|Hola! Puerto Rico by Rosario Albar|
|This article was published in the Manila Bulletin USA - Feb. 6-13, 2003 issue.|
|Garitas or sentry boxes protrude from angles along fortification walls. These have now become one of the enduring symbols of the island.|
|Puerto Rico is indeed rico. It is an island endowed with lush landscape, warm climate, friendly people and flavorful cuisine. Visitors can't wait to finish unpacking so they can bask in the sun at one of many fine beaches. Or swim and snorkel in Atlantic waters or in the calm Caribbean Sea. For those who prefer hiking, the tropical rainforest of El Yunque has numerous trails to explore. One challenging path leads up to Pico El Toro. At 3,523 ft., this is the highest peak in the forest. An easy walking trail allows all visitors to experience the gifts of the rainforest. About 240 species of tropical trees grow here including the yagruma. Unlike other trees, the yagruma can be male or female. What distinguishes one from the other is the silver coloring of the female leaf on its underside. The male genus maintains a singular color. The forest receives some 100 billion gallons of rainfall a year collecting into streams, natural pools and waterfalls. And a chorus of croaking coquis (tiny tree frogs) intrudes upon the serenity of the forest.
Old San Juan is small and intimate yet packed with many attractions. Cars inch their way down Calle Cristo and make a left onto Calle Fortaleza, the center of the shopping district. Turning right on Fortaleza leads to the Governor's mansion. Narrow, cobblestone streets are flanked by colorful, colonial buildings with overhanging balconies from which cascade red and pink bougainvillea. At the Parque de Palomas, children excitedly chase pigeons.
A walk along the old town's fortifications leads to El Morro which is perched on a rocky promontory. Together with Fort San Cristobal, these fortresses were built to keep invaders at bay. Fortress walls on average measure 20 feet thick at the base and 12 feet thick at the top. Garitas (sentry boxes) protrude from angles along the walls. These have now become one of the enduring symbols of the island.
The Spanish-American war saw the disintegration of the Spanish empire. The war was short. Spain capitulated and ceded Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines to the United States and renounced any claim to Cuba in the treaty of Paris in 1898. Today, Puerto Rico maintains Commonwealth status and Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States.
Ponce is a 90-minute drive from San Juan across the Cordillera Central mountain range. It is the proud home of the Museo de Arte de Ponce (MAP) with its remarkable collection of European and American art from the 14th to the 20th century including works by Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Durer and El Greco, to name a few. Puerto Rican artists like Jose Campeche and Francisco Oller are well represented in the Puerto Rican gallery. But the star of the collection is undoubtedly Lord Frederic Leighton's Flaming June. This is a portrait of a sleeping young woman in a sheer orange gown. Behind her is a hint of the sea shimmering in reflected light from the sun. Leighton succeeds in conveying his idea through the application of vibrant colors. This museum is a must see!
Geting there: Delta Airlines has direct flights from San Francisco to Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan. Taxi vans are stationed outside baggage claim. Standard rates are enforced from the airport to certain points in the city. Make sure you are issued a receipt by one of the taxi agents before boarding the taxi.
Hotels: High season (from December 15 to April 15) means high hotel rates. Check out Frommer's Puerto Rico guidebook for lodging and rates.
Restaurants: The Ajili Mojili at 1052 Ashford St. in the Condado Beach area serves Puerto Rican specialties like mofongos, asopaos and arroz con pollo. Reservations are recommended as this restaurant is quite popular with locals and visitors alike. The Parrot Club on Calle Fortaleza in Old San Juan combines good food, ambience and attentive service for a total dining experience.
Casinos: The San Juan Marriott, Wyndham, Ritz Carlton and others have casinos with gaming tables and slot machines. The currency in Puerto Rico is the US$.