Sunday, November 30, 2008

After Scary Friday

Instead of "Black Friday," I've decided to call the day after Thanksgiving "Scary Friday." The death of a Wal Mart employee , as a result of being trampled by a mob of savages, has really made me question the decency of mankind. What has this world come to? Here in Puerto Rico, Scary Friday wasn't as scary but there were still people who stood outside shopping malls and Wal Marts before the crack of dawn. In general, Puerto Ricans like to shop. The local culture is heavily influenced by that of the mainland, where materialism and the hunger for consumption seems to be out of control. Hence, the credit card debt of an average American seems to be going nowhere but up. This is also true for the average Puerto Rican.

I am not crazy about shopping and I have never understood why people would want to spend the night outside a Wal Mart. On Scary Friday, I stayed far away from the mall. Thinking it would be safe today, we decided to go to the Prime Outlets mall in Barceloneta, about 45 minutes west of San Juan, this afternoon. There was a bit of a crowd but no huge mobs. Most retailers are indeed offering huge discounts and I saw quite a few stores with lines of customers waiting to pay. The economy is in recession but Puerto Ricans are definitely spending. By the way, the sales tax here is 7% and prices really aren't as cheap as you would expect.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Puerto Rico does in fact celebrate Thankgsiving ("Día de Acción de Gracias"). This is usually done with family gatherings and making turkey and the whole nine yards but.... with a twist. You'll find the bird seasoned with adobo or stuffed with cassava or plantains and meat. In spanish, it's called pavo relleno de yuca y carne. I've never tried it before but it sounds good to me. I usually make my turkey with cornbread stuffing or with regular white bread. Shopping for pumpkin puree was quite a challenge this year though. I couldn't find it anywhere and was about to give up until I went to Walgreens. Yeah, can you believe it? Of all places, Walgreens was where I found a can of Libby's pumpkin puree! As pathethic as this may sound, it really made my day!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for many reasons. In general, I think we don't say "thank you" enough to those who make our lives possible and wonderful. I've been guilty for taking many things and people for granted in my life. However, as I've gotten older, I think I've gotten better at recognizing this fact and appreciating all the little things in life. I've been very fortunate to have the most wonderful circle of family and friends and I am truly grateful for their love and support. They're also the ones who keep me sane and grounded!

(Graphic obtained from

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Headlines from Puerto Rico

If you can read Spanish, you're guaranteed to find some of the most amusing, as well as horrifying headlines, while flipping through any of the newspapers in Puerto Rico. Just last week, there were a series of bank roberries around the island. In one of the tabloids, the headline read... "Padre e Hija en un Robo Bancario" ("Father and Daughter in a Bank Robbery"). Unfortunately, bank robberies are quite common here, although there has been a significant decrease compared to 2007, according to the local papers. Fortunately, in this case, this father and daughter team got caught.

Moving on to another topic... school violence. "Él Tiró el Puño y lo Cogí Yo," ("He threw the punch and I got hit"). In this case, the victim was a woman who works at a public school as a lunch lady who was playing the role of a mediator. As is usually the case, the who's in the middle of a fight is always the one who gets hurt. Fortunately, school shootings are not common occurences here. However, you will occasionally read about cases of teacher assault and vice versa.

This past weekend, to my utter disbelief, the most ridiculous news of all appeared on the front cover of the Sunday paper. "Recaudan $316,000" ("Raised $316K), talks about the soon-to-be-former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá (pictured above, with his wife), who is reportedly having trouble paying his legal fees. He is currently facing 24 counts of corruption charges and is in debt up to his neck. To be precise, he owes an estimated $1.6 million. So, he and his party (Partido Popular Democrático-PPD) decided to start a fundraising campaign. The amount raised to date falls short of what they expected, but the Populares remain hopeful. Why? Well, apparently, the $316K does not include online donations and those made at Banco Popular (the largest bank on the island) branches. So, for an island of just under 4 million people, I think there's just too much craziness going on here.

