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November 3, 2004
Right smack on the most northwestern point of Puerto Rico, waving its fishermans net into the deep blue sea, lies Aguadilla -- or "Aguadilllia," like our beloved, toupee-wearing bargain announcer on the midday show, Toñito Cabanillas, used to say (the "L" lingering on, tongue high on the lip).
This weekend, all roads turn westerly, because Aguadilla celebrates big the day of its patron saint, St. Charles Borromeo, main honcho of the Catholic Counter Reform. Oh, you know, there will be music galore, food kiosks in abundance (read fritter Shangri-La), religious street processions and masses til kingdom come. Not only will the town be set alight will all that party vibe, but if the weather permits, you can make good use of all that gorgeous nature rounding off the islands left-hand coast. Perfect to release all that post-election stress and soak in some much needed vitamin D from Brother Sun.
Following is a bit of a primer on that lovely laid-back municipality.
Aguadilla was formally inducted into the hall of municipality fame in 1775 by Luis de Córdova, when it set itself apart from nearby Aguada. Its name is derived from the Taíno word for garden: "guadya". The town is said to be the site of Columbus first landings, and there is a Cross to "prove it." Aguadilla has been a favorite among French corsairs, English brigadiers and Mid-Atlantic hurricanes. Plus, it has spawned its fair share of local luminaries to boot, such as Puerto Ricos most influential 20th century songwriter, Rafael Hernández; pro-independence writer, lawyer and politician José de Diego; and renowned doctor and all-around scientific investigator Agustín Stahl.
For many, though, its long-time claim to fame was playing host to the former Ramey Air Force Base, which boasts one of the longest airport runways in the Caribbean and one of the most commercially active in the zone. The Base has long been returned to the community and it is slowly but surely blossoming as a veritable tourist -friendly hub for the west. Aguadillas top-notch tourism facilities are most certainly featured in the House of Representatives plan for the development of Puerto Ricos west, a.k.a. Porta del Sol.
The towns nickname is the Valley of the Eye, because of its "eye" of fresh water, or underground brook, once used by thirsty corsairs. Aguadilla is a low-key, yet modern town with a great history and a passion for sun fun. Once a quaint fishing village, it is now home to three universities, the largest shopping center in the area, a water park, a coliseum, a bowling alley and an upcoming ice-skating rink hell, theres even a tree house in town!
The municipality boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the west. For starters, head to Crashboat, one the best serviced in the area. Its got picnic tables, a playground and clean facilities. The picturesque fishermen boats lining the beach is a great photo opportunity; simply iconic. The clear and calm waters invite you to swim and snorkel. Theres also plenty of surfing going on at Wilderness and Gas Chamber, north of Crash Boat -- both are very unruly beaches, but breathtaking in their own way. Good for a picnic if you dont do wild surf. Wilderness lies underneath the craggy cliff that holds up the Ramey Base Golf Course. Theres a small beach near the pebbly Gas Chambers called El Manglito, for those accompanying the surfers out there. There is also La Ponderosa beach, in front of the Old Spanish Lighthouse (which once protected our west), and Crash Point, near the Golf Course. Also beautiful are Canto Las Piedras Beach and Tamarindo -- both small but with very nice rocky formations and sandbanks.
So, when youve had enough of the beachy atmosphere, head into town and check out the sights. The first stop you might want to try is the recently revamped Las Cascadas water park. Great pit stop if youve got hyper kids bouncing off your back seat.
Tire the kids some more kids by taking them to the Banyan Tree House inside the Parque Colón where, while they romp, you can hangout under the boardwalk, see what Columbus saw when and if indeed he landed there, and bear witness to where the Culebrinas River feeds into the ocean. Hopefully soon theyll be opening the ice-skating rink nearby, "the only one its kind the Caribbean" and then everyone will be having top fun.
Pass by the towns main plaza. Dont miss the spacey, Jetsons-like musical fountain with the etched lyrics to the popular oldie "Campanitas de Cristal" by Rafael Hernández, nor the quirky Disney-like clock with the name Aguadilla etched on its face. See what you can get for a dollar at "Todo a Peso," modern day Puerto Ricos answer to the penny store. Go inside the well-kept and quaint San Carlos Borromeo parish, with its Black or "Buga" Christ and other statues that date back to 1850.
And lastly, but never least, dont forget the Parterre (which means "by land" in French), a small park that encircles the famed "Ojo de Agua," the freshwater source for, some say, Sir Francis Drake on his journey back home, and a very active one for European-bound voyagers from the 16th to the 18th century.
So thats some Aguadilla for you. Hope your westerly outing soothes your crabby, post-campaign woes!
From San Juan take PR-22, connect to PR-2. Take Exit to PR-107. (End of Rt 458, off Rt 107.)
Gas Chamber Beach (For Surfing only)
North of Playa Crash Boat about 500m
Canto Las Piedras Beach
At the end of PR-1111, north of the cemetery, though the houses.
La Ponderosa Beach
PR-107, inside the former Ramey Air Force Base, pass the golf course. In front of the Old Lighthouse.
The Ruins of the Old Spanish Lighthouse
PR-107, turn into and drive past the golf course inside the old Ramey Base
PR-107, turn into golf course, drive to the end of the road.
Las Cascadas Aquatic Park
PR- 2, Km 126.5
El Parterre/ Ojo de Agua
PR-111, 3 blocks north of the plaza
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 firstname.lastname@example.org