The week after returning from the Jump Up Festival in St Croix it was fiesta time for us again. Fiesta Patronales on the island of Vieques was going to be a stamina event, the festival marathon as opposed to the festival sprint of Jump Up.
For 5 days in July the island of Vieques turns on the fairy lights, dusts of its salsa moves and turns up the music to party until the wee hours.
The annual 5 day event is to honour the Virgen del Carmen (Our Lady of Carmen) the Patron Saint of the sea, seafarers, fisherman and of Vieques. The public plaza and surrounding streets are closed to traffic and the area transformed into Fiesta Extravaganza. The whole island celebrates with food, rides, music, dancing and lots of drinking, especially the official drink of Vieques, Bilí (pronounced ” Bee- Lee”) made from the local quenepa fruit mixed with rum, cinnamon & sugar.
The plaza is decked out with food stalls, rides and pop up cocktail bars serving Piña Coladas and other tasty rum concoctions served up in plastic yard glasses that will make their way right through the festival.
This is the preparation for ‘The Tripletta’ (we’re talking festival quantities here). The Puerto Rican version of the Cuban sandwich. This monster sandwich usually combines chicken, ham and beef served on a slightly sweet roll, covered with ketchup, mustard and mayo and normally topped with thin crispy fried potato sticks. It is an indigestion inducing, mouthwatering feast that could mop up a lot of alcohol and be more than sufficient for 2 if you were inclined to share. (Mark!)
If gambling is your thing, it is not unusual to see this little kiosk set up outside a bar- festival or not. It’s like roulette but with a wind up horse carousel instead of a roulette wheel. It is very popular wherever it is set up and can be kind of addictive (again, Mark!) luckily, bets are limited to $2 a go to keep it friendly.
Once the new Miss Junior Vieques has received her crown and the former Miss Junior Vieques relieved of her duties and farewelled, the festival can officially begin.
Over the next 4 nights there is nonstop entertainment of live music, dancing and partying with the program scheduled until four in the morning on most nights. Each evening young and old bring a chair and set up for a big night of action in the Plaza.
And just when you think you can’t party any more, the final day is the biggest! Starting at around one in the afternoon the party begins in the streets all the way back out of town as everyone waits for the parade to commence. Everyone in the know is dressed in bright fluorescent colours (we didn’t get that memo!) and with bottles of home made Bilí in hand the grand finale party of all parties begins.
And then the parade begins!
The parade (and party) weaves its way through town ending in the plaza, where the party vibe continues to mount, as does the congestion in the streets as we reach a human bottle neck.
And aside from a few inevitable wardrobe malfunctions, the party continued well into the next morning. And this little community knows how to party!
Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean. Vieques is approx. 1 hr by ferry from Fajardo in Puerto Rico or flights are available from both San Juan and Fajardo. Fiestas Patronales happens each year, usually in the 3rd week of July.