February 27, 2005

Bumming Around Puerto Rico

I’m back from Puerto Rico and apologize for being lazy before I started blogging again. When I go on vacation it takes a while to decompress. But after spending several days in a row bumming around Old San Juan and sitting barefoot on the beach it takes yet another few days to ease back into my work routine.

I don’t have a travel essay for you, mostly because I don’t have a travel narrative to wrap one around. That was on purpose. I didn’t want this trip to be an adventure. I wanted to do very little of anything. So I that’s all I did.

I do, however, have some photos and nuggets of commentary.

San Juan.jpg

When I first went to Quebec City a few years ago I was envious at what Canada had. Ooh, I thought. Why can’t we have a 400-year old European-looking American city? But we do. We have Old San Juan. Since Puerto Rico isn’t a state - even though it’s part of America - I often forget all about it. You’re looking at it, though. There it is: a 400-year old European-style American city. It’s not French, though, it’s Spanish, which is even better.

A cab driver told me about an executive from Intel he had just picked up from the airport. “This guy told me he had no trouble with immigration after he landed.”

“He flew here from the states?” I said.

“He flew here from the states,” he said and laughed. “It gets worse, though. I told him Puerto Rico is part of the United States so of course there was no immigration. I don’t think he understood. Next he asked me what kind of currency we use on the island.”

I’ll say this in a meager defense of the ignorant man from Intel. Puerto Rico doesn’t look or feel like the U.S. at all. It really is culturally Latin American. Except for the American-style shopping malls in the suburbs and the Miami-style hotels on the beach, it reminded more of Costa Rica than anywhere else.

San Juan Alley.jpg

Costa Rica does not, however, have much in the way of Spanish colonial architecture. The buildings and houses are mostly modern and block-like, just as they are in San Juan. But the walled city of Old San Juan is a jewel of narrow cobble-stoned streets, plazas, outdoor cafes, and wrought-iron balconies. If I ever decide to move to Puerto Rico, this is definitely where I will live.

San Juan Tapas Restaurant.jpg

Every single meal I had on the island was excellent. Not only are Puerto Ricans masters of their own Caribean-style cuisine, they invent ingenious experimental concoctions that don’t exist anywhere else. One restaurant in Old San Juan billed itself as Indo-Latino. But it was much more even than that. Dishes weren’t merely a fusion of Carribean and Indian food. They threw Middle Eastern and East Asian ingredients into the mix, too.

El Convento.jpg

Shelly and I stayed at the Hotel Milano in Old San Juan. I don’t recommend it. Their Web site makes it look like it’s an okay place, but it’s as charmless as a hospital or a cruise ship. We should have stayed at El Convento. Now that’s a fine Spanish hotel. As you can guess, it was a convent back in the day. Unlike the Hotel Milano, the inside is as charming and warm as the outside.

Columbus Statue.jpg

Several outdoor cafes ring the plaza around the statue of Christopher Columbus.

Asesino de Indios.jpg

But look closer. Not everyone is a fan of Columbus these days.

La Perla.jpg

La Perla is said to be the most colorful slum in the world. That may be. But it looks to me like “slum” is a bit of an overstatement. I’ve seen some horrific Latin American slums in my day. The worst are in Guatemala and Mexico. Just looking at pictures of Brazilian favelas is enough to depress me. But La Perla is nothing like that. I wouldn’t say it’s a nice place. It’s basically a pile of houses wedged between the north wall of the old city, an old Spanish cemetary, and the Atlantic. It doesn’t appear on a single tourism map. But still. You’re looking at it right now. It doesn’t look any worse up close in real life. If this is still considered a slum, life is definitely better than it once was in Puerto Rico. There are many many worse places in the world than this.

El Yunque.jpg

Not only do I frequently forget that we have a 400-year old European-style city inside our borders, I also forget we have a tropical rain forest, too. This is El Yunque, known in English as the Carribean National Forest. It’s the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. (We do have a temperate rain forest, however - the only one in the world - on Washington state’s Olympic Penninsula.)

