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This Wasn’t In The Brochure! The Reality Of Island Living on Vieques Island

The Reality of Living on Vieques Island

When people in the “normal world” imagine living on a tropical island they picture a lifestyle offered in all too many glossy brochures or of holidays past. They are secretly envious of your life and I mean let’s face it, why shouldn’t they be – Island dwellers live in holiday land.

Caracas Beach Vieques

For six months, as house sitters, we were honorary members of holiday land. While we have some previous experience in island-dwelling, we wanted to share some of the realities of island living in the Caribbean; what it is like to live on Vieques Island.

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Read our complete guide to Vieques Island. This has everything you need to know about getting to Vieques, what to do once you get there, shopping, restaurants and so much more.

Vieques Island Beach photo

What is it Like to Live on a Tropical Island

What non-island dwellers do not realise is; sometimes living on a tropical island is not all Piña Colada’s and sunsets (well, it kind of mostly is).

There are times when it’s a little frustrating. I prefer to think of them as island quirks (yeh, yeh people of the normal world – I know what you’re saying …).

Boat coming into Vieques island Puerto Rico

Occasionally people who live on tropical islands go without, they may need to compromise, they make do, they substitute and pool resources if need be.  Island dwellers are generally very resourceful folk. They know about being patient for things to arrive or get done. They accept these small inconveniences in exchange for a much slower and idyllic lifestyle and they do it extremely well.

All islands are different. They are different sizes, they have different infrastructure, resources and conveniences but there is always some common threads. Any island dweller will recognise this.

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So let’s look at some of the good, the bad and the ugly of living on Vieques Island.

Shopping (or lack of)

You will have little or no access to the variety of stores available in the normal world. (Thank god in some cases. e.g McDonald’s!)

We’ll call this a mixture of compromise and going without! But hey, I remember Jimmy Buffett singing about Margaritaville, not about shopping malls and department stores. So on this point, let’s look at the wonderful world of island shopping.

Vieques Main Street Isabelle II

Shopping or Hunting?

Some Vieques folk refer to basic shopping in Vieques as hunting! If you are lucky enough to live on an island that has more than one supermarket, colmado or convenience store; then it’s likely you will know about “hunting”.

On Vieques, the weekly shop becomes the daily hunt. You may pop into the same supermarket twice in one day in the hope that the food item you need (actually want) for tonight’s dinner may have miraculously appeared on the shelf courtesy of the afternoon ferry.

Vieques Main Street Isabelle II

You will also hope that someone else hasn’t got to it first. People have a tendency to stockpile certain items for fear of never seeing them on the shelf again (yes, we were the ones who took the last 3 loaves of grain bread from the freezer section after going without for four weeks. We will do it again!).

Shops on Vieques Island

Jenni Konrad Flickr

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Quickly Learn What days to Shop Where

You will quickly learn to go to certain places on certain days for certain things. Like knowing what days to go to the corner of roads 200 & 201 for fresh fruit & vegetables. The best days to get fuel or even the days you must get fuel for fear of the island running out.

You will need to go to three or four different food outlets for various items. You will painstakingly check every expiry date in the hope that you don’t get caught out buying overpriced out of date mayonnaise (Yep, been caught out)

This falls into the generally resourceful and opportunistic category.

Street Fruit Market Vieques Island

The Nuances of Tropical Island Living

When you live on a tropical island, any spray, cream, roll-on, oil or ointment containing the products Deet or Citronella are a perfectly acceptable cologne substitute.

We’ll call this both a necessity and a compromise (see note above about lack of retail options).

Vieques Island Beach photo

I once couldn’t shave my legs for over a week because we forgot to apply cologne (per above). We spent the week madly scratching sandfly bites and alternating between applying Deet products and painting ourselves pink with calamine lotion. (note: pink polka dot hairy leg painting did not catch on as hoped!)

We will call this the bad & ugly!

Getting to and From the Island

At times, you will find getting on and off an island difficult or unreliable for various reasons. I will only comment on weather factors here (and possibly “Island Time”) as I made some lighthearted commentary about island ferry transport in another post which started quite a debate!- leaving that one alone!

Enjoy Tales of the Island and its Characters

You will indulge in tales of the island past and the characters that have been. These are more than likely urban myth but give your island the flavour and identity you love it for.

