All in all, we’ve been fortunate with the weather this trip, but it looks like our last day in Puerto Rico will be a rainy one. The remnants of tropical storm Eric have finally made there way to this side of the island, where earlier in the week the storm drenched the rainy side of the island, including San Juan, where we spent just one night.
We’re now staying at the Copamarina Beach Resort, a mid-range resort near Guanica on the south west coast. We wanted to stay at a resort because we thought the kids, especially Jim, might prefer to be in a place were there was snorkling, jet-skiing, pools, and other modern conveniences. As it turned out, our resort didn’t offer snorkling or jet-skiing, so we had to venture out into the Big Bad World to find those things anyway.
Problem number one: Even little rinky-dink outfits in Puerto Rico won’t let a 14-year-old drive a jet-ski. Problem number two: our hotel apparently signed a snorkeling referral deal with an outfit that won’t return our calls. We solved problem two, but problem one had no solution, much to the dismay of Jim. We believe we have partially palliated him by allowing unlimited access to Copamarina’s wireless network. Apparently even though he isn’t having as good a time as anticipated in Puerto Rico, his IM buddies are incredibly jealous.
(Momentary aside: how does an ant get on your glasses? I’ve had to stop typing twice during this post to remove a live ant from my eyewear)
Yesterday was perhaps the most eventful day of our stay. Tired of lounging on the beach or at the pool, we decided to take an excursion to the city of Ponce, about 30 miles from here. We had time for just one stop, so we settled on the Castillo Serralles, a beautiful house built on a hillside overlooking the city. It was built in the 1930s by the heirs to the Serrales empire, sugar-cane planters who grew their business into a world-famous rum distillery (they make Don Q and Captain Morgan rum, among other brands).
The comfortable comingling of the wealthy and the poor is something we’re unaccustomed to as Americans. We prefer to shunt our poor out of the limelight, to keep them at a distance. When a readily visible part of an urban area becomes impoverished, we try to “renew” it, to remove the “blight” of a poor neighborhood. By contrast, the Castillo Serrales is perched directly above a relatively depressed area, with stray cats and garbage in the streets, with gaunt old faces staring out of the barren windows of tiny dilapidated houses. They need only turn their heads a few hundred yards up the hill to see the mansion of the wealthiest family in Puerto Rico.
Inside, we got to see not only the house’s $1.5 million dining room, with hand-carved furniture and ceiling beams, but also its 1929 refrigerator that “still works.” Our tour guide meticulously told us not only the initial cost but also the present value of nearly every item in the home: a $20,000 table, a chandelier from Sears. Even the home’s intercom system “still works.” In a town as run-down as Ponce, it’s impressive that anything more than a few years old “still works.”
Fodor’s directed us to a “family friendly” restaurant on the shores of the Carribean, which turned out to be in an industrial area in Ponce’s harbor. The view included some sort of construction barge — not exactly a tropical paradise, but still interesting to look at. Most of the tables by the window hadn’t been cleaned, but a friendly drunk at the bar told us to move two smaller tables together — “they don’t care here,” he said, “trust me.”
We trusted him, and soon after we took our seats, he stumbled over to our table to greet us. He was an American, but it was difficult to tell how old he was. He could have been anywhere from 45 to 65, but he had lost at least half his teeth, and the rest looked like they wouldn’t be around much longer. He asked where we were from, and what I did for a living. I said I was a writer, and he asked what I write about. I said “science.”
Then he started rambling incoherently about how he had a doctorate in astrophysics, and how he believed that travel faster than the speed of light was possible. I resisted the urge to tell him that was utter bullshit. If he really had a degree in astrophysics, there’s no way he’d believe in interstellar travel. He leaned uncomfortably close to Nora, telling Greta that she needed to give me time to “think” — at least two hours a day, apparently so I could solve the problem of space tourism.
Eventually he lost interest in my monosyllabic responses and wandered back to the bar. But the restaurant was catering what looked to be a rather swanky affair in the next room, and when this guy started trying to go in and harrass these guests, the management decided enough was enough. They called security to haul him away, and he actually put up a pretty good fight, screaming “what the fuck are you doing?” and “you can’t fucking do this to me” while the guard wrestled him out of the restaurant. When our food finally arrived, it really wasn’t very good — and in fact it wasn’t substantially cheaper than what we could get at the resort. That’s the Big Bad World for you, I guess.
Not all our Big Bad World excursions were this disappointing. We were able to arrange a great snorkeling trip in nearby Parguera. We purchased the “twilight package” which involved dinner and a night-time snorkel in the Bahia Bioluminescente, where plankton glowed green as you swam through the water. Personally I wasn’t especially impressed by this — I had seen it before — but it did make a big impression on the kids. Even though I was impaired by not being able to wear my glasses, and even though saltwater was creeping into my mask and nose via my mustache, I preferred the daytime snorkeling. I loved seeing the huge angelfish, the crawling brittle stars, the black sea urchins with their six-inch spines.
Here are a couple pictures from our trip (sorry no drunks or Ponce mansions):
This is the fortress of El Morro, guarding San Juan from invaders for nearly 400 years.
These parapets are on every Puerto Rico license plate.
Here’s a nice sunset shot from our snorkeling boat.
P.S. As I write this on Friday afternoon, it actually hasn’t rained much at all today. I’ll probably have one more Puerto Rico post soon, with more pictures.