As an intern only staying one month as my January Term project, Bill & Renée still made time for me to take a weekend jaunt over to Culebra, a small, Puerto Rican island off the east coast of the big island. I chose to visit Culebra out of the two small islands (the other being Vieques) because the “fourth best beach in the WORLD” skims part of a northwestern peninsula, and who doesn’t want to say they’ve visited somewhere globally ranked. As my favorite author Mary Karr once wrote, “Cool, a state to which you aspire.” Yes, I admit, I do sometimes aspire to be cool.
And cool I felt. As a solo-female traveler on a small Caribbean island, people (yes, mostly men) eagerly struck up conversations with me whenever I was seated at a bar, eating alone. Most everyone was always on their best behavior, but the female waitstaff always made a point to let me know they had my back should anything weird have happened (thanks, ladies!!). The coolest part was that Culebra seems to call out to and rope in Midwesterners. As a born-and-raised Hoosier, everyone I encountered had some tie to either my home state of Indiana or our neighbors: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio. The owner of the Culebra International Hostel, where I stayed, actually taught for 20 years in the school district next to the one I attended for high school!
I had so many great conversations with people, from a guy who spends summers giving tours just outside Fairbanks, Alaska before retreating to Culebra to continue mapping out its best breaks for surfing; to a chef with a penchant for “rum and Coke, but really [expletive] light on the Coke!"; to a couple with a small plane, who explained, “The difference between a good landing and a great landing on Culebra is that you walk away from a good landing but get to use the plane again if it was great.” Duly noted. I was quite happy I’d came in on the ferry after hearing that…clearly having learned that the approach to the Culebra runway is challenging (I also learned that the Vieques runway is full-sized and a less scary landing).
Ah, yes, the new ferry service. Puerto Rico Day Trips claims it is much improved and the best thing to ever happen in the history of the ferry service. And I will say, it was well organized, cheap, and I didn’t have to pray that my plane could be used again for another flight. For the most part, the ferry terminal was clean and the employees all extremely nice, accommodating, and good at their jobs. They even had a brief security check before you could enter the waiting space.
As someone who never took the old ferry service from Fajardo, I have no way to compare this new service to the old, but I really don’t have any complaints, other than the fact that they don’t yet let you buy tickets online or over the phone. On a Friday just as the tourist holiday season wrapped up but locals were still on break, I arrived about an hour before the 10:30 AM ferry and there was no line for tickets, so I easily got mine. A line did form as 10:30 approached, though, and some young adults I met at the hostel said they suggest arriving 1.5 hrs ahead of time to make sure you get a ticket, and more if it’s in high season for locals (summer).
Christian Soto and Adlin García actually sat behind me on the ferry on the ride over; they remembered me because we all three were eying an expensive-looking Catamaran anchored in the bay the ferry docks in at Culebra. Christian in particular remembers the old ferry service, and explained to me why he thinks switching to Ceiba from Fajardo was the right thing:
It’s less messy now, and it was way more crowded in Fajardo. Tickets sold out so much faster when it left from there…we used to have to go 3-4 hours, or even days, in advance to buy tickets. There’s also more seating in Ceiba for when you’re waiting. The ferry itself is also faster.
Yes, the ferry really is fast. Even I, who have taken many a ferry trip, was surprised by how quickly that giant thing could move across the open ocean.
However, not everyone was as enthusiastic about the switch as Christian and Adlin. One of my various bar-mates, who didn’t wish to be named but is a Culebra resident, gave me his (slightly intoxicated) perspective:
I think it is a mistake, because it was just so sudden - from a place established back in the 40s in the beautiful downtown of Fajardo…to the now far out Ceiba terminal that no one knows how to get to. It’s dark and scary and a lot of people just say SCREW IT and turn around to go back to San Juan. It’s inconvenient now.
Though I don’t agree that “dark and scary” are the right words, I do agree that the Ceiba terminal is much further. It’s located in Roosevelt Roads, a used-to-be military base that is now mostly overgrown and largely abandoned. You leave the civilization of actual Ceiba and wind and wind along roads, which need to be repaved in many spots, following signs to the ferry. And eventually you do come to the ferry terminal, which has ample parking space, and a snack bar that is sometimes open, sometimes not. That’s it though. Definitely bring a book or hold off on checking your Twitter feed until you’re out there waiting to board the ferry, because there isn’t other stuff to go do anywhere nearby.
The service is also privatized now, essentially because whatever government entity ran it before kept failing inspections and leaving late and just making a mess of things. My ferry to Culebra did leave at 10:45 not 10:30, but the return ferry left promptly as scheduled, likely because only about ten of us had to board.
All in all, I had a successful trip and just relaxed, knowing it would all work out and burying my nose in a memoir while waiting in the open-air tent alone. I personally was fine with the $4.50 round-trip ferry ride, but can see why some others - especially if pressed for time - would benefit from spending a bit more to fly in and out of Culebra. (The airport is still located in Roosevelt Roads, but a much shorter drive into the base than the ferry terminal.) If you’re interested in visiting Culebra or Vieques during your vacation to PR, I’d recommend perusing the Transportation page on the Rainforest Inn website that I worked on, as it explains the best way to make moves out to one of the smaller islands and other local transportation issues.
And, you really should try to have some fun on Culebra. I agree that it was a stellar beach, I ate some good food, and met some interesting folks. Thank you Bill for braving the “dark and scary” drive to the ferry with me and Renée for giving up a pair of helping hands for the weekend! Visiting the smaller island was a highlight of this internship, which has been fun and rewarding regardless of whether I’m working or playing.
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