Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Dominica, Barbados, and Grenada

Entering the country of Dominica


The island of Dominica looks very retro-authentic, a lot like all of the Caribbean islands probably looked years ago. 

Colorful town of Roseau
Our ship docked next to a simple platform, and we walked down a narrow pier directly into the colorful laidback city of Roseau.

We had no tour planned; instead we just wandered around the small downtown. The streets near the pier were lined with umbrella-covered tables where locals were selling their wares. We bought a small basket made by the Caribe, an indigenous Indian tribe on the island.

The vendors of Dominica
One of the faces of Dominica

Frank tries what has become his fave Caribbean beer!

We also dropped into an eatery to try the local beer, Kubuli. Excellent brew!  One of the best we’ve tasted in the Caribbean.

Beautiful Barbados!


For a change of pace, we had reserved a tour at the Agapey Chocolate Factory in Bridgetown, Barbados. We left the ship and walked about a mile into town to the Agapey facility.

Derrick teaches us all about fine chocolate

We received an excellent tutorial on chocolate-making from the owner, Derrick. Derrick had been a chemical engineer in the U.S. before chucking it all to make fine choco in Barbados. We got samples of his chocolate wares, all dark, delicious, and fresh.

Derrick shows us his handmade winnowing machine

Afterwards, Derrick walked us through the processing: roasting, winnowing (to remove the cacao shells), and mashing (to grind out the grit).

Derrick and his mashing machine

The mashing process was especially interesting. Two wheel-shaped stones exerted a 1000 pound force on the chocolate nibs, rolling back and forth over the nibs, crushing and liquefying them as they put pressure on the chocolate.

Chocolate oozes out of one of Derrick's machines

Of course, we had to buy some of this delicious chocolate, but some of the other people on our tour bought so much, we were afraid Derrick was going to run out. We think Derrick thought so too!  These folks were serious chocoholics. Luckily, they left a couple’a bars for us!

Banks Beer of Barbados

All that chocolate-making had made us hungry, so we stopped by The Polka Dots Café for some chicken with rice and beans. Delicious! We also tried the local Barbadian beer, Banks Beer. Always good to drink some beer as we work on this blog -- gets the creative juices flowing!  Banks Beer was good, but we liked the Kubuli on Dominica the best.

Lush and colorful St. George, Grenada


We were really looking forward to exploring the famous “Spice Island” of Grenada. Anne had read about this island years ago and always wanted to visit. This was a real highlight, and the last island of the cruise before we head back to Puerto Rico.

Our cruise ship (docked next to another one) in St. George

Our ship docked at St. George where we met our tour guide for the day – Glenroy Grey.  Glenroy was a 50-year old native Grenadian who had many wild tales to tell us about his days working for the American Embassy after the revolution of 1983 when Ronald Reagan sent our Marines into Grenada. Glenroy was still in high school at the time of the revolution and was actively involved in protesting against a communist government. He was lucky to live through it, since many Grenadians were executed by pro-communist forces.

When he spoke to his many street friends as we walked along, Frank thought he was speaking a foreign language.  At one point, Frank even asked what language he was speaking.  Glenroy responded in his quick stiletto-like voice, “I am speaking English.”  Then we could hear it.  Glenroy called it “Creole” or “patois,” but to us it sounded like a slurred, fast-spoken unintelligible stream of English words.  It was tricky, but as we grew to know him, we became more familiar with his way of speaking.

Glenroy took us all around St. George in his white Nissan van, and we experienced a town with a tight network of narrow one-way streets, lots of traffic, and steep up and down hills that reminded us a little of San Francisco. Cars were parked on each of the narrow streets, making driving even tighter and tougher. Sometimes Glenroy would try to make a turn, stop, backup, then make more tries until he succeeded. That’s how you do it on Grenada. Driving on the left added another dimension of difficulty to the driving equation. The bottom line is you really don’t want to rent a car on Grenada if you can avoid it.

