Puerto Rico – the Free Associated State of Puerto Rico

The Free Associated State of Puerto Rico, or the strange Hispanic United States

There are several strange territories within the United States whose status is still uncertain. As the States were formed, there were many such territories – almost all but the initial thirteen states went through stages of all sorts of “unincorporated territories,” whatever the wily Anglo-Saxon jurists can think of. But gradually one by one they gained full statehood – though some had to fight for it for quite a long time, like Hawaii, which didn’t become a state until 1959. Since then no new states have been added, so territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and many others seem to be “hanging in the air”.

Puerto Rico is officially called a “freely associated state” or “commonwealth”. However, Puerto Rico’s population has long exceeded that of many real states. However, Puerto Rico itself is not clear about what it wants to be. There is a debate – there are supporters of independence, supporters of becoming a U.S. state and supporters of the status quo. Puerto Ricans have all the rights of U.S. citizens except the ability to elect a president and senators. When Obama was a candidate, he said he would let the Puerto Ricans define their status in a referendum. But that would require the U.S. Congress to pass a referendum and they don’t have any support. However, the question is not particularly acute there. Like Hawaii, Puerto Rico receives large subsidies from the US. Moreover, due to its special status, Puerto Rico has created particularly favorable conditions for pharmaceutical companies – so much of the medicine made in the U.S. is made here. And of course there are many American tourists, who help the local economy with their dollars.

In the streets of San Juan and throughout Puerto Rico, everybody speaks Spanish. This is a true Hispanic United States – probably in 20 years, California and Texas will become so (parts of New York has become a Puerto Rican colony). The currency, however, is the dollar and the prices of everything are also very American – I immediately felt a blow to my wallet compared to Central America and Colombia. Yet Puerto Rico is poorer than even the poorest U.S. state (Mississippi) in terms of median income, although richer than any Latin American country.

This is what San Juan looks like from the air. Old San Juan is just this peninsula, practically an island in the center of the photo.

Old San Juan is the most picturesque place. Everywhere you look is like a postcard.

Notice who’s sneaking around in the foreground. There are countless of them there and they certainly give the streets a special atmosphere!

The best part, of course, is that it is surrounded on almost all sides by water. On the west side – that is, the bay – there is such a promenade.

The main gate of the city is on the west side. In colonial times, it was through this gate that all sorts of bigwigs entered the city.

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The so-called Princess Boulevard:

On the northwest corner of the peninsula that forms Old San Juan is a huge old Spanish fortress. Here it can be seen in the background.

It is separated from the city by green glades:

This is the view back to the city.

The gateway to the fortress:

A very impressive structure:

San Juan was of great strategic importance in colonial times. The fact is that for ships coming from Europe or Africa, Puerto Rico was the first big island where they could replenish their food and water supplies. San Juan had a beautiful deep natural harbor. It was therefore rightly considered the key to the entire Caribbean region. For the Spaniards the defense of San Juan was a top priority, while for other colonial powers that tried to gain a foothold in the Caribbean Sea, it was a tidbit. Various invaders tried many times to take it, the closest being the Dutch, against whom only by some miracle the Spaniards were able to hold out. San Juan was never taken and the Spaniards lost it at the very end of the colonial era.

From the towers of the fortress the strait and the ocean are controlled for miles in all directions.

Since we were in San Juan during Easter, we couldn’t resist going to see the Catholic ceremonies on Sunday:

Our favorite cafe at the cruise ship pier. I’ll clarify here that I ended up in San Juan for a reason. I had the slightly crazy idea of going on a Caribbean cruise. I had never been on a cruise before, which was an added motivation – I really enjoy discovering new experiences. Also, a cruise is the most economical way to visit several Caribbean islands at once – because generally speaking, the connections between them are very poor (and expensive – since you can only fly by plane). I found a great offer from Royal Caribbean with an exit from San Juan. That was the main reason I ended up on Puerto Rico.

But since we were here, of course we went to see the main local natural attraction. This is El Yunque National Park, famous for its tropical forests.

However, it was an organized tour, which I was very disappointed – because the promised track in the woods was very short and slow. Still, we saw a termite mound:

And generally got into the atmosphere of the rain forest:

The highlight was a visit to the observation tower, which has 98 steps leading up to the roof:

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean country, formerly one of the Spanish colonies, but today a Free Associated State but located on U.S. controlled territory. Despite formal independence, the American influence is still quite tangible: people here learn English, practice Catholicism, pay with dollars – in general, they do everything to please their stronger neighbor. Puerto Rico is an island nation, with most of its population living on the island of the same name. Less significant pieces of land that make up the country include the islands of Vieques, Desecheo, Caja de Muertos, Culebra, and Mona.

