I decided to do some shopping in Old San Juan today. As I was walking out of a shoe shop I heard this amazing percussion rhythm coming from someplace nearby. Before I knew it, I was dancing, along with nearly everyone on the street! The music filled the air and the rhythm was contagious.

Our tour guide, Lola, grabbed my arm and we both followed the music. The music got louder and louder as we approached a band playing in the square. They were playing in front of the Christopher Columbus statue and fountain. The small plaza was starting to fill with people. Some were dancing with a partner, some were jamming by themselves, and others, like me, just watched, entranced by the music.

Christopher Columbus statue and fountain

Lola pointed out to me the instruments the band was playing. There was a lady on a single standing drum, a man playing a güiro (like a gourd), and a lady singing. They were really rocking out, but not one electric instrument was present.

After about ten minutes, Lola started shouting over the music, telling me the history of music in Puerto Rico. She said that traditional music started with the influence of the Taínos, Spaniards, and Africans in Puerto Rico. From them came the birth of dances such as La guaracha, La plena, La bomba, and Salsa. I’d only heard of Salsa. I made a mental note to Google the rest when I got some free time.

African drums used in Puerto Rican Music

Then before I knew it, the rhythm changed. The woman stopped singing and this young guy came out the crowd and started rapping in Spanish. It was like something out of a movie. When I looked around nobody was dancing, but everyone was bopping their heads. Old people, young people, babies in their strollers, everyone! Flo said this is where reggaetón came from. The guy was rapping so fast I could hardly catch any of his words, but the beat was awesome! And in a flash, just as soon as it began, it was all over.

Lola and I walked back to the shoe store together to meet up with the rest of the group. Lola kept talking about the music and dance culture of Puerto Rico. She said that most of the music has piano, sometimes violin, and a few other jazz instruments. She went on and on about how Puerto Rican music is so diverse. They have Puerto Rican rock, nueva trova (socially- and politically-related ballads), merengue, salsa, rap, and reggaetón. And of course every Puerto Rican is has to bring up their famed singers, Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony. I was sad that the experience was over, but once I heard the coquíes I knew it was dinnertime and my tummy was growling.

People say that music is the town’s soul and a town with no music is like a town without a soul. If this is the case then Puerto Rico has both heart and soul. You can feel the music in Puerto Rico, and I’ll never forget that impromptu concert in the square.

¡Hasta pronto!


Explorers and Conquistadors in the land of Boriken

If you have never walked around inside the fortress El Morro in San Juan, Puerto Rico, definitely put this on your list of places to visit. It is absolutely beautiful here. It’s situated next to the ocean on the corner of the island. Every view, both inside and out, is breathtaking. . I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my visit today and I can’t wait to come back here again.

El Morro fortress in old San Juan

Being inside El Morro and walking around in San Juan has got me thinking about the rich history of Puerto Rico. I remember learning something about the island in school, but I didn’t learn nearly as much from my history books as I have by being here. I learned that Puerto Rico used to be called The Boriken, literally translated “the great land of the valiant and noble Lord” by the Taíno people. The Taíno were a tribe of natives that moved from South America to the island many years before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.

In 1492 King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain financed Christopher Columbus’ two major voyages to the New World. On this second voyage, he landed on the island and named it  “San Juan Bautista” (Saint John the Baptist). The Island had lots of potential and natural resources, which is why it was later named “Puerto Rico” (rich port). Who would have known that within a matter of a few years Puerto Rico would have three different names? Can you think of any place that’s been renamed three times?

When I was at El Morro, I kept hearing the name Ponce de León. I was curious who he was so I went to the library and looked him up. As it turns out, Ponce de León was a lieutenant to Christopher Columbus. He was very ambitious, and thanks to his efforts, the island soon became an important military outpost in the Caribbean, which is why they constructed the fortress, the beautiful El Morro.

Ponce de León Statue in old San Juan

When Christopher Columbus died in Valladolid, Spain, his son Diego wanted to be the Governor of Puerto Rico, but the Spanish monarchs named Ponce de León as Governor. Two years later, Diego was put in Ponce de León’s place as Governor. Ponce de León did not like that and asked for permission to continue his explorations, so he left the island soon after that. Guess where he landed . . . in Florida! He’s the same guy they say searched for the fountain of youth. History is soooo cool! I hope you can visit “La Isla del encanto” (The Island of Enchantment … yes, another name for Puerto Rico) soon!