Steep terrain of Grenada
Out in the jungles of Grenada, the hills are every bit as narrow and steep.  Maybe even worse because now the roads are two-way. If you meet an oncoming vehicle, you need to find a wide pull-over spot that allows both vehicles to pass. Then passing each other in slow mo is required, all the while hoping you don’t scrape each other in the process.  The turns are tight and often blind going up and down the hills, and you could meet an oncoming vehicle coming around the bend at any time. Sometimes even an unexpected tour bus. The drops off the sides of the road can be deadly, if not vehicle-disabling.  A horn warning is almost perfunctory when you enter a blind switchback. Here in Grenada, caution becomes second nature to drivers. As Glenroy said, “Driving in Grenada is all about cooperation!”

Dramatic Concord Waterfall
He drove us into the countryside to see the Concord Waterfall, an impressive cascade surrounded by dense green vegetation. Grenada is one of the lushest, most verdant places we have ever seen!  And one of the few small Caribbean islands that actually has a  few rivers for fresh water.

Beans drying in trays in the sun at the old processing plant
We stopped at an old cocoa processing plant that looked like a derelict building but was still in use. We saw cocoa beans drying in the sun, and Glenroy opened a cocoa bean pod to show us the cocoa beans surrounded by goopy white stuff.

Goopy insides of a cocoa bean pod

Nutmeg in its natural state
He also showed us nutmeg in its natural state surrounded by a yellowish pod and covered with a stringy substance called mace. The red mace is used in making cosmetics such as lipstick and nail polish. The colorful nutmeg looks like a work of pop art!

Magnificent jungle scenery and plantations in Grenada 

Glenroy was an expert on indigenous plant life, and he was always pointing out spices and fruits that we knew from shopping at our supermarkets, but had never seen growing in the wild. He drove us through a plantation in dense rainforest with all kinds of trees: nutmeg, passion fruit, golden apple, guava, clove, papaya, mango, 5-fingers, rock figs, blubber, plantains, bananas, squash, cinnamon, and more.

Nutmeg processing plant in Gouyve

He took us to a nutmeg processing co-operative in the town of Gouyve where we watched workers go thru the steps of sorting, crushing, shucking, and bagging raw nutmeg nuts by hand.

It appeared that the nutmeg operation was about the same as it was 100 years ago – backward, very labor intensive, no mechanization, and probably using mostly underpaid, unskilled workers.

Ladies removing nutmeg shells at the processing plant
Nutmeg has always been a major crop on the island, but in 2004, hurricane Ivan (known as "Ivan the Terrible" by those who lived thru it) wiped out 90% of the nutmeg plantations, and the nutmeg industry is still recovering from the devastation.

Crater Lake in Grand Etang Tropical Rain forest

On a lighter note, we stopped at the Grand Etang Tropical Rain Forest of central Grenada which has been likened to the great Amazon rain forest, on a smaller scale, of course. As we entered the park, we were serenaded by steel drums welcoming us with the reggae beat of island music. From the observation deck, we enjoyed beautiful views of Crater Lake and jagged mountain tops with a thick canopy of green.

Incredible lushness and scenery of Grenada

Thursday, December 1, 2016

St. Croix and St. Maarten

The Jewel of the Seas
We boarded our Royal Caribbean cruise ship, the “Jewel of the Seas,” and said farewell to San Juan for now (we’ll return for one night at the end of our cruise). Internally, the Jewel of the Seas is a pretty ship with great artwork, with a Thai theme we really like. And our stateroom is well-located with respect to the elevators, theaters, the service & food areas, and has a large porthole where we can see the sea and the condition of the weather, so we are two happy cruisers!