El Yunque Creek.jpg

I’ve tromped around the rain forests and jungles of three Central American countries. Each is its own place. They’re dramaticaly different even though they’re all so close together. But they do have one thing in common: I swore that I would never camp overnight in a tent in any of them. I’m used to the temperate forests of the Pacific Northwest. Tropical forests are different; they are manifestly hostile. Razor-toothed crocodiles, malarial mosquitoes, flesh-ripping jaguars, poisonous snakes, and the vicious little biting insect bastards can have the place to themselves when I’m not on a day trip. El Yunque, though, isn’t like that at all. There are no crocodiles, no jaguars, no poisonous snakes, and no insects that I was aware of. There was enough shade from the sun that it was not even hot in midafternoon. I’d love to camp in that tropical paradise. I wished when I was there that I had a tent. It’s truly benign, and if Earth has an Eden it must be El Yunque.

El Yunque Mountain.jpg

The forest begins at sea level and rises to the top of a mountain. If you drive or walk all the way up you’ll pass through four distinct ecosystems as you rise in elevation. The top is so windy, so high, and so cool that the jungle aspect entirely vanishes and the trees are reduced to dwarfs.


Northwestern Puerto Rico is karst country. Karst is a rare land formation found only in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the former Yugoslavia. The would-be flat landscape is violently scoured with gigantic sinkholes created by centuries of rain water dissolving the limestone.


Arecibo, the world’s largest radio telescope, was built at the bottom of one of those pits. It looks smallish in pictures, but it’s way too big to fit in a photograph. I’ve seen pictures of it before and had absolutely no idea how big it really is. I took one look at it and said “holy shit!” – a common reaction, I’m sure. The receiver alone is almost the size of a cruise ship.


The island of Culebra off the east coast of Puerto Rico is, in geologic terms, a part of the Virgin Islands. It is not what I would have expected in the Carribean. It doesn’t look or feel like the tropics. It looks and feels Mediterranean. El Yunque is only twenty miles away across the water. Somehow, apparently, it steals most of the rain that would otherwise fall on Culebra.


There’s only one town on Culebra. Officially its name is Dewey, named after Admiral George Dewey in the Spanish-American war. The locals defiantly call the town Puebla. But don’t take that the wrong way. They’re sweet and hospitable people. If they harbor a grudge against gringos and yanks they sure do know how to hide it.

The “mainland” island is unbelievably crowded. If you want to get away from it all, go to Vieques. And if Vieques is too much for you, to go Culebra. The island is small. You can walk across it the long way in an afternoon. You can walk across it the short way in only an hour. The one town of Dewey/Puebla is miniscule. There are no large hotels and no corporate chain restaurants or stores of any kind. It’s more laid back and lethargic than even Belize.


The most popular bar is Mamacita’s. Everyone who works there is an “expat.” (I’m putting “expat” in quotes because Culebra is a part of the United States. But it’s culture is so distinctly Latin American it feels as foreign as anywhere in South or Central America.)

Playa Flamenco.jpg

The Travel Channel recently named Flamenco Beach the second most beautiful in the world. (The single most beautiful supposedly is in Hawaii.) Well, they ought to know. They’ve been to plenty more beaches than I have. Flamenco Beach is certainly the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The waves are gentle, the water is turquoise, the shape is a perfect horseshoe. The sand is soft and white. Best of all, it’s a Carribean beach with almost no people on it at all. It almost didn’t even seem real. How could such a beautiful place be so empty of people? I felt like a lucky bastard to be there, and I doubt its seclusion will last. (I realize I am not helping by posting about it.)

Playa Tortuga.jpg

If Flamenco Beach ever does get too crowded you can always go to Isla Culebrita’s Playa Tortuga. That’s where you go when you’re sick of “the crush” on Culebra and really want to get away from it all. It’s an island off the coast of an island off the coast of an island. It is totally uninhabited and will likely remain so for a very long time. The Carribean may be crowded, but it isn’t yet full.

Thanks to Mary and Jeremy for filling in for me while I lazily bumming around far from my laptop.

(All images copyright Michael J. Totten)

Posted by Michael J. Totten at February 27, 2005 11:05 PM


Beautiful pictures of the American colony.

From the Transnational Institute:

"Ignoring the demands of local politicians, civilians, church groups and environmentalists to cease military exercises, the US Navy resumed target-practice bombing on Monday, 1 April 2002 on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in the Caribbean. A week later, Mayor of the Vieques island municipality Dámaso Serrano joined peace activists and pro-independence groups in calling for an end to military practices and demanding that the US Navy leave the island.

