Last week, Mark and I heeded the call of the Carribean, and spent a week in Puerto Rico enjoying the beach, the history, the tropical plant and wildlife, and the culture.
We stayed at the Hyatt Vacation Club (a time-share that rents out rooms in the off-seasons), just outside of Dorado and slightly west of San Juan. It was perhaps the most beautiful beach it has ever been my privilege to enjoy.
The beach with its rocky shoreline, turquoise water, and generous palm trees clearly rivaled the beach we stayed on in Kauaii, Hawaii. And the travel time was significantly less with a 3-1/2 hours flight from our layover in Charlotte, NC (a little over an hour flight from home). To get to Hawaii, it took us 4 hours to get to L.A. and then another 8 hours over the ocean to reach Kauai. We loved Hawaii, but I’m not likely to make that long trip again. Puerto Rico’s tropical beaches were beautiful.
For some vague reason, and perhaps it was little things I had read or heard here or there, I was a little worried about the crime levels in Puerto Rico. We bought Frommer’s travel book and he wrote, “Tourists are generally safe, and a crime in a tourist district is rare. But homeless drug addicts and mentally ill beggars are a common sight in San Juan. There are also problems with littering and treatment of animals—but great strides in these areas are being made,” (Frommers, Puerto Rico, 2010).
We found no cause for concern about crime the entire time we were there, but we stayed largely in the rural area and never went further into the large city of San Juan than Old San Juan. We did see a lot of stray dogs.
The temperature in Puerto Rico is moderate and fairly consistent ranging from an average of 74 degrees Farenheit in the winter to an average 81 degrees in the summer. I think it was in the mid to upper 80s the week we were there.
The island of Puerto Rico is about the size of the state of Connecticut. The interior is a mountainous region. It is surrounded by a wide coastal plain. Four million people live here, one-third living in the San Juan metropolitan area.
Although Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States, it has the feel of a foreign country. Many people were bilingual and spoke fluent English, but Spanish is the native language and is spoken in most places. The people were accommodating and happy to speak English to foreigners like myself whose two years of Spanish classes in high school forty years ago did not justify even make a pretense of being fluent. The people we encountered were the nicest I’ve met anywhere.
On Sunday we went to dinner at Costa Criolla, a local restaurant in Dorado.
We asked for Sangria and our server told us he couldn’t serve it to us because it was election day. Then he proceeded to explain to us how elections worked, telling us that the people get to vote for certain issues if they agree with them or not. The issues on the ballet were whether or not to increase bale for criminals and whether to reduce the size of their congress by about 30% as a cost-savings measure. (We found out in the morning that both issues were voted down.)
At Costa Criolla Mark and I both ordered mofongos, the signature dish of Puerto Rico, made from plantains, the fruit of a herbaceous plant that resembles a banana in appearance. The plantains are fried, mashed and combined with seafood, meat or vegetables. My mofongo was shaped like a dome covering shrimp beneath. (I didn’t think to take this photo until I had eaten about half of the mofongo. I couldn’t finish it all.) The mashed plantain is very dense and filling. It was good, but did not taste at all like a banana.
Our server also told us Puerta Ricans will be voting in November about whether to keep their status as a commonwealth of the United States, to become a state, or to become a sovereign nation.
On Friday night we had the opportunity to talk to another server at a different restaurant. He had been born in Puerto Rico, but raised in Chicago. “The people here have been voting on statehood for 20 years,” he said. “Many of the people here don’t understand what it means to be a state.” When I asked him what the advantages would be for Puerto Rico to become a state, he said he didn’t think there were many, or even any.
People who are born in a U.S. territory are citizens of the United States, but do not have the same political voting rights. The territories send representatives to Congress, but they can not vote. Guam, the United States Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands are also territories, or overseas dependencies of the United States. You can read more about it at macmeekin.com.
We spent lazy days under the umbrellas on the beach,
watching the pelicans soar overhead to their fishing ground off to our left,
the waves crashing against the boulders, splashing up a fountain.
I will miss the beat of the salsa music pumping from speakers at the bar on the beach of Puerto Rico.
See more posts about Puerto Rico.