Anne's new Larimar bracelet
We got even happier the first night when we attended a port discussion in the auditorium, offering tips for all the ports of call. We had arrived late, so we missed getting raffle tickets, but two young girls seated near us left early and handed us their tickets. The talk was not that stimulating, so the audience kept diminishing as time went on. Finally, the discussion was over and they held the raffle, and the first item was a Larimar bracelet. Now Anne has had her eye on Larimar ever since we first saw the stone in the Dominican Republic, so she was hoping to win.  They called a number, and no one came forward. They called a second number, and still no one came forward. See how this is going? Then, they called Anne’s number! She couldn’t believe her luck, and the blue stone bracelet is gorgeous. We decided to stay for the rest of the drawing. Somewhere down the line Frank’s number was called too. He had won 50% off a shore excursion for two (which we quickly applied to our next day’s tour). This was a darn nice and valuable prize, making our shore excursion even more desirable!

Sugar plantation house at Whim Estate
St. Croix

Very heavy rain hampered our St. Croix shore excursion, but we had our usual rain gear, so we were fine. Or as Frank likes to chide to himself, “Suck it up, you fat old buttercup!  Get your rain gear on, and go see the sights.”  Some of our fellow cruisers seemed stunned by the rain and left the ship with little to protect them. Not a hat, umbrella, or poncho – a few did use a beach towel draped over their heads!

Dry moat outside the basement of the plantation house
Our shore excursion included three highlights of St. Croix. The first stop was the Whim Estate, a former sugar plantation with several restored buildings. The main house was extraordinarily airy with immense rooms, high ceilings, and plenty of windows to catch the trade winds. The leaking ceilings were indicative of a house that was in some disrepair, and Miss Margaret the elderly guide was very happy to see us visitors. The basement was quite unusual with a dry moat built around it to keep the cellar and the food stored in it nice and cool.

Botanical Gardens
Next stop was the Botanical Gardens which would have been beautiful on a sunny day, but the deluge continued. Our guide Paul did nothing to improve the situation. Rather than tell us about the garden, he was too busy talking about his wife, his grandson, the fact that he speaks five languages. You get the picture; he had nothing of informative value to impart.

The appropriately named Sausage Tree

Anyway, we did get some decent photos. One of the most interesting trees in the garden was the "sausage tree."

Our guide Jason at the Cruzan Rum Distillery
Luckily, our last stop saved the day. Our bus driver Raschida took us to the famous nearby Cruzan Rum Distillery. Our Cruzan Rum guide Jason livened things up as he pretend enrolled our group of 17 in “Cruzan Rum University,” teaching us everything from fermentation to distillation, and of course, we celebrated our graduation with a generous tasting of the number one rum in the world - Cruzan!

Anne with her new Pina Colada drinking buddy!

Naturally, we had Pina Coladas, some pineapple flavored rum, and some aged oak-flavored rum.

Jason hoists a final toast to his new graduates
We were very surprised to learn that during the distillation process, 70% is waste and is used as fertilizer.  It is just thrown out into the fields for recycling (Jason says they have a lot of happy cows on the island!), 20% evaporates, and only 10% is usable for rum. All we can say is this 10% rum makes one mean Pina Colada!

Dramatic scenery of St. Maarten
St. Maarten/St. Martin

The island of St. Maarten is divided into two parts – the southern part, which is under Dutch ownership, and the northern part which is French. Our cruise ship docked in Philipsburg, the capital city of Dutch St. Maarten, on the south side of the island.  We had a reservation to be escorted around the island by Bernard Tours, a recommended tour group that Anne had researched for our time here on the island.

Our driver Jackson, who affably liked to be referred to as “Action Jackson,” was a 50-ish black dude who was a well-spoken, and just a really fun guy. He kept us both entertained and laughing throughout the tour, as he drove and divulged facts and figures about the unique island.  He skillfully wielded his company’s 15-passenger van along the narrow highways of our route. The van was relatively empty since our tour group was only made up of 5 people which made for a cozy, intimate tour.

