An hour’s ferry ride brought us back to our rented Charlie Car on the main island. My girlfriend’s iPad guided us south around El Yunque National Rainforest to Guavate in Cayey (same US mainland cellular carriers!). Mountains of roasted pig magic await! Lechon, ho! Where else would three Pinays visiting Puerto Rico for the first time go?
From Fajardo, we stuck to the main highways to Cayey, zagging and zigging through the mountains. We exited off Route 184, bearing southeast. The steep switchback roads heightened our anticipation. We climbed and climbed, until kilometer 27.7.
The skewered swines shone in the Lechonera Los Pinos front window. Los Pinos had a big parking lot, and it was packed, as we expected any well-regarded lechonera (place where lechon, or whole roasted pig, is cooked and served) would be on a Sunday afternoon. Underage popular kids drinking and smoking in the parking lot behind their Ray Bans. Extended families filing in and out dressed in their Sabbath finery. Nothing like Church to make one hungry as hell.
Look at their eyes.
We fell in a line about thirty deep. The butcher’s machete thwak! thwak! portions out the last of one pig just before two men, each with an end of a metal pole on his shoulder, brought in a pig fresh from the roaster.
A glassed-in buffet displayed the many side dishes: blood sausage, rice and pigeon peas, fried plantains, yucca. I asked for a big piece of skin along with everything else.
The skin of a lechon… Let’s just call it what it is. Pork candy. Crunchy, sweet, salty, unctuous from the lacy layer of fat just hanging on to the skin’s underside. It is the reason why I went looking for Los Pinos in the mountains, and it did not disappoint me.
The meat itself was tender, juicy, sweet. The blood sausage was the surprise for me, tasting strongly of dried bay leaf. Delicious counterpoint.
Pigeon peas and rice, fried plantains are all necessary. Because you will already be drunk on lechon by then.
While we were still in line, a trio of very talented musicians set up in a small stage in front of a small dance floor. A great meal and a great show!
And here was the couple working it. Every public venue where music is played that we encountered that week in Puerto Rico, older couples like this pair are the first out there, tangoing off their lechon lunch. Indeed a very pleasant lunch.
Sated and walking slowly out of Los Pinos slightly dazed, before us the carnivalistic scene of Cayey buzzed with activity: stalls of souvenirs — decaled and custom airbrush t-shirts, hammocks, beach towels, carousels of woven friendship bracelets and key chains. A few enterprising men in the streets calling to passing cars advertising $5 parking (you can park a bit up the road for free), rainbowed piña colada stands. Cars and their own sound systems slow parade to see and be seen. A few paces up hill sits the El Rancho Original lechonera. Gamblers putting money on their favorite wooden pony, a huge dance floor and live entertainment, seating by the river, it’s a self-contained entertainment land. Admission is free. They have pig, too, but we were full.
A wonderful Sunday in Cayey, Guavate, Puerto Rico.