After our breakfast and my morning walk on our little beach, I walked up to the hotel office to inquire about getting ourselves to Culebra for a day sometime during our visit. Culebra is the third island that makes up Puerto Rico. It is smaller yet than Vieques and we thought it might be fun to island hop to check it out. They gave me some information about the available flights and prices and I took that back to Shane to discuss. It appeared we would have to spend a whole day on the island, taking a 9am flight and returning at 5pm, so we would want to be sure of our plan. While the woman spoke with someone at the airline (you have to take an air taxi to get there from Vieques or spend 3 hours on ferries each way - no thanks!), I noticed this great old sign with the original beach names and the new ones assigned by the NAVY during their presence.
Our first goal as we set out for the day was to check out the grocery store for a few things. We were looking for snacks, sunglasses for Shane (he forgot his) and sunscreen. We had made a couple quick stops the day before without much luck at local markets. Today, we found a much nicer, well stocked super market that actually had loose veggies (instead of having to buy two saran wrapped onto styrofoam - eww) and a nice selection of other things. The only snack we picked up were strawberries, but we got the sunscreen we were looking for. An employee suggested we try BlackBeard Sports for sunglasses, so we made our purchases and headed to downtown Isabel II.
Parking is no less that a nightmare, and we had to park somewhat illegally for Shane to be able to run into the store. I stayed in the Jeep at the ready to move it if needed. As he emerged with sunglasses in hand, a parking spot opened, and I pulled in. We went back into BlackBeard so I could have a look around. While we were there, I bought a fabulous floppy sunhat for the beach, we both got watershoes and we found a great T-shirt for Lexi that said Vieques on it... the one thing she asked us to bring her.
After a successful mini-shopping trip, we headed west to start a little geocaching adventure. There were 11 caches on the island and we (at least me!) hoped to find them all during our visit, picking up a few on this day. Our first stop was at Puente Aereo-VQS - Which is across the street from the little airport. I just loved the container that held the log here!
As I said, the airport is very, very small, so being stealthy is super tough. We were extraordinarily lucky in that a helicopter was preparing to take off when we arrived. A small crowd had gathered, and they were all watching the aircraft. That meant they had their backs to us, so we made the find, signed the log and watched the helicopter take off, while no one was any the wiser. It gave us the perfect excuse to be standing where we were and milling around too!
Our next stop wasn't far down the road. At an old NAVY guard shack, there was a geocache hidden called "10 11 12 13 14." It was hidden at 10:11 on 12/13/14, giving it its name. As we got out of the jeep and began our search, cats began appearing from all directions. We then noticed some small plastic dishes that made us think someone must be stopping by and feeding them regularly. Nearly all were apparently friendly, but since we didn't provide food right away, many wandered off pretty quickly.
We made the find, signed the log and took a look around at the artwork that has been done on the empty building. If these old buildings must sit empty, it's wonderful that they do their best to make them pretty and enjoyable.
We continued west and returned to a spot we had enjoyed already, the famous Ceiba Tree. As it turns out there's a geocache there, so we got to check it out again. There was another group of people exploring the park and taking pictures, so we milled around a bit before trying very hard to find the cache.
We couldn't help but giggle as the group took turns taking pictures of one another, then pulled out and started using a selfie stick. I had never seen one in real life and it just cracked me up, especially since there was a group of them... they could have been taking pictures of each other, or we would have happily helped as well.
It's hard to see, but under this guardrail section, there is a sizable wasp nest that made grabbing the container (inside the rounded piece) a little dicey. Thankfully, they were peaceful and I didn't pester them. I'm not afraid to admit, I didn't touch it with my hands to retrieve it, I used a stick to knock it out, but I did put it back when we were done, albeit rather gingerly!
The horses were out in force this day and very near where we were parked. I spent quite a lot of time watching and photographing them as they went about their day. This white one had the palest blue eyes and I found it just charming. It wandered over near the guard rail we were parked behind, causing me to hop inside the jeep, just in case. When I did, it wandered back across the road to graze and drink from a puddle.
Another horse meandered over to it, very clearly having some pre-established trust between them, as they drank together and stood nuzzling one another before heading back into the open field to graze some more.
It felt almost as if we were witness to an intimate moment between two creatures who cared for and trusted one another. Such a privilege.
We headed further West to a geocache called "Waiting for the Ferry." It was located at a brand new, never used ferry terminal that was built to redirect the traffic caused by the island water ferry out of Isabel.
