Written by (WIM) Raluca Sgircea and (IM) Renier Castellanos
It’s been two weeks since we ditched the European cold for the warm Caribbean winter and we’re most definitely loving our time spent here! The beauty of the island, the always smiling people, the amount of “fiestas”, the tropical fruits, the local cuisine and the popularity of chess here make this a great way to spend what’s left of this year.
For those of you not familiar with this place, Puerto Rico is an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of other small islands. Although it currently has the status of an unincorporated territory of the US, it used to belong to Spain thanks to the man who discovered it, Cristopher Columbus. On August 3 1492, three ships – the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María – were leaving Spain to discover new land in the Indies. Two months later, they were reaching San Salvador, in the Bahamas. Thanks to this success, a year later the Kingdom of Spain financed a second voyage to the New World that led to the discovery of a new island inhabited by the Taíno or Arawak Indians. The newcomers initially called the island San Juan, for Saint John the Baptist and the town Puerto Rico, which literally translates as “rich port”, because of its richness. It wasn’t until later that the two names were switched. Soon enough, the city of Puerto Rico (currently San Juan) became the most important military outpost for Spain in the Caribbean.
Our discovery of the island began with a tour of San Juan, city that hosts important historical sites and brightly colored buildings, out of which many have been included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
A walk on El Paseo de la Princesa, which is a beautiful promenade between green palm trees, took us to The Raices Fountain, a collection of bronze statues that honor Puerto Rico’s mixed African, Spanish and Taino/Amerindian heritage.
We continued our walk on walk on El Paseo de la Princesa up to the San Juan Gate, the official entrance out of the five that existed during the Spanish colonial era. Through it passed dignitaries, documents, money, but also kept invaders out of the city.
Passing through the gate, we entered the heart of the city, where we were greeted by tall, imposing trees and the cheerfully colored houses, typical for this island.
Next on the list was El Castillo San Felipe del Morro, also known by the locals as “El Morro”, one of Puerto Rico’s most enduring symbols that took over 200 years to build. Its purpose was to protect the city from naval attacks.
If you thought iguanas are indigenous, you were wrong! They arrived to Puerto Rico in 1995, after Hurricanes Luis and Marylin, on uprooted trees, all the way from Guadeloupe. They are believed to have spent three weeks at sea before arriving on the island. Since their number grew quickly and they have no natural predators on the island, the Government proposed to be eradicated and sold for meet. However, the one we met will probably have a different fate, as it proved to be a skillful chess player.
The Iguana Attack was short and to the point:
Stay close, we’ll be back soon with more impressions from Puerto Rico!