February 4, 2012

My Year So Far: Puerto Rico

After six days of sailing, I finally felt a little less sick! But, of course, we were to sail into port that afternoon. I was on watch, on deck, and ended up steering us all the way into San Juan. This was one of the coolest things I've ever done. It was so intense as there was a ginormous cruise ship several hundred yards away. They were leaving the port that we were going into, so we had to dance around them a bit. We got close enough to their bow that we could see the tourists waving and their cameras flash.

Steering was one of my favorite things to do on watch. It's not at all like driving, depending on the winds, once you turn the wheel (which is just like in pirate movies, as shown below) it can take anywhere from seconds to minutes to change the course. When going into port the mate or captain would give us directions (5 turns to the left, hard over, midships) but normally we were just given a compass direction.  At night when we would steer a straight course, you could choose a star or other celestial body to steer towards. Steering by starlight! How neat is that?
Me steering into San Juan harbor. The old fort, El Morro behind me. Photo by Randy Jones
And then we made it into port. It was a cruise-ship dock, so right next to hotels and restaurants. We were pretty much right on the street. Like, it's a wonder we didn't get a parking ticket!! That was a cool experience in itself, because we had to be on watch 24/7 on the street side of the boat to make sure nobody tried to get on, cast us off etc... and as a double masted schooner is not the most common sight in urban San Juan we had many many visitors. By the second or third night it seemed like the local youth were in fact meeting up and simply hanging out by our boat. People took pictures of us, watched us work, play music, eat, tried to sell stuff to us, one very drunk guy came by with his Schnapps and a deck of cards at 0600 to try to give us a magic show. We shared the port with several cruise ships so it was interesting, as we had to be awake then, to watch the taxis starting to line up at 3 or 4 in the morning ready to take the tourists who stumble off the boat no earlier than 8 or 9! 

Us on the street with Carnival "Victory"

Our field trip in Puerto Rico was to El Yunque, a national park/tropical rainforest. 23 of the species of trees and plants there are found nowhere else! Apparently it rains there 6 times a day but in the 6 or 7 hours we were there it did not rain once. Our guide told us not to wear bugspray, as the wonderful coqui frogs eat any mosquitos up there. I'm pretty sure I still sustained a few bites. We also went to the first of several waterfalls we saw on our trip.

El Yunque in the fog. Photo by Jill Thompson
On my night off we wandered the streets and there was a sort of Christmas or winter festival going on. There were dozens of food and drink carts and concerts and parties. In the main square there was some group of four men singing popular songs and dancing. The only song I recognized was Feliz Navidad. There was a little old lady in her beautiful red lace flamenco dress dancing near us. She was dressed to the nines and swished her dress around gracefully, revealing her old lady knee-high stockings. She was very sweet and showed me the local dances. We didn't say a word but that didn't matter! It was so lovely. We continued wandering after a bit at the concert and were swept up into a parade! It was so neat, full of young girls in sparkly leotards and what looked like highschool marching bands and many people wearing these funny face costumes:

On my day off, a Sunday I believe, I left the boat quite early, when the city was still asleep. It was a stark contrast to my night out. I went to the square where the concert was. It was completely empty, even the stage was gone:

In the absence of people, I enjoyed looking at the architecture and remarked how colorful a town San Juan is! The streets are made of rainbows. 

And there is lots of neat street art, some of it political because of the question of Puerto Rico's political future (whether it should be a state, independent etc...).

I think everybody in our group took a picture of this guy
And then I went to El Morro which was also very empty. El Moro is a citadel constructed in the 16th century to guard San Juan. This little architectural nugget is on every single post card in Puerto Rico. I am not sure why. I guess it's pretty sweet...
I was accosted by this kitty while there:

That afternoon I met up with Ellie. We ate the local fare of everything fried (empanadas, tostanas etc...) and pina coladas. We then walked the 25 minutes to the beach. Many taxis kept honking at us, amazed that we dare walk out of the tourists' waddle zone and offered their services. But, despite all odds, we made it all the way to the beach. We tried to snorkel but it was pretty murky so I sat in the sun and finished On The Road and then made a fool of myself on Mary-Claire's slackline. 

I would love to get back to Puerto Rico some day to explore a bit more of the island. San Juan itself is in fact an island, and several locals informed me that it is much different that the Puerto Rican mainland. I'm sure that is true, as Old San Juan is pretty tourism oriented. But that is certainly hard to escape throughout the Caribbean, as it is the veritable lifeblood of the economy, and according to some locals, not at all a bad thing.

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