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PUERTO RICO HERALD
A Quiet Weekend In Aibonito
By J.A. del Rosario
January 9, 2004
Getting through the holidays in Puerto Rico is the equivalent of surviving a two-month tour of duty in the alcohol and food wars. Once the final party battle of Three Kings Day passes, the locals share a collective epiphany that involves going back to the gym, staying away from the supermarket's pork section and bracing for soon-to-arrive credit card bills.
This interim between the halcyon-glory of the longest holiday season in the Caribbean, and the rude awakening that comes in mid-January when the ghosts of Christmas-Past expenditures rear their ugly heads, is the last chance anyone has to get away and enjoy some of the island countryside.
For those who might be looking for a getaway that harkens back to simpler times, the answer is nestled in the mountains of Aibonito, in a small resort called Las Casitas.
Aibonito is a small town in the central mountainous region of Puerto Rico. The city has several nicknames, among them the "city of flowers" for its famous annual flower festival, and "the Switzerland of Puerto Rico" for its year-long cool climate (which is what makes it an ideal location to grow flowers).
Aibonito's climate is key to the success of Las Casitas.This mountainside resort has nine small shacks made of wood and galvanized zinc roofs -- the traditional building materials of the old country homes in Puerto Rico. No air conditioners, no televisions, no radios, no cd players here. Just a small shack with a bed draped in mosquito netting, in front of a window overlooking the lush mountainside, and a vision of Catherine Deneuve in Indochine floating around in your head.
But the best part comes with the rain. As any Puerto Rican will tell you, a cement home is a necessity in the Caribbean, where enduring hurricanes and tropical storms are a way of life. But all Puerto Ricans share the same romanticism for raindrops falling on a galvanized zinc roof. The sound of raindrops crashing against the thin sheets of metal resonate in the room, create a cacophanous symphony that gives the impression that the rain is thundering all around you.
Nowadays, Puerto Ricans do not choose galvanized zinc for the ceiling in their homes, but when they are remembering those peaceful nights sleeping in grandma's house, it is the sound of rain on galvanized zinc that resonates in their heads.
On the pragmatic side, the owners of Las Casitas have gone out of their way to make sure the guests do not feel the need the get away from their getaway. Las Casitas has a restaurant where you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant serves Puerto Rican and Continental dishes. The price is good, and so is the quality. And for the warmer days, there is a pool at the center of the resort, where you can dive into and release your stress.
Las Casitas is built like a wooden compound in the middle of a mountain.
The shacks are on the perimeter of a wooden deck which has the pool at the center. From the central deck, several staircases lead to wooden decks of different heights. The decks are perfect for the setting. Guests can take advantage of the full bar of the restaurant, order drinks and sit up in the decks to enjoy star gazing at night.
If lounging for 48 hours is too slow for you, Aibonito also has the Cristobal Canyon, on the north edge of town. The canyon is a natural waterfall, with a pond at the bottom. It is not easily accesible, which preserves the area as a getaway spot for those who venture to find it.
Getting to the canyon involves climbing some steep hills by car, and going down some more steep hills by foot. But if you are not afraid of a little mud on your shoes, the destination is well worth the trouble.
The milder crowd can enjoy the waterfall, and bathe in the lagoon below.
But for those who need a little more adrenaline to make their day complete, the waterfall has several levels that visitors can (carefully) climb to.
Thrill seekers can swim toward the water fall, and start climbing the rocks on the side.
Remember, the lagoon is not very deep, so enjoy the view from the top -- but do not jump!
After a day at the canyon, you will appreciate the mountain breeze in Las Casitas.
Find yourself one of those wooden decks, order a couple of drinks after dinner, and watch the stars course their way across the sky. There is whole year ahead of you, and the world outside is calling you back.
Las Casitas Resort
Directions to get to Cristobal Canyon:
From San Juan, take highway 52 south and get off at Cayey. Continue on road number 1 south towards Salinas; make a right on the Panoramic Route (7722) which goes to Aibonito.
Drive up to La Sierra (722) and at the first intersection make a left towards "La Piedra Degetau"; on the first stop sign make a right towards the town. You will pass by a retreat house called "Casa Manresa" and get to the town plaza. Once in Aibonito, head towards Barranquitas either through "Barrio Llanos" (725) or via "Asomante" (Rd #14) making a right on 162. At this point, ask the locals how to get there.
J.A. del Rosario, a business reporter for The San Juan Star, is a remedial guitar player and an incorrigible nightcrawler. He can be contacted at: : firstname.lastname@example.org