Chuck’s 94 year-old mother Evelyn and (censored)-year old sister Zona came to see us in Puerto Rico recently. We had a great time taking in some of the sights and sounds of this friendly island. We visited El Yunque National Forest, Old San Juan (including El Morro), drove along the northern coast and down to the Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy, visited the Observatorio de Arecibo, visited the city of Ponce, and partook of some famous roasted pig near the town of Guavate.
Mom suffers from severe macular degeneration, but despite this handicap, is a keen player of progressive rummy. In many of the pictures that follow, it appears as if she is infirm. Not so, she is as sharp as a tack and game to go anywhere and doesn’t want to be left behind. But because of her poor vision, we are careful to make sure that she doesn’t stumble.
We used the first full day of their stay to visit El Yunque, spending a fair amount of time at the El Yunque Portal display/museum and also walking a short path near the Portal, returning to our boat at Palmas del Mar that night. Next day we drove to San Juan, where we visited El Morro and did some trolley-touring of Old San Juan. We stayed at Hotel Casablanca, an elegant hotel in the heart of the old city, whose only downside was a lack of elevators. Mom and Zona were only one story up – Barb and I had a little higher to climb. We had lunch at the Siglo XX Restaurant, the same restaurant we had used in Feb. 2012 with Norwegian friends Lars Helge and Tove – and had the same delicious paella. And later we had drinks at the Parrot Club, where Mom and Zona had mojitos and I had a delicious “Parrot Passion”. After breakfast at the hotel we proceeded west along the coast to Arecibo, where we turned south and visited the spectacular cave in the Parque de las Cavernas del Rio Camuy, subsequently declared by Mom to be her favorite of their visit. We over-nighted at Casa Grande Mountain Retreat, near Utuado. Next day, instead of driving back up to Arecibo, as we should have done, emboldened by the map on Barb’s iPad, we chose to get to the Observatorio de Arecibo by taking a shortcut westerly on some very minor roads. As the driver, I can say that was a bad mistake. The “road” soon became a paved path just barely wider than one vehicle; a path that twisted up and down and back and forth on continual switch-backs. A “road” that caused many interesting contortions when we met opposing vehicles and caused many interesting interjections from the driver. Finally, after taking hours to travel just a few crow-miles, we broke out onto the highway south out of Arecibo – the highway we should have used in the first instance. The observatory is the largest radar-radio telescope in the world and was featured in the movie “Contact”. The concave “dome” sits in a 563-feet natural sinkhole formed in the karst landscape characterized by jagged peaks and deep valleys formed by limestone erosion. I found the karst landscape almost as interesting as the observatory itself. When we left the observatory to go to the southern city of Ponce, at my insistence we returned first to the northern city of Arecibo, from which we had beautiful wide scenic highways upon which to travel southward. 🙂
We stayed at Hotel Melià in Ponce, right across the street from the Parque de Bombas. Another lovely old hotel (which even had an elevator) whose only downside was its upside: the central location. Super convenient, but at the mercy of motorcycle, boombox, glasspack muffler, drunken party, and other assorted noises out in the street for most of the (Saturday) night. Next morning we were the only passengers on the tour bus parked right outside the Bombas – the old red-and-black firehouse that has been converted into a museum. The hour-long tour cost only one dollar per person – half price to old folks such as we. It was an interesting tour, but the highlight for me was skirting past the 25 de Enero Street district, a residential area in which all of the homes are painted red and black, just like the Bombas museum. Our guide explained that in 1899 firefighters saved the village and the mayor rewarded the entire crew with homes. To this day they are kept freshly painted in red and black, and although the current firefighters almost certainly live elsewhere, the homes are occupied by the descendants of the long-ago heros. Here is what Wikipedia says:
On January 25, 1899, a large fire (later dubbed “El Polvorin”) threatened the lives of Ponceños, as well as the economy of Puerto Rico as a whole, given Ponce’s de facto role as Puerto Rico’s banking and agricultural capital. A painting inside Parque de Bombas commemorates the heroic acts of seven valiant “bomberos” and a civilian who fought bravely against the voracious fire that threatened the region. Disobeying orders from the American troops that had recently taken control of Puerto Rico, the group was able to appease flames that had started inside the U.S. Army’s gunpowder reserves. Due to their courageous efforts, disaster was narrowly averted. For their success, the group was honored many times both in Ponce and the rest of Puerto Rico. A few yards from Parque de Bombas, on Plaza Federico Degatau, sits an obelisk to their memory, and at the Cementerio Civil de Ponce (Ponce Civil Cemetery) a mausoleum was erected in 1911 to their memory where all seven heroes were eventually interred. Later on, the Parque de Bombas building was painted in Ponce’s traditional city colors, red and black. A series of homes built a few years later for the firefighters and their families on 25 de Enero Street were painted in these colors also.
After our tour we packed up and drove back northward. Our destination was the famous area near Guavate where roasted pig (lechon) is served at a number of roadside restaurants. Our specific goal was the Lechonera las Pinas, one of the most popular, and one we had discovered in 2012 with our Norwegian friends. Then, as this time, we were there on a Sunday afternoon, and the area was packed with locals and tourists. Then, as this time, we were fortunate enough to grab one of the last open places in the crowded parking lot. Then, as this time, the band played old-style music in a corner of the noisy open-air dining area. Great fun and great food.
When we had completely over-stuffed our swollen bodies, we returned to our neglected boat and played one last game of Progressive Rummy.
On Feb. 3 we drove back toward San Juan, stopping at the Plaza las Americas Mall for lunch at the cavernous Cheesecake Factory before dropping Mom and Sis off at the airport. Then, a quick stop at West Marine for some nautical supplies before heading home to our boat through bumper-to-bumper traffic. The wind still howling offshore, we stayed at the dock for a number of additional days while waiting for better cruising conditions. But to learn of our activities after the departure of our guests, tune in to the next episode of Chuck and Barb Go Cruising.