Hello again! Obviously I have been missing for quite some time, but I decided to give blogging a whirl again anyways. I have just gotten back to my little Caribbean island of Vieques after 5 weeks of vacation. I had saved some money from the high season so I took off to Europe and visited many good friends throughout Istanbul, London, Brussels, and Montpellier. Lovely to see so many people I love, and to have the time and resources to do it!
I think the trip made me realize just how much I value my friendships, my own time off to think and reflect, traveling, seeing new places, connecting with the world, and thinking about my own direction in life.
I saw some really inspiring stuff while I was abroad that reconnected me to some of my interests:
An amazing exhibition at the Guggenheim in NYC by James Turrell: he explored the use of light in space, how much it can affect your mood, the illusions it can create…
Istanbul and the incredibly ornate monuments, palaces, and mosques, spiraling upwards in this incredible bustling city of 13 million people. Tucked between the mosques were the bazaars and spice markets, packed and crowded with locals searching for a good price on their dried fruits or cumin and masala…so much food!
London and the artsy neighborhoods of Shoreditch. The fascinating exhibition on Sustainable Cities at The Crystal–really spoke to my passion for sustainable development. The exhibition was really artistic, creative, interactive, and captivating; kids where playing a massive game about how to build a city, and there was a cool theater where images streamed out from under your feet, up a curved wall in front of you, and over your head. So cool!
Brussels and all the memories I have there, sharing coffee, conversation, and great food with my friends. Resting and thinking about life.
And Montpellier–the cheese and wine! My best friend from college! And the incredible winding streets in the maze that was the old city. I got so lost and even after a week was desperately reliant on my little pull out map. But i loved getting lost, because around every corner was a little cafe, or a garden, or an old church, or some fun tea house with funky instruments laying around, or a great pub with live music, or a juice bar with fresh squeezed orange and apple juice with cinnamon!
Then it was back to Atlanta for another wedding and to see my family–we explored the Beltline again on our bikes–I am so impressed by how successful the project is! So many people out on the belt line, riding bikes, walking dogs, having fun–and the art installations along the way were very impressive.
It was a much needed vacation–it is so crazy, after seeing so much, to be back on this tiny little island. I feel this tremendous urge to connect the island to the things that I have seen. To help people feel inspired the way I felt inspired; about art, sustainable development, fun entrepreneurial ventures, active lifestyles.
I feel like there is a need for artistic expression here in Vieques–some kind of performing arts center…Crazy that on my bike tour yesterday I met an events coordinator for the Lincoln Center for Performing arts in NYC–you never know where you will make a connection!
Anyways, we will see what the season holds!
Today I had my first go at underwater photography with a go pro a friend lent me. I suited up and went out to the concrete pier off Esperanza to try my luck. For a while I couldn’t figure out how to shoot, and kept accidently filming myself trying to figure it out. But eventually I came back with a few decent shots. Ta Daa!:
Yesterday a crew of us went for a great bike ride on the horse routes in the hills behind Esperanza. I am not used to off-roading, so this was definitely an exhilarating experience for me. There were four of us. Roberto was leading the pack. He’s from Mayaguez but has lived in Vieques for about two years and has explored all the routes. He’s definitely the most experienced, and can spray to get around tight turns (this term “spraying,” is new to me. It means shifting your weight to the front tire and swinging out your back tire. It’s very useful when taking tight turns in the dirt. Whenever I tried it, I nearly fell over, of course).
Also with us was Jade, a very cool British artist who is rock solid on the bike. We can thank her for getting us up in the morning and getting us stoked about the ride. Naki, another Puerto Rican native, was probably the craziest of us all; his
bike was literally a time bomb as the brakes were on the verge of giving out.
We hit the road at 9:30am. The day is crisp, windy, and fresh. We pave the roads down to Esperanza, letting the cool morning air wash over us. We take turns stretching our arms up to the sky as we fly down the roads, embracing the day. Suddenly, Robert veers off the road into a tiny tunnel in the thick vegetation. We all swing in behind him, and now we are crashing through the bush on a tiny single-track, ducking thick bayonda thorns and bumping over rocks. Robert crushes it like a natural, but it takes me a minute to get a handle on my bars. My body is tense as I duck and turn, and I feel like I have to concentrate to keep my jaw from bouncing off my face as we hop over roots and rocks.
