Moving deeper into the mountains from Ponce, sticking to the famed Ruta Panorámica, Puerto Rico’s landscape takes a drastic turn. Buick size ferns grow out into the road and patches of green bamboo form a canopy over it. Avocadoes and oranges fall from trees and rot on the pavement, filling the air with a beautifully pungent aroma. The chirps of the coqui are constant. I have flashbacks of Dominica and Costa Rica.
Tired of the banking industry, native Ponceño Alejandro Vélez Blasini set off for the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont. After a successful run with a tapas bar, in mid-2009 he opened Archipeilago, a restaurant on the sixth and seventh floors of a building overlooking Ponce’s Parque de Bombas and Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe on Ponce’s Spanish style plaza. The rooftop view is stunning, one of the best of any restaurants I’ve ever seen. The town square below glows at night.
Guavate, the name just sounds flavorful. From Ponce it’s a quick hop on the San Juan highway to the rural, hilly village beside the Carite Forest Reserve. Once you turn onto Route 184, Puerto Rico’s Pork Highway, you can smell the burning flesh. Large open-air restaurants each with an entire hog roasting in the front called lechoneras sit side by side for several miles. Most are open only on the weekends and by the afternoon turn into dance parties. Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations was here, as was Andrew Zimmern and every other adventurous eating show. Tourists however, rarely make the trip.