Shouldn't gringo be viewed as a racial fraud
Puerto Rico's other arts vividly reflect the vibrant culture, although they can't compete with the island's iconic music. Fittingly, the authors from Puerto Rico use both Spanish and English to describe local life and the problems of poverty, freedom, colonialism, and the country's underworld status in the United States. Films invariably reflect the screen-friendly local colors, as well as the energetic visual arts. Galleries depicting the gigantic artistic works of this tiny island are constantly opening. Puerto Ricans enjoy using dance to physically express their nuanced musical rhythms.
The mild weather in Puerto Rico, the historic architecture and the modern infrastructure attract Hollywood productions. Los Peloteros, the first truly Puerto Rican film (that is, with a cast and crew from Puerto Rico), was shot in 1953, and a domestic industry didn't start to flourish until the late 1980s, thanks largely to one director: Jacobo Morales. He wrote, directed and acted in Dios los cría (God created them). The film offered a critical look at Puerto Rican society and received acclaim from both critics and fans. His next bid, Lo que le pasó a Santiago (What Happened to Santiago) won an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film (the irony!) In 1990. Linda Sara (Pretty Sara), his 1994 successor, earned him another.
Director Marcos Zurinaga also made a name for himself in the 1980s, first with La Gran Fiesta (The Big Party) in 1986, which focuses on the final days of San Juan's largest casino, and then with the acclaimed disappearance of Garcia Lorca (1997 ). .
The most widely distributed and successful Puerto Rican film is likely Luis Molina Casanova's 1993 tragic comedy, La guagua aérea (A Flight of Hope), which examines the reasons why Puerto Ricans emigrated in the 1960s. Artistically, this is followed by Mi santa mirada, a 2012 short drama directed by Alvaro Aponte, a Puerto Rican drug dealer who decides to change his life. It was recognized at the Cannes Film Festival.
Puerto Rico in the movie
For movies in Puerto Rico or about life in Puerto Rico in the barrios of New York, search for:
Carlito's Way Starring Al Pacino and Sean Penn, this popular 1993 drama follows the exploits of Carlito Brigante, a Puerto Rican drug dealer in New York who struggles after his release from prison.
Rum Diary (Rum Punch) Filmed entirely on location in 2011, Johnny Depp plays Hunter S Thompson in his early, but still undecided, days as a journalist in San Juan in the early 1960s.
fishing rod This drama, written and directed by Jacobo Morales (who also plays the lead), is about a corrupt police captain and the man he wrongly locked up. A 2008 Oscar nomination was narrowly missed.
GoldenEye The legendary Arecibo radio telescope formed the backdrop for the famous climate scenes of the 17th screen-out of 007.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides San Juan's dramatic forts made the fourth episode of the franchise moody in 2011 (Johnny Depp probably spent a lot of time on set in Puerto Rico, around this point).
Puerto Rico has fathered several renowned actors and actresses over the decades. Some of the most important:
Benicio del Toro (1967-) won an Oscar for Transport; played the lead in Che. Has secured a number of roles over the past two decades, from fear and disgust in Las Vegas to the usual suspects.
Rita Moreno (1931-) One of the few actresses to win an Academy Award, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy; Leading roles in West Side Story and The King and I.
Joaquin Phoenix (1974-) Oscar nomination for best supporting actor in Gladiator; Other roles include a portrayal of Johnny Cash in Walk The Line, Hotel Rwanda and Quills.
José Ferrér (1912-1992) Known for his performance in Lawrence of Arabia; Peter O'Toole once said that he learned more about film acting from Ferrér than from any other acting class.
The rolling gait of salsa is inextricably linked to Puerto Rican identity, and the island's attitude towards dance often shows a refreshing lack of North American restraint.
Over time, many classifiable forms of music - bomba, salsa, plena, and danza - have developed complementary dances based on syncopated rhythms and melodies. An early example was formal dance, an elegant ballroom dance that was imported from Cuba. Bomba is another colorful import with influences from African slaves. The energetic bomba spawned a plethora of subgenres such as Sica, Yuba and Holland and is both spontaneous and exciting to watch.
Puerto Rico's signature dance is undoubtedly salsa. With its sensual movements and strong African rhythmic base, it seems like the perfect expression of Puerto Rico's cultural DNA.
To see the best of Puerto Rican free form dance, head to the steamy San Juan nightclubs, where being seen with the best moves is a matter of personal pride.
Puerto Rico was without a printer until 1807, and restrictive Spanish regulations kept literacy rates low for nearly 400 years. Despite this, indigenous literature developed. In the 19th and 20th centuries, writers emerged who shaped the island's identity: Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, Manuel Alonso, Dr. Enrique Laguerre and Julia de Burgos.
As more islanders emigrated to the United States in the 1950s, the Puerto Rican "exiles" known as Nuyoricans produced powerful fictions. One of the most successful writers was Pedro Juan Soto, whose collection Spiks (a racial fraud directed at Nuyoricans), published in 1956, depicts life in the New York barrios with biting realism. Miguel Algarín, Miguel Piñero and Pedro Pietri started a Latino beatnik movement on Manhattan's Lower East Side in the first Nuyorican Poets Café.
Esmeralda Santiago's 1986 memoir, Cuando era puertorriqueña (When I was a Puerto Rican), became the standard in US schools for eloquently portraying her childhood on the island and how the insights gained there shaped her success.
Eduardo Lalo is best known for his Romulo Gallegos-winning novel Simone (2012), which uses an unusual narrative style to set an almost hypnotic tone for his forays into the city of San Juan. His first book, En el Burger King de la Calle San Francisco (On San Francisco Street Burger King), is a lyrical exploration of Old San Juan.
Another writer from San Juan, Zoé Jiménez Corretjer, has received several awards for her contemporary poems. Two other poets, Luz María Umpierre-Herrera and Sandra María Esteves, are particularly known for their poetic dialogue, in which they wrote two works together in which they discussed the role of women in Puerto Rican society.
Puerto Rican Literature Icons
- Alejandro Tapia y Rivera (1826–82) The "father of Puerto Rican literature" wrote poetry, stories, essays, novels and plays. One of the long, allegorical poems is Sataniada, a grandiose epic dedicated to the Prince of Darkness.
- Manuel Alonso (1822–89) Alonso wrote El gíbaro (1849), a collection of vignettes about cockfighting, dancing, weddings, politics, race and the espiritism (spiritualism) that characterizes the island of jíbaro (an archetypal witty peasant).
- Dr. Enrique Laguerre (1906–2005) Puerto Rico's first major international writer. La llamarada (blaze of fire) was published on a sugar cane plantation in 1935 and is based on Laguerre's stay at the Palacete Los Moreau near Isabela, where a young intellectual struggles with the exploitation of US companies.
- Julia de Burgos (1914–53), an important poet, reacted indignantly when the island became US territory. Her work embodies two fundamental elements of Boricua's identity: an intense, lyrical connection with nature and fiery politics.
- Giannina Braschi (1953–) Braschi, one of the biggest names among the many Puerto Rican writers living in New York, writes about the state of freedom in her homeland - or about the lack of freedom. Her three novels, Empire of Dreams (1994), Yo-Yo Boing! (1998) and the United States of Banana (2011) have gained international recognition.
- René Marqués (1919–79) A playwright born in Arecibo, whose most important work is La Carreta. He accompanies a Puerto Rican family on their trip off the sticks to San Juan and then to New York in search of a better life.
Trio of Puerto Rican Folk Art
Check out some of the better shops on the quieter streets of Old San Juan for examples of these folk art treasures.
