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Moving to Vieques, Puerto Rico
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The Gringarican Handbook - stories about moving to Vieques, PR, life in the slow lane and becoming a Gringarican

Relax, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, 1983

Finding what you need in Vieques is not easy.  So, we have decided we will need less, not more, and be happy with what we find.  However, it doesn't hurt to know where to find things.
 
Colmado Mambo on Route 997 is a superpacked little gold mine.  When no one else on the island has yogurt or cream, Mambo's got it.  Plus, its on the way home from the beach! 
 
The Green Store in Esperanza has a "gringo aisle" and often goodies from Costco will show up there.
 
El Sombrero Viejo in Isabel (or Kuhns to the locals) carries some excellent wines at excellent prices.
 
Packing for a Vieques vacation is now a breeze.    I have managed to pare my clothing needs down to a carry on.  Perhaps this will help you:
     2 bathing suits
     1 pairo (cover up wrap, doubles as a wrap skirt or strapless dress)
     2 pair of flip flops (1 beach, 1 dress)
     1 short cotton skirt
     1 athletic skort or shorts                        nightgown
     1 pair crop pants                                    dress
     3 sleeveless tops                                     underwear
     2 camisole tops
    Of course, its easier for men than women.
      3-4 shirts
      1 pair dress shorts
      2 pair casual shorts or athletic shorts
      2 bathing suits
      1 short sleeve dress shirt
      1 polo shirt
      underwear
I also make sure I have books, camera, travel scrabble, cocktail napkins and my nutmeg grater.
 
The Vieques Humane Society has become near and dear to our hearts.  It wouldn't be vacation if we didn't stop by to leave a donation and walk some dogs.  We are proud to have been able to assist the VHS by accompanying dogs to our local airports in the Sates where new parents wait for their bundles of joy from Vieques.  Interesting to us is the fact that most Vieques dogs don't like to go in the water, or even get their feet wet!
 
One essential thing that is not always available is gas.  Vieques is an island that is dependent on another island for its deliveries.  So, if the seas are rough, or if the cargo ferry isn't operating, there is not gas.  The two gas stations on the island are both owned by the same company and are right across the street from each other.  If you see a line start to form, and you need gas, get in it!  Beware - there is gas line protocol and they do not take credit cards.  Rule of thumb - never let your car get under half empty.
 

Back In The Saddle Again, Gene Autry, 1939

Well, its November again and we're back at Bravos House.  We're pleased to see that there haven't been many changes over the past six months.  I have still been obsessed with our lot purchase, but no one else seems to feel an urgency.  We do have an official Purchase Agreement and deposit with the sellers, contingent on the securing of a title.  We will gladly subsidize the legal fees, to a certain extent. to obtain this necessary documentation.
 
It is a Vermont invasion in Vieques.  We have two friends who have joined us for part of our vacation, and others who are Vieques homeowners are also on island.
 
Although the fish market is not officially open, we can see fishermen heading for the docks with their catch.  So, we head on down to meet them - hoping to relieve them of some fish, lobsters and conch.  Mission accomplished.  The boats seem to come back in daily at around 11am, so it is possible to score around that time.
 
My visiting friend Jane is a painter and we spend some time each day with a painting class for me.  She's a great instructor and I  enjoy our lessons, and actually end up with some nice watercolors.  I am proud!
 
As I've previously mentioned, you should never plan a menu before you shop.  We have invited the rest of the Vieques Vermonters for dinner, so we go off to see what's available.  There is a delicious bread made here, called Pan Agua.  It is available at 2 Isabel bakeries - Panaderia Lydia, located across from the Ocean View Hotel and Panaderia La Viequenses located across from Roys on Route 200.  Loaves are sold by the pound (libre) and one pound consists of two long, fat half loaves of warm heaven with a faint cinnamon fragrance for $2.  Buying at Lydia is reminiscent of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi.  You stand in line outside of a barred door, place your order, then step aside.  There is a sign that states "No cocinamos huevos"(we don't cook eggs),  but you can get a breakfast sandwich.  LaViequenses has all sorts of sandwiches available, breakfast (they do cook eggs), and lunch.  My favorite is their cubano.  They also have great coffee.  At this point I should also mention "El Serrucho"which is located across from the ferry terminal.  Popular for breakfast.  Bread can also be found at the small gas station on Route 200.
 
