A boat carrying protesters unloads at an illegal camp on Vieques on Wednesday, the day before the U.S. Navy moved in to clear the camps. Despite the recent unrest and decades of military exercises on the 54-square-mile Puerto Rican island, there are some tourist facilities and attractions for off-the-beaten-path travelers
Unrest cannot hide Vieques' allure
VIEQUES, Puerto Rico (CNN) -- Welcome to Vieques, an island located between Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, a place the Wall Street Journal recently called one of the worst vacation spots in the world.
Worst in the world?
Not so. I've been there. Even if it has been a bullseye for the U.S. Navy, I like it.
Vieques is a visual treat, above and below the waves, that any enterprising traveler can appreciate.
You can head out to the Blue Reef on the Moonglow, the dive boat operated by the Blue Caribe Dive Center. A half-hour trip in 6-foot swells later, at a depth of about 80 feet, a stunning underwater landscape unfolds. There are moray eels, enormous angelfish and Elkhorn coral, with more reds and greens than a Christmas tree.
At night, a kayak trip in "Bio Bay" is a must. Known locally as "Mosquito Bay," it's a saltwater inlet inhabited by a higher-than-average concentration of dinoflagellates, bioluminescent microorganisms that gleam in the dark waters. Jump in and you'll glow, too. Or just watch the fish streak by like meteors in the black waves; it's an unbelievably otherworldly experience.
When I visited Vieques late last year, a radio talk show host in San Francisco asked me in a live interview to describe the scene from the
front door of the inn where I was staying.
I paused and looked at the unfolding day. The sun was just coming up, casting the waters of the Caribbean ocean in a pink and amber hue. The beach was empty, the islands a soft green, and I was momentarily speechless.
"It's very beautiful," I finally said, giving up
It remains lovely now, in spite of mass arrests and other unrest, said Chipper Lesslie, co-owner of the Blue Caribe Dive Center.
"It's quiet," he said Thursday morning, after the U.S. Navy moved in to evict protesters from its bombing range. "The island is pretty much undisturbed, and people are going about their business. It's as nice as it ever was."
Some of the protesters had been camping out for a year, following the death of a civilian security guard as a result of two 500-pound bombs that landed off course.
The Navy says the range is vital to U.S. national security as the only place its Atlantic fleet can conduct simultaneous air, sea and amphibious training using live munitions.
A rich and volatile past
Vieques' main cultural attraction is Fort Conde de Mirasol Museum, billed "the fort that history forgot." Built in the 1840s, it's a reminder of the island's rich and volatile past.
On display are Indian relics, artifacts of the Spanish conquest and sections dedicated to different military visitors. You get the feeling that the latest conflict with the Navy isn't the island's first clash with a military power -- and, perhaps, not the last.
After hiking into the hills and seeing some of the island's cultural and natural heritage firsthand, I'm finally able to articulate what makes it so special: Vieques is a place of unparalleled beauty and of seductive danger that no tourism brochure can capture.
Sure, it may not be the destination of choice for your average Wall Street suit. But it works for me.
Weather: San Juan, Puerto Rico
World Maps and Guides: Puerto Rico
U.S. Navy in control of Vieques after federal agents remove protesters
May 4, 2000
Lawmaker cautions U.S. about evicting Puerto Rico bombing range protesters
May 3, 2000
U.S. forces stationed off Vieques range; protesters brace for arrests
May 2, 2000
Navy ships bound for Puerto Rican island to clear protesters
April 28, 2000
U.S. military exercises to resume in Puerto Rico
January 31, 2000
U.S. defense secretary hopes to 'win over' Puerto Ricans on Vieques
December 3, 1999
Puerto Rican leaders reject Pentagon plan
October 19, 1999
Blue Caribe Dive Center
CDC Travelers' Health: Caribbean
U.S. Department of Defense
Vieques Island, Puerto Rico
Viva Vieques Libre
Government of Puerto Rico - Office of the Governor
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