House/Pet Sitting in Retrospect - Puerto Rico, Vieques - September 2016

This is my third consecutive year of house/pet sitting on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico; does this make me an ‘island boy’?
When I tell people I’m going to Puerto Rico, they usually ask where and I tell them, Vieques or Isla Nena.  That’s only draws more questions like, some of which I’ll answer now.

Wikipedia – Vieques, Puerto Rico

Population: 9301 (2010)

Size:  21 miles (east to west) by 5 miles (north to south); 52 squares miles of land

Economy:  The island is attempting to redevelop the agricultural and tourism industry.  Since the US Navy closed the bombing range and departed the island in 2003, their clearance of unexploded ordinance has been the largest employer.

Geography:  About two-thirds of Vieques is comprised of a decommissioned US Naval bombing range which has been designated as the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge.  The wildlife reserves are on the east and west ends of the island, with communities in the middle.  There are two major municipalities, Isabel Segunda on the north coast and Esperanza to the south.  The island is surrounded by beautiful, secluded, and not so secluded beaches.  Some of the beaches, along with hiking and four-wheel trails are located within the wildlife reserves. 

A WORD OF CAUTION; within the wildlife reserves the trails and beaches are marked with warning signs, PAY ATTENTION TO THE SIGNS and STAY ON THE MARKED TRAILS.

Okay, if you’re interested in visiting Vieques, and I do recommend it, those facts should at least get you started in finding out more.

Now Let’s GO, and Travel Thru My Eyes to Vieques, Isla Nena, Puerto Rico.

Having just finished a house/pet sitting assignment in Naples Florida, I had a busy day while home.  Returning from Naples on 6 September at about 2030 hours and having to depart for Vieques on 8 September at 0415 hours, it was a short stay. 

The trip from Tampa to San Juan took me north through Atlanta, Georgia.  We arrived late to the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, and after hustling through, I was one of the last to board for San Juan.  I started thinking, will my checked bag make it? 

Now heading south, we had a tailwind which attributed to our early arrival into San Juan.  Going directly to baggage claim I was relieved to see my checked bag on the carousel.  Grabbing it, I went to the taxi stand for a ride to the domestic airport (Aeroporto Isla Grande) in the Old San Juan section of the city.  From here, I’d take the 30 minute flight to Vieques.  EDITORAL COMMENT:  you can catch a flight directly from San Juan International to Vieques, but the ticket price is much higher.  It was cheaper to pay the $20 taxi fare to the domestic airport versus flying directly from San Juan International.

Arriving early for my flight, and with a little luck, there was one seat left on the flight departing at 1300 hours.  I got the seat and arrived to Vieques over two hours early; finally it’s time to eat.  I hadn’t eaten since Tampa which was only a muffin and coffee, so I revisited a spot I’d frequented on previous trips, the Vieques Airport Bar.  The bar is located in the parking lot, so as you leave the terminal it will be on your right.  Great place to start your visit.

Right after ordering lunch and a beer, I called Lisa to let her I was in on the island early.   Telling her not to hurry, she arrived about thirty minutes later.  Recounting events of the past year over a beer, we soon departed to the Esperanza Inn.  Lisa simply dropped me off, telling me J would give me the key to my room.  Finding J in the office, he gave me keys and of course we had a few more beers and after he left, I called it a night.

Awaking refreshed from a good night’s sleep, I took their newly rescued dog Jack for a morning walk.  Jack’s not really a dog used to walking on a leash, and he’s also not a dog to walk nearby, so leash training was in order.  With a couple leash tugs and some encouragement, Jack took to the leash quite well.  Still being a puppy, he wanted to play and run, but as the walk progressed, so did Jack.
J and Lisa departed for their trip and I relocated from the Inn to the house.

Settling into the house and getting reacquainted with the animals was routine with one exception, they had a new dog at home as well, Sushi, to add to their pack of Frankie and Big Dog.  After a couple of minutes Frankie and Big Dog remembered me and soon after Sushi joined right in.

