To a large extent, Puerto Rico is more a spiritual nation than a religious one, with lingering belief in spirits worshipped by Taino and African ancestors - like the Taino spirit Jupias, who haunts the dreams of mortals. Curanderos or espiritistas (healers) are consulted regularly on the subjects of money and marriage, health and happiness, blessings and revenge, to name a few. Botánicas, the stores that supply herbs and potions essential to Puerto Rican spiritual rituals, can be found in almost every town. The practice is fairly tame, however. If you're hoping to find bare-breasted women anointing themselves with chicken blood and sticking pins into voodoo effigies, you'll be disappointed. The wildest Puerto Rico gets in terms of spiritual ceremony is a watered-down version of Santería, originally practiced between the 16th and 19th centuries by islanders ofCuban or African descent. The ceremony represented a kind of barter system between man and god - usually to heal the sick or bring luck and good fortune - and was not particularly sinister. Over the centuries however, interpretations of Santería have become blurred, and today it is fairly obscure and regarded with suspicion and a whiff of fear. The modern version combines a general sense of superstition with a tendency to purchase special candles and potions from botánicas, just in case. Add to this the Puerto Rican penchant for keeping santos - wooden, stone or ceramic images of Christian saints - for good luck, and you get a healthy blend of Christian superstition and Taino and African idol worship.
THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT
Known as chupacabras (literally "goat suckers") as far away as Texas, South America and the UK, these mysterious blood-sucking monsters apparently kill by boring holes in the skull or neck of their prey and then vacuuming out the insides, leaving corpses that are nothing but a deflated sack of skin and a few bones. Few people claim to have actually seen a chupacabra, and descriptions of them range from a large jackal-like animal to a slimy gray hu-manoid, possibly visiting our planet from space or maybe the result of a botched genetic experiment. But the carnage left behind as evidence is well documented. In rural areas of Puerto Rico, hundreds of animals have been slain in this gruesome manner during the past decade, baffling police and scientists alike. Cano-vanas Mayor Chemo Soto has organized a series of expeditions to photograph or capture the monster, using caged goats as bait. Although it has earned him the nickname Chemo (Indiana) Jones, Soto and his band of hunters have so far failed to bag their quarry. Every Puerto Rican is familiar with chupacabra attacks reported in local newspapers, however, and for farmers the fear is real. The strikes appear to be increasing in frequency. In October 2000 a chupacabra attack was reported in the Buena Vista area of San Antonio, with alarming signals that the monster is becoming more indiscriminate in choosing its prey. The corpses of a turkey and five ducks were reportedly found emptied of organs and body fluids, and two hens were wounded. According to witnesses, the attacker left behind "a green and yellow substance... with a gellike appearance that smells like sulfur." Oddly, the chupacabra seems to favor attacking near towns beginning with the letter 'C', such as Caguas, Carolina, Canovanas and Cabo Rojo.
Puerto Rico is one of the world's hotspots for reports of UFO sightings and extraterrestrial activity, and not just because the Areci-bo Observatory is used by the scientists of the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) program (see page 139 in the North Coast chapter). For decades, residents have claimed to witness unearthly craft hovering over such places as El Yunque rain forest, the hills above Lajas and the nearby Laguna Cartagena. According to "reliable sources" interviewed by your faithful correspondents, these places are most likely used as alien bases. Conspiracy theorists note: all are on government property! Reportedly verified by a university physicist from Mayaguez, an unclassifiable blue-green vapor began issuing from Laguna Cartagena in the 1980s, and sounds of subterranean construction have been heard intermittently ever since. Some "experts" see this as the work of an underground reptilian race that has immigrated to our planet. Other witnesses have seen slender gray creatures with almond-shaped eyes (not to be confused with chupacabras) near the lagoon, as well as workers wearing white Haz-Mat uniforms and CIA-looking men wearing mirrored sunglasses and carrying briefcases into the underbrush (see page 184 in the West Coast chapter).
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