July – Nov 2014
Welcome to the first edition of the Vieques Insider. It is a project born of joy, adventure and appreciation of the beauty that surrounds us all, most of which I discovered after I came to the island of Vieques. Like many of you, I set out for this piece of Paradise with one suitcase and a lifetime of hopes and fears. Trading what some friends called the “real” world for island life I rented an unfurnished house, which I never furnished, worked as many restaurants shifts as I possibly could, and searched desperately for my place in the sun. That was 2003, when Puerto Rican water workers were on strike and running water didn’t run for ninety two days. The island quickly taught me to appreciate things that I’d taken for granted for so long – friends, a sturdy bike, a stunning view of something amazing at all times, and, yes, water. Oh, and time itself. It slowed to the point that I could start observing life rather than feeling it flash by.
And like many before me, I fell in love with this island… with its natural rhythms, its stunning physical beauty and its people, one person in particular. With him, a house was built and a beautiful child and home were born. That’s my story. There are a thousand others here, more colorful and more amazing. In this publication I hope to bring them to you, be they the island’s beauty, culture, food, art or people.
In doing so, I hope the Vieques Insider helps you, residents and visitors alike, come to know more about this very real world –Vieques.
Dec – Jan 2014
Welcome to Vieques and the second issue of Vieques Insider! In this edition we hope to give you a feel for the “gusto” of the island. In Spanish, “gusto” means many things including flavor, zest, taste and pleasure, characteristics we can apply to the lives we lead as well as the food we eat. Fittingly, along with the delicious, lip-smacking food available in our unique restaurants, I’ve come to appreciate a Vieques island essence, richly flavored by the heart of its people, the sweetness of island life, and a consommé of symbiotic energy that flows from putting these things together.
Like the old folk story Stone Soup, where villagers create a feast by each adding their own ingredient to the pot of boiling water and stones, this issue was all about collaboration and local offerings.
Start with local fisherman, Chelao, who I worried was going to leave me in the middle of the ocean when I jumped from his boat to get a good photo of him hauling in his catch of the day. I thought of the delicate meal soon to be prepared from his efforts at sea, in stark contrast to his lunch of canned spaghetti heated by the boat’s engine. Add to that, Liz and Larissa, two women testing and cooking honey, fruit and essential oils in a hot kitchen resulting in a local body product line. Imagine a metalsmith, hunched over a table, blow torch in her hand, pounding out designs to be sold in the stores. Toss in a pinch of beachcombers searching for sea glass to incorporate into jewelry designs, a dash of beekeepers working the hives to produce local honey, and two cups of brave farmers who coax sprouts, greens, tomatoes and herbs from the sunbaked earth. A deep connection can be formed to the people and the island as stories unfold of their daily work.
This issue was created by setting a pot on to boil and allowing the special ingredients – the character and characters of the island – to jump in. Then I just kept stirring! I hope you find the results as flavorful as life here on Vieques. Buen Provecho!
About the Cover: Dec – Jan 2014
Sea to Table
Creating and Photographing An Underwater Restaurant Scene
“It’s sounds like a crazy idea. I’m in.”
It all started with me waking up at 3am and saying to my husband, “I have an idea for the magazine cover – a table set for two. Underwater, with a couple in full evening dress, dining in a watery, Great Gatsby fantasy world.” Him murmuring, half asleep, “Yep, that sounds about right. Sounds like a lot of work.” Smart man. He was right.
But the idea became my obsession for the next four weeks. Every time I tossed it out to colleagues and friends it seemed to sizzle and pop in the hot summer air, gaining momentum and speed. Some thought it was completely crazy.
Zany, crazy ideas attract, well…zany, crazy people.
Tania and Arnaud, safety divers and owners of Isla Nena Scuba, donated countless hours in planning and assisting before and during the shoot. Surfer-couple, Sarah Carbia and Orland Iglesias became perfect models, able and deft at posing and holding their breath underwater. Sarah, a kindred spirit of my crazy concept and also a jewelry designer, made all of her own jewelry for the shoot. Orland, not necessarily swept away by the idea, saw the writing on the water wall. “If it makes my wife happy and she is having fun, I’ll do it.” Phew!
So I had the location, the models, the table, the dress, the chandelier, even waterproof makeup sponsored by Lancome. I had the help of VCHT to ensure that we didn’t damage the environment under the pier during the shoot. Now, all I needed was a photographer with underwater equipment.
A stroke of luck came through my good friend Michelle Haynes, editor of Cape Air’s in-flight magazine, Birds Eye View. She introduced me to Steve Simonsen from St. John. His response to the project? “It sounds like a crazy idea. I’m in.” Cape Air sponsored the project by flying Steve and all of his equipment to Vieques. Mark Spier, owner of Casa Angular, donated his villa for a few days for Steve and his wife Janet, a couple whose creative genius (Steve) and business sense (Janet) are simply unstoppable.
