Puerto Rico is filled with amazing sights; places you think only exist in travel commercials and movies! The minute you step out of the San Juan metro area, the island transforms into a magical place of retro time travel, friendly faces and a laid-back attitude. Time slows down and you can drive around the island in a day, but you won’t because there are so many places to see as you travel along the road you won’t want to be in the car for very long.
The Taino Indian Cave, or in Spanish: “La Cueva del Indio”, in the northern Arecibo coast, is one such retro travel amazing place that if you ever come to PR you should definitely include in your to-do list. They call it indian cave because it is filled with indian petroglyphs. In my life I had never seen so many in one single place!
Let’s Hack the town! Yup, that’s what this initiative is all about: Citizens coming together to hack communities and engage them in the process of planning its improvement. You see, nobody knows better what a community needs than the community itself. Through Communihack, college students and other professionals work together with the residents to establish integrative designs that will help improve the quality of life in the area by establishing a working, coherent, development plan that will beautify the town as well as maximize the use of space to increase self-sustainability. And that’s just phase one. After that, phase two intends to actually do the proposed plans, leaving run-down communities like Santurce looking like they used to or better. The plan intends to target a different community every year or so, until hopefully, Puerto Rico gets completely hacked. Just imagine…
Although still in developmental stages, ComuniHack is already lining up community members, volunteers, and non-profit organizations like The Boys and Girls Club in order to make this dream a reality. As soon as August of 2014 a rough draft of the first ComuniHACK (Santurce) will be around.
Puerto Rico was a Catholic Spanish colony for over 400 years. Christian influence is everywhere inspiring most of our christmas traditions and customs. One such tradition is Three Kings Day. The three kings or magi were originally mentioned in Mathew 2 as wise men who followed the star of Bethlehem bringing gold, myrrh, and incense to the baby Jesus. Later the tradition became more elaborate naming the kings as three: Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar, who traveled on camels from different parts of the world.
In Puerto Rico young children gather grass on January 5th and leave it in a box for the camels to eat while the three kings come and leave their gifts under their bed or christmas tree. On the morning of January 6th they wake to find their gifts while the grass they gathered is gone and sometimes tossed about. The camels (or horses) are a bit messy.
This tradition is so strong a set of real life Magi, Los Reyes de Juana Díaz actually travel through various pueblos of the island spreading cheer, joy, and hope as they go. The Governor traditionally holds a special celebration where children receive gifts. In some households, Santa never arrives, only the Three Kings. Most families have some sort of celebration and many versions of the magi appear all over the Island. This year, the magi brought gifts and a small carriage to give the kids a ride. They loved it!
We ate, we sang, we drank, we joked, and just when we were about to leave… the Parranda arrived.
Nestled in the mountains of Rincón, on the west coast of Puerto Rico, is a small guest house unlike any other. The entrance is almost invisible, hidden among long green bamboo, but once you cross that threshold, it’s like being transported to another place. The dry, golden hills of Rincón disappear beneath a tall bamboo forest canopy. A doorway leads to a path and a wooden house. Beyond that is a small fountain and the path continues towards the Luna Hooch.
A Hooch is a bamboo structure built like a tree house. It runs on solar panels, making it self-sustainable, and it’s equipped with a full kitchen (with cooler for a fridge), bathroom, and queen-sized bed.
The Luna Hooch has it’s own little private porch and beyond that lies the Sunset Hooch: a slightly bigger version of the Luna. To the left of the Sunset Hooch is a path leading to a large bamboo swing. The path connects to other paths throughout the property. One of those leads to the Buddha Hooch, a large-scale version of the hooch. I suspect the view must have been magnificent.
The grounds are full of all kinds of bamboo, some over 20 feet tall. Take your time to explore the paths, look at the spiders and taíno inspired decorations.
Old San Juan is different from any other place in Puerto Rico. Colorful colonial buildings with tall windows line the cobbled streets of blue. It’s filled with life. The walls are infused with centuries of history, the plazas filled with old men in guayabera’s (typical shirt), artisans, neighbors, workers, and tourists. Delicious restaurants of all kinds mingle between shops, hotels, and government offices.
The Governor’s house is there. La Fortaleza or Palacio Santa Catalina, was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, as it is one of the oldest palaces in use in the Americas (finished in 1540).
El Morro and San Cristobal Forts have daily tours and house more history reminiscent of pirates and rum runners. In fact, a famous Puerto Rican pirate El Pirata Cofresí, was executed on El Morro grounds in 1825. The castle walls still bear the wounds of old cannon ball hits.
The Parque de las Palomas(Pigeon Park) is a classic to visit and great for the kids. The Museo del Niño, also great for kids, is right next to el Hotel Convento, while the jewelry shops are supposed to have some of the best discounts. Personally I’ve always wondered about the Underground Tunnels, rumored to traverse the entire city from La Fortaleza, to El Morro, to San Cristobal Fort.
Take your time to leisurely walk the streets and notice the peeled plaster in some of the abandoned buildings, the tiny plants growing between the cobblestones, the old man carrying a bundle of white flowers “aaazucenas”… buy some.