For some reason I didn’t check the weather before coming to Vieques, and thankfully, nothing was brewing.  Being in the Caribbean I usually keep tabs on the weather, especially when there’s a tropical wave or storm moving our way.  Also, knowing the weather can change rapidly here I wasn’t surprised when a storm moved in as I was out revisiting the Puerto Ferro Lighthouse on the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge.  There was quite a bit of rain with little lightning, but it definitely cooled things down a bit; down to about 85F, which increased the mugginess.  

The Puerto Ferro Lighthouse

A view of the lighthouse from the beach

I discovered the lighthouse last year and while it is simply an old building on a high point, it guards a rocky channel and the view is great.  The nearby beach isn’t much to look at and you can’t swim in it, but it sure is a peaceful and beautiful place to listen to the waves, enjoy the breeze, and meditate, which I refer to as ‘think about stuff’.  When you’re here, let all the stressful crap that’s happened in your life in the trees and when you leave, leave it in the trees.  Great place.

Spending the rest of the afternoon at home was nice, but not near as nice as spending the couple hours on the beach.

The sun has fallen and risen again, now it’s time to get off the paved road and head to Chiva and Secret Beach.  These are a couple of the many beaches surrounding Vieques and they are some of the more secluded.  These are the kind of beaches that while wandering you very well may come across a naked or topless sun worshiper; I saw neither.  The only other people I saw were a boat passing, and a couple cars leaving as I was going in.  Oh well, it must have been too early.

Along with seeing a few more beaches, I took a couple of driving tours around the island to see what, if anything had changed; nope, still the same.  I stopped by to visit other house sitters at a home I’ve watched in the past, went to see friends I’d made on the island, and of course had to do more grocery shopping.  The time went by fairly fast, when I realized I only had a week left. 

For those of you that follow my travels, you’ll remember last year (2015) I watched three homes, and went through two tropical storms just before they developed into hurricanes.  During these storms we had a lot of wind and rain accompanied by a short time without electricity.  Thankfully, we didn’t have any major damage on the island and all went well.  That wasn’t the case this year.  While we didn’t have any tropical storms, we did experience a few challenging days.

It all started about mid-day when a small storm had passed, followed by very few clouds in the sky, and then, the electricity went out.  The rain had passed about an hour before, and off in the distance I could hear thunder, but the lightning was not even close.  Remembering that a few days ago we had rain move through and we lost electricity for a few hours, I thought this would be the same.  After few hours it started turning dark so I went into protect the food and oh crap mode.

Knowing J had a small generator, I moved it outside, made sure it would run, and prepared the extension cords.  Just before dark I had it running, the refrigerator plugged in, and settled in for the night listening to my prerecorded music and having dinner.  Without much food requiring that didn’t require cooking, dinner consisted of cheese and fresh avocado spread over crackers with a nice glass of rum on ice. 

During this time I realized I had moved entirely too far into modern technology.  I didn’t care about the entire house being electric, without a stove to cook on (because it too was electric), nor about not having a TV to watch whatever crap was on.  What I did care about was charging the batteries on my computer and cell phone.  Both only last a few hours without recharging and after that I’d be without any music; I need electricity to charge my stuff so I can listen to music.  Damn this modern technology. 

Anyway, after another glass of rum it was time to call it a night.

Being awakened at 0430 by Big Dog pushing me with his nose because he wanted out, I realized we were still without electricity.  Somehow I convinced the dog to go back to sleep, but that only lasted about an hour, none of which time did I fall back to sleep.  I guess he just ‘held it’ long enough for Sushi to get motivated because now they both wanted to go out.

After letting the dogs out, feeding the cats, and starting the generator to make coffee, it was time start my day.  But do what?  While I did see sporadic lights last night across the valley, I assumed they were also running with generator power.  Hearing the low sound of other generators running this morning, I assumed this was an island wide power outage.

I decided to drive to the Inn and check on Bill (house sitter at the Esperanza Inn) to see if they had power.  With a refrigerator/freezer full of food I would either take it to the Inn or have to get gas for the generator.  Driving there, I heard a couple commercial size generators running and when I got to the Inn, lo and behold, Bill had a generator too.  This is an island wide problem.

