Christmas In Puerto Rico

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Harvey Deegan Interview Click here to listen to the interview!

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Instead of a snowman you can make a sandman in 80° weather.

Today I had a unique experience. I spoke about Puerto Rican Christmas traditions to an audience that’s mostly on the other side of the planet. That’s right, this morning I had the rare opportunity to speak with Harvey Deegan, a radio personality with Radio 6PR in Perth, Western Australia.

This is the second time that I’ve been invited to speak to an Australian audience. The first time I spoke for close to an hour with Steve Collins, who produces a show called “Radio Roaming”. Click here if you would like to read the post and listen to that interview.

For many years I thought that the Puerto Rican Christmas season was the longest in the world, but Wikipedia proved me wrong. It’s actually the Philippines who holds that distinction. But who cares? I like our Christmas better. I guess you could say that I’m biased.

Like many other things in Puerto Rico Christmas brings together a variety of cultures and traditions. The Island was originally inhabited by the Taíno indians who had a predominantly vegetarian diet.

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With the Spaniards and the Africans came potatoes, plantains, olives, wheat, coconuts, sugar cane, pork, beef, chicken and a variety of spices like pepper, oregano and parsley.

And what about the American diet? That too has been greatly influential on the Puerto Rican diet but not so much when it comes to Christmas food. That’s mainly a mixture of Taíno, Spaniard and African influences.

roasted pork

Roasted Pork

Take for example the typical Christmas dinner. You can expect a big piece of roasted pork, rice with pigeon peas, blood sausage, pickled green bananas and “pasteles” (all on the same plate).

pasteles

Pasteles

“Pasteles” are made of “masa” and meat filling. “Masa” is made of grated “yautías” (a type of root that we inherited from the Taínos), green bananas, some green plantain (both of which we inherited from Africa) and pumpkin (which we inherited from Spain). Some people add a little bit of milk to make it smoother. The meat filling is made of stewed pork meat (also inherited from Spain). Finally, they are wrapped in banana leaves and boiled to perfection.

For dessert you can have some “arroz con dulce” (rice pudding), “tembleque” (a type of coconut pudding that has a consistency similar to jello) or “majarete” (a thick cream made of rice flour and coconut).

Arroz con dulce (Rice Pudding)

Arroz con dulce (Rice Pudding)

And to wash it all down you can simply have water, a regular soda or better yet some “coquito” (a thick white beverage made of coconut milk, cinnamon and rum). Most of the time your “coquito” will be made with one of the many legal rums that are produced on the Island, but if you’re really lucky it will be made with “pitorro” the illegal variety that always seems to surface during the Christmas season.

coquito

Coquito

So how long is Christmas in Puerto Rico? Well, it’s basically two months long. It all kicks off on Thanksgiving Day and ends with the San Sebastian Street Fiestas on the third weekend of January.

Thanksgiving Day is a wonderful tradition that Puerto Ricans inherited from the United States when they invaded the Island in 1898. Of course, islanders have “puertoricanized” the bird quite a bit. They season it with salt, pepper and oregano, and many stuff it with “mofongo” (mashed plantains with garlic and “chicharrón” (roasted hog’s lard)). Yum!

The period between Thanksgiving Day and “Nochebuena” (Christmas Eve) is when Puerto Ricans tend to show how “Americanized” they really are. One such American tradition that has really caught on in Puerto Rico is Black Friday, in which people stand in line for hours to be among the first to enter the department store of their choice at midnight. Personally I find that this practice is irrational and it exemplifies one of the ugliest sides of capitalism.

santa-clausDecember is all about Santa. The jolly old guy really takes over the stores and many people fall prey to the Christmas craze. Plastic runs wild during this period and you can expect crowded stores, long lines and very few parking spaces.

But all this craze is on the commercial front. On the “people” front it’s a totally different story. Puerto Ricans love to party and Christmas is when they do it the most.

One tradition that refuses to die is “parrandas” in which a group of friends (many of which are musicians) gets together to visit other friends and family all through the night and wake them to the tune of Puerto Rican Christmas music. Personally, I play the guitar, and I used to participate in “parrandas” quite a lot when I was a young man. But the proliferation of gated communities in the San Juan Metroplex has taken its toll on “parrandas” (there’s no longer the element of surprise) and today they mainly take place in the smaller inner island towns.

