The Stickmen visit Vieques, Puerto Rico
February 16-23, 2005

After a very depressing start of this year due to the death
of my youngest son Eric in January; my family, friends and dive buddies thought that I needed a change of scenery and that I should proceed with a plan made around Christmas to go dive from the Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico for a week.  I heavy heartedly agreed.

David's brother, Mark Biron, owns the Casa Alta Vista located at Barrio Esperanza in Vieques and we would be billeted there.   The deal was sweet and the accommodations were more than adequate.
Check them out at

Jack deVilliers, David Biron and myself left Mobile at 7:00 Wednesday morning, February 16th and arrived at San Juan International Airport around 3:30 in the afternoon.

We had not been on the ground 10 minutes before Roberto Reyes and his darling Marisela showed up with their van.  Roberto and Marisela quickly had all three speargun tubes and dive gear loaded in no time at all.

Roberto Reyes loading the spearguns.

The Stickmen squeeze in and the adventure begins. 

Our next goal was to get to the Island of Vieques, only seven miles from the coast of Fajardo, Puerto Rico.  While the distance was only 15-20 miles from San Juan to Fajardo; it took three hours to get there and that's with an experienced Roberto at the wheel.  Our dilemma were the spearguns.  We wanted to take a small plane out of an airport nearby which would have been a 10 minute flight but our gun tubes were too long.  The only alternative was the ferry out of Fajardo and the last one was leaving at 8:00 p.m.

We had a blast with Robert and Marisela and everyone got along great.  It was good to finally meet the man I had spoken with from time to time on the freedivelist.  Now future discussions will have a whole new meaning.

Marisela gave us a quick Spanish lesson as we traveled.  We saw the rain forest and got a sense of the culture as we were in traffic gridlock part of the way due to road construction.

The Rain Forest of Puerto Rico.

We stopped and had some local cuisine for lunch before boarding the ferry with a plan of diving with Roberto from his panga on Friday and Saturday.

The ferry finally reached Vieques around 9:30 p.m. and David's
brother, Mark was there to pick us up with his Range Rover.   We made the short drive to our guest room at the Casa Alta Vista after a couple of stops to show us some local dive spots and areas of interest.  At the guest house, Mark shows us his guitar collection.

We unloaded our gear but could not resist the temptation to get wet with a night dive.  There was beach access a short distance from our room so Mark guided us down to familiarize us with the way.  Jack, David and I entered the water and as I was ready to put on my mask, I realized that in my haste I had forgotten it.  I got back out of the water and literally ran back to the room and retrieved it.  Soon, we were all in the Caribbean checking out the beautiful scenery.  I spotted a spiny lobster and shined it for David.  He dived down and scared it back into its hole.  So, this is not going to be as easy as it looks I thought.  We swam on.  The next time I saw David he had bagged a conch, as did Jack. I picked up a small shell for my granddaughter, Alexis.

There was a small Island named callo de afuera (outer corn, bunyon or kayo d afwera) about a half mile from where we entered the water and before long we were midway from the beach to the Island.

A picture of the island during the day.

I figured that ultimately we were going to swim to the Island so I continued to dive in that direction.  We would lose sight from each other and then you would see the glow of someone's light and regroup.  This worked well until we actually got to the Island.  By then it was hard to see where everyone was. I was getting tired and frustrated not knowing where my dive buddies were so I swam over to where a sailboat was moored and hung out on the skiff until I heard someone calling my name.  "I'm over here" I yelled back.  Before long Jack and David were swimming my way.  We gathered up and were talking about swimming back to shore when someone opened the hatch on the sailboat and said "Hey, we're trying to sleep in here, could you keep it down?". "Sorry" We replied and I smiled thinking how weird it must be to be anchored in the Caribbean and have two or three nuts swimming around your boat at 1:00 in the morning.  We made the long swim back to shore by 2:00 a.m.  I was too tired to take a picture.    Needless to say, we fell fast asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.

