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West and East Puerto Rico trips to see cathedrals

Thursday morning I was up early and out of the flat by 7:40, with the Garmin directing me towards Ponce to the south on the route to Mayaguez. I’d played with the route on Google, trying to force a route along the northern coast, but both Google Maps’ and Garmin’s directions preferred the trip down the middle of the island. I was traveling the toll roads, as National provided the necessary sticker, so I drove on fairly decent roads up into the central highlands and then curving down outside Ponce.

Once past Ponce, the multi-laned cared for roads ended. While still following the southwest coast, the highway went through towns, hitting numerous stoplights, seemingly set to tamper any speeding. Once I reached Mayaguez, about 10, I followed directions to the central square and luckily found a parking spot on the side street along the cathedral.

Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, Mayaguez, PR

Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria was locked (until 4pm,) so walked around the building, and onto the square. With two cupola-topped towers at the front and a large dome at the rear, one reached the three entrance doors up stairs from the sidewalk. Primarily a golden yellow in color, the trim was stark white. The dedication to Our Lady of the Candelaria had piqued my curiosity: it referred to the ritual cleansing ceremony Jewish women undergo 40 days after giving birth; it falls on February 2, the Feast of the Purification, is also known as Candlemas Day, when the church blesses candles to be used in rituals and services for the coming year.

The square included a statue to Cristopher Columbus, with the government buildings facing the cathedral entrance across the square. Offices and retail lined the bracketing sides. When the quarter I’d put into the parking meter expired, I returned to the car and set the Garmin for Arecibo. The route continued to be mainly two-laned roads through towns, with frequent traffic signals. I was heading north, and then east, so mainly had the sun away from my eyes. Just shy of two hours later I had reached Calle Gonzolo Marin. The cathedral didn’t have a street number, and C. Marin was several blocks long, facing the hospital entrance. Having seen the pale blue-gray building, I continued nearly to the end before finding a parking space.

Catedral de San Felipe Apóstol, Arecibo, PR

Returning to the front of the Catedral de San Felipe Apóstol, it sits on a walled rise with iron gating mounted in the stone. The gate was locked, so after trying to walk around (and looking for an office to plead my case), I crossed the street and climbed stairs to the park square opposite, where I was able to get better photos. The plaza has an obelisk and a bandstand, many mature trees and was relatively empty. (It was the noon hour, after all.) Checking Google Maps, my Covid test appointment at 3 was half an hour away, so I decided that lunch would be a good idea.

At the far end of the plaza, several small establishments seemed to offer food. I chose Los Tacos de Kiki on a corner, as it actually had patrons. Not able to get an Arnold Palmer, I settled for water, to go with my smothered chicken chimichanga. The salsa was jalapeno, and kicked the meal up significantly. I journaled my disappointment in finding both cathedrals closed, and in hindsight, regretted not stopping in Ponce when I had the chance. It turned out I had a couple hours to spare.

Back down the street to the car, I was able to just roll into the roadway that would take me east to Manati. NCL, the cruise line, required a PCR test of all passengers (who had to be fully vaccinated) up to 96 hours before boarding. Since I joined the ship on Sunday at noon, I needed a test (which can take up to 3 days to get results) on Thursday or Friday. Using the CVS website, I was able to schedule the last test for Thursday at 2:50pm.

The Garmin took me past the evident CVS pharmacy by about a half mile, where no other CVS stood. I returned and pulled into the lot. As I was more than an hour early, I walked into the building and went to inquire if I could be tested early, rather than sit in the sunny parking lot in my car. They kindly accommodated me, and I was back on the roads, heading past downtown San Juan to my digs.

Back at the flat, I found that my hips were sore. When I realized that I’d not brought my full complement of supplements, I set out for a pharmacy to get Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM. Returning, I took a double dose (I’d had 48 hours without) and pushed more water as well. Then I set to my backup chore, copying my photos from the camera chip to the Chromebook and thumb drive. Only 38 for the day, compared to 187 the day before. I contemplated a blog post, but without a chair with support and a good working surface, I settled on the bed and read emails.

One email I was waiting on was from Viator: I had an all-day tour of the western part of the island booked, and I wanted confirmation, as then I could return the car Friday evening, rather than before boarding the ship. I wasn’t keen to be without transportation if the tour was cancelled. I had further concerns for the cruise: it did seem that we’d be boarding the Epic, but I was worrying that we might not be permitted to venture on land at the ports.

Leaving to forage for dinner, I again headed to Calle Luiza and chanced upon El Tap. Serving just tapas-like bar food, they had 40 beers on tap, plus several wine and cider selections. Ordering pork carnitas tacos and pulled pork sliders to go with my 4-beer sampler, I was in seventh heaven. I texted my nephew Rob (he’s an ultra long distance runner, as it allows him to drink beer) and we chatted for a bit. My samples were Dragon Stone, a Lost Souls Mexican dark lager; Boxlab Bajale, dark and mild; R.E.B.L Ballazaar, a Puerto Rican stout; and Del Oeste Buccanera Whiskey Bock. The Boxlab was almost an IPA, almost a red, and my least favorite as nearly bland. I enjoyed the Dragon Stone, finding it had hints of cocoa, with a light dark red cherry flavor, nicely smooth. The whiskey bock was golden, nice and smooth, with hints of bourbon or rye, and proved to be excellent with the food. My favorite was the stout, which had cinnamon, was complex but balanced, nearly like cinnamon French toast.

