Puerto Rico Conclusions

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Short History

 

The history of this island, the smallest of the Greater Antilles, is marked by an almost constant struggle for independence, yet independence never came. Larger world powers have always controlled the island thus shaping its identity into what is today Puerto Rico: a territory with two flags, two languages, and two cultures strangely intertwined. It reminded us of another such double-language double-flag place back in Canada where the issue of identity and independence still creates controversy.

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An important commercial and military port of the Spanish Empire during the conquest and colonization of the New World, Puerto Rico experienced a great economic decline in the last half of the 19th century as the agricultural industry struggled. Commerce with United States and the European colonies in the region was restricted until 1897 when the island, stricken by poverty, was finally granted autonomy from Spain. One year later, as a result of the Spanish-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States in exchange for a few million dollars.

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Since then, the island has been a property of the United States with a Commonwealth status. A U.S. military government followed by a civil government built a large infrastructure: roads, ports, bridges, hospitals and schools, and introduced great investments thus reviving the Puerto Rican economy in the 1920s. But this economic growth had a price on the Puerto Rican identity. There was a period when it was a felony to display the Puerto Rican flag in public, sing patriotic songs, and the only official language was English. In the 1930s, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party struggled in vain for the country’s independence. The majority of people felt more comfortably being a part of the rich powerful United States of America. A referendum held in 1967 affirmed overwhelmingly the continuation of the Commonwealth status with voters for independence gaining merely 0.6%.

View of Ponce

View of Ponce

 

Today Puerto Rico is an ‘unincorporated territory’ but not a ‘state’ of the United States of America, has its own Constitution but benefits from all rights and freedoms the American citizens have, including unemployment insurance and welfare.

 

Quest for Authenticity

 

Our quest for authenticity in Puerto Rico was somewhat difficult and confused until we realized its unique flavor is precisely this mixture of cultures. Latinos who speak Spanish and listen to salsa yet drive the same cars on the same roads like Americans; who eat mofongo and empanadas but wear the same clothes and shop for the same products in the same stores and shopping centers like Americans. A culture with a deep Spanish root like all other Latin American countries, but Americanized.

 

If you ask someone Are you a ‘proud American’ or a ‘proud Puerto Rican’? you may get a very interesting answer. Try it!

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The Happiest People on Earth

 

The very first Puerto Ricans we met as we sailed in a small harbor west of Ponce told us they were the happiest people on Earth. Two guys in swim shorts kayaked to our boat to greet us. We discussed many diverse topics, in English, ranging from religion to sailing to economics. They said that Evo looks like Jesus without hair, that if we go to the Bermuda Triangle we will disappear for sure, and that the best beer is the free beer. We agreed with them completely on everything. They also said: 

 

We chill on the beach all day and listen to music. We are all set. We receive welfare each month from the American government so we don’t have to work, it’s enough for the rent and for beer. Life is beautiful. (They tell us that 60% of all Puerto Ricans are unemployed and receive social benefits from the U.S. government. The official unemployment rate is around 14% which is still very high. Their standard of living is much higher than most Latin American countries.)

 

 

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We spent our time in Puerto Rico shopping: provisioning and upgrading the boat, and visiting some of the island’s most popular points of interest: Old San Juan, El Yunke, Viequez, and Culebra. We learned that the popular places are usually very crowded, especially on the weekends.

 

Old San Juan

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We had the best time in Old San Juan visiting the two big defense forts built in the 16th and 17th century where many epic battles were fought, roaming through the colonial town’s narrow streets, and eating the best frozen yogurt.

 

Read full article Cats and Ghosts. Battles of San Juan

 

El Yunke National Park

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El Yunke is the most popular tourist destination in Puerto Rico after San Juan. It is a national park with a large territory covered with tropical rainforest, with rivers and waterfalls, and a number of hiking trails. While it is the most beautiful rainforest we have ever seen, our hiking experience there was very disappointing. We went on a Saturday and the place was so packed with tourists, we got stuck in a human traffic jam on the trails.

 

Read full article El Yunke, Unfortunately

 

Culebrita

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Even though there are not as any sites to visit and things to do on land as in Dominican Republic, cruising around Puerto Rico is much easier and more fun than around the Dominican Republic. On the south side of the island there are many anchorages just a few miles away from one to the next. We would sail for 3-4 hours in the morning and spend the afternoon in a new place each day. Our favorite spot became Tortuga Beach on Culebrita, a beautiful lagoon home of hundreds of sea turtles.

 

Read full article Culebra and Culebrita

 

 

 

 

 

Facts and Useful Information

 

 

 

·         Puerto Rico is United States of America – Almost everything is the same, it’s very strange and unexpected.

