Sunday, March 17, 2019

Festival de la China Dulce en Las Marias

We arrived just in time for the pig to come out of the pit!
Puerto Rico has no shortage of annual festivals.  Little towns all over the island have some special thing that they celebrate, and we have only just begun to experience them.  The fact that we LIVE here is also just beginning to sink in for me.  We don't have to do everything in the span of one week's vacation.  The kids can come back again and again and we can explore and enjoy our Island Home in easily relatable sections... And. We can roll with it.  So when I found out about this little trip with our newfound friends from the Cultural Centre of Arroyo that was scheduled during the kid's visit, I booked it!

We've been driving all over the island and the prospect of having someone else do the driving was very attractive.  The roads to towns in the interior mountainous areas can be difficult to navigate during daylight... This trip would take us into the dark, so it was even better to have a driver and a spacious, comfortable bus to take us there and back.

Then there's the little "extras".  The driver knows where the best stops are!  Soon after the long drive along the south coast, we turned onto a hilly, winding road and made an unexpected stop.  We had all been up since the wee hours of the morning to catch the bus to Las Marias for their annual Festival de la China Dulce, or Festival of the sweet orange!  Everyone was hungry for "second brekky" and this  little roadside tienda had lots of choices for us!  We bought some delicious Tacos de pollo and watched as the owner took the pig off of the fire and began chopping off chunks for our group to take along.  Several of the other people on our bus bought to-go plates and shared them with us.  Next time I'll wait for the pig!  It was tender and delicious!

By the time we had finished licking our fingers, the bus brought us into the little town of Las Marias.  We all piled off of the bus and received our instructions to meet the bus back down at the bottom of the hill to avoid the crowds.  My daughter marked the spot on her phone and we waded into those crowds to see what this festival was all about!

If you've followed the blog for long, you'll know that crowds aren't normally my thing.  But for whatever reason, the people of Puerto Rico are so chill, it isn't jangling my nerves as it usually does to just mingle among the huge press of humanity all vying for the same thing... a spot near the stage!

We pushed past rows and rows of vendors selling unique art and delicious treats. My desire to fill my home with beauty was running strong, but I resisted.  There's plenty of time for that! I picked up a couple of pieces of coconut candy on the way to the stage, then we wandered around until we found a spot that we could set up our chairs.

How lucky can you get???  There was one little spot in the grass that was sort of protected from the bumping, milling throngs by the park benches backed up to a median in the square.  We squeezed past the benches and set up our chairs beneath the meagre shade of a tree.  My calculation deduced that the sun would arc across the sky and soon, we would be completely shaded by this little tree.  For a short time, the sun beat down on us however and we bunched up in the bit of shade.

Looks great, but wasn't so much!
The kids left our little oasis and wandered the streets, checking everything out and returning with gifts!  Wow!  What looked like an awesome orange slushy, turned out to be an entire orange thrown into a blender with a bit of ice!  I'm not sure the peel was included, but the rest of the flesh surely was.  I can't say I enjoyed that little treat, but thanks to the kids for thinking of us!

It's enticing, but looks better than it is!
The Handsome Hector, nickname SABOR!
We sat in the shade and enjoyed the music and people watching.  Our new friend Hector is a hoot!  He dances and spouts poetry and generally enjoys life!  He's a single guy and was transparently on the hunt for the ladies!  I offered to be his wing-man but he declined, saying that these ladies were nice to look at, but Las Marias was too far to drive for a long term relationship!  He was just browsing!

Just look at that smiling face!
The kids returned once again, this time with food.  I hardly had the heart to tell my daughter that I didn't care for the local dish known as Bacalaitos.  I did have a little taste of it, and had they not used the Bacalao, or salted north Atlantic cod, in the recipe, it would be lovely.  But I have had a bad salt-fish experience since our Dominican Republic days, and I just can't get past it.  I did not mar my daughter's enjoyment of this Puerto Rican favorite!

By this time, the shade had moved enough to encompass all four of our chairs.  Bruce and I left the kids to watch the action on the stage while we went on a foraging expedition!  Maybe we could come up with something better...

I found what I was looking for!  The Chino-Colada stand!  So much of the offerings today were made from the sweet oranges grown locally.  Why not alter the Pina Colada recipe to make it distinctly their own!  We picked up two big ones to share with the kids and made a b-line back to our spot before they melted!

I popped over to the Pincho Stand nearby and grabbed a couple of those as well, then we feasted and relaxed to watch the show until we decided it was time to make way toward the rendezvous point.  Who knew how long it would take us to get through these packed streets, and we wanted to be waiting.  To tell the truth, all of the noise and movement was beginning to overload my brain.  Add the travelling band parading through the streets and I can say I was very happy to break out of the press and into the peaceful side streets once again.

Ahhh peace!  Keeping it real, I must say that all of this chaos has been hard on my brain.  I've never been more happy to just sit and enjoy the passing of a rain shower from afar.  Yes, this is my new life.

With our chairs planted next to the bus that would soon take our weary bodies back down the winding and treacherous mountain roads to our home... I could enjoy the moment and marvel once again at how I came to be sitting in this place.  One little dot on an island in the Caribbean.  This is my now and my reality for as long as I have left on this planet.  I'm so happy to be able to share it with my husband and my daughter and son-in-law.  I let the stresses of the crowd fade away and just enjoyed the moment and the amazing beauty of our new home.

WE're just beginning to get the hang of this festival thing that Puerto Rico has going.  Next time I'll be better prepared.  I'll pick up some of the local art and a whole lot more of the local sweets and eats.  But this was a wonderful sample of the joy that Puerto Ricans have in their home.  Other People's Vacation Pics to be continued...

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