sean at the vieques ferry terminal. we waited for four hours for our $2 ferry back to fajardo, after missing the ferry we originally planned to take at 6:30AM. on this morning, we woke up at 4AM on a beach on the southern coast of vieques, in the town of esperanza. the brightest stars i have ever seen were still hanging above us. i would say that i had the worst night of sleep in puerto rico on this night. as surreal and beautiful it was, sleeping on the sand sucked, and getting up at 4AM to quickly pack our things and take down our tents sucked. there was a scary spider on my tent that wouldn’t leave us alone, either. sean hit with his shoe, and it disappeared. moments later, i shined my flashlight on my tent to find the spider surrounded by the light, frozen like a fugitive on a bad episode of cops. sean freaked out, because it came back in a way that seemed eerily similar to something that would happen in a horror movie. anyway, sean and i missed our taxi back to the north shore of the island, and that’s why we missed our ferry. when we realized we had a slim chance of racing our bikes across center of vieques, through its incredibly hilly terrain, we jumped on our bikes and pedaled our asses off. we were in such a hurry that sean almost left the bag containing his wallet and cameras on the ledge we sat on as we tried to contact the taxi driver we had met the evening before. sean was already riding his bike when i took one last look at where we were sitting and saw that he had left behind his bag. sun still not out, 20 seconds into the ride, we faced the steep hill that leads into esperanza. there are only two entrances into the town, and both are huge hills. as i faced the hill, i had a sobering realization, i knew we were in for an intense ride. it wasn’t until halfway through our ride that the sky started to change. the sky began to change when we were riding through a straightaway in a very flat, rural section of the small island. by this time, i was fatigued, and i remember the roosters crowing, as if they were cheering us on. wild horses were along the road, the day was just beginning, no cars were on the road, but i could see sean’s bright bike lights blinking ahead of me. i just remember thinking about how we were exerting all of our energy into what will probably be the most exciting, anxiety filled bike ride of our lives. however, at the same time, i couldn’t help but think as i rode, “what the hell am i doing? i am in puerto rico, racing to catch a ferry. there are roosters making the same noises i heard when i spoke to my mom on the phone the last time she went home to the congo. i’ve never even heard a rooster in person before. i am in a place i have never been, and i am going somewhere. sean and i don’t even know what’s happening next.”
sean and i reached the terminal in time, but the ferry had already reached capacity. we waited in line with the rest of the commuters and few tourists to buy tickets for the next ferry at 11AM. sean and i took turns waiting in line. i let him order the tickets, since he is fluent spanish. as i sat by our bikes, the same gang of three dogs walked by twice, one of them with a broken leg. a very drunk american woman was with her husband and son. she dropped a glass bottle of salsa, right in the area where i was sitting. the sharp, red and orange mess scattered across the rocky sidewalk, looking like someone had regurgitated glass and created a messy, chunky, meaty, bloody mess that smelled like hot sauce. this was not the first thing i wanted to see or think about in the morning, after biking across an entire island with nothing to energize me. all i could think of was what the two puerto rican boys in their little league uniforms were thinking about american tourists who come into their towns. were they bothered? are they desensitized to drunk tourists making fools of themselves? did they ever care in the first place? what does their dad think? am i bothering them? what am i doing in their town? did they even want to play baseball? are their parents hoping this is their way to make a living in a larger “american” city as MLB players? they didn’t seem bothered by me. i felt bad for the tourist family. the husband looked annoyed, and the son just looked like she wanted to go home. the drunk woman had hot sauce disgustingly splashed all over her leg. oh my god, i wanted to throw up. i asked the middle-aged man and his son if they wanted help carrying their luggage into the terminal. they were thankful.
sean and i rode our bikes around the surrounding area of the terminal for an hour and a half or so, to kill the hours before the next ferry. after riding, sean and i rested up in this place, where this picture was taken. at first we sat in a sunlit spot, facing a blue wall with one painting hanging from it. there were two puerto rican girls to our right drinking beer from a cooler. the one girl was eating some kind of chicken. i thought about how all i wanted to do was rest, and was disgusted at the thought of eating hot meat, hot, dead animal at 9AM and drinking beer in a humid, public transportation, ferry terminal. i have no clue what beer tastes like, but the girl’s choice for breakfast seemed like a really crappy combo, when all you want is rest, and you just watched a drunk adult make a mess that looked like vomit, but wasn’t vomit.
believe it or not, this was my favorite day of the trip, and it was sean’s, too. the ferry ride back to fajardo was amazing. unlike the ferry we took to vieques, the ferry back to fajardo had a roof deck. i talked to this drunk guy, george. he was from chicao and moved to vieques. from the middle of the sea, he pointed back to vieques, to the hill on which his house rests. george was a drunk, a man you would easily view as a “loser” junkie if you saw him on the streets of philadelphia, yet he owned a house with a gorgeous view on the island of vieques. he told me he gets drunk every day. i felt kind of bad. i wondered if he really felt like he was living in paradise, or if he was just running from something. he was going to fajardo to buy shoes. he explained to me that life is too expensive on vieques. while this conversation happened, sean escaped drunk babble, and we coasted by the tiny islands between the main isalnd of puerto rico and vieques, islands so small, a car could not even fit. there was one island, on which only a single person could sit. when we arrived in fajardo, i saw the same police officer from the day before who helped board us on the ferry to vieques. he asked how it was. he was from boston, and moved to puerto rico years ago. i told him it was great. esperanza is pretty beat, though. don’t ever go, if you go to vieques. the beach is nice, but the town is filed with weird southerners. sean and i walked past someone selling hot donuts from the back of a pickup truck, and to a ledge where we waited for the enterprise driver to meet us. we had decided to get a rental car for the day, because we had fallen behind schedule. most of the people filling the area of the fajardo ferry terminal had dismissed. sean and i sat on a ledge for about 30 minutes. the ledge backed the marina water that crashed against it. the water looked nothing like the bright blue water we had traveled across. it was similar to the murky, oily water in that one episode of rocket power, when they all go to surf the bigger waves in the marina, where they’re not supposed to go because it’s too dangerous. the area in which we sat was filthy, the only dirty area i saw in puerto rico. i could not find a trash can in sight. no wonder why it was so dirty.
