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Puerto Rico General Information
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Puerto Rico is a commonwealth (free associated state) of the United States. Although not a foreign country in political status, its culture is a mix of Spanish, European, African and American roots, and can seem quite foreign to newcomers. The island was discovered by Columbus in 1493 and is the only part of the United States where Columbus is believed to have landed. The original inhabitants at that time were the Taino Indians. Settled by the Spanish, it was part of the Spanish Empire until ceded to the United States following the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans became American citizens in 1917 and adopted commonwealth status in 1952. After World War II, the island began an intensive industrialization program and today is a major producer and exporter of manufactured goods, high-technology equipment, and pharmaceuticals.
Puerto Rico is in free and voluntary association with the United States. Its people elect their Governor, Senate and House of Representatives. A Resident Commissioner has the status and duties of a member of the Congress, but has no vote.
No immunizations are required for travel here. The U.S. dollar is the currency. A passport is not required nor is luggage screened through Customs upon entry or departure. The standard of living here is the highest in the Caribbean. The culture and life-style is different, yet has many similarities to that of the U.S. Spanish is the language of choice, but English is also widely used and many Puerto Ricans are proficient in the English language.
Geography and Climate
Puerto Rico is approximately 35 miles wide and 100 miles long. Roughly rectangular in shape, the island is situated in the Caribbean, separated from the Dominican Republic on the west by the Mona Passage, bound by the Atlantic Ocean on the north and east, and by the Caribbean Sea on the south. Puerto Rico lies about 1000 nautical miles southeast of Miami.
The island is a rocky mountain crest of volcanic origins. Its highest peak is Cerro de Punta, located in the southern central region. The most popular mountain, El Yunque, is noted for its tropical rain forest, which is part of the National Forest System of the United States, and is located about 30 miles from San Juan, the island capital.
Tropical and subtropical vegetation is abundant in Puerto Rico. Palm trees are found almost everywhere. African tulip, trees, giant ferns, bamboo, and many wild orchid grow on the island. In the more arid southern sections, cactus and other desert type plants are common.
Puerto Rico is in a sunny, tropical, marine environment and enjoys year-round warmth with an average annual temperature of 77 degrees F. Dependable easterly tradewinds keep the island comfortable and the skies sunny most of the time. The sun can be intense and the protection of hats and lotions is recommended. There is an average of only 50 days per year without sunshine, although daytime showers of short duration are common.
People Customs and Traditions
The people of Puerto Rico are mainly Spanish in descent, with mixtures of Indian, African and European blood. Many Puerto Ricans have served in branches of the US military, and the island has a large population of retirees.
Although many of the Spanish customs have been greatly modified since becoming part of the US, both the people and the island are primarily Spanish. You will see this in music, literature, food, architecture, social interactions, schooling, and language.
There are four large malls in this area. The Mayaguez Mall has Sears, JC Penney and many other large and small department stores. It is about a 40-minute drive to the south (PR 2 Road). Other malls are located in Isabela (Plaza Isabela Wal-Mart, about 15 minutes to the northeast, PR 2 Road), Aguadilla (Aguadilla Mall K-mart, about 10 minutes from the housing area to the south on PR 2 Road), and Arecibo (Plaza del Caribe and Plaza del Atlantico, about 45 minutes to the northeast on PR 2 Road). Mayaguez is also home to Sam's Warehouse and Home Depot.
Air Station Borinquen has a small exchange which offers a large selection of items such as electronics, appliances, toys, tools, clothes, etc. There is also a special order department which provides outstanding service. As Puerto Rico is designated an overseas area, you will be able to shop through the Army, Air Force and Navy Exchange Overseas catalogs. A large Exchange and Commisary are located at Ft. Buchanan.
Telephone service is available throughout Puerto Rico through the Puerto Rico Telephone Company. Long distance service is available through AT&T, SPRINT, and MCI. Getting a telephone installed can take some time. Phone books are in Spanish, but there is an English section (blue) located next to the Yellow Pages. There is also a Spanish-English cross reference in the back of the book.
Electrical Service in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands is the same as on the mainland (standard 60 cycle, 110/220 volt). Power failures occur more frequently than on the mainland, and surge suppressors are strongly recommended for computers and sensitive electronic devices such as stereos, VCR's, microwave ovens, etc.
Summer clothes are worn year-round; cotton, rayon, and nylon washables work well. Shorts and beachwear are common. Formal wear is seldom worn, but should be brought for that rare occasion. At dances, women usually are in evening or afternoon dresses or pantsuits. There are some occasions where formal attire is required.
During winter months and in the evening, a light sweater may be desirable. A raincoat, preferably plastic, will be useful, as will the uniform raincoat. It is suggested that no heavy fall or winter clothing be brought to Puerto Rico.
Civilian clothing is available in a number of local stores. Prices on clothes are not appreciably different from stateside. Shopping by mail/internet order is common. Your favorite mail order house will be just as dependable in Puerto Rico as in the states and will often meet needs that cannot be satisfied in local stores.
In the last few years, several large shopping centers have been opened nearby. These are similar to those in the states, and offer the same variety of items. You will also see many new items of foreign manufacture.
There are two large grocery stores in the area where you will find most anything you need. Ft. Buchanan is the nearest commissary and is about an Hour and 45 minutes drive one-way.