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BoBo is a French expression, short for Bourgeois Bohème, and it pretty much describes who we are.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Casa Solaris- Bee and Jays' Excellent Off-the-Grid Adventure

As many of our friends here know, we've recently returned from a quick week in our little corner of heaven, the island of Vieques in Puerto Rico. The unintended theme this year ended up being "screw tradition"! Our trip was limited to one week instead of the usual two, it was hastily put together about 6 days before departure date instead of a couple of months ahead and, remarkably, we managed to secure an affordable flight and, best of all, one of the island's scarce rental cars- all on incredibly short notice. So in keeping with the unpredictable aspect of our fledgling holiday, we decided to forgo our customary digs at Hix Island House and stay in their exciting new Casa Solaris structure.
If you've so-far missed the buzz about this place, listen up. Casa Solaris builds on the Hix Island House fundamentals of treading lightly on the planet, but takes them to the next level. The structure, like the five others on the inn's site, eschews air conditioning in favour of capturing the constant trade winds to provide for cooling and ventilation. To do so, large openings without glass face straight into the breezes. A natural and constant air flow is maintained by positioning smaller openings on the sheltered face of the buildings creating a horizontal chimney effect. Those same breezes coupled with ceiling and night table fans provide natural pest control, further validating the lack of glass windows! We come home from HIH feeling like we've spent every minute of our vacation outdoors, and for warmth-starved northerners that's a lot of extra bang for our vacation buck!

Casa Solaris has gone to the next level by completely removing itself from the electrical grid. Up on the roof there are 24 solar photo-voltaic panels that feed the building's electrical system, and two 50-gallon solar hot water panels that more than amply provide each unit's hot water needs. Down in the "Engine Room" is an inverter that converts the direct current electricity from the solar collectors into the regular AC current that all of our homes operate on. The power is stored in 12 large batteries, and to ensure it isn't needlessly squandered, the appliances are all energy efficient, and the light fixtures use LED bulbs.

But enough dry stats- let's let the building's architect John Hix give you the full low-down:

So, you must be asking what kind of sacrifices we had to make to stay at a place so virtuous. Let's face it, we've all been conditioned to believe that giving up oil must entail a compensatory hardship. (In fact, forward thinking designers are now so concerned about this "bad rap" against sustainable living that they're actively fighting to counter the idea of virtuous sacrifice. The most vocal, Danish architect Bjarke Ingels who we covered here, espouses a philosophy of hedonistic sustainability. Instead of forcing us to give something up, he says, let's encourage sustainable practices by actually getting immediate and obvious rewards.) 

Well, guess what? That's exactly what you get at Casa Solaris. If all the good stuff going on behind the scenes wasn't spelled out, you wouldn't have a clue that you were saving the planet! All you focus on is the gracious Caribbean living you're enjoying so much. So let's have a look at what we mean!
The building has six loft units, two on each of three levels. A central exterior staircase capped with a yellow soffit provides access to each of the upper level units. Although we stayed in the loft on the north side of the second level, we had a chance to see each of the three floors. Here's a peek at the loft directly above us at the top of the building. The main difference between this unit and ours is that it has only one exterior terrace; it's on the east end with the sea view down island, and is completely open to the sky above.
Bragging rights: like many of the lofts, this one has photo murals featuring pics taken on previous visits by your intrepid correspondents:
We chose the unit we did because we appreciated the open outdoor spaces at each end of the 2nd floor lofts. As you can see below, after entering from the central stair onto the west terrace there is a complete flow of space through the loft to the living terrace at the other end, with its magnificent sea view.
The entrance gives onto the kitchen which is large and well- appointed. A full- sized fridge is a bonus, as is the gas cooktop and deep sink with gorgeous Grohe faucet. As in all HIH units, the surfaces of the counters and table are polished concrete. We loved the slimmed-down edge profile, and we always put the table to good use. The cabinet fronts, like all the wood in the loft, have a warm gray wash, giving a very contemporary appearance.
As is our wont, we put the kitchen through its paces. With only a couple of exceptions we had all of our dinners at home, as well as fresh tropical breakfasts and delicious lunches.
Opposite the kitchen is a great bank of storage cubbies and hanging rack, all tastefully concealed with a heavy cotton curtain. This storage area leads into the generous washroom with long concrete vanity, another tasteful Grohe faucet, and ample Frette towels, robes, and the inn's trademark Neeva Gayle Shirts. (Think fine cotton mens' dress shirts made extra long...perfect for lounging)
And of course, the signature Hix Island House outdoor shower is just off the bathroom, separated from the terrace with a curving wall that's just high enough. That's it in the picture below, with the towel drying rack beside it. There's nothing better that lathering up while gazing down the island at the blue Caribe, and rinsing off with solar- heated water that's so plentiful you have to keep it dialed back to the cool side.
Of course, all eyes eventually must return to the amazing Cinemascope view (even when you're enjoying the king bed). It's truly mesmerizing in all conditions, and on this level the underside of the upstairs terrace really frames the vista. As captivating as an aquamarine sea view is, watching one of the frequent quick tropical storms approach is a highlight.
Finally, as the day wanes the shadows grow longer and the light becomes golden- truly the magic hour!
So there you have it- our excellent adventure off-grid. What a great week it was! Somehow the spontaneity of the planning and our decision to try out the new lodgings seemed to make each day really count. And what a bonus knowing our pampered days and nights were actually rather virtuous! Hedonistic sustainability- we could definitely get used to it!

Vieques, Puerto Rico 00765
(787) 741- 2302

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