Scuba diving on vieques

There is something about Latin pride, the urge for fiesta in the heat and that inviting family life when traveling down to Puerto Rico. The fact that many of my American friends don’t even realize that Vieques in the Caribbean is US common wealth is amusing; henceforth, one can travel there simply with a driver’s license.

When arriving in Miami we got stranded on the tar-mat for over an hour: the plane on the gate before us had luggage aboard of a passenger that had not checked in for the flight. As bothered as I am about the inconvenience of security check done by mostly unfriendly people in ATS uniforms… when the captain announced we would have to wait for the crew to remove the luggage before the other plane could safely take off – I pondered; why the luggage is so dangerous after all the security screenings they put us through? Seemingly the Airline security can’t be trusted, they loaded the cargo with “dangerous” luggage… The money spent on screening and airline delay everyday is wasted money – the lacking funds not available to train school-kids properly or to serve any sort of food on planes anymore.

We slept in the Casino Hotel at the airport in Puerto Rico; there was no connection flight until the next morning. Orbitz had sold me on a one-night stay, Continental breakfast included. The breakfast was a shameful attempt to cover this false promise. The room was dusty, the sheets not clean; We would have been better off sleeping on a hard bench in the airport.

The flight over to the Island of Nena; Vieques, in a two motor Cesna, is a Disney adventure. I love the steep scary landing down to the little airport. My friend Ulfi, the co-pilot and I managed to rent a car with the help of Eddi and Theresa who run the airport Café. The car was better than most, usually renting a car on Vieques means getting a beaten down wagon that somewhat has survived the tortures streets and off-road driving. Our car was missing interior parts and with only two gas stations on the entire island you risk standing in line for hours; especially with an empty tank when renting…

Black Beard Divers, a newly established PADI dive center in town is expanding with a second location in Esperanza, right next to Duffy’s. I recommend you try the burger at Belly Buttons; bring Deborah my greetings; she has to learn to scuba dive! Because of the economy and possibly because it is only the start of tourist season, the choices for good restaurants is very limited. The few super markets are sparsely stocked with healthy choices a rather odd realization for an Island that should have a blooming agricultural business.

The ferry did not work that day; All of San Juan celebrated Columbus day… Well, I wonder if he “discovered” Puerto Rico on his way out of America or on his miss-navigated way around the other side of the world… Either way, the Common wealth of PR is now celebrating two Columbus days…

Black Beard divers finally got a boat, but were still not ready for charter. I love their team, friendly Diane and sparkling Jamal who escaped confined water sessions because he is chasing after a modeling career on the main island… I wish they all would response better to timely e-mails and telephone requests about any sort of dive schedule. Diane recognized I had sent a few e-mails and even left voice messages, but they were too busy to call back…?? Maybe because of the delayed service I got a break in my rental equipment. Thank you.
Black Beard’s product and gear is up to par and in very good condition. I have to ignore they cater to harpooning enthusiasts, in face of a few rare large Groupers, Barracudas and even turtle I saw, I’d like to think it is unwise to support the uneducated hunting of anything that swims around the island… I’ve witnessed the collecting of starfish and large shells; the only predator to COD fish; a problem on the rise in the Caribbean. Someone should at least post a sign of protected species, please!

Not much diving is mapped on this island yet and for any adventurous diver, fascinated about discovering new territory; this is underwater heaven. Arnauld, one of Black Beard’s Instructors helped me, Ulfi and our Open Water student Angelo to get geared up. We headed out to the Mosquito peer on the Caribbean side of the island. The Sea in November can be choppy on the Atlantic side of this little island. Security by the peer is actually instructed to watch out for divers. The nearest Decompression Chamber however is over by St. Thomas or the main Hospital on Puerto Rico. Entrance and exit is not difficult. The peer is about 10-16 meter deep. 100 meter before the mosquito peer is an ideal shallow water entrance for student divers.

The many public beaches attract mostly local people. Some of the multiple black sand beaches in the reservation area are accessible for tourists, although some are still closed: The Navy who left Vieques in 2003 has used some of the Eastern part for bombing exercises and possibly un-detonated munitions makes swimming or scuba diving dangerous there. It is all well marked and signs of restrictions are posted. Don’t drive faster than 20 miles in the protected area and wear your seatbelt: The police is certainly on the watch out there.

Sun Bay is great fun, a long shallow water beach front that invites for swimming along the coast at sunset. The wild horses familiar on this island roam around, some look branded, some are shoed. It’s not recommended to get to close to the mother horse, she might charge; in fact some of the local kids amuse themselves feeding the horses Papaya to confuse ‘em and rope them up as trophies… Hey, I’m just repeating stories… But the horses are skittish. The local tradition of sitting in the shallow beach water while drinking beer from cans they discharge carelessly, is an ugly pollutant and could be corrected simply with education. Watch out at nights, some consider driving under the influence a “normal” Vieques standard.

After a strenuous three-day dive course Angelo is one last exam away from becoming the youngest scuba diver on this island. The night before last we found ourselves in the Bioluminescent bay, swimming in underwear like a glow fish amongst a group of Jehovah witness. Really odd combination. I cannot recommend the Abe Captain boat Adventure, although it is one of the few available tours to this worlds unique spectacle; Anyone would be better off finding a local friend to escort them out to the bay and save the $30 we spend on a rather poorly guided experience, no prior preparation info and a scary ride in a funky bus that really was not safe… Renting a Canoe for two is a fraction of the money to drive the road back alone to the bay could be an amazing adventure. Make sure you bring two marking lights to find back ashore in the jungle of red mangrove… yes, it is a shark nesting ground… but great fun, smiles

Thanks to the assistant and hospitality of Hal, Doneley, the Hix’s and the Hutchington’s my short travel back to Vieques turned out to be incredible and surely humbling. I even had a private moment of self-realization. Angel’s parents, Eddie and Theresa kept both of us fed and hydrated and their Bistro business by the airport deserves everyone’s support. If you need your lunch package prepared before you fly across the US in one of the “foodless” carriers, make sure you call Café Isla de Nena 787.741.4111 and have chef Eddie personalize your order. He also prepares perfect dive lunch-boxes for a very reasonable prize…(and they are on the street out to Mosquito Peer, a fun dive spot),.

I’m now flirting with the idea of drafting and proposing a Culinary-Dive School – A youth program that would support the environment of this beautiful Island and possibly is the missing link for the new W Hotel project. The seed is planted in my head – I just never know anymore what life is holding next for me… This one baby needs a few generous helping hands to come alive… I can dream, cant I?

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