Welcome Aboard:  San Juan, Puerto Rico

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Our First Post-Covid Cruise

You will remember, our last post ended in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and referenced Christopher Columbus’ return on his second voyage. 

The Colonial Era was beginning.

Before departing Spain in September 1493 for his second expedition to the New World, Columbus set-about hiring his crew.  And because Spain’s recent war against the Emirate of Granada had ended, many military men were ready to seek fortune and opportunity in this New World.  Some 1200 sailors, soldiers, and others willing to colonize a foreign land joined Christopher Columbus for his second voyage to the New World.  Juan Ponce de Leon was one of 200 “gentleman volunteers” who signed-up for the expedition.  He came from a prominent and politically well-connected family and had served with honors and distinction in the Spanish military.  He continued to do so with his arrival in Hispaniola where he was tasked with battling the native Taino people.  Ponce de Leon was rewarded tor his successes with a land grant from the Hispaniola governor which included slave labor to farm his new estate.  His fortune grew.  In 1508, King Ferdinand of Spain chose Ponce de Leon to explore the island of Puerto Rico.  He then appointed him Governor of the island in 1509.  Columbus’ son, Diego, replaced Ponce de Leon as governor in 1511.  And then, in March 1513, on the advice of King Ferdinand, Ponce de Leon set out to explore more of the Caribbean.  By April, he had landed on Florida’s east coast (most likely just north of St. Augustine).  He charted the Atlantic coast down to the Florida Keys and then north along the Gulf coast.  It is believed he may have sailed as far north as Apalachee Bay on Florida’s western coast.  But NO, NO, NO, there is not one single, serious historian who believes the myth that Ponce de Leon was looking for a Fountain of Youth!!! 

Fatefully, in March 1521, while attempting to establish a colony in what is now the continental United States, Ponce de Leon was seriously wounded in a skirmish with the indigenous Calusa people, who dominated southern Florida.  They fiercely opposed the incursion.  Ponce de Leon retreated to Cuba where he died from his wounds in early July 1521.  His remains were sent to Puerto Rico for internment.  Today, you may visit his tomb inside the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in San Juan.  He did not seek, nor find, a fountain of youth; but he did name the peninsula La Florida in recognition of the lush, verdant landscape he found there and because he was there over the Easter season, known in Spanish as Pascua Florida (Festival of Flowers.) 

So, this is your quick armchair history by non-historians.  You get the gist. 

Now let’s move on to the photos of San Juan, Puerto Rico:

This is the San Juan Bautista Cathedral containing the tomb of Ponce de Leon. It’s within walking distance of the port.
Everything in Old San Juan is easily walkable. It is only 3 square miles and chock-full of plazas, parks, monuments, and fountains. If you tire, there are plenty of places to stop for a meal or refreshment or just to sit and look.
Pre-covid, you could not only hire horse-drawn carriages for sightseeing, but there was also a free hop-on/hop-off trolley running on a continuous loop throughout Old San Juan. Didn’t see them on this trip. Hopefully they will return!!!
The El Convento Hotel was once the Carmelite convent of the Cathedral. Today, It is a lovely hotel and restaurant across the street from the Cathedral and just up the hill from Pigeon Park.
The convent building was begun in 1646; torn down in 1854 and replaced with the current structure. This is the oldest member of the Historic Hotels of America. Very fitting as it is across from the oldest cathedral in the Americas!
The courtyard of El Convento is our favorite place to stop for lunch or a pleasant libation.(https://www.flickr.com/people/37244380@N00/ Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)
The outer patio is also pleasant.
(https://www.flickr.com/photos/jared422/ Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)
We will stop here on nearly every visit.
Pigeon Park (Parque de las Palomas) was originally a rampart for cannons. Today, it is mostly inhabited by pigeons. Vendors are on hand to sell dried corn.
Dried corn will, of course, attract the pigeons!!!
The walls of old San Juan are very tall and very thick (45′ at the base). These small circular sentry posts (garitas) have become a symbol of Puerto Rico.
These walls fully encircled old San Juan by 1783. It was considered one of the best fortified cities in the Caribbean. Five gates were built to access the city. The San Juan Gate faced the bay and was the ceremonial gate for dignitaries.
This is the landside of the San Juan Gate. It is the only remaining gate and leads to a walkway (El Paseo del Morro) on the waterside which accesses Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro), Castillo San Cristobal, and, eventually, Paseo del Princesa.
El Morro was built between the 16th and 18th centuries upon a promontory and designed to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay from seaborne enemies. It was declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations in 1983.
Castillo San Cristabol is the largest fortification bult by the Spanish in the New World. It was completed in 1783 and covered 27 acres of land which partly encircle the city. The point was to seal-off the city behind huge double gates for security.
The Paseo de la Princesa is a lovely historic trail within the historic district. It is close to the port and serves as a starting point for a tour of the city walls.
The walkway is named for the former La Princesa Prison. Today, the historic prison building houses the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.
Plaza Darsenas is only a few blocks from the port. And this is where you’ll find La Casita de Rones. Today, it is the flagship store and tasting room for the Rums of Puerto Rico. There is a shop, restaurant, and 2 bars featuring the rums of Puerto Rico.
The Paseo de la Princesa is a lovely walk.
And be sure to see Columbus Square.
Casa Blanca was originally built as the residence for the first governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de Leon. Today, it is a museum.
Casa Blanca is San Juan’s oldest residence. But interestingly, the Ponce de Leon family never lived here!!!
La Fortaleza (The Fortress) is the official residence of the gorvrnor of Puerto Rico. Built between 1533 and 1540 as the first in a series of defensive structures. It is now the oldest executive mansion (in continuous use since 1544) in the New World.
Whew!!! After all that sightseeing, it must be time for a libation!!!
We stopped at Senor Frog’s across the street from the port for our libation…
…then crossed the street to re-board the Celebrity Millennium…
…and moved on the our next port!!!

Next, we’ll explore St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.