An observation got into my journal: I was finding that almost every restaurant would have a QR code adorning their tables, and not having paper menus. Being a dinosaur (and not trusting a symbol I had no control over,) I would trigger a frantic search for a menu when I related I didn’t do QR codes. Besides, I really don’t like hovering over a smart phone while in a dining establishment.

Friday morning I was awaken at 8:15 by a loudish buzz. Since I’d been out before then Thursday, this was a surprise. After puttering around, getting clean and dressed, I was out to the car about 9. My first destination was Caguas, pretty much due south. I had a rough address from the Internet for the cathedral, but the Garmin managed to get me to the town square and the church in about a half hour.

Catedral Dulce Nombre de Jesús, Caguas, PR

On a slight rise at one side of the plaza, the Catedral Dulce Nombre de Jesús is a large church with twin bell towers and a 4-story front. Opened since 6am Mass, the interior was nearly empty. Dark pews and ceiling struts contrasted with the high white wall of the nave, lighted by double rows of windows.

The wall at the back of the main altar was a lovely veined gray marble, with that marble used as the risers at the rear for a platform for the white, geode-like marble cathedra. Bright and airy, this was a church that felt spiritual. To the side of the main altar was a small chapel where the Presence is kept. Exiting to the square, I walked around for a bit, but it was unpopulated.

From Caguas I headed to Humacao, with an address on Plaza de Receo. Garmin was fine getting me to the town, but miserable for the last mile. I looked for a steeple, with the first belonging to an Evangelical church. One way streets took me to the edge of town, where a long queue of cars and standing people seemed to be awaiting either vaccinations or tests. Once I got past the hospital, I bounced along streets rife with potholes before I found a parking spot. Walking about 6 blocks back to the zocolo, I noted it had taken about 45 minutes.

Concatedral Dulce Nombre de Jesús, Humacao, PR

The cathedral doors were locked. I slowly walked around the building, studying shots in the bright sunlight, and chanced upon the caretaker, who told me the church would open at 11 and Mass would follow. With plenty of time, I decided to wait, and entered the church after sitting and playing with my phone in the park.

With a single large bell tower flanked by two half turrets, the Concatedral Dulce Nombre de Jesús shares its bishop with the cathedral in Fajardo, my next stop. Inside, clean white lines with columns rising to a pointed arch draw the eye to the rustic double chandeliers and windows three-four stories up. The main altar is set at the crossing, with the recessed apse being reserved for the bishop’s cathedra sitting in front of the older altarpiece. The tabernacle sits simple off in a small chapel.

Opening at 11, I determined that Mass would be a noon. After getting my inside pictures, I found a pew and relaxed, writing for a bit in my journal. I still hadn’t heard from the tour company, so didn’t know if I should turn the car in. I noted that the drivers in Puerto Rico are all very aggressive, while the road surfaces are in horrible condition. Drivers push into intersections, grab an inch if it’s there. My note reads, “and here I thought Florida drivers were bad.”

During Mass I noticed that only the Vatican City and Puerto Rico flags were flanking the altar. A younger, tall, thin priest, very animated and loud, preached and said Mass for about 2 dozen. Departing at the end with a few parting photos, I chanced upon a corner café, Sazoni Café and Restaurant. Cafeteria-style, the server was amazed that I only wanted half a piece of fish and some rice. I shared a table briefly, and self-bussed to clear when I was done. A bit further up the street I found the car, and armed with a better street address, set off for Fajardo.

Catedral Santiago Apóstol, Fajardo, PR

The Garmin took me on a long run on Highway 3 northeast along the coast before I joined the toll road Route 53 into Fajardo. Garmin dropped me on an overpass outside of town, so I fired up Google and was able to get to the park alongside the church. Set on a slight rise, the Catedral Santiago Apóstol overlooks a nice park. It is surrounded by a concrete post and pillar fence, reached through a iron gate (which, in my case, was locked) after climbing stairs. A central three-story tower has a clock over the entrance, with bells behind. I didn’t see an office to request access, so after a brief stop, I took off.

An email confirmed my pickup for the tour Saturday morning, so I headed to the airport. If I kept the car until checkout, I’d head away from the port to get to the airport, so, since I didn’t need it Saturday, I was ready to give it up. I’d used a bit more than half a tank, so just drove it up and turned it in, presenting the note I’d been given about the gas. I expected a charge from National for the tolls, but it hasn’t happened yet – perhaps giving the car back a day early wiped that out too? I jumped into a taxi (they only seem to call them cabs in the northeast?) and walked in from the corner on Calle Luiza. I backed up the photos and then did a blog about the seven cathedrals I’d visited in Puerto Rico.

Friday night dining is always iffy. I tried an Italian place first, but they were fully booked, so I entered Fleria Greek Restaurant. With Valentine's Day coming, the interior had been decorated with superb red and crystal features. With a glass of the house cabernet sauvignon, I started with a wonderful spanakopita, a crisp and tasty salad, followed by a hearty moussaka. Too much food, I got a piece of baklava to go as breakfast, and walked back to the flat.

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