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Vieques, Puerto Rico: Caribbean allure with wild horses

vieques5121110_optBY PAT SUMMERS

What to do: You don’t want just another Caribbean resort, with the usual beautiful amenities -- palm trees, bright flowers and multi-colored sea under the warming sun. You can get that pretty much anywhere.

How about a place beyond the same old, same old?

That would be Vieques, Puerto Rico, a lush island off another island. Vieques, or “little girl island,” about five miles wide by 21 miles long – with only about a third of that space open to visitors so far (after decades of US Navy bombing exercises ended in 2003).

Vieques (“Vee-A’-kess”) offers much more than the usual: wild horses. All over the place.

Especially these days, with horse round-ups in the American west and legislation to permit horse slaughter in the US, news of wild horses – as in, truly free! – is a huge upper.

From where else could you send postcards exclaiming over nine horses right outside your villa one morning? Or drive across island and encounter horses nibbling along the side of the road, partially hidden in the vegetation lining it or silhouetted on hillsides, grazing?

Enjoy the island’s wild horses from a wild, wacky, weird and yes, often wonderful resort. That would be W, or more properly, W Retreat and Spa.

Located on the north side of Vieques, between the airport and Isabel Segunda, the main town there, W is a giant conversation piece. Its villas are nestled among tall grasses, palm trees and hanging walls of viney flowers in sometimes hilly terrain. A number of them overlook the pool area and beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean.

That’s right: the Atlantic – as if an invisible line separates it from the Caribbean. In any case, the other town on-island, Esperanza, lies some five miles away, on that “C-sea.” In truth, the Atlantic side can be rougher than the gentle Caribbean (think Barbados), while the opposite’s also true (think St. Thomas, with pacific Magen’s Bay – on the Atlantic). vieques2121110_opt

W: the carefully calculated hotel, with every detail seemingly thought through and true to its brand. Which can be good, as in its setting, or . . . you can be dead tired after traveling all day, but unable to find a single drawer to stash your clothes.

Or, you may still be in shock at other elements in your room, like a white bathtub in the center, fenced in by irregular narrow slats and illuminated by a large red hanging fixture – that you decide makes a perfect night light.

Instead of paintings or photos on the walls, W offers vividly colored abstract fabric artworks – one hanging, the other leaning against the wall near a long, low bench that can provide open storage until you find the few drawers hidden here and there.

The only other wall décor: an arrangement of mixed-style hooks (missing where they were expected). Are they meant to be used, or to taunt?

Form again seems to outweigh function when it comes to the sink outside a semi-private toilet closet. No common sink for W, this one’s gray, two feet long and shaped like a trough, with inch-thick walls. The sleek chrome hardware offers no discernable way to close or open the drain, so lacking a weight and lever, forget about hand wash.

W’s public rooms come with their own astonishments. Not a lobby, but a “living room,” the great room beyond the reception desk includes a mix of furniture styles, coffee table books, a pool table and a bar. Call it “offbeat colorful contemporary” with an off-putting scent of socks, possibly emanating from some leather chairs.

Brand. Consistency of image and message. Guest room stationery comes with a large W even on small sticky notes, and coasters say “W Hotels” along with Words of Wisdom starting with – what else? – W: “What you think is important.(speak your mind.)” and “What is the big picture? (close your eyes and see it.)”

vieques121110_optEven the standard “clean my room” sign for the door knob falls into line: “WHEN? not quite yet”. The tired traveler may at first miss W’s telephone answer style, but not for long. It goes, “Welcome to whatever, whenever. My name is . . . . What is your wish?” For outside callers, it’s even longer –presumably with more Ws.

Its smiling and ever-helpful people warm up, and redeem, W. From the front desk through concierge, bartenders, restaurant host and waiters, W staff members are consistently patient, fun and just plain nice. You wonder what they’d do with those wall hooks, what they’d think of that sink-trough.

But by then, rested from your travels and starting to appreciate the novelty of it all, you decide oh what the heck and head for the pool.


vieques3121110_opt  vieques4121110_optvieques6121110_opt

Comments (2)
2 Sunday, 11 December 2011 17:48
Your article was interesting. One of the many reasons I go to Vieques every year is the horses. It adds a really special vibe to the island. Here are a few more photos of horses in Vieques
1 Sunday, 11 December 2011 17:39
Lee Hall, Friends of Animals
Interesting. It seems the relationship between purpose-breeding and freedom is complex, and the story long. This site touches on it: Thanks, Pat Summers, for the information and observations. Until now, I'd only heard about the Navy bombing.

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