The 2014 San Sebastian Street Fiestas Are Underway!

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Yesterday was a great day in Old San Juan.  Despite a little rain a few minutes before commencement, the 2014 edition of the San Sebastian Street Fiestas started right on time about 5:00pm.

Writing a whole new post about the 2014 San Sebastian Street Fiestas (or SanSe 2014, like the younger crowd has come to call them) would be redundant.  So instead I shot this short video that shows the first “comparsa” led by this year’s honoree Mr. Raymond Arrieta.

So give us four minutes of your time and witness the kickoff of “Las Fiestas De La Calle San Sebastián 2014”.

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Enjoy Puerto Rico,

©2014,Orlando Mergal, MA
____________________

Bilingual Content Creator, Blogger, Podcaster,
Author, Photographer and New Media Expert
Tel. 787-750-0000, Mobile 787-306-1590

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click on a link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Meet The Cabezudos… San Sebastian Street Fiestas 2014

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Original cabezudos at San Sebastian Street Fiestas 2006

I shot this image on January 20, 2006 without realizing that I was capturing all the original “cabezudos” except one. From left to right: Don Cholito, El Coquí, La Puerca, Juan Bobo, Maximina La Loca, Toribio, la Jíbara, Diplo, El General and Maso Rivera. Alfonsa Villamonte Vera “La Billetera” died in 2008 and her cabezudo was made later.

The 2014 edition of the San Sebastian Street Fiestas is about to start. Next Thursday, January 16, 2013, mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz will be cutting the traditional ribbon and the 44th edition of the world’s largest event, taking place during the month of January, will commence.

I could write for hours about the San Sebastian Street Fiestas. I could tell you about the artisan fairs, the music at most of the old city’s squares, the artists that line San Sebastian Street, the fact that it all started with a religious event, and even about the SanSe 2014 contraction, that has become so popular among the citizenry, but is totally disfavored by the event organizers. But all of that has been said before and it’s all over the Internet.

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Instead I’m going to write about the faces of the San Sebastian Street Fiestas. After all, every major event in the world has them. At the “San Fermines” it’s all about the bulls. At “la Tomatina” it’s all… well, about throwing tomatoes. At Río it’s all about gorgeous women and costumes. At Mardi Gras it’s all about food and music. And at the San Sebastian Street Fiestas the centerpiece are the Cabezudos.

Carmen Julia Díaz with her favorite “cabezudo” masks: “Maximina La Loca” and “La Billetera”.

Carmen Julia Díaz with her favorite “cabezudo” masks: “Maximina La Loca” and “La Billetera”.

Just go to the “pictures” section in Google and write “Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastian” and you’ll see the Cabezudos in almost every picture. They are —without a doubt— the face of the San Sebastian Street Fiestas.

This morning I spent a couple of hours talking with Mrs. Carmen Julia Díaz, a member of the organizing committee who is in charge of los Cabezudos. And while I’ve been attending the “fiestas” for over 20 years, I have to admit that I learned a lot.

Carmen Julia is a retired math teacher born in the municipality of Fajardo, about 30 miles east of San Juan. She has been a part of the organizing committee for over 17 years and this year she is proud to be in charge of los Cabezudos.

The original San Sebastian Street Fiestas started in 1954 as a fund raising event, created by father Juan Manuel Madrazo. Eventually they went into a hiatus until the mid 1970’s when Rafaela Balladares de Brito, a former teacher, rescued them —once again as a fundraiser— for the “Colegio de Párvulos” (elementary school) located at the eastern end of San Sebastian Street.

Carmen Julia met Balladares at a “Discovery of Puerto Rico” celebration. “She was the guest of honor and our principal chose me to be in charge of the event”, said Carmen Julia. The two women immediately discovered that they had multiple interests in common. They were both teachers, they were both artisans and they were both profoundly in love with Puerto Rico. So they became friends for life.

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“Balladares was the creative mind that gave birth to the Cabezudos”, said Carmen Julia. She was also a stern woman who led the festivities with a watchful eye almost ’til the time of her death in the month of September, 2011. She was 97.

When father Madrazo started the original fiestas there were only two figures in the entire parade. They represented the king and queen of Spain and they were the kind that you see in Spain; effigies at the end of a long pole.