As I left the Inn, I stopped by the beach and talked to Brian, now a local guy after having relocated from Boston.  He told me a storm had gone over the main island of Puerto Rico and lightning had struck the main power facility.  This strike created a large fire and now the entire country of Puerto Rico was without power.  This included the Main Island, Vieques, and Culebra which is another small Puerto Rican island.  With expectations of having power back on Vieques Saturday, I would need gas.

Puerto Rico satellite - 21 September 2016

Puerto Rico satellite - 22 September 2016

Well now it was time for plan two, get gas.  J has a 5 gallon can, without a top, so it’s time to ‘MacGyver’ one.  For those of you not familiar with MacGyver, he was a guy on TV show that usually got into some kind of challenge and had to make something to get through it.  He made everything from boats to non-lethal explosives from whatever he could find.  And that’s what I did for a cap to keep the gas in the can.

There are two gas stations on Vieques, both had cars lined up down the road.  This reminded me of the 1970’s during the gas shortage in the US where people waited in line for hours simply to fill up their cars.  And it was a memory I did not want to repeat; but I did.  And now the gas was a lot more expensive, $3USD per gallon.

After waiting almost an hour in line, I returned with a full gas can, now fully prepared to last a few more days without whole house electricity.  But knowing the stove being electric, now all I had to do is figure out how to cook.  There is a gas grill, and with no cooking grates, the only option available is to cook on the one side burner, which doesn’t regulate very well.

Well another day without electricity has begun.  Even though it’s only been two nights, those were the longest, most restless nights I’ve had in a while.  Out of respect for others I’m doing my part on eliminating noise pollution by shutting the generator down between 2000 and 2100 hours; everybody else is too.  Thus, with temps around 80F, no fans, and no nightly breeze sleeping has been minimal.  Why don’t I sleep outside in a hammock you may ask?  Two word answer “Zika Virus” with one culprit, mosquitos.  I don’t plan on fathering anymore children, but I also don’t want to ‘flu like symptoms’.

Living without electricity is not such a big deal, although it is inconvenient; have to keep food cold and my electronics charged so I have music.  I did find out the burner on the gas grill does just fine at cooking rice and beans as well as boiling water for coffee, what more do you need.  Coffee filters, that’s what I need, again it’s time to improvise.  Although I didn’t make coffee ‘cowboy style’ by dumping the hot water directly onto the coffee grounds, I did MacGyver a filter from a clean piece of cloth.  Worked just like a tea bag, and tasted pretty good.

By late Friday afternoon the electricity had been restored and life was getting back to normal.  I plugged the refrigerator in, turned the freezer to its coldest setting, and checked to make sure no damage was done to the other major electrical appliances. 

J and Lisa’s return was coming fast so it was time for me to prepare to relocate back to the Inn for my last couple of nights.

Sunday, I returned to the Inn and relieved Bill.  Since he now lives on the island he went home where, I assume his dog was happy to have company at night.  For the past few years Bill had been coming from the Northeast US to sit the Inn, but earlier this year he and his wife moved south, to Vieques.  She is sitting another house on the island so their dog has been dependent on daily visits from them and their neighbors.

J and Lisa made it home late Sunday night, and we arranged to have lunch and fill them in on the details of our stays.  Come to find out, they knew more about the electricity challenges than we did.  With the technology of today, their friends off island had kept them appraised.  All we had to go over were the smaller details; easy, nothing happened that we couldn’t handle.

The time has come for me to return home.  Since my flight departed early morning, Lisa had me take the car and leave it at the airport.  I arrived in Miami and finally Tampa about 1600 hours where my sister picked me up and took me to my dog, Tank, who couldn’t hide his excitement.

Well, you've read the story and looked at some pix, here's a link to a video of some "Beaches of Vieques" on my YouTube page.  While there, don't forget to subscribe so you can see more of my videos.

Okay, another house/pet sitting assignment has come to an end.  Now I’ve got about 10 days before I begin my next one which is in south Florida.

Until next time,


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