Santos Following the artistic traditions of the carved Taíno idols known as cemíes, these small statues depict religious figures and are kept in houses to bring spiritual blessings to their keepers.
Mundillo Made only in Spain and Puerto Rico, this fine lace was imported by early nuns who made and sold it to fund schools and orphanages. The renewed interest in the folk art of the islands awakened by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña has revived the process.
Máscaras These scary and beautiful headgear are worn on island festivals and are popular pieces of folk art. The tradition of masked processions dates back to the Spanish Inquisition, when masqueraders known as vejigantes waved balloon-like objects (literally called "bubbles") and scared sinners into returning to church. In Puerto Rico, it merged with masking traditions of African slaves.
The Museo de San Juan in San Juan is a symbol of Puerto Rico's commitment to the visual arts, which dates back to the beginnings of Spanish colonization. The first great local artist to emerge was the self-taught José Campeche (1751–1809). Masterpieces such as Dama a caballo (Lady on Horseback) and Gobernador Ustariz (Governor Ustariz) demonstrate Campeche's mastery in landscape and portraiture, often inspired by the story of Jesus.
Another master, Francisco Oller (1833–1917), was not recognized until the second half of the 19th century. Oller was very different from Campeche; He studied in France with Gustave Courbet and was influenced by acquaintances such as Cézanne. Like his mentor Courbet, Oller dedicated a large part of his work to scenes from the humble everyday life on the island. Bayamón, Oller's birthplace, houses a museum for his native son. Many of his works are in the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico in San Juan. Both Oller and Campeche are honored to have started an art movement inspired by nature and the life of Puerto Rico. They have given the island its own cultural and artistic identity.
After a storm in poster art that covered the island in visual and verbal images in the 1950s and 1960s, serious painters such as Julio Rosado del Valle (1922–2008), Francisco Rodón (born 1934) and Myrna Báez (born. 1931) A new aesthetic in Puerto Rican art in which images rebel against the tyranny of political and jingoistic slogans. Báez belongs to a new generation of female artists who are building on Puerto Rico's traditions to create exciting installation art. Her work is exhibited in many galleries in San Juan.
One of the island's most famous contemporary artists was actually a Nuyorican - Rafael Tufiño (1922–2008), who was born in Brooklyn to Puerto Rican parents. Tufiño, who used vivid colors and large canvases, was known as the "painter of the people" for his unwavering portrayal of poverty on the island. His work has been included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Library of Congress.
Head to San Juan's Santurce neighborhood to find stunning examples of Puerto Rico's vibrant visual art. Museums, galleries, outdoor art, and impromptu graffiti all create a visual turmoil as vibrant as the best of salsa.
Rita Moreno (born in Humacao in 1931) rarely managed to win an Oscar (West Side Story), a Grammy (The Electric Company Album), a Tony (The Ritz) and two Emmys (The Muppet Show and The Rockford Files) ). Only 11 others have won all four.
Ramón Rivero, better known by the nickname Diplo, was the king of Puerto Rican comedy that made islanders laugh in times of great economic hardship in the 1940s and 1950s. He also starred in one of Puerto Rico's best films, Los Peloteros (The Baseball Players).
The Museo de Arte de Ponce is one of the largest art galleries in the Caribbean, but every year a fascinating new space for contemporary art seems to open up in Puerto Rico: the newest is the fantastic Museo de Arte in Mayagüez.
Life in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rican culture is a kaleidoscope of four constantly overlapping elements - Taíno, Spanish, African, and American. Hence the dynamic culture is incredibly difficult to put into words. One side of the street looks like the Bronx while the other is all of Latin America and bananas are sold in the back of a truck. The Commonwealth exports well over half of its population to the United States, but expatriates are deeply attached to the island they call home.
Most Puerto Ricans live a lifestyle that combines two main elements: the commercial and material values of the United States and the social and traditional values of their "enchanted" island. With a strong connection with mainland America, Puerto Ricans shared many of the same social values as their New York cousins. Even so, the Puerto Rican flags waving in front of the flames of NYC leave no doubt that many Puerto Ricans will never entirely escape American culture.
Because of the modern practical aspects of the island's political and cultural location, many Puerto Ricans have grown up between the cities of the American mainland and their homeland for three or four generations. Even those who remain assimilated by the proxy: teenagers in an affluent suburb of San Juan can walk past American chain stores through the mall and chat about Hollywood blockbusters. Conversely, their colleagues who live in the uniformly Puerto Rican neighborhoods of New York or Chicago may have an everyday life that is more like Latin America. This makes it difficult for outsiders to grasp the full extent of their bilingual and multicultural existence. Many Puerto Ricans walk just as comfortably down Fifth Ave in New York during the week to do a little shopping as they visit the Friquitines (street kiosks) on Playa Luquillo with their families on the weekend.
Where Puerto Rico and the United States are most different in practical terms may be the economy. A peek behind the glittering buildings of San Juan reveals the toll the global recession has taken coupled with the island's own ailments. A large number of manufacturing orders left the island over the past decade, taking seasoned managers with them, and rusting factories. With an unemployment rate of 11.9% and an average salary of around $ 28,000 (roughly half the US average), the local word says you should fly to Orlando if you need a job - a trip that crosses the US American citizenship was made easy.
From Rincon to Vieques, visitors will find that Puerto Ricans are incredibly friendly and open. They like nothing better than to show their beloved Borikén (the name of the island Taíno). You will also find that, despite their obsession with large American cars and large shopping complexes, Puerto Ricans' lives are also shaped by some of life's simpler joys. A popular pastime on an island is wading in warm ocean water just before sunset - beer in hand and a few more in the cooler - to shoot the breeze with whoever is enjoying the glorious spectacle of the changing sky. The next day, you have a good chance to spend the afternoon at the grill (usually with a beer in hand) enjoying the flavors of a family favorite recipe.Whether you are a bank clerk, a schoolteacher, a fisherman, or even a visit to gringo - it doesn't matter who you are as long as you share the appreciation for how good life can be in Puerto Rico.
Like most Caribbean cultures, Puerto Ricans are genetically an ethnic mix of American, European, and Native African people. Approximately 80% of the island is classified as white (meaning mainly Spanish in origin), 8% as black, and 12% as other or mixed, including Taíno. Along the Loíza coast, where African heritage is most significant, there are an abundance of traits distinct from those of the Yoruba, while in the mountains a handful of people still claim distant Taíno bloodlines. Many of them are right; Advanced ethnographic research by Puerto Ricans in recent years has shown a strong connection with the island's first settlers.
Puerto Ricans may tell you that there is no ethnic discrimination on their island, but politically correct Spanish speakers may be appalled by some of the names Puerto Ricans use to refer to one another - words like Trigueño (the color of wheat) and Jabao (not ) completely white). It may sound derogatory (and sometimes it is), but it can also be simply a rash way of identifying someone by a visible physical attribute, a habit found across much of Latin America. You'll also hear terms like la blanquita to describe a fair-skinned woman or el gordo to describe a sturdy man. Realizing which terms are racist rather than descriptive will be a difficult distinction for non-islanders, and it is wise to stay away from all of this slang. Compared to much of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico is remarkably integrated and straight forward when it comes to ethnicity. This may be due to a long history in which the powers change wildly and frequently: In the first census of the island in 1899, around 62% defined themselves as white, 32% as mixed and 6% as black.