(Photo credits: 1st photo- Patricia Díaz Ortiz, Primera Hora and Ramón Tonito Zayas/El Nuevo Día, 2nd photo)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Destination: Chichicastenango, Guatemala

During our trip to Guatemala, we visited many different markets. Every city and town has its very own. Chichicastenango's market is by far the most impressive though. After all, it is Central America's largest. We arrived on a Saturday evening, as we wanted to get there before the action began on Sunday. From Quetzaltenango, it only took us about two hours to get to there on a shuttle bus.

My first impression of Chichi was how mysterious it seemed, given its location in the highlands, it is surrounded by mountains. Although it's quite touristy, I do recommend it. I found the town charming and enchanting. We walked around town, where most of the streets where quiet. There were a couple of vendors still open for business. It was really chilly and I desperately needed something warm to wear. So, I decided to buy myself a shawl. I visited a couple of stalls and every vendor offered me a "discount." Haggling is definitely a must in all markets! On the other hand, I thought about how much the seller was making and I would have felt a bit embarrassed if I pushed too hard.

On market day, the town was filled with energy and people. You'll see the Mayan women scurrying around in their brightly colored dresses, usually with their belongings on the top of their heads. The market at Chichi is so huge, you'll find everything from flowers, fruit and vegetables to shoes, belts and souvenirs. My favorite part about the market was simply the people watching. Please note: if you suffer from claustrophobia, the market might not be your cup of tea. Be aware of pickpocketters as well! We were also warned not to visit the town's well-known cemetery, since there have been attacks on tourists.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Americana in Puerto Rico?

Everytime I have out-of-town guests, I am asked the same question. Do most people in Puerto Rico speak English? Is it okay if I don't speak any Spanish at all? The answer is.... it really depends. If you just stick to the tourist areas, yes, you don't have to mutter a single word of Spanish. Although knowing how to say "thank you," gracias, would surely be nice. For non-Spanish speakers, I think you can definitely survive here. However, you might have a bit more trouble once you leave the metropolitan area of San Juan.

Outside of the resorts and hotels, I would say you'll find more people who might have a limited knowledge of English. However, practically everyone speaks a little. Remember, we do speak Spanglish here and the Island of Enchantment is officially part of the U.S. In reality, Puerto Rico is heavily influenced by the U.S. Just walk through the island's largest mall, Plaza Las Américas, and you'll understand what I mean. You'll find Macy's, Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, etc. If you're from the States, you'll actually feel quite at home. Best Buy, Wal-Mart, K-Mart (Big K too!), and Home Depot, just to name a few, are also in Puerto Rico. At the supermarkets, you'll find your favorite brands such as Heinz Ketchup, Oscar Meyer, Pepperidge Farm products, amongst many others. This is no surprise, as Puerto Rico manufactures and grows very little of its own food products. Practically everything here is imported from the mainland. My only beef is that we don't have Target here. If they do ever decide to come to Puerto Rico, I am all set!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Destinations: Antigua & Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Just a few weeks ago, I was sitting at the main plaza in Antigua watching couples cuddling, locals mingling and tourists exploring. Antigua is a very pretty colonial city, and we decided to make it our first stop of our Guatemalan adventure. It is completely different from Viejo San Juan. For starters, it doesn't have a Payless Shoe Store. However, and what a tragedy it is, Antigua does have a Subway, as well as McDonalds. The similarities stop right there though.

In Antigua, you'll find a Spanish language school on practically every street corner. There are so many foreigners, I began to wonder if they outnumber Guatemalans. We also found lots of quaint cafés and restaurants. My favorite breakfast joint was Doña Luisa Xicotencatl, which has really good food and has a cozy ambiance. Thank goodness, Starbucks was nowhere to be found! When you're in Antigua, you must visit the city's beautiful churches and the famous Santa Catalina Arch. It's a wonderful place for walks.