Simpson Bay on St. Maarten
Action Jackson drove around the periphery of the island (a distance of about 25 miles), stopping at scenic overlooks and places he thought would be of interesting to us newcomers. We were surprised by the hilliness of the terrain on this small island. The “hills” are not terribly high, the tallest being only a little over 1800 feet, but the steep peaks are sharp and dramatic, making the hills look even higher than they are.

The jungles of this island are very verdant. The French side (north) gets the most rain, so it is by far the greenest. On the Dutch side, we also saw limited jungle foliage, but there was also cactus at various intervals. This island boasts of being the smallest land mass in the world shared by two separate countries & nationalities of peoples. It has a grand total of only 37 square miles (16 sq. miles for the Dutch side & 21 sq. miles for the French).

The two sides have lots of reciprocal agreements and live in harmony even though their official languages, currencies, and laws are different. For example, the drinking age is 18 on the French side but only 16 on the Dutch side!

Calvin shows Anne how to handle a sea urchin
We made several stops for photo ops and for some unusual wildlife. At one stop, Calvin the Sea Urchin Man showed us various sea urchins, conch, starfish, et al.  And even let us hold the strange-feeling creatures.

Miniature Jurassic park!

We also visited the Iguana Man – a roadside stand where a vendor had a bevy of 30 pet iguanas roaming around on a flat makeshift blanketed area. The happy-go-lucky vendor chuckled heartily when Anne jumped out of our tour van and belted out, “Looks like Jurassic Park!”

Anne feeds the hungry iguanas
Of course, with that, the vendor gave Anne the charge of feeding them with a large leaf of their favorite food. Several hungry iguanas charged Anne for the food and scared her so much by the sudden surge that she dropped the iguana food and jumped backwards in white-knuckled fear!  We all had a good laugh as we tried to take advantage of this unexpected photo op.

Anne loves her French croissant!
Action Jackson took us up to the French side of the island (St. Martin) where we stopped in the city’s capital of Marigot to do some shopping, get acquainted with the locals, and have some lunch. (Anne was thrilled with her real French croissant!)

Maho Beach
And finally, we went to the famous Maho Beach, aka “Airplane Beach”, where the planes from the airport across the street fly so close to the beach and bathers that sometimes they appear to be within arm’s reach of the swimmers in the water. The bigger and heaver the aircraft, the closer to the water the planes drop for their landing.

Famous "Airplane Beach!"
 Unfortunately, only lighter aircraft passed over the waters on the day we were there.  We really enjoyed our day on this scenic and friendly island and look forward to coming back next summer!

More pics:

Pod from the Sausage Tree at Botanical Gardens

King of the Iguanas!

Sunset thru our porthole

Caribbean sunset!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

San Juan, the Walled City of the South

Our snowy front yard on the day we left for Puerto Rico
The Pokies (that’s the Pocono Mountains for all you non-locals) bid us a snowy farewell when we left home. Luckily, once we made it down “Supsic Mountain” there was very little snow. This is awfully early for snow – even for us!

We will be spending the next week in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the oldest walled city in the Americas. Kind of funny that we just got back from another walled city in Quebec a month ago. It is quite a bit warmer here although the rain seems to have followed us. No problem – it’s so warm, a little rain feels good.

Decanter Hotel logo
We are staying at The Decanter Hotel right in the center of Old Town. The “Decanter” Hotel uses a colorful wine decanter as its logo, and since Frank makes wine in his spare time, we felt right at home – like staying for a week in a winery!  We have one of our largest hotel rooms ever with two balconies, a large sitting area, and a kitchenette. Definitely a comfortable stay!

Colorful buildings in Old San Juan

Our first impression of San Juan is how colorful it is. The houses are a palette of pastels: pink, blue, yellow, mint green, and purple. Plus plenty of flowering plants and constant views of the surrounding ocean. Just walking around this town makes you feel “goody goody.”

We found out later that these pastel colors used to paint the houses are regulated by city ordinance.  There are only a handful of pastel colors that you can use to paint your house, and there are no deviations.  And no two adjoining houses can be painted the same color. So if your neighbor’s house is painted the legal blue pastel, you MUST paint your house a different color, something other than blue. 