The  fruit and veggie truck is just off the corner of Routes 200 & 997.  Mundo also sells tires and a variety of other items.  It might not be the freshest of veggies, but it is there when you need it.  You can  usually find what you need.  However, there are no prices marked and I am convinced there is a local price and a gringo price.  He does not take credit cards.  We pick up cilantro, cukes, papaya, apples and clementines.
Callabazza is generally available, as are all types of rice.  We did bring a few frozen meats from home, so our dinner party menu is:
         Black Bean Mousse with plantain chips
         Mango chicken sausage with maple mustard
         Grilled pork tenderloin
         Papaya corn salsa
         Cucumber & onion salad
         Calabazza Risotto
         Ripe Plantains (maduras) with butter and rum
         Green Salad
         Coconut Ice Cream with chocolate sauce
         Plenty of Medalla and Don Q
 
Calabazza Risotto - Serves 6
 
1 cup arborio rice
1/4 calabazza,peeled & cooked til almost soft, cut into bite size chunks
3 cups warm chicken or veggie broth
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
 
Saute rice and onion in olive oil until onion is transparent over medium heat.  Add 1 cup broth and stir until broth is almost absorbed and add another cup.  Continue to stir.  When 2nd cup is almost absorbed, start adding remaining broth in smaller quantities, until rice reaches a soft, but not sticky, consistency.  Add calabazza chunks and stir.  Add parmesan.

Leaving It All Up To You, Linda Ronstadt, 1970

Sadly,my spring vacation also comes to an end.  Time to return to Vermont and get ready for the summer art show circuit.
 
I think of nothing but the lot.  Although we have an accepted offer and have given a substantial deposit to the realtor, nothing else is settled.  A local attorney, who the sellers insist upon using, says the owners must get permission from the  municipality to sell.  We have also found that the town records show different property lines than the certified survey, so we need a letter from the municipality recognizing that there is a discrepancy and they will honor the certified survey. We will need special Power of Attorney papers for Puerto Rico.  Our U.S. POA's are not recognized in Puerto Rico.  This is a legal document prepared and notarized - only by an attorney.  In Puerto Rico, a notary must be an attorney.  We should make sure to get everything in writing regarding fees, schedules and payments from engineers, contractors and anyone else.
 
The ball is now in the Seller's court.  Their realtor needs to find out what exactly is needed to get this property sold.  And, probably no one knows, as there has been no untitled land, without a structure, sold in this barrio in this administration.
 
Our realtor says we must be patient.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Cyndi Lauper, 1983

Anytime "the girls" get together life becomes easier.  Things just fall into place, there are no expectations, no schedules.  Once men are taken out of the equation, we enjoy reading in bed, walking on the beach, eating when and what we like and, of course, cocktail hour.  Our beautiful views are enhanced by the daily rum punch.  My favorite recipe is from Barbados, but since we are in Puerto Rico, I use Don Q Oro (dark) rum instead of Mt. Gay.
The recipe is a rhyme, and goes like this:  One of sour, two of sweet, three of strong and four of weak.  For me, that translates into:         1 cup lemon juice
                                  2 cups sugar
                                  3 cups dark rum
                                  4 cups water
    Liberally shake in Angostura bitters and grate whole nutmeg.  Serve well chilled.
 
Another thing about being with"the girls" is the shopping.  Not that there is much on Vieques, but we do damage where we can.  As we stroll through town we take pictures of intriguing architecture and all the different types of iron work adorning the buildings.  Passing by the NU2U shop, my sister sees the wildest, biggest pair of lamps.  A lover of the unordinary, she must have them.  We spend the next few hours figuring out how to ship them back (post office of course) and amassing all of the bubble wrap available on the island. 
 
After a hard day, we hit the rum punch.

Ferry Cross The Mersey, Gerry & The Pacemakers, 1965

Although our offer for the lot was accepted, we did not have a Purchase Agreement.
 
Fred's time on Vieques had run out.  My mother and sister were arriving to take his place.  Riding the ferry back to the main island seemed a good way to transition - get the 6:30am ferry from Vieques ($2 each way), meet Jose our taxi driver in Fajardo and then drive to San Juan airport.    To me, the crossing is not bad, but Fred is not too chipper and the kids in front of us are puking the entire time.
 
Fred could go into the secure area since he had a ticket, pick up my mother from her gate from her incoming flight from Sarasota, get her luggage, deliver her to me, and still have plenty of time to make his flight.  My sister, a savvy traveler and 30 years younger  than my mother, would be able to find her way on her own.  Just to cover all bases, I get info on flying from Ceiba (just outside Fajardo) via Vieques Air Link.  Don't want my guests to experience any negativity on their way to MY island.   But, the newcomers are game to take the ferry so we continue as planned and Jose gets us to the dock with time to spare.
 
We enjoy people watching while we wait.  It is amazing to us how people are overloaded with the most amazing stuff - suitcases bursting at the seams, cartons on hand trucks, televisions, caged birds and dogs, plastic bags full of food and rolling coolers of every shape and size.  Babies wail, children play tag, old women gossip.  Our return trip is uneventful and my mother and sister brave the lurching ship without effect.

