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El Morro and American Legion

May 9, 2013

Puerto Rico – Tuesday, April 30

The bed-and-breakfast provided a light continental breakfast – enough to get the day started! It’s only about 6-7 miles away from Old San Juan, so that was my destination for the day. And I loved it!

Before parking, I drove through the old town to get an idea of what was where – steep hills, narrow streets and lots of old historic buildings with countless shops, eateries, bars and little neighborhoods. Lots of the streets are lined with blue/purple bricks that came over as ballast in Spanish galleons. And there were a couple really old cathedrals – both with some renovation work going on. Castillo San Felipe del Morro (the fort known as El Morro) was built on the tip of the peninsula in the 1500s and remains an engineering masterpiece even today. Over time it became a 6-level fort (1st level cannon shot at enemy boat’s hulls; 2nd level shot at decks; 3rd level tried to rip and shred sails, etc.) to protect Spain’s access to New World wealth. Pretty much whoever controlled the waters around San Juan would also control nearly everything in the New World. And Spain hung onto its domination for over 300 years, although there were many skirmishes with the native Indians, English, French, Dutch and America.

The forts are part of the US National Park system, and I spent quite a bit of time in both of them – I liked El Morro the best. There was a really long sidewalk leading to it and people are usually out flying kites on the grassy park-like area leading to the actual fort. With blue waters and blue sky and green grass all around a monstrous tan/gray fort, it was very colorful and airy and a pretty place to be walking. I walked all around fort – taking ramps or old spiral staircases or other stairs to get up and down on all the levels. The lowest level held the original tower built in the 1500s – to be standing in something that old and historic is really something. The views across the bay and ocean were beautiful, and one can just imagine the hustle-bustle if a very busy harbor. There are lots of picturesque old sentry towers strategically placed around the walls of the fort, and old cannons and cannon balls, and it was all fascinating. I ended up making a donation to El Morro in honor of some of the oldest history of the Americas.

Then, with afternoon clouds threatening rain, I started walking to the other fort, which was about 1/2 hour away. It started raining a bit, but it felt good since it was so hot out. I walked all around that fort too, which wasn’t quite that big, and also watched the history video, and went on a short walk with a ranger who pointed out things like their innovative ways to collect water – in big underground cisterns lined with limestone and kept clean since no animals were allowed in the fort. They still use cistern water today for toilets and non-drinking needs. As I was leaving that fort, a free tram came by, so I took a ride back up to El Morro, and then started walking down the big hill on lots of the narrow streets. I stopped at a place where I was able to recognize enough words to get a sandwich, and then walked some more.

When I got back to the parking lot, I discovered it was right by the entrance of the long walkway that runs along outside of the city walls right by the sea, so I had to walk on that too. That led me right past the original city gate – the only way for visiting dignitaries and religious people to enter the city. They would be rowed in from their schooners and ships and enter a huge ornate city door. The walkway wound along the base of the old city wall, which must have been a good 30 feet tall, with the fort looming overhead. It’s a very impressive sight, especially with waves crashing on the rocks nearby. It became my favorite walk in Puerto Rico.

Today I also sent in a donation to one of the American Legion posts in San Juan for my military-based donation this week. The post I sent it to had more information on their website than most of the others, and they had a meeting coming up. They make sure that US troops and veterans are recognized during Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances, and also participate in Flag Day, and anything else they can do to help veterans. This is the first time I’ve donated to the American Legion, and I became aware of them after talking with a WWII veteran back at Myrtle Beach State Park when we were both walking our dogs on the same stretch of boardwalk. He spoke pretty highly of the organization. So it looks like a good military option for a donation when I can’t find a USO or a veterans home, which I didn’t see in Puerto Rico.

Once again, I walked nearly 10 miles today and was happy to head back to Casa Caribe.
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