Musafa, etc.—Tuesday, January 2, 2007

January 4, 2007 11:22 – 11:22

Casa de Loma—Tuesday, January 2, 2007
Yesterday, because of a70% chance of rain in the rainforest, we decided to postpone going to El Yunque (the Caribbean National Forest) until today. Instead, I outlined a number of places to go to the south and west of Las Piedras. So, at about 11, we loaded up and headed to the southeast coast of Puerto Rico.

Lunch

At about 12:30, we spotted this cute little restaurant by the sea. It’s shown below.

Just kidding. With food as good as theirs, their dumpster probably doesn’t get used all that much. Restaurante Musafa turned out to be quite good.

For starters, we had pastelillos. Karen & I had conch, while Katie had lobster (they were out of crab, which was her first choice). For entrees, Katie had the red snapper in tomato sauce, while Karen & I had the shrimp in butter and garlic sauce, respectively. It was all quite good. Katie also had a piña colada, or rather, part of one. The drinking age here is 18. The first few sips were good, but once it defrosted a bit, it lost its charm.

The view from the restaurant wasn’t awful, either.

 

After lunch, we strolled along the restaurant’s parking lot. Its views weren’t too shabby, either.

Lighthouse: Faro de Punto Figura

After lunch, we continued driving down the coast to Arroyo. There was supposed to be a historic lighthouse there. We found it, but it was closed. A lot of stuff, it turns out, was closed for New Year’s Day. More stuff will be closed later this week in celebration of Three Kings Day. Along the way, we past several brush fires. With so much rain here, it’s hard to imagine how a brush fire could burn. But, the area on the south east coast of Puerto Rico is a relatively dry area that doesn’t get all that much rain, courtesy of the rainforest to the north. As you can see in the pictures, the sky was mostly clear, blue, and beautiful.

There’s also a vacation beach area with a boardwalk that provides access to a bunch of beachside cottages. I would not want to be staying there during a hurricane.

Since that area didn’t seem to provide beach access, we decided to drive a little ways back up the road. We took off our shoes and waded a bit in the Caribbean. Oddly, there wasn’t anyone swimming, even though it was in the mid 80s, the water was warm (70s), and it was a holiday. The only other inhabitants on the beach were a few stray cars that happened in, and several resident dogs. Puerto Rico has thousands and thousands of homeless dogs that wander the island. They don’t seem to be aggressive, although they do tend to put one off. On the beach, I picked up a large stick just to be sure, and the dogs backed off.

Northwest to Coamo

After strolling on the beach and wading for a while, we got back into the car and started our drive towards Coamo, to see the thermal baths and an old church. To the south of Coamo, we found the hot springs. There’s a parador complete with thermal baths. No pictures, I’m afraid. But, the thermal baths—which are among the oldest in the Americas—were still in operation. On the grounds of the parador, they’ve replaced the ancient bath structures with a modern pool. Pipes carry the hot sulfur water from a hill down into the pool. Just outside the parador grounds, however, the ancient structures still stand and are still in use. A number of locals were there enjoying them.

We got back into the car and headed up to Coamo proper. In search of the church, we followed signs and flags to the top of this huge peak that overlooks Coamo. There, we found something called Mirador el Cerro (Lookout Hill). There were lots of people and some kind of monument up there, but we never found out what it was.

Back down in the town, we tracked towards the central plaza, and finally found the Iglesia Católica de San Blas. Built in 1542, it doesn’t look too bad for being over 460 years old, eh? I would imagine that it’s had a few coats of paint and renovations/expansions over the centuries.

 

Since the next mass was about an hour and a half away, we opted not to stay. It might have been an interesting cultural experience. In the plaza surrounding the church were some interesting sculptures.

I didn’t quite see the point, but they were interesting nonetheless. Across the street from the plaza, just ouside a bar, a band had set up. They were loud, but good. This old drunk dude seemed to have attached himself to them. We couldn’t be sure if he was part of the act, or if he was parasitically attempting to collect spare change from passerbys. He was quite the dancer.

No English

Meanwhile, another drunk, whom I could easily have mistaken for half of Cheech and Chong, approached us, speaking bad English through badly broken teeth. To his surprise, I said “No English” and we walked away. This confused him. About 10 minutes later, he approached again asking “What language? Qué lengua?” I replied “Russian, y un poco de español,” with a heavy Russian accent. This confused him even more.

He stepped back and said in English “I don’t speak Russian,” and something else in English, to which I again asserted “No English.” This confused him again. He’s used to English being the solution to people not speaking Spanish—which I did. He never seemed to absorb the fact that he could have spoken Spanish to us. His breath was sufficiently toxic, however, that we retreated to the car and drove around the plaza out of sight to regroup and to decide where to go.

Winding twisty road

Since it was rapidly approaching 6 pm, we abandoned the idea of trying to find the volcanic gorge near Barranquitas. Maybe we can try again in a few days. We opted instead to head back towards Las Piedras, as well as to try to find some dinner. Keeping our eyes open, we espied a large shopping center that seemed to have a few stores open. After surveying the offerings, we opted in favor of Ponderosa, thinking its buffet would have a sufficient range of food. The buffet turned out to be a salad bar, but it was still sufficient for our needs. The steaks were okay, but not wonderful (after all, Puerto Rico is known for seafood, not beef, and it was Ponderosa, and not a native establishment). After dinner, I set a course for Casa de Loma, and here we are.

Karen’s alarm sounded a few minutes ago. We want to get a relatively early start, so I’m going to go make breakfast. Hopefully, I’ll have some El Yunque pictures and stories later today and tonight.

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