Sunday, January 4, 2009

Puerto Rico: San Juan: La Perla

Next to Old San Juan, between the Fort's walls and the ocean is a neighborhood called La Perla.

We wandered in and it became clear pretty quickly that it was not a great neighborhood. Clues included: Some of the homes were missing roofs and decaying walls, a guy who didn't speak English warned me to put my camera away, as I was about to take a photo of a bar a fellow inside yelled at me not to, we walked right through a drug deal being conducted by thugs but most of all by the write up in the guide book.

This is what Lonely Planet has to say about La Perla:

Under no circumstances should you walk into La Perla, the picturesque yet poverty-stricken enclave outside the north wall of Old San Juan.

Often called the most picturesque slum in the world, La Perla has been home to centuries of disposessed, desperate people who have survived by their wits, creating their own microculture based on street crimes. The district gained international infamy when Oscar Lewis wrote his novel La Vida (1966), which detailed the tragic cycle of poverty and prostitution lived out by people growing up in La Perla.

For anyone who has seen the favelas of Rio, the ranchos of Caracas, the barrios of Mexico City, La Perla might look innocuous by comparison. But it remains the prized turf of lawless people who will be only too happy to rough you up and rob you given the opportunity. Despite the sometimes incredible beauty of the colors of the houses along this area - turbulent bludes, glinting greens and foamy browns that seem pulled right from the ocean - this is not a place to wander into.


Lula announced that she needed a bathroom so I asked a guy on the street "Donde esta el bano para nina?" The guy asked up to wait a moment and then came back with the keys to a church with a bathroom that Lula could use.

There seemed to be preparations for a New Years eve party that Lula and Maya were intrigued by. A woman said something about a fiesta and I asked what time, she said 7pm (in Spanish) and I thought it was an invitation but later I realized it probably was not. In any case, we already had plans.

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