Since 1 April, 14 demonstrators have been arrested. This adds to the hundreds of local and international peace activists, including US Congressional Representatives, who were arrested throughout last year while attempting to penetrate the heavily guarded Naval base. This week, US Naval guards used tear gas against pacifist demonstrators. Both mainstream and local independent sources have reported that Naval guards have been continuously raiding the three civilian peace camps set up by local NGOs.

On Wednesday, 10 April, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú Tum met with Dámaso Serrano while on tour in Puerto Rico. Menchú called upon the United Nations to intervene in the crisis and expressed her solidarity with the struggle for the self-determination of Puerto Rico. The oldest standing colony of the world, Puerto Rico has been a US territory since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898. Puerto Ricans are considered to be US citizens, but have neither voice nor vote in the US Congress and are not allowed to participate in US presidential elections. They are eligible, however, for drafting in case of US war or military operations."

So they can die for the states but can't vote. Charming.

Posted by: Benjamin at February 28, 2005 01:55 AM


I am happy to report that the navy no longer bombs Vieques.

Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Puerto Rico is basically an American colony, yes. But they are a colony rather than a state by choice. They have the option to become the 51st state, and they repeatedly opt out of it in elections. They can't vote for president, but they willingly put themselves in that position. Don't feel bad for them, it's their decision.

The biggest reason (probably) is because they pay no federal income taxes right now, and that would change if PR became a state. I can't say I blame them for the choice, but I for one wish PR would become a state. It just seems the right way to go.

Puerto Ricans are American citizens, not subjects. They carry American passports. They can move to the mainland whenever they want, and we mainlanders can move to the island whenever we want. It is not another country, although it does look and feel like another country.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at February 28, 2005 02:23 AM

Great photos, welcome back, Michael. Mary & Jeremy did fine work while you were away.

(I don't know why Jeremy, like TmjUtah, seems better on your site than his own site, but it seems you bring out the best in some folk.)

You didn't mention any language issues -- were comfy in Spanish mostly, both, or mostly English?

Also, how is your Arabic coming?

The Bush-Putin summit in Bratislava included a fine Bush speech to a crowd of mostly Slovaks.

Posted by: Tom Grey at February 28, 2005 02:42 AM


Thanks for your reply.

Posted by: Benjamin at February 28, 2005 05:11 AM

MJT - "We do have a temperate rain forest, however - the only one in the world - on Washington state’s Olympic Penninsula"

It's not a big deal but, having grown up in Sitka I can tell you that the North American Temperate Rain Forest extends well beyond the Olympic Peninsula. In addition, termperate rain forrests are also found in Chile, the south Island of New Zealand, Tasmania and Norway.

Posted by: charons_oar at February 28, 2005 05:11 AM

Good piece. It always amazes me how many Americans have been all over the Caribbean -- you know, the Caymans, St. Barts, etc., etc. -- but they haven't been to Puerto Rico.

And they're even more ignorant of its status.

One of my co-workers is from Puerto Rico and when he started working here someone in Human Resources asked him, when he produced a US passport for ID purposes, when he became a US citizen. He answered "the day I was born."

Posted by: Steve at February 28, 2005 05:26 AM

Although you didn't get there, it's worth noting that Ponce is a lovely colonial city as well and well worth the trip.

Posted by: Randy Paul at February 28, 2005 05:29 AM

The political situation on Puerto Rico sounds similar to that on Guam - the groups that want independence are pretty much cancelled out by the groups that want closer integration into the U.S., so territorial status is the compromise. Nobody really likes it, and nobody advocates it as a permanent solution, but there's not enough of a consensus among the island population to move away from it.

And by the way - karst topography is actually pretty common anywhere you get limestone bedrock. In the U.S., much of Florida and the Ozark plateau have karst topography. It's pretty common in parts of southeast Asia as well.

And did Benjamin actually not realize that the Navy stopped using Vieques almost two years ago?

