Holiday in Old San Juan

By January 9, 2016Travel

The banners say, “Lomito de los Vientos” (Hill of the Winds), and I wonder if this is something from Lord of the Rings.

“It’s a re-enactment of the nativity scene,” a guy in line tells me. He is holding his daughter’s hand. She’s about three or four. The nativity scene is hidden behind a faux stone wall that looks like it was leftover from an old movie set or maybe a high school play. A guard dressed as a Roman soldier with helmet, cape and breastplate stands at the entrance as people pass through the gate. Instead of a “mysterious light” to guide the magi, two search lights wave across the night sky. More lights illuminate three kings propped up on a hill overlooking the attraction. They must be ten or twelve feet tall. Hundreds of families wait to see the three kings. The line is several blocks long. While they wait, food stalls sell camarones and chorizos and mofongo and empanadilla. Latin music pumps its way across the street to the Capitol building.

From there, Gary and I walk into Old San Juan. It’s a few days before Día de los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day – January 6). Christmas is not my holiday. But if it was and if I didn’t want it to end, Viejo San Juan is where I’d want to be. When people on the mainland are discarding their trees, Puerto Ricans are still in the midst of holiday celebrations. The public squares in Old San Juan are adorned with Christmas lights and nativity scenes and the Madonna and child. We are surrounded by music and dancing and street food and revelry. We are told this goes on for weeks.

We pass on the food stalls and fried food that calls my name and eat at a tablecloth place. We tour Old San Juan after midnight. (We’re on California time, so it’s only 8 for us.) The night air is warm. People of all ages fill the streets, many with drinks in hand. Young couples kiss by the fountains. Parents push strollers. Babies sit upright, alert and wide-eyed from the stimuli. We leave Old Town around 2am. The central parking lot is still full, and the party isn’t over. The atmosphere is all joy, but I don’t know enough Spanish to eavesdrop.

Unless you ask or you venture out of the tourist areas of San Juan and its resorts, you wouldn’t know about Puerto Rico’s severe and devastating financial crisis. While we were there, PR defaulted for the second time on some of their debt payment. Will Congress come to the rescue?

Let’s hope that the Three Kings, and all the powers that be, bring renewed prosperity and restored financial stability to the island in the coming year.
Feliz Año Nuevo.


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