But Balladares wanted something truly Puerto Rican, so she came up with the idea of creating large masks resembling popular figures from Old San Juan. Hence the word “cabezudos” (people with big heads).

The first cabezudo was “el general” (the general). “El general” was an actual “sanjuanero” (Old San Juan resident) who used to dress up in military clothing, medals and all, and directed traffic at one of the city’s intersections.

Then came “Diplo” and “Toribio”. Diplo’s full name was Ramón Rivero. He was a comedian, actor, composer and a pioneer in Puerto Rico’s radio, television and cinema industries.

My wife insisted and I posed.

My wife insisted and I posed.

Toribio’s full name was Patricio Rijos Morales. He was a humble black man that never learned to read or write. But he had one special talent. He was called “el rey del güícharo”. A “güícharo” (pronounced gweecharo) is the Puerto Rican name for a guiro, which is a Latin-American percussion instrument consisting of an open-ended, hollow gourd with parallel notches cut in one side. It is played by rubbing a stick or tines along the notches to produce a ratchet-like sound. And Toribio was truly the best player that Puerto Rico has ever had.

Pretty soon Balladares realized that she would run out of popular San Juan residents so she widened her scope to include figures from all walks of Puerto Rican folklore.

The first cabezudo in this second tier was “Maximina La Loca”, a lady from the neighboring town of Loíza who loved to dance and wore dozens of small bowties in her hair. In case you’re wondering, “Maximina La Loca” means Maximina the crazy one.

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Then she looked at Puerto Rican literature and created the cabezudos for “Juan Bobo”, “La Puerca” and “La Jíbara”. “Juan Bobo” is the most beloved folkloric character on the island of Puerto Rico. (learn more on Wikipedia). “La Puerca” was actually a character in one of the “Juan Bobo” books and “La Jíbara” represents the rural woman of the 19th century.

After that Balladares looked at Puerto Rican nature. And what could be more Puerto Rican than the “Eleutherodactylus Portorricense” or “coquí”, small little frog that is native to Puerto Rico and produces a peculiar sound that resembles its name. You can listen to an actual “coquí” on the player below.

Coquí

The last three cabezudos were “Don Cholito”, Maso Rivera” and “La Billetera”. “Don Cholito’s” real name was José Miguel Agrelot and he was one of the greatest and most beloved comedians in Puerto Rican history.

Maso Rivera’s full name was Tomás Rivera Morales. He was a Puerto Rican musician (cuatro player) and a major exponent of Puerto Rico’s Jibaro (folkloric) music. Rivera composed over 1,000 instrumental compositions for the Cuatro, Puerto Rico’s national instrument.

La Billetera

La Billetera

Finally, “la billetera” was Alfonsa Villamonte Vera, a resident of Old San Juan who sold lottery tickets at one of the city’s street corners. After her death, her relatives approached the organizing committee to ask if they would create a cabezudo in here memory.

So what are the cabezudos? They’re actually children —for the most part— who lead a comparsa, several times a day, dancing down San Sebastian Street from one end to the other. Behind them you’ll see thousands of party-loving Puerto Ricans who sing and dance to the tunes of a group of “pleneros”.

Plena is one of three music styles that originated in Puerto Rico. The other two are Bomba and Danza. Bomba and Plena are folkloric in nature, whereas danza is of a formal nature.

Pleneros

Pleneros

Plena is played on a series of hand drums called “pleneras” and often includes trombones and trumpets.

The word “comparsa” comes from Cuba and it refers to a group of percussionists —usually playing congas— accompanied by brass instruments and singers that perform at carnivals.

Actually, the organizing committee in charge of the San Sebastian Street Fiestas doesn’t refer to the comparsa as “the comparsa”. They call it a desfile (parade). But the people —without a doubt— refer to it as “la comparsa”.

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Finally, the cabezudos are the lifeblood of the San Sebastian Street Fiestas. Without them we’d be left with a large group of artisans and thousands of people drinking beer. They are truly the life of the party.

Enjoy Puerto Rico,

©2014,Orlando Mergal, MA
____________________

Bilingual Content Creator, Blogger, Podcaster,
Author, Photographer and New Media Expert
Tel. 787-750-0000, Mobile 787-306-1590

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click on a link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Do You Need A Dedicated GPS Unit To Visit Puerto Rico?

