Category Archives: politics

Dominican Yolas


Posted by Cassie

An interesting part of living in Puerto Rico is that we are front and center of Caribbean geopolitics. A recent case in point was when we came upon a yola near Sandy Beach in Rincón. A yola is a small boat usually from the Dominican Republic that is used primarily to transport fleeing people who immigrate (illegally) to Puerto Rico and then potentially to the mainland US. Sometimes they are Haitians who have fled to DR and then from DR they come to PR. It is sort of a follow-the-money game where people leave the poorer country for the richer; much as many Puerto Ricans are leaving the island to the US proper for better job opportunities.

IMG_1032
With a yola on the beach

These are fairly common sights, but this was the first time I saw one recently vacated. There was still clothing strewn about and the remnants of a small fire, probably the people who were waiting for them to arrive. They paint the boat blue and throw a blue tarp over top in order to blend in with the ocean and not be spotted. Sometimes people come over without any plan at all and just run through the jungle looking for water to drink and clothing to wear.

puerto-rico, Dominican Republic
Eastern DR to West PR is less than 100 miles, but through pretty rough seas

I can only imagine the feeling of desperation there must be for someone to make the decision to leave everything they know and take a treacherous 2-3 day journey on a boat like this with nothing certain awaiting them! It reminded me of when we saw the stranded people out on Desecheo that didn’t quite make it to Rincón.

Yola cut
The motor was removed shortly after arriving and the side of the boat was cut (by police presumably) so that it would be harder to re-use

This was a successful journey for these Dominicans. It’s not always the case that all of them end up alive at the end of the trip.

Puerto Ricans call the whole country of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo, not just the capital. And in terms of relations of Puerto Ricans with people from Santo Domingo, there is a tolerance, but also a sort of feeling of superiority due to the citizenship status and also wealth. While Puerto Rico is not rich by US standards, in comparison to a poor undocumented yola newcomer, any Boricua has it far better by most measures.

Here is a short video about the yola that washed up on shore.

 

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¡Caravana, Caravana! Politics and Caravans in Puerto Rico


Posted by Cassie

Just as in the states, it is currently political season here in Puerto Rico. The politics of Puerto Rico is a bit different than in the states, but in one way it is very similar: it is nuts!

caravana-political
Caravanas clogging the roads

Just as a quick primer on Puerto Rico politics, here’s a few things to know.

There are two main parties: 1) Populares (also known as PPD- Partido Popular Democrático) and 2) PNP (Partido Nuevo Progresista) which they pronounce in passing in Spanish as Pay-Nay-Pay. The distant 3rd party is PIP (Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño).

Popular is Red. Popular is symbolized by ”la pava” which is the old jíbaro hat.

ppd-logo1
PPD: Pan, Tierra, Libertad = Bread (food), Land and Liberty

PNP is Blue. Symbolized by “la palma” the palm tree.

ppd
PNP: Estadidad, Seguridad, Progreso =Statehood, Security and Progress

PIP Independents are green. The main platform is to become independent from the United States.

prpip

But basically it is a 2 party system. The main platform for all the parties is identity in relation to the US. They are trying to answer the question of whether or not to stay a commonwealth of the US or become a state (or in the case of PIP to become an independent country). The red populares favor commonwealth status quo and the blue PNPs want statehood. PNPs are aligned somewhat with the Republican party at the national level though overall Puerto Ricans in general are politically liberal. The PNP governor candidate (of the party aligned with the Republicans) in fact is a liberal Democrat at the national level.

So while Puerto Ricans who are all US citizens (including us transplants) have all been disenfranchised and cannot vote for president of the United States, politics is still serious business here and everyone has an opinion on the state of things. Puerto Ricans also love to party. So what better way to connect the pastimes of complaining about politics and hanging out than having huge rallies and caravans!? We’ve passed by a few rallies and they are interesting. There’s often free food like lechón, live music and the candidate making long-winded speeches promising the world.

rally-jpg
At a political rally in Rincon. Live music, fun…and politics?

But it really is the caravanas that you will not forget if you happen to visit Puerto Rico during a major election year such as this one. They are basically long loud parades with huge speakertrucks, buses full of people waving flags, people walking and yelling, fireworks, long lines of cars honking and lights flashing. If you are part of the caravan it might be kind of fun, but if you get stuck in one unsuspectingly, it can be downright nuts and you WILL be late to wherever you were planning on going! I got stuck behind a caravan one night and it was sooo loud and wild I had to pull over just to calm down and let it pass.