Posted by: David Fleck at February 28, 2005 05:47 AM

My great uncle used to tell some awesome stories about Puerto Rico back in the day. He and his buddies, about 22 years old at the time, [who later went on to found the American Patriots in Action Club] spent about 4 years there from 1941-1945. They bought up a few bungalows there, ran a little scuba diving shop and a dance club and lived a life they said was the kind of thing that in the end only a true blue American could ever ever appreciate. He never forgot his days in Puerto Rico.

Posted by: lukes at February 28, 2005 06:00 AM

Michael, thanks for sharing. PR appears to be a beautiful place to vacation, glad you had a good visit.

I would echo what David Fleck said, Karst topography is more common than you suggested. I remember seeing geography textbooks with pictures of Brush Valley in Central Pennsylania as examples of ideal Karst conditions, along with the actual Slovenian region. Certain other Appalachian ridge and valley regions, in Virginia for example, are frequently cited as Karst in nature.

Puerto Rico is certainly worth a visit, from your experience.

Posted by: Seppo at February 28, 2005 06:14 AM
the actual Slovenian region.
D'oh! How could I have forgotten about the place karst topography got its name from... Slovenia is also home to the Karst Research Institute, devoted entirely to karstology.

Posted by: David Fleck at February 28, 2005 06:29 AM

My favorite quote from my great uncle was "in the summer of 1943 there is no better place in the world to experience the joy of youth"

Posted by: lukes at February 28, 2005 06:33 AM

Anti-Americanism never sleeps, does it Benjamin? The nerve of those imperialist Americans bombing an island it purchased from the government of Puerto Rico for the purposes of bombing.

"So they can die for the states but can't vote. Charming."

It never ends does it? Always with the predictable angle. Puerto Rico's relationship to The US is defined by her people, not some mandate from Washington. In 1967, 1981, and 1993 the citizens of the island voted whether Puerto Rico should remain a commonwealth , become a state, or become and independent country. In all three votes, Puerto Ricans voted to maintain the status quo.

They pay no U.S. taxes, enjoy security and economic support from The US, have unlimited freedom to move to and from this country, can work in government including the military (many do). Damn that evil imperialistic U.S. for subjugating those poor brown people yet again!

BTW, I know of what I speak. I met a beautiful Puerto Rican woman in Vieques 12 years ago, and married her despite the fact that I had the nerve to be an American AND in the Navy. Imagine that! I'm so jealous, MJT. I haven't been back to the Carribean since. The 7 months I spent on that little island was the most glorious period of my life. I fell in love with the place, and plan to retire there with my wife when all is said and done.

Posted by: Zymurgist at February 28, 2005 07:59 AM

Looks better than Libya!

Posted by: praktike at February 28, 2005 08:18 AM

Nice pictures. It looks like paradise. I've seen slums in the third world too, and that's no slum. It's just a poor neighborhood.

It's so "rough" being a protectorate of the U.S.

Posted by: Carlos at February 28, 2005 08:53 AM

Wonderful photography.

Posted by: bkw at February 28, 2005 09:35 AM

Excellent photos.I never realised that Puerto Rico had so much to offer.Now I am really jealous !!

Posted by: dougf at February 28, 2005 10:10 AM

Beautiful photos, you must have really enjoyed yourself. I will have to keep that in mind for our honeymoon. Welcome back Michael.

On an OT side note, while Michael was gone there was a post by Mary regarding Iranian bloggers. After a bit of searching and testing the waters I stumbled upon this individual. He just recently added comment threads to his posts. He is extremely introspective and articulate and what he has to say should be heard. I hope some of you take the time to check him out at the link below. (if by doing this I am breaching some blogger etiquette I'm ignorant of then please excuse me)


Posted by: Mike T. at February 28, 2005 10:32 AM

Nice vacation MJT, I'm jealous. ;-)

I wonder if squirrels have to be quarintined if they're traveling to PR?

Ratatosk, Squirrel of Discord

Posted by: Ratatosk at February 28, 2005 11:57 AM

Michael -

Welcome back, sir.

Tom Grey -

Thanks for the compliment. I think. LOL...

Great doings going on today. How 'bout that tide of history thing unfolding in Lebanon?

I actually turned on the tube to catch a glimpse.

A demonstration in an Arab country without burning U.S. flags. Good on THEM! And good luck, too.

Posted by: TmjUtah at February 28, 2005 12:04 PM

Those are great pictures.

