I need to tell you about our ship’s captain. Captain Thomas Larsen is like no other captain we have had and we’ve sailed on more than 20 ships of various sizes from small river to large ocean cruise ships. I already told you about the Crossing initiation where the captain was “forced” to kiss a fish and then was tossed into the pool even though he most definitely did NOT have to do this. This was another first for us as captains go. We’ve seen him all over the ship every single day, where other captains only seem to appear in public when duty calls such as a special occasion or photo op. Our captain has been seen EVERYWHERE daily including sending off passengers on shore excursions.
Yesterday our Special children from Hawaii performed a hula for the captain to show their appreciation for all the service they have received. They then invited the captain to put on a hula skirt and perform with them, which he gleefully did. Just another day of making passengers happy for our captain.
We stopped to visit San Juan, Puerto Rico. We signed up for a tour that took us to the Bacardi Distillery, the Castillo San Cristobal and the city of old San Juan. Some of the tidbits passed along by our guide was that there are about 3.3 million people in Puerto Rico and 3.1 million cars; approximately 3 cars per family (our guide’s family has four cars). They have over 50 Wal-Mart’s and a McDonald’s on every major street corner, along with a Walgreens or CVS. They also have many KFCs, which has also been called “Keep the Fat Coming”. They use BOTH “regular” and metric systems. Example, speed signs are in MPH, gas is in Liters; banks give loans on a house’s square feet, building plans are in metric; etc.
She also talked about Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico very hard last year; they are about 98% back to "normal". She had nothing but praise for FEMA and the government response for their request for aid (contrary to what we’ve been seeing and hearing on the news). She also mentioned that they have a lot of gratitude to the first responders; medical, food, shelter and crowd control from the country of ECUADOR, who were the very first country to send aid and first responders to help.
Our first stop on the tour was the Bacardi Distillery. The tour was what you would expect which also included a “free” glass and a drink. The most interesting bit of information we picked up is that Bacardi supplies 75% of the world’s rum, but Bacardi is NOT the favorite of locals; Don Q takes that honor. A lot smaller operation than Bacardi, but the experts have spoken as to the best in taste. Guess I’ll have to try it.
Our next stop was to Castillo San Cristóbal, also known as Fort San Cristóbal. Our guide told us that the difference between a Castillo and Fort was whether of not it had a Chapel. A Chapel made it a Castillo; no Chapel made it a Fort. It was built by Spain to protect against land based attacks on the city of San Juan and is part of San Juan National Historic Site. It took over 100 years to complete and was designed by Irish and Italian architects. When it was finished in 1783, it consisted of numerous buildings (not just one fort), covered about 27 acres of land and basically wrapped around the city of San Juan. Entry to the city was sealed by San Cristóbal's double gates. After close to one hundred years of relative peace in the area, part of the fortification (about a third) was demolished in 1897 to help ease the flow of traffic in and out of the walled city. The fort also contains five cisterns that were used for the storage of water during the ages of the Spanish Colony. They are extremely large (24ft tall, 17ft wide and 57ft long) and were used as bomb shelters during World War II. They could be used for a future war again with some refurbishments. We found the tunnels in the Castillo interesting. They were practically bomb proof, build so when you rounded a curve you could look back to see who was coming, but they couldn’t see you and the tunnels connected different areas of the Castillo.
The tour of the city was fairly quick, but interesting. I’ll put most of what we heard and saw in the “history” portion below.
Next stop is Miami for an overnight stay before catching the plane back to Hawaii. It's been a helleva ride; thanks for coming along.
Now for your happy dose of history: San Juan is the capital and most populous municipality in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated territory of the United States. As of the 2010 census, it had a population of 395,326 making it the 46th-largest city under the jurisdiction of the United States. San Juan was founded by Spanish colonists in 1521, who called it Ciudad de Puerto Rico ("Rich Port City"). Puerto Rico's capital is the second oldest European-established capital city in the Americas, after Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic. Several historical buildings are located in San Juan; among the most notable are the city's former defensive forts, Fort San Felipe del Morro and Fort San Cristóbal, and La Fortaleza, the oldest executive mansion in continuous use in the Americas. Today, San Juan is Puerto Rico's most important seaport and is the island's manufacturing, financial, cultural, and tourism center.
In 1508, Juan Ponce de León founded the original settlement which he called Caparra. In 1521, the newer settlement was given its formal name, Puerto Rico de San Juan Bautista. The ambiguous use of San Juan Bautista and Puerto Rico for both the city and the island in time led to a reversal in practical use by most inhabitants: by 1746 the name for the city (Puerto Rico) had become that of the entire island, leading to the city being identified as Puerto Rico de Puerto Rico on maps of the era.