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Video: Puerto Rico in 120 seconds

Tourists

Most travelers associate this sultry slice of Central America primarily with cozy beaches, the ultramarine hue of the sea, pina coladas, and the lively rhythms of salsa. Despite the fact that Puerto Rico is still inferior in popularity to neighboring Dominican Republic, you can rest here just as good. And the proverbial exoticism, which usually attracts tourists to the Caribbean, in this country has plenty, whether it be the local nature or national cuisine. Add to that the architectural heritage of the colonial past, the obligatory Latin American carnivals and the best rum in the world and you understand why most of the downhikers seek exactly Puerto Rico.

History of Puerto Rico

The country’s history is not much different from that of other Caribbean colonies. With the advent of the European conquerors on the islands, the local Taino Indian culture was practically destroyed. The Spanish conquistadors, who declared Puerto Rico their own colony and brought in black slaves, and with them new diseases, exacerbated the unenviable situation of the indigenous population. As a result, most of the Indians died as a result of epidemics and hard labor in the cane plantations. Gradually the tiny remnants of the Taino culture mingled with Europeans and African slaves, thus giving rise to a new nation, the Puerto Ricans.

The name “Puerto Rico” itself translates as “rich port”. At first it was the administrative center of the colony, but gradually the sonorous phrase stuck with the whole island. In 1898, after a military armed conflict, Spain ceded this part of the Caribbean islands to the United States. Since then, Puerto Rico began an active process of emigration of the local population to the Land of Freedom, topped off with a very sluggish struggle for independence. In 1952 an assassination attempt on the US president by Puerto Rican separatists gave the country the opportunity to get its own constitution and the status of associated territory, with which it still exists today.

The Economy

Economists often refer to Puerto Rico as “America’s poorest state. At the same time the modern state has long been not only an agrarian country, which has nothing to supply the world market except sugar cane and rum. In the early twentieth century Puerto Rico began to actively develop pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries, which were later joined by tourism, which today is the main income of the state. However, the standard of living of the islanders is still far from matching the American reality. Moreover, Puerto Rico is on the list of debtor nations, which almost never manage to pay back the money borrowed, so defaults for this state are a common occurrence. Completely drown in debt “rich port” is not allowed by the United States, which from time to time extends a hand of financial assistance to a hapless neighbor.

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Nature and climate

For fashionable today direction of eco-tourism in Puerto Rico, if not a paradise, then something very much resembling it. Covered with impenetrable tropical thickets, riddled with turbulent rivers and washed by the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea, the local islands have an incredible magic of attraction. Moreover, some of them remain uninhabited to this day, which attracts downhikers and all seekers of seclusion.

If you’ve seen all the National Geographic documentaries and are convinced you know every animal on the planet by sight, Puerto Rico will dispel your arrogance. Some 239 species of animals, 16 species of birds, and 39 species of reptiles and amphibians found in this small state are not found anywhere else in the world. By the way, the best place to get acquainted with the local biosphere – protected areas and national parks, of which there are seven in tiny Puerto Rico. And this is not only the traditional tropical jungle, often glimpsed in the brochures of travel agencies, but whole islands with their unique flora and fauna, as well as entangled in a network of underground mazes karst areas.

Puerto Rico belongs to the maritime mild tropical climate zone, which is characterized by small fluctuations in temperature. The average annual temperature in this part of the Caribbean does not drop below +28 °C. From June to November, weather conditions are slightly worsened by the traditional arrival of Atlantic hurricanes.

Population and peculiarities of the national mentality

Puerto Rico is home to about 3,700,000 people. In the second half of the XIX century an influx of immigrants from Latin America, which added a unique South American flavor to the colorful mix of Indian rituals, Spanish religiosity and African superstition. Modern islanders are a cheerful, open-minded people, who never lose heart despite their not-so-great living conditions.

About the love of Puerto Ricans to all sorts of festivities, you could write a treatise. Carnivals, parades, concerts are not ostentatious and adapted for tourists, but the real thing. Love the music here, Puerto Rico is considered the birthplace of musical style and mesmerizing rhythms of reggaeton salsa. Another distinguishing feature of the local population – the desire to feel part of something big and important, perhaps because of this when you meet 90% of the islanders will call themselves Americans, while not forgetting to specify that they are “Puerto Ricanos”. However, considering the situation with the recent referendum (the majority of citizens voted for joining the United States as a state, but did not show up for the voting procedure itself), it becomes clear that commitment and responsibility are not the most common concepts here.

Interesting fact: natives of Puerto Rico are Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Mark Anthony, Don Omar, and Daddy Yankee.

Beach Vacation.