Here’s a compilation (above) of a few of the caravanas we have been exposed to this year. This is not all of them, but just ones with videos…I am not sure where the tradition of caravans came from. Perhaps from a time before television or radio where the only way to get your news was from people actually going around and telling others about it. It seems a little absurd this day and age, but it’s also kind of interesting as a cultural remnant.

Thankfully political season will be over after Tuesday and we can all take a deep breath and appreciate the coquis and driving to your destination without becoming a car in a carnival parade once again.

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18 Ways Your Life Will Change if You Move to Puerto Rico


Posted by Cassie

It is truly difficult to really capture how much of a change in lifestyle it is for someone who is not from Puerto Rico to move to Puerto Rico. It is different for everyone and some people (like children) will adapt faster than others. It also depends where exactly you move. Some people like condos and gated communities that are completely shut off from everyone else and their daily experience will be quite a bit different from people who live immersed within a neighborhood. People with kids will have a different experience than childfree people. But overall, here are a few ways your life will probably change if you move to Puerto Rico.

Aguada house

1) Housing - Whether you buy or rent you will more than likely live in a cement house with tile floors and louvered windows. Often on a road with virtually no setback or yard. It takes some time to get used to, but when you’ve been through a tropical storm you’ll understand why concrete became the standard (though on the otherhand not always the best in an earthquake) and after you’ve swept your floors for the 5th time that day you will understand why you wouldn’t want to have moldy dirty carpet anyway.

Mofongo
Mofongo and Malta at a roadside stop!

2) Food/Diet – No you won’t have the best apples, asparagus and artichokes. You may find them, but they won’t probably be very appetizing and are probably about a month old from their travels. Lettuces and other tender greens will be sparse in the grocery store. But the tradeoff is a wonderful cornucopia of tropical delights if you just look a little deeply and/or grow your own. While we can get those standard apples here, I’ve never seen a pomarrosa in a store in the states for instance! Also, don’t expect Puerto Rican food to be Mexican food. Puerto Rican cuisine is its own specialty. While I miss the spicy Mexican foods of Colorado, I LOVE many of the great foods of Puerto Rico like pasteles and mofongo.

James Bond Girl Cassie
Warm weather to me means fun clothes!

3) Clothing -When it’s always nice outside, you won’t be needing that down padded snow coat or boots anymore…ever. Shorts and shirts or less. Most of the time I have a hard time putting on even that if we are staying at the property. However, one should always have a pair of pants and close-toed shoes on hand for the occasional visit to some governmental building or to go in a casino. Culturally most Puerto Ricans wear long pants. And must sweat like crazy. So if you don’t want to stick out like a gringo, you can wear pants. I still don’t usually though.

Cassie In the water

4) Activities – All year round summer means all year round summer-like activities. Especially if you live near the beach. Sure you can do most anything you did where you came from like go to the mall or a movie or whatever, but you will probably find yourself taking up some new hobby and activity. More than likely some creative venture. You also live on one of the most beautiful islands filled with all sorts of what you would probably consider exotic locations that you can explore anytime and pretty much without any pretense!

Home Depot

5) Shopping- Speaking of shopping….This is an island. Be prepared to get everything locally if possible. This is a who-you-know sort of place. You will need to be friendly with everyone because everything is connected. But if you do go shopping in the conventional way for example to some big box store like Sam’s or Marshall’s and you see something new that you may vaguely like and haven’t seen it before, you should probably buy it. More than likely you probably won’t see it there again or for a long while. And while you can buy a lot of things online, shipping is uncertain and sometimes pretty expensive.

6) Your abilities – You may have to do a lot more for yourself. And you will be surprised and amazed at the things you can do when you believe it. Heck, we are literally building a fricking house in the middle of jungle with very little outside help. You will grow and be stronger than you ever thought possible. But you have to be willing to give it a shot. You will learn about the can-do attitude of the people here. It may be done on Island Time, but if something gets set into motion, it gets done! You will probably learn a lot more home remedies and McGwyver type of fixes too. It helps to have 2 of everything just to have the parts!