San Juan, as a settlement of the Spanish Empire, was used by merchant and military ships traveling from Spain as the first stopover in the Americas. Because of its prominence in the Caribbean, a network of fortifications was built to protect the transports of gold and silver from the New World to Europe. Because of the rich cargoes, San Juan became a target of the foreign powers of the time. The city was witness to attacks from the English led by Sir Francis Drake in 1595 (in what is known as the Battle of Puerto Rico) and by George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, in 1598. Artillery from San Juan's fort, El Morro, repelled Drake; however, Clifford managed to land troops and lay siege to the city. After a few months of English occupation, Clifford was forced to abandon the siege when his troops began to suffer from exhaustion and sickness. In 1625 the city was sacked by Dutch forces, but El Morro withstood the assault and was not taken. The Dutch were counterattacked by Captain Juan de Amézqueta and 50 members of the civilian militia on land and by the cannons of the Spanish troops in El Morro Castle. The land battle left 60 Dutch soldiers dead and Enrico with a sword wound to his neck. The Dutch ships at sea were boarded by Puerto Ricans who defeated those aboard. After a long battle, the Spanish soldiers and volunteers of the city's militia were able to defend the city from the attack and save the island from an invasion. On October 21, Enrico set La Fortaleza and the city ablaze. Captains Amézqueta and Andrés Botello decided to put a stop to the destruction and led 200 men in an attack against the enemy's front and rear guard. They drove Enrico and his men from their trenches and into the ocean in their haste to reach their ships.
The British attack in 1797, during the French Revolutionary Wars, was led by Sir Ralph Abercromby (who had just conquered Trinidad). His army laid siege to the city, but was forced to withdraw in defeat as the Puerto Rican defenses proved more resilient than those of Trinidad. Various events and circumstances, including liberalized commerce with Spain, the opening of the island to immigrants as a direct result of the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815, and the colonial revolutions, led to an expansion of San Juan and other Puerto Rican settlements in the late 18th and early 19th century.
On May 8, 1898, United States Navy ships, among them the USS Detroit, USS Indiana, USS New York, USS Amphitrite, USS Terror and USS Montgomery, commanded by Rear Admiral William T. Sampson arrived at San Juan Bay. The USS Yale captured a Spanish freighter, the Rita in San Juan Bay, thus being the first hostile encounter between the warring sides in Puerto Rico. On May 10, the Yale returned to San Juan Bay, Rivero-Méndez ordered his men to open fire upon the USS Yale using an Ordoñez 15 centimeter cannon, thus becoming the first attack against the Americans in Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War. The residents of San Juan were furious with Rivero and blamed him for the destruction caused to their city by the American bombardments. Nothing came of those accusations and Capt. Rivero-Méndez was ordered to turn over the keys of all the military installations in San Juan to Captain Henry A. Reed of the U.S. Army after the Treaty of Paris of 1898 was signed.On July 25, General Nelson A. Miles landed at Guánica (in southwestern Puerto Rico) with 3,300 soldiers in what was known as the Puerto Rican Campaign. The American troops found some resistance and engaged the Spanish and Puerto Rican troops in battle, the most notable of these the battles of Yauco and Asomante. All military actions in Puerto Rico were suspended August 13, 1898, after President William McKinley and French Ambassador Jules Cambon, acting on behalf of the Spanish government, signed an armistice. Spain ceded the island to the United States later the same year by signing the Treaty of Paris.
Lieutenant Teófilo Marxuach (Retired as a Lieutenant Colonel), a native of Arroyo, Puerto Rico, fired the first shot in what is considered to be the first shot of World War I fired by the regular armed forces of the United States against any ship flying the colors of the Central Powers. Marxuach, who was a member of the "Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry" and Officer of the Day, on March 25, 1915, opened fire on the Odenwald, an armed German supply vessel, when it was trying to force its way out of San Juan's bay. The shots ordered by Lt. Marxuach were the first fired by the United States in World War I. In 1919, Félix Rigau Carrera, "El Aguila de Sabana Grande" (The Eagle from Sabana Grande), the first Puerto Rican pilot, became the first native Puerto Rican to fly an aircraft in the island when he flew his Curtiss JN-4 from Las Casas. At the time, the area was used by the military as an air base and it was also Puerto Rico's first commercial airport, and Rigau Carrera was allowed to perform his historic flight from the air field.Camp Las Casas was eventually closed down, and in 1950 a public housing project by the name of Residencial Fray Bartolome de Las Casas was constructed on its former location.
On October 30, 1950, San Juan was the scene of the San Juan Uprising, one of many uprisings which occurred in various towns and cities in Puerto Rico, by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party against the governments of Puerto Rico and the United States. Among the uprising's main objective was to attack "La Fortaleza" (the Governor’s mansion) and the United States Federal Court House Building in Old San Juan. In accordance to the planned uprising in San Juan, a group of nationalists were supposed to attack simultaneously the gubernatorial mansion La Fortaleza, where Puerto Rican governor Luis Muñoz Marín resided, and the United States Federal Court House which is located close to an area called "La Marina" in Old San Juan. The La Fortaleza battle, which ensued between the nationalists and the police lasted 15 minutes, and ended when four of the five attackers were killed.
The Cathedral of San Juan Bautista (construction began in the 1520s) is also located in Old San Juan, and contains the tomb of the Spanish explorer and settlement founder Juan Ponce de León. Old San Juan, also known as the "old city", is the main cultural tourist attraction in Puerto Rico; its bayside is lined by dock slips for large cruise ships.
