video and still photography by CARLOS PÉREZ OSORIO produced and text by ALICIA-RAE OLAFSSON video edited by FERNANDO R. BENCOMO
A Change of Pace
San Juan is the capital city of the US territory Puerto Rico, known to its people as La Isla el Encanto (The Island of Enchantment). It’s famous for hole-in-the-wall cigar bars, azure beaches, a climate just right for growing sugar cane (from which 70 per cent of the rum consumed in the US is made) and Viejo San Juan, a maze of steeply-sloping, cobblestoned streets patrolled by stray cats and lined with pastel-coloured colonial buildings, a persistent reminder of its Spanish history.
Currently at the apex of a decade-long debt crisis—recently defaulting on more than $72 billion in loans—and with a record number of its population leaving the island behind, San Juan might not seem like the obvious choice for, well, a lot. Yet for César Candia and his wife Ana Karina Paván, a young Venezuelan couple looking to relocate for a better life, San Juan was a no-brainer. As easy was the choice for Henry Toraño to open a gym in his hometown, San Juan.
The street Avenida Juan Ponce de León in San Juan’s Santurce neighbourhood is peppered with a paradox of gaudy billboards and intricate street art, food trucks and pawn shops. The street is also a magnet for young entrepreneurs and the location of Toraño's gym, Aggressive CrossFit. Over a barbed wire fence next door is BeShanti, the market Candia and Paván opened in late 2014 to serve cold-pressed juices and the kind of nutritious meals that simply aren’t easy to come by in the city.
The first week BeShanti was open it was broken into (the first of four break-ins—not to mention two floods—to come) and the air conditioning unit was stolen. It was Toraño who chased the thief down the street to retrieve his new neighbour’s property, a move of solidarity indicative of a change happening in San Juan where choosing to live the SweatLife has become both a way to make a living and to influence a nation.