Driver's Permit Guide
There are “official” rules and then there are the “actual” rules of the road

7) Driving – At first you will think the driving here is absolutely nuts. Oh, they just used that as a bonus lane!! Oh, they said hi to their neighbor with a bunch of traffic behind them, ínteresting. They totally dodged that pothole and headed straight into traffic. Did they just go right through the red light?! Wow, the cashiers sell and OPEN the beer for customers in the gas station? Oh, they are just going to stop right here and buy some quenepas and m+ms, oh and a whole pizza, at this intersection? Or there is someone who is turning and the car in front of you decides to stop wave them in front. Then one day you are in a position where that move might be helpful. So you try it out. And then you realize you are pretty much driving just like everyone else. And it’s awesome!

horse and playground
Playground and a horse

8) Setting – Of course there are palm trees and gorgeous beaches. But there are also some of the weirdest, funniest moments and scenes I have ever seen.

Show me your paradise
Show me your paradise

9) Utilities – From the word Utility. The quality or state of being useful. And utilities ARE very useful. But they are not ALWAYS consistent or on. Water, electricity, internet. They all go out much more often than many other places. This is another area you will get to work on that attitude change thing. As I write this we have been without water for about 3 days. We have a slow trickle from the remains of the line, but we are careful not to shower long or flush the toilet too much. We have gone weeks without internet. And nearly as long without electricity. Instead of thinking they SHOULD be on…I try to remember how great it is when they are and also how nice it is to go outside and enjoy the world without all these man-made systems for a few hours. Also, another opportunity to find out how much you can truly do for yourself. Most people have generators, water cisterns and know where the best hot spots for internet in town are for this very reason of not relying too much on any one system.

Speaker truck strange sights
Speaker trucks…one way to annoyingly tell everyone about some news or product

10) Freedom – You will not be nearly as coddled. You will be able to jump off slippery waterfalls and climb to hilltops and caves without helmets if you so wish. Police will likely look the other way at drunk driving. You will be able to have roosters and chickens (and goats and pigs and horses and…) in pretty much any neighborhood. You can host big gambling parties. You can sell stuff on the street. You can blast your music as loudly as you want. How you handle that responsibility of freedom will depend on you.

Horse Flamboyan SMALL
Flamboyan season -and a horse in a tiny truck

11) Seasons – This one seems to be a big one for some people. Like, ”Don’t you miss the changing of the seasons?” For me, the only season I really enjoyed see change was the one that brought us out of the cold depressing dark winter/spring into full summer fun. Wasn’t that everyone’s favorite time? No school. Long days. Parties with friends. Hanging out outside. BBQs and nice weather. And so, I get to live in summer year round. And actually there are seasons here. They are just a little less pronounced and more to do with rain and fruit varieties (mango or avocado season for example) than with temperature. Also there are seasons of people at least in Rincón. Tourist season and off-season.

12) Your Attitude. (From Type A —> Type B): If you can make this change it will help you tremendously. If you can’t make this transition, this may not be the place for you. There are cockroaches here. There are rats here. There are mosquitoes.Things break more often and wear out faster. Things get dirtier and need to be cleaned more. There are poor people. It’s harder to find all the stuff you are used to. There are not as many jobs and definitely not as many high paying jobs. Things take longer than you are used to or think they should. We get it. But please…Take a chill pill. Go to the beach. Take off your watch. Listen to some music. Jangear con tus panas. Breathe in the moment. All of this is just part of the adventure. Have fun with it! Learn something! People who can’t adjust at least a little to Type B Island life will probably not enjoy Puerto Rico unless they completely isolate themselves from it.

13) Design of your life!  With freedom, a can-do spirit and a laid back vibe you will probably begin to design the life of your dreams. You will be able to move from a wage slave beholden to someone else’s vision to the boss artist you have had locked away. With a lower cost of living you won’t need to make as much money to make that happen and you will be doing something you truly love and would do even if money wasn’t a factor. Often times in an informal under-the-table economy!

14) Language -Spanish! (Español) - You can get by, especially in certain areas like Gringolandia (Rincón, Aguadilla, most of the west coast, university areas, parts of San Juan, etc) speaking only English, but you certainly won’t have a very broad understanding of Puerto Rico and your social circle will be limited. Nearly everything is first in Spanish here. Puerto Rican Spanish specifically which is pretty different than other Spanish. Everything. From the TV to radio, to basic conversations with retailers to deep important conversations in government buildings. If that bothers you or can’t adjust at least a little to it, you may go crazy.