Looking like Puerto Rican country folk
The Puerto Rican people are definitely friendly and lots of fun: our taxi cab driver who wants to see snow and learn to ski, our waitress Lacy who put goofy straw hats on our heads and took a picture of us looking like Puerto Rican country folk, and the wonderful young attendants here at our hotel who go out of their way to make sure we are well-cared for.

Old city walls along the ocean promenade

We spent our first day wandering the streets of Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan) getting our bearings in this new “old” city. Lots of restaurants and shops for us to explore later. We ended up on a promenade by the ocean where we had excellent views of the old city walls. The oldest parts of the walls date back to the 1500’s, and the rounded guard turrets located at intervals along the walls are a shutterbug’s delight. These atmospheric turrets have become a symbol of San Juan.

Tangled root system of giant banyan tree
We were also impressed with a giant banyan trees that had so many hanging roots it looked like some ragged sea monster had climbed out of the ocean.

On the town with our foodie group
Flavors of San Juan Food Walk

 As you know, we love these foodie walking tours that allow us to take in the local cuisine, and this event was another winner. Our guide Keila guided us through the old streets to a wide variety of culinary delights. She also stopped intermittently in various alcoves and parks along the way, giving us little historical tid-bits about her country. 

Working with the crew in the "Rum Library"

We got a tutorial on rum in a gazebo-like structure that stood in the middle of a popular restaurant.  The inside of the gazebo was lined with shelves containing hundreds of bottles of rum. The bartender referred to his world inside the gazebo bar as his “rum library.” He even had a tall, mobile, rolling-ladder (just like in an old library) within the gazebo that he used to reach his backup liquor supplies located on the out-of-reach upper shelves. He taught us that Puerto Rico is the biggest producer of rum in the world, and that the brand “Don Q” is a very good rum (and also very expensive).  He told us that the best prices for a bottle of this high-quality stuff were in the duty-free shops at the airport.

Mashin' the mofongo with wooden mortar and pestle
One of our favorite stops was a traditional café where we got to make our own mofongo, a famous Puerto Rican dish that came from Africa originally and was modified slightly for Spanish tastes.  Puerto Rican people are a mixture of indigenous Indian, African, and Spanish. We were issued a deep wooden mortar and pestle to mash the sliced toasted plantains that are the main ingredient of mofongo.

Makin' mofongo (check out the serious masher behind Anne)
The flavors are enhanced with a mixture of butter and garlic. We created a little dugout within the mashed plantains inside our mortars and filled it with spicy Creole chicken stew. What a great meal, and a fun experience learning the ingredients and preparation technique for mofongo!

Arecibo log
Day Trip to Arecibo

Frank was especially captivated by our visit to Arecibo, located about 50 miles west of Old San Juan along the northern shore.  About 10 miles south of the town of Arecibo, thru narrow backwoods roads and verdant jungle was a hidden engineering marvel known as the Arecibo Radar-Radio Telescope.

Arecibo Telescope with inground dish and antenna overhead
Built in 1963, the Arecibo Observatory is one of the world’s most powerful instruments, with an inground parabolic reflector that spans 1000 feet in diameter and moveable antennae structures that hang 500 feet above the reflector; these antennae capture radio waves from outer space, and allow scientists to track celestial objects in the sky.  Since the antennae are totally moveable by way of a series of heavy-duty guy wires, the fixed dish can concentrate the signals from any quadrant in the sky to the appropriate antenna needed for reception. 

What a remarkable feat of engineering!
This is one impressive sight tucked away in the forests of Puerto Rico. With sky-high pylons to secure the cables and the massive antenna suspended over the reflector dish, it looks like something from a Sci-Fi movie. And speaking of movies, this site was used in the making of “Golden Eye” (1995) and “Contact” (1997).

