Puerto Rico – Inside San Juan
The main thing that invites us to a place is the biodiversity in that location. So apart from visiting the rainforest ElYunque and dry forest Gaunica, what else attracted us in Puerto Rico ? Its the beach and the culture of Puerto Rico . There are beaches everywhere and for the people who love sunrise and sunset in beaches its a best place for vacation. When we were in the beach watching sunset and talking to a local he suggested the fortress in San Juan was one of the main tourist attractions. We usually avoid tourist places, but the next information he told us kindled our curiosity to visit the fortress. Its that Iguanas in the fortress! We know its still not counted as real wild Iguana, but atleast seeing a free roaming Iguana is not a sight that everyone gets to see. So why to miss the chance and we really wanted to see the local culture as well.
The Castillo San Cristobal is part of San Juan National Historic Site. The fortress was built on a hill and survived attacks from English, Dutch. The upper part of the fortress had quite a good view of seashore and there was a cruise waiting for its passengers. It was really a strange view to see from the fortress completed in 1783. Since the fort is right at the sea shore there was constant sea breeze making the visit pleasant.
This was the first time we were seeing a cruise and it was really huge. But soon enough we saw something even bigger than a cruise – a rain storm ! It was a nice sight to see the approaching rain clouds engulfing the cruise liner.
Soon enough the rain clouds hit us also and we ran for cover inside the fort. The inside of the fort contained dungeons , water storage facilities, garrisons etc. There were informative boards on all structures giving a glimpse into history but we hardly bothered the name boards as they most often provide you history the way the establishment wants to prove and not the actual. We just roamed inside the fort clicking some pictures. Once the weather cleared we were again out in the open and to our amazement the place quickly dried up. Now the prime attraction for us was the green iguana which was roaming very casually in the fortress. These lizards were brought to the island as pets and they have no natural predators to keep their population in control. They are native to Central and South America, so they got well adapted to the similar weather in Puerto Rico . This is another example of the disaster made by man without understanding the environment and consequences.
Once we had clicked the iguana it was time to hit the streets surrounding the fort. The vintage streets offered a glimpse into the past and they were maintained well indeed. One has to admire the discipline with which they park the vehicles not even one out of line. It will take years to have this mindset change in India.
We had already tried Puertorican rice and Pigeon peas on the way back from El yunque National Park which was very similar to our South Indian food. We wanted to try other local foods and ordered Amarillitos not knowing what it was. When the food came it was just plantain fruit fry which is a very common snack in Tamilnadu and Kerala. Though its our favorite food, finding the same so far from our home made us lose the feeling of uniqueness of this dish. In the city centre there were few well molded statues that attracted the tourists. The street cats were sitting bored at the sight of tourists.
All the houses were reconstructed in latest models, but to secure the heritage the tourism department has depicted the city centre buildings in their old cultural way. It was relaxing to see the beach sitting in the park with Pinacolada in hand. We are birders even if we are in city, so our eyes were searching for the common birds that learnt to adopt to the city. Common Grackle was curiously watching for any food it can pickup on the ground. For non-birders this bird just looks like a crow. When you look at it closer, the yellow eyes and iridescent blue color gives the bird a colorful look.
They were not very shy, so we were watching them walking casually. Even the lazy street cats don’t mind these birds. There was a familiar screech sound from the tree branches just above the park bench we were sitting. Those screech sounds were from monk parakeets, another name is Quaker parrot. These parakeets are an introduced species in Puerto Rico . They are quite intelligent and build nests like apartments.
Evening there were music and dances giving the city a happy and romantic feel. There were couples,families,loners enjoying the sunset in the sea. There were street shops with handbags heaped for sale just like in India. There were lots of street shops for food, most of it were seafood stalls. There were octopuses,crabs,fishes hanging on the stalls ready for frying. We felt slightly overwhelmed with the displays and went to Starbucks for a cup of choco milkshake.