housed a huge naval base to rival Pearl Harbour. However, the project was abandoned early in its construction after the US realised it was unnecessary and risky have all their naval eggs in one basket.

Despite being over 70 years old it looks like there is some newer construction in the distance so I cycle to the end only to be stopped by a chain link fence protecting a run down guard house and little else. A forlorn security guard plods about and is only too happy to have someone to talk to when I make eye contact.

He tells me that six years ago the end of the pier was refurbished and there were grand plans to turn the structure into a cruise ship port. Unfortunately the project has been mired in red tape and "politica" and the poor guy had been made to stand there, like a character in a Franz Kafka novel, mindlessly protecting a few planks of wood for no discernable reason. To combat the boredom he has taken to livening up his empty days by creating little stone sculptures on the surrounding rocks. I humour him by taking some photos whilst simultaneously feeling his ennui.

Carrying on a few miles down the road there isn't a soul to be seen. The countryside opens up and the horses wander about freely oblivious to my presence. There is a derelict creeper covered church silently rotting by the side of the road. For me this part of the island is the biggest draw as aside from the strip of grey asphalt snaking its way through the foliage you get a sense that the island has looked much this way for thousands of years.

Another reason to come this far out is to have a snoop round the military bunkers the Navy used to store ammo. These Cold War remnants are not that well sign posted so you have take a left about 4 miles past Mosquito Pier to discover these bizarre concrete relics cut into the earth and camouflaged from the sky by the constant threat of impending jungle.

You could hold one amazing Tomb Raider themed game of paintball in this area with its maze of paths, abandoned structures and verdant slopes. If you look carefully there is still some faded military paraphernalia lying around indicating this was a hive of activity at one point. Now the area is merely a curio, an anachronism, a fragment of a bygone era.

From here its a comparatively short hop to Green Beach and its excellent snorkelling but it was getting late and I had more pressing concerns, namely, cycling the 15 miles back to Esperanza. I was beginning to think that 4x4 wasn't such a bad idea after all.

Next Week: Part 4 -The Wildlife Refuge Beaches.


  1. At least no blowouts this trip Yazzman. That chapel you passed was originally in San Juan and was moved to Vieques to highlight the transfer celebrations, when the Navy gave back to Vieques. The chapel is a replica of the original one that was in Vieques but was destroyed in a hurricane. There's a lot of conflict and protesting connected with the original chapel, even nuns and priests being handcuffed while protesting within the tiny place. That creeper covered chapel actually symbolizes more than just some forgotten religious sanctuary...well at least that's my take on it.

    Great report..thanx for sharing

  2. Hey guys

    Thanks for that cool bit of trivia, I'm suprised that if it was a gift and meant to symbolise Vieques independence it hasn't been kept in better condition.

    I though it was quite cool to have it overgrown..perhaps its was God wanted :)

  3. Here is a link to a photo we took in July 2011. Interesting to see that the vegetation had been cut. Stands to reason that the creepers are growing faster than island time hold back.

    Thanks for the blog. Glad to see you attempted your trip with a bicycle. It looks to have been worth it. We took the same drive and missed the bunkers. I also don't remember the guard shack.

    Did you make it to the jungle at the end of the road? That felt pretty Jurassic Park-esque too. I imagine it was quite eery on a bicycle with the closeness of the jungle and vines hanging in the road.

    Looking forward to the rest.

  4. Hi Brandi

    Thanks for the comments and great pic..shows you what can happen in this part of the world in the space of a year without maintenance. The inside was rotting away.

    I'm not sure what road you refer to. It was quite eerie in the bunker roads with vines and such hanging from the trees and not a soul about.

    I was knackered by the time I finished with the bunkers so did not ride all the way round past Green Beach if that is what you mean.

    Apparently there are the ruins of an old sugar plantation further into the bunker complex. Would have liked to have seen those but ran out of time, daylight and energy :)

    1. I was referring to the main road as you approached the fork just before green beach. Sounds like the area around the bunkers is similar.

      Sadly we ran out of daylight and didn't make it to the bunkers or sugar plantation.

  5. Thanks for your trip report. It took me back to our trip there this past January and our exploring of the bunker area. One day we ended up at the radar station while looking for the plantation ruins. We found a little "pig path" nearby that my husband insisted on trying to go down in our Jeep with me screeching to "get out of here!" - talk about feeling the jungle creep in on you - I was envisioning guerillas with was so funny! It was great exploring that area. A friend of ours trained there when in the military and we were looking for some of the things he told us about. On the way to Green Beach, there was a beach just off the road near the church with a large field across the road - lovely horses everywhere. We loved Vieques and the longer we are gone from there, the more we want to go back.

  6. Hi Paula

    Thanks for your comments. Yes if you go to Vieques and don't see the bunker area you are missing out. It's unique.
    I think the beach you mention is very close to the church in the picture. It's kind of surprising to see the land open up like that.
    No doubt Vieques is a lovely place but the world is so big and there are so many places to see I tend not to go back to the same place twice.
    Always good to leave with happy memories.