Puerto Rico is an Athlete’s Paradise

Puerto Rico is an incredible mecca for athletes and paradise. The two naturally attract. The cool blue waters and perfect weather allows for all types of outdoor sports. One of the most popular sports on the island is  baseball. Baseball is a natural favorite of the locals and such star athletes as Carlos Beltran, Roberto Alomar, and Roberto Clemente have emerged from here. The park Hiran Birthorn Stadium in Hato Rey, San Juan is famous for its November through January games. It is not a Major League field but nonetheless it is famous for being the playing field of the stars before they were stars.

In a completely different league, no pun intended, is the vibrant sport of kayaking, which is also a local favorite.  Nothing beats the colorful display of boats in the sparkling waters. A true action sport, kayaking can be competitive or a perfect outdoor family activity. One thing in certain, Pueto Rico is the perfect place to kayak. There are numerous tourism packages that will bring you the whole aquatic package and let you snorkle and kayak in the same deal. One of the most incredible experiences is Kayaking through one of three of Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays near San Juan. There is nothing more mirculous than visiting the bays where long-living microorganisms thrive in the non-polluted water. The reason for this is because when the paddle of the kayak or anyone swims in or disturbs the water, the microorganisms light up the water like a glowstick. It is truly magical. Even when the initial glow subsides, the water still twinkles as the disruption dies down. These bays in Puerto Rico attract travelers from all over the world to stand in awe of the luminous waters.

Glow kayaking is the perfect night time activity, but the next day you will be aching to continue your magical adventure in Puerto Rico. Consider relaxing in an beautiful catamaran sailboat that goes onward to the deserted and gorgeous island of lcacos. This relaxing island is perfect for collecting seashells, taking a dip in the blue waters, sunbathing, or swimming and snorkeling. The best part about this trip is that there is a fantastic coral reef that is breathtaking. In the lonelyplanet.com package for $85, you can also enjoy the sailboat adventure and receive complimentary Pina Coladas by the Barefoot III or Stampede ship crew. Enjoy a picnic also served on board as you anchor by the gorgeous coral reef and have the option to take special snorkeling instruction lessons. It is a jam-packed beautiful package and one that cannot be missed.

The next day of your San Juan trip can be spent by visitng Rent The Bicycle. This eco-friendly company will show you Old San Juan by renting eco-friendly bicycles for the day. This daytrip features safe bike paths, an optional tour guide, helmets and biycyle fitting and a beautiful tour through some of the best spots in Puerto Rico. Cruise through the town and enjoy the scenes, sights and smells of this colorful town. You can view the forts and the Capitol building. You can explore the Old City Gate, Cathedral and Paseo de Princesa. In the Pinones nature board walk, you can ride past gorgeous beaches and lush deep forests. It is definitely a top tour to take that is much better than exploring the city by foot. Being able to speed through Old San Juan on a bike will allow you to view much more of the town and explore so many more sights to see.

José Ramon Fernández “Marqués de La Esperanza”

Jose Ramon Fernandez is one of the wealthiest men to live in the 19th century Spanish Caribbean area. He achieved his wealth through being a sugar baron. In fact he was the wealthiest sugar baron in all of Puerto Rico. Through his wealth he was able to achieve vast amounts of influence and power in Puerto Rico and th surrounding area earning the title of “Marques de La Esperanza.” His legacy lives on today in Puerto Rico.

Early Years

Jose was born in 1797 to a Spanish naval captain in Puerto Rico. Jose’s father fought pirates and English merchant ships protecting Spanish shipments. Due to his success as a naval captain the Spanish government awarded Jose’s father with property in Bayamon and Manati. There Jose would grow up on a sugar cane and cattle plantation. Jose’s father would name his farm at Bayamon the “Santa Ana Plantation” and his farm at Manati “Hacienda La Esperanza.” He started out just producing rum from a mixture of honey and sugar for his own private and family use. Eventually he had two enormous windmills erected on each plantation to be used to more efficiently extract the juices from the sugar cane. This led to an increase in production as well as scope of his rum production.

Education

Jose would live with his father on his plantation until he was eleven. Once turning eleven he was sent to Spain to get a proper education. While in Spain he studied business administration learning many of the valuable skills that would make him a powerful man later in his life. When he turned seventeen he moved to England to continue his education. While studying in england he became proficient in the English language. He also began to make connections with other business men and form a deeper understanding of the world of business. After completing his education in England he moved to New York. This move was pivotal for Jose’s career as in New York he formed many long lasting and valuable connections that would come to be of great use to him and his business later on in life.

Returning to Puerto Rico

When Jose returned to Puerto Rico he returned to his father’s plantations which had grown to be some of the richest and most prosperous in all of the land. Upon seeing the experience and knowledge his son had gained while away Jose’s father chose to allow him to make many of the business decisions for the plantations. One of the key decisions made by Jose was to form a partnership with the sugar broker and  U.S. Consulate to Puerto Rico George C. Lattimer. At this time he began living in Old San Juan upon San Fransisco Street, the same street today which is home of the El Asador Restaurant. In addition to gaining money Jose also began to gain power politically.

