It was during this short visit to the island that we began to learn more about its history.
In spite of Vieques’ natural beauty—or maybe because of it—a sense of the past was somehow missing.
At least at first glance.
Sure, there was the turreted fort dating from the 1830s perched high on the hill above Isabel…
and a handful of historic buildings dotted around the island…
But history, as a palpable force, seemed strangely absent.
And yet, as we were slowly learning, the island was full of history. But much of it had been marginalized to the point of being almost lost.
We heard stories, for instance, about a long-deserted sugar mill settlement in the western interior of the island just north of Playa Grande beach, and the last afternoon of our stay we set out to try to find it, armed with two bottles of water, a camera, and a rough map printed from the Internet. Unfortunately the terrain was very rough, and we were wearing shorts and flip-flops, hardly the ideal wear for jungle exploration.
After maybe three hundred yards we questioned the wisdom of going any further. Our legs, lashed by the thick, prickly vegetation, were bleeding, we had been attacked by swarms of both fire ants and mosquitoes, and one of my flip-flops had lost its toe-piece—in other words, my left foot was bare. We hobbled back to the beach in a sad state of disarray.
A few days later, we found photos of the “lost city” on a Vieques history site.
It looked fascinating.
Our reading also told us that we’d approached the sugar mill from the wrong side (duh). Three years ago we launched a better-planned expedition and got through easily. But more about that later.
As we made our way back to the beach that day, I tried to imagine scores of workers toiling in the thick Vieques humidity, chopping sugar cane on a twelve hour shift, then staggering off to the barrack-like dormitories that housed them during their off hours.
I wondered if they ever had the opportunity to make the half-hour trek south to Playa Grande, our favorite beach on the island.
Not often, I felt sure.