|Day 4: Dorado to Lares to Arecibo
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
In the morning, we head to Dorado to check out the place we'll be spending New Year's Eve. It's an empty villa in a gated community about 45 minutes from San Juan that Cheo finagled for us from a friend of a friend. It's almost offensively opulent. As imyril's boyfriend remarks, it's the kind of place you could imagine a drug kingpin hiding out at. The kind of place that employs most of the surrounding community as guards, groundskeepers and servants. The kind of place that requires a signed form stating the full names of all the guests, the length of their visits, and an ID check before you can enter.
Temptation, in the form of the enormous kitchen and the private strip of beach, overwhelms our scruples.
Me on Dorado beach eating a lollipop
We have other important missions to attend to today, however. Like going to Lares, a city near the center of the island, for ice cream. Lares is a historically significant site for the independentistas (those who believe that Puerto Rico should be a country). The pro-independence rebels at the time of the uprising that took place in Lares in 1868 weren't rebelling against US control, however. El Grito de Lares (the Cry of Lares) was about winning independence from Spain. Although the Spanish promptly quashed the movement, it left its mark on the town. Much like the Fountain Estate and the Bogside in Derry, Ireland, the power lines and the telephone poles are painted the colors of the revolutionary flag. The painting extends far beyond the borders of the town. Lares is one of the few towns where the representatives of the small but influential nationalist party regularly wins seats in the local government.
|Ramón Betances, revolutionary||Home of the weird ice cream|
This probably still seems like an awfully long way to go just to eat some ice cream and look at a couple of monuments. The attraction of the heladeria (ice cream parlor) is its strange and savory flavors. We try ginger, garlic (ajo), pumpkin, corn (maiz), sweet sop (guanabana), rice pudding (arroz con dulce) and cinnamon caramel. (Actually, I'm the only one who tries the garlic. My facial contortions are enough to convince everyone else to avoid it.) Bean (habichuelas) and avocado (aguacate) are also on offer, but we're only allowed two tastes per person. Ginger, guanabana and rice pudding are big hits, with more than one of us opting to have scoops of those flavors.
We leave Lares and its lazily perambulating policemen and chickens and attempt to go to the Camuy Caves in the El Yunque Rain forest. A portly guard stops us. He says that the caves are only open from 8 am to 10 am during the holiday season because so many people visit. Only a certain number can pass safely through the caves at a time. As it's well into the afternoon, we simply head for our next destination, Arecibo Observatory. It's a vast, alien structure, gigantic hunks of white concrete and steel rising from an ocean of jungle greenery. We flit distractedly through the displays in the Visitor Center, which are mostly geared towards children and many of which are broken. (Me: "Give me a Phillips screwdriver and a voltmeter! I'll fix this oscilloscope." Everyone else: "Stop scrabbling at the glass, please.") Instead we spend most of our time outside, gawping at the giant dish.
Arecibo Observatory: Gizmos and Whatnot.
When we've had our fill, we return to Condado to wash up and meet Cheo to have dinner at a Lebanese restaurant, Jerusalem. We eat obscene amounts of delicious lamb ("But Liiiisa, I thought you loooved me."), drink two bottles of Shiraz, a pot of mint tea and copious draughts of water. The belly dancers providing the evening's entertainment quickly discover that they have not one, but three shameless and willing participants at our table. Cheo, Marco and I get up and dance with them twice, to the amusement of everyone in the restaurant except perhaps imyril and her boyfriend, whom I wouldn't blame if they'd slunk under the table.
Me wearing a belly dancer's scarf on my head.
We pile into the car, exhausted. However, Cheo wants to show Marco a bit of the island that had changed a great deal since our last visit, so we drive around a bit. imyril falls asleep. Perched uncomfortably on the middle of the back seat without a seatbelt, I play drums on Marco and Cheo's heads and shoulders to keep the grump at bay. Finally, we coax Cheo into dropping us off at the flat so we can stumble to bed.
Bouganvillea. Cos it's pretty.
(Full gallery: 3 more pictures.)