I Fought The Law, The Clash, 1977

You don't really appreciate how easy things are in the contiguous 48 states until you try to get something done in Puerto Rico - and Vieques could possibly be worse.
 
Of course, we had heard all of the horror stories that people shared on the internet and in books.  I was also becoming obsessed with HGTV's House Hunters and House Hunters International series.  But of course, this would never happen to us.
 
The day after stepping foot on what was to become "öur lot" we made an offer and the day after that we had a deal  We want to close asap but Fred's time on Vieques is over and my mother and sister arrive the next day.  I can return at any point to complete the sale.  It sounded easy to us - find the property, buy the property, build on the property, done.  And we thought finding the right property would be the hard part.
 
Here's where the trouble begins.  Since Fred couldn't come back so soon for closing, there was a myriad of legal paperwork that would have to be done for Puerto Rico Power of Attorney.  In order to skirt that issue, we decide the property could be in my name only.  Not.  Oh no.  Not in Puerto Rico!  A married woman may not have property in her name only.  How outdated and chauvinistic - not to mention discriminatory and probably illegal.  But, its tough to fight the system.  So, back to the hassle of Power of Attorney.
 
So many times through this whole procedure I thought "no wonder Puerto Rico is not a state, they would have to make alot of changes"and "Puerto Rico could never make the changes to conform to the US laws".  Boy, it only gets worse!
 
One good thing that we found out is that you can make copies or send/receive a fax at the Funeral Parlor in Isabel.  They are very nice.

Birthday, The Beatles, 1968

Another birthday in  Vieques for me!  How many must I spend as a visitor before I celebrate as a resident?  Are we really ready to become full time residents is a question that continues to haunt us.  Will we be able to afford to live on a Vieques paycheck?  What are the hidden costs?  What about health insurance and what about doctors?  Is this the place for two people on their way to being senior citizens?
 
Of course, we need to address the major issue of finding a place to live.  We've even started to entertain the thought of building.  We see some nice lots with beautiful views in the hills of Villa Bourinquen and Monte Carmelo.  However, the excitement is not there, as we have been spoiled by Bravos House.
 
So, we take ourselves off to Sun Bay to rehash our situation while baking in the sun.  We check out the baby pool like waters of Media Luna and as we head out to Navio we encounter a couple walking and she's pregnant.  What were they thinking?  We rescue them from the hot, dusty potholed road and drop them at Navio.  We offer them a ride back, but they disappear while we are checking out the underwater caves.
 
Rejuvenated by the sea, we are ready to face another afternoon of property hunting.  One of the lots that I had investigated on the web is still available.  Located on the North Shore we measure out this very narrow, long lot.  We check out the "would be" views - "this would be the view from the porch", "this would be the  view from the bedroom".  Almost 180 degree sea view, I am sure I can design a house that would fit and meet our needs.
 
Of course, just when you think all is well, there is a glitch.  The property is unimproved and untitled and there could be a problem with building permits.  Our Realtor will check all of this out before we make an offer.
 
Full of hope and anticipation, we complete our day with strong rum drinks and dinner at a nearby fish house.  This is the end of a perfect birthday and I stay up late designing my dream house.

Baby (You''ve Got What It Takes), Dinah Washington & Broook Benton, 1960

I am a foodie, though not a food snob.  Fred is a foodie too - if I'm  cooking, he's eating.  Over the years I've tugged him along on some crazy food based adventures and he's been a good sport.
 
During our years vacationing in Barbados I collected quite a few Caribbean recipes that I was able to adapt to items I could find in Puerto Rico.  Vieques food shopping is much like food shopping in Barbados 20 years ago.  It is what it is.  Fresh fish & roadside veggie stands were more abundant in Barbados though.
 
In Vieques I would never plan a dinner menu ahead of time.  That one item you need will surely not be available.  So,  now I just make it up as I go along.  Some things that one can almost always count on are:
Beer - you can always find Medalla
Rum - some brand is always available somewhere
Chicken - some cut, sometimes fresh, sometimes frozen
Pork - sometimes fresh, sometimes frozen, sometimes unrecognizable. Not  that there's anything
     wrong with that - its just foreign to us gringos and I would love to have a pork tutorial from a      
     Viequense
Onions
Cucumbers - they have become my standard "green vegetable", marinated with onions, vinegar & sugar
Calabazza - known in Barbados as belly pumpkin, I was glad to see this old friend.  They are huge and
     you really only need about a quarter of one for a side dish for 4-6 people.  They taste much like our
     butternut squash in the states.
Coconut Ice Cream - awesome with homemade chocolate sauce and Goya sugar wafers.
 
