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Our "primary highways" series continues with a virtual visit to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  We start in San Juan and then branch out to the El Yunque National Forest, see the Arecibo Observatory, and head down the center of the island to the southern coast.

As with previous installments, I only cover a few things.  So ideas from readers are always welcome in the comments.  And thanks as always for the great support.

[Also published on catsynth.com with cute highway shields.]

[Also published on catsynth.com]

This installment in our "Primary Highways" series takes us to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico is not a state, but it is part of the United States.  Dealing with that concept is beyond the scope of this article.  Instead, we choose to visit like we would any state in the U.S.

We begin in the capital, San Juan.  Specifically, in the old city of San Juan, which was started on a small island just off the main island of the territory. The narrow alleys and colorful buildings are a common feature of colonial cities in the Caribbean, and indeed these images remind me a bit of Havana.

The narrow streets and buildings seem ideal for walking around and observing architectural details.  And with the small size of district, the bay and ocean are part of its visuals.  Just to the north of the old city, facing the ocean, is Fort San Felipe del Morro.

[By Mtmdfan at en.wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

At the eastern edge of Old San Juan, two of the streets merge for the start of PR 25, the Avenida Juan Ponce de Leon, which continues east past the Capitol building of Puerto Rico. PR 25 and PR 1 leave the island of San Juan via a pair of causeways to the main island, where PR 1 becomes a major freeway.  As it curves around the central city, we observe a very different kind of architecture.  The modernist curving Puerto Rico Convention Center has won numerous awards.


[Photo by chente922 on flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

We exit the city east on PR 26, which becomes PR 66 in the city of Carolina.  And after the freeway ends we continue on PR 3.  Eventually we turn south onto PR 191, which is the goal of this side trip from San Juan.   This small highway winds its way upward into the El Yunque Rainforest.  It is the only true tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest System


[By AjaxSmack (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons]

While I have been more drawn to the desert over the years, the textures, lush colors and imagined warm humid climate pique my interest.  El Yunque has unusual vegetation even for a tropical forest (including the unique "dwarf forest"), waterfalls, and the ever popular frogs known as the coqu­í.


[By United States Department of Agriculture (en.wiki) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]


[Photo by Jmoliver. (CC BY-SA 3.0)]

One the sides of one of the peaks is Yokahu Tower.


[Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on flickr.  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)]

The shape gives it an appearance of an old castle (or perhaps a chess piece), and cracked paint set against the tropical vegetation adds an air curiosity.  But it's main function is as an observation tower, providing spectacular views of the hills and forest.

Returning to San Juan, we can head west on PR 2 along the coast to Arecibo, home of the Arecibo Observatory.

The observatory conducts radio astronomy and has attracted attention for its use int he SETI@Home project for crowd sourcing of potential intelligent signals from space.  It has also been involved in many scientific discoveries related to our Solar System, and two exotic astronomical objects like pulsars and neutron stars.  It has struggled with funding in recent years (sadly, certain groups target both public funding and all things scientific at the same time), but it is still operating.

Back in San Juan, we head southward through the center of the island on PR 52.  This is a busy toll expressway, but outside the cities it stretches across hilly countryside in the interior of the island.  As we approach the southern coast, we can stop at one of Puerto Rico's few highway rest stops and see both human-made and natural landmarks, the Monumento al Jíbaro Puertorriqueño and Las Tetas De Cayey.


[By Roca Ruiz (http://www.flickr.com/...) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

PR 52 ends in the city of Ponce on the southern coast.   The city is known on the island as a major center for the arts, and is home to many museums including Museo de Arte de Ponce.


[By Oquendo on Flickr (appears to be Jose Oquendo here.) (Flickr.) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The building itself is a work of art, built in the 1960s and designed by architect Edward Durell Stone.  Their primary collection is traditional European Art - something that sounds at first description a bit jarring for the building.  But their signature piece is more modern, the 25-foot Pinceladas al vuelo (Brushstrokes in Flight) by Roy Lichtenstein.

