Five hundred years ago the Island of Puerto Rico was a treasure to be had and protected for the Spanish crown. Puerto Rico was about four thousand miles to the west of the Old World and two thousand miles to the east of a new one. Its location was prime and its safe waters were worth protecting. The Occidental imperialists sometimes called this rich port the “Gateway to the New World”. Half a millennium later Puerto Rico is still a prime location, its waters ever majestic, and remains a gateway to a different world.
To not only see, but to experience the story of Puerto Rico, one must walk through the foregone narrow avenues and causeways of Old San Juan. Old San Juan is truly something “other-worldly”. The streets are cobbled brick with moss often peaking though its crevices. Walking down them, you stroll though a painting. Each building splashed with vibrant colors: pink, yellow, sky blue, and light green. Ancient trees twisted and curled, dripping with moss and bygone whispers. This island of an island stood still as the world surrounding moved on.
The history is palpable with both lordly statues and towering fortresses. The Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal stand prominently above the streetscapes. Walking through their fusty tunnels and atop their strategic vistas, your slapped with humanity’s brutal history and military modus operandi. Within their walls, unlike the rest of this modern day paradise, comfort had no purpose. Imagining what life was like is chilling despite the stuffiness and heat which builds and lingers from within their bowels.
Shops, restaurants, and art galleries dominate the below the ramparts. One can be pleasantly lost exploring the myriad storefronts and enticing art displays. Your visual senses are satiated at every turn. In between spulunking the inside exhibitions, you are in the midst of a gourmand’s Shangri-La. Dozens of restaurants line the streets with delectible delights, scrumptuous meals, and inspiriting cocktails. Spending a moment or a day will leave an indelible mark on your psyche.
The beauty and true enchantment of this place is the invisible effect this synthesis of history, beauty, culture, art, unfamiliar, and classical bears. You can leave behind where you came from, perhaps for just that day or longer if you wish, and embody something different. Surrounded by such rich and enduring urbanity, just being – eating, laying, talking, walking, seeing, breathing – is enough. Pondering becomes a pastime.
Sometimes stepping out of your world – not just in terms of location but time – grants both peace and renewed sense of intent. In a place that stands still, we musingly remember that we are just visitors and our time is brief before we must leave. It is there that the weight on our shoulders is lifted and our mind can listen to our inner whispers. What is it that lightens my heart? What was it that I wanted so long ago that was swept away in the madness of worry and hustle? Old San Juan may be your destination; it may also be your new beginning.
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