Sunday, August 14, 2016

Adventure in Puerto Rico: Day 2

On Thursday, we drove through the lush green hills of the interior to reach Ponce, on the southern coast. 

(See the orange symbols on the map for our Thursday activities)
The GPS in the rental car took us through some twisty back streets between expressways in the San Juan area.  It was probably not the most efficient route to take.  But it did show us some of the real Puerto Rico.  And real Puerto Rican driving.  Sorry, no photos from our hurtling along and playing dodge-car.  Sailing was smoother on the expressways, except for some creative passing.  While frequent signs dictate the appropriateness of the right lane for slow or heavy vehicles, a lot of people drive slowly in the left lane.  So there's passing on the right almost as often as on the left, with little use of turn signals.  We did not let Scoot practice driving in Puerto Rico, and he didn't mind.

Anyway, the scenery was just gorgeous.  The southern side of the island is in the rain shadow, a little more arid, but still green.
And the town of Ponce is quite colorful.  We found a good parking lot next to the Ponce Historical Museum, which seemed like a good place to start. 
The museum is housed in Casa Zalazar, built for a local doctor in 1911.  This lovely window is in the central atrium. 
The town's architecture hasn't always been neoclassical.  Here's a model of an earlier village.  The area has been populated and influenced by indigenous groups, Spaniards, Africans, and various other immigrants.
There were displays about sugar processing, education, politics, and medicine.  The Caterpillar spent some time trying to tune a three-stringed cello that belonged to someone famous.  It was a nice, cool museum, free of charge and even free of gift shop.  It must have a pretty good support system.  Sadly, the Puerto Rican Music Museum next door was closed for unknown reasons.
 This is the outside of an amphitheater. 
And here's Teatro la Perla.  Ponce is the Pearl of the South, but there seem to be things named la Perla everywhere.
Sculpture and palm tree next to la Perla.  Did I mention that it was pretty hot in Puerto Rico?  Temperatures were in the 80s, with similarly high humidity.  Great conditions for growing palm trees . . .
 and flowers.
I love the bright colors of the buildings.  Less historical houses on the island are colorful, too.
The central square in Ponce is the Plaza Las Delicias, which helped put the town on the Spanish map by fulfilling the requirements for a church and a town hall.  This is the cathedral, with the silver domes typical in Puerto Rico. 
Right behind the cathedral is the eye-catching Parque de Bombas.  It was built as the main pavilion for an exhibition in 1882.  After the exhibition, the fire brigade took over.  After a century of service, the Moorish-Victorian-Gothic building was turned into a firefighting museum, including portraits of all the fire chiefs and lists of notable fires.  Very interesting.
 The Plaza also includes the Lions Fountain, which was purchased from the New York World's Fair.  Lions are the mascots of Ponce, which was named for a descendant of the conquistador Juan Ponce de León.  Apparently the fountain looks lovely with water and colored lights, but it was empty when we went by.
These complex trees lend the plaza some welcome shade.  Apparently they are a type of fig.
 There are more interesting buildings around the square,
like this one, which began as a theatre, then became a nice hotel.  Currently, it is empty.
I told the GPS to take us back along the coast.  We went along the coast, and on a winding road around one of the big hills, and across flat lowland with palm orchards.  We ran into a spate or two of heavy rain, and saw a lovely rainbow. 
I'm not sure where we saw this house, but I like it.  We made our way to Fajardo and ate some tacos before setting out for our evening's adventure.  Unfortunately, this is where the GPS let us down.  We were trying to find a nature reserve called Cabezas de San Juan ("St. John's Heads"--don't you love Hispanic names?).  I had left the written directions and information in the apartment.  I tried every search I could think of, but the GPS did not seem to know where it was.  Finally we stopped to ask for directions.

Puerto Rico is a bilingual island.  More or less.  Names of places and businesses may include English.  Road signs are all in Spanish.  Dandelionslayer and I are willing to speak Spanish, but we're pretty obviously gringos.  So the man at the museum offered us English brochures.  The man at the pizzeria in Ponce approached us with an extra rapid Spanish narrative, then switched to flawless English when he saw our blank stares.  I found two ladies in the gas station, and addressed the one in the uniform shirt.  The other said, "Hi."  So I asked my question, in English.  Both listened.  Then the employee told her friend in Spanish, who talked to me in English.  It wasn't really easy to describe, so we went outside so the English speaker could consult our GPS.  "Oh, it's not in Spanish," she said.  It was also different from the GPS on her phone, so she checked that, and gave us directions.  We followed the directions until we found the closed gate to the reserve, then asked the gate guard.  He listened in English, then came out to point the way.  And asked if Spanish was all right.  So he gave us the rest of the easy directions in Spanish.  So, bilingual?  I think most Puerto Ricans understand both languages.  Many have spent time in the United States, at college or in the military, and speak English without any accent.  Most are more comfortable with Spanish, though.
Finally we arrived for our kayak tour of Laguna Grande, a bioluminescent bay.  This was actually one of the major factors in our choice of Puerto Rico.  A couple of years ago, the Caterpillar made a travel brochure about Puerto Rico for his Spanish class.  And this is one of the cool things he told us about.
Thanks to EcoAdventures for the photos!
The lagoon is inhabited by dinoflagellates, a type of plankton that will glow when disturbed.  This effect is visible only on dark nights, and only in a few places in the world.  When the Caterpillar told me this, I imagined the whole bay softly glowing.  Some of the other tour companies post pictures showing neon blue smears around the boats.
It's not like that.  It was better.  We paired up in kayaks, with one red light in the front, and one red light on the back of the rear paddler's life jacket (which didn't always work).  Then we paddled in single file (more or less) through a narrow channel lined by mangrove trees.  We took the late tour, so it was fully dark.  We couldn't see the trees very well.  Scoot and I got stuck in one at the beginning, but proceeded smoothly after that.  It felt like a Disney World ride, lighted boats moving quietly through the dark water.  But we moved under our own power (and Scoot is so powerful that it was pretty easy for me, at least!).  Several other tour companies were there as well.  One brought a motorboat with an obnoxious spotlight, and a kayak in front of us ran into it and capsized.  But the channel is shallow, and the passengers were able to get back in easily.
Then we emerged into the lagoon.  The sky was full of stars, and when we looked at our paddles, we saw little stars in the water.  More like blue sparks, really, as the paddle swished or we stirred the warm water with our hands.  The tour guides gathered the group and told us about the phenomenon, and we paddled around by ourselves a bit.  Then we paraded on back through the channel.  It was a beautiful night, and a great adventure.

For more of the adventure, see:
Day 1
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6


  1. Wow! I bet you never got to go anywhere that fun when you were in school!

  2. Oh, I don't know. Those rowboats in Tokyo were pretty fun, too.