Ponce, PR

Ponce has a well-protected harbor, deep and densely packed with boats, right outside its marina. We anchored, instead, in ten feet of water in the larger bay outside, with all the swing room in the world and a little bit of swell to rock us to sleep. Without our primary windlass, we don’t have access to enough chain to have comfortable scope in the deeper harbor, and since we’re in a catamaran, a little bit of roll isn’t really a problem. So we docked the dinghy at a local fishermens’ collective, and after they assured us that the gate was never locked, we went in to explore the town.

Those pictures are really from a little later in the weekend – we first arrived in the daytime. The first stop was the art museum, which had a surprisingly good collection. Two of Jazz’s favorites, and one that we agreed on:

Jazz was particularly excited to see Flaming June in person.

And we thought this one was notable just for being so weird and creepy. I’m not usually a fan of religious art, but I can’t deny a saint standing on a bucket of cherub heads held up by more cherubs.

Having taken our fill of art, we took a walk into the old town. We found a nice empty park, and toured the old fire station, and enjoyed walking around looking at all the old architecture and the new murals.

The unifying theme for these photos? There’s virtually nobody else in them. We’re walking around the town on a Saturday afternoon, and there’s nobody in the beautiful park, and hardly anyone in the restaurants or other museums. The whole area managed to have a sort of half-abandoned look. The one street in the old town that had any traffic was a row of shops that seemed primarily to be selling wedding dresses.

As we walked through, a stranger stopped us on the street and told us that we were in the wrong place, and should really go to La Guancha – which is the pier directly next to the croweded anchorage. We’d planned on visiting eventually, but with that endorsement, we figured this was where we’d find the night life, and headed down for dinner. What we found was a beach-side boardwalk/carnival – so we had took a short walk, and then met up with our friends for dinner.

While it was festive, there was no dancing. We were informed (actually by a taxi driver) that all the places to dance had been closed, each due to someone having been murdered in the club. In one case, this was the owner. So, we were sad to miss the dancing, but maybe we dodged a bullet?

The next morning, we visited Museo Castillo Serrallés, which turned out to include entrance to a Japanese-style garden, as well as a hollow lookout-cross. The view from the cross was a little higher, but obstructed by dirty windows, so instead we include a picture from right below it. If you zoom in really far, there’s a little blurry spot on the left side of the bay, and that’s Villa! The tea garden was very obviously set up as a wedding venue, and in fact, there are several venues within the castillo itself. This is clearly a big part of their revenue stream, because the tour (no photos allowed) starts with a video advertising what a great wedding and party space they are.

It also turns out that the family that built the house did so with money they made from the Don Q distillery, which seems to be the most common rum here. So the tour also included an unexpected tasting! The tour guide noted that sugar cane wasn’t grown on the island much any more, because wages next door in the DR are so much lower that it’s cheaper to import your sugar. Privately, we wished they’d import the rum as well, because Brugal and Barcelo are clearly better at what they do, and doubly so accounting for the price point.

We caught a cab back into the old town for a late lunch, and were pleased and surprised to find excellent food and ambiance at a place called Mesa. And, of course, we had to keep up the tradition of Jazz taking a photo of me gnawing a bone.

One last notable stop before it was time to go: we dropped by a small tap house. Four(!) of eight taps were out of commission, but we still had a nice little flight, and they introduced us to a Puerto Rican concoction called coquito – a mix of coconut milk, rum, cinnamon, and in this case, stout chocolate beer. It tasted a bit like an alcoholic horchata eggnog. Very tasty.

And finally, I can’t close without mentioning that we saw some weird but somehow excellent murals.