The beaches are unspoiled, the food is delicious, the weather is warm, and Americans can just decide to move down there whenever they get tired of the cold? No wonder it's crowded.

Posted by: mary at February 28, 2005 12:07 PM


Not only do we no longer bomb Vieques, Vieques was hardly the only base in the US (including some in the contiguous 48) where we had bombing targets. We have some in California, for example.

Of course, the same activists who clamored to close down Vieques were SHOCKED and protested the subsequent decision to close the Naval base at Roosevelet Roads, depriving many local Puerto Ricans of jobs. Of course, without the bombing range, the base just wasn't useful, and the Navy needed a new bombing range.

As mentioned, the Puerto Ricans have voted many times to retain their present arrangement, so I don't see why you complain so much.

Posted by: John Thacker at February 28, 2005 12:38 PM

In 1943, my grandfather was asked what he was doing in Puerto Rico, he responded with a funny quip, "it beats the heck outta the German front right now!"
The bartender liked the quip so much he gave him a free round of margueritas.

Posted by: at February 28, 2005 01:57 PM

Welcome back Michael. I hope Jeremy didn't leave any crumbs on the couch! I must admit that I was as ignorant about PR as that Intel executive the cabbie told you about. I didn't know that they were US citizens. Even though they can't vote I wonder if their political sentiments are closer to red state or blue state?

Re old European cities on the US mainland, however - don't forget about St. Augustine, FL - oldest city in the US and with a decidedly Spanish flavor. And within a 6 hour drive of St Augustine along the I-95 corridor, there's Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. In fact I highly recommend a little SE travel package incorporating all 3 cities - beaches come with the package. It's not PR by any stretch but there's quite alot of historical flavor (not to mention that whole dripping live oak/ghost sighting aura of Savannah - once you get past the stench of the paper? mills that assaults you as you're pulling off the exit)!

Posted by: Caroline at February 28, 2005 02:18 PM

Mike T - if pasting links is breaching blogger etiquette then I am in major violation. However, DPU once gave a great lesson on creating links that I have followed to great success (possibly too great) ever since.

Here it goes:

1) Copy the following into a microsoft word document (thats what I do as I could otherwise never remember it):

dougf's favorite theme

2) Now - everytime you want to make a link - copy that into the comments thread. Then substitute dougf's favorite theme - with your own title for your link - something that describes the actual content.

3. Then right in between the little quotes marks "" - copy and paste the actual URL from the site. It looks like gobbledy gook until you preview - and then voila - a bona fide link. I will try it on the next post to demonstate.

Posted by: Caroline at February 28, 2005 02:53 PM

Dammit! I got a link to dougf's favorite theme (whatever it was!) rather than the actual text! I'll have to work on this.... (sorry for the diversion...)

Posted by: Caroline at February 28, 2005 02:55 PM

I tried at least 6 times. Even if I try to separate the parts (of the basic text) by several lines they want to join when I post like blood-sucking leaches! I can only hope that DPU comes to the rescue. I am sorry for derailing the thread. I was misguidedly trying to help. Ignore the lady behiind the curtain...

Posted by: Caroline at February 28, 2005 03:12 PM

Dammit! I got a link to dougf's favorite theme---Caroline

Well that was sort of unkind !!.I happen to like my favourite theme.Serves you right to have ended up with an 'access denied',advisory.-- :-)

Posted by: dougf at February 28, 2005 03:13 PM

Dougf - see - I can never forget you - as your "favorite theme" - whatever it was - is permanently encoded into my "links-making" Word document! But I shall make one more attempt to cheat the blood sucking leaches of the internet forces that be...

I tried. I failed. I took the text and then broke it in 2 - interpersing random text - blah blah blah, screw you internet forces that be and so on - but when I go to preview - the darned thing is joined again - and all the blah blah text has vanished! - what did I say? - blood sucking internet leaches! The text joins into a direct link for some bizarre reason. What was I saying about Savannah, GA and ghosts and all that? I am most certainly at a loss for an explanation...

Posted by: Caroline at February 28, 2005 03:42 PM

The Gallery Inn is the best B&B in Old San Juan. My wife and I stayed there for our 10th anniversary, and it was delightful.

