Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve (Nochevieja)

Happy new year! Feliz año nuevo! Gelukkig nieuwjaar! This year went by so fast, it's incredible. As 2009 winds down, I can't help but reflect on what happened this past year. From the miracle on the Hudson River in New York to the recent attempt to blow-up a plane over Detroit, this year was filled with highs and lows. In Puerto Rico, this was most certainly a turbulent year. Massive layoffs in the public sector, a devastating explosion at an oil refinery, and increasing violence on the streets are just the tip of the iceberg.

On a personal note, this year was also bittersweet for me. It was a year of heartache and tough lessons, but also of happiness and new beginnings. As I get older, I've learned to let go of things and people and simply cherish and accept reality. Most importantly, to live in the present and to appreciate the power of now. I am also very grateful for all the comments and e-mails which I've received. One of the reasons why I blog, besides my love for writing, is because I find Puerto Rico to be an interesting place. So paradoxical, like many things and places in this world. Another reason for my blogging is to provide people with an idea of what life is like on the island.

Again, thank you for reading. I wish you the very best for 2010. Todo lo mejor para el año nuevo!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Taxis in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Taxis in Puerto Rico are not ubiquitous and are notorious for being expensive. I've come across most of them at the airport and tourist-frequented areas such as Old San Juan, as well as Plaza Las Américas. I had never taken a taxi in Puerto Rico, until the other night. We normally have friends who come pick us up, but this time we took a late night flight. Therefore, taking a cab was the best option. While waiting for our luggage at the baggage claim area, we were looking at a chart posted by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company. It indicates the taxi fare rates between the airport and the different areas around metro-San Juan.

According to this chart, our fare should have been a total of $10. I thought it sounded too good to be true. A friend of mine once paid $30 to go from the airport to the Caribe Hilton hotel. This is a trip which just takes 10-15 minutes or so, without traffic. Needless to say, I was a bit skeptical about the $10 fare. Once we got outside, we headed towards the taxi stand and we told them the area where we needed to go. We asked the guy how much and there was a pause. He said $25. When I asked about the fare chart, which said zone 1 would be $10, he just made a face and said "ahh, ese letrero no incluye maletas y ahora es muy tarde" (translation: that sign doesn't include luggage and it's really late now).

Word of advice for those of you who've never taken a cab in Puerto Rico, please haggle! You must negotiate a price before jumping in because taxis are not metered. I just tried Googling for information on taxis in Puerto Rico and I was amused at what I found. The Puerto Rico Tourism Company's Website provides information which is completely obsolete. Perhaps there's an updated version, but taxi riders beware! Another taxi driver ended up taking us home for a couple of bucks less, enough to buy a cup of Starbucks coffee. Next time, I'll definitely ask a taxi driver acquaintance for his phone number.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Christmas Bonus

Earlier this week, I came across an article in the local paper titled "Hoy vence el pago del bono de Navidad." Translation: "The Christmas bonus payment expires today." In case you weren't aware of this, in Puerto Rico, all employers must pay their employees a Christmas bonus. This law also applies to part-time employees, and businesses operating with a net income loss. No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you! As long as someone has worked for you for more than 700 hours during the year, you must pay them a bonus. Should employers come under severe hardship, and are unable to meet this obligation, they must inform Department of Labor of Puerto Rico. By the way, this law (#148) was enacted on June 30th of 1969, and it's known as the "Christmas bonus law" ("ley de bono de navidad"). Low and behold, this bonus also applies to local government employees.

In an attempt to cut costs, as the government deficit just keeps going nowhere but up, Gov. Luis Fortuño did cut many of his cabinet members' bonuses. This year, 608 businesses reportedly asked to be exempted from this obligation. Compared to last year, the increase is said to be 29%. Numbers vary, ranging from just under 33,800 to 66,000, the amount of workers affected. In my opinion, this Christmas bonus law is archaic and it hurts many small to medium-sized business owners, especially during this economic recession. Besides, isn't a Christmas bonus supposed to be something extra? Shouldn't it also depend on your work and company's performance, or am I just going out on a limb here? This mandatory Christmas bonus creates a huge burden on many businesses. Moreover, it often rewards workers who do less than mediocre work, and it also fails to incentivize and motivate better job performance.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Just 12 days to go until Christmas, and many people have been enthusiastically greeting me with "felicidades!" This is the most common expression used by Puerto Ricans when greeting and wishing each other a happy holiday season. Being on the island during this time of the year involves eating lechón (roast pig), pastel, arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) drinking coquitos (which is made of coconut and rum), and having arroz con leche (rice pudding) or tembleque (coconut pudding) for dessert. As with most parties, there will also be dancing and singing of some traditional holiday songs. Puerto Ricans definitely know how to party!

There's just something special with the way this island's music, people and its food all come together. These three elements were present at a party which I attended last night.
I find spending the holiday season a lot more intimate and joyous in Puerto Rico. I enjoyed watching people singing and doing the bomba and plena. The music and the atmosphere kicked me into holiday spirit gear. Today, I went to a nursery to pick up poinsettias! Hopefully, I'll get around to putting up lights and decorating the house tomorrow. Felicidades a todos! (Happy holidays to all!)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

"When Crime Comes to Paradise"

When I clicked on the link "When Crime Comes to Paradise," an article from the New York Times Travel section, the first thing I noticed was a photo which mentions the murder of a tourist who was killed back in February of this year in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. This article delivers a very strong and important message: do not let your guard down, even while on vacation. According to today's paper, as of last night, there have been 839 murders committed on the island this year alone. This is 89 more murders registered during the same time last year. As a point of reference, in 2008, there were 516 murders in New York City, a city with over 8 million inhabitants.

Puerto Rico, which has just less than 4 million inhabitants, has experienced a steady increase in thefts, robberies, and murders. Give the double-digit unemployment level, and the economic crisis, the island is experiencing a signifcant increase in crime. This is especially true during the holiday season. Something which is frequently published in the local paper is the murder rate. Having lived in New York City most of my life, I don't recall ever having been so conscious of the number of crimes committed during the year in the Big Apple. While I do not intend to raise fear, I do strongly suggest anyone visiting the island to be aware of their surroundings. Use common sense and follow your instincts. Be sure to lock your room, car doors and trunk. actually provides some safety tips for travelers visiting Puerto Rico. Just remember, do not throw caution to the wind.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Shopping on Sundays

After much brouhaha in the Puerto Rican Senate and House of Representatives, la Ley de Cierre (lit. "the closing law") has officially been abolished by the legislative assembly. This means shops can now remain open on Sundays from 11AM until midnight. Previously, nearly all commercial establishments were required by law to close at 5PM, except for those located in tourist areas. Critics of the now defunct Ley de Cierre have long called for its demise, as tough economic times calls for even tougher economic measures. Longer shopping hours means having the opportunity to do more business, especially during the holiday season. On the other hand, workers' unions, which are extremely powerful in Puerto Rico, were strongly against extending the Sunday workday because it would result in workers having less time to spend with their families.

One of the major obstacles in this debate was over wages. Unions demanded double pay, while the retail and consumer industry groups called for time and a half. The latter prevailed. This past Sunday, we took advantage of the new shopping hours for the first time. I found it wonderful not having to rush around. Plaza Las Américas, the island's largest shopping mall, now closes at 7PM. Some supermarkets close at 9PM, it all depends on the retailer. So, did I end up doing more shopping this past Sunday? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding "yes!" It felt strange being able to shop past 5 PM, but it's something which I will certainly get used to.