In December 2015 I took my son to Puerto Rico and the adjacent island of Vieques. For us this was rather significant for a couple reasons. He’s ten years old, and lives with his mother rather far away. Although I do see him every few months (which is not real life but always “vacation,”) we’ve never taken a trip together anywhere. Ethan is an exceptional little man, and very easy going and agreeable, and I knew this trip would be a lot of fun. Essentially, it was to be our first father and son adventure.
Why Puerto Rico? Good question. There certainly are more compelling Caribbean destinations. I have a friend who took her son to Vieques a couple years ago, and my decision was based largely on her review. Also, Puerto Rico seemed to offer a bit more culture than just beaches – Old San Juan would be interesting to wander through. They have the only tropical rainforest in the US national park system, so we could visit the jungle a bit. Also, it was an easy trip from Florida, our meeting point.
We had an amazing trip, not because of Puerto Rico, but because of our own excitement to adventure together. Honestly, I was not impressed with Puerto Rico. Their economy is in serious shambles, every sight looked like a rundown ghetto mixed with the worst of American big box stores and fast food chain restaurants. The only escape was Vieques.
With much of PR as scrubby jungle, it had a Jurassic Park atmosphere. I was excited to get out of our current locale and onto somewhere new.
The short flight was as total head trip, and a first for both of us. I’m ok with big planes, it’s a necessary part of life and statistically safe. But I was quite uneasy about this little lawnmower engine pulling a tin can through the sky. We taxied out to the runway at speed, and then spun around onto the runway, bouncing along, my ears ringing from the deafening engine buzz. It felt like we were in a go-kart.
I was expecting to pick up more speed, but suddenly we were already airborne. How is this thing actually being propelled forward? I really couldn’t tell. The propellers didn’t seem enough to move this giant machine filled with people forward… Obviously I’m not wise to the aviation ways.
We banked right, which caused my body to feel weightless and my palms to sweat. If you can just suspend your fear for a moment Chris – you might actually enjoy this flight! We flew a couple hundred feet over some marsh making our way to sea. Vieques was right there, the whole flight was by eyesight, and lasted all of ten minutes.
And after a couple days of relative disappointment, that was where my excitement built up again half way through the trip – on our little puddle jumper flight from Ceiba to Vieques.
I have some experience planning trips, and I learn a bit more each time I plan a trip. The one lesson I fail to always exercise is to keep things simple. Too many connections, rentals, reservations, transfers, drops offs and pick ups can be very distracting to the overall experience. You go somewhere to focus on the culture, or to just relax, but not to stress about one thing or another.
The itinerary, in a nutshell, was one night in San Juan. Car rental to El Yunque national Forest, then two evenings in Punta Santiago. Drop off car at Ceiba airport (which is not actually at the airport), short flight to Vieques, jeep rental and four nights in Vieques. Fly to San Juan city airport, taxi to international airport.
We had a nice beach day outside of San Juan, but the fun really began on our little fight to Vieques.
I could feel it happening – sitting in the waiting area in the late afternoon as the sun got lower. Looking out at the tarmac, up at the sky, the little six seat prop planes waiting to go.
The thing about small planes is you feel every single bump. You roll along, bounce up and down in the wind, it wobbles and tilts left and right. The pilot was completely relaxed, and he was right in the next row, I could put him on the back. I wondered what the hell we might do if he suddenly had a heart attack and slumped over. Well, we would nose dive directly into the ocean.
The plane looked rather old, judging by the little dents everywhere and the dusty array meters along the dashboard. I asked the pilot how old, he said 1969. Jesus Christ! This plane is older than me. I didn’t know this was possible. It’s one thing to drive an old car – the engine blows and you roll to a stop. But a plane? A plane of this age seems way more prone to malfunctions, and these would be cataclysmic. I must be missing something, as it all appeared quite routine overall.
I was tingling with excitement. I was excited for Ethan, to see him with his GoPro camera enjoying the time. He really feeds of my energy and brings a lot of joy into almost any situation (probably because we are simply together and that’s a big deal for me). If I am excited and happy, he rises right up to meet me.
The island was one big jungle, and quickly the Vieques runway came into view. At a couple hundred feet off the ground I let go of all fear and just enjoyed the view and the landing. Boom, we’re there.
Jeep was waiting int he parking lot thank god. There are very lethargic looking horses everywhere. Now on the road, it’s nearly dark. We got the map out and Ethan helped me navigate to the little town of Esperanza where are hotel was located.
I was enchanted – the whole scene was different than the main island of Puerto Rico.