BQN Beach Sunset
Borinquen Beach, Aguadilla

15) Tropics – This is the tropics. That means it is incredibly beautiful and post card perfect sometimes. We live where you vacation. But it also means that it can be pretty humid and hot. It means there are creatures and plants you are not used to. There are big spiders and bigger cockroaches. There are weird sounds that you can’t identify especially at night. There are termite swarms after a big rain. And the rainstorms are big and thunderous. Aguaceros! You will probably break out in some sort of sweat or plant poison rash (like Puerto Rican poison ivy) or even tropical disease (like Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika), you may get sunburned because the sun is pretty intense. It’s also an island surround by sea. The sea is dangerous! People often underestimate the power of the ocean and there are always a few drownings every year!

Cassie Mojito
Mojito time!

16) Drinking - There is definitely a drinking culture here in Puerto Rico. Fueled by rum from the island (Bacardí, Don Q) as well as Medalla and other light beers. It would be a rare event or party without alcohol. It’s hot and a cold one tastes pretty damn good sometimes. Even customer appreciation events at banks, grocery stores, parades at all hours of the day etc are fueled with alcohol. Chinchorreos, cabalgatas, parrandas are all reasons to drink more. With that is a lot more acceptance of alcoholism and its consequences. You will probably have to watch your drinking a lot more as it can easily creep up on you.

La Junta Fiscal
La Junta de Control Fiscal No Viene a Salvar, Viene a Robar (The Control Board isn’t coming to save us, it’s coming to rob us)

17) Life in a Colony-  If you move to Puerto Rico you will probably be struck by both the similarities and the differences from life where you came from. Puerto Rico has nearly everything you would expect in a state of the United States of America. Except one big thing: Self-sovereignty. Puerto Rico functions as a territory but is basically treated as a colony of the US. As a resident here, you will see what it means to be basically at best sort of forgotten and at worst downright pillaged of resources. We lack the right to vote for president and many of the decisions for the island can be over-ruled by US congress. And we have no voting members there either. It makes it much harder to address island wide issues when there is no representation and very little interest on the part of the US besides financial and military.

Cockfighting
Cockfighting is legal and thriving all over the island

18) Overall a big culture change - Some of these are mentioned above, but suffice it to say that you will probably be in for a culture change if not shock. Puerto Rican culture is a distinct blend of Latino Spanish influence and history, afro-Caribbean roots and the effects of being part of the US. While it is difficult to generalize, I think it is fair to say that nearly everything you know culturally is just a little bit different in Puerto Rico. Views on time (hora Puertorriqueña), values of work/family (WAY more days off to “compartir” with loved ones), religion (mostly Catholic with a healthy dose of Pentacostal), food (mmm yum), language (a distinct type of Spanish), recreation (some things are the same but there are new ones here like cockfighting, surfing and coffee festivals that we never experienced before) , history (you should know the names of historical figures like Pedro Albizu Campos, Luis Muñoz Marin and Doña Fela), expressions (many funny common expressions here), social interactions (like kisses on the cheek or saying Buen Provecho), music (salsa, merengue, bachata, reggaeton and more), taboos, and much more are all going to be different in your new life in Puerto Rico.

I know this list isn’t comprehensive, but hopefully helps give you an idea of what sort of lifestyle change you are actually looking into if you move to Puerto Rico. For us, we love it and it suits our personality, but it may not be for everyone. Come and visit before you move. And if you’re anything like us, you will probably be bedazzled by the Isle of Enchantment.

Britton Cassie Anasco

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Driver’s License in PR after Real ID


Posted by Cassie

Good news or bad news first?

Let’s start with the good news. I got my Puerto Rico driver’s license and I didn’t even have to take any tests! Woohoo!

Bad news: It took three trips to two different offices and almost a full day’s wait.

Mayaguez DMV
Mayaguez CESCO (plus lottery tickets sold out front under the Virgin Mary)

First we went to the Mayaguez branch of Obras Publicas/DTOP/CESCO and found the line extending basically out the door.  We at least got the paperwork we needed and found out that Colorado still has reciprocity with Puerto Rico so I wouldn’t have to take a practical or written driving exam as long as I had a valid (not expired like was Britton’s case).  We thought the line was extremely long considering that once Britton had jumped through all the exam hoops he was able to get his ID within about 1 hour in Aguadilla and there was virtually no line. So we made plans to go to Aguadilla some time later that week rather than wait in a line about 100 people deep that did not seem to be moving at all. Mayaguez is a bigger city than Aguadilla so it would make sense to be a little busier.

