Areyto – The Dance of the Taínos

Our primitive ancestors, the Indian Taínos celebrated their circumstances through a religious ceremony called Areyto. Music played a vital role in the history and culture of Borikén, named the Taínos gave to Puerto Rico, meaning in their language, the land of God.

Throughout thousands of years, the Areyto evolved into other genres of music and even when unfortunate circumstances could be devastating to the island; this art of science called music is the magical element that shifts sadness into bliss. It reminds Puerto Ricans that they can find the solutions to their problem through singing and dancing.

Starting with the national hymn of Puerto Rico, called La Borinqueña, the Indian Taínos left us a legacy of their customs and culture. The Areyto ceremony played a significant role in their social, political and religious life, and its purpose was to worship their ancestors and to seek spiritual guidance from the spirit world.

By performing dances and music, the community participated in the Areyto, and the festivities could go on for days. It usually took place in the central plaza of a village, called the Batey.  Also known as dance courts, this rectangular and vast area was surrounded by stones slabs, and decorated with carvings of zemís to hold the spirits of Yocahú and Atabey.

Petroglyph at Caguana Ceremonial Center
Petroglyph at Caguana Ceremonial Center

Taínos believed zemís had powers that affected their physical environments, such as the weather, health, death, and childbirth. The Carved zemís from stone or wood were made in all shapes and sizes, as well as adorned with gold and semiprecious stones.

Led by the cacique, which was the chief of the tribe, the Areyto was a religious ceremony, helping him the bohique, a shaman with supernatural powers. Before the ceremony, he painted or tattooed his body with zemís. Besides using medicine herbs, chants, tobacco, and maracas to create an immortal sound; magic was the most powerful element he used for healing. He understood that magic was perceived by being able to see far beyond his physical eyes. He mastered quantum physics, believing his world was a projection of his inner eyes.

Both the bohíque and the cacique inhaled cohoba seeds. The purpose of this hallucinating drug was to reach a state of mind that would transport them to the spirit world. There were times when they added the cohoba to the tobacco and ground shells, with the means to enhance its effectiveness.

Before beginning the Areyto ceremony, they would go through a purifying process by fasting or by inserting a stick in their throat to cause vomiting. Inhaling the Cohoba into the nose with tubes made of bones or wood, the bohíque, and the cacique’s state of hallucination was to communicate with their gods, hoping to receive guidance and answers.

To prepare for these ceremonies, the Taínos liked to paint their bodies with dyes made from plants and adorned their bodies with parrot feathers and jewelry made of shells. The caciques and bohíques wore capes decorated with feathers.

The Areyto began with a procession of the Taínos carrying baskets of cassava bread, and singing songs about the zemís. They also went through a cleansing process by pressing a stick down their throat and vomiting.

The woman brought cassava bread to the bohíques, who offered it to the zemís. Dancing, singing, and chanting followed, glorifying the deities and praying for prosperity and health. They created music with a wooden drum, made from a tree, called atambor. This instrument was accompanied by maracas, guiros, conch shell trumpets and flutes that were made from bones. When the indigenous were not performing, they sat on stones, while the caciques and bohíques sat on their stools.

Among the different reasons Areitos were celebrated, the visit of prominent guests was one of them. Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish priest who lived in Puerto Rico during the Spanish colonization, described an Areyto ceremony as a beautiful and magical ritual where the Taínos expressed their essence by telling tales of their past circumstances and their ancestors to their children while they danced and sang.

Caguana Ceremonial Center, Dancing Court
Caguana Ceremonial Center, Dancing Court

Known as one of the largest Taíno settlements in Puerto Rico, the Ceremonial Plaza of Caguana was one of the preferred sites for the Taínos to celebrate the Areyto. Located in Ponce, this center is one of the largest and oldest plazas in the Caribbean, providing this site an ideal setting for archeologists to study the evolution of the Taíno culture. 

The historian believes the Areyto was a medium to escape this world and to reach higher dimensions. Even though only the cacique and the bohique were the ones establishing communication with higher spiritual realms, the purifying state they were all able to reach through the Areyto ceremony, would benefit each one of them, allowing them to receive grace, wisdom, and joy.

In the Island of Enchantment

By Jerry Valentín
The crystal waters of Aguadilla
By Jerry Valentín

In the beautiful land, surrounded by the crystal waters of its blue Caribbean Sea, I can hear through the waves a delightful music that arouses my soul.

It is in those stunning sunsets where belonging seems so normal, and in those moonlit nights with showers of falling stars, when the sound of the coquí takes me to a mystical world.

