PUERTO RICO IN THE CARIBBEAN
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
322Trip End Oct 31, 2013
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DATES: Arrival November 23 2011, departure February 22 2012
JOURNEY: Dallas, Texas to San Juan, Puerto Rico- 3418 kms and 41/2 hours
Time difference +2 hours
It was just after 11pm when the plane landed in San Juan from Dallas, and we were happy to arrive into the warm, humid tropical city of San Juan.
Our primary purpose for three months on the island was to catch up with Sheila's family and friends over the Christmas and New Year with some sightseeing adventures mingled with these commitments.
Interestingly enough, when we are in Australia and people inquire of Sheila "where are you from?", because they detect an accent and she replies “Puerto Rico” you can see a blank expression or hear a comment like-“is that in South America?” She has elaborated her reply to include “Puerto Rico, a little island in the Caribbean, not far from the Dominican Republic and Haiti” and that sheds a bit more light on the location. It is true that the Caribbean Islands as a whole are known in Australia but specific islands and their geography are not really on the agenda except for the cricket playing ones. And as a holiday destination, we have closer and cheaper alternatives like Bali and Thailand.
Puerto Rico is a small island, 177 kilometres long and 53 kilometres wide and a two hour, north/west flight to Miami.
It became a territory of USA, after the Spanish/ American war in 1898. In 1917 Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship and in 1952 the island had its own government and constitution and became a semi-autonomous commonwealth territory of the USA.
Most Puerto Ricans are reluctant participants under USA control, and at present another plebiscite is being organized for late this year asking Puerto Ricans to choose between
a) the status quo, b) to become independent c) to become a state of the USA.
The local population have a passion to be independent but when logic and reason come to bear they admit that that will be unlikely and for complicated reasons it is most unlikely that USA would grant them status as a US state; so as happened in the other plebiscite the outcome was Puerto Rican status stayed the same. Perhaps the US will decide to disown them one day!!
The island’s population is around 4 million and Spanish is the primary language with most people speaking some English, reluctantly. The Puerto Ricans equate English with the USA which they frequently tell you is despicable!!
There seems to be a lot of unemployment and under employment, and the minimum hourly wage is $7.25 per hour the same as in the US.
The cost of groceries is similar to Australia and petrol costs around 85 cents per litre. Rents appear to be cheaper with a one bedroom flat in an ok area coming in at $600 per month. Cigarettes are not taxed like in Australia so are less than $5 per packet, bananas are 68 cents per pound- around $1.50 kilo. A cup of coffee ranges from 50 cents to $2 and US currency is used.
Pharmaceutical and some other companies manufacture here with special US tax concessions; tourism, agriculture and government employ a large sector, although the island is in no way close to producing enough food- most comes from the USA.
Despite the fact that there were 1200 murders last year the island feels safe and Puerto Ricans are very hospitable and considerate; they have amazing patience in heavy traffic, in long slow queues and with the frustrating pace of getting business done. When caught up in these situations they just settle down to chatting and complaining with each other.
Parties, food and music are a happy part of island life; the Christmas celebrations start weeks before Christmas, through New Year, 3 Kings Day to many January festivals. Everyone joins in and the music is nearly always Puerto Rican- salsa etc.
At this time of the year- winter- the humidity is less oppressing and the temperatures are in the high 20's with rain happening mostly at night.
Doing our morning walk in our first weeks when winter conditions were still to happen, was sweaty and arduous but as time went by we adapted and now the 4 mile - 6.5 kms- stretch although boring (its 4 times around the apartment blocks) is quite comfortable.
Sheila's mum lives on the 11th floor of Laguna Gardens apartments and we have an interesting view of the airport and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. We have seen some impressive sunsets and rises from here.
The most scenic area is old San Juan which dates back to the 1400s and is surrounded by huge rock walls built by the Spaniards to repel invaders.
Generally the residential areas apart from some wealthy ones are monotonous with concrete square blocks for dwellings; the yards are not always well maintained.