Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jardin Botanico Cultural in Caguas - a Wonderful Outing

On Saturday the SEPRI caving group was having a party and we like to go to see folks we may not regularly cave with. The affair usually starts very late (9pm), is in the metro area (traffic), and food comes out around 11pm (too late for us to eat) so we decided to combine it with a couple other activities we may not do as "destination" things. A couple years ago we went to Caguas to a cave called Aguas Buenas and while we were in the area saw a garden that looked interesting. Caving is an all day affair so we passed on by for something to eat before the 1 1/2 hour car ride home. Today was the day. We had a craving for more sushi, the garden was nearby, and both were kind of on the way to the party. We asked if Tom and Diana wanted to join us and they did. After driving for 1 1/2 hours we get there and it is CLOSED. Cerrado. No signs, no information, just a guard sitting outside telling us it is closed. In my best Spanish I tried to communicate disappointment and was sent to the office where I was greeted by Gil Calderon (the boss). It turns out that the Jardin Botanico Cultural was closed so they could install xmas lights for an upcoming event. I was disappointed because I could see what we were missing... I was the activity arranger with a couple other innocent victims in route and I didn't have a backup plan. In Puerto Rico there should always be a back-up plan. Fortunately for me Mr. Caleron went above and beyond what I had hoped for and he had his security officer Jorge Vila produce a cart and give us some park/city history as well as a guided drive around the park for 2 hours. (I was hoping they would let us just wander around on our own and had no expectation of a tour.) They would not even accept any money as a tip or for admission. Only in Puerto Rico would this happen. Jorge is extremely knowledgeable about the history of the city, the park, and sugar plantation/mill history on the island. He produced all kinds of photos of old-time Puerto Rico and as we drove around the park he wove that history into the living history of building remnants standing on the property and buildings that had been rebuilt. This park, Jardin Botanico Cultural, has many beautiful sculptures and replicas of Taino petroglyphs scattered throughout it and some "real" petroglyphs on a stream side rock. There is a beautiful river running through the property and ponds they have created. They have created a Jibaro home and Jibaro lunches are offered for a reasonable $5 when the park is open. Jorge treated us all to a limber (thank you Jorge!). Here is what I considered to be the most interesting sculpture of all. This figure is of a person growing out of the earth...the legs become roots at the bottom and there are many detail features of Taino designs that I don't show here.

The figure is quite large and entirely bronze with some painted features on it (leaves).
The gardens are really more arboretum-like...primarily trees at this point. It is a young jardin having only been started 8 years ago. Even so there are many native trees, a palm area, an area of fruit trees that would have been used by people of the time. The cultural areas are woven throughout with sculptures, figures, re-creations of Taino ceremonial areas and homestead areas. I think the park will only get better as time goes on and hopefully funding improves. Here are some historical sugar mill remnants.

 These ruins have been integrated into a modern stage-type area overlooking a pond fed by the river. This stage area is available for rental and would be a beautiful setting for a wedding, orchestra, office gathering or really any event where you need a beautiful setting with covered areas, bathrooms etc available. Here is the river area with petroglyphs on the rocks. The time of day made really nice reflections in the water and we could see turtles and fish in the water.

There was an arbor-type area that was quite extensive and covered with these beautiful flowers.The light in the afternoon was really beautiful and peeked through the arches of the remaining sugar mill walls.

The flowers were really beautiful. Here's a photo of our guide Jorge.

So our day was even better than planned thanks to Gil Calderon and Jorge Vila. We could easily have been sent on our way or ignored but they chose to provide us with a very special and memorable tour instead! If you are a local island person (as we are) this is a place to learn cultural information and is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. If you are a tourist you will learn a lot about Puerto Rico's past and you can combine a trip here with a dinner at Ichiban sushi restaurant in the nearby shopping plaza for some familiar food with great service. There is also a Starbucks in this plaza where you can top off the day with a latte and a 5 layer chocolate cake slice! This jardin is very well thought out and as it develops more will continue to mature. There is a lot of thought put into integrating native culture, plants/trees, historical building remnants and new facilities and it would be a fantastic place to hold an event (not overly expensive either). You can rent the facilities after hours. This year they are staging a new event, the gardens will be lit with xmas lights, which is why the park was closed. I believe they said it will start December 10th. You better call them for all the information if you want to visit - 787 653 8990 The park is easy to get to...when you take the Caguas exit there are actually signs for the "jardin botanico" and there is plenty of parking as well. So go there and check it out! When we are in the area again we will probably stop in again. With xmas lights the sculptures will just glow and the whole place will be wonderful. A huge thanks to Gil Calderon and Jorge Vila for making our day a memorable one! A GOOD memorable...

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