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March 19, 2004
Travelers who come to Puerto Rico and like to hit the road in search of lesser known places throughout the island often follow similar routes to desolate beaches in the west coast or hillside resorts in the islands mountain region. Like anywhere else, in Puerto Rico some towns are more popular than others.
The town of Guayama, on the southern coast of the island, is a good example of a place that people often drive by and seldom stop in. This is a shame, because in its own quiet way, Guayama has plenty to offer travelers looking for a midway stop in their road trip itinerary.
If you are driving south from San Juan on Highway 52, you will inevitably run into Guayama, a quiet, stark town where the dry landscape ends in a rocky shore facing the Caribbean Sea. When it comes to beaches, Guayamas offering is limited to Playita Machete. But the town does have a small bay that is regarded by locals and foreigners as one of the best windsurfing spots on the island.
The real treat in Guayama is historic. Throughout the past decade, the town and central government have gone about the task of restoring many of the towns landmark buildings. Today, visitors can stroll through this small town and venture into the former house of the towns most famous dynasty (the Cautiño family), the towns neo-romantic cathedral in the town square, or the art deco theater built in the 1930s. When it comes to architectural schizophrenia, this little town with a population of 33,000 takes the prize.
Years ago Guayama acquired the nickname Ciudad Bruja (Witches Town). The name stuck, despite the fact that it was a bit of a deterrent for tourism.
The nickname has its roots in baseball and witchcraft. In the early 1900s, the Guayama baseball team had a popular pitcher called Marcelino Blondet, and better known as Moncho El Brujo because he was the son of a local medicine man. Today, the bizarre nickname is a badge of honor for the locals. The towns professional basketball team is the Guayama Brujos.
Facing the church is the squares water fountain, which was imported from Italy as a gift to the town by the Cautiño family, a local family with enough agricultural holdings to become the de-facto rulers of the town for more than three generations. To know more about the Cautiño family, just head over to their house right across the street from the plaza.
The Cautiño home was built using the neo-classic-creole style. This is basically your basic neo-classical style adjusted to the hot and humid climate that predominates in Puerto Rico.
The family home was restored a few years ago by the Puerto Rico Institute of Culture, which returned the interior of the house to its original state, furniture and all. Today, you can step into this house and see exactly how the towns richest family used to live.
When you are done trying out the softness of the chairs and sofas in the Cautiño home, it is time to head over to the Fine Arts center on Road 3, just a short drive from the town square. The center showcases an excellent selection of objects from the towns history, but the building also has 11 exhibit halls specifically used to showcase the municipalitys art collection. In some, curators display historical works that are the property of the town, and in others local artists get a chance to exhibit their works.
A note here to art lovers. If you are interested in heading out looking for good works of arts for a good price, these municipal museums are one of the best ways to go about it. While Puerto Rico has a large public interested in art, the public who can afford to buy works is more limited. Many artists resort to getting art-related jobs with the municipal governments of their town, designing art-oriented community programs and the like. Their preferred exhibit spaces are municipal museums like Guayamas Fine Arts Center, where the artists have open access to the space, and can showcase their work in a place accessible to the towns affluent crowd who are more likely to buy the works.
By now you are done with the museum, the church and the Cautiños. It is time to head back to the bay where you saw all those windsurfers gliding through the waves. Here you will find El Puerto, a nice seaside restaurant that specializes in seafood and Caribbean cuisine.
A fried chillo fish, with some tostones (fried green plantains) some Tabasco sauce and a beer is all you need to reinvigorate yourself before you get back in the car, and you drive on.
Carr. 3 y Carr.7710 (final)
Tues-Sat. 9am-4:30pm, Sun. 10am-4:30pm
Fine Arts Center
Tues.-Fri. 9am-4:30pm, Sat.-Sun. 10am-4:30pm.
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: : email@example.com