Sunday, February 27, 2011

Puerto Rico's Taino Culture

The original inhabitants of the Caribbean region of North America were the Arawak, Taino and Carib  native peoples.  The Tainos are a subgroup of the Arawaks and are recognized as the founders of the island of Boriken or Puerto Rico.  These were the people who offered a peaceful welcome to Columbus in 1493.  They didn't know the cruelty and violence that would follow his so-called "discovery" of the land that they had cultivated for centuries. Despite official government pronouncements that the Taino have been killed off by the massacres and slavery that followed in Columbus' wake, they live on.  As demonstrated in the photo above by  members of  the Puerto Rico Folklorico Dance & Culture Cultural Center, Taino traditions, food and names remain strong. Throughout Puerto Rico, town names like Mayaquez, Utuado and Caquas echo the Taino language as do the musical instrument maracas and hamaca or hammock. Legends of Taino warriors, like Hatuey, who organized the battle against the Spanish and who famously replied, when told to repent and go to heaven as they burned him at the stake, "If there are Spaniards in heaven, I'd rather go to hell," remain an important part of Caribbean history. Currently there is a movement to reclaim indigenous recognition for Taino ancestors throughout the Caribbean.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Taking Taino Danser To Palomino Island

The Tainos were the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico and vestiges of their culture still linger in food, music and names. We hopped on the ferry, Taino Danser, to ride over to the private Palomino Island, owned by El Conquistador Resort.

The 8-minute ferry ride offers glimpses of nearby Vieques and Culebra islands.

Palomino island is 100 acres of unspoiled beaches, crystalline water and lush greenery. My kids required 3-hours straight of  splashing in the ocean, until we were all covered in salt and tanner skins.  The local cafe provided a relaxing respite of cool drinks and sandwiches but my favorite part was the iguanas and roosters freely roaming through the tables.

This rooster is extremely confident, he didn't seem to consider that perhaps he might wind up on one of the tables he roamed through. I know many places where roosters and iguanas are treated as tasty "bush" meat.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Hiking El Yunque Rain Forest

Of all of natures wonders, rain forests remain one of my favorites. I love being surrounded by lush greenery and vivid tropical flowers. It's like wading through the Garden of Eden.  So I was excited to hike though El Yunque rain forest in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We started at the Yokahu Tower observation deck, climbing about 100 stairs.

Looking out over the tower, the views were stunning. A canopy of vibrant plants seemed to cradle the sky.

Taking in the mountains, I realized that it wasn't going to be an easy hike. According to Taino legend, the good spirit of Yokahu reined supreme on these mountains, protecting Puerto Rico and its people. I don't know if it was protecting me but lets just say that the 3-hour  hike was very strenuous.

Since it's a rain forest, it rained half the time we tread through the trails. I was chilly for awhile and then the sun blazed down and it was hot. We glimpsed chartreuse Puerto Rican parrots and languid streams like the one above.

The highlight was a large waterfall at the end of the trail. People threw off their clothes to cool off under the cascading water. I perched on a rock and absorbed the beauty of El Yunque.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bob Marley Lives

Today would be Bob Marley's 66th birthday. This freedom fighter, poet, musician and mystic continues to influence and encourage so many people, in so many ways, that he technically still lives. The video above is for Redemption Song, Bob's analysis of power and peace. It's my favorite Marley song, it also contains my favorite quote, "emancipate yourself from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds."

I'll never forget when I journeyed to Bob's hometown, the tiny fishing village of Nine Mile, in the  mountains of the parish of St. Ann. It sounds cliche but I could actually feel a strong, serene, presence. Bob's house has been transformed into a museum and his mausoleum is nearby. If you question the ability for a spirit to live on, I'd visit this lovely place. The video below gives a tiny glimpse of Nine Mile: