Puerto Rico VI: Menos Museos a Ponce

Reading this week:

  • African Kaiser by Robert Gaudi (could have used a more enthusiastic editor)

Our fifth day in Puerto Rico found us waking up in Ponce. Visiting Ponce was quite an experience and not really at all what I had been expecting. We planned two full days in Ponce and the major reason for that is all the museums in the town. The guidebook we had in fact described Ponce as a museum town and that was very clearly true at some point.

The first place we went is the Ponce Art Museum, aka Museo de Arte de Ponce, ie MAP. We approached and were very quickly disappointed, finding it closed. I’m going to say this was not entirely our fault, as there was another confused dude wandering around trying to figure out if there was another door or something, and once we tried to figure out what the deal was the museum’s socials and website had wildly conflicting information. For example, the website said “The Museum is partially open.” I eventually found an article that explains a lot of the museum’s current woes, which are both a litany of natural disasters and more man-made ones. The forces that hit an institution such as MAP also seem to have barreled over the many other museums in the town. Ponce looks like it was once home to a wide variety of the local cultural institutions my super amazing girlfriend and I are big fans of, and man tell you what if I was the rich it is to places like this my money would go.

Despite all that we did manage to find some gems in Ponce. The brightest building there is of course the Parque de Bombas, which houses a small museum all about the Bomberos. I was delighted to discover that Teddy Roosevelt had visited at one point and had given them a trophy. Everyone likes trophies. Then we wandered on down the street and walked past the Museo de la Historia de Ponce, which we knew would be closed, but luckily a block beyond that is the Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña, which is fantastic.

I should clarify that in many ways the Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña is not fantastic. It took us a bit to find the door, first off (I led us the wrong way and my super amazing girlfriend eventually led us the right way), and also it was very hot and there were very few signs around to explain things. However, when we went we were the first people to have visited in days and therefore got a very personal tour from the very nice man working there that day. It was fantastic, as he showed us around and even went so far as to play some of the instruments for us. He was very clearly dedicated to the collection they had there and it was in fact pretty impressive, including a very old Rickenbacker electric guitar and on the wall a number of prints by Rafael Tufiño. I mentioned before the Puerto Rican museums’ dedication to contextualization, and here was no different. Alongside the numerous Puerto Rican instruments the museum put similar and ancestral instruments from different cultures around them as a way of explaining how Puerto Rican music developed, all explained in detail by our extremely gracious host. It was sad that we had to leave eventually but off we went.

Our host, peeking in from the right.

For our next stop, in what would be a trend as we visited Taino sites, we arrived shortly before closing at the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center. This was probably my super amazing girlfriend’s favorite part of the whole vacation. We were not in fact the only tourists here (I forgot to put this in somewhere, but also there were free-range horses in the parking lot) but nonetheless we got yet another excited and personal tour around the place. “The place” involved a small gallery of art we didn’t get to see, a museum, and the site itself. Calling Tibes a Taino site is actually a little wrong, as it is largely a pre-Taino site, as the museum aptly explains while it walks you through the cultural development of the island and the significance of the site. After the museum our new host walked us through the botanical garden standing between us and the site itself, and then off we were to the site. The main body of the site is a series of courts or fields outlined by stones. The courts were apparently home to a ball game and other ceremonies, as well as being an astronomical observatory. Our host showed us the various alignments and the different pictographs at the site, and it was great to walk around and try to get a feel for the pre-European history of the island for the first time on our trip.

Since like I said it was nearly closing anyways our visit wasn’t all that long and off we were for what would prove to be our most harrowing journey of the day. We had wanted of course to go to a lechonera but hadn’t found a convenient time until now, so we started driving back across the mountain range. This was all going smoothly until we got really close and it started to rain. This was the first of many windy mountainous roads we would travel over the next few days, and I was inexperienced and nervous in the rain. We kept trying to find ourselves a lechonera only to keep finding them closed, what with lechonering being mostly a lunch thing it turns out, and the starting and stopping and lack of dinner and the getting dark and the rain and the blind curves was stressing me out. Thankfully we finally found a lechonera that wasn’t closed and had what was the most delicious pork I had ever tasted. We ate more than I actually thought would have been possible between my super amazing girlfriend and I.

One final anecdote from here. I had been amazed during my few attempts to speak Spanish at how bad my pronunciation was, as evidenced by the utter confusion on the face of anybody I tried to talk to. I was wondering how bad I could really be, like when I tried to say “treinta” how did the nice lady at the gas station get “ochenta?” I had been discussing this very topic with my super amazing girlfriend as we travelled back over the mountains. Which brings us to the lechonera. My super amazing girlfriend pointed at something and the nice lady behind this counter said something that sounded like “thirty.” We were bewildered, because nothing in this situation had anything to do with 30. After an unedifying back and forth the poor lady got out her phone and went to Google translate and pointed at the English result, which was in fact “Turkey.” So I learned that day that no yeah I am really bad at Spanish. Thankfully, humbled and full of pork, we made our ways back to Ponce and settled safely back in for the night.

“Danza Negra” by Rafael Tufiño, 1968