PR DMV
Almost to the front of one of many lines in Aguadilla

When the day came to drive up to Aguadilla, we arrived around 10am to an equally long line just to the information desk. We decided to go get the doctor’s exam and stamps first so that everything would be ready to go! The doctor’s exam is just a formality. The woman had me look at the eye chart for about 2 seconds! Just a hoop, quick and easy. Just pay her $28 including the sellos too. We then waited in the information line for about 30 minutes only to be asked where our “turno” ticket was. We didn’t need to take a number last time we came with Britton 6 months ago so we had no idea about this.

We did have everything we needed for a reciprocity license though:
1) Proof of residence (water or electric bill)
2) Original Social Security Card
3) Valid current driver’s license from the state with reciprocity
4) Birth Certificate
5) Doctor’s form
6) $11 in Government stamps (can be purchased many places but we bought them along with the doctor note)
7) Complete filled out one-page information form

Paperwork for DMV
Ready with everything

The guy at the registration desk said that since the US is requiring PR to phase in the Real ID program in order to better track people it has caused an increase in people from all over the island to the few offices like Aguadilla that has it. I don’t want or need a Real ID since we have passports so this was a huge headache. (And as an aside, if these are so-called “Real IDs” are all of the others fake according to the government?) All I need is a regular driver’s license.

He said that whereas before (like when Britton was there not long ago) they served maybe 500 people a day, they now are processing about 1000! That is why they instituted this turno number system thing because they can’t do any more than that in a day though probably 2000 try. In addition to more work required by the US, they have fewer staff due to cutbacks from the budget crisis! He said, no joke, that we should have gotten there at 5am in order to get in a line for a number and that by 7am, before the offices even open, they are “sold out.” Then with that number you wait in this line that I had stepped into to “activate” the number so that you could sit and wait for 4-5 hours to be called. What is this locura!?

I think he could see our desperation at having now done this line thing twice and not gone anywhere, so he sort of pulled us aside and said that at 5pm most of the crowd is gone and that if they finish all the backed up cue, that we could possibly slide in. But it would be a risk because they close the doors completely at 7pm. Still, we felt like we had been given a special code to this particular game. The friendly clerk was taking pity on us. They may be overworked, but everyone there was super helpful to us.

So we drove back home to Rincón to wait and stopped in Aguada at our favorite little Pollo al Carbon spot.

Pollo al carbon
At the start of Almuerzo this smoker is filled to the brim with chicken


 Birds at pollo al carbon Britton pile o food
Yum. Good food beats out the bureaucracy blues. 

Here’s a quick video of the spot. I think it’s called Rancho Carbon Express and it’s right on the 115. You will see it billowing out lots of smoke with a bunch of chicken roasting. Straight up inexpensive and delicious Puerto Rican street food.

Finally the time came to once again drive back to Aguadilla. We arrived around 4:30pm. The security guard at the front desk must have been informed about us by the previous person as he was expecting us (we apparently still stand out haha!). He told us it would be a LONG wait, but that we should be served if we stuck around. So we camped out and read.

Waiting room
This is the waiting area AFTER most of the lines had cleared out

About 5:30 I got my photo taken and then moved into a tighter group of the remaining people. By 6:30 I was getting nervous that we would be kicked out and have to return but Britton didn’t think so since they took my photo that day they would probably process it. As each number dinged and my name didn’t appear I still had my doubts. 7:00pm rolls around and the janitorial crew starts sweeping under our feet with the remaining 10 or so people. Finally, “Siguiente” was my call to come forward. The woman asked me in Spanish, ”Are you sure you want to get a Puerto Rican license after all this?” Yes it was a long wait, but it must be an even longer day for them! I thanked them for working late in order to process my paperwork. About 10 minutes later my license was printed and I was walked out the door by the security guard who had changed into his street clothes. It was by now 7:30pm. I must have just slid through thanks to these great people. Phew. Thankfully I shouldn’t have to do this again for another 6 years or so!

With license
With my license! We were the last ones in the parking lot! Do I look a little loca? Haha. It was then time for a beer by the beach to celebrate!

Now I am an official Puerto Rican driver! Yes!

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