January 29, 2008

Gabriel Rios

This is a video of Gabriel Rios, called "Broad Day Light". I kind of stumbled on him by accident. He's Puerto Rican from the island, but now is quite famous in Belgium of all places. His music in English is really interesting, very European feel...

... but his music in Spanish sounds much more latin. It's as if he's a different artist.

Anyways, I can't stop listening to him. So I recommend it (at least to younger people).

(By the way, I promise there will be a real entry soon!)

January 24, 2008


Sorry I've been so quiet lately. I'd like to point everyone towards this excellent article on Puerto Rican food in the meanwhile; it covers almost everything. Apparently the government is encouraging restaurants to make more criollo food. Yum!

January 22, 2008

San Juan

Nothing to say today, so I'm leaving you with this. I think it says a lot more than I could right now.

January 19, 2008

Walgreens and the American Corporative Takeover of Puerto Rico; Plus, Farmacies

So, this recent post from Dondequiera about how Walgreens has bought 20 Farmacias El Amal has inspired me to confront two important topics.

The first is the question of American corporations (mostly those pesky chains) and their presence in the island. While most Americans (or at least most of us "hippie" college students, anyways) would be quick to decry the "Americanization" of the island, I don't think it is so simple.

Now, I am not about to deny Americanization. After 100 years of American colonization obviously large parts would be adopted into the culture of the island. But I would like to suggest that Puerto Ricans have had a large share in deciding how to accept Americanization.

This may be a stretch for some, as the concept of globalization and cultural imperialism imply a sort of oppressor/oppressed system, where the oppressed is an innocent victim, and the ending is the Americanization or Westernization of the entire world. Looking at Puerto Rico, it's hard to see it in that light. I would say that Puerto Rico has quite a bit of control over its fate. After all, early attempts at Americanization failed (the island is still speaking Spanish, in case you haven't noticed) and large parts of the culture remain intact. Spend more than a few days outside of tourist areas and it should be obvious.

The question that interests me more is how Americanization has come into Puerto Rico. It's been adopted in pieces only when convenient for the island. Thus, you can find the standard American malls in Puerto Rico (although with some different stores; the food and a few local chains come to mind) and any kid will be able to tell you about Santa Clós. But these American traditions are still forced to compete with local family-owned stores and Three Kings Day.

Now, I am going to save a more cultural look at this for later and return to my point, which is Walgreens. See, Puerto Rico loves its Walgreens. Really. According to the post I linked to above, that puts the total of Walgreens on the island above 90 stores. This number doesn't seem so high until put in the context of the island, which after all has the rather small dimensions of 100x35 miles (not exact, of course). For me this manifests in a Walgreens in nearly every neighborhood, particularly in the outskirts of San Juan. This is in addition to the other American chains like CVS (although there aren't many), local chains like El Amal, and independent farmacies.

This is kind of verging into my second topic, that Puerto Rico is obsessed with pharmacies and everything related with the medicine industry. My experiences tell me that each neighborhood usually has about 2 pharmacies, usually within 2 minutes or less walking distance... I can even think of a neighborhood where there is a Walgreens and directly behind it another local pharmacy. Puerto Rico is also the source of many medicines, since a lot of large American corporations have their factories on the island. There additionally is a large number of nurses on the island, along with private practices, hospitals, specialists, and much more. It is a huge part of their economy. It also is beneficial for tourists; after all, if you are going to get sick anywhere in the Caribbean, it'd be better to be in Puerto Rico. At least, that's how I'd like to see it.

Anyways... so there are a lot of Walgreens. And they are rather popular. Right now I'm looking at a group on facebook called "Porque janguear en Walgreens es lo mejor que hay!" ("Because hanging out in Walgreens is the best there is!") which has nearly 7000 members, all Puerto Ricans. In fact, I would say Walgreens is more appreciated there than it is in its native land.

In other words, you may be surprised to find what seem like American chains but either are more popular on the island or hardly even exist stateside. The most noteable one for me is Tacomaker, which has more locations in tiny Puerto Rico (101, to be exact), than it does for all of the United States. There's also Kress, a clothing store that fell apart in the U.S. after a long time but continues to expand in Puerto Rico. There are more, but I'm not sure listing them all is necessary.

Point is, the American chain has been accepted on the island, but it's not really straightforward, as most large corporations (McDonalds, department stores, etc) share space with both local chains and obscure American companies.

Like I said, I'll delve into the more interesting cultural conflicts dealing with this at a later date; I hope this is mildly satisfying in the meantime!

