Puerto Rico may someday be the fiftieth state in the US, but it didn’t seem like we were in the United States. It has a unique charm, everyone speaks both Spanish and English. We decided to do a walking tour of the old downtown to see just what the area was like. But first, I’ll write a little about the harbor.
The channel looks very narrow, and it is. Both sides of the harbor were well fortified by the early Spanish conquerors, there are four fortifications in the picture. To the far left of the photo, is the fort that is near old town. Across the harbor entrance are three smaller forts that defended the harbor quite effectively. The defenders could set up a murderous crossfire with cannon that easily fought back English and Dutch attackers for 400 years. Contrast this successful defense to the defense of the island of St. Lucia. It exchanged hands 14 times between the English and French until it finally became a member of the British Commonwealth in the late 1800’ds (I think).
The forts were made from limestone deposits. I’ve heard the deposits being called coquina. The older the deposit, the harder the material. These forts were faced with local lava rock and sometimes brick.
Puerto Rico was of great strategic importance in the 1500-1700’ds. It is the first major land mass when sailing west from Europe. Ocean currents speed the trip by many days, but fresh water and supplies were very important. Spain could quickly resupply while the English and Dutch had to sail much further for safe haven. This fort and the control of the area allowed Spain to dominate the politics of the new world for 100’ds of years.
When returning to Europe, mariners would ride the Gulf Stream across the north Atlantic.
Rounding the corner of the bay, we found we were sharing San Juan for the day
with two other ships. Left, Royal Caribbean’s “Independence of the Seas”. Right, the Carnival Valor. Both ships are much larger than the Ryndam, there were people everywhere on shore. We berthed to the left of the Valor.
This was an ongoing way of life in the Caribbean. Many cruise lines spend the winter plying the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea. Mexico, sadly, has lost favor with the American tourists due to the continual battles between drug lords and ghastly pictures of victims on television. But this chain of islands to the east are quiet and safe.
There are a large number of people living on the eastern seaboard of the US with cold weather and the temptation of warmth a few hundred miles south. So all ships are crowded in a small area south of Florida. Except for Cuba. It’s beginning to sound like Cuba may be opened for travel from the US someday soon.
Our only private day on this 14 day segment of our cruise was St. Lucia.
We wandered around the narrow streets of old town taking in the sights. The area near the ships were overflowing with tourists. And shops full of trinkety bullshit (Sorry, one time for this. I will go with BS from now on. But I gotta call it as I see it). Tshirts, cups, refrigerator magnets, dresses, carvings, overpriced swimming suits, shot glasses; most of it made in China, India, Taiwan, or Thailand. And store after store selling diamonds and emeralds and rubies and amber and tanzanite and onyx and gold and silver and perfume. Boring. Just how much of that BS can most people afford? And then pack in their luggage?
By the way, I’m not picking on Puerto Rico. With the exception on Guatemala, where most everything was local, every port is filled with that trash. Sigh. Trying to find something genuine from one of these ports is a real struggle. I’ve got a few things I will share with you after the cruise that were mostly locally made.
But the food WAS genuine. This is a Spanish dish made from rice, eggs, fish, vegetables, meat or whatever you wish in any combination. Praxy had all veggies, I chose cod and shrimp. The rice was yellow, maybe colored with saffron. I can’t remember what the dish was called, but it was very very tasty. The homemade hot sauce was superb. A base of olive oil with spices, garlic, vinegar, onion, chiles, fresh tomato, lime juice, and maybe some other stuff. I’m writing this down now and I’m going to try to make something similar when we get home. The rice thingy plus the hot sauce made for the best tasting meal so far on this trip in my opinion. I will put up a recommendation on Tripadvisor. Restaurante Airemuno, off the beaten track a bit, is worth the extra effort to find.
My ability to nose out the odd corners paid off handsomely.
We waddled off from the huge luncheon and made our way to the old fort near the downtown. I thought the fort near the entrance to the harbor looked good, but our waiter said that the nearby one was much better. Since the food he was serving was good, I hoped the advice would be good as well. It was.
Fort San Cristobal is one of the largest fortifications in the new world. It runs for a mile or so, there must have been a large garrison stationed there during the 16th through 18th century. The US National Park Service administers it now, rather than Spanish soldiers.
Looking towards the harbor entrance.
The nearby Atlantic Ocean.
We thought this window looking into the city was quaint.
Those are houses and apartments in the background.
These are major sized cannonballs. Looks like the type that were incendiary, filled with powder or explosives.
The top was four to 10 feet thick stone with overlapping cannon ports.
The newer downtown area.
Since we were in the US, it made sense to call home.
The remainder of our afternoon was uneventful. We enjoyed a leisurely stroll back to the ship and set off for St. Thomas. I enjoy the sailings from ports. I sit in the Crow’s Nest lounge and watch the scenery slowly pass by.
12/16/12 7:50pm One time zone east of Eastern Standard Time. Whatever that zone is!