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 BUILDING 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:

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