Sunday, June 28, 2009

Puerto Rico Old San Juan A Brief Exploration

We woke up in the morning from a wonderful night's sleep. Bruce brought coffee from downstairs and I had my cotton candy and coffee in bed.

We began to stir and threw open our doors to the balcony for a look in the daylight. We had a wonderful view down onto the square. It was quiet and still. It was a beautiful morning after a fabulous night.

We used the water box and dressed for our day out. We joined the people downstairs in our hotel for a complementary breakfast. I tried to eat healthy since we had been such gluttons last night. This place is so very old and it is evidenced in the furniture pieces in the lobby. This thing just begs a girl to sit on it. I think it could double as some kind of futon.

We set out on the town, getting our first look at Old San Juan in the daylight. That's our balcony second floor center left.

We strolled though the square marveling at all of the pastel colors of the cement front buildings. this one could use a face lift. It seems like most of the construction is of cement, I guess because of the tropical storms. It's very beautiful.

The streets are cobbled in blue ceramic fired brick. They make a marvelous sound when a car drives over them.

I can't imagine driving through these streets. They are so narrow. There is just enough room for the line of parked cars and inches between the mirrors when a car drives through. Kudos to the cabbies!

We turned towards the opposite side of the island from where we went last night. We had only a few blocks to go up the steep incline to where we burst out into the open sunlight and a sweeping view of the Atlantic ocean. Here I was amazed to see that the slums are built outside the walls of the fort. I can see that the poor would be outside back in the dark ages, but you would think that the rich would take over the prime waterfront property now. Not so.

We took our time exploring all along the wall. The winds were almost calm and it was getting very warm. It was almost other-worldly. There were few people out. Bruce was lost in thoughts of how it must have been to defend this fort from enemies by sea. This wall is 15 feet thick in most places, sometimes more. It's amazing.

We wound our way along the wall with breathtaking views at our feet. The ocean seemed vast.

Before long, the slums disappeared and were replaced by a cemetery. Again it seemed strange to use the space outside the wall near the water's edge for a cemetery. It was certainly a beautiful final resting place.

We found the tunnel through the wall that allowed us access on ground level with the cemetery. Sadly, it was not open to the public. So we poked around outside the gates and took what pictures we could of the amazing monuments inside.

This one was a favorite. The carving was so detailed and intricate. I can almost imagine the figures coming to life and moving around.

I wished we could get inside and walk around to see the dates on the gravestones. I love to poke around old cemeteries thinking of how the people must have lived and died. This place is so saturated with history, you can almost feel it.

We continued on along the coast and came up on the beginning of the actual fort. Bruce thought this place was probably storage for munitions. It was just small boxlike rooms.

The main part of the fort had a bridge over what looked to me like it could have been a moat. Maybe it was just a pit where they kept the lions. Ok, no lions, but it's fun to think about it anyway. See Bruce is tiny on the bridge.

The door to the fort was closed when we arrived. It would be open in a half hour for tours. We waited a bit but decided that we needed to be on our way this trip. Next time we come back, we'll take the tour.

We did read a bit about it and Bruce's assumptions were correct. This point guarded the entrance to the channel that leads into the heart of their port.

As we walked around to the other side, we could see the channel markers. It was easy to see how this entrance could be defended from this vantage point.

There were cannon pads on this side to catch those enemies that got this far. We had fun playing inside the cupolas. We could see down the channel to the main town area. This channel is used today for commerce and tourism.

We walked across the vast lawn towards the street where we would wait to catch the trolley. There was a flock of these little birds there. Does anyone know what they are?

We waited for a while in the square there. I was intrigued by this statue. It was a woman fending off the devil with one hand while reaching for a good man from above. Bruce went over to check it out. It was a religious statue depicting the triumph of good over evil. The twist was that it was so erotic. Hmmm.

Before long, the free trolley came to stop for us. It's very nice to ride around the narrow streets in the comfort of the air conditioned trolley. They come around every 15 minutes and the loop takes about 45 minutes. We knew it would stop right in front of our hotel. We did the whole loop then got off at our square.

We just had time for a relaxed lunch before we had to collect our bags from the hotel and head for the airport. Bruce ordered sandwiches from a vendor in the square. We ate there in the shade as the gazillion pigeons watched us hungrily.

Bruce threw them some shoestring potatoes from his basket. They swarmed! It was fun to watch them go after our crumbs.

Someone walked by and scattered them but they came right back until all traces of our lunch were snatched up.

We did some shopping in the old buildings around the square. How much trouble could we get into in a drugstore? Well, I found a set of jewelry made of an unusual colored malachite. Bruce ended up buying it for me for our 5th anniversary which was coming up soon. I was so happy I cried. We said our fond goodbyes to Old San Juan and went away with very happy memories. We'll be back!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

End of Vacation in the BVI's on to Puerto Rico!

All morning down in the cabin while I packed and organized things, I kept smelling gas. I figured it was from one of the work-boats across the way and ignored it. When I had finished down below and was having a lite breakfast of muffins and juice, I found the source of the smell. The dinghy gas tank had flipped over in the night from the swells and hadn't been closed the night before. The gas had leaked out into the dinghy floor. It was covered in green gas. I finished my breakfast, donned plastic bags on my feet and got down into the dinghy to clean it out. We could have left it for the crew to clean up, but Bruce and I wanted to take the dinghy to Village Cay to wash all of our laundry prior to our departure. When all was said and done, it was a job that Green Peace would be proud of. I didn't spill a drop into the water.

We waited in the cockpit for the taxi driver to come and take Phil and Jackie to the airport. Their flight out was early this morning. I was startled to see a crab come scuttling out from behind Jackie's suitcase where it sat on the dock waiting.