Other districts. East of Old San Juan lies the wealthy tourist-oriented neighborhood of Condado, which occupies land that used to be owned by entrepreneur Pablo Ubarri Capetillo, a Spanish railroad developer and Count of San José de Santurce under the Spanish colonial period. Beaches such as nearby Ocean Park, popular with swimmers, surfers and kite surfers, are found all along the district's Atlantic coastline which is also the locus of numerous hotels. Near Condado are two separate business districts, Santurce and Miramar. Miramar is mainly a residential area rising south of the Condado Lagoon. It comprises the former barrio of Miraflores, as well as drained marshland and landfill over which was built San Juan's first airport, the Isla Grande airport, which was renamed Fernando Luis Ribas Dominicci Airport in honor of Major Fernando Luis Ribas-Dominicci (USAF).
In the southern part of the city is the socially diversified community of Río Piedras. Founded in the mid-1850s, Río Piedras was a separate town which hosted sugar cane plantations and the estates of some of San Juan's wealthiest inhabitants (as well as their working class staff). The Spanish colonial governors also had their summer home there on land which eventually gave way to the main campus of the University of Puerto Rico. In 1951 the municipalities of San Juan and Río Piedras were merged to redefine San Juan's current city limits. Today Río Piedras comprises the largest area of the municipality of San Juan and is home to the "Plaza del Mercado" (Río Piedras Marketplace), the main campus and the Medical Sciences campus of the University of Puerto Rico and the San Juan Botanical Garden.
According to the 2010 Census, the racial composition of San Juan was as follows:
White: 68.0% (Non-Hispanic Whites: 1.2%)
Black or African American: 18.3% (Non-Hispanic Blacks: 0.3%)
American Indian: 0.8%
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.0%
Some other race: 8.2%
Two or more races: 4.0%
Hispanic or Latino (of any race): 98.2%
Among the Hispanic and Latino population, Puerto Ricans are, unsurprisingly, the largest group; they make up 87.5% of San Juan's Hispanic population. People of Dominican descent made up 12.2% of the Hispanic population, while those of Cuban descent formed 1.7% of the Hispanic populace. Other Hispanic and Latino groups collectively formed 3.2% of San Juan's Hispanic population.
There are 13,304 whites of non-Hispanic origin living in San Juan; 10,571 blacks of non-Hispanic origin living in San Juan. Non-Hispanic whites and blacks form 3.2% and 2.6% of San Juan's population respectively. There are also approximately 562 Asians of non-Hispanic origin in San Juan; they make up only 0.1% of the population. However, Asians of Hispanic and non-Hispanic origin together number at 6,342. The vast majority of Asians in San Juan are of Chinese descent; of the 6,342 Asians, 4,928 are Chinese. Chinese comprise 1.4% of the population. The only other sizable Asian group in San Juan are Indian Americans; there are 698 people of Indian descent in the city, forming 0.2% of the population. There are very small numbers of people of Filipino, Japanese, and Vietnamese ancestry; none of these groups number more than 100 members.
According to the 2006–2008 American Community Survey, 87.5% of San Juan's population was native and 12.5% were foreign-born. Of the native population, 86.9% were born in Puerto Rico or the United States, of which 75.6% were born in Puerto Rico and 8.9% were born in the United States. The remaining 0.7% were born in a U.S. territory or were born abroad to American parents. The remaining 11.9% of the population were born outside the United States, Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories. In recent years, an increasing number of Americans not of Hispanic ancestry (both of African American and of White American descent) have moved to San Juan. In addition, a large number of Stateside Puerto Ricans have settled in the city upon their return to Puerto Rico. There is also a growing West Indian population, both of Hispanic and non-Hispanic origin.
San Juan experienced significant economic growth following World War II. During this period the city underwent an industrial revolution, although as of 1984 it had never generated its own economic region. The city's economy relies mostly on companies dedicated to the manufacture of several products, including: Chemical substances (bleach and house cleaning products); medicines; rum and other beverages; fertilizers; electric tools; electronic devices; plastics, textiles, and food-based products.Tourism is also a key industry, based on San Juan's proximity to Puerto Rico's main airport, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. The tourism focus of the city is located in the district of Condado Beach where there are luxurious hotels. Historical locations such as El Morro, Old San Juan and El Cuartel de Ballaja are promoted in tourism campaigns. The district of Hato Rey contains a corporate sector known as "La Milla de Oro", (The Golden Mile) which serves as the headquarters of local and international banks. San Juan's Hato Rey district is often referred to as the "Wall Street of the Caribbean", due to the influence of the area on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean's economy.
Technological advances after World War II in the development of the airliner, coupled with the island's climate and natural setting, have transformed San Juan into the springboard for tourism around the island, and has made the rest of the Caribbean known throughout the world during the last fifty years. Today the capital features hotels, museums, historical buildings, restaurants, beaches and shopping centers. In San Juan there are tourist attractions, including: Old San Juan, Ocean Park, Isla Verde and Condado.