Saturday, April 14, 2007
Tuesday, April 10th
Okay. Enough free Internet and Bacardi Rum. Today, Steve and I actually explored the walled city of Old San Juan. Fun “Manifest Destiny”-type fact: When we won Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898 (USA! USA!), Old San Juan became the oldest city under the American flag as it was founded in 1521. In the good old days when things like sugar cane, New World spices, and gold were considered luxury items, Spain stored much of its booty in San Juan before shipping it home. Hence, Old San Juan is a very guarded place that tried to keep riff-raff out, like Caribbean pirates and British people. The walls around Old San Juan are actually comprised of two different forts – El Morro, built in 1539, protected the city against attacks by sea, and San Cristobal, finished in 1740, fought off attacks by land.
We started at San Cristobal, and found much happiness in hiding in the Garita del Diablo, or the Devil’s Sentry Box, which, as you can see, is no longer as ominous as its name implies. Although it did smell a little like pee. The view from these nooks is amazing, as you can see nothing but the ocean crashing below and around you, and the expanse of the fort along side of you.
Between the two forts is the most beautiful cemetery I have ever seen, and I’ve done some Harold and Maude-type exploring in my days. The Cementerio de San Juan features a beautiful domed chapel. Almost all of the graves are above ground. It is the final resting place of many important Puerto Ricans who I guess were important enough to be spared the whole six feet under thing.
Walking past the cemetery and towards El Morro, we found nothing but beautiful, green hills and a bunch of people flying kites and having picnics. The domed chapel of San Cristobal peaked out above the grass, as folks chatted and snoozed and thought about things they did and were going to do. You know, life.
And I think that’s why I love Old San Juan so much. Unlike the other ports we’ve been to, Old San Juan doesn’t feel at all like it was created for tourists to enjoy. It really felt like we were exploring a place that was happy to have us there, but sure didn’t need us to survive. We got to see life and history. We got to sit and daydream about what it was like when those fortresses were used not for beautiful backgrounds in photographs, but to defend a city with priceless treasure in its center.