A few hours of sleep and Thursdays diving begins.  David wakes up first and strikes out on his own.  Jack and I wake up an hour later and everyone is gone.  Soon, Mark arrives and informs us that he had driven Dave down to the Mosquito Pier on the north side of the Island, did we wish to join him.  "Of course" came our reply. Mark gives us a map and the keys to the Range Rover and we are on our way.  How cool is that?  Mark is the best!

We arrive at the pier and gear up.  Not knowing the area and unable to find David, we walk out to the pier where some locals are working and promptly get run off. Not discouraged we go back to where we were parked and climb down the rocks to make our entry.  We swim out the jetty and I find a nice conch.  Since I am spearfishing, I leave it for another day.  We swim out to the pier and see lots of sea life. We encounter a sea turtle that seamed unfazed by our presence.  We swim on and watch a good sized barracuda watching us, no big deal.  Soon a school of horse eye jacks swim by and Jack and I have at it, spearing a couple and string them to our fish clips.  We move on out to the end of the pier to a depth of around 40'fsw and work our way back.  Jack shoots a mangrove snapper. I look for the conch I had found earlier to no avail.  We climb out and head back for some lunch.

We take in
the views and vista as we return.  This looks like paradise. Back at the Casa Alta Vista we see that David has shot a nice fish too.  He was hunting the reef next to us and had hitched a ride back.

A view from the top of Casa Alta Vista.

After lunch we all (Dave, Mike and Jack) drive down to Sun Bay to see what we could find.  David wanted to split up in order to cover more area.  He swam to the right of the bay and Jack and I went left.  We swam for a couple of hours not seeing too much other than tropicals, sea grass and an occasional small mangrove snapper.  The reef was probably half mile away and too far to get to by this time so we swam back to our point of entry where David was waiting.  We load up and ride back home.  Later in the day I take my GPS to the closest dock and mark a waypoint for Roberto so that he will be able to navigate to our location on Friday.

That evening we had a "mixed grill" of octopus and seafood in
a white sauce, black beans and fried rice compliments of Enrique E.M. Cordero aka Ricky.  Ricky has been cooking since the age of four and is very accomplished.  The meal was exquisite.  Afterwards we had a couple of drinks and played a card game called tunk.  Instead of playing for money, we played for push-ups.   In other words, the loser had to do anywhere from 10-30 reps depending on how they lost.  We all did our share and finally took a group picture and called it quits.

Ricky, Mark, Jack, Mike and David.

Friday, Mark Biron served us his famous egg sandwich for breakfast.  Roberto and Marisela arrive around 10:00 from the main island and we are eager to do some blue water hunting.  Marisela had her beach bag and was looking forward to some rest and relaxation as we hit the high seas.

David, Mike, Roberto and Jack

Roberto and crew head out.  
Deep water is located just a couple of miles from shore. We find a 145' pentacle in 1000'fsw and Roberto puts out a chum line.   Everyone jumps in and waits for the tuna to show up.  After a while we took a few oceanic triggerfish since the tuna didn't appear to be here.  On one shot, I had a reef shark swim up to my triggerfish and sniff it out.  I pulled the fish up to me as the shark didn't seamed too interested. Later I shot a rainbow runner and missed a shot on a wahoo.  Roberto shoots an impressive 40 lb. king mackerel.  I grabbed my camera and took many pictures of Roberto with his fish.  I was all over him with my camera. "Roberto! Dive down with the fish"   He complied.  I took a couple of good shots.  We dived a couple of different spots but had no luck with the tuna.

Roberto Reyes with 40 pound king mackerel.

The water was clear and warm; a  welcome break from the conditions back home.  We could hear some whale sounds echo from a distance when we were at depth and that was cool.   At dusk we made the 5 or 6 mile trip back to the dock.   Later in the evening we all met up at a local restaurant named "Tradewinds" where we had a fine meal.  Sleep came easy once again.

