Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fascinating Forts and Dino Magic

Greetings All,
We have spent the last few days exploring Puerto Rico.  Yesterday we visited Old San Juan.  There is a lot of history here including two forts that were built in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries.  The first one we visited was Fort San Cristobal.  It was built by the Spanish from 1765 to 1783 to protect the city of San Juan from land-based attacks.  We entered the fort through a tunnel and stopped at the dungeon where prisoners drew ships on the wall while waiting to be released.


The impressive stone walls are as high as 150 feet and garitas or sentry boxes are built onto the outer walls.  On the eastern corner of the fort is the Garita del Diablo.

Legend has it that sentries would disappear from here presumably taken by the devil.  The living quarters were set up to show where the soldiers slept.  Wooden bunks lay side by side with woolen blankets and the soldiers' hats and other belongings set at the foot of each bed.  Uniforms hung from pegs on the wall behind the bunks.

From Fort San Cristobal we walked to Castillo San Filipe de Morro (El Morro).

This imposing citadel stands guard over San Juan Harbor.  The Spanish started construction in 1539 and many enlargements and modifications have been made over the years.   The lighthouse was rebuilt by the US in 1908 after being damaged during the Spanish-American war in 1898.  The war ended with the signing of Treaty of Paris. Spain ceded ownership of the islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines to the United States.  The lighthouse has recently been refurbished.

A unique triangular staircase was used by the soldiers to get from level to level.

We just happened to be visiting during the reenactment of the Battle of 1797.  The  British Navy, under orders given by Sir Ralph Abercrombie, attacked the Port of San Juan back in 1797. To commemorate that event, a reenactment is held each year in Old San Juan, usually on the last weekend of April.  Men and women were dressed in the uniforms and clothing of the period.  They marched in formation to the beat of drums and stopped in front of us.  

The reenactors demonstrated how they loaded and fired their muskets and canons.  I couldn't believe how loud they were.  I had to plug my ears.

The event really brought the fort to life and we learned a bit of history to boot.
Last night we visited one of Puerto Rico's bio-luminescent bays, Laguna Grande.  We opted to take an electric boat that holds up to 6 passengers rather than a kayak.  There are now 9 companies offering kayak tours in the bay.  They can take up to 30 kayaks each so it has created a major kayak jam.  You have to negotiate a narrow mangrove channel in the dark to get into the bay.  As we were going in, hundreds of kayaks were coming out.  It was a bit hectic with inexperienced kayakers hitting each other, running into the mangroves and even hitting us.  Once into the bay all the kayakers were gone and peace and quiet resumed.  We were given plastic wands to stick into the water.  As we swirled them around the boat, the water glowed!  Millions of single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates were emitting light in response to the friction we were creating.  I scooped up some water with my hand and it sparkled like glitter, Dino Magic!
It's difficult to photograph this phenomenon but Marc gave it his best shot.

Enough for now.  We're finishing up with some hiking in El Yunque National Forest and a visit to another bio-bay.
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc

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