The drive to Ponce was like any other drive we’ve taken while in Puerto Rico, nerve-wrecking but thrilling. Driving from one city to another is one of my favorite parts of this trip. It’s when I learn most about the communities. We like to stop in smaller communities to eat and that’s exactly what we did. My navigator Emily found a beautiful restaurant named Believe restaurant and bar
It had a down to earth rustic ambiance, small but friendly staff and my favorite, a chalk board menu with the few daily items available written in beautiful lettering.
Emily and I have been trying our best to eat local or at least order local. I’ve noticed every restaurant offers a hamburger but no two are the same. So I ordered the burger and Emily ordered a chicken plantain wrap.
We both tried fresh local passion fruit juice. Our food was beyond delicious. Is the food so damn good just because we’re on vacation or is it because local produce in Puerto Rico means LOCAL? Yes, as in picked right from most restaurants back yards or maybe a neighbors back yard. The produce at Believe is grown and picked right in their own back yard.
After lunch we hit the road…windows down, sweat dripping and music blaring. Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico, was founded in 1692. We maneuvered through the narrow streets that were originally designed for traveling by horse. Our destination, Ponce Pueblo District where our hotel awaits our arrival. We had reservations at the longest operating hotel in Puerto Rico, the Melia which was directly across from the town center.
The Melia’s lobby was upscale but tasteful.
The city, including our hotel had a creole architectural design. It was exquisitely beautiful. Our room on the other hand...made Motel 6 look like luxury. I was fascinated by the polar opposites. The hotel claims to have accessible rooms but my idea of accessibility is obviously not aligned with theirs. Two steps to enter the room, the bed had to be moved for me to enter the room and the bathroom doors width was so narrow a child would need to walk sideways to get through it. The hotel did have a make shift ramp for the steps leading to the door but there was an issue there.
I wasn’t the only guest who needed it. It was often moved without notice. I’m grateful I can maneuver down steps in my chair. Getting out was easy. Getting up was a waiting game. I can’t help but think about people who don’t have the abilities I have and how traveling like this would be extremely difficult.
I usually understand how making accessibility upgrades can put a financial strain on a business but this boutique hotel seemed to have the resources by looking at how boughie the lobby and outside was decorated. I was annoyed but had to get back into the mindset that Puerto Rico is behind on disability rights. I have to adjust to this culture. I’m spoiled back home and times like this helps me understand it more. I still feel for locals with disabilities. Their quality of life can be increased if they were more independent. They have the right to equal access just like every other citizen.
Our room was in the corner of a small courtyard that’s often used to host local art and music shows on evenings.
We noticed Ponce has a Spanish siesta culture. The courtyard shows started around 8PM and went on til 1AM. Luckily we enjoy nightlife so our sleep wasn’t interrupted. Other guests may have had a different experience. We also noticed the shows were attended mostly by locals. We were definitely experiencing local culture which is what we wanted. We got the vibe that the hotel wasn’t necessarily interested in catering to its guest nearly as much as the locals who attended the late night gatherings. We thought it was strange but we’re content with our experience.
Just to make things interesting, my ROHO wheelchair cushion popped during our stay in Ponce.
I called ROHO and was told exactly what I didn’t want to hear. Shipping to Puerto Rico would take 10 business days and would cost over $500. My cushion is super important. It’s soft air cells keep my weight distributed evenly. Without it, my bony little rump could get a pressure sore and that is a giant hassle to deal with. Spinal cord injury is unique. My lower extremities have atrophied so I’m all skin and bones back there. I asked myself, “What would Macgyver do?” I found rubber glue and rubber material at Home Depot. Self mantinence is often my only option.
After letting the glue set my cushion was as good as new. I often feel tested but I understand life isn’t going to go my way 100% of the time. The only thing I can control is my attitude. I won’t lie, I was discouraged but my will to experience life is strong. I’ve hit rock bottom, I’ve died, I’ve been poor, I’ve lived in my car. A popped seat cushion wasn’t going to end this trip.
Emily went for a walk while my cushion was setting. It was nice to have some alone time. We’re in love but time for ourselves is mandatory. She discovered tons of interesting street art.
Ponce is diverse. It’s background, we’re still trying to figure out. There’s an obvious sign of distress portrayed through art here.
Streets are lined with mansions which shows it was once thriving.
The abandonment came before the devastating hurricane. It’s clear, Puerto Rico had financial issues. Issues that are visible from the street.
These issues can’t take away from our experiences in Ponce. Once again the food trumped all our sad feelings for the city. We ate at El Barril De La Mulat.
It’s restaurants like this that put smiles on our faces. The smells from the kitchen were mouth watering. The menu was just as I like. A chalk board with today’s specials. When they run out, they run out and the item is crossed off the chalk board. We chose chicken, rice and beans, the catch of the day and a salad.
I must note that Puerto Rican rice and beans are the only rice and beans I want for the rest of my life.
There are a few must sees in Ponce. First is the Cruceta del Vigía. A 110ft cross sitting on top of a hill over looking Ponce.
Originally built by Spanish settlers used as a look out for pirate invaders during the 1600s. The cross on top of the hill that you see today was built as a monument to the watchmen who raised flags to notify the military at the port if ships were coming in to trade or attack. The views from the top are breath taking but I didn’t experience them. Once again a faulty elevator hindered me from experiencing something spectacular. Come on Puerto Rico! Luckily the stairs were available to other tourists including Emily.
You should also visit the Don Q Rum Mansion/museum. Only a block from the cross. It was built in the 1920s by the Serralles family who settled in Puerto Rico in 1830. They operated the largest sugar cain plantation on the island and opened a rum distillery in 1865. They offer tours in English but they are not wheelchair accessible. The tour consists of walking up and down many flights of stairs. Emily enjoyed the tour but was asked to not take photos. I’m just as sad as you are but if you really want to see what’s inside here’s a little sneak peek.
It was time for our siesta so we went back to our hotel. We noticed the city center across from the hotel had set up a stage with speakers and a light system while we were away. If there was a concert planned you know we were going to attend. We ate at the hotel and went to the thriving city center after. Families and friends mingled around food venders. An audience sat patiently waiting for the musical act to get on stage.
We enjoyed every second of our experience at the city center. It was prime people watching territory. People of all ages attended. I’m grateful we were surrounded by so much neighborhood pride.
Our last night in Ponce was magical. We again wanted to be one with the citizens of Puerto Rico. This want led us to Ponce boardwalk. La Guancha is the perfect place to be on a Saturday evening. Its definitely not a tourist stop which we loved. It’s perfect for family fun. There are vendors selling art, jewelry, toys, food and of course alcohol.
It’s not big but sometimes you’re surprised most from what comes in a small package.
At one end of the board walk we found exercise equipment. They even had accessible equipment designed for wheelchairs.
This is the type of progression I’ve been looking for in Puerto Rico. I was stoked to try every piece. Unfortunately, most was broken but that didn’t matter. What mattered was someone thought of inclusion during the planning process. This was one small step for man, and one giant roll for people with disabilities.
A park surrounded one side of the board walk. While getting buff we could here music in the distance. We perked our ears and followed the sounds of 90’s grunge rock. We approached a gazebo with two men. One playing a guitar and the other playing drums. Emily climbed the stairs and I rolled up the ramp on the opposite side. We stood on seperate sides of the gazebo staring at each other while signing lyrics to the songs they played.
Not a word was exchanged. Only clapping in between songs. These are the experiences that I’ll never forget.
After a couple of days in Ponce we wanted to go check out the mountains in west Puerto Rico, so stay tuned for our (mis) adventures in treacherous conditions in the jungle!
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