“Follow the dreams that align with your deepest passions, or help develop our best selves…”
I met Corky when I arrived at La Finca, a retreat nestled in the hills of Vieques. She’s a woman with a lot of smarts and a heart full of adventure. 20 years ago, she found a piece of property on the island, just shy of being deserted. There might have been one building, or two, serving food from the front door, but most of Vieques was covered in tropical vegetation, sprinkled with recent hurricane damage. Getting there was tricky, so much so that some maps left this part of Puerto Rico out entirely. though always a Caribbean oasis. It is here where Corky planted the first seed, on her way to developing her very own inn. That seed has since grown into the rustic getaway Corky always dreamed of — La Finca. Find out more about this amazing property below, and learn how Corky traded the mainland for a simpler way of life — Island life.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My husband Bill and I are funny combinations of innkeepers and farmers, Caribbean souls and Pacific Northwesterners, working and retired. We live on two islands, here on Vieques and Marrowstone, a small island in Washington State’s Puget Sound. I guess we’re renegades. We like to live off the beaten path. Never care too much, or know very much about trends. Maybe we make our own. We eat what’s in the fridge, or growing in the garden; we wear what’s clean and comfortable. It can’t be too nice because we are almost always making or doing something messy: building something, making artwork, painting a floor, or making a bottle wall. Gotta be able to move, I guess. That’s a priority.
When did you first make a relationship with Vieques?
Coincidentally, twenty years ago this very month. Back then, there were no cute little stores and no fancy restaurants. There was hardly an open restaurant. Stepping off the boat into Isabel Segunda, the island’s largest town, you were surrounded by, and oddly suspended in, a long term state of disrepair, ranging from recent hurricane damage to long-term tropical decay and total collapse. Amazing plant life grew up and took over it all. Magenta and apricot-hued bougainvillea woven through ornate wrought iron balustrades, philodendron covering a wall. If it wasn’t out-and-out love at first sight, I was certainly very interested…
Folks were friendly. Native Viequense or bleary-eyed ex-pats, both seemed to welcome anyone weird, or adventurous enough, to have bothered to find and get to the place. Just having landed on the island made you sort of an insider.the first of many, oh so many, initiations to come.
What was your life like before you moved to an island? What were you doing?
Bill was an architect, I was a creative director. Our careers were both spent developing creative solutions to very different sorts of problems. But in a way, we are still doing that at the Finca. The challenge is how to build and run a beautiful, relaxing place for folks to visit, as simply and with as little negative impact to the island’s environment as possible.
Out of all of the places in the world, why Vieques?
I love adventure, and offbeat, undiscovered places and, back then, Vieques was really off the radar. Not undiscovered, but certainly undeveloped by Caribbean standards. Honestly, it wasn’t included on a lot of maps. It felt like Never Never Land. Our family was on a mission to find a place, out of the States, out of the rain, to open an inn. It was supposed to be a long term plan that happened early.
When did you first get the idea to build a sanctuary for others?
I can’t remember a time I didn’t think about becoming an innkeeper…lifelong dream, I guess.
What was your ultimate goal when creating La Finca ?
Pretty simple, really…I just wanted to make a beautiful place, affordable and environmentally responsible — with no attitude. Fun, of course, because fun is what vacation is all about… We always wanted a place where folks could go and just get away from it all…and back then, it was a big deal that we didn’t have phones, TV, wifi. From the get-go we wanted to be able to share it with the island as well. So we’ve always given discounts to school and other community groups.
What can one expect of La Finca Vieques?
There’s something about the quiet, and the privacy being a few miles out of town…the palms, the fruit trees, the breezes — it all combines with our funky casual atmosphere to slow folks down a bit. But it’s so much more than that…
These days, what with online vacation rental sites, it’s easy to find great places to rent, but a stay at The Finca offers much more than that. We’re here, in our cabin, for as much, or as little of our 20 years of island tips as they want… We know the best places to snorkel or eat that they might not find otherwise, so there’s that. But there’s also this little community that forms. Guests can enjoy it on their own, in their own room or cabin, or they can meet fellow global travelers at the pool or out on the deck. Sometimes we find out we have four different cooks and chefs here — and we all make up a gourmet lobster potluck, cooking together. The Finca sort of becomes a little village of eco-travelers. It’s so fun to watch folks just enjoy themselves…in whatever way works for them.
What type of guests come to stay at La Finca?
We attract easygoing, friendly travelers. I think our website scares away cranky or uppity folks. Our guests range from early twenties on up…to one wonderful regular guest, a man who’s now 92 and comes every winter.
We have a great mix of couples, families, and solo women who come here and feel completely at ease. Whether they’re gay, straight, Puerto Rican, European, from the States or Canada, they don’t want a cookie cutter hotel or vacation rental. They like a little adventure, and don’t mind trading away some of the luxuries of home for something completely different…
What’s been the most rewarding part about moving to Vieques and creating your own rustic getaway?
It’s very rewarding when I feel like our simple living has rubbed off on folks; when people see firsthand how easy it is to live with less, to line dry laundry, or live without plastic water bottles (!!!!) or disposables like paper towels and napkins that needlessly fill our landfill site. We only use cloth napkins and rags here and, at first, lots of folks are a little freaked by that. But, by the end of the week, I’ve heard them say they’ve bonded with their napkin and want to take them home. Love that!
What has been your greatest learning/takeaway from this experience?
There’s something about the Puerto Rican spirit, as well as the climate and habitat here, that has worked its magic into my soul. It has helped me to loosen up creatively. I don’t worry so much about the outcome of what I’m working on. I let it be more like play. This, in turn, helps my self confidence which helps me feel more grounded.
It’s also helped me learn to be very careful what I wish for. We all say that, but honestly — it’s so very serious. It’s so important that we really step back and look at what we’re craving; from a purchase to a career, a relationship, or anything else. Think on it. Follow the dreams that align with your deepest passions or develop our best selves, not fantasies that feed our egos. That’s where we get into trouble.
If you could offer one piece of advice to anyone looking to escape and move their life to a different part of the world, what would It be?
Do your homework, learn about the people, their history and culture before you move in. Realize that you are going to be a guest, for a while, so respect them enough to learn what makes them tick. Even a little understanding and effort goes a long way. I can not believe how so many Americans move here, or elsewhere, and somehow expect it all to be, and work, like it does back home.
And — don’t call it “paradise” ! If you are lucky to be moving to a place with glorious beaches, and swaying palms…of course it’s lovely, but it’s so much more complicated. It makes us look dumb, certainly naive to look at a place in that overly simplistic, maybe narcissistic way. It seems dismissive of the local people and culture.
What’s next for you and La Finca Vieques?
I love seeing more and more groups using the place. Groups of friends celebrating a birthday, a wedding, a family reunion…but we’re also hosting more retreats and workshops, from yoga and writing to snorkeling and…I’m looking for musicians. The Finca seems like the perfect place for a drumming workshop — that’s my new goal. Or journaling. If you know anyone, send them our way!
Of course I love to see the business continue to grow, but it’s not for the usual reason of making more money. What I love about succeeding is that it lets us give back to this community — which is in such need. Between the young people of Vieques, their poor schools and the island’s environmental challenges, there’s a huge need for environmental education. A huge goal is to offer — as in give free, more, and longer camps to the young people of Puerto Rico. We work with different schools and non-profits already, but it’s my dream to do more. The place is all about sharing.
Thanks for letting us in, Corky. :)
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