Okay, we’ve talked a little bit about the amazing fauna of Vieques.
Now a word about the island’s flora, which isn’t exactly chopped liver either.
In our small yard alone, we have an amazing array of trees—mango, breadfruit, banana, papaya and flamboyan…
…as well as many smaller shrubs and plants that flower at various times of the year.
Our mango tree, situated at the top of the driveway near the road, is so enormous that the utility department has to come out every few months and give it a pretty ruthless trim to prevent it from pulling down the neighborhood’s electric cables.
On the opposite side of the house near the bottom of the yard, our breadfruit tree grows so fast we have to have it topped every four to six months to prevent it from blocking our view of the big island.
And when I say “topped,” I don’t mean a couple of feet each time; I mean ten to twelve. Every few months.
That’s how fast it grows.
Here’s what our view of the big island looks like when the breadfruit tree has been allowed to grow unchecked for a few months…
And here’s our view after the tree has had a trim…
Nearly every time we leave our house we come across a type of tree or shrub we’ve never seen before. If we have a camera or cellphone with us, we take a photo; if not, we try to go back and take one later. Then we go home and do some research.
One of our favorite discoveries is the manchineel tree, affectionately known as the death apple. We first came across this large, deciduous tree in the stretch of land between Playa Grande and the huge lagoon that lies to its north.
The manchineel has many charms—it’s not only attractive to look at but also produces a sweet-smelling apple-like fruit.
However, don’t be fooled. As we later learned, this tree is one of the most poisonous (not to mention devious) in the world. Droves of people have died in torment after snacking on its enticing fruit.
I’m so glad we didn’t have the munchies that day (and luckily many of the trees, like the one pictured above, sport signs warning of its deadly properties).
And then of course there’s the enormous and ancient ceiba tree found just off Route 200 past the airport. Although it may or may not be three hundred years old (as many claim), the tree is certainly impressively large, not to mention weird-looking. Its roots rise up from the ground in flat, wall-like configurations positioned at odd angles from the trunk. The overall effect, particularly close-up, is like being in a poured-concrete hallway in an airport terminal circa 1973.
Although Vieques is delightfully behind the times in so many ways, occasionally it’s ahead of the times, particularly in the Green department.
Yes, Green with a capital G.
Consider this. There’s a hotel on the island that has been effortlessly intertwining nature and architecture for more than two decades.
The hotel’s architect and his wife reportedly moved to Vieques from Canada to escape air conditioning (how’s that again?) in the late 1970s. They built an eco-friendly house on a centrally located hill with good views and eventually transformed their house into an eco-friendly hotel. This was long before Green was The Thing.
Each of the hotel’s rooms has three concrete walls, with the fourth completely open to the outside. Some people love this. I’ve seldom read as many rave reviews of a hotel as I’ve read of this simple concrete eco-experiment: “Changed my life;” “once in a lifetime experience;” “felt like I was in a dream”—all authentic quotes about this property.
Others hate it, complaining of geckos in their shoes, iguanas in their bathtubs, and bats in their beds.
I admire people who savor this kind of experience, but it’s not my bag. I prefer to close the door at bedtime, crank down the louvers and power up the a/c.
Call me spoiled.
You wouldn’t be wrong.