Part 7:  Old San Juan, Puerto Rico


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The Trip

We arrived at the harbor in San Juan, Puerto Rico early in the morning.  I awoke around sunrise and saw that we were already tied up at the quay.  Preparations for disembarking were well under way and we had to pack our stuff to leave the ship in a few hours.

Our plan was to rent a car at the airport and then do an ad hoc road trip around Puerto Rico.  As it turned out our first stop would be in Old San Juan itself.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

From our stateroom we could see the new airport terminal building.  The only problem was that this was the wrong airport (at least for jet travel).  This airport was great for small planes but anything that required a longer runway could not land here.  So, a new facility was constructed to the east about 10 miles.  The existing facility was retained for small aircraft.

Given that our 6th deck stateroom was well above ground level, it put us nearly on eye level for the small planes that were departing from the airport.

The entrance to the harbor was to the west of our position.

Portions of Old San Juan were visible across the harbor channel.  Note the nice cathedral.

In the distance the fort at "El Morro" was visible.

We suffered through the agonizingly slow departure process, cleared customs, got a taxi and went to the rental car facility.  Once we got our car, Jessica served as our tour guide and led us to Old San Juan.  The plan was to get lunch at a nice restaurant, but to perform that simple task required finding a place to park.  And parking in Old San Juan is anything but simple.  After several slow circles through the narrow brick streets we passed the pay parking lot for "El Convento" hotel.  El Convento is a Carmelite convent that has been converted to a small up-scale hotel.  The parking lot was right were we wanted to be and Jessic had time constraints so we payed and hit the bricks looking for a place to eat.

Most of the streets in Old San Juan are brick and some of the streets are quite steep.  The sidewalks are narrow and the streets are even narrower.

The church that was associated with El Convento when it was active is still in use and there were several weddings in progress.

There was a small plaza across the street from El Convento.  Note the bright colors of the structures.

The narrow streets were interesting and reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

The colors of the buildings were pleasant and nearly all of the buildings were in good repair.

The street names were on hand painted tile that was recessed into the building facades.  Because of the narrow streets nearly ever street was one way which generated some interesting, of not annoying, traffic patterns.

This street was blocked off and led to the Govenor's Palace (La Fortaleza) next to the water.

Based on a reccommendation from the parking attendant we went to a small restaurant called Barrachina on Calle Fortuleza to the south of El Convento.  The restaurant had a nice interior courtyard and the food was great compared to the bland food on the ship.

When we finished lunch, we had several problems to address.  First was getting Jessica to the airport to meet her 1600 departure time and the second was deciding on where we would spend the night.  Old San Juan seemed very appealing and there was much to see and do so it seemed that staying there would be a good call.  And since our car was already parked in a hotel parking lot it seemed logical to see if El Convento could take us.  They did have a room available, so we took it and found a taxi for Jessica and sent her off to her flight.  With a clean plate of issues-to-address, we headed back out on the streets to see the sights.  Above is a walkway to an apartment building.

The narrow streets were scenic but a nightmare for drivers.  Parking required parallel parking on the opposite side from normal.

Just north of El Convento, the Plaza del Quinto Centenario had a nice view of the ocean and a portion of El Morro, the Spanish fort built to guard the entrance to San Juan harbor.

The Castillo San Felipe Del Morro grounds were huge in scale and attested to the importance that Spain put on Puerto Rico and it's security.  The outside perimeter of Old San Juan is walled.

On the northern boundary of the fort was a cemetary.

There were some very ornate monuments on the grounds of the cemetary.

The upper bastions of El Morro are visible in the distance.

As I was taking photos, by chance my lens pointed in the direction of these young girls sitting on one of the ramparts of El Morro and they posed for me.

Note the color scheme on this building on the El Morro grounds.

El Morro is an impressive piece of military engineering.

To provide the required security for the harbor, El Morro had a sister facility across the mouth of San Juan harbor.  One facility could protect the other and provide the attackers a gauntlet of crossfire from the castle's cannons to welcome them to San Juan harbor.

The walls of El Morro were over 18 feet thick and we tall enough to repel frontal attacks.  Like all proper castles, El Morro had (dry) moats to trap the attackers.

There were many levels on the seaward side of the walls and each level had a warren tunnels to allow the defenders to move from place to place rapidly to repel the attackers.

The construction was started in 1539 and was essentiall complete by 1750.  But WWII saw renewed efforts with the addition of new concrete watch towers at the uppermost points on the castle.  The new towers were used to watch for German submarines and ships on their way into the Caribbean.

The seaward side of El Morro presented a daunting obstacle of natural cliffs and man-made walls to any potential enemy attackers.

Building these walls took tremendous effort on the part of the soldiers stationed here.  The people below give a sense of scale.  Each level of the castle presented yet-another obstacle to the attackers.

When we finished at El Morro we headed back to our hotel.  From the high ground of El Morro we saw this car carrier on its way out of San Juan harbor.

The rooms at El Convento were quait but nicely appointed.

The high arched passage ways were part of the original convent structure.

Based on several recommendations, we went to Cafe Puerto Rico for dinner.  The meal was great and not very expensive.  We walked through most of Old San Juan to get there and on our exit from the restaurant at 2200 the streets were totally packed with cars.  The narrow streets prohibit any rapid passage through Old San Juan and the visitors could do nothing but just sit there and take it.

Tomorrow, we break camp and head west on the north side of the island.

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Photos and Text Copyright Bill Caid 2012, all rights reserved.
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