19 November 2010

19 November - Puerto Rico Discovery Day

The Shining Star of the Caribbean

 Día del Descubrimiento de Puerto Rico!

Today, in 1493, Christopher Columbus (on his second voyage) landed on the smallest of the islands of the Greater Antilles, and named it San Juan Bautista, in honor of Saint John the Baptist.  Sixteen years later, a settlement on the northern coast was named Ciudad de Puerto Rico (City of the Rich Port).  At some point after that, the names were switched around; the island became Puerto Rico and the rich port became San Juan.

Read here about the subsequent history of Puerto Rico. 

If there is any place that knows how to throw a party, it is Puerto Rico!  I lived there for 18 months (not nearly long enough, in my estimation) and it seemed like there was a celebration of some kind every single weekend somewhere on the island!  Whether is was a patron saint's festival, or an upcoming election, or a Public Holiday, or what-have-you, I could go and dance, eat, drink, be merry, and dance some more.  Wikipedia has a list of the Public Holidays - it doesn't include the local celebrations - and you can see what I mean.  Puerto Ricans know how to celebrate!

What to do while there?  Well, if the dancing, eating, drinking, and merry-making have taken a break, go to Phosphorescent Bay in La Parguera, and take an enchanted night-time boat ride.  Surf (or watch the surfers) in Rincon, on the western part of the island.  Hike through El Yunque, the rain forest, and listen to the coquis sing.  Visit Ponce, El Ciudad Senorial, on the south coast.

[And apropos of nothing, when the Widow was stationed at Roosevelt Roads (many moons ago when wifehood, let alone widowhood, was NOT on her radar screen), the only fast food restaurant on the island was in Ponce, about 4 hours away.  It might have been Burger King... I don't know.  What I do remember is that we very quickly learned that when a guy asked you to go out for a hamburger at whatever it was, he was actually trying to get to know you better - ahem - overnight.]

And then there is the capital city, San Juan - which was almost two cities, even when I was there.  On the one hand, there is the Condado - high style shops, high style restaurants, high style clubs... everything the tourist heart could wish for.

On the other hand, there is the old world elegance of Old San Juan.  Yes, you know which side I will go back to one day.

So how to celebrate today?  Start with a nice rum drink like a Coquito (does it make you sing like a Coqui?) and think about dinner.  There are a lot of recipes to choose from.

Among the Widow's many happy memories is a dinner with friends in Fajardo, at a place which is probably long since cleared away to make a dock for gigantic cruise ships, where she dined on fried plantain and turtle steak.  Another delightful memory is of a dinner starting with black beans and rice. Roasted chicken and pan de agua could be found in small mom-and-pop stores; with a bottle of wine, we had an impromptu picnic.  And Lechon Asado seemed to be at every festival.

Instead of writing out a recipe, I'm sending you here to El Boricua, and the recipes of Carmen Santos Curran.  They are easy, and they are good!