The day before our cruise we planned to go to the island of Viegues home of the worlds brightest
bio-luminescent bay. (I'll explain what that is later)
It was only a $2.00 a person ferry ride from Fijardo to get to Vieques and we booked a stay at a bed and breakfast once we were there so we would have enough time to enjoy the island.
Here are the kids waiting for the ferry....we actually lucked out because we lost track of time while we were at El Morro and then raced Mario Andretti style through the hour plus drive to Fijardo to try and catch the Ferry. The ferrys don't come very often so we would've been looking at a 3 hour wait if we missed it!
We got there just in time as they actually held the ferry for us as we bought tickets (they took pity on us when they saw all the kids)
This ferry ride was much too bumpy for Ashley's taste. I told her to look around and see how relaxed everyone else was, they weren't worried so obviously the bumpiness was normal.
She made me fish out her life jacket from our stuff and seemed much more comfortable hanging onto it during the ride. (Other people are sleeping in the background!)
We were told we would get free transportation to our bed and breakfast. The guy said he would come in a blue van. I saw a blue minivan like mine at home but that guy wasn't for us.
Our van was this one. Pretty beat up inside, no air (I found out that lots of places had no air even though it was hot and humid everywhere) our driver even asked us if we could wait for him while he went over and bought himself a smoothie. He then proceeded to drive us through the narrow, twisty streets holding his smoothie and stopping to say hi to people he knew along the way.
When we got to the Seagate hotel we found it to be an eclectic group of buildings tucked in right off the street on the top of a hill. We had the "cottage" which was supposedly the only one big enough for our family. It was a 2 bedroom place again with no central air conditioning. Our room was stifling. I saw up close the Puerto Rican version of a "window". It's to the left of Taylor's head. Its a screen and on the outside is slats that open and close to let the light and breeze in....or the blazing sun and hot air in. The 2 bedrooms had a window unit for air conditioning right above the beds. (I guess that's pretty common here to have a unit just for when you are trying to sleep at night)
The boys were going to have to sleep in the living room that night so we had to turn on the air in the rooms and then shut the slats in the rest of the house to try and cool it a bit. They don't shut tight so even with them closed all the hot air came in, they made it through the night though.
Our "cottage" was decorated very interestingly with lots of floral and mismatched things. There were things that looked like they were pulled off the beach and off palm trees, pictures right out of a Florida estate sale, old falling apart craft projects on the wall and then Egyptian art. Interesting.
Ashley was just happy that she had her own room.
Taylor loved that there was a hammock on top of the roof. He enjoyed that for a bit and even considered sleeping on it that night. Good thing he didn't because it poured in the morning and he would've gotten soaked...just like all the things we hung out to dry got soaked.
This was the view from the roof. It was amazing...but it made me a little nervous to be up there with the kids because there wasn't even a lip around it, it just dropped off and I kept imagining someone falling off the roof.
After getting our room and changing Jeff and Joel decided to rent a van for our stay there.
We found directions to a good local beach called Red beach and started on our way. While you drive you have to watch out for horses and their fillies. They are everywhere! They are wild and there are 40,000 horses on the islands but only 10,000 people.
We got to the beach and it was beautiful. It was a local beach, not built up and touristy with people trying to sell you stuff. It was relaxing and the water was like bathwater with mild waves.
(Our kids get spoiled and then don't want to swim in our ocean after)
It's nice that everyone can easily get out past where the waves were breaking to enjoy swimming in the ocean.
Look at those manly boys.
Getting their feet stuck in the sand.
Joel actually had his friend, traveling companion, and fellow adventurer Paul out in Puerto Rico at the same time as us and was looking for a way to hook up with us on our trip. He was visiting his brother Eric and his two daughters who live in Puerto Rico and they all decided to come to Vieques too along with Eric's girlfriend and son to stay at our hotel and go on the bio-luminescent bay excursion with us.
We met up with them at the beach and then hit this little local place to grab some food.
One of the favorite places to eat were the roadside stands with meat on a stick. I forget their name but they were great for a quick protein fix.
This place had other local food that we saw a lot off, beans and rice and chicken...and empanadas.
I was trying to take a picture of this little downtown area and as I'm taking the picture I see the lady across the street taking a picture of us!
I have to say on the trip our family got a lot of looks and attention. There were people on some of these islands that had never seen a dwarf in person before. Ashley seemed to get the most attention. One lady in a store was a little too close for comfort and she kept getting in Ashley's personal space, asking her tons of questions, offering her gum, trying to invite her to her church and talking to her about Jesus.
We ended up waiting quite a while on the dock for our bio-luminescent bay excursion. Since Paul's brother Eric is a business owner in Puerto Rico he did some haggling on the price and promised to sent clients over so in the end we all got a great deal that night.
While we were waiting the kids were playing "Ninja" they even got Paul and his nieces in on the action.
Here is most of our group ready to go.
While we were waiting we talked to a lady who was a long time resident of Vieques who told us the story of protesting the American military occupation of their island. I guess Vieques used to be rented out by the American military to various countries for millions a day to be used for bombing practice! She said their island would be bombed over and over it's beautiful beaches destroyed and only a fraction of the money would ever make it to Puerto Rico none to Vieques. She said in the records at the UN the island of Vieques was listed as only having animals as residents, when actually there were 6,000 people living on the island.