Saturday morning began bright and early as Roberto swung open the door to our room and flipped on the light switch.   "Time to go" he exclaimed.  I felt like I was back in boot camp.  I jumped out of the rack and hit the floor running.

His panga was already at the dock two blocks away and waiting for us to board.  We shuttled our gear to the dock and we were underway.  Once again we hunted near the drop off, not far from shore.  Roberto threw out some chum and we waited for the tuna which had been reportedly here somewhere.  We didn't have much luck getting exact locations from the locals.  It didn't deter us from checking out a couple of different spots.  Again, I was approached by a couple of wahoo.  I made a long shot and missed.  Roberto swam over to me and said to "be patient  and let the fish get closer to you".  I thought they were close but the clear water made them appear closer than they were and all I had was my Riffe #3 standard gun.  I replied to Roberto that "I will be patient".  I swam for another forty five minutes and here come two more wahoo.  I wait and wait as they slowly come my way.  They appear to be just 6 or 7 feet away and begin to turn away.  I couldn't stand it any longer... it was now or never in my mind.  I pull the trigger and my shaft misses under the fish.  "Crap!!!"  Oh well, at least I had a chance for one.   Maybe next time.  We swim a while longer and move to another spot.

This time I will leave my peashooter on the boat and bring my underwater camera instead.  I dive down and as luck would have it a 50+ pound cubera snapper comes right up to me.  I have enough time to click off three detailed pictures.  The fish was so big it had a couple of remoras on it.  WOW and dang it all in one word.

Mike shoots this fish with his camera.

Maybe I was meant to take pictures instead of fish.  There was no
way I would have missed that fish If I had brought my gun.  I swim the camera back to the boat and hand it to Jack.  "Give me my gun".  He hands me my gun and jumps in with the camera.  I go back down to find my beast, it cannot be found.

Mike with a triggerfish.

I swim around looking for something else and end up having to take another triggerfish.  I get back in the boat and take a break.    Since Roberto had to get back to the main island by dark, we had to make a short day of it.  Roberto gets back on the boat and we are waiting for David.  Roberto says he has a big rainbow runner on and is working it.  David gets to the boat sans fish. It had pulled off.   We head to shore and Marisela is waiting at the dock.  I take her picture and a couple of group shots.  It is time for Roberto and Marisela to leave. I am somewhat saddened by their departure.  It was so much fun hanging out with Roberto, I didn't want it to end.  Maybe another day.  We wave good bye.

Roberto and Marisela                                                                   Mike and Jack

While David and Ricky cooked our evening meal, Jack and I commandeered with Mark's permission the two scooters that he used for rentals and took a ride around the Island exploring. We looked for a good place to make a night dive.

In the
process we came upon a bar on the beach and decide to stop in for a tropical beverage.  After awhile we get back on the scooters to go for some groceries a short ride away.  I get off my ride and complain to Jack that "there is a rock or something in my helmet, I hope I don't have to put up with this pain all the way back to the hotel!", I exclaim.  I take my helmet off and my sunglasses are on my head. Jack is laughing like crazy.  No more drinking for me :-)  We continue to explore the Island until dark.   That evening David and Ricky prepares a meal of various snapper dishes (snapper with coconut curry sauce) which were enjoyed by Mark, and his friend/artist Taino.

Taino and Mark at work

Jack, David, Ricky and I decide to hit the local EFC (Esperanza Fried Chicken) where we chow down on fried chicken, cole slaw and fries.  Rack time soon followed.  It's funny how fast the day goes by.