One day before the shoot, a thick island of seaweed floated along the south shore, reaching the pier where it stayed trapped like a wet prickly blanket, blocking all the light needed to filter through the water into our underwater studio. One day after the shoot, Tropical storm Gonzalo was named and looked like it was headed straight to Vieques. But the conditions on the day of the actual photoshoot? Perfect.
The shot on the cover was just one of 400 takes. Orland, weighted, would dive down as Sarah pulled herself down a secured rope, then run a few steps across the ocean floor where she floated up to Orlandas he reached out for her. Exhausting work, but each time, they embraced in a perfectly relaxed pose, sometimes even kissing underwater. It was magical to watch. As fish darted up and down like music notes, flashing underwater strobes glinted off Sarah’s dress and a chandelier rocked in the waves. I swear I could almost hear a Duke Ellington song in the surreal light.
Feb – March 2015
Welcome to Vieques and the third issue of Vieques Insider! This issue will introduce you to a few things Vieques has to offer but also give you a glimpse into the lives of people who live here. What appears to most visitors as people living the “island life” or an “alternative lifestyle” is really folks living life in a place that happens to be different. Okay, it looks like paradise. Okay, it’s warm too. But island life still means working to make a living, saving to put our kids through school, falling in love, sealing our roof, going to the dentist, pushing ourselves to new challenges and trying to keep New Year resolutions that are quickly forgotten.
In this issue you’ll meet people who have lived here all their lives, people who have relocated here and visitors who return every year for their island fix. Like the New York doctor who leaves his work behind each year to feel Vieques sand between his toes. Or the young, burgeoning musician born here, who wants to see the world. Or the bread maker who left a high stress, high paying job in the states to live here who says, “We’ve never worked harder than we do here on Vieques. But we love what we do.”
A new life, a different view of the world, an escape to Paradise. And for many of us, home. The connecting thread is the energy of Vieques, and the heightened awareness that the wind, sand and sea provide. With visitors’ eyes we work on this magazine to provide you a sense of that energy. Every day we look at Vieques with challenge and delight to discover the uncommon and rediscover what has become common, hoping to help you connect quickly so you can begin to unwind, relax and disentangle. (I love that word.)
I was a visitor once and I found myself with that feeling you get when you are in the right place at the right time. I decided to try to make that feeling last for as long as possible. It’s been 11 years – and like the bread maker, I’ve never worked harder in my life and yet, I love what I do. What we’re all doing on this island – native-born, relocated, visitor – is living. And the way we live our lives is as different as the weather in February in upstate New York and the beach at La Chiva – or as common as time and age. The reasons why are just labels people use to try and explain it. Forget the reasons and labels, just breathe. Here’s hoping in this New Year you find your Vieques and Vieques finds you.
April – June 2015
Individually Packaged Pickles
While I was at college I had friends who, during their courtship, would give each other the oddest thing they found that day. It could be a flattened Barbie doll head they found on the road or bacon flavored breath mints from the candy shelf of a gas station in the middle of Pennsylvania. It was a game – a game that turned into an approach to life. Spot the oddities that make you smile and laugh; seek out the fun and interesting, and sometimes, yes, the strangely appealing. You just had to train your mind to look for them. And have fun!
At Vieques Insider, finding “fun and interesting” is what we play at. Delivering it to you is what we work at. We are constantly seeking the interesting, the unusual and, with the benefit of time, the things that teach us something. The odd things we find now urge us, with that same sense of quirky pleasure, to follow and question them. And the things become stories, and the stories become adventures, and the adventures become our gifts to share, to connect us. Like a message in a bottle or pieces of tile, washed up on the shore.
I am lucky to have such a great core team of seekers here. Their enthusiasm for this fun game equals mine, and I couldn’t ask for a better group with whom to work. They love Vieques as much as I do and want to share it with you. I thank all of the writers and contributors from this past year and give special thanks to the core team of writers, Scott, José, Tom K, Cynthia, and Tom O, that have been on this journey from the beginning. There are great things to come!
P.S. This is the fourth issue of Vieques Insider and we are now one year old. Happy Anniversary to us!
July – Oct 2015
A friend who recently moved to Vieques said, “It’s like a huge sandbox with awesome toys, but not too many people play with all of them.” It’s true; there are amazing toys to play with here. An abundance of sky, sand, water, wind, cliffs, trails, cays, bays, caves and waves can keep the most ardent adventurer busy. I’ve lived here 12 years and in researching the beaches for this guide I discovered new toys in my sandbox.