The island's main challenge is to correct the historical fact that the poorest islanders - those descended from the slaves and laborers who owned no land until the beginning of the 20th century - have seen little change in terms of higher education. In Puerto Rico, as in the United States, the problem of racial and economic inequality, although still visible, has improved immeasurably over the past 50 years. While urban and housing shortages continue to be a problem, the relative economic conditions in modern Puerto Rico are significantly better than in most other Caribbean countries.
Puerto Rico's beauties
On the most advanced issues of gender equality, Puerto Rico can shame other Latin American countries.
At least until it's time to wipe off the rhinestone tiara and satin sash and crown a beauty queen. Puerto Rico just loves the beauty pageant. The island's near-obsession with pageants has paid off too. In the great enchilada, the annual Miss Universe, Puerto Ricans are a breeze. The island has recorded an impressive five victories in the history of the pageant, most recently in 2006.
Read up on Puerto Rican culture
Start your cultural journey to Puerto Rico on the pages of a book, from the sexual revolution to the struggles for independence of the Commonwealth to island-friendly eco-activism.
Down These Mean Streets (Piri Thomas) This classic, peppered with Spanish Harlem street jargon, takes a cool and sober look at the challenges posed by violence, drugs and racism during the first wave of Puerto Rican immigration to New York City.
Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings - An Anthology (Edited by Roberto Santiago) This collection of essays and stories offers an incredibly diverse and far-reaching insight into Puerto Rican authors, many of whom are barely translated into English. If you're reading a book to try Puerto Rican writing, this is it.
The Disenchanted Island - Puerto Rico and the United States in the Twentieth Century (Ronaldo Fernández) Passionately told for Latin American students, this chronicle of the island's struggle for independence demonstrates the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States under the microscope.
Imposing Decency: The Politics of Sexuality and Race in Puerto Rico, 1870–1920 (Eileen J Suárez Findlay) This bold historical reading of feminism in Puerto Rico is rooted in the sexual revolution of the working class during the tumultuous years of the American colony.$ config [ads_text16] not found
Islands under attack: the unlikely quest to save Puerto Rico's coral (Kevin McCarey) The US Navy bombed much of Culebra in the 1970s and the damage to the coral reefs became too extreme. McCarey joined a strange group of activists to try to halt the destruction. It's kind of a book that you can't put down.
As in many previous Spanish colonies, Roman Catholicism is widespread. An estimated 70% of Puerto Ricans identify as Catholic. But both Catholics and Protestants - the second largest religious group - have been largely influenced by centuries of indigenous and African folklore traditions. Slaves arriving from West Africa between the 16th and 19th centuries brought with them a system of animistic beliefs that they passed down through generations of their descendants.
The santos (small carved figures of saints), which have been a staple of Puerto Rican artists for centuries, stem to some extent from the santeria belief in the power of saints (although many Puerto Ricans may be unaware of the sources of this veneration). Many Puerto Ricans keep a collection of their favorite Santos in a place of honor in their homes, much like the shrines that the Yoruba in West Africa keep for their orishas (spirits), such as Yemanjá, the goddess of the sea.
The belief in the magical properties of small, carved gods is also reminiscent of the island's early inhabitants, the Taíno, who worshiped small stone cores (figures) and believed in Jupías, spirits of the dead who wander around the island at night to wreak havoc.
Tens of thousands of islanders consult curanderos (healers) when it comes to problems with love, health, employment, finances and revenge. The islanders also spend a lot of money in Botánicas: shops selling herbs, plants, charms, holy water and books about performing ghost rituals.
The quiet, stone-lined Taíno ball courts of Tibes and Caguana pay homage to Puerto Rico's longstanding commitment to the sport, but they do not speak of the fierce energy that fuels the competitive spirit of today's islanders. For such a geographically small place, Puerto Rico plays a disproportionately large role in modern sport, especially boxing and baseball.
Puerto Rico's official pastime is béisbol (baseball), a modern game that bears a vague resemblance to the ceremonial batú of the Taíno ancestors and draws parallels to the island's current economic and cultural ties with the United States. As much as Puerto Rico's troubled economy depends on the support of the US government, the Liga de Béisbol Profesional Roberto Clemente (www.ligapr.com) - named after the legendary player of the early 1970s - is bankrolled by America's own Major League Baseball ( MLB).
Island-rooted players often make their primary contributions to the Puerto Rican diaspora while working in New York and Chicago. The pros emerging from the island's stadiums are often hailed as icons when they make it into the big times in the US.
While the official pastime includes lip service and Puerto Ricans are passionate about following the US major leagues, the great passion for baseball is felt in the school and amateur leagues, even though the Puerto Rican pros play a full season from November through January. These so-called winter league games attract die-hard fans and, above all, scouts from the most important US league teams. There are currently six teams in the league. Attending a Winter League game can be a great cultural experience and is dirt cheap by American standards. Tickets typically cost $ 10 or less, and a cold beer will only get you back $ 3. Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan is a great place to catch a game.
U.S. major league teams also host spring training camps in Puerto Rico and regularly use the island's league as a farm team. At the start of the season, exhibition games are held at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in the spring, including the televised San Juan series.
Puerto Rico competed in the 1948 Olympics and has never taken home a gold medal. But the island made history in the 2004 Summer Games when the Puerto Rican men's basketball team angrily allowed the American Dream Team in their opening game, their first loss to U.S. men's basketball since the Olympic Committee, at their first ever Olympic performance professional NBA players to participate. Puerto Rico competed against the biggest names in the sport, including LeBron James and Allen Iverson, and was led by two players who wore Utah jazz jazz jerseys for the regular season, Carlos Arroyo and José Ortiz. The team did not win a medal in the games, but immediately became national heroes. Visitors can play basketball and watch teams competing in Puerto Rico's own professional league, the Baloncesto Superior Nacional (www.bsnpr.com) or the Premiere International Basketball League (http://thepbl.com), for most of the year the teams come from the USA and Canada.
Puerto Rico has produced enough fighters to fill its own boxing hall of fame, including the youngest world champion in boxing history and one of the sport's top knockout specialists.
The standard was set in the 1930s when crafty bantamweight Sixto Escobar became the first Puerto Rican to win a world championship belt and knocked out Mexican Baby Casanova in Montreal in 1936. In his homeland, Escobar - from Barceloneta on the north coast - became an overnight hero.
In the 1970s the two Wilfredos - Benitez and Gómez were introduced. Wilfredo Benitez, nicknamed "The Radar," was a Puerto Rican boxing sensation from childhood. Raised in New York City, he became the youngest ever world champion when he defeated the Colombian welterweight Antonio Cervantes in San Juan in 1976. The then 17-year-old Benitez defended his title three times before losing to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1979. Gómez, affectionately known as Bazooka, was a whipping phenomenon from San Juan, which with 42 KOs in 46 fights one of the highest KO rates maintains. Ranked number 13 in Ring magazine's list of Best Puncher in 2003, Gómez was the subject of the documentary Bazooka: The Battles of Wilfredo Gómez.
Hector 'Macho' Camacho was both a showman and a fighter and Puerto Rico's most flamboyant star. Camacho was born in Bayamón but grew up in New York and mimicked Muhammad Ali by jumping in the ring as Captain America before a fight. During a 20-year career, he fought everyone from Roberto Duran to Julio César Chávez, and tested loyalty in his homeland in an all-Puerto Rican world championship against Felix Trinidad.
Trinidad from Cupey Alto is another modern boxing legend who won world titles in three different weights, including a 1999 win over Oscar de la Hoya, after which he was greeted by a hero at the San Juan airport.
