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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

A day in old San Juan, Puerto Rico

PUERTO RICO | Monday, 9 June 2014 | Views [382]

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Castillo San Felipe del Morro

'Lets go to Dominica', was my first thought upon hearing that Intercaribbean Airways (Turks and Caicos National airline) had announced new flights to Puerto Rico. when I found out we would miss the connecting flight by about 5 minutes and would need to overnight in Puerto Rico I still wasnt deterred......then when they changed their schedule meaning I had to rebook hotels (I guess due to lack of bookings) I still wasn't deterred.... then when they stopped flying direct, instead going via the Dominican Republic I still wasn't deterred .... Although did start to wonder if the trip just wasn't meant to be !

Finally the day arrived without further mishap and the grand total of 7 people boarded the plane to Puerto Plato, arriving 45 minutes later and all but 3 of us departed.... probably not their most profitable route. An hour and 20 minutes later and San Juan came into view, closely followed by a McDonalds sign as we approached the runway !

We had decided to base our short stay (less than 24 hours) in Old San Juan; first impressions on the taxi ride were that it has clearly been influenced by the USA, who invaded in 1898 and have been here ever since (in 1917 Puerto Ricans was granted US Citizenship).  The parts we saw and the old town in particular are an eclectic mix of the old and the new. The Spanish left a legacy of colonial buildings, the US added skyscrappers. The Spanish left beautiful, narrow blue stone cobbled streets, the US added freeways. The Spanish left 2 forts, the US added a Walmart. The  Spanish created tree lined plazas in which to relax and contemplate life, the US added a Wendys and Burger King on the corner of each plaza. OK, I'm being a little unfair, but you get the picture.

We had booked into the 'Plaza de Armas hotel' and had booked a room with a balcony overlooking the square.  The hotel was old but well maintained and we really no complaints at all, a perfect location in which to explore the old town (which only consists of 7 square blocks).

We spent a leisurely couple of hours wandering without purpose, exploring the narrow blue cobbled streets (the cobbles were aparantly ballast from the trade ships), admiring the colourfully painted colonial buildings and their wrought iron balconies. Many street were tree lined, secret parks revealed themselves in the middle of streets and a large number of cats dozed in doorways and on car roofs !  We walked along the outside of the massive city wall (la muralla) which was build around the city (it is 20ft thick in some places and 60ft high) before reentering through the old city gate.  All this walking was thirsty work so we wandered into  a grotty 'fuck you' bar, as in 'what the fuck are you bothering us with your business'. Instantly feeling at home we stayed longer than planned and consumed more coronas than planned. Getting peckish we finally left to find alot of the eateries had closed, so ended up eating at restaurant 'Barrachina', a real tourist trap that we had earlier vowed not to eat at !  It gets its tourist reputation as its allegedly the birthplace of the Pina Colada, having been created by a barman there in 1963. As it turned out we had been a little harsh in our prejudging of the place and had a great evening there. Yes, we drank several Pina Coladas (well when in Rome and all that stuff) and ate the delicious local dish of 'mofongo', which our taxi driver had said we should try whilst in town. Mofongo is made with fried green plantains, mashed together with garlic, olive oil and a broth. Meat or vegetables can be added; I had chicken, which Josie had veggies. I can't vouch for how traditional it really was, however it was delicious. Happily full of food and alcohol it was time to retire for the night.

We only had a few hours to spare the following morning before catching our onward flight to Dominica, so decided to check out the 'Castillo San Felipe del Morro', in other words a big fort ! The fort was built to protect San Juan bays deep harbour from attack by sea. It was the first good harbour for sailing ships en route to the New World after a one or two month Atlantic voyage from Europe, as such it protected Spains access to the New World wealth over almost 300 years. Its a massive 6 level fortress and the biggest European fortification in the Americas. As such, we felt it was worth a couple of hours of our time.  It was a pleasant walk there, the open grounds approaching the fort were overrun with children flying kites (some sort of mass school outing), which only added to the charm of the place.  As for the fort itself....well it was big and very, very impressive - certainly worth a visit and the $5 entrance fee.

So our brief time in Puerto Rico had come to an end, a mini-me USA in the Caribbean, but one with a rich history as a result of its former Spanish conquerors. 

And certainly well worth the visit.

 

 

 

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