Puerto Rico: Day 1 and 2, Olde San Juan

I cannot think of a better family airplane movie than "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." The story of a single guy stuck in a work rut that dreams of adventure. Only to find himself in a predicament where he finally must take the travel plunge. This movie sets the tone of don't hold back, don't play it safe and life is to be experienced. And so, my family travels to Puerto Rico. Another Wood Family Circus.

PR is an American protectorate, territory and commonwealth and is hotly debated as to whether it should become the 51st state. As luck would have it, on the courtesy van ride to our car rental, the patriarch of the family riding with us was a hedge fund manager. He educated us on the bond trading of US businessmen and the huge debt burden related to this island. For all intents and purposes Puerto Rico is too poor to incorporate into the Federal system. It does have an incentive program for billionaires, baby boomers and aggressive investors trying to avoid interest and capital gains taxes to move to and live in situ as a resident of PR for a minimum of half a year to avoid huge tax burdens. This is in hope to inject the economy with money and jobs. Thus an interest income that normally pays 40% taxes, based in PR pay only 4%! Just in case you were worried that our corporations, banks and investors were losing all of their investment advantages.
Paseo de la Princesa, Raíces Fountain

As we check into the Embassy Suites and Casino, my apprehension towards casino hotels increases, only to find out that casinos in PR do not allow smoking and there are noise control mandates. Very cool, except my son thinks its an arcade.

Olde San Juan
The capital of PR is San Juan. Named after St. John the Baptist and also advantageously shares the forename with Juan Ponce de Leon, first Spanish governor of San Juan.  The best way to describe San Juan and most of PR is to take a blender and mix in San Diego with Belize and the Big Island, oh and don't forget the rum. Invaded 500 years ago by the Spanish gold-diggers, I mean "explorers". Puerto Rico (Port Rich) is the first encountered island after crossing the Atlantic along trade-wind routes. San Juan Bay was also the first protected cove, not to mention the geography has highly defensible ocean breaks and puntas (points). The old city sits behind a fortress wall and the Spanish placed strategic castillo's (forts) so they had cross-fire cannon ranges and lookouts. The fortress' were self preserving with layers upon  layers of defensible fallbacks. The 12 ft thick walls are made of chiseled stone bricks mortared together. Major rocks were moved and all this by slave labor, most of meso-American histories have a dark pasts of human trafficking.

Spain was the first to take PR and they defended it tooth and nail against rogue Spanish buccaneers and  those men hired by England, France and Denmark to steal from the Spanish galleons and traffic human gold to the Americas (privateers). Many of the privateers were honest businessmen. Over time the roles became muddled and men became dishonest and arose the pirates. It is not hard to see where the inspiration for Pirates of the Caribbean comes from with cobbled streets, neoclassical architecture, French-laced balconies and tight alleys, all of this exists in Old San Juan. As we toured Castillo de San Cristobal, the largest of the fortresses, my son plays pirates cutting through narrow passageways. My husband envisions how unforgiving the echo of the muskets and smoke of the cannons must have been, we guess that candle wax or pig fallow must have been used to protect the soldiers' ears. I, of course, imagine post-aplocoliptic  zombies and zealous cult members chasing me and wondering what weapons I could fashion, wishing I had my dive knife from my suitcase. (Ya know The Following of the Walking Dead).

Tomb of Juan Ponce de Leon
San Pió
Security presences is abundant in SJ, I think this has a two-fold objective: keep the tourist feeling safe & spending money and deter the local, unemployed  young riff-raff. SJ does have its fair share of abandoned, graffitied buildings but I never felt unsafe with or without the guards. I did imagine the security gaurds being the first gunned-down in an Independance Day style take-over. (I'm thinking too much drama TV?) 

I suggest you secure park near Plaza del Inmigrante and take the walking tour along cobbledstones through La Muralla (ceremonial gates to the city) to Catedral deSan Juan Bautista, the final resting place of Ponce de Leon, alas no fountain of youth was ever found. Additionally, you will see the ceramic embodiment and relics of 1st century of San Pió, Saint Pius the Martyr.  At this town center, stop and inhale the eclectic pulse of old world, auto exhaust, food vendors, the occasional cigarette, the salt air and humidity, school groups goofing around and pigeons cooing. Not exactly a perfume but it is Life. This is why I love to travel.
From here is a fairly easy walk to the fortress El Campo del Morro and a free tram ride to San Cristobal. And since the forts are Nationsl Parks, our family pass got us in free.  Interesting things to note: the Spanish built sewer systems, cistern wells and both Catillo's were used in World War II as platforms for anti-aircraft weaponry. My daughter astutely noted how the pillbox built in the 1940s looked like an "old fashion" 1950s Japanese Robot.

There are also many tasty restaurants along the Plaza de Colón road, food from scratch and locally owned. The pork (carne) is tender to perfection and the mojitos are fresh. But if you are boring and wish to spend you money in corporate america, near the ferry you can find ready-wave chain restaurants. (um, no). As well, many museums to fill up the day. We must, however, get to the southwest corner of the island to Cabo Rojo so we loop back to our car and head out of town.