The Pork Highway and Tibes

We flew into San Juan, and just stayed in the San Juan Airport Hotel the first night, since we wanted to make picking up our rental car easy.  The airport hotel was fine, if a little dated.

We rented through Charlie Car, a local Puerto Rican business, and they were really great.  We took their free shuttle from the airport, and picked up our rental car. We had originally rented a small SUV, but thought better of it, and changed to a compact car, in this case a little white Ford Fiesta.
We then left San Juan and headed south on Highway 52, which goes though the central mountain range and towards Ponce, our first city.  On the way, however, we took a detour and drove down the famous 'Pork Highway' located in the middle of the mountains in a town called Guavate.  If you have seen any cooking or travel shows where they go to Puerto Rico, you have no doubt heard of this place. Every weekend, people come from all around to these little restaurants called lechoneras to eat lechon, or whole roasted pig.  We ended up a one called Lechonera El Rancho Original.  A helpful person there helped us order some roast pig and sides.  The guy behind the counter hacks up your pig with a big machete.  Yes, that is as awesome as it sounds.  Here is what it looked like.
 We were there fairly early, and it seems that people here eat lunch right at noon, so it wasn't crowded yet.  A band was setting up, and it was a real party atmosphere, with families there, and everyone eating.  Here is the pig in the window.

 The roast pork was great, and the skin was indescribable.  The Rice dish is arroz con grandules, or rice and pigeon peas, a very common side dish in PR.  A pound of pork, two sides of rice and peas, the small thing of beans, a coke and a beer was less than $17.  A bargain any way you look at it.  I also got to try some mavi, which is a local drink made from the bark of a local tree.  It was refreshing and delicious.  Here is a concentration of places where we stopped, although there were places all along the road.

We could have stuck around for the music and party, but we were eager to get to Ponce, so we ate, shopped a little, and were on our way.  We went back out to the main highway and headed on to Ponce.

Ponce, which is named after the great grandson of the famous explorer Ponce de Leon, is the second largest city in PR, and is located on the southern coast.  On the way into town, since it was a little early to check into the hotel, we stopped at the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center.  This is a very important ceremonial site that was uncovered in the 1970s by a hurricane.  After touring the small museum and watching the video, we got a tour from a guide.  The center was active from around AD300-700, and consists of several large courtyards of varying size which are defined with vertical stones.  They call these 'ball courts' but frankly, I haven't seen much evidence that they were ball courts at least in the traditional Mayan definition.  They were certainly used for something, however, and were very interesting to see.

 There was also one where several triangular arrangements of stones formed a star around a central open area.

I'll have to read up on this area some more and find out why they think these are ball courts.  In any case it was very interesting and you should definitely go if you get the chance and are interested in this kind of thing.

Next, Ponce.

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