Posted by: SWLiP at February 28, 2005 04:10 PM

If I had to choose between Baghdad and Puerto Rico, I'd be in Puerto Rico in a minute!

Posted by: eric at February 28, 2005 04:29 PM


Great photography! Glad you enjoyed PR. I liked the comments, too. It's a nice break from the "heavy" stuff that (rightly) is often on your blog. Thanks for the breather.

In the spirit of Instpundit's Glenn Reynolds, who's always encouraging folks to branch out,check out the group blog:


And thanks, Michael, for having let me "cut my teeth" here at your site.

Right of center,

Posted by: didsbury at February 28, 2005 05:19 PM

I'm totally with eric on this one, and i'm amazed how his grandfather's story sounds like mine. I was 19 in 1944, going on twenty in the summer of 44 and I spent almost a year on the island of Jamaica. It was one of the most pleasant years of my life, the people were gentle, open to meeting Americans and I found myself simply swept away by the beauty of it all. I enjoyed that stay so much I ended up doing almost the same kind of stint in a small Bahaman island in the spring and summer of 1945. I was in great shape at that point, organized an All-Bahama baseball team and trekking club.
I'll never forget it, one's youth is too precious to waste. I hope others have the same opportunities as I did.

Posted by: fred at February 28, 2005 06:55 PM

A great post and gorgeous photos, Michael. I appreciate the way that the carping little weasel Benjamin was pummelled. The hard lefties in this country must be about ready to implode in helpless rage, no?

Posted by: John Cunningham at February 28, 2005 09:14 PM

Wow! Those are amazing pictures. I want to go now. Buenos Aires had a very colorful slum as well. Maybe it's a Latin American theme...

Posted by: Downtown Lad at February 28, 2005 09:42 PM

I knew some lefties back in the day, in 1943, they were heading off to somewhere in Europe to battle. They thought I was crazy to be staying in Puerto Rico at the time...enjoying the good life. But, why not?
Unless you really believe in a war, why waste your youth on it?

Posted by: lukes at February 28, 2005 10:37 PM

I grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it's too bad you didn't make it there, Michael. St. Thomas, where I'm from, was a wonderfully cosmopolitan free port, dominated by Danish architecture, but with a smattering other styles because of the many settlers from throughout the world. So in some ways it is another old American/European town. We have the second oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, a great old Danish castle where our Governor now lives, and old forts and churches throughout the islands. That and we have amazingly beautiful beaches, and our own national park, with a tropical rain forest, and (I believe) it is the only or one of the only national parks with a significant amount of underwater holdings, including extensive coral reefs.

Also, it's amusing to me when people suggest that we, and the other territories and Puerto Rico are somehow being exploited. The days of mercantilism are long gone, and we get more in financial resources from the federal government than we give out. We have referenda from time to time, and there is almost no support for independence, and very limited support for statehood, because, as several commenters have noted, that would force us to give up a lot of federal money and be more self-sufficient. Also, there are a lot of immigrants from the rest of the Caribbean, and we recognize how poor the rest of the region is. There are lots of reasons for that, but I think it's fair to say that for the countries that pressed for independence in the 60's and 70's, things haven't exactly worked out as planned.

Posted by: Travis W. at March 1, 2005 08:58 AM


Thanks for the tip, I actually have zero excuse for not knowing how to post links considering I work for an IT company and if I don't know something my Asp.net programmer is a phone call away. In other words I'm just lazy.

Posted by: Mike T. at March 1, 2005 09:20 AM

Michael said: "When I first went to Quebec City a few years ago I was envious at what Canada had. Ooh, I thought. Why can’t we have a 400-year old European-looking American city? But we do. We have Old San Juan."

We have New Orleans, as well. Only 300 years old, but a fascinating, beautiful, mystifying city nonetheless. And European-looking, too, at least in parts...


Posted by: MNelson at March 1, 2005 10:39 AM

I should have mentioned that Old San Juan is indeed beautiful, and those were some amazing photos. Michael, did you visit El Moro? It's amazing to stand on the ramparts of the fort, and look out at the harbor. You get a real sense of history when you reflect on the fact that the fort was garrisoned by Spanish soldiers until the Spanish American war, and that there were cannons on the battlements ready to fire at American warships.

