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Puerto Rico, Day 9

Ponce

This morning I’m tired again. But this time it is
because I worked on the Culebra blog entries until almost 4 AM. Nevertheless, at
10 AM Bonnie is driving us to Ponce. Just before we leave, a huge rain storm
hits the swimming pool in front of Bonnie’s appartment complex making children
scream and running for cover. These tropical rains are really amazing. The drive
to Ponce is gloomy but also beautiful as we pass the Sierra de Luquillo and
Sierra de Cayey with their rugged, jungle-covered mountains poking into dramatic
cloud formations. My first impression of Ponce is that it is a lot less touristy
than San Juan — and also a little more run-down. On the other hand, there are
very beautiful buildings and we see a lot of on-going restoration work. The
pretty square with its beautiful black and red striped fire house is
unfortunately dominated by Burger King, Church’s Chicken (directly across the
beautiful cathedral), and Taco Maker. I think it is a very unfortunate decision
by the city to let these businesses dominate the center of Ponce.

Bonnie finds someone who gives us
direction to a restaurant called “Don Juan”. Even though it is supposedly on the
expensive side, we go for it since the alternative would be to eat fast food. At
the restaurant I peek around the corner and see the sign “Cesar’s” and remember
reading something about it in the Lonely Planet. And indeed, it is “Cesar’s
Comida Criolla”. I convince the others to check this place before going to Don
Juan. Cesar’s is very much a hole in the wall and the handwritten menu on the
white board is almost unintelligible, especially since we know very few Puerto
Rican dishes. Bonnie finally points to a big heap of what looks like a pork
roast and orders it with the help of a little sign language. Her plate arrives a
minute later and looks so good that the rest of us orders the same.

Not only serves the place a gigantic
plate of extremely tasty pork roast with rice, beans, and steamed plantains but
we also meet a theology/philosophy/humanistic professor of the local university
who ends up introducing us to really good local artists during the rest of the
afternoon!!! His name is Jose Ramon. It all starts while he is waiting for his
food: he musters us and remarks in English “So you are in the know”
complimenting us for our choice of place to eat. During a few introductions it
turns out that he also speaks excellent German which he learned while working on
his dissertation in Tuebingen. Then Bonnie asks him about local artists and he
immediately starts working his cell phone. After lunch (and a kick-ass cafe con
leche on the house!) he is driving us in his SUV to a gallery which exhibits the
paintings of Wichie
Torres
. The paintings and prints are very beautiful but also very
expensive (our favorite two paintings cost $900 and $6500 — can’t afford that).
Wichie has already lived through two heart transplants. These had a dramatic
effect on his style so we quickly learned how to identify paintings from before
the first transplant, between transplants, and after the second
transplant.

Then Jose is driving us to
Miguel Conesa
Osuna
‘s studio. He is not prepared at all for our visit, of course,
but shows us very interesting work. He is experimenting with all kinds of
materials and I like his two-sided paintings the best. My favorite is the
“Creation of The Mask” and “The
Oracle”.

Then it is time to say Good
Bye to Miguel and Jose. What an amazing gift to meet these people!!! We hope to
see them again soon.

We try to go to
the history or the music museum but they are already closed at 4:30 PM. So we
decide to drive back a slow but scenic route along the coast. The Sierra de
Cayey reaches almost the water so that the coastal drive is very mountainous
with fantastic views. There are restaurants and bars with million dollar vistas
everywhere. Another area that deserves more
exploration.

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