We were so excited to visit Puerto Rico and see how the country was recovering after the horrible storms. Lee had worked early in his career in the city of Ponce and we were able to drive over from Old San Juan and spend the night by the town square. Our first 3 days were in San Juan as Lee attended the Lambda Alpha International (LAI) spring conference.
I encourage you to visit Puerto Rico. They need our tourism and everyone was so welcoming. We spent the first night in Old San Juan. We discovered a magical coffee shop the first morning. You can read this great New York Times article about La Bombonera.
We then stayed at the San Juan Marriott Resort which is located right on the beach. The hotel had done renovations since the storms and our room had a beautiful view and balcony.
One of the many highlights was the tour with the LAI group to the eastern end of the island passing El Yunque National Forest, North America’s only tropical rainforest. We then toured the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve in Fajardo and walked the boardwalk through mangroves to the bioluminescent Laguna Grande ending with a tour of the restoration work underway at the lighthouse.
We drove to Ponce the next day and stopped for some incredible roast pig in Guavate. It is actually 4 roads crossing each other and a few open air restaurants with big pigs roasting that you can watch. I had no idea what the different dishes were so we got a sampling of everything. SO GOOD.
Feeling ever so fabulous with full stomachs we continued on to Ponce. Known as the “Pearl of the South,” the Ciudad Señorial of Ponce is located on Puerto Rico’s south coast, and is distinguished by its historical and cultural attractions. It is the second-largest city on the island (after San Juan) and it’s also known as the “Museum City” due to its abundance of museums. Since we had limited time we stayed at Hotel Melia on the square. The square was brimming with energy and artists. Everyone in Ponce is an artist. Well, not everyone but everyone tries to draw or paint is what I was told. They had models in different historical outfits placed around the square and you could pay a small fee for paper and pens or use your own. Artists had stalls selling their work. Other market stalls had everything from hand carved wood to hand made lace to cigars. We met this delightful artist who “doodles” and talked about his art and his time living in New York. He loves Basquiet and so do we. Delbert has an amazing instagram. I bought a small painting/drawing he displayed that he made in honor of the artist composer/pianist Juan Morel Compos, who the square was celebrating that evening.
Our last day was spent rushing back to the airport but we had time to stop in Old San Juan and visit a shop called olé. Lee wanted to purchase a Panama hat and we knew olé was the place to go. The owner and his staff were incredible. The assortment is overwhelming and you can spend a little or alot! After much conversation about fibers, fit, care, and trying on-Lee settled for a beautifully fine woven style and picked his ribbon. It was fascinating to watch them fit, steam, and mold to the perfect shape for his head. I love finding creative people who have spent their life living their passion. These historic shops and owners are what make “buying local” a great memory.
On the way to we passed a jewelry shop filled with different renditions of the local frog Coquí. This entrepreneurial gentleman has a trademark on his beautiful coquí designs and sells them in both gold and silver. After hearing the frogs I had to have a little charm on a leather necklace. The coquí has been a cultural symbol of Puerto Rican history for centuries, since the time of the native Taino inhabitants and its presence shown on many stone engravings to the present and all the places and objects you will find this symbol represented. It has become a national symbol and an icon for anything Puerto Rican. When Puerto Ricans want to express their nationality, they say: “Soy de aquí como el coquí” (I’m as Puerto Rican as a coquí).
Listen and you will know how they got their name.