Posted by: Travis W. at March 1, 2005 12:13 PM

I just booked my tickets to Puerto Rico yesterday, and then i check out Totten's latest which is all about PR! Cool. It's my first time going, any suggestions besides Old San Juan and El Yunque? Good beaches in San Juan? I'm staying just a few days in San Juan. After cleaning snow off my car this morning here in Chicago, these pictures have me pumped.
Another first for me was meeting Hitchens the other day. He talked at this really small book store to a mostly standing, packed in crowd and signed books. He was great. I could listen to him for hours on end.

Posted by: John McNelis at March 1, 2005 01:51 PM

Wow! You and I had almost the same exact itenerary, it seems. I did this same trip, right down to Culebra. I loved it and can't wait to get back.

one thing that you mention is the arid, Mediterranean=like feel of Culebra. When I was there, I was told that the island was once quite forested and more "tropical"-seeming but that it was basically clear-cut for wood and other raw materials, which caused massive erosion problems and, therefore, the loss of most of the good soil.

Posted by: scott partee at March 1, 2005 05:21 PM

john, my great uncle, who was a big supporte of world war two, he was about 23 in '43, said the best time he had supporting the war effort was lying on a beach for almost a year with pretty girls and fine rum. '44 was even better, he was in jamaica doing even better.
have a nice trip there, nothing beats PR

Posted by: lukes at March 1, 2005 09:50 PM

I have lived here for about 2 years now, and I can't wait to get the hell out.

I call this rock La Isla Sin Encanta.

Posted by: at March 2, 2005 11:29 AM

One more comment-
The navy pulled out in RECORD speed from Rooselvelt Roads, PR. They didn't even have a closing ceremony, which basically is the USN's way of saying "screw you" PR. Oh, but they kept all the land where the base was--and have no plan to give it up anytime soon-lol.

Posted by: at March 2, 2005 11:33 AM

My boyfriend's an avid reader and pointed out today's PR entry. I am a Puerto Rican woman, born, raised and educated on the island -- one of the members of the Puerto Rican middle class that emerged beginning in the 1950's. I thought I'd share my two cents about Puerto Rico's status.

While most of you are correct, we have had multiple referendums over the past 30 years or so, the results from those actually point to the deep running ambivalence and uncertainty Puerto Ricans feel about our status as a Commonwealth. I believe the results of last 3 referendums (we call them "plebiscitos") have been a 50/50 split between the commonwealth and statehood options. While many of us deep down harbor strong feelings for some sort of independence, in the end there's an overwhelming fear -- especially among that middle class I mentioned above -- that we won't be able to stand on our own two feet and hence, the resulting referendums have given the Commonwealth definition a slight edge. This is not to say we are content with our circumstances -- if you spend time with a Puerto Rican, take a look at our newspapers or watch a bit of local television you'll quickly find out that politics, and our status, is the frontburner topic. That's because most of us feel restless, in a political, social, and status limbo and we certainly want things to change. We live with a high level of crime; a rampant drug trade that fuels a lot of the island's "underground" economy and has resulted in the violent death of thousands of our young men; and an unstable economy (we are so dependent on US aid that when the mainland economy dips, ours suffers exponentially).

I just spent a year and half at University of Puerto Rico's law school and I can definitely attest to the emerging generation's (those of us in our 20's and 30's)desire -- and commitment -- to solve the "status question." Whether it's an "enhanced commonwealth," statehood or independence, we intend to craft a better status definition for our island. Still, the reality is that we ultimately have very little control over our destiny. That's because even though we can hold referendums, or constitutional assemblies -- both options being discussed right now on the island -- it is ultimately up to the U.S. Federal executive and legislative branches to decide our future. Yes, even if we vote to become a state or a republic, whatever we choose to do would have to go to a vote in the U.S. Congress and be approved by the President. Considering we don't even have a voting member in Congress -- we have a resident commissioner who can vote in his assigned committees but cannot vote for a single piece of legislation, and considering there are almost 4 million of us on the island without a voting representative in Congress, I find that, as an American citizen, unacceptable. So keeping out my personal preferences for Puerto Rico's status, I think I speak for many of us when I say that things have to change.

