A few days ago I had the chance to check out one of Vieques’ newest hotels, El Blok, in Esperanza. Initially I hadn’t planned to go into the building, and had stepped out of my car to snap some photos of the exterior. A kind woman approached me, and said, “Please, come in. Walk around and take all of the pictures that you want. I’m sure that someone can even show you a room.” That was Anna, originally from Spain, but a longtime resident now of Vieques.
I asked, “Are you sure?” I obviously forgot that I was in Vieques. Things, for the most part, aren’t a problem here. People have “go with the flow” mentalities. We chatted for a few minutes about how the island had entered its slow season, and how the hotel would be shutting down for a few weeks at the beginning of October. She was looking forward to the break, as it had been a busy high season. Anna is one of the fantastic ladies in charge of housekeeping, and I’m sure you’re rooms in tip top shape because of her.
Fast forward a couple of days. Today, I’m in Monte Santo filling up the car. I hear a cheerful, “Hello, Vicky. Hello. Do you remember me?” I replied, “Of course I do. Hello Anna.” She got out of her car that was parked on the side of the road while she was waiting for someone to meet her. She asked if I’d had the chance to go inside at El Blok, because she hadn’t seen me. She said, “I was looking for you. I wanted to show you around the hotel.” I don’t know how our paths didn’t cross, but the fact that she was sincerely looking to be of help to me speaks volumes about the kindness that so many of the people of Vieques possess.
THAT IS WHY I LOVE VIEQUES, BECAUSE OF PEOPLE LIKE ANNA.
So back to El Blok.
When you begin the drive into Esperanza and turn the bend, there’s a newer concrete building which catches your eye. It looks like an alien spaceship has dropped from the sky. It wasn’t there the last time I was here, 8 years ago, but the tall, imposing structure is obviously here to stay.
The building was built entirely of concrete. Not only that, but everything is rounded off and circular. My first indication of this was the ground floor entry way, and walking up the circular staircase. This brings you to the round bar and dining area. As you walk around, you notice a few sitting areas off to the side. Although I like the idea of what they are trying to do, my first thought was how the areas didn’t look especially comfortable. There are some cushions placed on the concrete benches, but I can’t imagine you’d want to sit there for long, no matter how good your cocktails are.
In the center you’ll find a round cactus garden, and upon looking up, you can see right to the top of the building. I’ve read a variety of complaints about the noise carrying up from the bar/restaurant to the floors above. I would think if you’re sensitive to noise or a light sleeper (like I am) this might not be the ideal place for you.
I had the opportunity to see one of the rooms. Henny, another employee there, graciously showed me into one of them so that I could look around. My first impressions of the room was that it was quite minimalist. So much so, that there’s not even a wardrobe or closet for your things. There is a set of hooks on the wall, to hang some clothing on, and perhaps you want to use the desk as a dresser instead of its intended use. There are no tv’s or telephones. This doesn’t bother me. Who comes to the Caribbean to watch the tube, anyway?
The bathroom had your standard shower, basin, and toilet. Opposite the bed were two chairs and a small table. Again, functional, but not overly comfortable, in my opinion, or especially welcoming. It seemed that the minimalist approach was the standing order.
The balcony, accessed by a glass door, is a cool space. You’re not going to work on your tan out there, but it seems like it would be a good spot to unwind at the end of the night with a glass of wine. Only problem with that, however, are the dreaded butterfly chairs that they provide, which have to be some of the most uncomfortable chairs that I’ve ever sat in. You’ll probably drink that glass of wine pretty quickly.
The cut out, swinging concrete columns are very cool looking, however, albeit not especially functional, as they run the entire length of the balcony. Different and unique, yes. But I think I’d take a traditional open air balcony any day.
My favorite part of the hotel was the terrace. The spectacular view of the sea and hills are undeniable. There’s a refreshing breeze and it was a place I could definitely see myself hanging out with a cocktail. The only problem with that, again, is the fact that the chairs and loungers are entirely wooden and look unpleasantly uncomfortable. There’s a small plunge pool on the roof (emphasis on the small) which reminds me more of an oversized hot tub.
El Blok does have its place in Vieques. I didn’t eat at the restaurant, which often gets rave reviews for its taste and creativity. I didn’t belly up to the bar (though I hope to, at least once). Their cocktail menu is unique and interesting, and is an alternative to the W Resort if you’ve already been there a few times. There are those travelers who don’t want your ultra casual, laid back guest house or inn on the island. They’re looking for something a little more upscale and boutique-like, also referred to as luxury travel. I think that El Blok would definitely appeal to those people, willing to spend more money for less.
I get that. I really do. I, however, am not one of those people. My requirements are few and I’m more about the laid back island feel. I want clean, and comfortable, sure. But I also want authentic island charm. I just didn’t get that vibe at El Blok.