 

·         Checking in by boat – you have to go through U.S. immigration and customs and agriculture inspection. All you need to pay for is a cruising permit good for 1 year, costs $19 (Canadians don’t need visas, other countries citizens do need to apply for US visas before travelling to Puerto Rico). The officials are extremely nice and it is easy and even pleasant to check in if you don’t bring any foreign garbage. Remember, just don’t bring any garbage.

 

·         Language – Spanish is the local language, but almost everyone speaks English

 

·         Shopping – After the Bahamas and Dominican Republic and before the BVI and the Antilles island chain, you have to stock up in Puerto Rico where you can find everything and it’s cheap. There are Walmart, HomeDepo, and Sam’s Clubs in every big city, and WestMarine in San Juan and Fajardo. Here the motto “The more you spend the more you save” is 100% valid. There isn’t a cheaper place for provisioning until you get to China.

 

·         Fishing – We would catch a mahogany snapper almost every time we trolled, plus a tuna, a few barracudas and a reef shark. We released the barracudas and the shark; ate the snappers.

 

·         Security – Many people told us to be careful and not to trust everyone as the crime rate in Puerto Rico is very high. We never had any problems.

 

·         Transport – There is no public transport between the big cities. (Everyone has a car in Puerto Rico.) The only way to go from Ponce to San Juan for example is to rent a car, take a taxi, or hitch hike. Rental car rates are the same as in USA.

 

 

Other related articles:

Bahamas Conclusions

Dominican Republic Conclusions

 

 

 

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El Yunke, Unfortunately

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El Yunque National Forest in northeastern Puerto Rico is located on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo mountains, encompassing 28,000 acres (43.753 mi² or 113.32 km²) of land. Ample rainfall creates a jungle-like setting — lush foliage, crags, waterfalls and rivers are a prevalent sight. The forest has a number of trails from which the jungle-like territory’s flora and fauna can be appreciated. It is home to over 200 species of trees and plants, 23 of which are found nowhere else. 

– from Wikipedia

 

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We first attempt visiting El Yunke about a week after arriving in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Everyone we meet, locals and cruisers, tell us You have to go to El Yunke, it’s amazing!

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After two hours of driving with a rental car (there is no public transport from Ponce where our boat is to anywhere in Puerto Rico) we get to the national park’s entrance only to be told that El Yunke is closed until further notice, at least few more days, due to too much rain and landslides. Disappointed, we drive back.

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About two weeks later we get another chance to visit El Yunke, on a Saturday. This time it’s open. Admission is free. We put on hiking shoes and prepare for some serious hiking. This should be the Puerto Rican equivalent of Dominican Republic’s Pico Duarte. But pretty soon we start seeing disturbing signs, things are wrong.

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First red flag: on the parking lot before one of the trails to the waterfalls there are so many cars and busses that we have hard time finding a parking spot.

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Second red flag: From the cars and busses descend young girls wearing high hills and miniskirts, obese men, women and children, Asian women wearing romantic long dresses, and Hindu families with silk saris and sandals. Not exactly the kind of people and equipment you see on hiking trails. Suspicion starts creeping in our minds.

Third red flag: The hiking trail is paved! It is not a trail but a narrow “street” made of concrete and there are steps to go up and down. Every now and then there are small rain shelters and the place looks more like a residential area than a forest.

Waiting for incoming traffic to pass before being able to continue down the "trail"

Waiting for incoming traffic to pass before being able to continue down the „trail“

 

Soon we are stuck in traffic on the narrow “trail”. Hundreds of visitors creep slowly up and down, usually led by the slowest of the group, a large lady who barely walks, passing is very difficult, and we have to stop and wait for incoming traffic too. It gets worse when someone in front decides to light a cigarette and we all have to breathe it.

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We are no longer seeing the forest, the trees, the river, the waterfalls. Our entire attention is focused on the traffic of tourists all around us. Guides caution their groups to „stay on the paved trails at all times because the forest is full of poison ivy and there are no hospitals nearby.“

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As we get to the famous waterfalls we witness another perversion. People have surrounded the little pool under the fall and wait in queue to take turns photographing each other with the waterfall behind them, the same picture they have seen on the brochure. But it’s hard to take a picture with no strangers in the background.

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We can’t take any more of this. We run back to the car and escape this crowded place, heading to a more secluded and less populated area back in the city: the shopping mall.

Conclusions:

1. Never visit El Yunke on the weekend.

2. Avoid the popular „trails“ and find some less popular unpaved ones.

3. Go early in the morning when there are less people.

4. Instead visiting El Yunke, which is the most popular tourist destination in Puerto Rico, visit a less popular park or forest, there are plenty of others on the island.

5. El Yunke is the most beautiful rainforest we have seen so far, but we had the worst hiking experience there…

 

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