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The Journal News (White Plains, NY)

Puerto Rico Is Truly The Fountain Of Youth

By Herb Geller

3 March 2005
Copyright © 2005 The Journal News (White Plains, NY). All rights reserved.

Ponce De Leon, the first Spanish governor of Puerto Rico, thought he found the "fountain of youth" when he discovered Florida.

De Leon was wrong. He never should have left Puerto Rico because that is where I think the real "fountain of youth" is located. The only thing he found in Florida were hostile American Indians who killed him.

I know that the "fountain of youth" is in Puerto Rico because I have always felt 10 years younger during every one of the 25 years that we have vacationed here. Other senior citizens who come here also agree that vacationing on this island makes them feel a lot younger.

Maybe it's our imagination or just leaving the frozen North for the warm weather and warm water of the tropics where you don't need heavy clothing that makes us feel so good. But the truth is we really feel alive and energetic every time we come here.

I know Florida also has warm weather and palm trees, but it is not the same as Puerto Rico. Florida is not as warm as Puerto Rico; temperatures have been known to go as low as 40 degrees during January and February, the months we want to get away from the North's snow and ice. We visited Florida three times and I remember how difficult it was to go to the beach because of the heavy traffic and coastal development. When we did get there we saw a sign saying, "beach closed because of jellyfish."

Gloria and I and our three daughters first came to Puerto Rico in 1977 for 10 days. Now we come here for two months. We came here every year since then with the exception of one year when we visited the Dominican Republic and one year when we went to Grenada.

This year and during all that time we have been renting apartments in Playa Azul, a condominium community on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico about 30 miles from San Juan. Playa Azul, which consists of three 21-story condominiums bordering the Atlantic Ocean, is in the town of Luquillo not far from Cape San Juan, the northeastern point of the island. We can see the Cape San Juan lighthouse from our window.

I once wrote in a letter to the San Juan Star, the English language newspaper, that Puerto Rico's greatest asset is not its beautiful mountains, warm weather or blue ocean, but its kind, generous, compassionate people. They may seem slow and disorganized to someone who doesn't know them but I found out that they can react with lightning speed to save a life or help someone who has been injured.

I have also experienced their willingness to help a stranger. There was the time we couldn't find our way out of the city of Ponce in the dark and a man had us follow his car to the main highway. Or when the computer man refused to charge us for showing me how to use my rented laptop. There was also the strong young man who straightened out a bump in our car hood with his bare hands and refused any payment.

I won't say that Puerto Rico doesn't have its problems. There is far too much crime here and there are some corrupt politicians. Not enough attention is given to preserving the environment that makes this island such a beautiful place. More English should be taught in the schools. We have observed that people who are bilingual seem to have the good jobs in business and government.

There is also still a lot of confusion about Puerto Rico's future relationship to the United States. Right now it is a self-governing commonwealth that the government calls "The Free, Associated State of Puerto Rico." A portion of the population favors continuing the commonwealth status while others want Puerto Rico to become the 51st state in the union. There are also those who want Puerto Rico to become an independent nation.

Puerto Rico has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean. The people here want to keep it that way.

I think the Puerto Rican people truly make this island "the Shining Star of the Caribbean."

Herbert F. Geller is a North Salem resident.

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