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Even so, Christmas is a time when friends and family get together to eat Christmas food, drink (sometimes more than they should), listen to music and enjoy the company of good people.

New Years EveAfter Christmas day the next big event is New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. There’s nothing very different here except one thing: some people find it amusing to shoot their weapons into the sky and —as you might imagine— this has led to random injuries in the past.

Normally other tourism blogs might not mention this sort of thing because they fear it might scare tourists away. But remember, in Puerto Rico By GPS we tell it like it is. I should also say that the Island’s government has taken a firm stance against this practice and in recent years it has been a lot less prevalent.

Even so, in Puerto Rico most houses are made of concrete and I have always insisted that every member of my family spend the last half hour of the year and the first half hour of the coming year under a concrete roof.

The Three Wise Men

The Three Wise Men

The first six days of January lead to the celebration of “El Día De Los Tres Reyes Magos” (the three wise men day). Puerto Rico inherited this tradition from Spain and it has been an official holiday since 1885. It has its origins in the Old Testament and the story of the group of distinguished foreigners who visited Jesus after his birth, bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

This tradition is also an official holiday in Spain and in other Latin American countries like Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Uruguay, Colombia and Venezuela.

By this time of year most Americans will be back at work trying to get rid of those extra pounds that they gained during the Christmas season. Many Puerto Ricans will also be trying to lose weight but there will still be plenty of partying going on.

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San Sebastian Street Fiestas. Click on image to see it larger.

After January 6th Christmas is officially over in Puerto Rico but many Islanders squeeze in eight more days that they call “las octavitas”. Like many other Christmas traditions on the Island “las octavitas” have their roots in Catholic faith but today they’ve simply evolved into one more reason to party.

And then there’s “Las Fiestas De La Calle San Sebastian”. This four day event brings together thousands and thousands of people on a one-lane street in Old San Juan. “Las Fiestas De La Calle San Sebastian” were started by father Juan Manuel Madrazo and Mrs. Rafaela Balladares as a fundraiser for the “Colegio de Párvulos”, a small school on the western end of San Sebastian Street.

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Later on it grew into what it is today: an artisan fair with food, lots of alcoholic beverages, music and so many people that it’s even hard to walk. You simply move with the masses. It has become the largest outdoor event in the world taking place during the month of January.

So there you have it. It all starts with an innocent turkey and it grows and grows into one of the largest parties in the world. And all this with an average temperature of 80° Farenheit. Isn’t it great!

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So if you’re looking for a place to have some fun in the sun this Christmas, instead of enduring those nasty cold fronts that the weatherman is forecasting, come over to sunny Puerto Rico.

Merry Christmas,

©2014,Orlando Mergal, MA
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Bilingual Content Creator, Blogger, Podcaster,
Author, Photographer and New Media Expert
Tel. 787-750-0000, Mobile 787-306-1590

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Puerto Rico By GPS Reaches Australia

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Yesterday I had the unique pleasure of speaking with Mr. Steve Collins, the host of “Radio Roaming”, a 24/7 travel talk show from Australia.  Steve is a seasoned radio professional that promotes travel to western Australia, but when he stumbled onto Puerto Rico By GPS he was intrigued by our Island’s beauty.

The edited version of the interview is 35 minutes long and we talked about a variety of subjects pertaining Puerto Rico as a tourist destination.  But, most importantly, I had the opportunity to reach a public that normally doesn’t hear a lot about Puerto Rico or the Caribbean in general.

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So I would like to thank Steve for a great interview and for allowing us this great opportunity to reach his listeners.

Steve Collins Interview

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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“Puerto Rico For Beach Bums” hits the “virtual bookstands”

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Puerto Rico For Beach Bums

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During the past several months I’ve been a busy beaver.  I’ve been writing my third book for the Amazon Kindle titled: “Puerto Rico For Beach Bums”.  And, as you might imagine, it has to do with the fact that Puerto Rico has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

In a few weeks it will be high season.  That means that thousands of tourists, from all over the world, will arrive in Puerto Rico eager to enjoy our wonderful Caribbean climate.

In the mainland they call them snowbirds.  These are the people that live in the northern states and Canada and migrate south (like the birds) during the winter months.  Hence the term “snowbirds”.

Many have vacation properties in Florida, but after a while the amusement parks and gated communities tend to get old.  The more adventurous ones go to the Caribbean where there’s a myriad of things to do and a great climate all year ’round.  And there’s no better place to go than sunny Puerto Rico.

