Saturday, May 27, 2017

PUERTO RICO: SAN JUAN FORTRESSES AND STREET ART

The last places we visited in San Juan were two "castles" or fortresses on top of a hill overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Together they make up the San Juan National Historic Site, a World Heritage Site since 1983 that is managed by the U.S. National Park Service.

The first was the Castillo de San Cristobal, the largest Spanish fortification in the New World. It was finished in 1783, covered 27 acres, and was used as a fortress through World War II.

The outside walls are impressively massive:

This would be a kid's dream playground for many reasons, among which is the fact that there are six hidden underground tunnels.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

PUERTO RICO: TERRITORIAL CAPITOL IN SAN JUAN

Getting dumped off the cruise ship at 6:00 AM is not my idea of fun, but it actually turned out well for us because that meant we had a full morning to finish exploring the parts of San Juan, Puerto Rico, that we had not been able to see before the cruise. We had a cab take us to a local hotel that would store our luggage for us, and then we went (by foot, mind you) to the territorial capitol building, or El Capitolio, as it is known locally.

It's a capitol that would make any state proud, and one that is significantly more majestic and beautiful than many we have seen. Built between 1925 and 1929, with the dome completed in 1961, the Neoclassical capitol is reminiscent of the US Capitol with its central portico, heavy columns, and dome (although the dome is much less ambitious than the grand dome in Washington, DC).
Puerto Rico Territorial Capitol Building in San Juan

US Capitol Building in Washington, DC

We spent quite a bit of time on Constitution Avenue, the street on which the capitol is located. The area across the street from the capitol reminded me of the National Mall in DC--full of war memorials and tributes to great figures in Puerto Rico's past.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

BARBADOS: CATAMARAN SAILING AND A FLYING FISH SANDWICH

Quick, give me a fact about Barbados! Yeah, me too. I knew n-o-t-h-i-n-g about this tiny island before our trip, other than that it was in the Caribbean (but I couldn't have sworn to that). I've learned that Barbados, which was "discovered" by Spaniards like so many other Caribbean Islands, was eventually colonized by the British. In 1966 it became an independent state and Commonwealth realm. 

I've discovered that Barbados is only 21 x 14 miles, covering an area of 167 square miles and boasting a population of about 280,000 people. Its capital, Bridgetown, contains almost half of the population. Two of George Washington's ancestors were early planters on the island, and Bridgetown is the only city outside the present United States that Washington every visited. It was in 1751, and he was 19 years old. The house where he stayed is now a museum that can truly say, "George Washington slept here."  Unfortunately, we didn't know about that important landmark when we went there, and so missed an opportunity to visit.

Barbados was the last island we visited on our cruise, and it was a great way to end. Our primary activity for the day was this:

We spent four or five hours on a catamaran with the evocative name of Silver Moon, enjoying the cool breeze, snorkeling, being waited on by a solicitous crew, and going for a dip in the sea near the nethermost part of the island.  It was heavenly.


Friday, May 12, 2017

ST. LUCIA, PART II: LUNCH, CASTRIES BASILICA, A NOBEL POET, AND THE PITONS

After spending a good part of a day driving around St. Lucia, we were hungry, and we told our driver that we wanted to eat authentic St. Lucian food at a place where the locals eat.  He took us to Fedo's New Venture in the town of Soufriere, which is located near the Pitons on the west coast of the island.

It was crowded inside, so we gladly took the table on the front porch of the erstwhile home that is now a restaurant:

We began our late lunch with a very refreshing glass of iced tamarind juice:

The mahi mahi and vegetable dish was wonderful, and included breadfruit, taro, chayote, cassava, purple sweet potatoes, and plantain--not your usual roast veggie mix! There were also the more famliar carrots, cabbage, rice, and beans.

Monday, May 8, 2017

ST. LUCIA, PART I: AN OLD FRENCH BASE, A SNAKE, THE TET PAUL NATURE TRAIL, THE PITONS, AND SOME SULPHUR SPRINGS

The next stop on our Caribbean Cruise was the island of St. Lucia. Only 238 square miles, it is nevertheless a sovereign nation, as are many of the Caribbean islands. Originally invaded by the Dutch and the English, St. Lucia was officially claimed and then settled by the French in 1660, but then suffered through a couple centuries of fighting between the French and the British, during which time the island changed hands 14 times. It wasn't until 1979 that it became an independent commonwealth, though still associated with Great Britain.

