Welcome to part two of my blog tour for Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish. Please make sure you check yesterday’s post for info about the book, author, and my review.
Today I’m sharing a guest post by author Pablo Cartaya. I asked if he could share his favorite things about Puerto Rico and this is what I got back. Thank you Pablo!
Hi! My name is Pablo Cartaya and I’m the author of The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora and most recently Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, a book set mostly in the Isle of Enchantment, the beautiful Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico, for those of you who don’t know, is a territory of the United States. The people who live their have a U.S. passport, they serve in the U.S. military, and use the dollar as the currency. Unfortunately, Puerto Ricans living on the island can’t vote for the president of the United States but that’s another story.
I wrote Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish to answer the question of identity and how a young teen finds a part of who he is by visiting the island of his father’s birth. It’s a story about discovering the beauty within yourself and the language that lives inside. Plus, it’s a pretty cool travel story to one of my favorite places in the world: Puerto Rico. So come with me while I take you to some of my favorite spots in La Isla del Encanto. These are places off the beaten path, but if you’re into good food, amazing views, and down with meeting some pretty awesome people, then this unofficial tour guide is for you. Ready? ¡Vamos a Puerto Rico!
La Ruta del Lechón, aka “Pork Highway.” Every Saturday and Sunday the main road through Guavate, Puerto Rico’s interior mountain region, transforms from sleepy little town to party central. Guavate is the home of Lechonera, food stalls and restaurants that feature roasted pork. If you don’t eat pork or don’t eat meat then pack a snack and experience it anyway. There’s lots of music and Coco Frio, a traditional coconut drink to enjoy.
Since you’re in the neighborhood and you need to walk off that delicious pork let’s head over to the next stop:
El Charco Azul
Put Charco Azul in your GPS and follow the mountain road until you see a sign on the foot of a hill that says, “El Charco Azul.” Park across the street and walk towards the trails for about a mile or two. You’ll hike through some wooded areas and end up in a beautiful, fresh water, natural swimming pool. Officially it’s located in the southeast mountain region of Puerto Rico and is well worth the trip. Locals gather here on weekends to dip in the water and cook out. Bring your bathing suit and go for a swim! Then strike up a conversation with someone. You won’t be disappointed.
Also close to El Charco Azul is Montaña Santa. Again, GPS should take you up to one of the higher mountain areas of Puerto Rico where an old church sits atop a mountain overlooking the countryside. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the quaint church and nice view. Plus it will let you kill some time where you can start a late lunch at your next stop.
The Sand and the Sea
Arguably one of the most beautiful views on the island, this mountaintop restaurant located in Cayey is a trek to get to but well worth the journey. The family-owned business has a small hotel and the views of the ocean and the mountains are spectacular. Stay for their homemade piononos, a traditional Puerto Rican dish with arroz con gandules (rice and beans). ¡Qué rico!
After you’ve done your mountain foodie treks you can head over to Orocovis for some ridiculous zip lining across the mountains plus check out some of the farms in the region. Or, if you want to continue hiking, then I definitely recommend checking out El Yunque National Rainforest. The only such rainforest in the United States and an incredible experience to hike. On some trails you end up in a waterfall and you can dive into the icy water after a humid hike through the trees.
I also recommend visiting the island’s farmers markets. Visit Rico is a nonprofit recruiting volunteers to support farms through farm stays. It’s a great way to support farmers who have lost a lot of business because of the hurricane. If you’re in San Juan go check out Cooperativa Orgánica Madre Tierra in La Placita Roosevelt. And in the east coast, Luquillo has a nice market plus some pretty awesome chinchorros, which are little roadside kiosks that serve all kinds of food and drinks. As you can see, I like hiking and I like food. Don’t judge.
As you make your way through the island, a mandatory stop is Viejo San Juan aka Old San Juan. Old Spanish architecture makes it feel like you’re in an entirely different country. But remember, you’re not. You’re still in the United States! Wander around and check out the local shops. Buy locally and support the local economy.
I leave you with two things to experience:
Make sure you spend an evening in a quiet area where you can hear the song of the coquí echoing all around. The coquí is a legendary little frog that practically brings the whole island to life with its melodic cokee-cokee croak throughout the evenings. If you happen to be on a hammock near the water where the waves lap into the evening tide and the coquí serenades you, you might never leave.
Lastly, the best thing about Puerto Rico is the people. Talk to them. Let them tell you their stories. It is well worth your time.
Thanks for joining me on this tour. See you soon, en La Isla del Encanto.
Thank you so much Pablo! We are planning a trip to Puerto Rico next spring, so I’ll definitely be taking notes on all these things.