We started our day waking up at the butt crack of dawn again. Puerto Rico is 4 hours ahead of what we are used to in Oakland, so we’re still adjusting. I didn’t notice the time change affecting me until the 4AM wake up call from the hotels front desk. We sure didn’t want to be awake at that hour, but sucked it up because we needed to catch our flight. We lost a day in Vieques because of the previous day’s scheduling mishap, even though we ended up at a cool resort.
We packed the night before so all we had to do was grab our bags and catch a cab. Luckily, a cab driver was sleeping in his car waiting outside the hotel. When we got to the airport we found out our tickets weren’t booked right again but luckily we figured it out.
Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure I’m the first person with paralysis to fly from San Juan to Vieques, or at least the staff acted like it. They definitely didn’t think I would be able to board the 9 seat prop plane but Emily and I knew we wouldn’t let their skepticism get to us. I didn’t make it known but I had my own reservations. As I approached the gate, I noticed the terminal was like a ghost town. It was a bit nerve-wracking. Not only was it empty, ceiling tiles were missing and wires were exposed. I couldn’t help but wonder what the plane we were about to board looked like.
Before Emily and I got an apartment together, I would crawl up 30 steps to get into her apartment, and sometimes she would just carry me on her back (she’s strong!). It was worth crawling up every step to be with this amazing woman. Climbing just three stairs to get in the plane would be easy peasy!
Boarding the plane was interesting. Emily and I have both been in small planes but for some reason a prop plane still makes us nervous.
My experiences in small prop planes were with my brother who used to be an instructor. He would often dive just to watch my paralyzed legs float in the cockpit. I was sure this flight would be safer than any flight I’ve been in with my brother.
The bird eye view of Puerto Rico is astonishing. We didn’t realize how large the island was until we flew half way around it.
We also have a better idea of how devastating the hurricane was 2 years ago. If only I sold tarps for a living. I’d be a busy man because we saw roofs tops covered in blue tarps. Besides the hurricane sadness, Puerto Rico is one of the most beautiful environments I’ve ever looked at from a plane window.
As we approached the landing strip I felt the feeling of appreciation. My life in California is pretty cush and by the look of the airport I could tell that small island life can be tough. I don’t want anyone to take this the wrong way, because I’m sure life on Vieques for some is amazing but that doesn’t mean it’s not also challenging.
After getting off the plane we walked into the small airport that looked like it could be an abandoned building. One room, no electricity, vegetation overgrown and even growing on the roof top.
We were approached by the kindest woman who had that “Mom” vibe. She only spoke Spanish, and so Emily talked with her (she speaks Spanish, I don’t) and asked what we had planned and wanted to make sure our stay on the island was spectacular. I was thinking about telling her we are canceling all our plans so we can stay with her, our new madre.
We rented a Jeep to get around the island with ease. Roads on Vieques don’t seem to be maintained often so the Jeep was a great choice.
As we drove to our AirBNB we noticed many feral horses hanging out along the roadside. It’s a sight to see.
After a short drive we pulled into the AirBNB driveway. It’s hard for me to explain the building. Think of a Caribbean beach house/hotel. Yea, I know you can’t see it in your head.
It being day 4, dealing with a time difference, and our home for a few days not being as accessible as I wanted it to be (stairs to get in, not enough room to get around the beds, and even more stairs to the bathroom and shower) I was a little grumpy. I needed a nap. But right before we settled in, a knock at our door. The owner let us know they had a room that would better suit the wheelchair. We took it and couldn’t be happier we did. We settled in and went straight to bed for a much needed nap.
Traveling with a disability that has specific needs (step free access, wide doorways, etc.) can be difficult but most hosts offer to do whatever they can to make my stay most enjoyable. If you’re ever in Vieques and don’t have specific accessibility needs I recommend staying at Trade Winds Guesthouse in Esperanza. Tell the owner, Harry, I sent you.
When we woke, we did what we do best ...eat food. A few buildings over was Duffy’s. What looked like a local hangout turned out to be a tourist favorite. Maybe another US local who moved out after the hurricane. I didn’t ask but if so, I’m jealous. Who wouldn’t want to own their own business in paradise? Capitalize on tourism while giving back to the local community? Sounds like a great plan! The food was spectacular. Emily had fresh lobster with rice and beans and I had fresh caught mahi and a locally sourced salad.
We don’t consider ourselves foodies but we can’t help but love every bit of the foodie culture on this trip. It’s almost all farm to table which is what we try to eat, even in Oakland.
We started our day early and had big plans to kayak in Mosquito Bay later in the evening. The water is bioluminescent — in laymen terms plankton in the water glows when it’s altered. Water that lights up seems rather psychedelic. I was so stoked for this experience but just as we were getting into the Jeep to drive to the kayaking place, shit happened, literally.
Living with a spinal cord injury isn’t easy. That goes for not only myself but for my parter, family, friends and even colleagues. I may live my life wildly from time to time but that doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with unwanted incidents along the way. When I was lifting myself into the Jeep I must have strained myself and...I’ll let you fill in the details. I may be only 30 years old but I have a whole host of fun medical issues due to my spinal cord injury.
I deal with incontinent bowel and bladder. I know what you’re thinking, “Does he where diapers?” The answer is SOMETIMES. Now, I’ve had 11 years to process and accept this, Emily has not. It was heart breaking for us both because I needed to clean up right away, and wasn’t sure if there would be more issues, so Emily and I agreed she would just go kayaking alone.
We tried to prepare for these moments psychologically but when they happen we are still mentally devastated. It’s something we can’t control unless I go back in time to the night of my accident. My actions were my actions and I can’t change what happened. I don’t have a time machine and even if I did I’m not sure if I’d use it. The life I live sure has struggles but it’s made me a much more compassionate, open, and determined person.
I cleaned my self up as quickly as I could. It took little time but that didn’t matter. We had a specific time slot for this kayaking trip. I didn’t have a rental car with hand controls either. I went down the street to a restaurant to drink beer and eat but I couldn’t help but think of what I was missing. One of the reasons I like to travel as much as I do is because my injury has made me miss out on so much life. I guess you can call it travel overcompensation.
While waiting for Emily to return I shot over to a restaurant down the road for a beer. When she arrived we had to process how our evening turned out. We were both frustrated at my injury. Acceptance is difficult but we push forward together. After dinner we went back to our AirBNB and read short stories to each other from Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, the book I brought along for the trip. It was sweet and romantic.
You know those bumper stickers where it says “Shit Happens, And Then You Die?” They should have them where “Shit Happens, And Then You Live.” because, that’s really the truth of it.
Anna Nicole Smith