Monday, November 26, 2007

Puerto Rico: The Coastal Road to Loíza, 1984

From San Juan there is a coastal road that goes east and eventually winds up at the town of Loíza, which is known for its Afro-Puerto Rican traditions. One of the best known of these is the feast of Santiago Apóstol (St. James the Apostle), that takes place at the end of July. There are various religious practices that take place during this feast, such as prayers and a parade that features masks and costumes called vejigantes and the performance of an African-inspired dance and music tradition called the bomba.

Back in 1984, when I first visited Loíza, the road from San Juan was a narrow lane of asphalt that ended at the river with a hand-pulled ferry. The ropes extended across the Loíza River and the workers pulled furiously at them to move the metal ferryboat across the river. Since that time the road from San Juan to Loíza has been widened to two well-marked lanes and the metal ferryboat, known as an ancón, has been retired and replaced by a bridge.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Colombia: Irotama Hotel near Santa Marta, 1998

In 1998 we took a vacation to Santa Marta, which is a Caribbean destination on the north coast of Colombia. Though Santa Marta was founded in 1525, earlier than nearby Cartagena (1533), it doesn't have the colonial character of Cartagena but has other attractions, particularly its coast, which is influenced by nearby mountains. To the east of Santa Marta is Parque Tayrona, one of Colombia's national parks, which has areas of natural and archaeological interest.

The main beach area is south and west of Santa Marta proper, in an area called El Rodadero, which has most of the tourist-oriented amenities and hotels. Further west and removed from the El Rodadero area is the Hotel Irotama. It faces a nice beach and also has this beautiful swimming pool.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Mexico: On the heels of the Pope in Puebla, 1979

I had just arrived in Mexico City in mid-January 1979, the first time I had left the United States. I had studied Spanish for 5-1/2 years total but could barely speak it. The International Department at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City offered a series of day trips for us foreign students during the semester, and the first one that I recall was to Puebla. Shortly before, I had heard a radio broadcast in Spanish of Pope John Paul II's arrival in Mexico City and all I recall understanding were the words "The Pope" in Spanish: "El Papa....El Papa....El Papa...." and so on.

The school's trip took place roughly around the same time as the Pope's visit. I was taking in everything I saw. The signs for the toll road from Mexico City to Puebla had the words "Cuota" (meaning toll) on them. The road passed close to the twin volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl, which were about midway between Mexico City and Puebla. By the time we got to the downtown of Puebla, we noticed that it resembled a typical Mexican town much more than the bustling capital did.

My mind is foggy regarding the sequence of events, but among them were visiting Puebla's cathedral (pictured on the right) and its magnificent golden interior, eating at an outdoor cafe, observing the activity in the public square, walking down a few side streets, and seeing a blind man who was by the street playing guitar and hoping to get some coins from the bystanders.

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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Bermuda: An "Unscheduled Stop," 2006

In September 2006 I was on my way to Trinidad, with the first leg of the trip being an American Airlines flight from Philadelphia to San Juan. We were an hour into the flight, roughly at 10 AM, when the pilot announced that the plane had a problem with its electrical system and that we would have to make an emergency landing on Bermuda.

We sat on the runway for two hours while the mechanics tried to fix the electrical problem. We knew little of what was going on, and as it turned out, one of the passengers and one of the flight attendants got into an argument and a woman from the Bermuda ground crew had to board the plane to calm things down.

Shortly afterwards, we were let out of the plane to occupy two waiting rooms in the Bermuda airport. We were given sandwiches and sodas to calm our hunger. In the meantime the flight crew was flown out of Bermuda, roughly at 1:30 PM, and the rest of us waited for a new plane and a new flight crew to arrive.

When the last flight left Bermuda at 3:00 PM, we were allowed to occupy the second floor as well, and the snack bars and shops were left open. We couldn't leave the airport to enjoy Bermuda, but we were given meal vouchers, were able to access the Internet if we wanted to pay for that service, and of course shopped. We had to content ourselves with looking out the window to get a sense of Bermuda's beauty.

Finally, at about 7:30 PM, the flight arrived to take us to San Juan and make the necessary changes in our flight itineraries. (We were made to go through customs in San Juan because we left US territory in our brief stay in Bermuda's airport.) As we left Bermuda, the Bermudian airport employees, in their British-sounding accents, said that they would remember this "diversion."

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