Vieques Island Boats on anchor

The Story of a Man, a Dog, a Chicken, and a Calf

We especially love the story of a man who came to Vieques because he was apparently in trouble with the law on another island (probably not true).

The story goes he jumped in a rowboat with a dog and a chicken and rowed all the way to Vieques (probably also not true).

After an evening of rehydrating (it was a long trip), he was found in an inebriated slumber at the front of a certain establishment with a calf tied to his leg. Yes, as in baby cow! (probably true).

When an island dweller tells this story, it is not about this man’s unusual pursuit to freedom, but more about his love for animals. Island people see things in a different light.

Good and heartening.

Snorkelling on Vieques Island

Snorkel Gear in your Car is the Norm

You will accept your snorkel gear as a permanent fixture in the back of your car (along with a few cans of Fix A Flat- more on that later)-

Opportunistic & prepared!

Snorkelling on Vieques Island

Island Time Has its Merits

Island dwellers accept that it’s always hot and, for the most part, work accordingly. Nobody minds if you stop for a cold beer in the middle of the day or only work until lunchtime. It’s hot, what are you meant to do – Sensible!

Island Infrastructure Isn’t Always the Best

You will grudgingly accept that the roads on most of the island are really crappy (hence the need for Fix A Flat).  This annoys you at first but soon becomes part of the charm and unites locals in the way they grumble about them.

Before long though you high-five yourself as you start to navigate them as if by second nature. You become intimate with certain potholes and know if they have gotten bigger or changed in any way, a bit like old friends.

Vieques roads

It also makes indulging in the good roads on the other side of the island a real treat (Oh the roads around Esperanza….how flat and smooth you are).

You will not only drive to avoid potholes but also avoid horses, chickens, dogs, goats and more horses (and tourists who stop suddenly to photograph the horses- Ay Bendito!). Vieques has no shortage of horses roaming the island.

Horses on Road Vieques

And nobody cares if you drive a crappy car for all the above reasons (plus it distinguishes you from the shiny Jeep Wrangler driving tourists!)

It’s also nice that people don’t stress about having to wait because someone has stopped for a chat and is blocking the road. It’s not like you are ever in that much of a hurry.

We categorise driving in Vieques as both resourceful & skilled!

Vieques Island - Boy and wild horses on the road

Friendly People Live on Islands

You will find the people you meet on the island are genuinely happy to get to know you and go out of their way to help and welcome you into the community. They are polite on the roads and strangers still say hello in the street- Buenos Dias!

Nice and heartwarming.

Every day is a Beach Day

No one thinks you’re slack or lazy if you go to the beach every day. They applaud you for making the most of it. Some days you will love having some of Vieques’ most beautiful beaches to yourself and others you will enjoy the atmosphere of a beach crowded with families and people all set up for a big day.

Both opportunistic and great!

Caracas Beach Vieques Island

Island Weather Isn’t Always Like the Brochure

When it’s hot you wish it would rain and when it starts raining it feels like it will never stop. This is all three- Good, bad and ugly (see above re sandflies & roads!)

Storms on Vieques Island

Island Food

You will be thankful for the amazing island food. After going to five different shops and find you are still empty-handed for dinner; you can pop down to the jetty for fresh seafood straight off the boat or take advantage of some fantastic little local eateries.

God bless Mofongo & Pastelillo con Carrucho – The best!

You Learn to Work the Happy Hour Like a Pro

You will invest in much selfless research and local survey to fine-tune a list of the best happy hours on the island.  You will even know the ones closest to the best beach to go to that day according to the weather or activity and move seamlessly from beach to bar with true island style.

Vieques Island Bars Esperanza

Are You Ready to Live on a Tropical Island?

So, on this island of no hurry, there may not be the best of shops but there are the best beaches.

There may not be fancy nightlife but there is the best local fare and flair, amazing sunsets and interesting company. You may have to wait for things but who cares, there is plenty to keep you occupied in the meantime.

If you can’t find it in yourself to relax or are in too much of a hurry to allow people time for a quick chat. If replacing high-end perfumes with products that go by the name of “Off!” makes you cringe.

If you can’t bear the thought of throwing a still kicking lobster on the BBQ or giving up your favourite wine bar in favour of kicking your shoes off to enjoy a chilled beer on the beach at sunset; maybe island life isn’t for you.

But I bet secretly you are shaking your head right now saying “Yes it is, I want to be there!”

Sarah Richter Flickr