Monday, July 27, 2015

More Puerto Rico Updates

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Ismael, another friend I made on the island. We rode through a trail in the town of Cabo Rojo 


Looking out towards the inland bay at Cabo Rojo






I'm back in town now, after two weeks in Puerto Rico. I hope I can plan my next trip over there soon because I really enjoyed my visit and the time I spent with my cousins and other family members. I'm from Puerto Rico, but I have no skin in the game as to what life is like for people who live on the island day in and day out.  I left the island at the age of 5 through no fault of my own; I was a kid and my parents wanted/needed to move. This trip gave me a glimpse at what it would have been like if I had stayed.

 Everyone here says that it's not easy to make a living on the island. There is a shortage of jobs and a lot of laws have been passed to keep manufacturing down and to keep individuals from empowering themselves. However, that doesn't mean it's impossible to live here. For as much strife and financial hardship as there seems to be this is a place where every morning you can wake up to good cup of coffee and million dollar views. Everywhere you look there is a mountain on the horizon to climb. The mountainsides are spattered with the reds of the Flamboyan trees and other hues from other fruit trees as well as little wooden houses scattered throughout. Fruit here is sold at fruit stands and for a few bucks one can walk home with about ten pounds of locally grown bananas, mangoes, papayas, soursop and other fruits. This place wouldn't be an expensive to live in for someone who owns their own business abroad or collects a retirement check there. It is expensive for most locals, even those who have college degrees but who do not have contacts in the business sector that can get them jobs. 80% of Puerto Rican households make less than $40,000 a year, and Puerto Ricans pay an 11.5% sales tax on all goods, the highest of any U.S owned territory. Puerto Ricans also pay income taxes to the government of Puerto Rico, sometimes at a higher rate than the Federal income taxes paid in the rest of the U.S. The good majority of Puerto Ricans have to settle with $7.25/ hour, or the Federal minimum wage. Unless someone is a fruit vendor or a farmer, they are subject to paying annual income taxes which is pretty much the majority of Puerto Ricans. Due to the high tax demands on individuals who own businesses, there are many cash in hand transactions and many places will not accept credit or debit cards. Many have to do this to make a profit otherwise all of their profits will go to paying taxes to the government and to merchant fees. While this may not paint a complete picture as to what it must be like living over there, it does give us a small window to peek in.

Riding a bike in Puerto Rico is awesome. During my stay there I rode on the southwest side of the island, to and from my relatives houses and into the city centers of San German and Sabana Grande. The distances aren't very far between towns, but the elevation and gradients make up for the short distances. Some of the roads up the mountains average at 8% incline grades, which sections as steep as 25% or more. Even the roads leading to and from the city centers are steep. Here are a couple of rides that I did while I was there. Check out the elevation profiles versus the distance ridden.








My goal is to one day be able to live in Puerto Rico with my family with complete financial independence. It's an ambitious goal to say the least and a lot of Puerto Ricans don't or can't make it a reality. I can't let it go without at least trying, since ever since my trip I haven't stopped looking back. The palm trees and mountains of Puerto Rico go in harsh contrast to the hot, 100 degree ocean-less landscape that I am currently living in. Maybe it's time for this prodigal son to finally come home.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

I took my bike to Puerto Rico

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The Porta Coeli Monastery is the oldest church in the western Hemisphere in one of the oldest founded settlements of the New World.
 Some of my readers may have heard things about Puerto Rico, some good, some not so good. I 'm here to clear the air and misconceptions that anyone reading this article might have, whatever those might be. Furthermore I want to share the awesome experience that I have had cycling on the west side of the island, climbing gradients that would even make Vincenzo Nibali wince in pain.


Puerto Rico has been in the news lately, for all the wrong reasons. The alleged default on the national debt of the island has many people calling Puerto Rico the "new" Greece. I'm not going to bore you with the politics of the island and of those abroad, because this is a bike blog and I want to talk about bikes. Essentially, what people are hearing on the news is a bunch of hyped up, sensationalized rhetoric being used as a platform for scoring political points by opposing parties. People can still shop and eat here and even have some money left over for recreation. Puerto Rico is nowhere near 3rd world country status or anywhere near where Greece was when it needed austerity measures. Are people leaving Puerto Rico in search of better opportunities? Sure they are, as is everyone everywhere who thinks the grass is greener on the other side. For all the negative news about Puerto Rico's economy there hasn't been a national discussion about the cause for Puerto Rico's financial woes or about whatever happened to the national referendum that never left the U.S congress's desk. For those who wish to know more about that subject, research the Jones Act of 1920 as well as all the import, export and trade restrictions and tariffs being laid on the island. Look into how many major corporations like Wal-Mart and others have benefited from these laws by not having to report all of their earnings in Puerto Rico, getting tax breaks and exemptions that businesses on the island do not receive and killing the local economy by artificially lowering their prices to the point that small businesses can no longer compete.  I'm done talking about it, let's talk bike riding.


As with the hyped up news about the economy, several sources told me I had a death wish for wanting to bring my bike to the island and ride around during my stay. The roads around the towns of San German and Sabana Grande are mostly rural, winding, steep and sometimes feature pedestrian and horse traffic. Some drivers might be a little more aggressive on the roads than others, and it might not be a good idea to ride during peak traffic hours. However, the cycling is the best riding that I have done anywhere, period. I'm surprised a Puerto Rican hasn't won the Giro D' Italia yet, because the climbing profiles out here feature grades from 17% to 25% and even more in some places. For the cyclist who loves to climb, this is your paradise.

See those mountains in the background? This is real climbing out here. 
Even the roads in the center of town are steep
 I rode with my cousin during my second day of visiting. We wound through plantain fields and small city districts. It was  really neat to have the mountains as a backdrop the whole time I rode. This made for some really cool pictures.


What a priceless view in such a beautiful place! My cousin Waldito on the right hand side of the photo.

This is the first blog post I write while still abroad. My stay in Puerto Rico is not over yet, and I will be doing more riding as well as documenting my rides before I leave. So far, the experience I have had has not disappointed me. Stay tuned for more blog posts about Puerto Rico and more informative posts.