Even when you live on an island, it isn’t always necessary to get on a plane to pack your bag and travel! Granted the distances aren’t far – but the psychological benefits are much the same, perhaps better: Calculate the cost-benefit ratio!
I had just such a “backyard” adventure – right in the middle of the week.
I needed to go to Ponce, PR to pick up merchandise from a couple of our artisan suppliers, so I packed some pjs in my backpack, grabbed my camera, commandeered my chauffeur (husband!), cranked up the engine, and took off for Ponce on a Tuesday afternoon.
We visited the suppliers, a wooden saint carver in el Tuque, and a papier mache mask maker near Playa de Ponce. Then we headed into the center of town.
Our hotel, the Melia Century, is located just steps from the famous firehouse. We had a beautiful, if small, room that was immaculately clean, with a balcony overlooking the street. The black and red of the firehouse was visible behind the “roble” blossoms [Tabebuia roble or rose trumpet tree].
Our first camera foray took us to the Plaza las Delicias to shoot the iconic firehouse, the fountain, the city hall and the cathedral in the late afternoon. We shot no blockbusters but we got additions to our stock photos.
For dusk, sunset and dinner we went to the Vistas Restaurant. Located directly across the street from the entrance to the Meliá, it couldn’t have been more convenient. It is a two story venue on the top of the building, so there are views, just as the name claims (Vistas in Spanish is “views” in English. You probably could figure that out if you didn’t already know it, right?) On the upper floor the terrace wraps around three sides of the building, and if you’re female – or daring – the fourth side is beautifully accessible from the ladies’ bathroom on that floor! It’s true! Be sure to check it out! [Shhh! Insider tip.]
When we tired of taking pictures up there, we returned to the lower part of the restaurant (the upper part was closed on a Tuesday evening) and sat out on the terrace to have dinner.
Our table was perched right above the firehouse! The sunset was directly in front of us with the plaza (firehouse and cathedral) in the foreground. Wonderful and romantic, the food was good too! I was worried, but the chef concocted a Vegetable Mofongo for me that was really something to write home about (or write a blog post about?). The mofongo (mashed plantains) was moist and chewy, and I would guess that the cooked mixed, fresh vegetables had something like an ajillo sauce (garlic, thyme and sherry). It was not on the menu, but if it sounds good to you, ask for it.
Wednesday morning we got up about 6 am to go to La Guancha to take pictures of the sun rising. It was still dark. Sunrise was scheduled for 6:35. There wasn’t anything going on at La Guancha at that hour – probably a better bet in the evening when it would be full of people.
But to the left of the little harbor there is open sea. A beautiful stretch of sandy beach is broken by mangroves and stunted, yet fantastical trees, silhouetted against the water. It is one of my favorite places. And, this morning, to make a good thing better, we had a spectacular sunrise to photograph, too.
We lingered, walking along the beach, snapping the same sunrise shot over and over as each little change appeared more beautiful than the one just before it. Starting the day with a sunrise puts a glow on the entire 24 hours to come. I left with a happy heart, and a growling stomach, ready for a look at the plaza at dawn and breakfast back at the hotel.
On our way out of Ponce, we made one last stop. We went to see “La Ceiba.” If you don’t know it, La Ceiba de Ponce is an immense and famous tree. (A ceiba is a kapok tree in English.) It was mentioned in writing in 1697, and there are numerous photographs of it from the 1800s. Though no one knows precisely how old it is, let’s suffice it to say that it is certainly more than 150 years, and maybe as old as 300. The last time I saw it, it was looking pretty sad. There were just a couple of branches protruding from its massive trunk. Maybe they looked spindly because the truck is so out-sized… Today, there is one elephantine (it’s even grey like an elephant) branch that is supported by heavy duty metal scaffolding. Sounds dire, but the branch has a lush and flagrant growth, defying any sense of imminent demise. It is truly a sight to behold. [Be sure to try and find Gerry in this picture…it will give you a good sense of the size!]
Once we decided to leave Ponce, we drove due east toward Santa Isabel, but not on the highway back to San Juan. The road takes you through some incredible agricultural land. Maybe that sounds strange: Puerto Rico seems to have an ideal growing climate, right? Surprisingly though, you don’t see a lot of agriculture if you stick to the main tourist routes, and really, other than individual garden plots or small family orchards, you don’t see much agriculture off the main tourist routes either. But the in the areas surrounding Ponce you will see big, commercial farms. We detoured to drive into an immense “production” of tomatoes. There were lots of people picking out in the fields and huge trucks coming out, laden, I presume, with tomatoes off to the processing plant. It was a hive of activity…yet I couldn’t help wondering why fresh tomatoes at the farmers’ market are so scarce and in high demand, when here I was looking at literally hundreds of acres of fresh tomatoes…
One last foray down to a beach guarded by somnolent horses and a few skittish chickens, and our idyll in southern Puerto Rico concluded with an hour’s drive back to San Juan and reality. It really was a wonderful 21-hour adventure right in our “backyard.”
For other, older posts about Ponce, click here.