Sunday, January 25, 2009

Festival de La Calle San Sebastián

Every third week of January, Viejo San Juan ("Old San Juan") hosts La Festival de La Calle San Sebastián (San Sebastian Festival) for 4 days, from Thursday through Sunday. This is a festival held in honor of its patron saint, Sebastián, and starts at the street of its namesake. The festival attracts thousands of people every year. There are many cultural events and festivities organized for people to enjoy and participate. For me, someone who doesn't drink and avoids large crowds, going to the festival has never been something of particular interest. However, after my first "San Se" experience last Sunday, I stand corrected. The festival was a lot of fun and I had a wonderful time.

We saw the desfile de cabezudos (literally the parade of heads) on calle San Sebastian (San Sebastian Street), which was filled with music, people dancing and kiosks selling food. It was crowded but far from being unbearable. We went during the day, as I was told that drunken people dominate the streets at night. The courtyards of el Museo de Las Américas and el Museo de Arte y Historia San Juan were converted into large flea markets, filled with kiosks selling local crafts and artwork. We had never seen so many local artisans out in full force. It was absolutely fantastic!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

It's Official... President Obama

Barack Obama is now officially the 44th President of the United States. Today marked a very important chapter in American history, and I'm so happy to be alive to see it. As we were watching the inauguration online, one of the most endearing images was one of Sasha Obama giving a big thumbs up to her dad. It was also funny watching the blunders, such Chief Justice Robert's omission of the word "faithfully" during his swearing in. At first, I was under the impression that Obama paused because he was nervous.

It has been a long while since I've felt so excited about politics. Of course, like Obama himself has said repeatedly, our country's woes will not be solved within a year or two. However, I'm afraid most people believe he will deliver immediate results. Looking at today's front cover page of one of the local papers made me laugh. The headline read "Obamán al Rescate" (translation: "Obama to the Rescue"). The local sentiment here in Puerto Rico is one of positivity and awe. The former because Obama is a new face and the latter because he's the first African-American president. Puerto Ricans are also expecting Obama to help the local economy, which has been officially in recession long before it was the case in the mainland.
Photo Credits: Susan Walsh/Associated Press (1st photo); Primera Hora, (2nd image)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Moving to Puerto Rico?

For those who have never been to Puerto Rico, and are interested in living or visiting the island, I have a bit of friendly advice. Please be patient, as you'll see, many things just simply don't make any sense here! Everything here takes place at a much slower pace. Although Puerto Rico is officially part of the U.S, it is not at all like the mainland. Look beyond the Wal-Marts, Walgreens, Best Buys, etc., and leave the glitz and glamour of the tourist areas, and you'll see how different life is.

First of all, Spanish is what most Puerto Ricans speak. You can get by with English, if you're in San Juan, but it's certainly to your benefit to learn how to speak Spanish if you plan on living here. Second, there is a lot of red tape here. For example, getting or renewing your license might almost take a whole day, depending on how many people are standing in line. In most cases, the local government has not given its citizens the option of using the Internet to make their lives easier. Third, the crime rate in Puerto Rico is high. You should always be aware of your surroundings, and use common sense, as you would anywhere else.

Below is a list of resources to help those who might be moving to Puerto Rico. As you'll see, most of the Websites, with the exception of the Taxation Department (of course!), are in Spanish.

The Fundamentals:

Departamento de Hacienda (the Tax Dept.):
Departamento de Transportación y Obras Públicas (DMV & Transportation Dept)- in Spanish only:
Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (Puerto Rico's public electricity company)- in Spanish only:
Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (Puerto Rico's public water company)- in Spanish only:
Puerto Rico's Government Website (in Spanish only):
Puerto Rico Telephone:

Fun & Entertainment:

San Juan (Going Out) Guide:
Puerto Rico's Restaurant Guide:

Monday, January 12, 2009

Puerto Rico 101

Someone has inspired me to dedicate this entry entirely to educate those who have no clue what or where Puerto Rico is. I was providing this person, a customer service representative from the mainland U.S, my mailing address and I foolishly thought she knew how to spell "Puerto Rico." She was working from a drop-down menu of countries, and I knew she was struggling when she asked me if "P-E-R-U" was correct. Afterwards, she asked me if "P-A-R-A-G-U-A-Y" was correct. I had explain that Puerto Rico is in the Carribbean and that it's officially part of the U.S. I suppose she went to the state drop-down list after what I told her.