The Puerto Ricans continue to do well in boxing. One of the biggest stars of recent times is Danny García, son of legendary coach Angelo García. He has been in the role since winning the welterweight world title in 2010. José Pedraza also rose to fame after winning the super featherweight title in 2011.
Monica Puig, Puerto Rico's most successful modern tennis player, made history in 2016 when she became the first Latin American woman to win gold at the Olympics and the first to win gold at the Olympics while representing Puerto Rico.
Women in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rican culture, like much of Latin America, is too often stigmatized as a "macho" world in which women play traditional roles, bear children, cook meals and take care of the house. Puerto Rican men paint clichés in a similarly simple light - possessive, jealous, and prone to wild acts of desperation when in love. Although many women generally perform all of these duties (and more) in the most traditional Puerto Rican family structures, in recent history the island has broken significantly with the criminal sex discrimination that can be common in other Latin American countries and throughout the Caribbean. However, a closer look at Puerto Rican culture reveals that the role of women in Puerto Rico today is much more complex.
Puerto Rican women have excelled in business, commerce, sports, and especially politics - often with more measurable performance than their counterparts in the United States. San Juan elected a mayor decades before a woman won a similar position in the United States, and in 2000 Sila María Calderón was elected governor of Puerto Rico. She ran a campaign promising to end government corruption and clean up her home. In the United States, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is of Puerto Rican descent and is closely associated with the island.
Other women's issues, which in the United States are burdened with political and social baggage, occupy a relatively progressive position in Puerto Rican culture. For example, abortion is legal in Puerto Rico (although the rest of the Caribbean outside of Cuba is uniformly against it). In Puerto Rico, socially conservative politicians are still aware of the effects of a high birth rate on family life and quality of life.
The effect that the relatively progressive position of women in Puerto Rican society has on travelers is very noticeable for women traveling alone. Although normal safety precautions should be observed, women traveling alone are much less noticeable than in other parts of Latin America.
Puerto Rico's intangible folk culture, the esoteric myths and cultural peculiarities of Taíno times have been passed on from generation to generation in the remote areas of the island. Cayetano Coll y Toste in his Leyendas y Tradiciones Puertorriqueñas (1925) was the first writer to oblige them to prose.
In 2015, statisticians released one of their damnest statistics yet on Puerto Rico: for the first time in history, there were more Puerto Ricans living in the continental US (4.9 million) than in Puerto Rico (3.5 million).
Practice your Spanish by reading Puerto Rico’s best-selling newspaper, El Nuevo Día, online at www.elnuevodia.com (there is also an English section).
El Boricua is a monthly bilingual online cultural magazine for Puerto Ricans worldwide. It can be found at www.elboricua.com. The word boricua comes from the Taíno borikén and means "land of the great and brave lord".
Peleas de Gallos (cockfighting) has been legal since the 1930s and is a passionate pastime for Puerto Ricans. Loathed by animal rights groups, the "sport" means placing specially bred and trained Gallos de Pelea (fighting cocks) in a pit and fighting to the death in about 20-minute fights.
Puerto Rico's landscapes
It is the amazing beaches that captivate most people planning their first visit to Puerto Rico. But as seasoned connoisseurs know, sand and surf are only part of the full, rich picture of the topography. On the banks there are also internationally important mangrove reserves, and behind the beach hotels the mythical, densely forested contours of the low mountain range cascade invitingly upwards. A number of crops are grown on the island: bananas, coffee, sweet potatoes and lemons are of great importance.
Many organizations working to help protect the environment in Puerto Rico also have great tours or activities that visitors can join.
Surfrider Foundation (www.surfrider.org) The beaches in Puerto Rico are often used and crowded: this organization organizes beach cleanings and you can get involved or ask them about their other environmental projects.
Corporación Piñones Se Integra A non-profit organization that aims to maintain and restore the urban waterways of San Juan. You can assist them by renting a kayak or bike to explore the waterways and other pristine areas of the subway.
Para la Naturaleza operates a number of private nature reserves and offers numerous volunteer projects to participate on its website.
Puerto Rico has long suffered from a number of serious environmental problems, including population growth and rapid urbanization, deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution and mangrove destruction. While Puerto Ricans still have a long way to go to clean up generations of damage and preserve their natural resources, in recent decades there has been an increase in awareness, resources, and actions for environmental protection efforts.
Current environmental problems
Current topics are deforestation, heavy metal pollution, mangrove protection, population growth and water pollution. Visitors, too, can be both part of the environmental problem and part of the solution.
Deforestation & Soil Erosion
Clear logging work ended in the 20th century, leaving countless acres of rich mountain soil that clogged the mouths of rivers and streams. In the 1920s and 1930s, conservationists and the U.S. colonial government put aside and reforested an extensive network of wilderness reserves, mainly in the Karst and Central Mountains. Today, these reserves are mature forests and cover almost all of the central part of the island - about a third of the landmass of Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, the demands of development continue to threaten unprotected natural areas.
Heavy metal pollution
Both land and sea life around Vieques were literally besieged by the US government during the years of sea bombardment. The US Navy left Vieques in 2003 and the island was designated a Superfund site shortly after the withdrawal. Although progress has been made, much of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge has been closed to the public until heavy metals, unexploded warfare agents, and fuel and chemical residues can be removed.
The widespread economic development after World War II devastated huge mangrove swamps, particularly along the island's north coast. In the 1990s, progress was made in repairing this damage, including the creation of a 2,883 hectare nature reserve in Bahía de Jobos on the south coast.
Environmentalists had more reason to celebrate in 2013 when the Corredor Ecológico del Noreste (ecological northeast corridor) was built to protect around 1,000 hectares of mangroves, beaches and nesting sites for sea turtles on the north coast east of Luquillo.
Population growth and urbanization
Population growth and rapid urbanization have long been the greatest threat to the island's environment, although this has slowed down a little simply because the population is declining as people move to mainland America in search of work. Still, Puerto Rico currently has a higher population density than any of the 50 US states with an average of 408 people per km². It also supports one of the highest concentrations of roads in the world (certainly the bumpiest).
Uncontrolled development has long been the greatest threat to the environment in Puerto Rico. Large developers and hotel companies regularly watch the country's lush coastline and pristine beaches in search of their next location. As economical as tourism may be, its further expansion could result in a law of falling returns. In their quest to make a living from tourism, some have wreaked havoc, as in the case of the bioluminescent bay of La Parguera, where oil pollution from tourist boats has significantly dampened the glow.
Many streams, rivers, and estuaries in the coastal plain have been polluted by agricultural runoff, industry, and inadequate sewage systems. Environmental groups working to clean up these cesspools have made little headway. Visitors should not be tempted to swim in rivers, streams, or estuaries near the coast. On the upside, efforts are being made to rehabilitate the San Juan urban estuaries.
Territorial parks and reserves
Puerto Rico has more than a dozen well-developed and protected wilderness areas that offer a variety of exploration and some camping options. Most of these protected areas are considered Reservas Forestales (forest reserves) or Bosques Estatales (state forests), although these identifiers are often treated interchangeably in government-issued literature and maps. Commonwealth or US federal agencies administer most of the island's nature reserves, and entry to these areas is generally free.
Private conservation groups own and operate some of the nature reserves, including Las Cabezas de San Juan and the Humacao Nature Reserve to the east. The best time to visit almost all of the parks is November through March; However, Bosque Estatal de Guánica is a welcoming destination all year round.
Important parks & reserves
El Yunque National Forest The emerald green 28,000 acre highlight of the island parks is this misty, glorious rainforest. With its idyllic waterfalls and dense flora, it is home to some of the wildest and most endangered animals in Puerto Rico. With the island's best hiking trails, the lush forests and sun-drenched peaks of El Yunque are ideal for hiking and mountain biking.