Unfortunately, the government didn't do a spectacular job of working with the people on the island and they never began using it. Consequently, it is now falling into disrepair. Since it is such a quiet spot, it is the perfect place for a cache to be hidden. It was the tiniest little container tucked up under this sign.
We decided to grab one more on the way to our (getting later!) lunch, as hunger was starting to sneak up on us. There was one located sort of on our way to Esperanza (called "It's Rubber, You're Glue!"), so it wouldn't make for much of a detour. It was hidden at the base of this great big rubber tree. It is said to be over 30 years old (60+ feet tall) and one of the oldest on the island. It had been recently pruned and some of the rubbery sap was present. This was really cool to see first hand and to be able to touch! The tree and cache are located at a private property that has vacation rental units on it. One of the current lodgers (she was about 4 or 5) came out to inspect what we were up to. She helped us in our search and added to the smile factor as we moved around in the shade of this giant. Resting under some leaves among the above ground roots of the tree, was the little plastic container we sought. It was such a great search and such a great spot to see. La Finca Caribe (the property) might just be a terrific place to come out and rest a while on a future visit.
We bellied up to the bar at Belly Buttons Cafe in Esperanza, but no one ever came to serve us. We were on the side of the building, so we decided to move to the front where the main seating was. We were immediately greeted and told there is no bartender until later in the day on that side. Like many places on the island, signage is apparently optional. :) When we finished, we headed out to check out a couple more beaches before we lost daylight.
Through several sections of jungle we adventured and found ourselves at Playa Grande. We spent some time walking along and enjoying this beach. It was a much longer, wider beach that the others and shockingly quiet. There was just no one else there.
Shane took an opportunity here to get his feet wet, after venturing too close to the water and having waves do that for him while in his tennis shoes :).
It was here that I really began to see how therapeutic simply walking alongside the waves can be. The sand felt so good beneath my feet and the warm sun just filled my soul with joy. I know it sounds cheesy, but I could feel myself relax and let go of worries while we walked.
We decided we had time for one more beach and we knew the one we wanted to see, Playa Negra. This beach is notable for two reasons: it is only accessible on foot, with a hike somewhere around a half mile to reach it, and it has remarkably beautiful black sand - which is magnetic! We knew we were in the right area, but we were struggling to find the trail for it. We saw a young lady coming out of a small business, and stopped to ask her "Excuse me, can you tell us where to find the trail to Playa Negra?" She responded, "¿Que? ¿Habla Español?" Oh man. Whoops. Quick thinking and 2.5 years of Spanish in high school let me blurt out "¿Donde esta la Playa Negra?" She smiled and pointed to this "sign" that was just 15 yards or so in front of our car. Ha. Found it! I thanked her with "¡Gracias!" and a smile. We snuck into a parking spot along the road (as is common - there was no formal parking) and headed out for our hike.
We had been collecting sand at most beaches we visited so far, so I took my materials for that along with us. We weren't sure what to expect on the hike, just that it wasn't a paved path. It was taller jungle than we had seen to this point and fairly narrow in spots. It was clear that the horses come through on the same trail, either wild ones or, more likely, the horses carrying tourists for a sunset trail ride on the beach. We watched our step and headed toward the water. When we first emerged, there were only a couple of small sections of black sand and we were initially a bit disappointed.
Shane sat, drawing in the sand and toying with the magnetic properties.
He laid his cell phone carefully on the sand and noted how the sand magnetically stuck to the phone on the small circle where the magnet is inside it. When I returned to where he was sitting, he showed me the same with my phone. We had heard of this being so, but it's really something to see and experience it.
The sand is made up of magnetite, which flows down in heavy rains from the the volcanic Monte Pirata (Pirate Mountain - which happens to be the highest point on the island at a whopping 987 feet above sea level) and settles on the beach.
The black sand looks that much darker as it is bordered by what looks like some kind of sandstone all along the shore. There was a little rock sculpture built on some larger boulders, but we weren't brave (or stupid) enough to climb out there to check it out.
Dusk was threatening to creep in, so we decided we better make our jungle hike back out before it got too dark and the mosquitos decided we might look delicious. We weren't wrong! As we made our way back toward the road, we encountered a few hungry bugs, and were thankful we were headed out when we did. To our surprise, there were still folks hiking out to the beach as we were leaving.
We headed back to Bravo Beach Hotel to clean up and decided to check out a place called Taverna for dinner. Taverna was a great Italian restaurant with a casual island vibe. Just like the other restaurants on the island (and stores, for that matter), there wasn't a huge selection and entrees were really based on the availability of ingredients from the big island. It was exactly what we needed to end our day of adventure on Vieques.