Puerto Rico Travelogue, Day 3 – Ponce to Combate to Rincón in the car

Day three started with a visit back to the car rental place. I have pretty severe allergies to cigarette smoke. They assured me when I rented that all their cars are smoke-free. Not so much. Since we didn’t drive the day before, I hadn’t noticed how bad it was. I was going to power through the runny eyes, stuffed head, and raw throat but my honey convinced me otherwise. 

The folks at Dollar were great! They not only gave me another car, but when that one still smelled, they gave me a third. And it was a nicer car than the one we had had and they didn’t charge me any more. Sweet and wonderful people.

Before I go further, let me just say that everyone we met and talked to was fantastic. They were friendly and helpful and seemed to enjoy interacting with us. Plus, I got to practice my Spanish a bunch and that felt great. Even a token effort at speaking Spanish brought out the smiles, and I was thrilled that so many people were gracious and kept allowing me to communicate in their tongue when the more efficient thing for them would have been switch to English. 

Once we got the car straightened out, we headed out into wild blue yonder, as it were.

Word to the wise: If you rent a car and plan to navigate via google maps on your phone, please note that the directions can be spotty. Google maps will be telling you that you need to turn left at this next intersection but when you get to it and are in the left lane, suddenly it changes its mind and tells you to turn right. I never did figure out why it did that. 

Also, distances and measurements are in metric but speed limits are in miles. From what I understand it’s because the measurement system was in place before Puerto Rico became a US commonwealth (and also before cars had speed limits). Cars came in after the establishment of the commonwealth and therefore the speed limit markers follow the USA methods. Also, google maps will not show you exit numbers so you have to be super watchful in how you navigate. It’s doable but can get tricky.

Once we got out of the city (San Juan/Carolina), we quickly got into the mountains in the center part of the island. It’s a stunning land.

Mountains and sky in central Puerto Rico Mountains in central Puerto Rico – on the way to Ponce

We found a terrific place to eat right at kilometer marker 0. It’s called Origens, and it’s all vegan cafeteria-style place. I’m not sure that part of Ponce is the safest because we had to ring a bell to have the door unlocked so we could enter. Once there, the people were gracious and provided us with a fantastic sampler platter of their items for the day. We had sweet plantains, salad, pasta, spinach patties with a fantastic red sauce, and a bean salad that took our breath away (among a few other dishes). I recommend the place highly for anyone and particularly if you have dietary restrictions. They were willing to work with us and gave us a treat of a meal.

Plates with vegan dishes Fantastic all-vegan meal at Origens in Ponce, Puerto Rico

One of the most amazing sites at KM marker 0 is this statue in honor of the abolition of slavery. I saw it and wept. Stunning and powerful.

Statue honoring the abolition of slavery Statue in honor of the abolition of slavery – Ponce, Puerto Rico

After we left Ponce, we made our circuitous way down to Bahía Sucia (Dirty Bay). This was one of those times google maps led us astray and while I was able to get us back on track, let’s just say we got a more scenic route than we perhaps needed.

On the other hand, my iPhone knows what’s up because the instant we saw our first glimpse of the Caribbean, one of the songs from the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack came on the radio. For those who don’t know, Puerto Rico straddles the Atlantic Ocean on its north side and the Caribbean Sea on its south side. You can see the different colors of the water, the different quality of the sunlight, and the vast difference in the height and intensity of the waves. It’s more tame but no less beautiful. Most of Puerto Rico’s shoreline is beach so you could get a different flavor of beach every single day if you wanted.

The reason we headed to Bahía Sucia was that it was recommended by the excellent José, one of the gents at our hotel. I adored him, and he was super sweet and gracious (and let me keep speaking Spanish with him even though he speaks English perfectly well. I’ve also picked up one of his mannerisms. Whenever I said, grácias [thank you], he replied, “Siempre,” [always]. What a fabulous response!). He recommended the Dirty Bay as a local hang-out and a place where we might see manatees. We arrived, and I found the salt flats and the silt in the water (and the minuscule amount of beach) left me reluctant to stay, so we left and made our way to Combate Beach.

Salt flats Salt flats at Bahía Sucia

Combate Beach is a bit more firmly on the west coast of the island. We arrived, walked the 300 feet to the water’s edge and set up camp. The water was a stunning turquoise, and we hung out there until sunset. The swimming was glorious. I had been dreaming of swimming in the Caribbean again ever since I had the opportunity to swim off the coast of Grand Cayman a few years ago, and Combate did not disappoint. 

Combate beach, Puerto Rico Swimming at Combate Beach

Mostly we had the entire beach to ourselves until about 45 minutes before sunset when a few of the locals showed up with chairs, beers, and good conversation (not to mention a very energetic beach dog).

Setting sun and clouds Sun and clouds

I had wanted to toast the sunset with a piña colada and my honey obliged me. 

Piña colada and sunset Piña Colada and the sunset at Combate Beach

For the next little while, we all watched the sunset. I had my trusty new Nikon and was able to zoom in and catch the sun’s dramatic exit for the day.

Sun and clouds Towards sunset
Setting sun and sea Closer to sunset

And here is the last and most dramatic bit of the sunset.

Sunset closeup Sunset closeup

 Shortly after that, the almost full moon made an appearance from the east.

Moon Moonrise

After the moonrise, we made our way towards home. We drove through Rincón but only stopped at the local Subway to get a drive by dinner and then took the main roads back to San Juan. Exhausted and elated, we toasted each other with a couple of sips of Don Q’s coconut rum (It’s delicious. Tastes like coconut candy. Go get some right now if you like that sort of thing), and made our plan for our last day in paradise.

Tomorrow: Travelogue, Day 5.

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