The New Dawn Caribbean Retreat and Guest House was built in 1986-87 by a group of women taking a carpentry course in the U.S. Enthused by their shared experience and feeling ambitious, they pooled their resources to buy five acres of land on the Pilon hillside of Vieques, a small island to the southeast of Puerto Rico. One of them was a pilot; she flew down workers and supplies. When they were done, most of them decided to stay. The site eventually contained a main house (which became host to a vegetarian restaurant, open kitchen, dining and meeting area, library corner, and shared bath on its first floor, and six private rooms with lofts on the second floor), a bunkhouse, and one private home.

The New Dawn residents (incidentally, 20 percent male, 80 percent female) were hit hard by Hurricane Hugo in 1990, but they had rebuilt their home with the beautiful spacious decks with their wonderful hammocks by the time my family and I discovered New Dawn in the winter of 1996, when we vacationed on Vieques and its even smaller sister island Culebra. Here's an excerpt from my journal the night after we had dinner at their restaurant/bar:

I just discovered the coolest place I have been since CTY. It's called New Dawn, and basically it's a commune in the middle of Vieques.... I grokked lesbians but that's irrelevant or actually not. Most important was the fact that this is the kind of happy unpretentious place where I could go barefoot all the time and kiss people just because I felt like it... It was a free place, a beautiful place, and I will be going back there. Yes I will. This and the phosporescent bay have me convinced. There are places to look at + admire and maybe emulate or be a part of... mmm... felt GOOD. Home like I haven't felt in awhile. I think I'm in love with it, the whole idea...

Trust me, this is high praise from my generally disgruntled and resentful to be vacationing with my family seventeen-year-old self.

Anyway, New Dawn was for sale at the time of our visit, and since then I've tracked its history to a new incarnation, the more commercialized La Finca Caribe (www.lafinca.com). Finca means something like "little place in the country", so it looks like the spirit of the old New Dawn lives on at least a little, even if to me all the glossy brochures they sent me seem to lack something of the magic of the faded and torn photocopied poster I tore off a Vieques telephone pole...

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