With on in mind, we continue west from Ponce on PR 2 - this is the same PR 2 we encountered in San Juan, as it traces the coast on the western half of the island - and stop at the ruins of the CORCO refinery.


[Photo by cavenaghi9 on Flickr. (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Like so many other places in this series, this seems like a great place to do some photography work.  The pipes and columns are rusting and peeling, but they still stand there.  I don't know whether it is quiet - there is still some industrial activity in the area - but it is what I imagine.

It's a no-brainer that a tropical island like Puerto Rico would have great beaches.  But the southwest corner of the island apparently has some of the most scenic and less populated beaches - which is what I would prefer if I was there.  We exit PR 2 onto PR 116 past the town of Guánica, where we come to Las Paldas and La Jungla beaches.  We conclude with this video of quiet beaches on Guánica Bay.

Originally posted to catsynth on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 01:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by LatinoKos, DKOMA, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  My first visit last August.. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    catsynth, whaddaya, Russgirl

    covered some of your views.
    We stayed in San Juan but visited both the Rio Pedras campus and the Mayaguez campus of U. Puerto Rico - twice each. We did a quick night time tour of old San Juan, then the Convention Center (because our host was the organizer of the IUPAC International Year of Chemistry convention there earlier), then through PR 52 and Cayey (his town of birth) - seeing "The Tits" on the way back - to Mayaguez, seeing the ruins of the refinery on the way.
    The last day we went to El Yunque National rainforest, but because of heavy rains, abandoned the idea of driving to the peak and came away from the main visitor center.

    Your diary reminded me of that trip!

    The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past - Milan Kundera

    by Suvro on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 02:02:01 PM PDT

  •  Spelling (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Denise Oliver Velez, whaddaya

    Por favor, it's
    Arecibo, not Arecebo,
    Rio Piedras, not Rio Pedras
    Guanica, not Guainica.

    mil gracias.

  •  Rio Piedras (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whaddaya

    Rio Piedras is a suburb of San Juan, analogous to Queens and New York. It translates literally as "river rocks".

    http://maps.google.com/...

  •  some experience with PR roads (3+ / 0-)

    I lived on the island for a year as a kid, and my dad had a place in the mountains near Adjuntas. I visited often until he died in '06, but haven't been back, sad to say, since 2009.
    Driving the roads in Puerto Rico is an amazing experience in so many ways. PR 52 is a divided highway, with seemingly random toll plazas and all manner of vehicles in all imaginable states of repair. It also scales and then descends a long, steep mountain pass. This is where you see the emergency ramps, and ample evidence of their use.
    From Ponce, there are two ways to Adjuntas, located a mere 15 miles northeast into the Cordillera Central. Rt 10, a new highway blasted through dramatic hillsides, climbing to about 2000ft in twenty minutes, or PR 123, which will take about two hours.
    This is where you find the kind of driving you rarely see in the states. 123 rises out of the hillside suburbs of Ponce and follows a riverbed into the mountains. This landscape has never seen glaciers, so it is far steeper than mountains rounded by the erosion of ice. it is carved by tropical downpours; another fun factor in driving roads like 123. Parts of it are missing at any given time. Sometimes there are Jersey barriers marking the place where the pavement suddenly went down the ravine, sometimes not. One constant is hairpin turns. Hundreds of them, linked obscenely close together. This does not preclude passing by the locals.

    **Not recommended for those prone to carsickness**

    The old CORCO refinery is dead as a doornail; has been for decades. It was operating back in '73, but I don't remember ever seeing it run after that. The surrounding landscape too is stark, made up of fossilized coral hillsides and scrub.  
    The Guanica beaches are some of my favorite on the island, especially the unnamed ones that require some hiking or a Jeep. It is a mini desert in the SW corner of the island; lots of cacti, big ol' iguanas, and very little rain.

