Early on Sunday morning we headed south from San Juan, two Swedes (B and I), a Spaniard (O) and French (C), to discover what the west coast has to offer. Taking the same route as when going to Ponce, across the central mountains but this time passing the pearl of the south (Ponce), and continuing along the coast westwards.
B served as our guide as she used to live in this area before she moved to San Juan. We arrived to Cabo Rojo, a name which quite confusingly refers to both el pueblo (the village) and the area around el faro (the lighthouse) – approximately 16 km (10 miles) apart. In el pueblo we stocked up with some bread, cheese (the “fake” cheese that is individually packed – perfect for a spontaneous pic-nic without knives / cheese cutters) and ham, water and some calorie-laden pastries in a Sunday-open bakery.
Heading out to el faro we drove through landscapes that reminded us of Europe – it could have been Sweden, Spain or why not France! Well, a few cacti (cactus in plural) reminded us that we were actually not in the old home continent… The coastal plain is much drier than humid San Juan in the north, and the road soon turned into a narrow, dirt road passing the Corozo Salt flats. Salt has been extracted here since AD 700 (hm, didn’t Columbus “discover” this part of the world 😉 ) and you can still see hills of salts waiting to be shipped across the island.
NB. Playa Santa is located in the centre of the photo.
Once arrived in Punta Jagüey, the south-west tip of Puerto Rico, we got out to walk up to the lighthouse. For a Swede like myself the limestone cliffs and dry, arid landscape reminded me of Gotland (island in the Baltic, that I visited in 1987 on a school trip!), and French C thought of les falaises de Normandie (the cliffs of Normandie, which we visited together in May 2007). It was quite hot as the sun was reaching mid-day and there was no shade to be found, only small bushes and dry grass.
El faro is quite recent, built in 1881 and is newly renovated. Inside there was a simple but fascinating art installation – chairs hanging on the walls, the book Odisea / Odyssey by Homer in Spanish and English, placed in strategic places across the rooms. When walking a bit closer, you could actually see that the walls were covered with pages from the book, with different paragraphs underlined. We were told that the artist(s) had discovered plenty of similarities between the story of Odyssey and the lighthouse, and this was the inspiration for the art work. Very interesting, I haven’t read the book so I can’t tell if it was a correct interpretation of the classic story.
After a walk along the limestone cliffs, and watching a guy dive into the clear blue water from a boat to snorkel, we decided that it was time to hit the water as well! Just below the lighthouse there is a beautiful, secluded beach called Playa Santa. The so-called cheese and ham were still fresh and we had a pic-nic lunch infront of the bay.
After a few hours on this tranquil beach, the journey continued north and we made another stop at Boquerón for another beach, Balneario Boquerón – not as secluded as the one we had just left, but to O’s joy full of coconuts (he picked some to bring home). The early morning took its toll and we all had a nap on the beach before heading back home via Cabo Rojo el pueblo. The Lonely Planet states that the village “holds little attraction for the traveller”, however we found that the main square with its imposing church (very recent, think from 1947!) and pastel-coloured buildings reminded us of Ponce! It is well worth a little detour to have an ice cream in the square while admiring the beautiful houses (one house looks like a pink cake!).
On our way back across the mountains we passed hundreds (?) of cars with horse trailers – there must have been a horse fair somewhere!
All in all, a very nice excursion and despite the dark skies on the photo above, it didn’t rain on us.