Caribbean Calabazza - Serves 4-6
 
1/4 fresh calabazza                          
1 stick butter
white or brown sugar
maple syrup (optional)
rum (not optional)
salt, pepper, nutmeg
 
Cut calabazza in large chunks and cook until tender on stove top or microwave.  Cool until you can touch it to remove the skin.  Remove skin and while still warm add butter.  Mash and add sugar, syrup and rum - maybe some lemon or lime too, to taste.  Can be made ahead of time and reheated in microwave.  Grate some fresh nutmeg on top to serve.
 
Chocolate Sauce
I used to make this recipe using the unsweetened Bakers Chocolate.  I have not found that to be available on Vieques, so I have substituted a sweetened chocolate the is readily available in the baking section.
1 bar Sobrino sweetened chocolate
2/3 cup water                                       
1 stick butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
In the microwave, heat chocolate and water together on high for 1 minutes and stir until chocolate is smooth, returning to microwave if necessary. Heat 1 minute, stir.  Heat 1 more minute.  Stir.  Add butter in chunks and stir until melted.  Add vanilla.

Let's Call The Whole Thing Off, George & Ira Gershwin, 1937

Unfortunately, our first trip to Vieques did  not end as we had hoped and expected - owners of a home on this wonderful island.  Since we had already made plans for our annual November/December trip to Barbados, we would have to wait until spring to resume our house hunting.
 
I spent the winter surfing the internet for rental properties for our return, as well as keeping my eyes open for new properties on the market.  We are lucky enough to choose Bravos House in Bravos de Boston as our home away from home.  The North Shore is our preferred side of the island.  We like being able to walk the hills, walk into Isabel and walk along LaChata beach.  The breezes would always blow and we didn't mind the cacophony of dogs, roosters, coquis and horses.
 
This house is all we could want!  Beautiful views, great breezes and well appointed with almost every kitchen gadget.  The outdoor sitting and dining area begs for us to put up our feet and relax.  There is certainly a difference between going on a trip (definition - going from one place to another, a journey) and a vacation (definition -a period of time devoted to pleasure, rest or relaxation).  Once you have spent a day familiarizing yourself with Vieques, it is all relaxation from then on.
 
Duffy's bar in Esperanza would become our arrival night haunt for many years.  Our first day chores of arrival and unpacking would immediately segue into early dinner at Duffy's.  We couldn't wait to taste our first Medalla and Don Q.  We gravitated here because a former Mooveover friend now lived in Vieques and worked at Duffy's.  Our friend Gilly radiated with the festival like atmosphere of Esperanza and we were introduced to all at the bar and brought up to date on local happenings.
 
On our way home, we encounter no less than 100 of the famous Paso Fino horses and their riders in full dress.  On their way to the Relay for Life event being held at Sun Bay we surmise.  We hope to also be a viable part of this community in the future and I get a little choked up at the thought.

Somewhere, Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim, 1957 From the Musical West Side Story

As I had mentioned before, probably my biggest island faux pas was Realtors and the fact that I had contacted 4 different ones to show me "their" properties.
 
These wonderful people showed us every (it seemed) home in our price range.  I just wanted to be in Vieques, so I saw the good in every scary property we visited. Fred was more based in reality.   Not that they were really scary - just not what we spoiled gringos have come to expect.  We were moving into a culture that embraced (literally) cramming hoards of family members into multiple closed in spaces.  We wanted open spaces, breezes and beautiful views for our meager dollars. 
 
New to us was the concept of separate upstairs and downstairs units.  The Internet pictures of the homes we toured were nothing like the reality we were living.  The last time either of us had purchased a home was before Al Gore invented the world wide web.  We learned to interpret realtorese -
"sweet" means tiny, crowded rooms
"furnished" means the former owners were too lazy to move their junk
"view" meant if you climbed a ladder to the roof and squinted you could see the ocean
öpen space concept"means no  closets or cabinets
"neighborhood" means the guy across the street fixes cars for a living and is using his driveway as a  "garage"
"unique floor plan" meant you had to go through someone else's bedroom, or outside, to use the bathroom
 
Our emotions ruled our heads.  We over talked and over evaluated each place.  What we really wanted was something open and airy, with a view, within walking distance to a beach.  Doesn't everyone!  Also, we had a budget.  What seemed like the ideal place yesterday was crossed off the list today.  Too small, bad neighborhood, no view, too much to renovate, too far from a beach.  The possibilities were dying left and right.  We were learning to respect this new culture and we had learned much from our house hunting.
 
Mostly, that this simple island was a great place of refuge to all, whether residents or visitors.  More Spanish/European than Caribbean.  A fine lady whose once beautiful clothing was beginning to show wear.  Who wouldn't love a place where a beach dog wants to sit in your lap, wild horses roll in the sand and a cold beer costs $1.50?
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