Lesley Urasky: Goodbye science team, Hello, Puerto Rico! June 25, 2012

NOAA Teacher at Sea
Lesley Urasky
Aboard the NOAA ship Pisces
June 16 – June 29, 2012

Mission:  SEAMAP Caribbean Reef Fish Survey
Geographical area of cruise: St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Date: June 25, 2012

Location:
Latitude: 18.4607
Longitude: -66.0921

Weather Data from the Bridge:

Air Temperature: 29°C (84°F)
Wind Speed:   17 knots (20 mph), Beaufort scale:  5
Wind Direction: from NE
Relative Humidity: 73%
Barometric Pressure:   1,014.2 mb
Surface Water Temperature: 29°C (84°F)

Personal Log
Today I said goodbye to the scientists.  They are either flying home today or early tomorrow morning.  This particular research cruise is over, although each of them have several cruises  in the upcoming months.  I am continuing on with the ship to their next port at Mayport, Florida.
Originally, the ship was going to be in port in San Juan, Puerto Rico for two days.  Now, because of a DART (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis) buoy retrieval in the Atlantic, only one day is planned.  The crew members are planning a variety of activities for this one day that range from catching up on much needed sleep (many of the night crew will be transitioning back to day shift), shopping, and sightseeing/adventure tours.
We arrived in San Juan around 9:30 last night.  We had to wait at the sea buoy for a cruise ship to come out of the harbor before we could proceed to our berth.  We docked at Navy Frontier Pier, or pier 14.  The next morning, I set out to explore Old San Juan.  Because we had docked further down the harbor than initially expected, I had about a mile long walk to get to Old San Juan.  As I neared the town, the buildings began to change from modern to an older style.  The first sign I was approaching Old San Juan was sighting the Castillo San Cristóbal.  It is one of the two fortresses that make up the San Juan National Historic Site.

San Cirstobal guard house overlooking the ocean

The San Juan National Historic Site is managed by the United States National Park Service and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Due to its location on the western edge of the Caribbean, Puerto Rico was key to Spain’s West-Indies claim.  It is sometimes referred to as the “Gibraltar of the Caribbean”.  The larger fortress is called Castillo San Felipe del Morro.  If you’ve ever seen pictures of the San Juan and the fortress on the ocean, most likely, you’ve seen this one.  El Morro was designed to protect the city of San Juan from threats coming from the ocean, while San Cristóbal protected the city from land attacks.

Here I am at El Morro with San Juan in the background.

Drawing of a ship on the wall of the dungeon in San Cristobal

I spent some time touring San Cristóbal before walking along the remains of the fortified wall linking the two fortresses.  El Morro was very busy and the grounds were filled with kids at summer camp flying their kites on the grounds.    This, too, was a brief stop since I only had 4 hours to explore Old San Juan before my afternoon adventure.  After the fortresses, I was making my way down the hill to the town, and stopped to visit with a San Juan resident, Luis Serrano-Lugo.  He volunteered to show me his town and tell me some of the history; of course, who could refuse a local tour guide!?

Original ballast from Spanish ships make up the streets in Old San Juan

Old San Juan is a very colorful town – houses and buildings are painted in bright pinks, greens, yellows, and blues.  They are tall with ornate wrought iron balconies and heavy wooden doors and shutters.  The most interesting part to me, were the blue bricks making up the streets.  These bricks came over on Spanish ships as ballast (weight to keep the ship stable in the water and at the desired draft) and upon their return, when they were loaded with gold, they left the bricks behind.

Cemetery and houses of Old San Juan viewed from the battlements of San Cristobal

After my delightful tour with Luis, I headed off to my next adventure, ziplining in the rainforest!  The tour company I had booked for the tour picked me up at Plaza Colon in Old San Juan and off we headed to pick up other participants on our way to the rainforest.  The tour I took consisted of four components: a short kayak through a water lily laden lake, hiking through the rainforest, six canopy bridges, and five ziplines.  Along the way we saw termite mounds, birds, iguana, and my favorite – a millipede!  It was an unforgettable experience to be able to travel through the air looking at the surrounding rainforest.  There’s nothing like whizzing through the rain 205 feet above the ground to make you feel alive!

Iguana and bottle of Iguana-rid used to keep them off the canopy bridges and zipline platforms.

Here I am, coming in for a landing on the zipline in the rainforest outside of San Juan

Millipede in the rainforest

This evening, Kevin Rademacher, the Chief Scientist, and I went to dinner in Old San Juan at Raices for a traditional Puerto Rican dinner of mofongo.  This is a very traditional dish of green plantains fried up with lots of garlic and fried pork skin.  It is mashed together in a pilon (wooden mortar and pestle).  When the pestle is pulled out of the mortar, the depression left behind is filled with some type of meat, usually in a gravy sauce.  I had mine filled with shrimp in a mojo isleno style.  Again, thank you Kevin for helping me have such a memorable trip!

Mofongo served in a traditional pilon

After a short walk around Old San Juan to help digest our dinner, we headed back to the ship.  It was a jam-packed day with many new sights and experiences for me.  There’s only one way to sum up my experiences so far:

My thoughts exactly!