San Juan, Puerto Rico and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, ‘El Morro’

Our second port-of-call was San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Much has been reported about the difficulty this island is having as it recovers from the impact of Hurricane Irma in September of this year.  We didn’t venture outside of Old San Juan but the itineraries of the shore excursions were not much different than they were from our previous visits.  While not seeing the damage outside of the city it is reported that much of the island is struggling to recover.  Electric and water service is still not available to a large part of the island.

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This building near the port sustained considerable roof damage.

We walked the streets of Old San Juan browsing through shops before I went of on my own to tour Castillo San Felipe del Morro, ‘El Morro’.   Before describing the fort let me say that it appeared that Old San Juan has recovered more than reports from other parts of the island.  Electricity has been restored to most of Old San Juan but you could still hear the occasional generator humming.  From the streets there appeared to be very little damage but you could not see if the roof tops sustained any damage.  However, some of the shops did have a slight musty smell which would indicate some roof damage and water infiltration.

The cruise port terminal did not appear to sustain any damage and the surrounding area is open for cruise traffic.  We were one of three cruise ships in port that day that deposited about 10,000 visitors to San Juan.  A definite boost to their economy.

Spain’s Empire in the America’s extended from the Atlantic coast of Florida, across the Gulf Coast, down to Mexico and Central America, then along the Northern Coast of South America.  This area was called the Spanish Main and from the 1500’s through the 1700’s brought great wealth that supported Spain as a world power.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro, ‘El Morro’, along with Castillo San Cristobal, is part a major fortification to protect San Juan bay’s deep harbor from attack by sea.  This was the first good harbor for ships en route to the New World after crossing the Atlantic.  Construction began in 1539 and continued for almost 250 years.   El Morro originated from a point at the mouth of the bay that served as the cannon level to what is now a six level fortress that protected Spain’s access to New Worlds wealth most of 400 years.  In 1660 a smaller fort was constructed across from El Morro, called El Canuelo, located about a half mile across the entrance to San Juan bay that provided formidable cross fire.

We can only hope that the hurricane recovery continues and restores this beautiful island.  The Puerto Rican people we encountered were friendly and hospitable and are proud of their heritage and country.  Hopefully this island can get back to a level of economic stability that will endure for many generations to come.

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Looking towards the promontory at the entrance to San Juan bay (bay’s entrance is on the left)

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A Sentry box looking east where approaching ships would becoming from after crossing the Atlantic via trade winds and ocean currents

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View of El Morro from the town.

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View from El Morro looking east along the northern coast of Puerto Rico

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Looking west at dry moats that provide additional protection from attacks.

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This room is a modern addition to the fort.  This opening to a balcony is actually in the men’s restroom.

 

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We Keep Moving by Cruising

As I have stated in past blogs, my ‘Keep Moving’ theme can mean many different things related to how we handle our time in retirement.  Some activities are more sedentary that keep hands and minds nimble like crocheting, sewing, needlepoint, reading, writing blogs, traveling, etc., to more physical activities like bicycling, walking, golf, tennis, pickelball, joining exercise program, etc.

Recently my wife and I were moving at a speed of about 15 knots as we embarked on a cruise from Port Canaveral, Fl.  Our ports-of-call for this cruise were St. Thomas, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Royal Caribbean’s private island, Labadee, on the island of Haiti.  If you recall just three months ago Hurricane Irma slammed into both St. Thomas and San Juan with category 4 and 5 winds and wrecked havoc on both islands.  These two ports just recently opened to cruise ship traffic.  Both islands rely heavily on tourism as a major source of revenue so it was important to open the ports as soon as possible to begin restoring some measure of normalcy to the people.  It was also beneficial for the cruise lines as well.

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Looking down on the harbor pilot boat from our balcony on deck 7 as it maneuvers close to our ship.  The harbor pilot boards each cruise ship as it leaves port to “guide” it safely out of the harbor.  The harbor pilot boat then comes along side the ship and the harbor pilot jumps onto the harbor pilot boat and returns to port.

However, two hours out of Port Canaveral the Captain announced that a passenger had a medical emergency that required more treatment than the on-board medical staff could provide.  So we returned to Port Canaveral and five minutes after transferring the patient to an awaiting ambulance we were underway again.  We did hear later that the patient’s condition was not life threatening and he should recover.

We were now four and a half hours behind schedule and 1,049 nautical miles from St. Thomas.  That meant we had a need for speed.  That term is relative since the maximum cruising speed of the Oasis of the Seas is 22.6  knots and we were originally traveling at 15 knots.  So we headed out to the open sea hoping for two days of smooth sailing.  The second day we awoke to cloudy skies, a 20 knot head wind, and rain.  Those conditions created 10 to 12 foot swells which this large ship cut through like a hot knife through butter.  However, even ships this large are at the mercy of the ocean and  with stabilizers deployed we felt the ship roll a bit which made walking in a straight line difficult.

We arrived in St. Thomas on time and docked at Crown Bay.  The cruise ship Bahama’s Paradise was docked in the next birth.  This ship is being used to house power line workers and others involved in the recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma.

We joined a group that was taking a tour of the island and stopping at several points of interest including the ‘Top of the Mountain’, an area that on a clear day offers a 180 degree view of the Caribbean sea and the surrounding islands of Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, and St. Johns.  However, as we approached the summit we drove into the clouds and endured an hour of heavy rain and fog.  So the 180 degree view was limited to about 200 feet.   We were glad we had seen the view on previous trips.

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Communication tower at the ‘Top of the Mountain’.  Note the tower next to it nor the satellite dish were not damaged.

It is hard to say how long the recovery will take but work crews are making progress.  The main roads around the island have been cleared but many side roads and streets remain blocked or have limited access because of downed trees.  Any wide spot along the narrow, winding roads are piled with vegetative debris, appliances, furniture, and other damaged items.  Many roof tops are draped with blue tarps, communication lines from power poles remain on the ground, hundreds of power poles have been replaced and hundreds more are stacked and ready to be installed.  Debris is segregated into piles near the port by the type of disposal needed.  There are piles of vegetation, white goods (appliances), and construction and demolition debris (building materials).  I don’t know what the final disposal plan for these items will be but being on an island will make that task more difficult.

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Part of the roof from this building can be seen on the hillside below.

Our tour guide told us that about 40% of the island has electrical service restored.  As we departed at dusk you could see lights scattered among the houses dotting the mountains above Crown Bay and Charlotte Amalie.  It is hard to tell if all those lights were powered by restored electricity or from generators.  I thought it was interesting that each street light outside of town has its own solar panel.

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This used to be a coconut grove at Magan’s Bay.   Photo by Marilyn Baker

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Equipment loading hurricane debris.   Photo by Marilyn Baker

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Up rooted trees across telephone and electric lines.  Photo by Marilyn Baker

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Magan’s Bay beach area.   Photo by Marilyn Baker

 

Next port-of-call – San Juan, Puerto Rico.  See you there.