Bosque Estatal de Guánica This huge park covers an area of 10,000 acres on the southwest coast and is home to a tropical ecosystem of dry forests and a Unesco biosphere forest. The arid landscape and beautiful birds are good for walking, swimming, cycling and bird watching.
Reserva Forestal Toro Negro This rugged, beautiful and centrally located mountain park offers landscapes that are as spectacular as those of El Yunque, but lack the infrastructure. If you want to get off the map (literally) this is the place.
Las Cabezas de San Juan This remarkable 316 acre coastal reserve is located on the northeast corner of Puerto Rico. El Faro (the lighthouse) watches over the offshore islands. The paved hiking trails and information centers make this hotel an ideal place for families. Here you can marvel at the Laguna Grande bioluminescent bay.
Bosque Estatal de Río Abajo The densely wooded and developing state forest extends over an area of 5,000 hectares in the karst region near the Observatorio de Arecibo. There are walking trails and an aviary where the Department of Natural Resources is working to reintroduce the Puerto Rican parrot and other critically endangered species.
Isla Mona The most remote nature reserve of Puerto Rico is about 80 km west of Mayagüez in the often turbulent waters of Pasaje de la Mona. This island on the table is sometimes referred to as the Puerto Ricos Galapagos or Jurassic Park because of its isolation. It's a day made even more eerie by the 200 foot high limestone cliffs, honeycomb caves, and giant iguanas. Come here for solitude, hiking, and caving.
Vieques National Wildlife Refuge To the east shimmer the "Spanish Virgin Islands" Culebra and Vieques, both of which have large stretches of land that are designated as National Wildlife Refuges under the control of the US Fish & Wildlife Service. At 18,000 hectares, the Vieques Refuge is the largest nature reserve in Puerto Rico and home to wild turtles and iguanas. It has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean; Activities include snorkeling, swimming, hiking and cycling.
Puerto Rico is grouped with the three largest islands in the Caribbean - Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola - in the Greater Antilles, the most important of a series of islands that cover the waters of the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. But Puerto Rico, at 178 x 65 kilometers, is clearly the smaller buddy of the Greater Antilles, even with its four main satellite islands - Mona and Desecheo in the west, Culebra and Vieques in the east - and a multitude of small bays on the banks are located.
Like almost all islands that emerged from the Caribbean basin, Puerto Rico owes its existence to a series of volcanic events. These eruptions formed layers of lava and igneous rock and formed an island with four different geographical zones: the low mountain range, the karst land, the coastal plain and the dry coastal forest. In the heart of the island, running from east to west, rises a steep slope of wooded mountains, the so-called central mountains. The lower slopes of the Cordilleras give way to foothills, a region on the north coast of the island known as "Karstland". In this part of the island, erosion has removed the limestone, leaving a karst terrain of dramatic sinkholes, hills and caves.
45 non-navigable rivers and creeks pour out of the mountains and through the foothills to cut up the coastal valleys, particularly on the eastern and western ends of Puerto Rico where sugar cane, coconuts and a variety of fruits are grown. The longest river on the island is the Río Grande de Loíza (64 km), which flows north to the coast.
The San Fermin earthquake that hit western Puerto Rico in October 1918 was 7.6 on the Richter scale and triggered a 20-foot tsunami. The event caused more than $ 4 million in damage to the cities of Mayagüez and Aguadilla. 116 people were killed.
The National Astronomy & Ionosphere Center website (www.naic.edu) has information on the Arecibo Observatory and Sky for the general public as well as academic types.
Puerto Rico - mainland and islands - claims nearly 8,900 square kilometers of land. This makes the Commonwealth about twice the size of the Mediterranean island of Corsica and a little more than half the size of the US state Connecticut.
Puerto Rico's highest point is the Cerro de Punta (1338 m) in the central mountains, but its lows are of greater importance off the coast in the north. The Puerto Rico Trench is the deepest point in the Atlantic and reaches a murky extent of 8648 m.
The sounds of Puerto Rico
The music of Puerto Rico is a sonic reflection of the destination itself, a sound marked by a dynamic history of revolution, colonialism and the cultural alternation between the island, New York City, Spain and Africa. The sound is synonymous with Puerto Rico salsa for sure, but what can be heard from the open doors of most of the island's nightspots these days is usually reggaetón, a blazing mix of hip-hop and roaring Caribbean syncopation.
Pop music & its roots
For a history lesson in Puerto Rican music in under four minutes, you can turn to 'Tradicional A Lo Bravo,' an immensely popular single from Puerto Rican reggaeton hitmaker Tego Calderon. Calderon's fast lyrical performance and throbbing syncopated bass line are a symbol of the reggaeton movement, but the song also borrows a bit from the island's important musical traditions. The brass section pays homage to salsa bands from the 1960s. The nylon guitar nods to colonial traditions and jíbaro (rural troubador) music. The loping syncope of the hand drums relates to the Puerto Rican bomba, which is rooted in Africa. Somewhere, hidden beneath Calderon's strong boasting, you can even hear the scratchy scratching of a güiro, a percussion instrument made from a hollowed-out pumpkin that was part of the musical battery of the indigenous Taíno tribes.
From pre-colonial folk music to the macho assault of reggaetón, Puerto Rican music has evolved into part of, not a departure from, past traditions. Puerto Rico was and is also a musical melting pot. The island's musical genres can change as quickly as they are defined, shaped by strong influences from the USA, Europe and Latin America. These dynamic hybrids, whether in reggaeton or contemporary rock, are a fundamental quality of music. Then and now, these traditions often place just as much emphasis on expression on the dance floor as they do on the sound itself.
Bomba y Plena
The confusing confluence of traditions that clash in Puerto Rican music is evident in the earliest popular music on the island, the Bomba y Plena, two different but often interrelated types of folk music. Hailing from European, African, and indigenous Caribbean cultures, this is the basis for many of the sounds that are still associated with Puerto Rico and, like salsa, a form of music that is inextricably linked to dance.
The most direct African origin is the bomba, a music developed by West and Central African slaves who worked on sugar plantations. A typical bomba ensemble consisted of drums made from rum barrels and goatskin, palitos or cuás (wooden sticks that are struck together or on other wooden surfaces), maracas and sometimes a guiro. In the oldest forms (documented as early as the 1680s), dancers led the band, furiously competing with each other and with the drummers in an increasingly frenzied physical and rhythmic display. The tunes ended when either dancer or drummer became too exhausted to continue. On the northeast coast, Loíza Aldea claims the bomba was her invention and the streets rumble with it all summer, especially during the Fiesta de Santiago, which begins the last week of July.
Plena, whose origins lie in the more urban region around Ponce, is also based on drums, but has lighter textures and a less powerful beat. Introduced by Cocolocos, slaves who moved north from the islands south of Puerto Rico, Plena uses a selection of hand-held percussion instruments. Locals once referred to the form as el periodico cantado (the newspaper sung) because the songs usually portrayed current events and often mocked them. The plena beat has strong African roots and is a close relative of calypso, soca and dancehall music from Trinidad and Jamaica.
Bomba y Plena developed side by side in the lowlands of the coast, and resourceful musicians eventually realized that Bomba's reputation and response went well with Plena's satirical lyrics, which is why the forms are often played by ensembles in a row. If you catch Bomba y Plena today, a historically accurate performance will be rare; In the 1950s, a modernization of sound paved the way for salsa, with the frequent addition of horns and other European instruments, pan-Caribbean rhythmic elements, and the rattle of Cuban percussion.