Later that night after I had gone to bed, I kept hearing a woman scream.  At first I thought it was a dog howling.  I mean this was not just a normal cry, it was at the top of her lungs as if she were being murdered.  I didn't hear anyone but her and she was in the building adjacent to our room.  When I say she was screaming, it was the blood curdling type and sent chills down my spine.  This went on until 4:00 a.m. Sunday morning.  Around midnight, Jack comes into our room and asked if I could hear the woman's scream?  "How could I not", I replied.  "Get in here and close that door!"  He told me how he and Mark had tried to see what was going on but couldn't get a clear view into her house.  How that she was talking to herself in strange ways asking God to help her and things like "You can't rewind if you eject".  I mean this was scary stuff to a guy like me.  I started praying to Jesus to keep us safe.   Anyway, Jack and I talked about this until 1:00 a.m. and he finally went to sleep.  I was tossing and turning and around 2:00 a.m. the door to our room opened about four inches and I almost had a heart attack since my bed was closest to the door.  I jumped up, closed and locked it promptly.   Eventually,  I fell asleep after the  screaming stopped.  I normally have nerves of steel and am very calm in the face of danger but this even rattled me. 
We didn't hear anything else for the rest of the week.  Thank goodness!

Sunday morning daybreak arrives and we are ready for some rest after three good days of diving.  We start off with an egg sandwich compliments of Mark, he then takes us on the grand tour of the Island in his Range Rover.  We go to the fisherman's dock and check out the boats and then a tour of some prime dive spots with good reef formations.   There was supposed to be a Paso Fino (horse show) in the afternoon.  These are finely trained horses of the Tiano breed.  We drove by the arena but it was raining.  The show was rescheduled for the evening.  We were shown the oldest tree on Vieques (est. over 400 years).  It is a Ceiba Tree.  It is odd that it had thorns on top of the branches.

After that we toured
the museum at Fort Conde de Mirasol.  Other historic sites included the old sugar mill near Isabel Segunda and Pirate Mountain before we head back.

Around 9:00 p.m. Jack and I decided to make a night dive while David visited with his brother.  I saw an octopus right away and struggled with it for a couple minutes before it finally escaped from my grasp.  Within minutes I came across a nice sized shovel nose lobster aka slipper lobster and bagged it.  Jack got a couple of spiny lobsters and collected some shells.  A while later he picked up a shovel nose as well.  I continued to hunt and finally got a couple of spiny's.  I saw a green moray eel and teased it with my pole spear.  It bit at the tip.  I tried to spook it but it would not give up any space; it was holding its ground.  Since it didn't appreciate me playing with it, I moved on.   A little while later I saw a big fish out of my peripheral vision and when I shined it, it turned away.  Apparently we had something checking us out.  Jack saw it too.  Soon, we called it a night. We dived for about three hours total.  The one special thing that we noticed about this dive was that throughout the dive we could hear the reggae band playing on the Esperanza Strip.  This was the first time we have ever had this type of entertainment on a dive and it was a memorable one.  Jack and I both agree that we were born beach divers.

Some of Mike and Jack's night dive results.

Jack leaves on Monday morning to meet his new wife on the main Island for a rendezvous.  Mark drives him to the ferry as David and I stay behind for a couple more days of diving.

When Mark returns he drives us to Green Beach.  Along the way he plays tour guide and drives us all over the west end of the Island where he shows us several bomb bunkers.  They are scattered all about the area and were used by the U.S. Military until May of 2003.  Afterwards, he drops us at the dive site.  This is the most beautiful beach I've seen so far when it comes to water visibility, reef ledges and the variety of sea life.  I wish that I had brought my camera instead of a speargun.  We dive the area for three or four hours finding nothing more than a lot of tropical fish (they were pretty) and three more conch which we gather for tomorrow nights dinner.  After we're done we call Mark who promptly comes back to pick us up.

Back at the Casa Alta Vista, Ricky orders up a couple pizza's. David drives us into Isabel II to pick them up.  They are the biggest pizza pies I've ever seen.  We do a little bit of souvenir and grocery shopping while we are there.

Dave with potato cannon.

After lunch David breaks out his potato cannon; a gift for Mark.
He fires off a few spuds into the jungle.  I am surprised at the range this thing has.  All the excitement and a beer makes me sleepy, so I go back to the room for a siesta.