Water Outage in San Juan and the Surrounding Area

Just letting people know that there's an upcoming water shortage around and in San Juan, because they'll be repairing pipes next weekend. Hotels should be unaffected, but it's a good thing to know anyways. Shouldn't keep anyone from enjoying the San Sebastián parties going on now though!

January 16, 2008

Politics of Puerto Rico

Why is understanding Puerto Rican politics so important?

Politics are everything in Puerto Rico. First off, even in the last election 70% of the voting-age population cast a vote, which is significantly higher than the statistics for the U.S. Politics are constantly discussed on the streets, on the radio, in the newspaper, everywhere. It can be a little overwhelming if you’re not really interested. The only comparison I can think of is how Americans talk about football during football season. It’s really, really big.

What are the parties of Puerto Rico?

There are three main parties:
- Partido Nuevo Progresista/New Progressive Party (PNP), which is pro-statehood. Their symbol is a palm tree, and their color is blue.
- Partido Popular Democrático/Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which wants to continue (or enhance) the Commonwealth. Their symbol is a jíbaro and their color is red.
- Partido Independista Puertorriqueño/Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), which is pro-independence. Their symbol is a green flag with a white cross and their color is green.

The PPD is currently in power with Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, although the PNP controls both the Senate and the House of Representatives. These two parties command most of the votes and are bitter rivals. The PIP is much smaller but is still very important. Its supporters include a lot of intellectuals, and violence, while not condoned by the party, has been committed in the name of independence.

Puerto Rico’s status issue is a difficult topic to discuss neutrally so I’ll leave it for another time. Keep in mind, however, that it is not the voters or Puerto Rico’s government that decides its status, but rather the U.S. government. The entire island could vote for statehood or independence but only the U.S. can change it, although the island certainly could pressure it. Despite this, everyone has an opinion about it.

Who are some important political figures?

Aníbal Acevedo Vilá is the current Governor of Puerto Rico since the 2004 elections. I don’t really know what to say about him except that he’s not very attractive and I saw him once in person. Three Kings Day a year ago (or two? I can’t remember) we saw him walking into the Governor’s mansion in SJ. Okay, that’s not so exciting, but it’s better than nothing.

Pedro Rosselló is ex-Governor and leader of the PNP. He’s everywhere. A lot of people hate him but he keeps getting involved in politics anyways. Here is his website.

Luis Fortuño is the current Resident Commissioner (Puerto Rico's representative in Congress who can't vote) and another member of the PNP. His webpage is here.

These three politicians make up a large part of political news in the island and should help to make it more... understandable.

Anyways, for your listening pleasure (or really... not...) I have some samples of Rosselló's campaign music, thanks to my friend and her dad. If you want a laugh, download this file. It's hilariously awful. On the other hand, I have something more... respectable here.


Caribbean beaches and parties!

San Juan's San Sebastián parties start tomorrow night, and Ricky Martin is making an appearance for the first night. If you're going to be around I highly recommend you go! This page (from the Dondequiera blog) has more information on Ricky Martin as well as the schedule for the rest of the days of the party.

But for those of us who can't make it... if you, like me, are stuck in a wintery climate and dreaming of being somewhere warmer, why not look at these beautiful photos of the beach? It'll make things a bit better, I suppose.

January 10, 2008

Go to Puerto Rico! Please!

So again, I'm urging everyone to go to Puerto Rico. Not because I or anyone I know gets something from it (I wish!), but just because it is an amazing place with something for everyone.

This one article is suggesting that Puerto Rico is actually a cheap getaway (oh, what a concept!) and that you can get there during these awful winter months for under $500. I'm not sure how accurate her flight prices are (usually from DC it's no less than $300, and flights from NYC can be quite cheap), but it's an interesting plan nonetheless.

And hopefully while you're there, you won't have the... disappointing experience these people had. I am pretty sure that article is satire. If it's not, too bad. Just take it as satire anyways and don't get offended like my friend did when I sent it to her! (Sorry) Personally, I thought it was pretty funny and accurate.

I know I owe people a "real" post! It's coming!

January 6, 2008

Musical instruments of Puerto Rico

What, you didn't think your holiday would go without a present from me?

I thought, in time to finish up the parranda season, I'd do a quick introduction of musical instruments from Puerto Rico.


The pandereta isn't much different from a tambourine, except the one here (which is mine) actually is a tambourine. Oops. Anyways, it's the same except without the bells on the side.

This picture on the right is of the inside. Click for a larger view.


If you speak enough Spanish you probably could have guessed what these are. They're simple sticks! You play them by hitting the two ends together. Pretty easy.