    This is one of the last areas to be "discovered" since the west coast became the "gold coast" of PR. La Parguera to the west of Guanica has been a niche hot spot for decades, but Guanica has been passed over by most tourists.

    Class war has consequences, and we are living them.

    by kamarvt on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 03:49:06 PM PDT

    •  Sounds like Appalachia the way you describe it (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      whaddaya, mahakali overdrive

      though admittedly it's probably even worse. I distinctly remember visiting family friends in southwestern Virginia, but those mountains, unglaciated though they may be, are worn simply by age. We started a seven-hour drive there at about 4PM, crossing a time zone, so by the time we got off the Interstate it was dark and Google Maps put us on gravel roads. There weren't any landslides, but getting lost was a serious risk due to poor signage (turning road signs 90 degrees is a tradition in the rural South). I can only imagine that drive with steeper mountains and worse roads.

      Male, 21, -4.75/-6.92, born and raised TN-05, now WI-02, unapologetic supporter of Obama and Occupy. Tammy Baldwin for Senate and Recall Walker!

      by fearlessfred14 on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 08:01:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Have to try 123 (0+ / 0-)

      On my first visit last August, it seemed a bit like Hawaii, but cheaper. The Marriott at Isla Verde where we stayed had a beautiful beach just outside the restaurant - reminded me of our Hawaii vacations - except it was far less crowded (perhaps the effect of Hurricane Irene which had just passed by). The mountains in the middle reminded me of some of the volcanic mountains of Hawaii. The El Yunque rainforest was again reminiscent of some of the Big Island's gardens in Hilo.

      The food was marvelous - we ate at La Casita Blanca the day we arrived - it is a small hole-in-the-wall place that gets good reviews. We went to Cafe Puerto Rico for dinner in old San Juan. Another dinner in the small coastal town of Joyuda on the southwest coast famous for fresh locally caught seafood - the restaurant was El Bohio - built on a pier  from which we could watch large fish swimming below us.

      On our next trip we would like to hike up to El Toro and also go to the bay where you see the fluorescent plankton in the night.

      The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past - Milan Kundera

      by Suvro on Mon Mar 19, 2012 at 03:20:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  A couple of points re monuments (3+ / 0-)

    The monument is to the "jibaro" not to the "Jíbaro" .  It means peasant or worker.

    And in case your readers didn't get it, the "Tetas De Cayey" is a shall we say "colloquial" way of saying the "breasts" of Cayey, which you may note they resemble.

    I once drove around there with a friend's elderly mother who had grown up in a jibaro environment who told use harrowing stories of working for something like 25 cents a day.

  •  A professor of mine (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whaddaya, mahakali overdrive

    Margaret Stewart, investigated the daily migratory habits of the coqui frogs.

    http://www.albany.edu/...

    It's about time I changed my signature.

    by Khun David on Sat Mar 17, 2012 at 07:34:46 PM PDT

  •  Spent a summer at the observatory in 1973 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whaddaya

    I was lucky enough to be in a National Science Foundation summer program between Jr and Sr years in college.  It was an incredible experience - there were 10 of us, mostly astronomers, a math guy, and I was one of the 2 electrical engineers.   We had lectures from some pretty amazing people - Carl Sagan among others.    It's still my most memorable summer.
    Back then the roads out to the observatory were single-lane.   My first ride was a bit unnerving, as the guy driving would honk the horn before each curve.   Standard practice, as it turned out.   The observatory had 3 VWs for use by visitors and students.   We crashed all of them over the course of the summer.  (just fender benders).
    Puerto Rico is a marvelous, beautiful place.  
    Not properly funding such a unique, valuable facility ranks way up there on the stupidity scale.

  •  PR is not part of the US (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    whaddaya

    it is ''associated'' with the US but it is not a part, to become a part it needs to become 1. a state or 2. incorporated territory. Puerto Rico is none of the above, it is self governing associated with the US under a status called estado libre asociado since 1952.

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