SAN JUAN — It’s another 85-degree afternoon in Old San Juan, and dozens of cruise ship passengers stroll along the waterfront, casually making their way toward Pier 4, where the 110,000-ton Carnival Glory awaits them. An elderly man walks by, selling coco, piña and parcha-flavored ice cream to tourists, while a local entertainer wrapped in the red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag sings “Stand By Me” in front of a kiosk selling Puerto Rico-themed baseball caps, license plates and necklaces.
Residents of San Juan joyously wave Puerto Rican flags in celebration of tennis champion Monica Puig, winner of the island's first-ever gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The musician, known only as “El Gallo de San Juan,” has been here for 20 years, arriving every morning at 8 a.m. and walking up and down the entire waterfront with his songs and trinkets.
“The people are buying,” he says. “They don’t spend a lot. They buy cheap things, but they’re buying.”
Directly across the street is the Hacienda, Puerto Rico’s Treasury Department, which chafes under the weight of the island’s $68 billion budget deficit. But the tourists — clad mostly in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops — don’t seem to care, any more than they care about the Zika epidemic that’s frightened so many islanders or the staggering brain drain that has seen hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans flee for the U.S. mainland in the wake of economic stagnancy.