By Jerry Valentín
A blue night in Aguadilla
By Jerry Valentín

Through the softness of the wind and the gentle touch of the rain, I can feel a glowing light illuminating my eyes, vanishing away the shadows that cloud my outer world.

In the fragrance of a flower and the shelter of the trees, I can ground me to this earth, believing there is a reason I am here. Only through its blissful fauna and its fancy flora, I see the purpose in my words, guiding me to a fulfilling life.

By Jerry Valentín
Our unusual flora
By Jerry Valentín

In its mystical forest, I can walk through the clouds, discovering me in the radiance of the moon. It is only in the thick woods where I hear the murmur of the breeze echoing through the ethereal voices of our indigenous ancestors chanting secrets full of wisdom.

In the picturesque valleys and its tropical horizon, I fell in love for the first time, widely opening my young heart. While I look for comfort in its spectacular sunsets, a glaring rainbow soothed my broken heart.

Jerry Valentín
A splendid sunset in Aguadilla
Jerry Valentín

Breathing in the earthy and salty air, I cleanse my spirit of any sadness, and while I witness the shining moon expressing its fullness, I become one with my surroundings.

Distant voices come and ago through the melody of the wind, hearing whispers full of promises, and in the gleaming of the stars, I feel the magic that is always within my reach on the Island of Enchantment.

The whisper of a sunset By Jerry Valentín
The whisper of a sunset
By Jerry Valentín
Jerry Valentín
The joy of nature
Jerry Valentín

The Magic of San Juan Bautista Celebration

On June 24, Puerto Rico celebrates San Juan Bautista’s birthday, becoming this famous event an all day festivity that begins on June 23  at the beach.

The Spaniards officially named the island San Juan, renaming it Puerto Rico (Rich Port) to avoid confusion with Old San Juan. As the Saint patron of the country, every year, his birthday is celebrated with all kinds of festivities.

Accordingly to the legend, La Noche de San Juan Bautista is magical because the waters of Puerto Rico have special powers. It is the only day of the year you shouldn’t skip jumping into the ocean if you happen to be there.

As people gather on the beach, right at midnight, everybody jumps into the sea, asking  Saint Joseph to bring good luck and prosperity into their lives.

The following day performances of salsa, merengue, reggaeton and bachata music, as well as religious processions of San Juan Bautista take place in different cities of the island.

There are diverse superstitions of how many times you should go swimming to make sure you will have good luck throughout the rest of the year. While some people believe you should do it seven times, others insist it is necessary to do it 12 times. Whether you do 3 round turns; jumping into the water backward might be perfect. In my opinion, the faith you put into it determines if your wish will come true or not.

Thousands of years ago, the Aborigines practiced a ritual to honor the sun for giving their crops the minerals to harvest their goods. Since summer solstice begins on June 22, the day when the sun is the closest to earth, building bonfires to symbolize the sun was a sacred rite used as a symbol of purification by the Archaics.

When the Spaniards colonized Puerto Rico, instead of prohibiting this ritual, they incorporated it in their Christian practices. Saint Joseph was the prophet who began the rite of christening, as a means of purifying the spirit. Within the years, this religious custom evolved, becoming San Juan Bautista’s celebration a traditional day in the culture of the island.

The legend also claims that Roberto Cofresí’s coffin floats in the ocean that day. He was a local pirate, who was hung in Old San Juan for his crimes. He became the Puerto Rican Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to help the poor. Many people claim they have seen his coffin in the ocean that evening.

For those who believe in magic, getting into the ocean is considered an excellent ritual for healing and uplifting your energy. Thousands of people gather at the beach, going some people just for the party, but if you want to connect with your indigenous antecedents and experience the magical waters of Puerto Rico, you must remember to expect the miracles granted on the night of San Juan Bautista.

The Indigenous Borincanos







During the prehistoric times, the Archaic Indians traveled in canoes from the Greater Antilles to our coasts, finding a paradise in Puerto Rico. Approximately 2,300 years ago; another progressive group of Indians, known as ignerus, came from South America. They were great sailors, potters and farmers and had roots with the Arawak culture that was originally from Orinoco, Venezuela. Years later, this culture evolved into the Taíno, meaning in the Arawak language “noble.” They named the small island Borinkén, translating to the land of God.


 Honoring the communication they were able to have with the astral bodies that transit in the sky of Puerto Rico, they also worshiped Atabey, who they called Mother Nature. The Taínos gratefully reigned on the island, thanking Yocahú, their good God for being the creator of so much beauty. They feared  Juracán and Maboya, the evil spirits who were the creators of catastrophes and disasters.


