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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Back To The Beaches Of Before
By Natalia de Cuba Romero
May 2, 2003
Theres nothing like a visit from a friend to shake you out of your lethargy and remind you that there is loads to see and do right in your own neighborhood. Here in Puerto Rico there is always a pocket of incredible beauty just around the corner. So why dont we locals spend more time appreciating these blessings?
Fortunately for me I am in the midst of just such a wake-up visit. My friend Kate is visiting for the first time in ten years. As she lives in landlocked, chilly Prague, Czech Republic, she has a fairly one-track mind for her holidays. Beach, beach, beach. And more beach.
So I suddenly remembered that I havent been to the Cabo Rojo beaches just 20 minutes away from my Mayagüez home off excellent and scenic Route 100 probably since the last time she was here. Thats criminal.
So this week we took a spin around and found a lot to appreciate. Do keep in mind that we went during the week when its deserted. I personally wouldnt go there during the weekend (particularly not a long weekend), as loud and crowded is not the seaside communing with nature that Im looking for.
We started at Boqueróns Balneario (public beach), where my family went regularly when I was small. The coconut palms that line this lengthy curve of sand give a gentle shade. The bay is so calm that the many sailboats anchored there dont even bob. This is the kind of beach in which even my grandmother and her multitude of sisters would bathe, lowering themselves gingerly only up to the shoulders so as not to wreck the hair-dos and wincing whenever kids splashed.
The bathhouse has a cafeteria selling all the usual fried goodies that go so well with a salty mouth, most for no more than a dollar. But in time-honoured tradition, many folks bring barbecue grills, calderos (pots) full of arroz con pollo (chicken and rice) and coolers full of cold drinks. Arrive early to stake a claim to a picnic table and prime shady spots close to the beach. And then lay down for a mind-numbing relax.
There are cabañas and villas to rent right on the beach from the National Parks Company of Puerto Rico (787-622-5200, x. 355-369), but if you want a weekend youll have to reserve six months in advance. This is very basic living; the little cement bungalows sleep six and you bring your own sheets and kitchen utensils (each has stove and fridge). Cabañas ($65.40 a night) have fans and no hot water; villas ($109) have air-conditioning and hot water. There are a number of hotels to choose from in and around town including Boquemar (787-851-2158) and Boquerón Beach Hotel (787-851-7110). Be advised that Boquerón is mostly about local tourism and its accommodations are more efficient than charming. And dont be fooled by the ones called paradors. The Puerto Rico Tourism Companys paradors program is uneven and youre as likely to find a cement block horror with semi-gloss paint on the walls as you are to find a truly charming country inn.
Boquerón itself was once a fishing village but most of its ramshackle wooden houses have now been spiffed up to become bars that accommodate weekend hordes of party animals from all over the island. Traffic is now closed off after 6 pm in the center of the action on Saturdays and Sundays and the village goes dry of alcohol at midnight during the week and 1 am weekends. Its a high-energy scene, with people hopping from bar to bar. Street vendors offer fresh oysters and clams and pinchos (skewered, grilled seafood or beef) and there are pool tables all around.
Taking Route 308 a couple of miles out of Boquerón (it begins directly across from the Balneario entrance), youll hit the favourite beach of the more tranquil set. Playa Buyé is one of the narrowest beaches Ive ever seen just a tiny strip of sand between houses and the water but it somehow manages to be a picturesque crescent. Buyé Beach Resort (787-255-0358) is another bare bones set of cabañas sleeping three or four with rates ranging from $65-$120 and people report good things about its Macamba Restaurant.
A word on food. The southwest is way behind San Juan and other parts of the island when it comes to fine dining. The deep-fryer is king and the menus are strictly criollo asopao (soupy rice with seafood or chicken), mofongo relleno (stuffed, fried green plantain) and chillo frito (fried snapper). Places like Joyuda to the north, which are famous for their seafood restaurants have not moved with the times to improve quality or innovate. They are generally disappointing and youre paying for the view. However I did encounter one Joyuda restaurant that does an excellent version of asopao in which the clean flavours of culantro and cilantro sang true and the broiled snapper was perfection on a recent visit. So if youre in the neighbourhood of Route 102, try Vista Bahía at Km 14.1, overlooking Isla Ratón.
There is much more to see in the southwest the lighthouse and salt flats of Cabo Rojo, historic San Germán and El Combate beach. Now that Ive been inspired by my guest, Ill be wearing my explorers cap (or turban) more often!
Natalia de Cuba Romero is a freelance travel, food and arts writer. Her column, "Sights, Sounds & Tastes of Puerto Rico", appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald. She can be reached at NataliaHerald@centennialpr.net.