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Puerto Rico "Kite Boarding Heaven" (continued)

  by Arline Inge

History plays a major part in San Juan’s allure.

A flourishing cultural and art scene awaits with almost 50 museums large and small, a record number for a city this size and especially handy for that occasional rainy day. One, for instance, traces the career of the renowned 20th century cellist Pablo Casals who settled in Puerto Rico in his later years; another is the home built for Ponce de Leon in the 1520s. And don’t pass up the exquisite Museum of Art, set in a manicured sculpture park. On the ground floor is a trend setting restaurant, one of many that have been popped up in the past few years.

Back in the 1980s, a TV cooking star, the Julia Child of Puerto Rico, was advising her TV viewers in search of a gourmet meal, to skip the local cuisine and reserve a table at a Cuban restaurant. But it’s not just fried plantains and beans and rice here anymore. The culinary scene has gone cutting edge international. And yes, there is still no shortage of good old-fashioned Puerto Rican comfort food at humbler eateries still scattered throughout the city.

As for where to stay in multi-faceted San Juan, both the business hub of the Caribbean and a vacation treasure, there’s the elegant Condado district with a row of high rise hotels with fine dining and in-house Vegas-style casinos. For history lovers, in Old San Juan there’s the well preserved luxurious 350-year-old El Convento hotel―its former life is spelled out in its name. It’s just across the street from the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista, second oldest cathedral in the Americas and home to the tomb of Ponce de Leon. And there’s a wide range of good places to stay both in the city and along the nearby beach fronts.

Strange as it seems, two of Puerto Rico’s lesser known attractions are the most dramatic. An easy one day drive from San Juan (or take a tour), lie the island’s million-year-old, mysterious Camuy Caves. Only a small fraction of them has been explored. A vast network of underground rivers is still at work cutting away at the earth’s crust.

During your cautious watch-your-step trek along an unforgiving narrow path of slippery stones in a seemingly endless journey through this barely lit cavern, your leader, pointing to gigantic stalagmites clinging to the craggy walls and ceiling, will astound you with the fact that a sevenstory building could fit into this chamber. And you’ll get a look at the rushing underground river that formed it. Luckily for the squeamish, you can hardly make out the big bat colony clinging to the walls above, asleep in the gloom of the cave.

Then it’s on to a fantastic sight in the hills, the Arecibo radio telescope, attracting astronomers and other scientists worldwide. Unlike telescopes that explore the universe through photography, this one records sounds from outer space to be later coordinated with the results from conventional telescopes. And it’s the only one of its kind. As the guide drones on with technical information, which the layman can barely understand, you look down from the viewing platform in a small mountain valley, spellbound at the sight of a round silvery “dish,” or reflecting surface, some 1,000 feet in diameter, set in a shallow depression. That’s the largest curved focusing dish in the world. Then you crane your neck to see the nine-ton platform containing the telescope, suspended from sturdy concrete towers high above the dish. And you try to imagine what wondrous sounds from outer space this unique radio telescope is listening to now. Mesmerizing! And you’ll never forget it! Just as you’ll always remember Puerto Rico, once you’ve been.

Puerto Rico, the 51st State?

The political status of Puerto Rico is a puzzle to most of us. A U.S. Protectorate, like American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico enjoys a vast number of U.S. services, including the U.S.Postal Service, Social Security and permission to join the military. And Puerto Ricans don’t pay Federal income tax.

Though the residents are American citizens, they have no voting representatives in Congress and they cannot vote for U.S. President.

In the most recent referendum on becoming the 51st U.S. state, a little more than half the voters chose to remain independent.


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