Posted by: Yaro at March 4, 2005 07:47 AM

Yaro - your post was really interesting. You say that you have very little control over your destiny but I have to think that's partly due to some of us "mainlander's" ignorance about what's going on in Puerto Rico. After all - we mainlanders have some amount of impact on our elected representatives and they evidently hold your fate in their hands, so from your voice to ours - so to speak! You haven't indicated your own preference among the options. Maybe you should consider starting a blog laying this all out for us! (unless there's already one that you would recommend?) I'm sure Michael would be happy to provide a link! I know I would be very interested to follow PR politics and the issues you raise - were there a good site provided.

Posted by: Caroline at March 6, 2005 04:04 PM

John Mcneils, I recommend other towns to visit which I like are Ponce and San German.
Beach Towns I recomment Vieques Island, Culebra, Boqueron, Parguera, etc...
Rent a car and drive around the island.
I strongly recomment doing some sort of ecologival adventure trip, like Tanama River and Angeles Cave(or any other) Go Caving! you will love it!
Yaro do not make this board another PR status board, there are hundreds of thos we don't need another one, and I truly believe that 95% of what you said is wrong so lets not start that here.

For the record. Culebra's weather changer drstically in part because, like Vieques, it was used as a bombing range for the US Navy for about 30 years, up until the late 70's. That killed a lot of the flora.

Posted by: Mos at March 7, 2005 01:57 PM

Puerto Ricans have never voted in a BINDING referendum. The US Congress has never defined the status options that it is willing to honor. Hence, Puerto Ricans do not what is available to them. No political party supports the STATUS QUO, which has serve to disenfranchise Puerto Ricans. Yes, they do not pay federal taxes ( federal employees do) but they rank well below any state in economic performance.No wonder why there almost more Puerto Ricans living in the US than in the island. Bottomline, you do better in the mainland than in the island. The two major political parties(in dependence received barely 3% of the vote in the last election)are torn between ENHANCED COMMONWEALTH and Statehood. In the former, PR would enjoy of a bilateral relationship with the US, whereby it would be able to veto federal laws that apply to it and would be able to enter into economic treaties with other nations- the best of both worlds. Apparently.

Now, the majority of Puerto Ricans are not aware that the "commowealth party" actually supports enhanced commonwealth and furthermore, are not aware that the option lacks constitutional muster and support within all branches of the US governement.

Puerto Ricans have never been advised by the US government of what their options really are. If Congress were to state: "Here, pick", then that would be a diferrent story. But nobody is a hurry.

Political parties in Puerto Rico owe their existance to the status debate. So their not in that much of a hurry either.

It's a complicated issue.

Check the book: Foreing in a Domestic Sense by Cristina Burnnet-Duffy

Posted by: p. Watts at March 11, 2005 10:28 AM

I had no idea that Puerto Rico was so beautiful. I have friends who were born and raised there, and they always told me how nice it was, but these pictures really make me want to visit.

I've been to San Diego and seen some architecture there that is a bit similar to what I see here, but different in many ways, too. I really hope to get down there one of these days.

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Posted by: MH at March 29, 2005 05:51 AM

just...to said thank you for your comments in your vacation trip to my beautifyl country Puerto Rico!!! you are welcome any time!!!

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Posted by: casino at November 1, 2005 10:17 AM

that slum may look nice from far away due to colors but its a different world inside. a friend drove in there, broad daylight, middle of the afternoon. he was carjacked by 3 male hispanics with automatic weapons.

its also a pretty ugly place on the inside. lots of trash, needles, graffiti, abandonded shacks. wires hanging becuase its all stolen from power lines.

the reason why it looks beter then other slums is most of the housing is older and people had time to modify their homes. the newer shacks look as bad as anything you see in any other slum. some people live in old abandonded shacks destroyed by storms.

there are other messed up places in pr, but la perla is infamous.

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Posted by: bid links at December 4, 2007 09:52 PM

i came across your page and i was definately intrigued by your Puerto Rico report. I am Puertorican and i have never travelled around my own island the way you did. I always go back to my old place where i lived and hang out there. I think i am going to be a tourist for once when i go back. Thanks for the pictures.
PS...i stole one of your pics of La Perla because it was nice...Thanks...

Posted by: John at December 5, 2007 04:55 PM
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