Puerto Rico playlist
It's almost a crime to distill three generations of Puerto Rico's vibrant club music into an iPod playlist, but the romp that follows spans half a century of singles, from classic salsa to contemporary reggaeton. If nothing else, use this as a jump start to discover the diverse and unexpected charms of Puerto Rican music.
Tito Puente "Ran Kan Kan", "Babarabatiri" (1951)
Cortijo Y Su Combo "El Bombon De Elena"
Invites you to dance (1957)
Celia Cruz "Chango Ta Vani", "La Incomparable" (1958)
Willie Colón "Te Conozco" (1969)
El Gran Combo from Puerto Rico "No Hay, Cama Pa" Tanta Gente, "Nuestra Musica" (1971)
Ismael Marinda "Se Casa La Rumba", Abran Paso! (1972)
Eddie Palmieri "Nunca Contigo", the sun of Latin American music (1973)
Fania All-Stars 'Ella Fue (She Was The One),' Rhythm Machine (1977)
Frankie Ruiz "Me Dejó", Mas Grande Que Nunca (1989)
Marvin Santiago "Fuego A La Jicotea", "Fuego A La Jicotea" (1991)
Vico C. Calla, Aquel Que Había Muerto (1998)
Yuri Buenaventura "Salsa", Yo Soy (2000)
Tego Calderon 'Guasa, Guasa' from Abayarde (2003)
Daddy Yankee "Airplane for PR", El Cartel: The Big Boss (2007)
Tito el Bambino "El Tra", it's my time (2007)
Don Chezina 'Songorocosongo', Tributo Urbano Ein Hector Lavoe (2008)
Calle 13 "No hay, Nadie Como Tú", Los de Atrás Vienen Conmigo (2009)
Kany Garcia 'Feliz', Boleto De Entrada (2009)
Cultura Profética "Baja La Tension", "La Dulzura" (2010)
Marlow Rosado and La Riqueña 'No I Digan Que Es Muy Tarde Ya,' Retro (2012)
Los Wálters 'Porsche', Verano Panorámico (2014)
The wild bastard child of reggae, salsa and hip-hop is reggaetón, a raw, urban sound that conquered the dirt streets of Loíza Aldea, the Caribbean's answer to the ethos of the American criminal life. On a trip to a Puerto Rican nightclub, reggaetón dominates the turntables, and you'll likely wake up with your ears ringing the next morning.
As the name suggests, reggae plays an important role. The simplest sound reduction, however, is Spanish-language hip-hop, powered by the hard-hitting bass of the Jamaican raga. In the 1980s, an aggressive strain of reggaetón developed in urban areas of Puerto Rico that circulated underground on self-triggered mix tapes. In the 1990s, thundering elements of Jamaican raga were incorporated and came into their own. Throw in the sound of a drum machine and some X-rated lyrics and you have a real musical revolution of your own.
Unlike most traditionally performed Puerto Rican music / dance combinations, the reggaetón dance floors offer an exuberant free-for-all effect, with the most popular move, known as the perreo or dog dance, leaving little to the imagination. Reggaetón stars like Tego Calderon, Daddy Yankee, Don Omar and Ivy Queen have conquered the mainstream.
For most gringos, the definition of salsa as a collective term for the interplay of Latin American and Afro-Caribbean dances and sounds is not easy to get to grips with, but for those who live in their areas of origin - Puerto Rico, Cuba and New York City - it is a lifestyle as well as a genre, with cultural complexities that go well beyond the 'sharp' jargon that is often talked about.
Salsa melodies can be very different from one another. They can be slow or lively, funky or heartbreaking. Salsa was born in New York City nightclubs in the 1960s and remains an icon to this day.
Although salsa believers found plenty of solace in the Fania records in the '80s, a modern day Nuyorican - salsa pop singer Marc Anthony, also known as ex-Mr JLo - brought salsa back from the edge of darkness and made it more popular in a blinding state Headlamp that blends its traditional elements with those of sleek and shiny modern Latino pop.
Although Anthony and Lopez remain Salsa's most important couple, American audiences have also made fleeting friends with another Puerto Rican, Ricky Martin (Mr. La Vida Loca). Newer Puerto Rican pop stars like the smart jazz-amalgamated group Cultura Profética select elements of the island's traditional sound to weave into contemporary records.
But the neo-traditionalist salsa of the Bronx-born Puerto Rican singer India and heartbreaker pop singer Manny Manuel carry the torch of the graying generation who invented them. There are a number of new ensembles that take turns producing the hits of salsa on Puerto Rican radio, although most of them are from New York. Look out for the great El Gran Combo of Puerto Rico, a large group of masters who have been hosting festivals across the US and the island for over 50 years. Pretty cutting edge is also Grammy winner Marlow Rosado y La Riqueña, confronted by the composer / producer of the same name who mixes salsa, reggaeton, rock and more. And Marc Anthony continues to release top albums, most recently 3.0, a salsa album with "Vivir Mi Vida".
The birth and near death of salsa
It is wonderfully appropriate that salsa should be called this precisely, given the number of sound styles that were fused in Puerto Rico to create the sound that was then exported to the world.
Johnny Pacheco, a visionary producer, founded Fania Records in 1964, a label that helped make salsa a hugely popular commercial success. In the 1960s, numerous Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Nuy Rican singers became household names, and when Carlos Santana's now ubiquitous rock song, "Oye Como Va" hit the music business in 1969, it may have marked the height of the Latin American wave.
Although craze shaped American pop and jazz traditions, the crowd dwindled in the decades that followed when musical tastes radically shifted in the late 1970s. While Puerto Rican youth turned to rock and roll imports from the USA in the 80s, traditionalists celebrated the juicy Salsa Romantica, for which pop singers like José Alberto were typical.
The source of the sauce
In addition to the mix of African traditions that spread to the islands through the slave trade, Cuba's son - a traditional style largely brought back to global audiences through the Buena Vista Social Club in the 1990s - is a key ingredient in salsa. Originally from Eastern Cuba, the son first became popular in the 1850s, mixing Spanish guitar-based cancións and Afro-Cuban percussion, a basic formula that still forms the basis of many salsa songs. Variations are the rumba, mambo and cha-cha.
Another element of salsa is merengue, which took root on the neighboring island of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and represents the national dance there. With its steady stride and characteristic hip movement, it is probably the easiest Latin dance for beginners. Compared to salsa, the rhythmic underpinning is more rigid, and although the music can gallop wildly, dancers keep their upper body in a graceful, balanced position.
Of all the variations that contributed to the creation of salsa, none is more important than the mambo - an extravagant style of music and dance that combines elements of swinging American jazz with the son. Here, too, the musical dialogue of the Caribbean islands is evident, right down to the name of the style; Mambo is a Haitian word for a vodou priestess. It started in Cuba in the 1930s and soon spread to Puerto Rico and the United States, where mambo became a fad.
The "bridge" of Tito Puente
Puerto Ricans and Cubans happily argue about who invented salsa, but the truth is that none of the islands can claim to be the commercial center of salsa success. That honor belongs to the offshore colony known as El Barrio: the Latin Quarter, Spanish Harlem, New York City. In the euphoria after the end of World War II, the New York nightclub scene boomed when dancers drove in droves to the sound of mambo bands. At the time, the music carried a simple, Latin-synchronized beat, interrupted by horn sections typical of the great swing bands of Stan Kenton and Count Basie.
