My though of its location was utterly mistaken, pictured it on a flat valley nestled by a mountain range of dark green. The realization of my mistake came when we kept climbing the narrow paved and twisted road while still miles, as directed by our GPS, away from the park. It was a Monday, a few dark clouds seen through the foliage that canopied the road, could be seen. Concrete houses of every shape and size were cooped inside the mountain near the road or on a thin stretch of land right beside the cliff.
The sign welcomes you with its bold letters. We arrived at the Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park in Utuado. My kids screamed of joy after the long filled with anticipation road trip from San Juan. A long down the hill curved wooden pathway surrounded by bamboos and tall palm trees, directed us to the information building. My kids and husband raced most of the way down, me trying to catch up while their laughter announced their arrival. When my family stopped for a moment, tranquility took over and only the sound of rustling leaves could be heard; the air was refreshing. There was almost no one there, the park was ours and we could enjoy it without the fuss of multitude of visitors.
A black fluffy dog slept in front of the reception desk, two women smiled while welcoming us. My husband went straight to sign us in the guest book, and I walked towards the women. The receptionist indicated the prices were two dollars for each adult and one for children, my eight year old jumped in and said he would pay for his own ticket taking out a one dollar bill. I smiled; it was going to be an exciting afternoon.
First stop was the tiny round museum that has a small collection of Taino artifacts like jewelry, cemís, and everyday utensils. My husband pointed out that he remembered it was a larger one. We took our time to read the bilingual placards, to take photos and admire the huge Caguana petroglyph recreation depicting a women-figure with large ears, a crown on her head, with eyes closed and her extremities like frog’s legs, who was in a squatting position denoting her power.
After we were done, the receptionist took us to the second floor to the viewing room. At the top of the stairs to the right, beautifully carved wooden statues adorned the balcony from which the park can be admired from a far. Turning left there is a closed store and at the end of the hall our destination, where a fifty minutes movie runs explaining the history of one of the most important archeological sites in the Antilles that gives us a glimpse on our Taino heritage.
Stepping out of the building, the land opens up inviting you to explore. Some of the ceremonial plazas could be seen from the distance lined by stones and petroglyphs that depict animals and human faces defining their shape and size. The ground was a bit humid, but still good to walk on, and slowly we made our way down to the plazas being careful of ant hills and holes on the ground of which we encountered but a few.
I let my kids explore their surroundings while I snap photos on my phone and took my time to enjoy the peace emanating all around. I tried to imagine a long gone way of life that we have so little knowledge of. Even though the echoes of a culture were silent, it was the pride in my heart that was loud and clear and brought me joy. Silent, but not gone. We slowly walked and saw each one of the ten ceremonial plazas. At a distance, a mountain with a cemi shape top watched over us as it would have the Taino people centuries ago. Two Ceiba trees, my favorite tree, stood tall; one of them threw one of its thorns on the head of my daughter who, even though surprised for a moment, was thrilled by the gift. I wondered if they stood when the Taino lived here, but it was doubtful because of their sizes.
On the last Ceremonial plaza, minutes before departure, a soft breeze announcing rain blew softly. I closed my eyes, raised my head and breathe deeply. This moment of solitude and silence I was not going to have for a while and I might as well take it in.
The Caguana Indigenous Ceremonial Park is a look at our past that might rise questions on how they constructed it, why so many plazas, what is the specific purpose of each one. We didn’t waist our time wondering; we enjoyed its beauty, the richness it brings to our culture, its importance to human history through the simplicity of carved rocks turned into petroglyphs to withstand time and be forever remembered. I wanted a bit more, to see a few “bohios” (Taino houses) to get a more in depth feel on their way of life, but overall I was satisfied and of the trip there with its mesmerizing panoramic views of the gorgeous mountains.
How to get there:
Open every day from 8:30 am to 4:20 pm, if you’re coming from San Juan, take the José de Diego Expressway PR22 towards Arecibo, on exit 75B take PR10 to PR11 on your way to Lares, Km 12.4, Utuado. I, knowing my way towards Utuado, the rest of the way use my Waze app to get directions; Google maps works too. Be aware to use it before entering the mountain road for you might encounter loss of data, I did.
Of five I give it a four.
Where to eat:
There are many places to eat along the way, which were closed maybe because it was a Monday. We stopped at a pizzeria near the park. The restaurant was clean, had good service and the pizza we ate was average in taste, but crispy and hot as I like it.