Vieques Beach

The Rum Punch Diaries: Day 3

A tropical storm was heading straight for the island.  This could be our last day of beach combing and rum punching, so we took our jobs seriously.  Our first stop took us to Playa Plata which is the beach furthest out on the Wildlife Refuge.  The road turns from blacktop to dirt about a mile in to the Refuge.  From there, we jostled over hard packed dirt and gravel for another 4 miles before we reached a little spot of paradise.

For our 3 hours at the beach, we saw another couple for about 30 minutes and a Fish and Wildlife agent cruise through.  Otherwise, I felt like I was married to Sir Richard Branson and he had taken me to our own little private island in the Caribbean. Sure, there’s some dried seaweed washed up.  No one is out there manicuring the beaches.  And, no one served me a pina colada. Yep, it was kind of a hot and bumpy ride in the car to get there.  It was glorious. I even napped.

Carrying on the with the vibe of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” we hit the W Hotel for a drink before we went out to dinner.  For years, Vieques has been the undiscovered jewel of the Caribbean.  Mostly, “normal” people weren’t interested in vacationing to a spot where the U.S. Navy dropped bombs on a regular basis. When the Navy left, and the internet boomed, people started to visit this “enchanted” isle.  Recently, W Hotels opened a location on the island.  It’s truly beautiful, luxurious and service-oriented.

Rum Punch at the W Hotel

The bartender was intrigued when I told her of my quest.  They had a couple of punches on the menu, but I challenged her to hit me with her best and she did.  I can’t give anyone precise recipes because no one ever measures, but she poured a Barrilito aged golden rum along with a Don Q Crystal, then added, yes, you guessed it, the secret juices.  Orange and pineapple were easily identified, but what was the other taste?  Something tropical and flowery floated over my tongue, but it wasn’t sugary.  She smiled and confessed: passion fruit. The aged rum drove up the price of the drink, but it was darker and spicier than others.  And the passion fruit!  Not easy to find in many U.S. markets, but worth the search.

I have to admit that the atmosphere was so relaxing and the afternoon was still young that we had another.  I strayed from my quest because I can never resist anything related to Hemmingway.  The W’s cocktail was a great variation on the Papa Doble daiquiri.  This was served on the rocks with a little more grapefruit and maraschino liqueur than you might find in a daiquiri.  It was slightly bitter, delicious and a needed diversion from the seriously fruity drinks I’d been downing for the past few days.

My cocktail at dinner was also a diversion. Every quest has a few side tracks, right? At the Next Course restaurant, the bartender makes a daily “martini” of whatever it is she’s recently infused.  It’s not really a martini.  It’s just a cocktail.  A one ingredient cocktail.  Well, two, if you count the fruit for the infusion.  That night was orange and grapefruit infused vodka.  She shakes it with ice to get it extremely cold and serves it straight up without garnish.  It was excellent, but I must admit my favorite is the star fruit infusion I’ve had there.  So incredibly simple, yet elegant, and a lovely touch to any drink menu you might offer a guest.

As you might imagine, at this point in the evening, I was feeling fantastic.  Our waitress plied us with pecan pie and suggested an after-diner drink.  Hmm… I thought, then said to my guy, “I could have had another…”  Aha! The magic words. At any point when you say, or even thing, those words, it is time to stop.

The day might have been a bit of an over indulgence, but given that the storm was coming in and I might not make it out for more tastings, the booze guilt wasn’t hanging too heavily on my head.  I could spend the next few days sequestered in the house, riding out the storm, and writing up my rum punch findings.  It was a good night to celebrate.  Thankfully, I heeded my own warning and resisted the urge for “just one more.”  I laid down peacefully, waiting for the drum of rain on the roof, confident that the next day would provide me a reprieve in my long and arduous journey.

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