Upon entering Puerto Rico the US immigration officer found me suspicious and stopped me to ask a few details about my life. He finally felt comfortable enough to let me enter my country, handed back my passport and said, “You don't look like your photo”. As I walked away I glanced at the photo. “Man, who is that young, clean shaven lad with the dark hair, glasses and big ears? That was only seven years ago?” I'm lucky he didn't strip search me.
Puerto Rico is sometimes referred to as America's fifty first state and for good reason, they are US citizens and the US Congress makes many decisions for the commonwealth. However Puerto Rico does not have voting power in Congress. But the Puerto Ricans we have spoken with are happy with the arrangement. We had lunch with a Puerto Rican couple on the ship and this is what they had to say about statehood. “Most Puerto Ricans don't want PR to become a state. We already have everything Americans have. We are US citizens. If we became a state then we would have to start paying US taxes that we don't pay now. Why would we want to pay more taxes? Also if we became a state then Washington would have to make room for seven Puerto Rican Representatives and two Congressman. Washington has never appeared very interested in doing that.” The current arrangement sounds like a pretty good deal to me. But it's said if you want to tell if a business or person is in favor of becoming a US state just look at the blue background of the PR flag they are flying. If the blue is a light powder blue they are happy with the current arrangement. If the background is a darker blue that matches the blue in the US flag that means they want to become America's fifty first state.
With the official welcome behind us we head to the taxi stand to get a ride to our hostel. At the first stop light I noticed the driver had not flipped the meter. I asked him what’s the deal and he responded with, “Oh, this is a zone ride. It's only fifteen dollars in this zone.” Based on what was written on the side of the cab that sounded like a bunch of crap but I didn't feel like arguing and the ride was worth fifteen dollars to me so down the road we went. Aside from perhaps a little larceny in his soul the driver seemed like a nice enough fellow and he did give us a fine narrated tour of San Juan. It was hard not to notice the barred windows and security gates as we approached the area of our hostel. The driver slowly came to a stop in front of our hostel cautiously looking left, then right, then left again, then in a concerned voice said, “You need to be careful in this neighborhood”.
The hostel manager enthusiastically greeted us as he unlocked the security gate. He had our reservation and even upgraded us to a private room for no extra charge but the credit card machine was broken so we had to pay by cash or pay-pal. It's amazing how many similar operations just happen to have inoperable credit card machines that are never repaired no matter how long you stay. But we are in the Caribbean so, “No problem mon.”
Our room was a whitewashed cube with a fan and a shelf made of L-brackets covered with a thin piece of plywood. A white plastic garden chair was strategically placed in front of the plywood board to give it the appearance of a desk. The floor was covered in worn, cracked tiles and there was no hot water supply to the sink or shower. We had no windows, just two holes cut into the brick wall fitted with metal exhaust vents from which flying insects entered freely. Fortunately most found the room unacceptable and quickly flew back out. Our door opened directly to the outside and came with its own heavy iron bar security door, just like the jail cells in old cowboy movies. I was thankful we got the upgrade.