The first view from the sky was of shades of green - deep, bottle, sap, leaf - draping brown undulating land bordered by restless white and blue water; rivers and snaky roads. The sea, viewed from a distance, is a bright blue, betraying its Caribbean setting.
On landing we were somewhat startled to see stocky iguanas with quizzical expressions waddling off the runway!
We drove through hot, humid, colourful, busy roads with signs in Spanish. That didn't pose too much of a problem - one can read as slowly as necesary for comprehension or conjecture, unlike when following a rapid oral delivery. Distance is measured in kilometres, and petrol in litres.
Practically everyone spoke to us in Spanish - it is the language of choice there, yes, but our appearance played a role too - we look perfectly ready to receive and generate Spanish. The lines I used the most were "No entiendo Espanol" and the somewhat contradictory (to the first) "Hablo espanol, muy poquito"!
Puerto Rico came across as a cross of the physical aspects of Kerala and the hilly parts of Tamilnadu, and the industrial output of the USA and Japan (cars and trucks, though none as humongous as the megatrucks in the US). It felt, many a time, that the most natural thing to do would be to talk in Malayalam or Tamil; instead I had often to crawl over English and be prepared to exercise the meagre Spanish that I had floating around in my head.
The hill roads felt very much like the ghat roads in India, with sinuous curves, no dividing lines in many places, and the frequent need to stop, and sometimes even reverse,to let bigger trucks pass. We found ourselves traversing green arcades of bamboo, and quite a few creeper-covered wires on the hills.
Banana, bamboo, jackfruit, mango, guava, hibiscus, bougainvillea, gulmohar, palms, lilies, lantana, ferns,umbrella trees, tall grasses, cycas, and myriad gaudy flowers crowd every available spot.
Dogs and chickens crossing the narrow roads singly, in pairs or broods, were a familiar sight. Some were utterly stupid, overconfident or rash. We came across more than one dog sitting calmly in the middle of the road even faced with a car moving towards it!
The island is rather small. We actually drove from the sea at the south end (Ponce) to the sea at the north end (Arecibo) in one afternoon, with a trip to the Arecibo observatory thrown in.
People display their mixed ancestry of various combinations of Native American, Spaniard and Black. We saw many a chubby kid, and a goodly number of overweight adults, but by no means can their percentages compete with those of the US. We came across lots of trim, beautiful persons too, especially female (needless to mention)!
We ate a good deal of good food, but I was completely saturated with meat (ad nauseaum is the phrase that strikes me) and yearned desperately for more fruit and vegetables within a couple of days. Tea was the biggest casualtea. In this regard there was no mistaking this place for good old Kerala or Tamilnadu. People here mop up cold drinks of all kinds - chilled beer and lots of fruit juices, even iced tea (yuck) - and condescend to drink coffee (it takes all kinds...) sometimes, but no hot tea...I combed fast food joints and convenience stores, in vain, in an emotional search for my favourite beverage, got heartealy sick of the situation and finally compromised and had hot chocolate instead. It was a taxing day...!
Food is not as expensive in PR as in the US. Another refreshing difference is in the food portions - small is fairly modest (not 'tall'!), 'medium' is really convincingly medium. We ate some delicious "all natural" ice cream - mango, coconut and almond flavours - in Ponce (a city named for Ponce de Leon).
The towns are quaint, with tree-studded plazas equipped with fountains and usually flocks of pigeons, narrow roads, and colourful shops.
Houses and other buildings are stunningly coloured - pinks, greens, bright yellows, oranges, peach, blue, violet, lavender - reminiscent of craft paper samples in a stationery store. There is lots of trellis work - sometimes entire houses looked like cages with the abundant trellises they were wrapped in. Houses are mostly squat, with plants cascading over and around them. Most houses had bougainvillea or hibiscus tumbling out as if to monitor the passers by.
By the way, Christopher Columbus was the European "discoverer" of this island, and there are inevitably lots of statues of him and roads and plazas named after him all over the island. He is called Cristobal 'Colon' - yeah, yeah, it's Spanish for Columbus, but I can't help feeling that it has got to be more than a coincidence that the name comes so close to the anal aperture: the punctuation mark is not so significant here!