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 Boricueño 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.