Monday, April 20, 2009

Visits and Repairs in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has a lot to show to the visitors coming to see the island. We couldn’t see everything so we chose a few sites we were more attracted to. The first one we went to see is the fort of San Felipe del Morro in the capital city of San Juan. The fort built during the 16th century is a massive structure intended to protect the entrance of the port of San Juan and possibly the city itself. The fort was in function until after World War II so its condition is still quite good. Visiting the fort means necessarily visiting the Old San Juan. This city is one of the oldest European founded cities in North America and the streets offer an architectural style pretty unique in the region. Since we left Florida, all cities we saw were underdeveloped cities with habitations receiving the minimum amount of maintenance and in many cases were barely standing. Old San Juan definitively contrasts with this as it is a well maintained city with very colorful buildings and beautiful gardens.

Two of the main repairs we had to do in Ponce were changing the standing riggings and getting the reserve fuel tank welded. The standing riggings are five stainless steel cables holding the mast in place. On the picture you can see the rigger on top of the mast detaching the old cables and attaching the new ones. The reserve fuel tank had a small hole in the bottom and we got a welder to plug it. However, for that I had to cut the supports on top of the tank, then unplug the different hoses connected to it and pull it out. Of course before we could weld the tank I had to clean it thoroughly and fill it up with water up to 3 inches to the hole. The tank being too big to go through the hatches and the door, all this had to be done inside the boat. Once the tank was welded I put it back in place and rebuilt the supports on top to hold the tank in place and to support all the stock we put on top of it.With all the troubles we had with our HF Radio we decided to go shopping for a new antenna as you can see on the picture! More seriously we took a day to go visit the Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. This is a giant radio antenna meant to observe the atmosphere and the radio signals emitted by the stars and galaxies. Its “dish” is 1000 ft in diameter, which makes it the largest radio antenna in the world. It was featured in the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster as well as the James Bond movie “Golden Eye”. But the thrill of this visit was not just the sight of the antenna but really to drive for four hours in the mountains of Puerto Rico. Most of the roads from Ponce to Arecibo were barely large enough to fit two cars with their mirrors almost touching and the landscape made the paths to be so twisted that at one point I started to be seasick! No I am not kidding, Danielle was driving and I got pushed left and right for four hours as she was maneuvering through the endless curves on the ledge of the cliffs a few feet from the road.

Our latest visit was in the National Forest of El Yunque, which is a protected rainforest in the North West of Puerto Rico. The place is just unbelievably beautiful and no picture or text description will render its magnificence. The luxuriant vegetation shows an incredible biodiversity that we’ve never see elsewhere. Walking in the dense vegetation is almost impossible and a set of paths was built to help visitors to walk about in the forest. Everywhere we could hear numerous birds calling each other. But as much we could hear them, we just couldn’t see them even when we knew they were just a few feet from us. Their camouflage was too efficient for us to find them in the middle of the thousands of trees or amongst the giant ferns growing between the multiple water streams we would find everywhere. As we were walking the trail our cloths stuck to our skin as the warm air around us reached close to 100% humidity. But again, the forest cannot be described. To understand what it looks like you have to come down here yourself and let it wrap you by all its colors, noises and smells.