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Puerto Rico, Day 6

Humacao Wildlife Refuge, Masks and Prints in Loiza,
Fort San Felipe del Morro, Ambrosia Restaurant in Old San Juan

This is the first day we manage to get in an early
start. We arrive at the Humacao Wildlife Refuge at 9 AM. Unfortunately, at 9 AM
it’s already hot, plus a large group of teenagers are having a school outing and
scare all wild life away. The beach is disappointing: besides a few rock crabs
just lots of garbage. Much more interesting is the forested area between the
ocean and the lagoon. As we approach one of the many bogs we discover thousands
of little crabs with a large and a small pincer. After a few minutes of
motionless waiting, logs and mud banks start to resemble ant hills — there are
moving legs, pincers, and stick eyes everywhere.

Next on our list of things to do is a
visit to Raul
Ayala
in Loiza,
a village east of San Juan. We decide to take the toll road to San Juan, then
drive east on 3, and north on 188. Big mistake! Not only is the traffic on 3
horrendous but it also rains so hard that within minutes some intersections get
so flooded that they become nearly impassable. Plus lots of older cars simply
stop working. It’s amazing that under these conditions traffic moves at all. We
also discover that being the first at a red traffic light means that if you are
not half across the intersection by the time the light switches to green,
everybody honks at you! This appears to us somehow in odd contrast to the
otherwise more laid-back Puerto Rican attitude towards time.

By the time we enter Loiza the weather
thankfully clears up, the traffic eases, and we manage to recover from survival
mode. Right away we notice that the population here consists more of African
descendants than in other areas of Puerto Rico we have seen so far. After a
little trial and error we find Raul’s place: a small store covered with
beautiful coconut masks. At first sight Raul looks like a silver back business
man with just the right amount of grey hair. But his eyes quickly give away that
he is living a very fun life. It turns out that his family is famous for
carrying on the tradition of

http://www.exitstudio.com/html/vejifeat.htm”>Vejigante
and Bomba
in Loiza.

It doesn’t take us very long
to acquire one of his masks. We pay cash and he immediately gives it to an older
lady who has been watching us from the porch at a nearby house. Zulah’s remark
about getting the money to the boss draws big smiles from all of us. He tells us
about the St
James festival
which happens on July 25th through 28th every year. We
also notice a very nice poster in his store which turns out to be a print by
Samuel
Lind
who lives just across the street. His studio contains sculptures,
oil paintings, and prints of St James festival posters from various years. We
end up buying two of his posters. At some point during our studio tour a young
woman shows up. We never get introduced to her but Samuel somehow seems to get
increasingly antsy. We get the feeling it is maybe time to leave and end up
buying two posters. We have all kinds of theories: are we delaying an
appointment for a nude painting session, or an affair that needed immediate,
ah…, attention? Or are we completely off the mark? We are about to drive away
when we suddenly realize that Samuel didn’t sign the second poster. We storm
back half expecting drawn curtains and no answer. But not so — Samuel even
signs the poster as an artist’s pattern. Thanks,
Samuel!

We leave Loiza with the feeling
that this is a place we need to return to and explore more. The next stop is
Fort San Felipe del
Morro
in Old San
Juan
. This time we take 187 along the coast: what a difference! It’s a
very scenic drive with almost no traffic! During weekends this route might be
packed, however.

The Fort turns out to
be surprisingly beautiful and interesting. It is the fort where Sir Francis
Drake lost against Spain a battle that turned out to prevent the English from
ever invading the Caribbean sea. One of the most effective defenses were canons
positioned close to water level so that the canon balls would bounce along the
water resulting in a further reach. The canon balls were also brought to a red
glow before shot so that their impact lit everything on fire. At one point a
huge cruise ship passes by which for me oddly illustrates the devastating effect
these 8 and 16 pound canons must have
had.

We decide to leave as a
threatening rain front is moving in — but not before shooting lots of photos of
the fantastic rainbow arcing over the fort. We find shelter at the Ambrosio Restaurant in downtown Old
San Juan which is run by an expat from Sacramento. He prepares a kick-ass double
espresso, and a very good steak Mofongo spiced with an
aromatic hot sauce from New
Orleans.

Time for me to go to bed.
Tomorrow we will leave for Culebra and not return until Friday night. We won’t
take the lap top with us so that means no new blog entry until Saturday morning.
But if Zulah’s underwater camera setup works, I should be able to post some nice
snorkeling
pictures.

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