When the renegade 'gonzo' American journalist Hunter S Thompson wrote his first novel, The Rum Diary, set in Puerto Rico in the late 1950s, he recorded a powerful undertow of foreboding about what the island, then coming under the pressures of mass American tourist development, would later become.
Thompson had worked as a reporter in San Juan, the capital, in 1960, and had been dismayed at the surge of property developers and moneymen on to the island. The city was what his fictional alter ego in the novel, Paul Kemp, calls 'a place of sex and disease and whores and sailors and opportunists and hustlers.'
Kemp drifts around the bars and casinos of the fancy new hotels of San Juan complaining remorselessly and vituperatively. The Puerto Ricans themselves are 'punks' who look like 'sick Mexicans', the society parties he attends are populated by 'quacks and clowns and philistines with gimp mentalities'. He finds the island is unbearably hot and overrun with wild dogs, and the restaurants in San Juan, when you could find one, would give you 'dysentery, crabs, gout (and) Hutchinson's disease'.
Little wonder it isn't on the Puerto Rico tourist board's list of recommended reading — although they may warm more to the story when it comes out as a film with Johnny Depp this month. Inspired by the release of the movie, I fly there to see if things have changed much since Thompson made his pilgrimage.