This incident is not the first time in which I've talked to someone who had no idea of the existence of the Island of Enchantment. My brother, who was traveling in Canada, had to present his driver's license to a security guard who actually couldn't find Puerto Rico in the list of countries. This is indeed a tiny island, a little dot on the map of the world. Unless you're a huge fan of Ricky Martin or have been exposed to the Puerto Rican culture, most people have probably never heard of or know very little about this island. So, here are some interesting facts about Puerto Rico:

Official Name: Commonwealth of Puerto Rico ("Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico")
(Note: popularly known as "La Isla del Encanto"- The Island of Enchantment)
Location: Puerto Rico is located in the northeastern part of the Carribbean.
Population: 3.9 million inhabitants (2007 est.)
Political Status: since the end of the 20th Century, Puerto Rico has officially been a U.S territory, it is not a state, and its political status has been of major debate.
Citizenship: those born in Puerto Rico are automatically U.S citizens, according to the Jones-Shafroth Act (1917).
Historic Election: the first popularly elected governor Luis Muñoz Marín (San Juan's international airport was named after him), was elected in 1948.
Climate: year-round sunshine and warm temperatures!
Currency: US dollar
Official Languages: Spanish and English
(Note: most Puerto Ricans speak some English, especially those living in the bigger cities).

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

You Know You've Arrived in Puerto Rico....

when you're on an airplane, and people start clapping upon landing! This is almost guaranteed to happen, and it's a reminder of how much Puerto Ricans love their island. I think it's wonderful, because it reflects the boriqua spirit. As I was waiting for my brother to pick me up from the airport, I heard the sounds of the coquís, which can be heard especially at night. These frog-like creatures are entirely unique to Puerto Rico. You'll rarely see them, but they certainly make their presence known with their "coquí" sounds.

After a wonderful and fantastic month away from the Island of Enchantment, it's really nice to be back. It seems like I made good timing too, since temperatures throughout Europe dipped further down below zero degrees celsius! What a difference from Puerto Rico! The weather is very comfortable here right now. Visiting the island during the winter season is definitely a good idea, as it's not too hot or humid. The constant sunshine and warm temperatures may be boring for some, but I'll take that over the freezing cold!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year! Feliz Año Nuevo! Gelukkig Nieuwjaar!

From far away in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, I wish everyone a very happy and healthy 2009! This is actually my first time celebrating the holidays in a foreign country and it has been a very wonderful experience thus far. Of course, in the end, it's all about the people with whom you get to spend and share it with. Yesterday, as we rung in the new year, we saw tons of firework outside our window. In Puerto Rico, fireworks are legal and commonly seen during the New Year's Eve celebration. However, it is definitely more popular in the Netherlands.

Puerto Ricans usually ring in the new year with family and friends, just like the Dutch do. In terms of food, Puerto Ricans usually buy turrón (a hard nougat from Spain) and eat twelve grapes. This is eaten for good luck for all twelve months of the year. As for the Netherlands, oliebol (it reminds me of a ball-shaped doughnut with raisins) is what everyone eats. Yesterday, we saw lines of people at many of the ollibol trucks. It was incredible. The weather has been really cold (below zero degrees celsius!) over here and the canals were actually frozen! People were ice skating! Now that's perhaps one of the biggest differences between the Netherlands and Puerto Rico, where people would most likely be at the beach sunbathing.