Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Monday, July 5, 2010

Guánica, PR

The best beaches are the ones the pirates used to dock in.

Cruising down the southern highway of Puerto Rico you speed down a road flanked by empty green mountains and farmed valleys, as large vultures called Guaraguaos glide in slow circles overhead. Pass Yauco—a coffee town painted pink and orange against the mountain— and take exit 116 onto a narrow road that seems to go on forever. Walls of trees, cacti, and green brush create a tunnel around you until eventually you hit la Central de Guánica.

 The rusting skeleton of one of the most important sugar refineries in Puerto Rico. Its two chimneys stick out from amid the trees, surrounded by metal structures slowly being consumed by the green. A still lagoon spreads out behind it.

Coming to Guánica is like taking a half-step backwards in time, with one foot in the past and one in the present. Across the street from la Central, the cement plaza full of kiosks selling fried food and our version of kebabs—pinchos—is your first indication that you may in fact still be in Kansas. The town behind it seems at a crossroads in time. Fishermen and their wives wearing T-shirts and jeans hang out on balconies fanning themselves, while skinny dogs lay on the steps panting. Chickens and roosters hang out around the edge of the street. 

Further down the tunnel-like road is Ensenada— a community containing one of the better-known and more populated beaches of Guánica, Playa Santa. My grandmother always points out an abandoned one storey wooden house with an overgrown yard next to the church.
“That’s the house I was born in,” she always says as we drive into town and as we drive out.

The location of that house seems to have a gravitational pull on my family. Since I can remember my family has been visiting Playa Santa, even buying a small beach apartment to escape to when we can. For me, this is home base. Except for long weekends—when Puerto Ricans’ uncanny ability to find any piece of vacant beach and claim it kicks in— the beaches of Guánica are broad and bear of people. They have been since the pirate ships docked there hiding from the Spanish Armada amid the small curving coves lining the bottom of Puerto Rico. And that’s precisely its charm.

While there are some hotels around Playa Santa, none are worth it. If you’re going to stay in a hotel you might as well go to Parguera or Mayagüez since clearly you’re not committed to what this trip is about. You probably also want bars and a nightlife. But Guánica is the place to leave behind the commodities and excesses of present-day civilization. If you’re a real pirate, you plunder a house.

Its common to see For Rent signs around the houses and apartments in Playa Santa, and like the fresh, local seafood, they’re cheap and good. From Friday to Sunday, a two-bedroom house that fits 6 to 8 people, furnished and with air conditioning, a short walk from Playa Santa and Manglillo beach will run you $400 total. If you’re going for secluded beach, though, I wouldn’t recommend going to Playa Santa or Manglillo unless you go early in the morning or for the sunset. Any other time during the day the crowds will be a constant reminder that you may as well have stayed in San Juan where the pirates work for the government.
Leave Ensenada and get back on the 116 highway towards Yauco. Pass the exit for the Dry Forest—a must-visit if you’re big on hiking and deserts—and take the exit that says Caña Gorda. Up mountain on dangerously curving roads that snake around tight turns you face a distractingly beautiful view to one side and far too little space for another car on the other. Pass Caña Gorda, the touristy beach where parking will run you $3, and keep going until you hit an unlabeled beach by the side of the road. Park where you can. From the road your access point is a steep little rock climb onto the sand and if you’ve come this far you make the 20 minute walk to the far edge of the bay where the water is shallower and more transparent, the current less pronounced. Nothing but green mountains and a thicket of tall palm trees beyond the edge of the sand, the only signs of civilization the handful of local families who stay near the narrow entrance. But you will lose sight of them where you’re going.

When you turn the corner at the far tip of the bay you reach a beach that’s half-ocean and half-mangrove. Birds fly overhead and you may see a large green iguana swim into the trees. A fishing boat sets anchor a few miles from shore but aside from that the beach is yours. Set up camp, open a bottle of rum, and stay between eras for as long as you want here— despite the gaggle of teenagers that somehow followed you and are ruining your pirate hide-out.
When you’re done being a pirate—unless you fell asleep on the sand and woke up in the middle of the night, in which case getting back is going to be fun for you since they don’t really believe in lighting their roads around this area and the guaraguaos never sleep— you can go back to Playa Santa. You’ll be greeted by the blasting reguetón from the one bar. Have some mofongo relleno de jueyes at El Nuevo Badén, one of the few restaurants still open once the day visitors evacuate, and the next day you get to do this all over again. With over a dozen beaches to choose from, some accessible only by boat, down in Guánica you won’t run out of coves to hide in.

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