eventually, our driver came in a ford f-250. we threw our bikes in the bed of the truck, and sat in its enormous cab. our driver was very kind. he was a young guy. he drove us out of fajardo, about a 15-20 minute drive to a resort where there was an enterprise location. the resort was completely separate from the town. from the entrance of the resort to the residential area, it was a 5 minute drive through golf courses and rolling hills with unbelievably green grass. the people who worked there were very kind. a young girl our age helped us purchase our rental car. we were in the lobby of the resort. sean and i looked extremely out of place. i would say this place was seriously for the 1%. sean and i were covered in the salt from the ocean and our sweat, and probably looked greaser than the murky, blue/grey water we had left behind in fajardo. i didn’t care, though. i thought our appearance/situation was hilarious, and came to a realization that sean and i looked the way we did because we were experiencing puerto rico in a way in which no one at the resort was, a way that many people may never experience. the enterprise employees took us to our rental car. the girl was kind enough to hook us up with an upgrade, a larger car for the price of the smallest car they offered. we had a toyota corolla with cool white and green puerto rico license plates that read, “puerto rico does it better”. as sean and i began loading our bikes into the car, there was a torrential downpour. the inside of the doors got soaked, and there was already black grease from our bicycle chains on the back seats. i felt bad making the car look bad right in front of the employees. we waited for about five minutes, and the rain stopped. this time, i realized the back seats folded down, and we loaded our bikes through the trunk. we felt really silly. sean and i left the resort, soaked in rain water. we headed onto the main highway on the east coast, highway 3. parts of highway 3 resemble something similar to highway 202 in chester county, and other parts look like any other interstate.
we were on the main highways for a little more than an hour, and then we decided to head into the mountains, since there was no way we would have been able to ride into them with our bikes and heavy equipment. we visited aguas buenas, cidra, and cayey. the roads linking these towns were no joke. blink too long, and it’s possible you are facing a very scary death, like being trapped a metal contraption falling off the side of a mountain, only to have a dashboard cave in your chest and broken glass puncture for face. one of the three towns we visited, it was either aguas buenas or cidra, i absolutely loved. it had just finished raining. in the mountains, it rains in one small area, and the other surrounding areas are completely dry. this mountain town was glistening in puerto rican rain water, and it was just beautifully quiet. there were people around, though, and plenty of business. people were out in the town square. the one town we rode through, there was a race. it was strange, this race had kids who seemed no older than 8-years-old, and adults who seemed to be at least 75+. there were people who looked robust, physically fit, and others with large body masses, who looked totally out of shape for the race. i observed the exhausted faces as sean and i waited on a hill at a red light. we drove all day, through the mountains, and then eventually to the southern coast of puerto rico. a lot of the houses in the mountains rested on the sides of cliffs, with concrete pillar-like structures i would never trust. here and there, there were little bars where people from the few nearby houses would congregate. we eventually made it out of the mountains and into the southern coastal area. the southern coast was very dry, and areas looked very desolate. it was very rural between the small towns we drove through. for the entire drive along the south coast, as the golden hour light illuminated the already dry, yellow land, puerto rico’s mountain range was to our right, like a guardrail. the southern coast just felt like a strange planet to me. maybe it was the industrial parks, the strange race track we saw, or the dryness of it that made it feel so strange. it wasn’t strange in a bad way. i felt like i was in the southern californian desert, or the american southwest, even though i have never been to either places. sean lived in california for a few years and said the south coast of puerto rico feels just like california. we both agreed that we imagined australia probably feels the same as the southern puerto rico coast. the main highway on which we traveled steered us wrong many times. at confusing intersections, there were no street signs to tell us which way we were to follow. i think it was in one of the southern towns where the cops stopped us and asked us what we were up to. we got lost in santa isabel. by this time, the sun was gone. santa isabel seemed like a strange place to get lost, but i didn’t really feel unsafe. some of the front porches made me think of new orleans. stray dogs and cats ruled the road. it wasn’t for another 40 minutes or so of driving in the dark, listening to puerto rican radio, until we reached the cloverleaf interchanges of ponce. ponce is referred to as the second capital of puerto rico. san juan is the capital. sean stopped at a walgreens to charge his phone. i took a piss in the bathroom that was hidden in a separate part of the store. as i was leaving, some guy walked into the bathroom with his penis already out of his pants. i thought it was strange, and quickly made my way out. the bathroom was weird enough, being sectioned off from the rest of the store. we eventually found a hotel right in the center of the city, hotel melia, which has existed in ponce since 1895. sean and i decided to treat ourselves. we called it a night after sitting in plaza degetau, eating vegan puerto rican dessert, at what felt like 1AM.
this was my favorite day of my trip to puerto rico.
vieques ferry terminal; vieques, puerto rico
mamiya 7ii // 80mm // kodak portra 160
10 months ago