The aftermath of Spain losing the Spanish-American war meant the acquisition of most of its remaining colonies by the United States which included the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, with Cuba becoming a protectorate. More than a century later, Cuba is now independent after being used as a pawn in the Cold War. The Philippines is now being "run like hell by Filipinos rather than heaven by the Americans." Congrats, Manuel Quezon, you got your wish. On the other hand, Guam and Puerto Rico are still US territories.
I guess the shared history is just one of the many things we have in common with Puerto Rico. The very humid tropical climate is another point pf comparison, the only difference being the ocean of choice; them the Atlantic, us the Pacific. American influence also remains strong, with most of the fast food choices limited to the likes of Wendy’s, McDonalds, and KFC. The beach life is also popular here, which is just natural given its enviable position at the Caribbean.
But being part of the US Commonwealth does not mean that all Boricuas are in support of Uncle Sam, although independence referendum results tend to show a huge divide among varying opinions. Puerto Ricans don’t appear to have a clear united choice on what they want their island nation to be, which is why they can’t seem to move on from the status quo. They are not independent. They are not a US state either. In any case, politics is such a complicated issue, so let’s move on to sightseeing, shall we?
You can take the T5 to and from the airport IF your arrival time falls before 8 PM. Since my Copa flight from Panama landed close to midnight, that meant I had to find other options. Uber has just been launched in Puerto Rico, with staunch opposition from taxi drivers from hell, as expected. Because of this, you CAN’T take an Uber FROM the airport, because they don’t allow them to get in. That fucking sucks. I had to take a cab which cost me USD20 for a less than 15-minute ride. Fuck taxis, seriously. Fuck them.
The Airbnb place I got was strategically located right across Walgreens, which is open 24/7. McDonalds was two cartwheels away, while the beach was just within two to three blocks. I didn’t come here to enjoy the beach, though. The main goal was to see the old city, which will become redundant in a week or so because these ex-Spanish colonies seem to have that in common, and they also have the propensity to look really, really similar. But whatevs, Viejo San Juan just shouldn’t be missed.
You also take the T5 to get there, which will cost you no more than USD0.75 (~PHP35) for a half an hour trip. It does not come around frequently, with intervals limited to half an hour. And so I decided to have lunch at KFC first, before hopping on the first T5 that came my way. Viejo San Juan right by the quay is the very last stop, so you don’t really need to worry about getting lost. From there, every site you want to visit will be within walking distance. Bring an umbrella and lots of sunscreen, unless you want to burn.
Viejo San Juan has the typical colonial architecture, but its location next to the water adds a little something extra. Once you reach San Felipe del Morro Castle, you’ll be treated to a consistent sea breeze strong enough to counter the heat. On the hill is a huge field full of tourists and locals alike, some having a picnic with their family, some flying kites. It was the highlight of my trip not because it was my only destination, but rather thanks to the temporary refuge from the heat. And yeah, the views were stunning too!
The citadel is on the edge of the cliff, but its walls extend on the adjacent side, enclosing a cemetery by the beach. The scene automatically gave me flashbacks of Rabat. Dead and Still Sunbathing: Caribbean Edition! I think there’s a USD5 (~PHP240) fee to enter the citadel. Most people just laze around, though, climbing the walls, lying on the grass, chasing their kids at the field. Of course the place is camwhore heaven, so you can also max out your phone memory by taking lots of photos.
The walk back to the center is not devoid of awesome views either. If you choose to walk by the beach, then you will see more sections of the wall. If you venture inland, then the pastel colored colonial houses are waiting for you. You can also chill at one of the many plazas, although I don’t really recommend this because you’ll end up being toasted by the very angry sun. Restos and bars are also littered around the area. Make sure you find one with air-con so you can temporarily escape from all the heat and humidity.
[SAN JUAN] Viejo San Juan