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Puerto Rico: Jewel of the Caribbean

Aruna Harjani

The Jakarta Post

San Juan  /  Tue, June 12, 2018  /  08:39 am
Puerto Rico: Jewel of the Caribbean

The Capitol Building (Aruna Harjani) (JP/Aruna Harjani)

"We are the best island in the Caribbean,” boasts a Puerto Rican to tourists.

Puerto Rico is an important island for Americans because of its convenient location as a bridge between Europe and America.

It was also through the island that Christopher Columbus discovered Florida.

Despite being a US territory, the island has its own culture. The Tainos who hail from South America were the first inhabitants of the island. By 1493, they amounted to 50,000 people.

Puerto Rico is a popular stopover for tourists taking Caribbean cruises. Many guides offer tours in and around the island with a running time of two hours for a price of US$25.

San Juan is divided into two sectors, the old and new towns. They are not far from each other and are reachable within minutes.

The tours usually start with a visit to the Capitol building, which was built in 1929. It is designed in a neoclassical style with intricate carvings on its pillars. Inside the Capitol building are beautiful architectural designs on ceilings and floors.

The Walkaway of the PresidentsThe Walkaway of the Presidents (JP/Aruna Harjani)

Opposite the Capitol is the Walkaway of The Presidents, which consists of statues of the nine US presidents who have visited Puerto Rico. What is more interesting is that the statues are life size.

The nine presidential statues are of Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Barack Obama.

The tour then heads to Ashford Avenue in Condado. Here, an array of shops and restaurants is located.

One of the highlights of the area is the Mother and Child statue created by Fernando Botero, which was reportedly purchased for $1.8 million.

The statue is situated at the Plaza del Ancla square in Condado. Opposite the statue is Condado Beach.

Artwork: Fernando Botero’s Mother and Child statue is located close to Condado Beach. (Aruna Harjani)Artwork: Fernando Botero’s Mother and Child statue is located close to Condado Beach. (Aruna Harjani) (JP/Aruna Harjani)

With most tours the last stop is the Plaza Colon, where the exquisite San Cristobal Fort -- one of the first and biggest forts in America – is situated.

A part of the San Juan National Historic site, the fort was built by the Spaniards to protect the island from attack. The fort has cisterns that were used to store water during the Spanish colonial era but later were used as bomb shelters during World War II.

The Plaza Colon also has a 40-foot pillar with a statue of Columbus on top.

In the city of Arecibo there is another monument created in honor of Columbus, which at 350 feet is taller than the Statue of Liberty. The monument miraculously survived the recent heavy storms.

It is said it took 110,000 hours to make the statue, which weighs 6,500 tons using 2,500 pieces of bronze, steel and copper. A Georgian-Russian painter, named Zurab Tsereteli, designed the statue.

The symbolism of the statue causes mixed reactions, some see it as a remembrance of Columbus’ discovery of Puerto Rico but some see it as a reminder of the notorious treatment of the Tainos by him.

The Plaza Colon has a 40-foot pillar with a statue of Columbus on top.The Plaza Colon has a 40-foot pillar with a statue of Columbus on top. (Shutterstock/File)

Puerto Ricans, being Spanish-oriented, celebrate Christmas and after New Year, the Epiphany.

Twelve days after Christmas Puerto Ricans celebrate El Dia De Los Reyes or Three Kings Day. In fact, this is the time Puerto Ricans exchange their gifts. For them the three kings represent a more spiritual and faithful representation of the story of the birth of Christ.

The three kings – Melchior represents Europe, Gaspar represents Arabia and Balthazar represents Africa. In celebration the Plaza Colon also has statues of the three kings.

Another place worth a visit is the Castilo San Felipe del Morro, named in honor of King Philip II of Spain. The castle was built for the purpose of guarding San Juan Bay. UNESCO has declared this fortification a World Heritage Site.

Fortification: The San Felipe del Morro castle, a UN World Heritage site since 1983, is seen in San Juan, Puerto Rico.Fortification: The San Felipe del Morro castle, a UN World Heritage site since 1983, is seen in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Shutterstock/File)

Museo De Las Americas, a museum featuring pre-Columbian and modern art hosts different exhibitions but also has permanent exhibits by Puerto Rican artists.

The Cathedral of San Juan Baustista is one of the oldest buildings in San Juan. The church was first built in 1521 but later destroyed by a hurricane and was restructured in 1540. The church has old relics displayed inside the building.

Teatro Tapia, is the oldest theater in Puerto Rico built in the 18th century. The interior of the theater is in a neoclassical style and is still used to stage shows.

When it was time to leave the island, looking back, I realized how Puerto Rico had stolen my heart in just a matter of hours. It is Western in so many ways but its rich culture and traditions will always engulf modernity.

From here the lines of a song from West Side Story played in my mind and it goes: “Puerto Rico, my heart’s devotion, let it sink back in the ocean, always the hurricanes blowing, always the population growing, and the money owning and the natives steaming.”

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