In spite of its small size, this island was much harder to navigate than the others we had visited.  As the map below shows, it is very mountainous, and the narrow roads snake up, down, and around those mountains in circuitous ways that didn't always make sense. I was glad that we had hired a private driver who knew where to go and how to get there.

Cool fact about St. Lucia: It is the ONLY country in the whole world named after a woman. St. Lucia (also known as St. Lucy) was a Christian woman who lived in Syracuse, Sicily, and was killed during the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 304 AD.

Another interesting fact about St. Lucia, and indeed about most of the Caribbean islands, is that the native people, called "Caribs," were replaced not by their conquerors, but by their conquerors' slaves. Other than Puerto Rico, every island we visited was populated predominantly by those of African descent.

We docked at Castries, the capital city, and met up with our driver, a native St. Lucian who has never ONCE left this little island. He was very nice, but he didn't offer any information unless we asked, and then his answers were only a few words spoken very quietly. It was a little frustrating.

The island is 40 miles long, and thus bigger than some of the other Caribbean Islands we had visited. However, distances seemed MUCH greater because of the convoluted roads. Our first stop was an overlook where the French used to have a military base. A guide waiting for us on the site (in whom I didn't have a lot of confidence) pointed out three tiny prison cells that he said were used to house 80-90 prisoners each:

He demonstrated what it was like for a prisoner, but I didn't think it was a fun as he did:

Sunday, April 30, 2017

ANTIGUA

Up to this point, most of the islands we had visited had a more or less round or oval shape. Antigua, our next destination, is shaped more like a SPLAT!, like a blob of baby food thrown to the floor from a high chair. 
We docked in St. John's, circled above, and had two major destinations
marked by stars on the map: Stingray City and Nelson Dockyard.

Christopher Columbus named the island "Antigua" (Spanish for "ancient") in 1493, but the native people call it "Waladli," which means "our own." I find the difference in names a little sad. Clearly, once the Europeans arrived this island no longer belonged to the native people, at least not for long.

We rented a car so that we could drive around the island on our own. Right next to the car rental place was a field with dozens of large white birds in the grass and in the trees. They scattered as we approached, so this picture doesn't show how many there were:

Some kind of egret? Heron? We still aren't sure.


It was fun to see the boat from the car rental lot:

It was even more fun to see Auntie Edris. Whoever she is, she looks like someone I'd like to have met:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ST. KITTS: BRIMSTONE HILL FORTRESS NATIONAL PARK

As St. Kitts is approximately 18 miles long and about 5 miles wide, the loop to drive around the island should be approximately 46 miles, but given the very narrow, winding condition of the road, the drive is longer and much, much slower than that:

The last place we visited and our turn-around point as we made our way clockwise around the island from our starting point at Basseterre was Brimstone Hill, marked by the red balloon on the map below with our route marked by the purple line. It would have been fun to complete the circuit, but that will have to wait for another visit.

Before going to Brimstone Hill, however, we had to find some lunch. We were looking forward to a quaint, St. Kittsian place serving distinct local food, but it was not to be. We stopped in Sandy Point Town just beyond the turnoff to Brimstone Hill. With a population just over 3,100, it is the second largest town on St. Kitts, which tells you something, doesn't it?

Anyway, perhaps we were not patient enough in our search.  We could not find anywhere to eat that had a local flavor, so we ended up at a place called "King Snack" that turned out to be a Chinese fast food joint. It didn't look particularly promising, but our only other option seemed to be convenience store food.

I had garlic shrimp, and it was actually pretty good--lots of shrimp, crunchy broccoli, and plenty of brown rice.

Bob had fish chop suey, which had large chunks of fish and lots of vegetables, but was a little too fried and crunchy for me:

We added the Caribbean flavor we were seeking by dowsing the food in West Indian Hot Flambeau Sauce, and then washed it all down with grapefruit Schweppes.  It was as very international lunch.

Our tummies full, we were ready for our next adventure.

Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is at the end of a very steep, narrow, winding road. This sign on one of the hairpin turns reminded me of the song "I've Been Working on the Railroad." ("Dinah won't you blow your hor-or-orn!"):

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