I do understand why so many foreigners, particularly students, love Antigua. It's a place straight out of a fairytale. The second city we visited, Quetzaltenango ("Xela"), which is Guatemala's second largest, has a completely different vibe. It is a city deeply penetrated by the Mayans and is not overrun by gringos. The city also has quite a few language schools, but definitely not as many as Antigua. According to my Lonely Planet guidebook, the more "serious" type of student goes to Xela. The city is surrounded by small Mayan towns, such as Zunil, and quite a few hot springs and natural baths. Las Fuentes Georginas was recommended to me by a fellower traveler. Unfortunately, we just didn't have the time. C'est la vie...

Stay tuned for my take on Chichicastenango and Guatemala City....

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Counting Down Bush's Last Days

Like many others, I am extremely happy and exhilirated with the election of Obama. Listening to his victory speech, and seeing the electrifying crowd in Times Square, made me miss living in New York just a tiny bit. I wish I could have joined the euphoric celebration! Naturally, everyone is emphasizing how Obama will become the first black U.S president. We are indeed living in exciting times, this is history in the making. However, I think people should get over the fact that he's black and focus on the facts and issues. The country faces a very difficult and grim economic and geopolitical situation. Increasing unemployment, slumping housing prices, the situation in Iraq and the political tension with Russia, just to name a few. Obama has inherited quite a headache but I think the country chose the better candidate. In the meantime, I just can't wait until the Bush presidency is over.

Here in the Island of Enchantment, Luis Fortuño of the Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP), which is the blue party, will become the next Governor. Historically, there's an opposing trend between the U.S and Puerto Rico. Whenever there's a Democrat in the White House, there's a PNP Governor in La Fortaleza. The PNP favors statehood, while the Partido Popular Democratico (PPD) favors the status quo. One of the things I dislike about living here is how the local news seems to ignore the outside world. For example, the day after the elections, El Nuevo Día, the most widely-read local newspaper, had a tiny photo of Obama while the image of Luis Fortuño dominated the front page. Thank goodness for the Internet and cable tv, my gateway to the outside world!

(Image obtained from and

Monday, November 3, 2008

An Election Frenzy

It's hard to believe how it's all coming to an end. After a dramatic campaign year, tomorrow is the day when voters finally decide who should become the next President of the United States. Puerto Ricans, those who live in the island, cannot participate in choosing the next Commander in Chief. However, tomorrow is also Election Day here, and they will be heading to the voting booths to help elect the next governor. It is quite obvious how Puerto Ricans are so passionate about politics. I've blogged about how Puerto Ricans wear their political colors on their sleeve, and it was truly the case this past weekend. We saw a countless number of people hanging their respective political party's flag, as well as the American one, from their cars. The Puerto Rican elections are also quite interesting this year, as the current governor has quite a large number of corruption charges leveled against him. It's hard to imagine why voters will elect him again, but one never knows. Anything is possible. People here are so loyal to their political party.

As for me, I have already sent my absentee ballot for the U.S elections, and I will also be voting tomorrow for the local elections. Thus far, I have not really talked about my political preferences because I don't want to make this a political blog. However, I must say I'm an Obama supporter. This is certainly one of the most important elections in the history of the U.S and I really hope everyone who is elegible to vote will do so tomorrow.
(Images obtained from and, respectively)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Back from Guatemala!

Just came back from a 10 day adventure in the beautiful and fascinating country of Guatemala! If you have never been, or had reservations about visiting Central America, I urge you to just go. You'll have many wonderful experiences and have a fantastic time! I will post pictures and share my thoughts shortly.

Our itinerary included the following places: Antigua, Quetzaltenango ("Xela"), Chichicastenango, Guatemala City, Tikal and Lake Atitlan. From chicken buses to microbuses, we were able to get ourselves all over the country without any trouble. The country is so rich in culture, history and nature, it just left me speechless. There is so much to see and do in Guatemala, I was sad to leave. I do hope to go back again one day.