Marina del Rey, Puerto Rico
Ponce is known as ‘The Pearl of The South’ in Puerto Rico. Its centre is crammed with grand and opulent public buildings in its own, unique ‘Ponce Creole’ architectural style, which is a tropical amalgam of Neoclassical and Art Nouveau, with a little Rococco flourish here and there.
On the main square, the cathedral is painted in mauve with white trim and fronted by a fountain attended by stone lions that apparently came from France. Next door is the Parque de Bombas – painted in red and black horizontal stripes – that houses the museum of Ponce, the tourist office, and a vintage fire truck in its foyer.
It’s charming and quirky and clean. And disturbingly empty of people.
Though apparently reluctant to admit it, Ponce has been in decline for around a century: since the US started manufacturing sugar from beet rather than cane, undermining the mainstay of the Ponce economy. Later, political decisions saw development focused on the north coast of Puerto Rico and the south was overlooked. And then the GFC hit. Ponce’s port – though looking almost new – lies dormant. Probably a billion dollars worth of cranes and equipment, utterly idle.
It’s eery and sad.
By contrast, Damian and I spent a day sightseeing in San Juan.
Old San Juan is crowded on cobblestone streets between massive fortress walls on a finger of land with El Morro – a fort/castle – at its tip.
Like Ponce, San Juan’s architecture is flamboyant and grand, painted in wildly vivid colours, one building brighter than the next. But unlike Ponce, San Juan appears to be thriving: it’s a hub for cruise ships, and throngs of white-socked Americans filled the quay-side restaurants and kept the many tourist shops, cafes and galleries busy.
Few of the cruise ship crowd ventured beyond a block or two from the waterfront. Deeper into the Old Town, restaurants were humming with Spanish-speaking locals. People walked briskly, the traffic jams consisted of BMWs and Jeep SUVs and everyone seemed busy.
The place was buzzing.
We had lunch at Barrachina, the restaurant that claims to be where the pina colada was invented. Of course, we had to try one… or two…
And then we spent the afternoon strolling the back streets, taking photos – probably more than I’ve taken in the whole trip so far!
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