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anna_moon San Juan - A travel report by Polly
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San Juan,  Puerto Rico - flag Puerto Rico
14546 readers

anna_moon's travel reports

Sweltering San Juan

  16 votes
Page: 1 2
report of the month contest
Jan 2004

San Juan travelogue picture
With money left over from our trip to South Africa, our youth group was able to fund a trip to Puerto Rico the following summer. Puerto Rico is technically part of the United States, but the debate still rages whether the island should be independent, become the 51st state, or remain a commonwealth. Its luxurious beachfront resorts cater to the wealthy, while a few miles down the road, you’ll find yourself in a neighborhood full of housing projects, convenience stores and baseball diamonds. Most of the adults are bilingual, as were some of the kids we worked with, but many of the younger children spoke only Spanish. The language barriers and the soup-like heat that hit us as soon as we stepped out of the airport were just two of the things we had to contend with for the two weeks we spent there in June of ‘99. It was perhaps the most challenging trip I’ve taken, but was very fun and rewarding as well.

Favourite spots:
San Juan travelogue picture
Old San Juan is a lovely spot for a walk, with its interesting stores, gnarled shade trees, and pastel buildings. Though most of the stores do seem to be pitched toward tourists, you can find some really interesting local crafts in certain shops. Others sell similar items to any other Caribbean beach town – sunglasses, flip-flops, and plastic dolls with baskets of fruit glued to their heads. The Alcaldia de San Juan (city hall) is located on Plaza de Armas. In the center of the plaza is a fountain with figures depicting the four seasons, where pigeons like to congregate. Closer to the water, and nearing the edges of Old San Juan, you’ll find streets full of chain stores and restaurants and small carts selling drinks, food, and arts and crafts.

What's really great:
San Juan travelogue picture
There was a mango tree at the edge of the blacktop lot the church was located on. Every morning we’d come out and more mangoes would have fallen. We swept most of them up, but washed and pocketed a few. The kids told us the orange-yellow ones were the best, that the red ones were too ripe. Another memory is our trip to the beach one evening. The sunset over the water was postcard pretty, with the palm trees and high rises in the background. The water was fairly calm, though spots were marked where the current might be stronger. We discovered sand dollars on the ocean floor, and spent time searching for more.

San Juan travelogue picture
San Juan’s biggest tourist attraction is probably one of the three old forts situated around the harbor – San Felipe del Morro. El Morro, for short, is a short walk up a grassy hill. While we were there, a nice sea breeze was blowing, and families were out flying kites and relaxing on the grass. Down the hill to the right was a cemetery with nothing but a low wall holding back the sea. The tombs were raised above sea level, and were arranged around a circular chapel. The red of its dome, and the blue of the sky and the sea, and the green of the grass, and the white of the marble headstones made a striking image. El Morro, by contrast, was all stone, showing centuries of wear by the sea, but still looking quite formidable with cannons placed around the walls. There were lots of dark little passages and turrets to explore as well. It seemed very quiet and lonely on this sun-bleached point.

San Juan travelogue picture
Staying at the Methodista church was an experience, to say the least. We slept on the floor in Sunday school classes on the air mattresses we had brought. Since there was no air-conditioning, the church had no need for windows, so our neighbors in the nearby high-rise certainly got an interesting show every night. The grille-work on the windows didn’t keep out the lizards, or more importantly, the mosquitoes. Before going to bed, it was time to slather sticky bug repellant over our already sweaty arms, legs, and faces. Added to that were the limited showers (we rigged up an outdoor shower so we could at least rinse off in our swimsuits) and the strain our large group put on the plumbing, and the noise of the planes taking off from the airport directly across the street. I certainly have more interesting memories of the church than I would of a hotel room by the beach.

While the people of Puerto Rico hold their traditions dear, in San Juan, you’re just as likely to end up at a McDonalds or a KFC as you would be at a ‘local’ restaurant. Still, a piña colada by the beach is a must. Bottles of Bacardi are not much cheaper in Puerto Rico than in the States, but here you can buy them in any souvenir shop, sometimes with a small green frog glued to the cap.

Other recommendations:
San Juan travelogue picture
Our most eventful excursion was the trip to El Yunque Rainforest. We loaded onto an old school bus that had been converted into a tour bus with enormous speakers in the back, and a small silver skull as the gearshift. On the way to the rainforest, the bus broke down several times, and the guys ended up pushing while a few of us girls wandered off to crack open some of the coconuts lying by the side of the road. Once the bus decided to work, we wound our way up the mountain to the National Rainforest. We stopped at the center at the entrance of the park, and learned about the coquí – tiny tree frogs that serve as the mascot of the park and Puerto Rico. Our second stop was La Mina waterfall. The pool at the bottom was full of people, so a few of us climbed to the pool above the waterfall, and found yet another fall up there. After crawling to the edge of the falls, and swimming through la Mina to perch on the rocks behind it, a few people started diving off the rocks into the pool (bad idea, we found out, as one guy ended up with stitches). On the return ride, we got a spectacular view of the city as our bus driver backed up to the very edge of a cliff. The drive down was so steep; the dust flaps kept hitting the back tires.

Published on Saturday February 7th, 2004

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Wed, Apr 12 2006 - 12:07 PM rating by jorgesanchez

excellent report!

Sat, Feb 25 2006 - 06:53 PM rating by ehs1193

This will definitely help me on my trip to San Juan.

Mon, Dec 20 2004 - 06:18 AM rating by ravinderkumarsi

hii polly
excellent report from you.
keep it up

Mon, May 10 2004 - 04:07 AM rating by kathmandukitten

Amazing report and brilliant pictures! Well done on winning report of the month, well deserved

Thu, May 06 2004 - 12:44 PM rating by willow

Polly, this was a very enjoyable report!

Sat, Feb 07 2004 - 09:09 PM rating by goceohrid

Hi Polly, sounds like a San Juan is a very interesting place to visit. I'm new to the website and I have found it to be very informative. Where do you think you will travel to next? I recommend you go to Ohrid, Macedonia. I can send you some pictures if you like. Everything you want, it has it. The best time to go is in the summer which would be June to August (European Summer). Look forward to hearing from you.

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