Had I ever snorkeled the many, brilliant coral “rooms” of Ensenada Honda (as Carlos of JAK lovingly refers to them)? No. I hadn’t. Had I ever licked the back of a black mangrove leaf to experience first-hand their process of salt filtration? Well no, as a matter of fact, I hadn’t done that either. Had I really noticed that areas of the island covered in non-native flora could easily be mistaken for the landscape of Africa, their place of origin? Not until botanist Scott D. Appell commented on an outing to Navio, “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a giraffe walk across the road right now.” His statement broke me out of my reverie of staring into the brush in search of a vanilla orchid. If I was in Africa, on safari, I would be discovering everything for the first time. But isn’t that exactly what was happening while in search of knowledge about Vieques beaches? Today I sit at my computer frantically typing away. Tomorrow I can be on safari, a pirate, a trailblazer, an underwater photographer, or just a kid in a sandbox with lots of toys. We hope that this guide helps you find the kid inside of you. Then jump in our sandbox and enjoy the toys!
Dec – Jan 2015/16
What’s on Your Plate?
I grew up basically raising, canning and catching our food. I appreciated the labor that went into making one jar of spaghetti sauce. It was impossible to rush a meal knowing it had taken months of hard work to produce it. But sometimes life’s schedules have a way of keeping us so busy that we forget to be present. We forget to enjoy and appreciate the little things, like a great meal.
Fortunately these days, a reminder sits at the table with me. I watch my five year old daughter as I set a plate in front of her, and time slows. Toast cut into four squares becomes a game of eeny meeny miny moe. She whispers secrets to her cherry tomatoes. Popsicles always get a song while they melt before her mouth. And pancakes? Timeless projets d’arts. I thank her each day for keeping me present.
For some, there is but one week a year, once chance, to stop and clear the plate. Vacation. If you’ve chosen Vieques you’ve made an excellent choice. If you’re yearning for that special taste of food, life and time at a memorable pace, even better. It should be the only thing you see on your plate while you are here. The fishermen on the water at dawn, the chefs chopping away in the kitchens, the waitstaff setting the tables, the bartenders mixing and muddling; it’s all for your enjoyment; because it’s your time. Savor it. Appreciate the time it took to procure, create and ultimately lay that dish in front of you. We are glad you are here to dine with us. Buen Provecho!
(And don’t forget to tell your tomatoes.)
Mar – April 2016
Vieques “We Do”
Love, romance, passion. They are what make life, well…interesting. Typically they swirl around human relationships, eventually leading two people to that moment of public declaration – I do. It’s fitting that this issue’s feature is dedicated to WEDDINGS, turning the spotlight on our island’s ability to be, excuse the pun, the icing on the cake.
But love, romance and passion are boundless and without definition. Here, all of these things manifest themselves in many ways. Just ask the people. As Keeper of the Bio Bay Mark Martin Bras can tell you, it is possible to fall in love with a place. As the countless people working tirelessly for all of the creatures on Vieques will tell you, it is possible to love an animal. And the people working so hard for the non-profit organizations of the island will show you, it is possible to fall in love with a cause. If you are visiting and find yourself being swept off your feet by Vieques, it is no surprise. La Isla Nena can seduce you. Most likely this will not be a passing fling.
The people who work to bring you this magazine have fallen in love with Vieques and are married to the mission of sharing her stories with you. And we can tell you, it is possible to love your work. We know that we can do more together than alone and we need you, the visitor, to partner with us. We urge you while you are here to do what you can to gain a deeper understanding of Vieques’ culture and life. Visit the Biobay and the Vieques Conservation & Historical Trust, go to the Fort, and attend the fun events planned by the non-profits. It all exists to help welcome and embrace you, a loving gesture from people who love Vieques and have pledged to, in one way or another, nurture, care and protect her. Join us!
Nov – Dec 2016
Welcome to Vieques and thanks for picking up a copy of the Vieques Insider Magazine! We’re excited to be entering into our third year of publication with this edition, a true milestone among many at the heart of this issue.
Defined in many ways, milestone can mean a significant event in the development of a person, organization or nation. The timeline on pages 18-20 presents a brief outline of events from the Pre-Arawak era to Spanish Colonization to the Navy occupation and departure. These were milestones that helped shape the Vieques we know and love today.
Milestone can also mean a physical location serving as a directional marker. The house on Vieques with ceramic cows on the front lawn (page 43) is just such a marker to residents. Las Vaquitas (the cow house) is an island landmark that gives locals a sense of place, and is just quirky enough to be memorable. Unique to Vieques, Las Vacitas is our “house with the cows”, and knowing about it kind of makes you a Vieques insider.
Speaking of Vieques Insider, the magazine had a milestone event this summer with the launching of our new website. The site will now serve as a cultural archive of the rich diversity of island life here.
As for island life, there are turning points every year as we move through the seasons. After a long, hot, summer dodging hurricanes while living for days without power, we look forward to the buzz of high season and the holiday festivities.
Our holiday gifts are you, the visitors, bringing the outside world to the island. Your smiles, your enthusiasm, and your love for the island; these things tell us we live someplace very special. Enjoy all Vieques has to offer. And we will enjoy you!