In December of 2004 my partner Michael and I bought a derelict house on Vieques Island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.
As we walked out of the bank on closing day, we could hardly believe our luck—or how much work it would take to make the place even remotely habitable. How could we possibly manage such a huge renovation from our home in Washington, D.C., 1,500 miles away?
“Piece of cake,” our realtor assured us, noting our panicked expressions. “Six months, tops, and your place will be perfect.”
His words were comforting, but his math was off by more than 30 months.
Three adventure-filled years later—our bank account depleted, our patience stretched to the breaking point on a weekly basis—we hung the last picture, fluffed the last throw pillow, and popped open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate the completion of our dream house.
From the first day we’d set foot on the island two years earlier we’d been smitten with its suspended-in-time charm. Thanks to the mixed blessing of fifty years of occupation by the U.S. Navy, Vieques had happily escaped the over-development that plagued many of its Caribbean neighbors—its stunning beaches were all but empty, its narrow roads lightly traveled, its residents friendly and welcoming.
In a word, it was paradise.
And now that the Navy was shipping out for good, we wanted a piece of it.
But taming our little corner of Eden proved to be a crash course in how Vieques works—and how it doesn’t. Almost nothing went according to plan, and lots of projects went seriously off track. Our renovation budget doubled and then tripled. Our property manager fired us. Our contractor became seriously ill. The Navy haltingly withdrew from the island, leaving a legacy of discord and mistrust in its wake. But we pushed on, blustering, ad libbing and laughing our way through the process.
We survived the ordeal with our love of the island, and of our house, firmly intact.
Along the way we learned a lot of lessons: concrete houses can have termites; six-foot iguanas aren’t necessarily more afraid of you than you are of them; emergency rooms don’t always stock medical supplies; a property manager who paints your house orange instead of yellow may resign in a huff when you point out his little mistake; a house built on a hill with no retaining wall can and will slowly wash away, despite all positive thoughts to the contrary.
And that’s just the beginning. I kept a diary during the process, and I’ll tell you the whole story over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll tune in and share a few laughs—most of them at our expense.
Stir yourself up a mango margarita, sit back, and enjoy.