Indigenous Ceremonial Site in Utuado
Indigenous Ceremonial Site in Utuado

They considered the highest peak of El Yunque a sanctuary because they believed Yocahú lived there. They were able to understand the spiritual laws of the universe. They knew that their outer world just reflects their inner world. Through the communication and guidance they received from their ancestors and their gods, they peacefully lived on the island until the Spaniards settled in.


In 1493, When Columbus discovered Puerto Rico, the Taínos warmly and openly welcomed him. Christopher recorded in his journal that they were exotic Indians with beautiful thick and straight black hair. They had slender bodies and were medium height. Their facial features were refined, penetrating in their dark eyes, the wisdom of their souls. Their skin was hairless and tanned, showing their gentle nature in their smile and their tongue.


Petroglyph at Caguana Petroglyph at Caguana

Upon the Spaniards arrival, about 40,000 Taínos inhabited the island. The main cacique, meaning chief was named Agueybaná. All the Indians respected him because he was a sagacious and honorable man. They lived in a tribe formed by nitaínos: Warriors and relatives of the cacique. The naborias were farmers that followed orders from the cacique. Each tribe had a bohíque, the most important person after the cacique, who was the wisest shaman of the community.


For being primitive Indians, they were very knowledgeable in astronomy, agriculture, medicine plants, geography, religion, textiles, and fishing, among others. As expert sailors, the Taínos were able to guide the Spanish mariners through the Caribbean Sea. At first, they believed the Spaniards had supernatural powers and were spiritually advanced, but it didn’t take long for them to see their true nature. In 1511, after the Taínos drowned Diego Salcedo, a Spanish warrior, they rebelled by declaring war to the soldiers.

Parque Indígena Ricardo Jusino
Parque Indígena
Ricardo Jusino


During a confrontation with Ponce de León colonizers, Agueybaná got killed, becoming their paradise on earth a place of despair. Evil had invaded Their land of God, and they could no longer survive the Spanish tyranny. Upon Agueybaná’s death, some Taínos escaped into the forest, others canoed to near islands, and others committed suicide, preferring their death than living under those miserable conditions.


Agueybana with Ponce de Leon
Agueybana with Ponce de Leon

 They carved symbols in the stones, known as hieroglyphs, encrypting through those codes the mysterious secrets, not defined yet. Even though they learned to defend themselves from the Carib aborigines, known as cannibals and very violent, the Spaniard exploitation was beyond their ability to survive their abuse. They were forced to do mining work and treated as slaves; therefore, in 1541, less than 4,000 Taínos were left on the island.


 Five years later, after the African slaves were introduced to work in agriculture, the smallpox epidemic brought from Africa, killed many Spaniards and Taínos. At the expense of the African slaves and the Taínos, the Spanish built a prosperous empire in the new world.


Cemí, Jayuya Ricardo Jusino
Cemí, Jayuya
Ricardo Jusino

Even though Puerto Rico was under the reign of Spain until it became part of the United States in 1898, its culture and history are rich in original Taíno words, incorporated in the name of many of the cities, foods, instruments, trees, and plants. They left a legacy of art through their sculptures and zemís, which were sculptures that encompassed the spirit of Yocahú. They hid most of their ceremonial artifacts from the Spanish in caves. Their primary foods were yucca, yautía, batata, and corn.

 In 1542, Spain declared officially free the few Taínos left on the island. From there on, the indigenous embodied the Boricua. The spirit of these advanced and highly spiritual Indians rejoice the hearts of the proud Puerto Ricans, whose love for their country resemble the legacy of their ancestors.


Mona Island known as The Galápagos of the Caribbean



Iguana at Mona Island by Jerry Valentín
Iguana from Mona Island
by Jerry Valentin

 Sailing through canoes that were built by the Indian Taínos, they navigated the Caribbean and the Atlantic sea, finding a home in La Mona over 2,000 years before Columbus discovered America. They fell in love with the exotic island for its unique flora and fauna; giving thanks to Mother Nature for giving them such an enchanted sanctuary. They named it amona, meaning “what is in the middle” because they thought the key was an excellent place to trade goods with other Taínos that were coming from adjacent islands.

At Mona Island, they were able to live for over 200 years, surviving the Spanish colonization longer than in anywhere else. Rich in ancient history, three ceremonial sites have been found in the small peninsula, as well as several caves with significant hieroglyphs. Numerous scientists have mapped 58 caves; however, many more are still left to be discovered. Archeologists, historians and scientists from all over the world consider this piece of land a haven for ecological preservation.