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Dedicated GPS units are quickly going the way of the dodo bird.

Dedicated GPS units are quickly going the way of the dodo bird.

The other day I received an email from one of our readers asking which was the best GPS unit to visit Puerto Rico. Although most mayor brand GPS units include Puerto Rico in the US maps, I guess the real question should have been: do you actually need a dedicated unit at all?

With the emergence of smartphones during the last five years dedicated GPS units are going the way of the dodo fast. And I know this for a fact because my son worked several years at a mayor big box retailer and he was a witness to this phenomenon.

Many people look at their Androids or iPhones and they just see a phone. But these units are so much more than that. They’re actually pocket-sized computers that happen to make phone calls.

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Since the announcement of the first iPhone on January 10, 2007 many product categories that were once very profitable have all but disappeared from the marketplace. Case in point pocket calculators, digital point-and-shoot cameras and dedicated GPS units.

Why? Because a simple app, which in many cases is even free, can do the same job or even better.

But let’s suppose that for some reason you still would like to have a separate GPS unit for your car. Well, I did some investigating and found the best deal for you.

Garmin nüvi 52LM

The Garmin nüvi 52LM has all the bells and whistles that you’ll ever want in a GPS unit and it comes in at around $120 street price. It comes preloaded with City Navigator® NT, which includes data with street maps of the lower 48 states, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Barthelme and Jamaica.

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It also includes Lifetime maps (which is indicated by “LM” after model number on the box).

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And finally, the Garmin nüvi 52LM comes equipped with a vehicle suction cup mount, a lighter socket power cable, a USB cable to connect the unit to your computer and the Quick Start Manual.

If you want you can order the Garmin nüvi 52LM straight from Amazon right now by clicking on the image on your right.

Now, if you own a smartphone there are two excellent choices that you can use for free.

Google Maps for iPhone

Google Maps for iPhone

Google Maps

The first and original smartphone App was Google Maps and it’s available for most smartphone platforms including Apple and Android. It offers:

• Comprehensive, accurate maps for 200 countries
• Voice-guided GPS navigation for driving, biking, and walking
• Transit directions and maps for over 800 cities
• Live traffic and incident reports
• Detailed information on more than 100 million places
• Street View and indoor imagery for restaurants, museums, and more

Google Maps is what we use on Puerto Rico by GPS and it works like a charm.

Apple Maps on iPhone

Apple Maps on iPhone

Apple Maps

The other popular app is Apple Maps, and like the name clearly specifies it only works with Apple products like the iPhone, iPod and iPad. It offers:

• Turn-by-turn spoken directions
• Interactive 3D views
• Flyover, which lets you select major metro areas from the air with photo-realistic, interactive 3D views.
• Vector-based interface that scales and zooms with ease.
• Real-time traffic information to calculate your ETA
• Siri integration

This app originally got a bad rap because it stranded a group of tourists in the Australian Outback and led another across an airport landing strip in Alaska. But Apple has put a lot of hard work and resources into Apple Maps and the latest reviews have been great.

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One additional benefit that smartphones offer over dedicated GPS units is that they can double as portable GPS units for walking and hiking. For example, the maps on Puerto Rico By GPS ask you if you are driving, cycling or walking. Why? Because they always show you the shortest route. However, the shortest route on foot could go against traffic if you were driving or cycling.

Puerto Rico By GPS

And finally you have Puerto Rico By GPS. Our site is based on Google’s popular Google Map service. But we take things a step further. Puerto Rico By GPS has hundreds of photos, detailed information, audio, video and the Google Map service. And we add new destinations constantly.

All this is based on my 50+ years of local knowledge. Why? Because I live on the Island and I know it inside out. And my commitment is to always steer you in the right direction.

Oh, and one last thing. Many rental car companies rent GPS units separately when you pick up your car. But with the steep charges you’ll soon discover that you’ll be better off buying your own.

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So there you have it. You can buy, rent or just use your smartphone. And no matter what you decide, be sure to use Puerto Rico By GPS as well.

Enjoy your stay in sunny Puerto Rico.

©2014,Orlando Mergal, MA
____________________

Bilingual Content Creator, Blogger, Podcaster,
Author, Photographer and New Media Expert
Tel. 787-750-0000, Mobile 787-306-1590

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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click on a link and purchase an item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services that I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”