Then the young Puerto Rican drummer Tito Puente came into the picture. After three years of service in the US Navy during the war and attending New York's Juilliard School of Music, Puente began playing and composing for Cuban bands in New York. He was known for spicing up the music with a variety of rhythms with roots in the Puerto Rican bomba.
Puente became a star and the face of the salsa boom, bridging cultural gaps with his music even before multiculturalism was even considered a true word. Shortly after the legendary five-time Grammy winner died in 2000, at the age of 77, a stretch of Harlem street - East 112th St on Lexington Ave - was renamed Tito Puente Way.
Puerto Rican people
The island's earliest folk music began with the Taíno percussion and wind instruments and included elements as diverse as the island's ethnic makeup: Spanish guitars, European salon music and drums, and rhythms from West Africa. Native instruments include at least half a dozen guitar-like string instruments from the island, such as the aptly named four-string guitar-like cuatro.
In the mountains, rural troubadours, called jíbaros, played sentimental and dodgy folk music on cuatros, whose costume often included a ragged straw hat. A number of traditional Jíbaro songs, mostly taken from Western European salon music, are still popular at island weddings and family celebrations. An aguinaldo is sung by wandering Christmas carols during the Christmas season, with lyrics often explaining the traditions of the holiday (perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the best known include singing about pork).
Danza is perhaps the most structurally complex folk music on the island and is considered Puerto Rico's classical music. Danza's exact ancestry is unknown, but is widely viewed as an imitation of contradanza, a social music and dance from Europe. Danza's popularity flourished in 1840 when it added new music and dance moves called Habaneras (another export from Cuba).
Puerto Rican Music: Alive & Kick
Through the mud and snow, you've dreamed of that idyllic Puerto Rican night on the town all winter, when rum flows like water, the band is hot as a tin roof and the chances of moving something on the dance floor are high. It's not as easy to hear live traditional music as you might hope, but the following San Juan nightspots are known for salsa.
- Live combos with traditional favorites take place on the coziest dance floor at Nuyorican Café San Juan.
- Club Brava In a resort known for its mix of house, reggaetón and salsa.
- La Placita de Santurce The infamous Friday night street party that attracts salsa bands.
- El San Juan Hotel lobby Live salsa and meringue bands believe in the seemingly calm surroundings.
The Puerto Rican Cuatro Project (www.cuatro-pr.org) is a non-profit organization that has adopted the island's national instrument to keep its cultural memories alive. The website is a must for anyone looking to learn about Puerto Rican musical traditions.
Menudo was one of the original boy bands that producer Edgardo Díaz started in 1977. A brand of light teen pop music saw phenomenal global success and celebrated former members like Ricky Martin.
- Willie Colón and Ruben Blades: Siembra (1978) - A must in every salsa collection.
- Celia Cruz and Johnny Pacheco: Celia & Johnny (1974) - Deliriously cheeky and cheeky.
- Ismael Miranda: Asi Se Compone Un Son (1973) - A romp through salsa standards.
The national anthem of Puerto Rico, "La Borinqueña", is actually a danza that was later subtly altered to make it sound more grandiose and anthem-like.
José Feliciano, a six-time Grammy Award winner, taught himself to play the guitar even though he was born blind. He remains one of the most successful crossover pop stars in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican music gained widespread attention outside of the Spanish-speaking world with the success of San Juan-born Enrique Martín Morales (better known as Ricky Martin). Martin's 1999 single "Livin 'La Vida Loca" put Puerto Rican pop on the planet's music map.
The most comprehensive online resource on Puerto Rican music is Music of Puerto Rico (www.musicofpuertorico.com).
Wildlife of Puerto Rico
Exploring Puerto Rico's wildlife can be very rewarding. The island's jungle-capped mountains and surreal variety of terrain - including some of the wettest and driest forests in the subtropical climate - have a bit of everything (though not giant beasts or flocks of colorful birds). The island's most famous creature is the humble common coqui. The nightly serenade of this tiny endemic frog is the island's poignant soundtrack, an ever-present reminder of Puerto Rico's precious nature.
Amphibians & reptiles
The long coast of Puerto Rico is one of the most welcoming areas for people and animals. Despite strong development, a handful of beaches still nest on the island for two of the world's most endangered turtles, the hawksbill sea turtles and the leatherback turtles. An excellent place to watch the nesting process is on the isolated northern beaches of Culebra Island.
The hawksbill turtles and leatherback turtles are among the 61 reptile and 25 amphibian species on the island - one of the most diverse collections of such animals in the world. The most famous amphibian bird is undoubtedly the tiny but very vocal Coquí frog (its characteristic nocturnal croak was measured at 10 decibels), which was introduced as a national symbol. But it's not the only frog on the show. The sapo concho, the Commonwealth's only endemic toad, did something the coqui never could: block roads. Sections of Highway 333 along the south coast of the Bosque Estatal de Guánica have been fenced in to protect the breeding grounds of this endangered creature, and the results have paid off: toad numbers are rising again.
Iguanas are often kept as semi-wild animals and are unlikely obstacles on many golf courses in Puerto Rica. The most famous wild species is the Mona iguana, which still survives in large numbers on the western island of Mona - often called the Galapagos because of its unique biological diversity Caribbean called. You will find other iguanas keeping an eye on your lunch at island-wide restaurants that are so domesticated that french fries make up the majority of their diets by tourists (although human food can be deadly).
Although not native to the island, spectacled caimans have become a kind of pest in the areas around Laguna Tortuguero on the north coast. Introduced as macho pets in the 1990s, many of these minicrocs were abandoned by their owners and dumped near Puerto Rico's only freshwater lake, where they have harmed the fragile ecosystem.
There are 11 species of snakes in Puerto Rico, none of which are poisonous. The most impressive is the Puerto Rican boa, which averages 7 feet long; it is also endangered, but hikers can spot one in the karst region of the Northwest State Forests and in El Yunque.
Birds & beetles
With more than 250 species covering an area of 3,500 square kilometers, Puerto Rico is an excellent place to wipe your binoculars and spot tropical birds. The Commonwealth's most famous bird is also one of its rarest: the elusive Puerto Rican parrot (also known as the Puerto Rican Amazon). Numbers of the bright-green bird were down in the mid teens during the 1970s, but thanks to concerted conservation efforts the wild population has recovered to a still-precarious 60 to 80. The parrots exist in the wild in the El Yunque and Río Abajo forest reserves, although seeing one is akin to winning a lottery ticket.
Among the 17 endemic birds is the Puerto Rican tody, a small green, yellow and red creature that frequencies the moist mountains of the Cordillera Central and the dense thickets of the south coast where it feeds on insects.
The coastal dry forest of Guánica might be the biggest draw for serious birdwatchers looking to whittle down their life list. It features more than 130 bird species, comprising largely of songbirds. Some of these are migratory birds, such as the prairie warbler and the northern parula. Many are nonmigratory species, including the lizard cuckoo and the critically endangered Puerto Rican nightjar.
Along the coast, one of the joys of winter beachcombing is watching the aerial acrobatics of brown pelicans as they hunt for fish. Stray out along the salt flats and far-flung headlands of Cabo Rojo, a migratory ground for 25 bird species, and you may glimpse another of the island's endemic feathered friends, the yellow-shouldered blackbird.
The island also has a supply of unusual flying and crawling insects, including a large tropical relative of the firefly called the cucubano, and a centipede measuring more than 6in in length with a sting that can kill. Much to the chagrin of generations of foreign visitors there are also zillions of blood-hungry mosquitoes.