Luquillo Beach

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Puerto Rico has everything!  First of all it’s a U.S. territory.  That means no passports, no visas, no currency exchange, no language barrier and all the protection provided by the U.S. Constitution.

Then there’s the weather.  Average temperatures in Puerto Rico are usually around 80°F.  That’s summer weather all year long.  And where better to enjoy that great summer climate than at the beach?

I could tell you about Old San Juan with its famous Spanish forts, the rum distillery, the Rainforest, the Arecibo Radio telescope, the Camuy River Caverns, the longest zipline in the world and many, many more places.  But if you’re a “beach bum” you’ll only care about one thing: “the beaches”.

Balneario Pico de Piedra

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According to the Cambridge British Dictionary a “beach bum” is someone who spends most of his or her time having a good time at the beach.  Sounds like fun, right?

The Macmillan, Oxford, Collins and Merriam-Webster dictionaries all define this type of person in a similar fashion, basically: “someone who loves to relax on the beach and enjoy life”.  If that sounds like you, then you’re in for a treat, because “Puerto Rico For Beach Bums” is just the book for you.

I wrote this book only for the Amazon Kindle because I wanted it to be within the reach of the largest possible group of people.  At first glance it would seem that a traditional book would have been easier to distribute.  But that’s not true.  It would have been more expensive and harder to place in all the right stores.

Domes Beach

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By putting it in the Kindle store it became instantly available to anyone toting a smartphone (Apple, Android or any other brand), a tablet or a genuine Kindle.  Plus you can even read it on Windows and Macintosh computers.  Why?  Because Amazon makes applications for all those platforms.  And believe me, that’s a lot of devices.

Then there’s the price.  There’s no way I could have printed a book with 22 color photos and sold it for $2.99 a copy.  Believe me.  I know.  I’ve been doing this for 20+ years.  That’s the beauty of electronic publishing.

Mar Chiquita

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Puerto Rico For Beach Bums” starts in San Juan and goes on an imaginary journey around the Island in a clockwise fashion.  Why?  Because San Juan is where most tourists arrive and stay.  If you’re staying somewhere else feel free to start at the closest point to where you’ll be staying.

There are 22 color photos in the book; one for every beach and one of “mua”.  And here’s something you’ll probably like.  Each beach has its own GPS coordinates right below its photo.

Did you know that the same smartphone that you’re probably carrying in your pocket can also double as a portable GPS unit?  That’s right!  Just copy the GPS coordinates from “Puerto Rico For Beach Bums”, punch them into your favorite map application and you’ll arrive at each beach on a dime!

Playa Sucia

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And then there’s the descriptions.  I actually took a dip in each beach.  That way I could write about them with the authority that only experience can provide.

And which beaches did I cover?  Well, I went to the same beaches that most Puerto Ricans love and recommend.  And believe me, they’re here all year round and they know their beaches.

Here’s the list:

  1. Balneario El Escambrón
  2. La Playita Del Condado
  3. Condado Beach
  4. Balneario de Carolina
  5. Balneario La Monserrate
  6. Seven Seas
  7. Playa del Tamarindo
  8. Playa Sucia
  9. Combate Beach
  10. Boquerón Beach
  11. Buyé Beach
  12. Domes Beach
  13. Balneario Pico de Piedra
  14. Crash Boat
  15. Playa Jobos
  16. Mar Chiquita
  17. Los Tubos
  18. Puerto Nuevo
  19. Cerro Gordo
  20. Sardinera Beach
  21. Punta Salinas

You’ll notice that the beaches in Culebras, Vieques and Caja de Muerto (the smaller islands to our east and south) were not included in the book.  That was not an omission.  In fact, they are mentioned at the end but they weren’t covered.  Why?  Because reaching these islands can be quite challenging.  The ferry service is pathetic, vehicle rental prices are onerous and the average tourist just doesn’t have the time or inclination to put up with mediocrity.

Cerro Gordo Beach

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That being said, the beaches at Culebra, Vieques and Caja De Muerto are among the best in the world!  There’s no doubt about that.  It’s just the getting there that’s a pain.  Maybe I’ll add them in a future edition if conditions improve.

If you own any of the devices mentioned above, and you’re coming to the Island in a near future, you can order your copy of “Puerto Rico For Beach Bums” by clicking on the book title anywhere in this article.

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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