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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The East Coast Adventure

17 Aug 2008, 9:24pm, Puerto Rico time

Day 0-1 (a long sleepless continuum)

The journey, it was long. After 2 weeks of furious preparation for leaving, including work, setting up an elaborate watering system to keep our plant alive for 2 weeks (still have my fingers crossed!), and miscellaneous loose-end-tying, our first flight left at 10pm Friday night. Neither of us slept at all. We landed in Atlanta at 5:55am. At 8:30, we got on our next flight. It left half an hour late due to several factors, but that was fine – one of the factors was an “equipment change” that put us on a larger plane – a much larger plane. There was room to sprawl across 3 seats. So, that flight, we managed to doze a bit, at least enough to keep us going long enough to get on our last leg.

We landed in San Juan at 12:45, plenty of time since our next flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until 2:45. However, upon landing, I found a voicemail on my phone from our puddle hopper airline, asking if we could make the next flight earlier, but if not, that was okay. I’d thought that one was around noon, so I figure it was too late to do anyhing about that, and we did, after all, have paid reservations, and I figured this was a “just in case you can”, since the other flights that afternoon were pretty booked up. In our sleep deprived stupors, we grilled people in the airport until we found, downstairs, in a subsection of the airport removed from the main bustle, a counter that said “VAL: Vieques Air Link” – but, alas, it said to check in upstairs, “at the TKT counter near the food court.” Hmm, food court. That part sounded good. But we hadn’t passed a food court, so we had to ask where that was as well. It turned out this counter was outside security, and the line, it was much long. So, we figured we’d try hanging around at the counter downstairs, to see if anybody showed up who could check us in.

There were a few other passengers hanging around chatting, and I overheard them talking about checking in down there, and sure enough, one of the guys talking was one of those really useful people who knows everybody, and every obscure contact you could want, including the phone number at the ticket counter upstairs. So, I called and asked if we could check in without going through that security line again, and he said hold on, he’d be right down. Moments later, a skinny brown guy with a walkie-talkie appeared and asked us for our flight info and our IDs, said he’d be back with our tickets, and went back up. After just long enough to make me doubt he’d actually come back (perhaps 20-30 minutes), he reappeared, and said the flight was leaving then, and to come with him. It was only 1:30, but I guess everybody for that flight was there, so no point waiting around.

We got on our little 8-seater plane, and before long, were on our way to Vieques. This wasn’t one of those huge magical flying buses that are so big and enclosed you can’t see how any part of it works. No, we could look down out of our windows and see tires – the tires we were going to land on when we got to the other side. We could see the GPS screen showing where we were and the islands below – and this was not a screen put up for the infotainment of the passengers; no, this was the one the pilot was using. And we could see the pilot, and the instrument panels. I love small aircraft.

Vieques airport is the smallest I’ve seen, and that includes Kona and Hilo before tourists discovered the Big Island. The baggage claim conveyer belt was about the width of one at a grocery store, and only about 10 feet in diameter.

After getting settled in at our home for the next four days, we had a few hours before dark, so, despite being very tired, we did the natural thing to do upon arriving in the Caribbean: go to the beach. There were maybe a couple dozen people on a stretch of beach half a mile long, and the water was even warmer than Hawaii (84 degrees, I'm told, and I believe it). It's also extremely salty, which means both that you float very well, and that it burns your eyes and nose a bit. But, still, extremely nice.

For dinner, Karen, whom Connie had come over to visit, came up to the place we were staying and cooked a lovely dinner of steak and vegetables - just the thing after a long trip with only airport food. I'd been hearing bits about Karen for a while, so it was neat to finally meet her. She's a delightful mix of energetic, laid back, practical, and frank - just the kind of person to do well getting away from corporate America to a tiny tropical island.

After sitting on the porch chatting for some time, we finally called it a night, since we needed to get up early the next morning to go diving.

I have "day 2" already written, but the machine it's on has no battery left, and the docking station is coming in some luggage tonight....

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