Hiking for the Birds
Exotic birdlife is the wildlife of choice to spot on nature hikes. The most obvious destination for budding ornithologists is El Yunque National Forest, situated close to the capital. The El Portal Visitors Center on Hwy 191 has good, basic information on the local birdlife. Another choice is Bosque Estatal de Guánica, where the solitude of the trails may help facilitate spying some of the 130-odd bird species found there.
The island's richest species diversity can be spied in the Cabo Rojo area, particularly around Las Salinas salt flats, where migratory birds from as far away as Canada populate a unique and highly varied ecosystem. Call in at the Centro Interpretativos Las Salinas de Cabo Rojo to speak with informed local experts.
Bright lights, black water
There are seven known regions worldwide that are phosphorescent - meaning they glow in the dark thanks to micro-organisms called dynoflagellates living in the water - but Puerto Rico's are considered among the brightest and the best.
There are three places on the island to see this psychedelic phenomenon: Bahía Mosquito in Vieques, Laguna Grande north of Fajardo and Bahía de Fosforescente at La Parguera. The most abundant of the many organisms in Puerto Rico's 'phosphorous' bays is Pirodinium bahamense.The term 'Pirodinium' comes from 'pyro,' meaning fire, and 'dirium,' meaning rotate.
When movement disturbs these creatures, a chemical reaction takes place in their little bodies that makes a flash. Scientists speculate that dynoflagellates have developed this ability to ward off predators.
You can see these micro-organisms flashing like tiny stars in Atlantic waters as far north as New England in summer, but never in the brilliant concentrations appearing in Puerto Rico. Enclosed mangrove bays, where narrow canals limit the exchange of water with the open sea, are the places that let the dynoflagellates breed and concentrate. In a sense, the bay is a big trap and vitamins produced along the shore provide food for the corralled micro-organisms.
Not surprisingly, bioluminescent bays support precarious ecosystems. To avoid damaging them, only book tours with operators who use kayaks or electric motors. Island Adventures is on Vieques, which has the best bay of the three. Kayaking Puerto Rico covers the Fajardo bay, which is the second-best option.
In La Parguera, home to the third bay, most tour operators only use motorized engines and are not recommended. The bioluminescence has been greatly reduced as a consequence. If you're offered a ride, check that it will be in a boat that's safe for the environment, or in a kayak with an operator like Aleli Tours.
Puerto Rico's tropical climate and unique rain patterns create a veritable greenhouse for a huge variety of plant life, which thrives on tropical heat, tons of rain and lots of moisture in the air. As soon as you leave San Juan's urban zone and head into the mountains, you'll see green everywhere.
Mangrove swamps and coconut groves dominate the north coast, while the El Yunque rainforest, at the east end of the island, supports mahogany trees and more than 50 varieties of wild orchid. Giant ferns thrive in the rainforest as well as in the foothills of karst country, while cacti, mesquite forest and bunchgrass reign on the dry southwest tip of the island, resembling the look of the African savanna. The dry forests near Guánica grow a variety of cacti, thorny scrub brush and plants equipped for harsh, dry conditions.
The hills of the Cordillera Central are densely forested and flowering trees punctuate the landscape. Look for the butterfly tree, with its light-pink flower resembling an orchid, the bright orange exclamation of the African tulip and the deep red of the royal poinciana, which are cultivated near the Christmas season.
Exotic shade trees have long been valued in this sunny climate, and most of the island's municipal plazas sit beneath canopies of magnificent ceibas or kapoks (silk-cotton trees), the flamboyán (poinciana), with its flame-red blossoms, and the African tulip tree.
Islanders often adorn their homes with a profusion of flowers, such as orchids, bougainvillea and poinsettias, and tend lovingly to fruit trees that bear bananas, papaya, uva caleta (sea grape), carambola (star fruit), panapen (breadfruit) and plátano (plantain). Never do the floral hues of Puerto Rico come together on song more than at Aibonito's Festival de Flores in June.
Of course, sugar cane dominates the plantations of the coastal lowlands, while farmers raise coffee on the steep slopes of the Cordillera Central.
Very few of the land mammals that make their home in Puerto Rico are native to the island; most mammal species - from rats to cows - have been accidentally or intentionally introduced to the island over the centuries.
Bats are the only native terrestrial mammal in Puerto Rico. They exist in large numbers in the caves of karst country, but most travelers will only catch glimpses at dusk while visiting Bosque Estatal de Cambalache or the Cavernas del Río Camuy.
Puerto Rico is also home to the distinctive Paso Fino horse, a small-boned, easy-gaited variety. The Paso Finos have been raised in Puerto Rico since the time of the Spanish conquest, when they were introduced to the New World to supply the conquistadores on their expeditions throughout Mexico and the rest of the Americas. The horses are most dramatic on the island of Vieques, where they roam in semiwild herds across the landscape, although the animals are also celebrated in a festival in the south coast town of Guayama.
Other mammals of interest to travelers are two small colonies of monkeys, both introduced by scientists. The first lives on the 39-acre Cayo Santiago where a group of rhesus monkeys arrived for scientific study in 1938. Today they've burgeoned into a community of more than 900 primates and can be spotted from snorkeling tour boats. The second scientific monkey colony that grew out of control is on Isla de Monos off La Parguera, which is a standard part of the tour of the mangrove canals.
Spending time in the water off Puerto Rico's shores at the right time of year can reveal excellent marine life. Pods of humpback whales breed in the island's warm waters in winter. In the late winter of 2010, southern shores off the island also saw more orca (killer whales) than ever before recorded. Local fishermen attribute this to the relatively warm waters of the Caribbean bringing more dolphins for the orca to eat. Most whale-watching tour operators leave from Rincon, with the tour season usually beginning in early December and ending in March.
Though looking for whales may be a hit with tourists, the Antillean manatee (the town of Manatí, on the north coast, is named after the mammal) is more dear to Puerto Ricans. These so-called sea cows inhabit shallow coastal areas to forage on sea grasses and plants. Manatee numbers have dropped in recent decades due to habitat loss, poaching and entanglement with fishing nets, but they are generally thought to be coming back. To see a manatee, rent a kayak and float along the mangrove-lined shores in the southeast of the island, around the Bahía de Jobos.
Of course, the majority of travelers are captivated by seeing the tropical fish and coral off the island's shores. The continental shelf surrounds Puerto Rico on three sides and blesses the island with warm water and excellent coral reefs, seawalls and underwater features for diving and snorkeling. Especially off the west coast, the water is clear and filled with fish, including parrot fish, eels and sea horses. An abundant supply of sea grass is home to crabs, octopus, starfish and more.
Puerto Rico's biggest snake, the Puerto Rican boa, can reach 7ft in length. Found mainly in the remote northern karst forests, it's not a threat to humans.
Learn all about the coqui frog and other animals that inhabit Puerto Rico in Natural Puerto Rico by Alfonso Silva Lee, an exhaustive but entertaining book on island wildlife.
There are seven known regions worldwide that are phosphorescent - meaning they glow in the dark thanks to micro-organisms called dinoflagellates living in the water - but Puerto Rico's are considered among the brightest and the best. Head to Bioluminescent Bay (Bahía Mosquito) in Vieques, Bahía de Fosforescente at La Parguera and Laguna Grande north of Fajardo.
For birdwatchers heading to Puerto Rico or the Caribbean, A Guide to the Birds of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by Herbert Raffaele is a must-have. If you don't luck out and spot a wild Puerto Rican parrot, one of the 10 most endangered species in the world, there are over 300 in captivity in various zoos and sanctuaries.
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