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The Versailles Of Ponce No Longer Plays Second Fiddle: Juana Díaz Celebrates Itself

By Brenda A. Mari

August 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

This weekend, all winding roads and long stretches of expressway lead to the unsung town of Juana Díaz in Puerto Rico’s south. From August 27 to the 31st, the town where the Three Kings are all that and more pays tribute to its devoted patron saint, San Ramón Nonato (St. Raymond Nonnatus). The well-kept main plaza, the Román Baldorioty de Castro Town Square (now sporting new, fancy, crowned "farol" lightposts), its surroundings, and the town’s stately parish will come alive with music and get decked out with the usual chow kiosks (a.k.a. fritter heaven) and usual suspects. Games, like the "picas," old, tin machine-run horse races that whirl on its axis and you can bet on, will be settled in one corner, like in every self-respecting "fiesta patronal."

On Saturday, August 28, from 1 pm on, there will be a pageant depicting the life and times of San Ramón. The town’s angelic kids’ choir will also sing their hearts out. There will be clown shows and a fun house for the more devilish kids to go wild in. Come 8 p.m., the Municipal Band will be playing all sorts of good old Puerto Rican fare. On Sunday, another special Mass will take place (they’ve been having special masses since the 22nd), this time with Bishop Félix Lázaro, at 10 am. Afterwards, more reveling accompanied by the local artisans selling their curious, handcrafted wares. At 5 pm, the San Ramón Nonato wooden saint carver contest will take place. Those participating have lovingly carved out his likeness out of local wood.

Also, on Sunday the 29th, for those of you who love to jog the extra mile, the 10k San Ramón Nonato marathon will be leaving from the municipal athletic court in the morning. Inscriptions are being done right then and there. If you’re interested in sprinting your way around beautiful Juana Díaz, call 787-837-4066.

What’s more, if you can’t make it then, but you like the typical "trio" music (think lilting "cuatros,"), love the "bohemia" sound oozing from an old "vellonera" (‘40s jukebox) and the crooning of Puerto Rican boleros, on the last Sunday of every month the Municipal Band and other combos take center stage and play sweet music to soothe the hearts of all ages. Simply idyllic, don’t you think? Well, then come on over.

Where else to go

Lucero Cave

Perhaps the most important archeological find in the region, it features some eerie Taíno petroglyphs depicting local fauna (the most well known is of an abstract, half-moon bird), stalagmites, crevices and light rays shining into the dark earth. It is reached through PR- 552, when the road ends up in the water spring. Walk west on a trail off of Don Santos’ house that ends up on the limestone wall. Hunch over and squeeze yourself into the crevice to get to the main vault. The first drawing that meets you is known as the shaman. More clambering through tight and wide spaces alike follows. Some drawings have been desecrated by fools with a penchant for spray paint, but still worth the look. This, of course, is best done with a guide. Get one at the Municipal Tourism Office or find some extreme sportster at a local beach bar. The municipal government is finally getting its act together to save this treasure from extinction and stop the nearby marble mining from affecting this national jewel.

Three Kings Museum (Casa Museo de los Tres Santos Reyes)

Features memorabilia from the first traditional Three Kings pageant and celebration done in 1884. The Consejo Juanadino Pro Festejos de Reyes recently announced that Juana Díaz’s Three Kings are scheduled to meet the Pope in Rome three days before Christmas for half an hour. January 2005 will be the procession’s 121st birthday. Every year it draws big crowds from all over the island to witness the official Three Kings reenactment and convoy. Another ecclesiastical great in town is the sprawling Nativity scene lovingly and painstakingly constructed by Dr. Enrique Marrero, who is willing to give you a tour every Christmas.

Collores Ward

Here is where the beautiful Salto de Collores Waterfall, beloved by poet Luis Llorens Torres, is. This is what prompted him to call the place the Versailles of Ponce, because of its lush, green surroundings, rolling pastures and soothing streams. A hike through the green to where this soothing beauty falls 35 to 49 feet below is well worth it. Access is through Route PR-512.

Guayabal Lake and Dam

Famous work of local legendary engineer Antonio Luchetti and a very important irrigation venture for the south. It provides water and electricity to the entire Ponce area. You can get a permit to fish here from the Electric Power Authority. There are bluegill sunfish, catfish, sagas (a native fish) and tilapias to be had. Access is on PR-149, PR-550 to PR-557.

Schoenstatt Sanctuary

A quaint sanctuary up in the mountains featuring the Holy Cross of the New Evangelization and the statue of the order’s founder, Father Kentenich, who loved the Virgin Mary deeply. 787-837-8907. Access is on PR-574. It’s open daily from 6:30 am to 9 pm.

About St. Raymond Nonnatus

He was called "non natus," meaning "not born," because he was miraculously saved from the womb of his dead mother. His first name comes from the Viscount of Cardona, Ramón Floch, who ordered that the body of the woman be split just in case the baby was still alive. This took place during the 13th century in the province of Segarra, in Spain. He dabbled in sheep herding before he became an avid Mercedary, preaching the word of Jesus Christ during the tumultuous times of the wars between the Moors and Christians.

He spent his entire estate ransoming Christians that the Moors would keep as slaves, and once gave himself up to let another go free. In prison, St. Raymond kept spreading the love and even converted some of the slave traders into Christians. This angered the Moors so much that they literally padlocked his lips together, driving a hot poker through his maw and shackling his mouth shut. Uff, I say.

After he was rescued, the Pope made him Cardinal. On his way to Rome, he died before he could perform his duties. He is the patron saint of secrets, silence and women in labor. In his icons he is always dressed in his white and red cardinal attire, but with bare feet. On his right hand he carries the golden monstrance (the container for the consecrated host); on his left, the palm frond that signifies martyrdom.

A bit about Juana Díaz

Juana Díaz’s nicknames are the Town of the Poets, because of the many bright minds with pens it has bestowed upon the island; the Town of the Maví, for this pungent raw sugar cane juice; and the City of Jacaguas, because of the river that flows through it. Jacaguax is also the name of a brave-hearted Taíno Indian chief who once belted out to the sky (and to the approaching Spanish conquistadores) "This is my land, my land!" Juana Díaz was the name of a landowner’s widow who donated the lands to the town during its first cattle raising days.

Once home on the range for cattle ranchers and fruit growers, it was then tilled aplenty during the sugar cane boom. It is now known for its mining prowess; the most important marble quarry on the island lies within its borders. It is the birthplace of various poets and journalists, notably Luis Llorens Torrens, Tomás Carrión Maduro and Mario Braschi.

The city will also go down in local history as "The Martyr of ‘87" for being the major site of the Spanish government’s 1887 Inquisition-style phenomenon of "El Componte," a tribunal run by the despotic Governor General Romualdo Palacios, which persecuted and tortured wealthy landowners that were disloyal to Spain.

The Lowdown

Getting to Juana Díaz. From San Juan: Hop on PR-52. Get off the Juana Diaz exit unto PR-149. Follow the signs, it’s that simple.

Juana Diaz Tourism Office

Here’s where you can arrange for guided group trips around town and tours into the Lucero Cave. Contact Lucy González at 787-837-1115, extension 2219, 2220 or 2278. They have two trolleys with a capacity for 24 people; one of them has facilities for those with disabilities.

Also check out this web site, one of the best I’ve seen when it comes to Puerto Rican municipalities: These people seem to love their town. Why not go over and discover why.

Brenda A. Mari is an editor/reporter for The San Juan Star, an accomplished web copywriter and a fan of everything unusual. She can be reached at

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