The absolute champion for the number of picturesque beaches is Vieques Island, well, the title of the best place to swim in all of Puerto Rico still goes to San Bay Beach. This area is beloved by Puerto Ricans themselves, so often come here to relax in a noisy company. It’s not a wilderness area, so changing rooms, showers, and toilets are never hard to find on Sun Bay. A more romantic and picturesque option is Media Moon. The beach is in an enclosed bay, so there are almost no big waves. In addition, the sea is shallow, which is especially pleasing to children.

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For those who are not looking for the easy way, Esperanza, the city beach of Vieques, is the right place to go. A more or less suitable area for swimming is just behind the pier. The shore and the bottom are stony, so extreme swimmers will appreciate it. You can roll on the snow-white hot sand in Navio, although you can’t enjoy swimming here – the sea is always stirring. Playa Flamenco on the island of Culebra has enough fans. The place is crowded (there’s a campsite nearby), so it’s unlikely you’ll get much privacy, but you won’t get bored either.

If you don’t want to leave San Juan, head to Ocean Park-it’s practically the only beach in the capital that hasn’t had its face distorted by the ubiquitous high-rise construction. Enjoy the generous Caribbean sun while sipping a cocktail in the shade of palm trees at Playa Escambron. There is a minimum set of amenities (shower + toilet). You can also check in on Isla Verde – it’s certainly not ideal, but it’s certainly not the worst of San Juan’s beaches.

Attractions and entertainment

All the attractions and iconic places of Puerto Rico can be divided into historical monuments left here since the Spanish colonization, and the creations of the local nature. The best place to start discovering the history of this piece of land is the old San Juan, or Viejo San Juan as the Puerto Ricans call it. In fact, this quarter is already a museum in itself: the narrow paved streets in the best traditions of the European Middle Ages, colorful houses, painted in pastel in all the colors of the rainbow spectrum, climbing plants, climbing on the cast-iron bars … If you do not know that you are in the Caribbean, you might think that the eyes resurfaces views of one of the old Spanish cities. Wrapping around all this splendor is a mighty fortress wall, a remnant of the architectural heritage of the Spanish conquistadors.

In the northwestern part of the capital, in the vicinity of Cape Punta del Moro, is the main gathering place for tourist groups – the maritime fortress of Fuerte San Felipe del Morro. The fortification, for many years considered almost the most significant in the Caribbean Sea, was founded in 1539. At one time, the citadel withstood the mightiest set of attacks by the pirate fleet commanded by Francis Drake. On the northeast side of the island is another ancient fortress, Fuerte San Cristobal. Today, anyone can walk its intricate underground labyrinths.

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Of the architectural monuments of the past preserved in the territory of Viejo San Juan, we can mention the oldest church on the island – Iglesia San Jose, built in an unconventional for Central America Gothic style. The Casa Blanca (former home of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon), the Dominican Convento de los Dominicos, the former fortress and now the residence of Puerto Rican governors of La Fortaleza and the Capilla Del Libro Chapel also look colorful.

For a glimpse of the colonial churches, you’ll have to drive to San Herman, Puerto Rico’s oldest city after the capital. The second largest and most important city, Ponce, is famous for its Cathedral of Catedral de la Guadalupe, built in 1660. There are also plenty of pompous villas inherited from the former “cane” and “coffee kings” of the Caribbean.

As for the natural treasures of the “rich port”, it is better to give preference to El Yunque National Park. This rain forest of just over 11,000 hectares, which never dries up every day, is home to about 400 species of unique plants and a huge number of animals. Here you can also listen to the legendary “infernal chanting” of the dwarf coca frogs, which have become the national symbol of Puerto Rico.

Near the country’s highest mountain peak, Cerro de Punta, is another reserve called Togo Negro. If you want to see the 60-meter waterfalls and swim in the highest lake in the country, Lake Lago Guineo, you should go there.

In the northeast of Puerto Rico is the dream of all speleologists of the world – the protected karst area Río Camay. About 200 enormous caves and a full-fledged underground river, on which the local extremists regularly rafting, welcomes visitors all year round.

Not far from the Rio Camay is another Puerto Rican wonder, though, this time man-made – Arecibo Observatory. The object is interesting primarily because it is the largest telescope in the world, through which U.S. scientists are trying to find signs of extraterrestrial civilizations. In his time here was filmed the famous “Contact” with Jodie Foster and the seventeenth Bond film “GoldenEye”.

To see exotic lizards and turtle colonies, and at the same time to get closer to the wonderful world of coral reefs, visit the island of Mona, often referred to as the “Galapagos of the Caribbean Sea”. The place is completely wild, but protected, so the flora and fauna here is the richest. By the way, if you want to go scuba diving, Mona is the perfect place. The water off its coast is very clean and retains its transparency, even at great depths. Scuba diving is also possible on the island of Culebra. The infrastructure here is so-so, but there are diving centers.

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