On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
Steve from Mendocino
For those of you who remember I said I stopped taking photographs for an extended period, that was largely true, but there were lapses.
I lived in Puerto Rico for several years as owner of a Porsche/Saab dealership that I picked up cheap because it was losing gobs of money. I eventually sold it to a Dominican hood who wanted it for the prestige as well as, most likely, money laundering. During the course of negotiations with this “gentleman”, he flew me twice to Santo Domingo on his private jet. As immoral as I consider those things, I must admit it was quite a thrill.
During my years in Puerto Rico I found it to be both a paradise and a nightmare. The people are friendly, the lusciousness of the wildlife is breathtaking, the architecture is colorful and expressive, and the rum flows freely. On the downside, for me at least, the cuisine is simplistic and uninteresting. More importantly, the level of violent crime, at least when I was there, was truly frightening. Three doors down from my dealership, the security guard had his throat cut in the theft of his gun. A month later, the replacement guard got into a gun fight across a busy four lane highway with some robber, the same or a new one, I don’t know.
In another instance, the service writer at the Volkswagen dealership got into an argument with his girlfriend in a car in front of our dealership, and she shot him dead. The wife of my service manager was babysitting a child at the beach when someone came along and held a knife at the child’s throat demanding all her valuables. The manager of the hotel that included my condominium had his wife raped in front of him. These stories go on and on. The police advised never stopping at a stop light after dark. I ended up going directly to and from the dealership, and, when I wasn’t at work, I could be found at the beach sucking down rum drinks. I spent as much time as I could get away with off the island.
Most Americans experience Puerto Rico in relationship with Caribbean cruises. Being imprisoned on one of these boats for an extended period with entertainment consisting of generic food, programmed group activities, gambling, and people with whom I have nothing in common has insured that I remain a cruise virgin.
Castillo San Felipe del Morro sits at the mouth of the San Juan harbor. It’s one of those tourist destinations that really is worth seeing – briefly. It’s big and impressive and gets the imagination going. It was built in the 16th century with slave labor (of course).
This and the following two pictures of El Morro gives you a pretty good notion of what it’s all about. In the first half of the 20th century it was occupied by the U.S. military. The bunker was installed during World War II.
La Perla is a shanty town slum that sits immediately adjacent to El Morro. At the time I was there, visiting La Perla was emphatically discouraged. Given my fear of crime in Puerto Rico, I never went anywhere near it, although I have read that it has become a bit of a tourist destination in recent years.
A typical street in Old San Juan. It really is charming in many respects.
El Yunque is stunning. The only rain forest I’ve ever been in. Condo? ESJ in Isla Verde?
Fascinating stories and very cool photos. Thanks!
New Deal democrat
Spending a few nights at Hotel el Convento (yes, a real converted former convent) in old San Juan should be on everyone’s bucket list.
thanks for these.
I found the food in PR just as you described Steve- “simplistic and uninteresting”, with a big emphasis on bland, starchy carbs (which I avoid on my keto diet). I will give a shout-out to Lechon and Perníl, two of the finest roasted pork dishes around. Boriqueños do have a way with pig.
Decades ago, I used to go to San Juan regularly for work, but we always took the last flight down the night before the meeting and the first flight home after the meeting (which was scheduled so we went right to the airport, and I never got to spend any time in the city. There was a nice strip of beach outside the hotel we usually used, but that was about all I saw. It’s nice to see some photos.
On the cruise ship thing, we did the Alaska cruise, and treated the ship mostly as a floating hotel that took us from destination to destination. That worked out pretty well, and it’s really the only way to see the Inner Passage towns. I will say the food was abundant.
The only time I was ever in PR was to attend my sister’s deathbed in early January of 2013 — she and my brother in law lived there for a couple of years prior to her death. She hated living there, but her head was in a really bad place at the time, and not a lot of people around her spoke English. I was only there for four days, but I fell in love with the place (aside from the heat–I hated that). The people were lovely and the scenery was beautiful. I wasn’t able to stay long enough to really get a feel for the place, though.
“big emphasis on bland, starchy carbs.” Welcome to the survival cuisine of those once largely enslaved. Arroz con gandules might not be inspiring, but if one was raised on it, it’s comfort food.
So…the pictures are beautiful and varied. They’ve made me realize I don’t have much of a visual impression of Puerto Rico to carry around, and now I have at least a beginning. La Perla plays a big role in Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, one of my favorite books, so now I have a sense of what it looks like in real life. For one thing, I wasn’t picturing the way it flows right down to the water.
I wonder if the crime rate has fallen since you were there….?
Finally, I’m not sure you could pay me enough to get on a cruise ship. ‘Nuff said, or I’ll start a rant about the North Pole, among other places.
Almost ended up there as a youngling when DadFromNY was in line for a position at the Arecibo telescope. MomFromNY spent a week there with him as part of the interview process, and upon return said “Not in this life, buddy.” BroFromNY did a year there as a contractor to FEMA after Hurricane Maria, and said it was part paradise, part slum.
Preach it, brother.
Steve from Mendocino
@AndoChronic: El Yunque is wonderful. Coffee plantations up that way as well, one of which has been converted to a delightful inn. The people up there are generally more reliably civilized, although they are considered by coastal dwellers to be hillbillies. I have no pictures of that area, unfortunately.
@BruceFromOhio: This story reminds me of a moment in my own childhood, when my dad took the federal civil service exam and was offered a job as a border guard in Brownsville, Texas. To me as a ten-year-old, it sounded like a great adventure. Luckily (I think now), my parents decided not to take us that far away from our very close extended families.
There’s a new ship doing North Pole trips – you set sail from Norway, not Russia. Not cheap. I hope to do that one next year. They say they’re going this year but it seems iffy to me.
Other cruises worth doing are the transatlantic crossing, just for the history; Norwegian Fjords; rounding the Horn.
I do agree with your assessment overall.
J R in WV
The one cruise we took was on a National Geographic Lindblad “adventure” cruise with maybe 65 passengers. We traveled from the western tip of Baja California where the grey whales reproduced — the mom’s would bring their babies, the size of a small school bus, right up to the small Zodiac boats we were in and they would put their nose right on the boat, where you could pet or even kiss them. Then around the southern end of the peninsula into the Sea of Cortez.
No gambling/casino, no dance parties except once with some local musicians who encouraged people to party-dance with them, which was fun. The food was pretty good but for one night when nothing seemed better than just meh. Open bar, though, which never hurts.
Would NEVER go on one of those giant barges with thousands of folks, never! Although have considered using Cunard line ship to cross the Atlantic to travel in Europe, but that’s travel old style, not cruising. No stops until you arrive in the old country. Actually less expensive than first class air fare, plus you get a bed.
J R in WV
Forgot to say thanks for the great photos and descriptions of the island.
We have visited Turks and Caicos islands more recently, and did a week-long sailboat tour [just 3 crew, 3 family members] of the Virgin Islands back in 1991, IIRC, lovely places, but so much poverty, esp in the VI. And driving on the “wrong” side of the road, not only could I NOT drive, had a hard time being a pedestrian looking the wrong way before starting to cross the road.
Car dealerships & restaurants. You have led an eclectic and adventurous life!