“Marqués de La Esperanza”

In 1868 there was a change in the government in Spain calling for each of the colonies to send representatives to Spain. Due to his plantation “La Esperanza” which he had inherited from his father being one of the richest and most technologically advanced sugar plantations in the world Jose was chosen to represent his colony. He received the title of “Marques de La Esperanza” for this honor. In Spain he convinced the government to divide Manati into two. His reasons for doing this were for his own gain as it allowed him to have his own sea port for shipments.

Legacy

José Ramon Fernández’s plantation “Hacienda La Esperanza” today is left in the hands of the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust. Who has been restoring the plantation since 1984. It is one of the most valuable assets belonging to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust.

Old San Juan Churches

Mostly known for its bustling nightlife, delightful cuisine, and scenic beaches Old San Juan also possesses other remarkable treasures that must be seen while visiting the town. With deep historical roots throughout the town Old San Juan is home to numerous churches. Each church has a unique history and personality making it more than worth it to take a day or afternoon to explore each Church. The Churches pay homage to those who originally settled in the city as well as a large portion of the population which still frequent these churches just as their ancestors did.

Cathedral of San Juan Bautista

The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is perhaps the largest Church in Old San Juan. It is also rich with history being constructed in 1521. This makes it one of the oldest buildings in San Juan. It was however destroyed in a hurricane and reconstructed in 1541. The structure built in 1541 is more or less what you see when you look at the Cathedral today though it has been touched up multiple times with the last being in 1917. The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista is also the site of the oldest school in the U.S considering Puerto Rico is now considered a U.S. Territory. The school was established in 1513 and taught grammar to the children of the inhabitants of San Juan. Also contained within the Cathedral is the tomb of the famous explorer Juan Ponce de Leon and the waxed coated remains of the first century martyr, Saint Pius.

The San Francisco Church (Franciscan Chapel)

Another Church contained within San Juan is the San Fransisco Church or Franciscan Chapel. Though smaller than the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista it is still very much worth taking time to visit. It features a great example of a church from the 18th century when it was built. It was established by The Third Order of Francis in 1756. Inside it contains a variety of beautifully restored murals. There are also a number of restored reliefs that can be seen inside of the Church. Another interesting bit of history about the Franciscan Chapel is that the large crucifix displayed in the Church was rescued from a sunken ship off the coast of San Juan. The crucifix bears the name El Cristo de buen Viaje. Beneath the Chapel are catacombs that can be visited. Here you can see the graves of numerous people as well as that of the famous Puerto Rican Painter, Francisco Manuel Oller.

Other Churches

In addition to the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista and the San Fransisco Church there are a few more historical Churches that can be visited. One is the Iglesia San Jose which was constructed between the years 1532 and 1753. It is the Church of the Dominican convent that is still in San Jose. Another church that should be seen while visiting Old San Juan is La Capilla del Cristo. This Church offers a nice view as it is next to the Park of the Pigeons and a wall offering a scenic overlook of San Juan bay. It is rarely open but if you happen to stop by when it is there are some beautiful relics upon display within the Chapel.

Salsa Music

Salsa music originated in Cuba but gained world wide popularity in the 1970’s. It became popular through a group of Puerto Rican musicians in New York who were playing afro-cuban music which developed into what is now known as salsa. Salsa is a dance music with its most defining characteristic being the use of a clave. Typically other Cuban instruments are used as well like bongos and congas. The use of these instruments is what gives Salsa its signature sound. Due to its origins Salsa is very tied to Latin American culture in both its main audience as well as its lyrical content.

History of Salsa Music in Puerto Rico

There is some dispute as to whether or not Salsa music originated in Cuba or Puerto Rico. Most of the world recognizes Cuba as the originator of salsa music, but Puerto Ricans tell a different story. According to some salsa can be traced to the 1930’s and 1940’s in Puerto Rico when mamba and son music was first brought there. Then in the 1960’s it was brought to New York through the mass migration of Puerto Ricans and given its final influences of big band music to become Salsa.

Whether or not Salsa was invented in Puerto Rico or New York, Puerto Ricans have still had a large impact on the development of Salsa music. Puerto Rico was instrumental in the creation of Salsa Romantica. This genre of Salsa music is characterized by the blending of different musical styles with Salsa. Typically, Salsa Romantica would start with a slower style of music like a rumba then build into a salsa, finishing with a mambo. Salsa Romantica is also known for having more romantic lyrics than previous the form of Salsa know as Salsa Caliente which focused on barrio life in its lyrical content. Salsa Romantica first began to gain popularity in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s and is still quite popular to this day.

Contemporary Puerto Rican Salsa

Salsa is still very popular to this day in Puerto Rico. In fact it is generally agreed upon that Puerto Rico has replaced New York as the capitol of Salsa music. Modern Puerto Rican music makes use of some indigenous instruments such as güiros which are made out of gourds and used as a rhythm accompaniment. Another modern development in Puerto Rican salsa is the use of a cow-bell along with the traditional clave to keep rhythm. Some of the more well known artists in the Puerto Rican Salsa scene today are Willie Colón, El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico, and Hector Lavoe. They are also popular on an international scale as well. There are also numerous Salsa clubs in Puerto Rico where Salsa aficionados go to dance and enjoy top quality salsa music.