Hiking on the picturesque coral cliffs

Our tour guide for this day (Carlos) made several stops along the rural roads to and from Arecibo.  Near the town of Barceloneta, we hiked into the jungle and took a wet, rainy walk to the seaside, where we watched the crashing waves below us as we stood safely on cliffs formed from defunct coral. Sinkholes were everywhere, and one false move would send you plummeting 30 feet down (or more) onto some deadly, razor sharp, rock-lined coral chambers. No room for error here.

Crashing waves against coral cliffs
We watched a group of daredevil kids exploring the same cliff area, climbing down onto some dangerous ledges just to impress their friends. Carlos told us the local kids actually jump off the coral into the churning ocean below. The stupidity of youth, we thought. Although we were well-aware, as we hiked along and silently recalled our own youth, that we too pulled some careless, dumb-assed stunts at that age too!

Enjoying delicious pastalillos at a roadside stand
Carlos treated us to Camarones Pastalillos at a roadside stand. The tasty fried treat was made from half-moon shaped piece of dough stuffed with shrimp.  Yummy!  He said that these sandwiches are called “pastalillos” on the north side of the island of Puerto Rico and “empanillas” on the south side.

Puerto Rico is an earthquake island. Earthquakes happen every day, all day long. They are of  a magnitude mostly of 2.0 or lower so you don't notice them. But there are Richter Scales all over Puerto Rico, and they record these small quakes and quakes of much larger magnitudes. Quakes are always present!

Twin smokestacks identify former sugar processing plant
One last interesting thing.  Carlos told us that all the sugar cane factories have been gone since 1986.  The minimum wage destroyed the sugar industry by making it too expensive to process sugar on the island.  It became cheaper to buy it from other nearby islands.  Consequently, the remnants of those defunct sugar processing plants are still seen all over Puerto Rico. Carlos pointed out two smokestacks in the distance, side by side, that were part of a former sugar processing operation. 

Guavate lechon!
Thanksgiving Puerto Rico Style on the Guavate Pork Highway

Thanksgiving day is celebrated in a similarly conventional fashion here in Puerto Rico with people eating turkey, visiting grandma, and relaxing with family.  But unconventional travelers that we are, we did an unconventional Thanksgiving this year. We booked a tour out to the Guavate, a remote section of the countryside, to visit and eat at a “lechonera.” Are you scratching your head yet?  Good!  “Lechon” is the word for roasted pork in Spanish, but more accurately, it is a ‘suckling pig that is roasted.’  Young tender pigs!

Cook prepares pork with his handy machete
Anyway, there is a main road thru Guavate that is lined with over a dozen lechoneras (open-air restaurants for roasting pork). And it’s not just about pork. You also have a choice of side dishes: sweet plantains, rice with pigeon peas, breadfruit, yucca cooked with garlic and onions, blood sausage, cassava, and of course beer, both local and international.  Plus a fiesta atmosphere with live salsa music, dancing, souvenir sellers, and if you search hard enough, and really want to eat turkey instead of the delicious “lechon” specialty, you can even do that! This is a daytime activity, and people come and leave before sundown.

Pig cooking in the roasting pit
Our tour guide and driver Debbie Ramos drove our tour group of 7 an hour out of San Juan to arrive just in time for lunch at a popular lechonera called “El Ranchero Original,” a larger- than- most restaurant with the ubiquitous browned pig on a 3-inch diameter metal spit behind a glass window for all to see and drool!  The food and roasting smells were making everyone anxious to chow down!
The cafeteria-style food area was very crowded and busy, making it complicated to order our meals, but Debbie made sure everyone got what they wanted. Then we all sauntered to the garden behind the restaurant, and found an open-air but covered pavilion next to a narrow picturesque creek with enough seating for our small group.  Good thing the pavilion had a roof, as it rained a bit on-and-off.