The güiro was invented by the Taíno, the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. Basically, it is a gourd that is emptied, then left to dry. Grooves are cut into the top, and holes lie underneath for the fingers usually. It's played with what honestly could be a hair pick, which is scraped quickly over the grooved area in both directions. This makes a loud, rich percussion sound.

I'm a big fan of the güiro. It has a beautiful sound and a unique character.


Maracas are another Taíno instrument made from gourds. Most people know what maracas are and how to play them so I don't think they deserve much of an explanation.
I will say, however, that these particular maracas on the side here were made by my friend's father from some gourds he picked up. I painted them.
To wrap this all up, here is a short video I made that demonstrates the sounds of each instrument. It's nothing special, and the sound quality is not... ideal, but it helps.

There is an excellent website for learning about Puerto Rican music in both English and Spanish here. I highly recommend it!

Happy Three Kings Day!/¡Feliz Día de los Tres Reyes Magos!

Today is finally 3 Kings Day!

Basically, how the holiday works is that, the night before, the kids put shoeboxes filled with grass under their beds. The idea is that the 3 kings who came to visit the baby Jesus will stop by to feed their camels and then leave them presents! Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.

There are some cute pictures from Ponce here, as well as a description of the holiday. Check it out. There also is a well-written article in English about the holiday and different traditions both on the island and in the States here.

This hasn't really been the most pleasant 3 kings day ever, for two reasons. One, it's raining in buckets on the island. It's that weird kind of rain where it shows up out of nowhere, rains really hard for a very short period of time, then stops. It's called cabañuelas and apparently it's been doing it for days. Too bad.

The second reason is an accident at the popular tourist site Camuy Caves (las cuevas de Camuy).

Socorro Elaine Smith no tenía razones para pensar que ayer acabaría su vida.

Estaba de vacaciones, con su esposo y su hijo, en uno de los lugares más hermosos de Puerto Rico: el Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy.

Poco después de las 11:00 a.m., el trío, residente de Lakeview, en Los Ángeles, California, disfrutaba el verde intenso de la vegetación, la brisa refrescante y el canto de las aves, mientras esperaban un “trolley” que los recogería para continuar su recorrido por el parque.
Sin embargo, de una pared de roca caliza -que tiene 125 millones de años y cientos de pies de altura- se desprendió una piedra. Y alcanzó a Socorro Elaine en la cabeza, provocándole la muerte en el acto.

For more information, click here for English or here for a more thorough article in Spanish.

The article from El Nuevo Día is kind of funny. They're kind of trying to explain away a rock falling, like it's not going to happen again.

El lugar ha sido visitado por millones de personas, un promedio de 150 mil al año, “que vienen de todas partes del mundo”, dijo Edna Pérez, quien labora en la CPN desde hace 22 años y trabajó en el Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy por 18. “Nunca había sucedido nada como esto. Son cosas de la naturaleza”, afirmó Pérez en tono de sorpresa. Indicó que se crió en la zona cercana donde se estableció el parque.
Por su parte, la geóloga Ruth Vélez, del DRNA, inició la evaluación del área donde cayó la roca.

“Todo se ve bastante macizo, continuo”, señaló Vélez sobre la pared de más de 400 pies de alto de la que cayó la roca. “Vamos a ir por la parte alta para ver si hay bloques sueltos o no”.

La pared es de roca caliza, explicó la geóloga, quien dijo que la misma está en su estado natural. “No es un área en que hubo intervención humana”, como maquinaria o la mano del ser humano.

It's a rock! Are rocks not supposed to fall? Come on now.

Anyways, they're closed for now, so if you're in PR and planned on visiting one of the world's largest cave systems, you're out of luck. I can't imagine though that they'd stay closed for very long. We'll see.

Happy Three Kings Day, everyone!

January 3, 2008

Pictures from San Juan -- the beach and Christmas decorations!

My good friend from the island is there now and she went to San Juan to see the beach yesterday. She also got a few shots of the city.

Yeah, the Christmas decorations are still up, of course. I feel just a bit jealous looking at the decorations and the pictures of the beach, neither of which I can find here in the States. As far as most of the U.S. is concerned, Christmas is over and the beach is just too cold!

The beach is el Escambrón, by the way.

Wish you could be there? If you're in luck (or just in NYC), you can. JetBlue has lowered prices for New Years from JFK. Flights to San Juan are $119, and getting to Aguadilla (on the east side of the island) is $109.

Boston, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale also have reduced fares to the island. From Boston it's $99 to get to San Juan. FL is offering flights to Ponce (in the South) for $59 and Orlando's flying to all three mentioned cities for $79.

So what are you waiting for?