How in the world had this little guy made it this far along the dock? We watched him for a while. The taxi arrived and we saw Phil and Jackie off.

We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon washing our clothes, finalizing our packing and getting cleaned up and dressed for the trip. We checked in the boat and took a taxi to Pusser's for lunch. Then to the airport to await our departure in another little 10 seat Cessna.

There are no pictures of this one. I was worried that I would be filming my death as we took off with this very young and profusely sweating pilot. Once in the air, we were unable to see anything for the white haze that has blanketed the islands for 2 days. We were flying by instrument only and the wings were never level! Our landing was even more precarious than the take-off. But we made it down to earth alive in Puerto Rico.

We taxied through town and I had a horrible feeling that we had made a mistake in coming here. It was wall to wall traffic, buildings and people swarming everywhere! We were so tired and this didn't look good. We could just find our room and stay in!

Once we entered the Old San Juan area, things changed... it was still wall to wall, still swarming, but it was slower somehow. Old. Quaint. We checked into our hotel and were instructed on the use of the "elevator". Capacity 2 plus bags. (one each) and it was a squeeze. Yes that's it, not a closet! We closed the outer and inner doors and made our slow progression up to the second floor.

Our room was very spartan but it had a sort of ancient charm. There was a large armoire for our clothes and two tall double doors that opened out onto our private balcony overlooking the square. Thanks Joanie at Caribbean Travel!

It was clean and comfortable. There was even this strange thing right inside the door. It was a sort of box, where if you stand inside and turn a handle, clean clear water gushes out over your head in unlimited quantities. Hot AND Cold! Amazing!

We made good use of this box and changed to go out in search of dinner. We left our hotel and crossed the quaint square, complete with statues and a flowing fountain. Oh and pigeons... don't forget the pigeons!

We turned ourselves toward the waterfront and strolled along the darkening streets. They were narrow and cobbled in blue brick. The storefronts and homes lined the walkway wall to wall. We walked out into an open area with vendors set up selling food and trinkets. I bought some yummy coconut candy hoping to find that like we got in Belize. It was good but not the same.

We reached the waterfront where there was a disco jumpin' on board a boat docked there. Further out was the cruise ship landing. There was a lot going on down by the water. We bought drinks at a little stand in the square. People milled about buying things and listening to live music.

I broke down and bought some cotton candy. It was made right there and smelled heavenly. I waited to eat it because we were looking for a place to have dinner. We had looked at menus in a couple of doorways but Bruce said to wait until we found "the one".

We strolled along and found ourselves outside the walls of the old fort. Right there, in the shadow of the wall, was "the one". It was a patio with vines weaving a ceiling and light balls hanging down. There was a babbling fountain and chirping frogs singing to us... come to me... come to me... We looked at the menu and found margaritas! We were there!

It was the most lovely evening out I can remember! We had great drinks, fabulous Puerto Rican cuisine, pleasant conversation with a couple at the next table, and the chirping of the frogs to lull us. All of my initial misgivings about this place melted away. We were having a wonderful time.!

After we had stuffed ourselves to the gills, we went back out into the night to find our way back to the hotel. But not so fast... I stopped to buy some coconut shell jewelry that I had seen on the in.

We wound our way back through the streets full of lovers holding hands like us. We came upon our fountain! We were home! We fell into the immaculate sheets upstairs and slept like babies in the air conditioned comfort of the old Howard Johnson's Old San Juan.

Friday, June 26, 2009

BVI Vacation with the In-Laws The Caves ( take II )

Our last day out... Ahhh but what a day! We set off around the tip of Tortola and made way towards Norman Island to snorkel the Caves with Phil and Jackie.
We all took turns on the wheel and motored right into the wind on the bounding main that is the Sir Francis Drake. Jackie found a new position to deal with her vertically challanged-ness.

We arrived at the caves and quickly found our mooring ball. We have become so familiar with the place after two weeks, it all seems old hat now. We still could find the beauty and wonder down under as we explored the wall.

This is Mother Nature's "flower arrangement". The pictures don't do it justice.

The visibility was good, but there was a bunch of flotsam in the water. Bruce came up with this stuff on his head as he plowed through it. It looks like he could use a new mask too. Look at the water level inside!

We swam into the caves and I guess the fish were hungry this morning. This little orange guy came right up to Bruce's hands to see what he had to offer.
I never get enough of the giant blue clouds of little fish that stream in and out of the caves. They insinuate themselves just out of reach of predators and of people.
We came out of the caves and explored the wall as the swells brought us closer and then back away from the crashing waves on top. The fish all seem unaffected. It's sad to leave all of this beauty and I'll think of it often after our return home. It's all going on day after day while we resume our lives back home in the real world.

We had an uneventful sail back to Road Harbor where we would spend our last night here. We were escorted by a young dolphin that swam alongside our boat as we neared Port Purcel. Of course he disappeared the moment the camera came out. We pulled up to the fuel dock and gave the boat over to the guys at BVI Yacht Charters. We would highly recommend them to anyone considering chartering. We've heard lots of things about other companies from other sailors and BVI YC comes out on top.

We all went over to swim in the pool and get out of the heat of town at Village Cay Marina and Restaurant.

We spent the afternoon hanging out on the deck until happy hour.
We moved into the main seating area where they were serving free... I said FREE... chicken wings. This is an absolute first here in the BVI. Nobody ever tells us tourists where the FREE stuff is!
We had the wings, then ordered dinner. Who wants to go back to a hot boat and eat leftovers that were a week old? Not us!
We dined then dinghied our way back to the boat where we ended the day organizing and packing up our stuff. It was better to do it now in the cool of night, than to leave it all for morning. Phil and Jackie were to leave on the early flight out. Bruce and I would leave later in the afternoon.