Pigs on spits in the frozen pig locker ready to be cooked
Nobody was disappointed with the food. The roast pork was juicy and perfectly seasoned. In fact, each lechonera has their own closely guarded secret seasoning recipes. After dinner, we got a “backstage” tour to see the frozen pigs in the big freezer locker, the golden-brown pigs cooking on spits in the cement roasting pits, and the final product being chopped (with alarming speed!) by a guy wielding a nasty-looking machete! We even had time to walk along the street, drop by a few different lechoneras, and show off our best salsa moves on the dancefloor. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday. 

Happy Thanksgiving from El Ranchero in Guavate!

At Fort San Cristobal in Old San Juan
Viejo San Juan and San Cristobal Fort

Old Town Juan is very walkable with loads of shops, art galleries, and atmospheric restaurants all situated in the colorful old buildings. A great place to wander! We got our history fix at the San Cristobal Fort, a 16th c. Spanish fort that guards one end of the city. Quite an impressive fortification and a reminder that Spain occupied Puerto Rico for 400 years. In fact, Spain dominated this whole part of the world occupying most of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. However, by the end of the 1700’s, only Cuba and Puerto Rico remained under Spanish control.  Finally, Spain lost Puerto Rico to the United States during the Spanish American War of 1897.

Tropical flower just loving the rain!
It rained a lot while we were here in Puerto Rico; in fact, every day!  Not continuously, but just enough that it constituted a surprise when it occurred, and a bit of an annoyance. We’d be walking along the streets of San Juan, and the sun would be shining. We would wrongly assume that the rain was done, and the sun was here to stay.

Distinctive blue brick street construction in San Juan
For half an hour or so, we would be lulled into false complacency, presupposing from the strong rays of the sun and the brilliant blue sky that the rain was done. And then, like clockwork, the drizzling would start again. Never heavy rain tho, just enough that you needed some form of protection, like a small umbrella or a large hat. We used both and just kept moving.  This pattern persisted throughout the day, every day that we were here.  I guess this is life in the tropics!

Pelican roosts atop turret in city wall
Puerto Rico Politics

Ask a local what the most popular sport is in Puerto Rico, and they will probably say politics. Puerto Rico’s weird status with the United States leads to endless discussions. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S., an Estado Libre Asociado (ELA) or free associated state. No one really seems know what that means. One person told us they came up with the name to avoid calling Puerto Rico a colony of the U.S. The people here are U.S. citizens from birth and are eligible for U.S. passports. They also serve in the U.S. military. They use the U.S. dollar, but they do not pay federal income taxes, although they do pay social security and FICA. And they have a whopping 11% tax on EVERYTHING, including food. In public schools, Spanish is the primary language and English is secondary. In private schools, it is just the opposite with English as primary. English is also the language used exclusively in universities (giving private school kids an obvious advantage!).  That is, unless you are majoring in the Spanish Language!

Tropical paradise on northern shore of the island
Puerto Rico has three main political parties. One that wants to remain a commonwealth, one that wants to become a U.S. state, and one that wants independence. Puerto Rico sends a representative to the U.S. House of Representative, but they have no vote. Strangely, Puerto Ricans can vote in the presidential primaries but not in the general election (does that make any sense?).

Wave eruption at Bishop's Pond
The economy of Puerto Rico has been in free fall since the global economic downturn. One drawback of being associated with the U.S. is that they must pay minimum wage which makes everything here very expensive, especially compared with other low wage Caribbean islands such as the Dominican Republic. Sadly, many people here are becoming desperate as jobs and tourism continue to disappear. On top of the economic woes, the Zika Virus has hurt them badly too (even though Zika has been here for over 20 years).

More pics of Puerto Rico:

More colorful houses of San Juan

Yummy ceviche!

Anne prepares to down a delicious shrimp patalillos

Crashing waves near Barceloneta on north shore

Crazy kids climbing dangerous coral ledges

Traffic & street parking are definitely a problem in Old San Juan!

San Cristobal Fort

Adios San Juan. We are headed for our cruise ship and the high seas!