Vieques, Puerto Rico

In April Chris and I took off on our House Sitting adventure of 2017. I resigned from my job at Coastguard and Chris took 1 year leave without pay from his position as Deputy Harbourmaster. We were not sure how it would all turn out. Over the years we have house-sat but not for extended periods of time, so going away for a whole year was all very new and exciting.  We had been chosen to do 6 months house sitting on a little island called Vieques in Puerto Rico. WOW! Can you imagine! 6 months in the Caribbean? How wonderful!! So this was the start point, for what turned out to be and amazing year.

Its quite a long way from New Zealand!

We didn’t know exactly where Puerto Rico was, other than in the Caribbean. But this is one of the wonderful things about what we do, the geography lesson we are getting along the way. So we find out that Puerto Rico is, in fact, part of The States – well, who knew! But what this meant was, we, as New Zealand passport holders, would have to apply for a visa to enter the USA for more than 3 months. After researching online, we start the application process, wondering if we will be successful. We better be – we have a house sit booked!! Many many pages of questions – occupations, homes, children, spouses, have you been involved in human trafficking? Have you ever been involved in bomb manufacturing or weapons? Have you ever been involved in trading in body parts? Pages and pages! We get it all sent away and make an appointment for an interview at the US Embassy in Auckland. Not on the same day of course! So we each take a trip to the big smoke. I went first.

You have to go through a screening search for weapons, bags taken off you and searched, you could only hold your paperwork, nothing else, no wallet, no phone. I sat and watched what others were doing and could hear bits of some of the conversations. Not all VISA’s were granted that day. My turn. I step up to the window to a very tall man – it may have actually been higher on his side of the window, he was a bit intimidating, dressed in what looked like military uniform. He said to me “so why do you want to go to the Untied States?” In my slightly nervous state, I blurted out “I don’t want to, I want to go to Puerto Rico for 6 months” this raised an eyebrow and he asked me again, “why” so I told him I was going to be house sitting,

At friends?

No, I don’t know the people,

So they are strangers?

Yes,

So you are going to stay at someones house, in a foreign country, but you don’t know who they are?

Yes,

But how does that work?.

I explained about house sitting and the web sites you apply with and he thought it was a hell of a good idea!

YOUR VISA IS GRANTED!

Chris had his visa granted the next week – just as well!! We now both have 10 year, multiple entry visas. Yahoo – LETS GO!

So we pack up and rent out the house, put furniture into storage, boat onto a mooring, car to a friends farm and off we go. We stayed away from NZ for 10 months all together. We weren’t sure how it would all go, how long we would be away for, whether we would still be talking to each other after being together 24/7 for so long, if we would have enough money to survive, etc etc. We had the security of Chris’s job to go back to after 12 months, so lets just give it a go! Life is too short not to! We hear so many say they will do such and such once they retire, or once the mortgage is paid off, or just one more year of work to save that bit more money, and then something happens and it is too late. We decided to bite the bullet and go for it, while we are still able to.

Puerto Rico here we come. And what a wonderful place!

Our lovely home owners met us at the ferry of the small Island of Vieques just off the East coast of mainland Puerto Rico. We loved these two immediately! They showed us around and orientated us with their little piece of paradise. After 2 days they left us in charge.

This was not a very big island, 32km by 7km. In the time we were there I think we covered almost every part of the island that was accessible.

Still today, there are unexploded bombs

In 1941 the United States Navy seized two thirds of the island, evicting a lot of local sugar farmers in the process. After WWII the Navy continued their hold on the land and it was used for military exercises and as a firing range and testing ground for munitions. This went on for decades. The Vieques people didn’t like it of course and after protesting for what would have seemed like a life time for some, the Navy withdrew for good in 2003.

Feels like 46!!!

It was summer in Puerto Rico, so temperatures around 30 – 32 every day. This is not overly hot as far as temperatures go, but the humidity was 100% and all weather apps would tell you the “feels like” temp was in the 40’s. It was a heat that drained you the minute you got up in the morning. We wondered if out fitness had suffered with not working, but figured that it was the heat making our bodies feel heavy and sluggish.

But this didn’t stop us from cycling all over the island and finding all the amazing beaches. Picture a Caribbean Island – white sand, blue sky, palm trees, gentle breeze and turquoise water as clear as gin – that was it – THE perfect Caribbean Island, with beaches what WOW you with the wonder of their perfection. We would pinch ourselves to believe that this was real, how lucky we were to be here!!

Mango season. We would always take a bag with us on our walks, just in case we come across a mango tree which had dropped fruit on “our” side of the fence. You had to be quick though as they would rot quickly or the wild horses would get at them first. So many trees, loaded with mangos, but behind peoples fences. The smell of the ripe fruit lying on the ground was heady. We were on the middle of the island one day coming back from Esperanza and came across a great tree with a few fruit on the path. We stopped to collect a couple. Next minute, an old lady started shouting at us in Spanish. Oh crap! We quickly tried to remember what the Spanish word for “sorry” was and approached her, ready for a telling off. But she had more mangos in her hand and wanted to give them to us and offered us even more! So lovely. Instead of “sorry” we said “gracias” many times!

Puerto Ricans have a great social life. They really know how to party. At the beaches during the weekends they arrive in droves, carting Bar-B-Q’s, cooler boxes, tables, gazebos, hammocks, etc etc and set up for the day. Mothers fathers, babies and grandparents and everything in between, all there to spend the day together having fun. They have cooler boxes full of beer AND spirits, and lots of it! They put fires on in the fire pits and put slow cook meals on as well as traditional Bar-B-Q food. Get the music going and party on. The water is so warm, the adults would gather in the water in groups, chat and drink, call out to the kids to get them another beer. Music wafting over the ocean. Eat loads of food, have a sleep, do it all again! The atmosphere was so good, all just having a great time, enjoying being together in this wonderful place.

For my birthday, Chris took us in a hired golf cart to La Chiva Beach and we had a day at the beach “Puerto Rican style” The family situated quite close to us started sharing their food with us and we got chatting. The whole lot of them sang Happy Birthday, they were so friendly and welcoming. It was getting dark by the time we all packed up to go home – The most perfect day.

We had no pets to look after in this house sit so we volunteered at the Vieques Humane Society and walked some of the shelter Satos (dogs) every Friday. We also helped out at the VHS thrift shop each week. We met and got to know some beautiful dogs and are so glad to know they have been re-housed to forever homes. The VHS do a great job!

We loved Vieques! We had a bit of bad luck after 4 months on the island with Hurricane Irma and Maria and were evacuated to USA October 2017 – That is another story, check it out here…

https://kiwisdofly.blog/2019/10/04/a-trip-back-in-time-the-hurricane-story-part-1/

But that hasn’t put us off, we would be back in a flash. We were booked to do this house sit again this year, 2020, but it was cancelled due to COVID 19. Vieques went into lockdown early March, so we were unable to get there. They have done really well to have kept the virus out, big congratulations to the island people for being strong and standing united.

So what now? 5 months gone and we are displaced in The States, Check out my next story – the second half of this year long house sitting adventure, coming soon………