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April 9, 2004
Easter comes to Puerto Rico on the back end of the tourist season. During April, San Juan is peppered with spring break wanderers in their twenties, and older travelers with enough clout in their jobs to take their vacation during the holidays. It is an interesting mix of visitors, considering they combine here during the most important religious holiday of the year.
But just because you are idling your time under the sun thousands of miles away from home, it does not mean you can't get in touch with your Sunday school roots. Puerto Ricans might not be into egg hunts, but they sure are crazy about Easter. During Holy Week the island, which is mostly Catholic, becomes the runway for dozens of processions. The most popular are the ones in Old San Juan, where the cobblestone streets and the colonial architecture combine to give the event a unique aura. The San Juan Cathedral procession on Good Friday has become a favorite of amateur photographers, who crowd the solemn parade to take photographs of the cross-bearing Jesus using one of the city's stone walls as background to give their photographs an air of authenticity.
For English speakers with a yearning to go to church on Sunday; they will get their chance in a perfect setting. The island's English speaking churches celebrate a traditional Easter service at 6:30 P.M.. This year's event will be held at the Millenium Park in front of the beach El Escambrón.
El Escambrón beach lines the stretch of Luis Muñoz Rivera Avenue that runs between the Caribe Hilton Hotel and the walls of the San Cristobal Fort -- which marks the entrance to Old San Juan. A good wave-breaking pattern, and the beach's magnificent view of the waves exploding into a blanket of white foam as they crash against the city walls have made it a favorite of metro-area surfers.
You will not get the view from where the service will be held, but the proximity to the water will give you the option of going for an evening swim (after the service) and get a chance to see the sun set over the city and its blanket of foam.
For those who prefer culinary observance of Holy Week, there is plenty of places to get some great fish. At the top of the list is Marisqueria Atlantica.
Atlantica has two locations, but the preferable one is in Isla Verde. Keeping in line with its fishy product, the restaurant is full-fledge yacht themed. The polished wood surroundings and the three-fish logo makes you want to want to take out those top siders from the closet, throw on a navy blue blazer on, tie a red handkerchief around your neck, put on your Captain's cap and sing a couple of songs with Tennille.
Another choice for great fish is the sushi bar East in Condado. This opened up only a few months ago, and it is already full to capacity every weekend. The word is spreading fast in the city that if you want great sushi for a good price, there is no better offer in the city.
Sushi rolls range between $5 and $13.
Although the restaurant boasts the Sushi Pizza as its house specialty, that distinction should be reserved for the spider crab roll. East's spider roll is, by far, the best in the city.
The Easter mood does not bode well with excessive partying. Since Charlton Heston split the Red Sea and Max Von Sydow split the bread and wine, a great part of the Easter tradition has become celluloid. But the halcyon days of Heston could be ending, since Mel Gibson's "The Passion," now playing in local theaters, is likely to become the staple film for Holy Week.
The downside of going to watch the movie here is that the Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin parts will be subtitled in Spanish, which will not help English speakers very much. On the other hand, the film doesn't have a surprise ending, so how much are you really going to miss?
When it is all over -- the fish, the church and Max Von Sydow -- you will find yourself back in San Juan on a regular Monday morning. The ornate processions replaced by the morning rush-hour traffic jams that clutter the city's streets. Don't give in yet to the normal pace, there is one more way to cling a little longer to that Easter tranquility, and it is in the Parque del Indio, on Ashford Avenue in Condado.
Every Monday and Wednesday evening, residents and savvy tourists get together for an outdoor yoga class held in the park, a beachfront playground where the beach sand that the wind and the sea sweep into park reminds visitors to look up and enjoy the park's oceanview.
Participants are expected to pay an $8 donation to take part in the 90-minute class, which starts at 6:30 P.M.
Once again, standing before the sea at sunset -- watch the light fade and let the tide lull you
J.A. del Rosario, a business reporter for The San Juan Star, is a remedial guitar player and an incorrigible nightcrawler. He can be contacted at: : firstname.lastname@example.org