Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Ponce - Quite a Gem

I neglected to mention in my last post that we met up with another couple anchored at Ponce and got to know each other a little bit over sundowners in Mowzer on Monday night. The decision was made, we were going to explore Ponce together and make it double the fun.

Laura and Jason hail from Florida and have been sailing their Panda 38 around The Bahamas and up the coast of the U.S. but like us are now venturing into new cruising grounds. I can't believe that although we spent the day together I didn't get a picture of us all. In fact I didn't take my big camera with me and only had my iPhone for the day so this was taken this morning as we were all pulling up and heading in opposite directions.

This one's for Caitlin who once told me there were two types of cats: cave dwellers and tree dwellers. Guess which one greeted us as we waited for our taxi outside the yacht club!
Ponce is a city of just a bit more than 160,000 people, set back from the water a couple of miles. The downtown core consists of a large square with a park surrounding the old firehouse and the cathedral. A number of other beautiful old buildings face the square such as the city hall, a couple of banks, hotels and restaurants. The style is Spanish Colonial and much of it was built in the 1800s although the city dates back to the 1600s. There is an air of the city attempting to replicate an old European capital and is amazingly well appointed for its size and situation. The old firehouse, now a museum, is distinctly unique and celebrates the heroic firemen who helped save the city from destruction by a fire in 1899, and later we saw that the firemen were even housed in buildings to match the fire station, even though in a separate part of of town.
Apparently the most photographed place in Puerto Rico. Guess this adds one to the count.
Lots of artifacts in the museum hark back to Europe.
The heroic fireman. I liked the careful attention of the artist to ensure the multiracial mix of the group.
Incongruously the typical carnival costume of Puerto Rico fits right in with the fire house style.
The lion is a symbol of Ponce as it was named in commemoration of the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon.
Local artists, many of them students at the local university painted the plastic lion statues. Reminded me of the tulips in Ottawa.
Local artists, many of them students at the local university painted the plastic lion statues. Reminded me of the tulips in Ottawa.
Some of the buildings around the main square.
The Library of Culture.
The city hall, still with Christmas decorations installed.
One of the banks.
The Fountain if Lions in the park, with the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadalupe in the background.
The cathedral exterior...
... And interior.
We found a pedestrian mall three blocks long and busy with open shops and vendor stalls.
With all this wandering around the streets we were definitely ready for lunch. A cafe in one of the hotels on the square served up a delicious meal with a more upscale twist on a local favourite: mofundo. This dish is mashed plantain shaped in a bowl and then filled with whatever the cook chooses such as pulled pork or the delicious grouper as Henry and I selected.
Following lunch we all piled onto the local trolley tour which took us around a bit further than we cared to walk all for the price of $2 each. In fact all of the prices were incredibly cheap, especially after high tourist pricing in the islands.
More lions! This one in the bridge over the river.
More of a floodway than a river - this fills when it rains up in the hills.
Further from the city center and still Spanish colonial, but with less ornamentation.
As we drove around in the bus we really felt like tourists, but all the way local people would happily wave at us, including this group of schoolboys. I'm not sure if they were all friends of our driver or if they were thinking, "That's right, come and spend your $$ here." or perhaps they were just happy to share their pride in their city.
On cue, the market building where our driver stopped to let us look around one of the little alleys.
And finally, the famed fire fighters' houses. Apparently they are now in demand as historical homes although they looked pretty rough.
And there ended our tour of Ponce which we celebrated with an ice cream in the park. We headed off to the Pueblo to do a big provisioning since we were low in food, and Laura & Jason headed back to the marina.

To give an idea of cost, our buggy full of groceries that included beer, some soft drinks, meat and a variety of fresh and dry goods cost just under $300. The equivalent buggy in St. Thomas would have been in the range of $500. Fuel is currently about 48 cents a litre for gasoline (yes PR uses litres) but amazingly it is very difficult to buy liquor here - very few shops have it and it is locked up. Interesting since there are a number of rum producers on the island but the approach is completely different from the other islands.

Laura & Jason very kindly helped us back to the boat with some of our groceries in their dinghy, so we couldn't finish off the evening with just a goodbye. Back to their boat for an evening of tales and good company. We will definitely connect again in the islands.

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