25.02.2014 - 25.02.2014 28 °C
Well our adventure continues but this time "sin ninos".
Puerto Rico was Spanish owned until they decided they wanted independence from Spain. As I understand it they waged war against the Spanish and were losing terribly until the Americans moved in to help the Puerto Ricans and the Spanish lost (as part of the Spanish American war). The problem with this is that they were now pretty much owned by the USA instead.
Just over a year ago we travelled to Cuba which was cut off from the USA completely with no trade or tourism between the two allowed. We saw the devastation this caused to Cuba's economy, but we admired their tenacity and strength in overcoming this and we loved the absence of commercial US - no fast food chains, etc.
Puerto Rico is a Spanish colonised Caribbean island, just like Cuba. They were both major producers of sugar, rum and cigars. They both had huge slave labour force in the 17th and 18th centuries brought over from Africa, influencing both islands' culture, music and food. They have similar beautiful landscape and beaches with tropical fruit. Yet the influence of the USA has shaped a very different country with a very different economy to their neighbour. Interestingly Fidel Castro, the Cuban President took over the Bicardi factory in Cuba during the revolution, and renamed it Havana Club. Bicardi then set up in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico has the US dollar as it's currency. It has all the usual commerce and industry you expect of the USA (fast food chains included), and like the USA, no social security or free health care. If you have work and insurance you manage fine, but if you lose your job, you can end up on the streets. And sadly there are many who are so unlucky, but not nearly as many as I saw in Los Angeles on my morning jogs, where every park bench, every underpass, and many street corners were decorated with the shopping trolleys the homeless carry their wordly possessions around with them.
Whilst we were constantly harassed in Cuba for money, (where there are very few homeless as the state provides food and housing), here we are asked for money only a few times a day by homeless people. Buildings are maintained, the history and culture of the place is not diluted by the desperation as it is in Cuba. It feels wealthier despite the abject poverty of the few. The inequality of wealth is clear but in general the people seem better off for being in the USA's back pocket.
Despite most people speaking English very well, the primary language is still Spanish, salsa and reggaeton music blares from restaurants, bars and cars and creole food is available at most eateries, bar the American fast food chains.
So far Puerto Rico has charmed us. It had been easy and relaxed. Oh and the weather stunning. But we are surrounded by northern Americans and I'm starting to roll my 'R's!!!