The future of Salsa

It is easy to see that Salsa shares a rich cultural and historical background and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is a comfort to the older crowd of Salsa lover’s in Puerto Rico that the youth seem to have the same passion for Salsa as their parents did. It will be exciting to see what new innovations and changes this new generation of Salsa fans will bring to the genre.

Experiencing the Puerto Rican Beats

Puerto Rican music is the most well-known Caribbean sound heard throughout the United States. Many people associate the unique beats and rhythms as part of the passionate Latin American dance numbers commonly seen in dance competitions and many dance clubs throughout America.   Puerto Rican music is always a sure way to get you tapping your feet and moving your hips.

The Sounds of Puerto Rico

The music of Puerto Rico is closely associated with the African and Spanish traditions that inspired it.  Four known Puerto Rican instruments were adapted from the Spanish six string guitar; the cuatro, the requinto, the bordonu, and the triple.  They all produce their own unique pitch and sound.  The cuatro is the most popular of these instruments and is revered as the national instrument of Puerto Rico.  It is typically carved from solid blocks of laurel wood and is known for creating pitches that are different from the typical Spanish sounds.

The island is also known for its prevalence of percussion instruments.   Tambours (hollowed tree trunks covered with stretched-out animal skin) and maracas (gourds filled with pebbles or dried beans and mounted on handles) are some of the most common percussion instruments heard in Puerto Rico and are known throughout the world.  These are some of the variety of drums that were brought to Puerto Rico by African slaves. They widely contribute to the island’s unique folk music sound and really integrate the sounds of both Spanish and African music.

A Puerto Rican Dance to Move Your Feet

The most well-known dance that Puerto Rican’s have shared with the world is the salsa.  Known as the rhythm of the islands, the name salsa literally means “the sauce that makes parties happen.” Unbeknownst to many, the salsa actually originates from the Puerto Rican community in New York. It draws inspiration from the musical roots of the Cuban and the African Caribbean experience.

Salsa has made Puerto Rican’s internationally famous in the music scene.  The music for salsa requires a wide variety of percussion instruments that include the güiros, maracas, bongos, timbales, conga drums, and claves,  and to add the jíbaro (hillbilly) touch, a clanging cow bell.  Traditionally, it also takes a bass, a horn section, a chorus and, a lead vocalist to get the combination right.

Even though the Puerto Rican music can be experienced in many places around the world, any traveler who has the opportunity to hear the unique sounds of the best music in the Caribbean in its original environment is in for a truly special experience.

Puerto Rican Great Eats

Puerto Rican cuisine may share some similarities with Cuban and Spanish cooking, but it still carries a great deal of flavor from other cultures as well.  A lot of Puerto Rican cooking blends African, Taino, and even some American flavors to get its own unique taste.  Some common ingredients typically found in Puerto Rican food are, papaya, cacao, nispero, plaitains, and yampee.

Referred to by the locals as cocina criolla, or Créole cooking, this cooking style goes back to the Arawaks and Tainos who originally inhabited the Islands.  The culture relied on tropical fruit, corn, and seafood as part of their regular diet.  After Ponce de León arrived with Christopher Columbus in 1943, beef, pork, rice, wheat and olive oil were added to the island’s inventory.  In addition to importing slaves from Africa, they also brought okra and taro over and began planting sugarcane.  Ultimately all of the different flavors and ingredients passed down the line of generations and the mingling of different ethnic groups resulted in the unique blend that Puerto Rican cuisine is known for.

Popular Dishes to Try In Puerto Rico

Asopao is one of the most traditional dishes in Puerto Rico.  It can be considered as a soup, a gumbo, and a stew all at once.  Asopao can contain rice, chicken, pork, beef, seafood, and vegetables in any combination along with the wonderful seasonings and flavors that make Puerto Rican food so tasty.  It is an incredibly hearty and filling dish that is served at most restaurants in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is also filled with many tasty fried snacks.  The amount of fritters that you will find will easily make your mouth water.   Some popular ones are cuchifritos, alcapurrias, frituras, and almojábanas.  The best thing about these treats is that they are very affordable and can be eaten in good quantities. So if you are a traveler on a budget, these fried snacks are for you.

Another popular dish to send your taste buds for a ride is Arroz con Gandules.  This is sometimes referred to as the Puerto Rican’s national dish.  It takes rice, pigeon peas, pork, chorizo (a Spanish sausage), red peppers, and olives and seasons them with a unique sauce made from sofrito.  The finished dish becomes like a Spanish paella and ends up tasting amazing.

Wherever you travel, you should always make it a priority to sample all of the local cuisine.  However, if you are traveling to Puerto Rico you simply cannot leave without experiencing the food that makes the culture so well known throughout the world.