Robert takes us up some hard climbs, and then suddenly we flatten out on the ridge with a gorgeous view of the green hills which cascade downwards to meet a beautiful, sapphire ocean. We can see the two bioluminescent bays, and even beyond to blue beach. It’s breathtaking.
Then Robert takes us down the coolest part of the trek; a cascading downhill section that swoops and swerves and jumps. We run it twice because it is so much fun, and we all want to get better to do it faster and faster. It literally feels like we are skiing trees on slopes, except we have bikes instead of skis, and dirt instead of snow.
Next we plan a route around the Vieques Transmitter towers– huge radar towers that are an attempt to control drug trafficking through Vieques. The ground is really ragged at one point, consisting of a steep rocky ditch that looks terrifying. Jade and I get off and walk–which is hard enough– but the crazy boys launch themselves down it. We come around the towers and see a camp set up with some protest flyers and signs. Old men greet us and ask if we know about their cause. They explain that they have been guards of the towers for 20 years, but that the U.S. Navy is trying to replace them with military men. They are protesting to protect their livelihoods, and are planning to camp out the night of the swap to refuse being replaced. They invite us back to enjoy music, food, games, and booze the nights of the protest–and we plan to be back to support!
We continue our journey around to Playa Grande. The route there is shrouded in hanging vine tendrils that form a sort of natural bead curtain, if you will. It’s exhilarating to feel the vines sweeping over our bodies as we dodge down the path. At Playa Grande we stop to catch our breath. Robert shimmies up a palm tree to grab three coconuts, which Naki busts open with his knife. Enclosed in a circle of palms, we rest, drink our coconut water, and feast on the delicious, sweet coconut meat. Before us, Playa Grande stretches out in a curved golden arc.
Rested, fed, and hydrated, we make our way back home. Unfortunately things take a turn for the worst when Naki and Robert both get flats. At least they happen to bottom out right by a wild passion fruit vine. Jade and I snack on the delicious passion fruit while the boys fix their bikes. Next Naki’s chain breaks–BOO!! We manage to get back to his car, and pile all the bikes in with Robert underneath. We make our way to Chicken King and Ice Cream for some hard-earned fried chicken and oreo smoothies; we logged about 20 miles–What a great day!!! I love my biker crew! (who very nerdily and to my chagrin have decided to jokingly call our crew ‘the electrolytes’ haha! oh dear…)
Today I met the two interns from Wellesley College who are in town for a few weeks. They will be working on a few projects at the Trust and I am helping them out!
Today we went snorkeling under the pier to catch some Lion Fish, an invasive species that has proliferated here in Vieques and throughout the Caribbean. Lion fish were believed to have been introduced to this region in the early 1990s when a hurricane Andrew destroyed some aquariums in southern Florida. It is a bit scary and exhilarating to go diving for these fish because they have extremely venomous fin rays. Lauren did great maneuvering the equipment underwater to herd the lion fish into our nets!
At the trust, we keep the lionfish in the aquarium for a while to educate both tourists and locals about this species. After a few weeks or so, the lionfish will be killed so that they don’t keep taking over our reefs!
Out on our trip today we also took turns practicing underwater photography with Mark’s waterproof Nikon point and shoot. I will try to load those pictures up next when I get my hands on the camera.
Conserving Vieques (as in “long live Vieques!”)
Living it up in Vieques (or how to have a blast on this island!).
What is the carrying capacity of the Island?
How do you manage seasonal influx?
How do you manage development without turning Vieques into another overrun tourist destination?
How do you preserve the pristine, ‘getaway’ feeling while developing the island?
As tourism rises, how do preserve the islands incredible natural resources, like the Bioluminescent Bay, the coral reefs, the different vegetation zones, and the wildlife?
How can you ensure that the local population benefits from the influx of tourism?