This week we went to San German to do an “estudio” at the beautiful and modern Hospital de la Concepción. Everything went quickly and well so we had time to explore the downtown area a little more after.
As we wandered the streets on a Tuesday afternoon we wondered where everyone was! It felt like a ghost town! Downtown San German has a very old, very colonial feel to it especially with its cobblestone and brick roads and ancient buildings.
The one that caught my eye the most as we mosied around I found out was Porta Coeli an old church-turned-museum that was built in 1606. Unfortunately the museum wasn’t open on that Tuesday, but we took photos from the outside.
We walked around a bit and took pictures of other buildings and the currently used church which is beautiful as well, but definitely didn’t have the kind of eerie cool feeling that Porta Coeli had in its draw to me.
It was an interesting little walk around the town even if it did have a spooky feel to it. If you’ve ever visited New Orleans, you know what I mean. There is a deep and dark history that puts a sort of shadowy filter over everything it touches. There were virtually no shops open except one. And I smelled it before I saw it. Incense! We walked into the bright little shop and talked with the friendly young clerk. There was a lot of incienso, crystals and religious articles like candles with saints on them. In the glass cases, however, there were other pendants with symbols of things I didn’t recognize though I have seen them on chains worn by many people here. I asked the clerk a lot of questions about what they symbolized and most of them were to bring luck or protection. There was la mano de azabache which is supposed to help ward off the Evil Eye, various warrior Indian heads which were to bring protection, blessed dice and figurines of people who I thought were saints but I learned were Orishas like Chango Macho and Yemaya.
I asked what type of shop this was called and he said it is a “Botánica” and it was actually rather busy considering there was virtually no one anywhere else in town. From time to time as I looked and asked questions about various articles he would duck behind the counter and fill paper bags with some unknown things and bring them to cars waiting in the street. Other people came in and bought the saint velones (candles) and asked for things in hushed voices. I definitely felt like they knew something more than I did about all of these mystical things! I am realizing there are layers and then there are layers to this Puerto Rican world that are still somewhat mysterious as I try to unravel them in our travels around the island.