Located only 41 miles off the west coast of Puerto Rico, 30 miles southwest of Isla Desecheo, and 38 miles off the eastern coast of Dominican Republic, Mona Island was an excellent place for the Spanish sailors to rest when Columbus discovered it in 1493. Because of its sufficient number of caves, our puertorrican pirate, Roberto Cofresí used this place as a hide-out, following other pirates. A legend claims that valuable treasures from the pirates are still hidden in some of those secluded caves.

Considered the most important ecosystem of the Caribbean, La Mona is also known as The Galápagos of the Caribbean. Famous for its endemic species; the 6.77 miles long and 4.24 miles is a natural reserve of 13,000 acres. The only population is the staff of the Department of the Natural Resources; continuously visiting adventurers who love to scuba dive, fish or even explore the island. A permit must be obtained to go camping, and the staying is restricted to no more than three days.

Regardless of its ongoing visits by geologists, biologists, ecologists and even astrologers; La Mona is a very dangerous place. Not only its waves and turbulent currents are dangerous, but its venomous fruits and plants, lethal scorpions and original vegetation can be very hazardous. Getting lost is a high risk; therefore, it is required to visit the caverns with a guide and camping is only allowed on the three beaches on the south and southwest of the island.

Since the Spanish colonization, a fertilizer called guano became a very lucrative business, importing to different parts of the world big productions of this compost, made of excrement of bats, birds, and minerals. When United Sates took possession of Puerto Rico in 1898, other miners of guano from other countries were able to make and sell them at a lower price, deciding the government of Puerto Rico in 1917 to protect the island from being exploited.

In the secluded and wild peninsula that some people call the Jurassic Park of Puerto Rico, nature becomes alive in different forms and sounds. During the twilight, the sun is transformed into a glittering, glowing ball that raves in the horizon of the island with the melody of the fauna. At night, the sky launches the most incredible stellar show, beaming each star with more intensity than anywhere else.

The melody of the coquí from La Mona, sounding like a raindrop, is in the background, twirling with the echoes of rare birds. A biosphere of marine life visits the shoreline. Cliffs with a depth of over 1,000 feet shelter hundreds of unusual species of fish and seaweed. While dolphins blissfully soar through the ocean waves, giant iguanas gathered with endemic lizards and endangered Carey turtles to welcome the whales into the bizarre world of wonder and awe.

Mona Island
Mona Island

Arecibo Observatory – The World Largest Telescope

Suspended in a valley in the mountains of the island, the radio telescope was built-in 1963 by Cornell University and the National Science Foundation. After considering Hawaii, Mexico, Cuba and some smaller islands in the Caribbean, Arecibo, Puerto Rico was selected as the ideal place because of its proximity to the equator. In addition, the radio telescope needed to be far away from any large population centers, so the radio waves produced in cities wouldn’t interfere with operations. Keeping this telescope within US territory was a must because of its military uses.

 Arecibo telescope with 350 meters diameter, is used for aeronomy, the study of the upper atmosphere and allows objects that are too far away in space to be observed by radio waves. Astronomers have used this instrument to detect radio emissions from distant regions of the universe, enabling them to measure distances and masses of galaxies.

There have been significant discoveries at the Arecibo Observatory over the years. Among them, right after the observatory was opened, it became clear that the rotation of Mercury was 59 days, instead of 88.

The first planets outside of our solar system were also discovered using the Arecibo telescope in 1994 and it has also enriched our knowledge of pulsars.

Known as the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, SETI is the most famous research project at Arecibo Observatory. Just like in the movie Contact with Jodie Foster that was based on the novel by Carl Sagan and was filmed there, astronomers send radio signals out into space, hoping to contact extraterrestrials.

Even though the future of this observatory is not certain due to funds, in the last few years, astronomers have worried about an asteroid hitting the earth and destroying humanity. To observe asteroids, it has been determined that Arecibo Observatory is the ideal radio instrument. For the past 53 years, this advanced dish allows astronomers to keep discovering specific data about our universe.

In 2016, China’s new telescope FAST will surpass Arecibo Observatory with a 500 meter diameter. Time seems to be moving faster as the universe is shifting. So, which other significant discoveries could take place within the next three years? Why is Puerto Rico known as a key place for extra-terrestrial activity? Will scientists be able to discover what is really dark energy?  And even prove that while our days seem to be getting shorter, time is just an illusion?

