Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico

"Only 7.2% of Puerto Rico's land area is protected by law for conservation purposes," states the Website of the Conversation Trust of Puerto Rico (El Fideicomiso de Conservación de Puerto Rico), a private non-profit organization, whose main objective is to protect and preserve the island's natural resources. The percentage of preserved land area in Puerto Rico is quite dismal in comparison to countries such as Costa Rica and Panama, where 32% and 41% of the land is being protected, respectively. Perhaps for this reason, Puerto Rico is not known to be an eco-tourism destination. Having recently just celebrated its 40th anniversary, the Conservation Trust plays a very crucial role in preserving some of the island's most beautiful and ecologically important areas.

Some of the sites, of which there are 24, under the management of the Conservation Trust, includes Las Cabezas de San Juan and Hacienda Buena Vista. I've visited both and I found them to be absolutely wonderful places to visit. Established during the administration of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, the Conservation Trust regularly hosts community workshops and events. Whether you're a resident or visitor to the island, I highly recommend participating in one of the Conservation Trust's activities. Not only will you be supporting a great cause in helping this wonderful organization protect more of this beautiful island, but you will also get the sense of just how important it is for us to protect our environment as a whole.

Please note: I am in no way affiliated to the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, but I do support them in their cause!

(Top photo was taken at Las Cabezas de San Juan and the bottom photo is from Hacienda Buena Vista.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Destination: Parque Central, San Juan

About two weeks ago, I went to Parque Central (translation: Central Park) for a run and to buy fish. Perhaps this sounds a bit strange. Well, Parque Central, which has about 35 acres, is the largest plot of green open space in the San Juan metro area where people can bike, walk and run along a system of trails. There are also tennis courts, two swimming pools (at the Natatorium), spinning studio, running track, a fish market and cafeteria! There is now also a driving range next to the park. Although it is a lot smaller than New York's Central Park, which is 843 acres in size, San Juan's Parque Central is a great and safe place to get some exercise. This is not a place frequented by tourists, but more for locals.

In my previous visits, I've come across Sierra Club guided groups exploring the mangroves and looking out for special flora and fauna. There are indeed many different species of birds, and lots of iguanas! I had also noticed a pescadería (translation: fish market) located immediately to the right of the entrance of the park. Unfortunately, the day I went, only sierra (sawfish) and chillo (red snapper) were available. Both of which are the most widely fished on the island. I ended up getting the sawfish, which was very good. For those who are interested in visiting the pescadería, they are open everyday except for Mondays. Word of advice: get there early in the morning!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Living without a Roof in Puerto Rico

Images of palm trees and miles of gorgeous white-sandy beaches are perhaps some of the things which most people associate Puerto Rico with. Well, for those of whom have never lived in Puerto Rico, that is. Homelessness is probably not something which people think is an issue here on the island. Most attribute homelessness to be a problem relegated to the big cities, like New York and Los Angeles. Unfortunately, as do most who live in the San Juan-metro area, I come across at least three or four homeless people (referred to as "tecatos" by Puerto Ricans) begging for money at major traffic lights around the capital city.

The exact number of homeless people living in Puerto Rico has not been verified. However, after several Google search attempts, I came across the article "Mal Parado Puerto Rico sobre informe de deambulantes" ("Puerto Rico does poorly in Study over the Homeless"). According to this article, a 2007 study conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center for Homelessness & Poverty, the officially number of homeless people was at 5,100. This statistic should be multiplied by three or four times, said a representative of La Fondita de Jesús, a local charity group which aims to help the homeless. I absolutely agree with her.

Just last night, as we came home, we were confronted with this sad reality. As I turned into our driveway, we saw a man lying still on the ground in front of our neighbor's house. I immediately called the police, and three patrol cars came within five minutes. One of the police officers yelled something at him and he woke up. I'm not sure if this homeless man left in one of the patrol cars but chances are he's back out on the streets again, and not getting the help and rehabilitation he needs.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Rifles, Whiskey and Amputations

Photos of smiling men and women in medical scrubs, some with rifles and others with an alcoholic beverage, were published on the Facebook page of the Puerto Rican Senate. One of the photos even showed a doctor holding a saw, as seen above, as he was about to perform an amputation. These images appeared under the album title "Salvemos Haití" (translation: "Let's Save Haiti"), and they were taken in Jimaní, a town in the Dominican Republic bordering Haiti. The people posing on these photos were doctors and nurses hired by the Puerto Rican government to help provide medical assistance to earthquake-stricken Haiti. Described as "indignantes" (indignant), "insensibles" (insensitive) and "explícitas" (explicit), the publication of these photos has created a tremendous amount of controversy throughout the world.

When I saw the headline: "Haití: Polémica fotos de puertoriqueños" ("Haiti: Controversial Photos of Puerto Ricans") on the BBC Mundo website, I knew this was a huge mess. My initial reaction was, ok, maybe these photos have been photoshoped and it's just some sort of hoax. I suppose this was wishful thinking. It's just unconscionable how anyone, least of all medical personnel, can take these photos. Worst of all, they even uploaded them onto Facebook. Obviously, what these people did showed a lack of better judgement and stupidity. Puerto Rican government officials are reportedly looking into this matter, some are calling for the suspension of the medical licenses of these doctors and nurses. The Dominican military was said to have detained the soldiers whom allowed their weapons to be used as props in these photos. Despite this huge controversy, let's bear in mind of the many other Puerto Rican doctors and nurses who did not partake in such photo sessions, and have truly been helping the victims of this tragic earthquake.

Update (3/29/10): According to the local medical licensing and disciplinary board on the island, the photos were "taken out of context." Thus, the doctors and medical personnel who appeared in these photos will not face any punishment. Here's the article in the local paper (in Spanish) over this decision, "No hay sanciones para los médicos boricuas."

(Image obtained from BBC Mundo)