Guest Blogger: A Benchmark B-Day Remembered

East Coast-based colleague and fellow travel fan MJ DUNPHY graces
the Life x 5 space with a post about a truly unique destination

Over the last decade, beginning with the birthday that heralded my 70 years on the planet, (November 2004 to be exact) some of my large and growing family initiated a five-year tradition of a vacation blast off to honor the occasion. That first emigration was relatively small, about seven of us. We valiantly made our way to Vieques, Puerto Rico, an island and municipality of Puerto Rico in the northeastern Caribbean, part of an island grouping sometimes known as the Spanish Virgin Islands. A former US Navy base marked by protests and controversy, the government facility closed in 2003. We arrived just a year later.

This approximately 21-by-4-mile-wide island, now a national wildlife refuge, is utterly gorgeous with its pristine white sand beaches and turquoise water that are among the top rated in the Caribbean. To add to the charm, Vieques was an undiscovered tropical paradise. Virtually unknown as a tourist hot spot in 2004, it has since become a serious choice for visitors to Puerto Rico who want an island experience.

Not only was the destination a bit off the beaten track, but our accommodations were equally intriguing. We stayed at The Hix Island House, a Zen-like structure designed by Canadian architect, John Hix. Imagine vacation lofts; no glass windows, just wooden shutters, showers open to the sun and breezes, and other eco-friendly attributes, that in 2004 were exotic by today’s “green” standards.

Getting around? A jeep, of course! Wandering the dirt roads and lanes in 2004, we encountered all manner of four-leggeds including goats, horses, even cows — pretty much in keeping with the quiet, laid-back lifestyle of the island.

As for adventures, the highlight was a trip to one of only five Bioluminescent Bays in the world. It was, and still is, one of Puerto Rico’s key tourist destinations, but I understand that swimming in the water is no longer permitted. Bioluminessence exists all over the world, but a biobay is a rare and fragile ecosystem. The bioluminessence is triggered by the production and emission of light by a living organism. Slipping gently out of the boat into the dark water among what felt and looked like little stars, was truly an amazing experience — one that still triggers wonderful memories.

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