Arecibo Radio Telescope By Jerry Valentin
Arecibo Radio Telescope
By Jerry Valentin
Arecibo Observatory By Jerry Valentin
Arecibo Observatory
By Jerry Valentin

The Train that Never Arrived

On November 6, 1944, Puerto Rico celebrated the victory of the Democratic Party on the Election Day. Among the festivities during that festive evening, a show of fireworks took over the clear and radiant sky.

During those times, the rail system was the most popular medium of transportation, connecting by train the metropolitan area with the cities of the island, as many traveled to vote in San Juan.

On the early hours of November 7, at 2:00 in the morning, the last train (#3), stopped at the Jiménez Station in Aguadilla for an inspection. The conductor of the train, José Antonio Román exchanged with train #4. Even though he was a qualified freight train engineer, he didn’t have any experience as a passenger conductor.

Approximately twenty minutes after the maintenance routine, the train left the station to continue its route to Ponce, carrying travelers to their different hometowns. At 2:20 in the morning, hauling six passenger cars with hundreds of commuters and two freight cars, the train started to descend a hill section known as Cuesta Vieja (Old Hill) in Aguadilla. Witnesses stated that the speed was so fast; derailing the train when it reached the leveling-off point at the bottom of the hill. The steam locomotive crashed into a ditch, exploding and killing many inside.

The tragic scene reported one of the most horrendous and violent accidents in the history of Puerto Rico and the worst in Aguadilla. Witnesses described some frightened and desperate parents throwing their children through the train windows, pledging to save their kids just minutes before the locomotive suffered a terrible explosion.

The impact of the heartbreaking tragedy was so powerful that three passenger cars were converted into a dune of debris, killing 16 passengers, including the engineer that was conducting the train and reported 50 people injured in the crash.

Even though I wasn’t alive to eyewitness this calamity, several people told me that instead of celebrating the victory, the island was mourning the terrible accident. In Aguadilla and near towns, everybody joined forces and offered support to the relatives of the victims that were in train #3. The dreadful tears that took place in that early morning touched many hearts, making room for the warmth and the love that Puerto Ricans shared with each other.

Every time I walked through La Cuesta Vieja, surrounded by a deep blue bay of crystal waters, I imagined all those people who unexpectedly died in such an awful way. Even though train #3 never arrived at its destination, compassion and sadness filled the atmosphere of Aguadilla, wanting to show the island that the heart of the Boricuas is as big in kindness as the loveliness of the charming town.

Photo of Haydee Reichard
Photo of Haydee Reichard

Jacinto’s Well

Jacinto's Well at Jobos Beach By Jerry Valentin
Jacinto’s Well at Jobos Beach
By Jerry Valentin

A local farmer who lived in Isabela, a beautiful town on the northwestern coast of the island, was named Jacinto. Every afternoon, right before sunset, Jacinto would take a herd of cows for a beach walk. He tied his favorite cow to him while he led the rest of his herd. One day, on the highest rock and steps away from the beach, his favorite cow got too close to a pit hole, and falling into it, she dragged Jacinto with him. Because of the nature of the sea, the dangerous current didn’t allow Jacinto and the cow to survive the fierce waves.

Every time you visit the pit hole, and you shout: “Jacinto, give me your cow,”  the ocean waves will violently burst out with rage, splashing with water, and if you listen carefully, you may hear Jacinto’s voice calling for help. The favorite spot is known as a wishing well; throwing many coins into the well while making a wish. However, don’t get too close to the well because if you fall into it, you will join Jacinto and his cow for good.

By Jerry Valentin
By Jerry Valentin

The first time my parents took me to see the well, I was eight years old. Surrounded by the deep, blue sea, the public well is in a rock formation area that is elevated from the beach. Therefore, instead of walking in soft sand, the way to the well is a steep hike, stepping in sharp and uneven rocks. For those who are skeptical, it can be amazing to witness the reaction of the sea when you scream “Jacinto”. Throughout the years, as I continued to visit the well, I wondered if Jacinto’s soul was disturbingly wrestling with the strong ocean waves. The beautiful, crystal, deep blue waters distinguish Jobos as one of the best beaches on the island for surfing, snorkeling, and kite-surfing.

Jacinto’s well is a popular attraction that brings visitors to Jobos Beach every single day of the year. The legend is also known as the prosperity well because of the tourism that the town receives. There are many mysteries in Puerto Rico, and this is one of them. When you shout Jacinto’s name, why does the ocean respond with anger?

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