Many Travels – Puerto Rico Part 1

If any of you have a great fear of spiders, skip ahead to part 2.

For the past few weeks, it seems like I haven’t really had time to breathe.  What with visiting my parents in Indianapolis, my youngest sister in Barbourville, Kentucky, vacationing throughout Puerto Rico, quitting my job, and moving from the East Coast to the West, things have been unusually busy and I’ve been much more widely mobile than is typical even for me.  I’ve just barely begun to catch up.  So, let’s try and put it all in perspective, shall we?

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico (Corina, Stacey, Josue)

First we needed some food, so we decided to go local immediately.  We tried a place in Old San Juan near the parking garage that Josue hadn’t been to before, just for expediency’s sake, and it turned out really well.  I had mofongo, which is a traditional dish made with plantain which is mashed and then formed into a cup with a really large mortar-and-pestle arrangement.  The inside is filled with some kind of meat usually – mine was pork – and then cooked with the open side down, so that it looks like a small hill or mountain of goodness.  At this particular restaurant, the mofongos were particularly large.

Mofongo

Then we stopped for coffee at a local fast food chain, the name of which I can’t remember.  Josue knew it, and the coffee was surprisingly good.  Then we toiled over to the old fort, hoping to get as much of the old city in as possible before jet lag kicked in.

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While I doubt that pictures like these are going to win me any sympathy points, I still thought I would try.   I mean, bars on the windows of the old fort – that’s like being in a prison, right?  Plus, the wind was in our hair the whole time, blocking vision, making us eat our own locks.  Josue had even more of a fro than usual.

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And all in the name of good pictures, we had to risk life and limb.  This brick wall, for instance, was covered in fire ants.  I swelled up into a giant rash and had to bathe in Caladryl.  Ok, not really, but it could have happened.

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Plus, even a picture like this that looks pretty amazing, was fraught with potential annoyance.  Palm branches are itchy, and the ocean wasn’t really blue enough.  Really.

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And then Corina accidentally trapped herself in this little guard station.  And by ‘trapped’ I mean ‘totally able to release herself once I’d taken enough pictures’.

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Here’s a close-up:

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There were some spectacular moments of watching the pelicans dive for fish as the sun set.  Most of the time they are even more ungainly than an albatross, but there’s that one moment of fishing when these odd birds are sheer elegant motion.  You can see the instinct coming on as they circle, seem to hesitate in midair, and then become this thin-stretched spear into the water.  I never got tired of watching that unfolding, so you’ll have to suffer through several attempts to catch it on film.

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We ended our first-day tour with two of the creepiest (and yet fascinating) areas that exist in Old San Juan.  The first we came upon all unawares while walking along the path below the main fort outside the old city walls.  This particular area is covered mostly with sea grape plants (Coccoloba uvifera), which are highly resistant to salt and can be eaten directly from the plant or made into jam. They are often used to shore up coastline or as an ornamental in this area, as they also supposedly have a hearty resistance to pests other than the seagrape borer, according to online sources.  However our particular plants were heavily infested with what I think were white flies, tiny little winged things that attached mostly to the underside of the plants, but also to the stems.  This large concentration of insects led in turn to a ridiculous concentration of large, scary spiders setting up shop in the sea grape thicket.

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Some of the spiders, like this one, even turned cannibal.  Strange, scary, and yet none of us could stop taking pictures.

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Creepy number two was pigeons.  Normally I don’t have a problem with pigeons, but then normally I don’t have a problem with rats, either.  And as a championship pigeon herder, I have some experience with larger numbers of the animal in enclosed quarters.  But this was like Funk Island of the Great Auk pre-extinction.  Bird doo everywhere, people feeding the birds handfuls of brown pellets so they can expel more, birds landing on shoulders, arms, even heads with no fear.  Not a place I wanted to spend a great deal of time, though the nearby chapel was picturesque.

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So, instead of this grimy bird image, I’ll leave you with the short form of the chapel legend.  Back in the day when Old San Juan was not so old, but the streets were just as steep and bumpy, a young gentleman lost control of his carriage.  It could have been that the horses were bit by something, possibly fire ants.  It could have been that he just gained too much speed and the horses couldn’t stop themselves.  Regardless of what caused it, this man had second before he was going over the edge at the end of a steep narrow street and there was nothing but certain doom in front of him.  So, like a good Catholic, he spent his last moments in prayer.  I can’t remember the particular saint he appealed to, but his wish for his life to be spared worked – he was able to cling to an outcropping near the edge and haul himself back to safety.  As a survivor, he built a church to the saint on that very spot, which stands to this day.  And to this day, if you’re in a runaway carriage down that narrow street, instead of plowing straight over the edge to your doom, you’ll shore up safe and mostly sound against the stern steel gates of this little chapel.

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