Protesting started after a person died and agent Orange, uranium and other bad stuff were found in the environment and in the residents. Protests finally changed things. After 2 to 3 years of camps and sit-ins finally internet broadcasting and the support of celebrities helped make the US soldiers leave.
She told us of the months that she would live in the camps trying to protest. She got arrested a couple of times but then would come right back. The soldiers would ask her "Why do you keep coming back, you need to leave." Her answer was "We aren't going anywhere, it's you that needs to leave"
Eventually they did and now the abandoned marine base has become the biggest nature preserve on the island.
The bio-luminescent bay was amazing! Probably the highlight of the whole trip.
We didn't bring our camera so I had to swipe a couple of pictures off the internet to give you an idea of what it looked like.
We traveled over a bumpy road through mangrove forests to get to the entrance to the bay. We put on life jackets and paired up in canoes in the pitch black following our guide who was wearing a glow stick around his neck.
Pretty soon after we pushed out from shore you could see as your paddle cut into the water it would glow.
With every stroke the water glowed bright. When you picked up a handful of the water it sparkled over you like pixie dust. When you looked into the water lights flashed as well, about as big as the reflection of the stars reflected in the water. It's when the water was moved that you really saw it glow.
I guess the best displays are when it rains and the whole surface lights up. Fish swimming in the water look like shooting stars!
Our guide explained that the entrance to this bay (shaped like an S), the salinity of the water, it's depth and the mangrove trees all provide the perfect environment for hosting these bio-luminescent creatures called phytoplankton. When the Spaniards came they thought the bay was haunted with the spirits of those who have passed before so they tried to block the bay with rocks. This actually kept it more protected!
I guess there are phytoplankton in the ocean as well, about 35 per gallon of water. In this bay there are millions to a gallon!
At first I thought I was killing them by pulling them out of the water to admire them glowing on our skin. We learned that the glow comes from a chemical reaction that is set off when they are agitated or moved. They can only glow 2 or 3 times in a night but the next day when the sun comes out they are recharged again and can glow the next night. (I was glad I wasn't killing them)
You used to be able to swim in the bay and make glowing angels in the water...now you aren't allowed but our guides said "If you fall out of the boat for a minute or two I can't do anything about it."
Taylor "fell out" first and then the rest of my family followed just to experience it. I stayed in the boat and watched them, ha ha. It was an awesome experience I would love to do it again some time.
After we were done we went back to the city (one main street) and got some drinks at an outdoor eating place/bar. The night life is interesting in Vieques. Again they liked really loud music...especially coming from cars. People would have little cars, old cars, even a golf cart rigged with the biggest, loudest speakers I've ever experienced. They would race down the main street pumping their music louder than I've ever heard before. I thought the music in the lobby of our last hotel was loud (it was hard to talk in the lobby and it always felt like it was a party) but that was nothing compared to this.
I thought the funniest thing was the people that didn't have cars would trot their horses by the bar to show off instead. It cracked me up to see some young guy thinking he was hot stuff...trotting his horse down the street behind some car with pounding music. Hillarious.
After a good nights sleep we came down for a breakfast that was just as eclectic as our room decorations. The office was cluttered and food being offered...interesting. I think most of it came off the property (someone said they still saw a feather stuck to the hard boiled egg). I didn't eat too much after a cat was walking over the food offerings.
We ended up saying good bye to our Seagate hotel (and horse farm) early because we found out that the only ferry we could take that would get us on the cruise in time was the first one in the morning.
So we rushed off and said goodbye to Vieques.
Since it was Sunday we were planning to go to church, but the church was the same time as the ferry ride. :(
We got back to the mainland and had to feed the family.
Jacob said this place could be our replacement for church, crazy kid.
After waiting for Jeff and Joel to return the rental car and long lines getting into the ship we were excited to explore our accommodation for our first ever cruise.
Right at the beginning Jeff bought drink cards for him and the boys. You couldn't get soda with your meals or on the ship unless you payed by the drink or had a drink card. I was fine with just lemonade or water but the boys were happy to have unlimited soda whenever they wanted it.
Actually I think they all took advantage of the free ice cream more than the soda. I think the record was 8 ice-cream cones in one day.
Our cruise was on the Carnival Victory.
The closing ceremony for the Olympics was playing on the big screen and helped add to the festive atmosphere.
Our view of Puerto Rico from the dock.
That night we got a big table for 10 and had a great sit/down dinner where everyone could get exactly what they wanted off the menu. Nobody had to share, nobody had to worry about the bill or the tax and tip.
The kids ate tons.
Us parents went to a meeting telling us about the kids club after dinner. Jeff was whistling to get prizes but Ashley ended up getting on on her own...just by being cute :)
10:00 at night, getting ready to set sail.
Some of us danced on the deck celebrating with everyone else the start of our cruise.
I was a little worried about feeling sea sick. We all ended up being fine except for Ashley. She felt a little dizzy and queasy for the first couple of nights and then she was fine.