As dark approached I was getting the urge to make another night dive.  I asked Dave if he was game and he is.  We gear up, walk down to the beach and find a sandy spot between the rocks to enter the water.  We spot a large puffer fish right away along with some parrot fish.  Dave spots a large barracuda trolling the reef.  We go about our task of catching some spiny's (langoustine) and Dave bags an octopus.  Later in the evening I come across one.  I have caught many octopus in the past to sell to the local pet stores but I haven't ever killed one.  I understand that you just turn it inside out but that was easier said than done.  Every time I tried to get it in the kill position, it would try to escape and I'd have to grab its head again.  The tentacles were going all the way up to my shoulder and it was tightening up around my arm. I disregarded the feeling on my bare arm and held fast.  Since I was getting a little chilled anyway and about ready to get out, I just held it tight in my hand, swam it to the beach where I hurled it onto the sand. "There, take that you little turd!"  At this point I was able to get it in my goody bag.  Dave hunted a bit longer and finally got out.  We ended up with five lobsters and two octopus.   All of which would be included in our meal the following evening.   We take a picture back at the guest house.

Tuesday would be our last full day on the Island.  We slept in until 0930, got up and had some coffee.  Afterwards Dave drove us into Isabel to do some final shopping before our trip home.  I met Mark's friend Szaritza later that morning and she is a delightful and charming young lady and easy to talk to.  She had been on a working vacation in the Dominican Republic and was not around for most of the week.  I was glad to get to meet her before we left.

For lunch, I ordered a hamburger from the local EFC, went back to the guest house and geared up for a picture taking run on the reef with my u/w camera.  I found out that taking pictures of tropical fish was not necessarily a cakewalk as they do not stop swimming to pose for the camera.  After a couple of hours and many deleted shots, I settled for a half dozen decent pictures and called it a day.

Back at the Casa Alta Vista I enjoyed a cold Coors Light.  
I got to work in the store for Mark while he did some maintenance and Ricky helped Dave with the evening meal which included carucho en salada (conch salad), polpo ensalada (octopus salad), steamed langoustine and slipper lobster, pork fried rice and black beans.  It was a Puerto Rican feast fit for a king!

At sunset, I went to the roof of our house and sat alone
reflecting on the week and thinking about how much I miss Eric.   I watched the sun go down in the west as the nearly full moon rises in the east.  It was picture perfect. 

A couple of hours later,
my oldest son, Phillip calls me on David's phone to see how I am doing and if I'm having fun.  I think he worries more about me now.  Our social was over around 10:00 p.m. and it was time to get some rest for the early start at 0530 the next morning.

Wednesday morning Dave cracks the door to my room and notifies me that I have 15 minutes to get my gear loaded into the truck for the trip to the ferry or we'll miss it.  That also meant that we would miss our flight out of San Juan as well. I'm throwing shaving kit and dirty clothes in my gear bag with my eyes half open.  He helps me with my gun case and I follow with the rest, I think.  We make it to the ferry with just minutes to spare.  I find a seat and sit quietly for the next hour and a half.

A word of wisdom to unseasoned travelers like me.  Have ALL your heavy gear on wheels.  Carrying a 63 pound gear bag with a single shoulder strap bites. If I could have carried it like a backpack, it would have been easier.  We were dragging our guns with one hand and hauling the gear bags with the other, not to mention working in the "carry on" bag which held my Ikelite underwater housing, camera and as many presents for my family as I could stuff in it.

Leaving Puerto Rico

We travel from 6:00 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. before we finally arrive back in Mobile, our destination of origin.

The week was a busy one in as much that I was able to dive every day and made three night dives.  I call that staying active and it was just what the doctor ordered.

Many thanks to my wife, Robin for the freedom to enjoy my passion.  To Mark Biron and Ricky Cordero for their hospitality and good natured attitude and to God for safe dives and travels.  I  would recommend a visit here if you ever have the opportunity.

Mike Wade
Stickmen Freedivers
Mobile, Alabama

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