Thursday, March 20, 2014

Geography and Climate of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is the smallest Island of the Greater Antilles.  This group of Islands comprises Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic), Jamaica, and Puerto Rico.   The word Antilles comes from a time before European conquest and domination, which means Phantom Islands.  Puerto Rico includes the smaller Islands of Vieques, Culebra, Mona, Desecheo and Caja de Muertos.  These Islands complete the archipelago.   Other than the main island only Vieques and Culebra are inhabited year round.
Puerto Rico contains 3.6 million people with a land area of 3,515 square miles.  The main Island is approximately 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. San Juan its capital and largest city at 358K dominates the northern side of the Island.  Ponce to the south and Mayaguez to the west are additional major population centers.

It’s mostly mountainous interior gives way to coastal plans both in the north and the south.   The Northern and Southern parts of the Island have completely different climates.  The Northern side of the Island is wet and humid with a topical Jungle landscape.   The southern part of the Island is arid with a dry sub-tropical scrub forest.   There are actual cacti in the southern part of the Island.  The central mountain range keeps the moister from getting to the Southern part of the Island.
Located in the tropics the temperature throughout Puerto Rico averages 83 degrees, with it being warmer in the coastal areas and cooler in the mountainous region.  The temperature varies very little from season to season, although it will average 5 to 8 degrees cooler during the winter months from December through February.   This is also the rainy season for the northern part of the Island.   Passing intermittent showers can be expected daily during this time of year.     

 Hurricane season is 1 June thru 30 November, traveling to the Island during this time is somewhat a gamble.  Don’t let it deter you.  The odds are in your favor.  Chances are there will be nothing but sunny skies and light winds during your visit.    With only 1 to 5 Atlantic storms a season it is a remote possibility that Puerto Rico will be in a storm’s path during your visit.    This is also considered the low season so flights and hotels will be cheaper.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The First Ride of 2014, Franklin and Leipers Fork

Today it is a cold rainy Sunday.  Yesterday it was the complete opposite.  That's one thing about Tennessee if you don't like the weather wait 5 minutes it'll change.  It was good to get out for a ride with Terri.   It was Terri’s first long ride of the season; she won’t ride unless the temperature is above 65 degrees.  This last Saturday it was 67, so I talked her into it.  

I wanted to ride down to Franklin have lunch and then check out Fort Granger.  It’s an old Civil War breastworks fort on a bluff above the Harpeth River.  Franklin sits just south of Nashville and was an important strategic position during the Civil War and by accident, we end up in Leipers Fork.

We got a late start and left at 10 AM.  From Clarksville, we took TN-48 towards Charlotte.  Once there we turned onto TN-47 towards Whites Bluff, then TN-1847 down to TN-96, which took us all the way to Franklin.   These country roads skirt the west and south of Nashville and run through the hill country of the Harpeth and Cumberland River basin.  They are great roads for slow cruising the countryside.

It is very early spring in Tennessee.  The hardwood trees have what I call a purple haze.  The tree buds give the stands of hardwoods a purple haze, most prominent during dusk and sunrise.  You can smell the spring in the air a few daffodils have already bloomed the farther south we ride.

We get to Franklin to see that their St Patty’s parade has already finished.  There is a crowd downtown because of the parade; there is a festival atmosphere in the air.   It was a marvels spring day. We find a sandwich shop, The Franklin Mercantile Deli to have lunch.  The Tomato Soup and grilled cheese were awesome.   We then walk around the town center which contained many fine restaurants and shops. 

The Court House is one of 7 antebellum courthouses still in use in Tennessee.  During the Civil War, it was the Federal Headquarters and hospital after the Battle of Franklin.   Although the Confederates took Franklin during the battle, it devastated the Confederate Army of the Tennessee which eventually retreated to Mississippi.   It was never again an effective fighting force during the rest of the war.   We visited Fort Granger a Union stronghold during the attack.    This is a great example of a Civil War Breastwork Fort.

After visiting Fort Granger, we took TN-246 South we then came across Leipers Fork accident.   It is a famous watering hole for travelers on the Natchez Trace.  We stopped at Puckett’s Grocery to listen to some Irish Music and get some iced tea.  It had quite a lively crowd, and the music was awesome.  This is in the American Music Triangle that runs from Nashville to Memphis down to New Orleans.  When traveling stop at any roadside stand, you don't know what you might hear.  

Well the day is growing short we jump on the Natchez Trace Parkway ride south to Highway 7 we ride North through Dickson, and we are back home within an hour.   We talk about more rides this coming summer to Leipers Fork for music and food. 

You couldn't ask for a better start to the 2014 riding season.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Getting To and Around Puerto Rico

Most major airlines service San Juan; lately I have been using Southwest they have a new service that started March of 2013. Luis Munoz Marin International is a modern day airport with connecting flights throughout the Caribbean.   Once arriving, you can take a taxi to any destination on the Island or shuttles to rental car agencies. The least expensive option is the San Juan Metro Bus Stop.   All will be right outside baggage pick up.  A taxi to downtown San Juan will cost around $20 and take 10-20 minutes.  The AMA Bus #B-53 to San Juan, $1.50 and travel time will be 40 minutes to 1 hour.

Old San Juan
If you are taking a cruise in the Caribbean you will dock in Old San Juan if a port of call is in Puerto Rico. If your cruise originates from the Island and you will fly into Luis Munoz Marin.   There will be people holding direction signs for your shuttle to old San Juan.

Bacardi Rum Distillery 
Most of the major rental car agencies are located on Calle Marginal across the highway 26 freeway next to the airport.  Once you take the shuttle and rent your car I recommend a lunch at Bebbo’s Barbeque.   This place has the best Island Barbeque in or near San Juan.  Along with the meat try the cooked sweet plantains and Yucca.  You should start your adventure on a full stomach and a taste of the Island.   There will be long lines but it is well worth the wait.   It shares a parking lot with the McDonalds next store so there is plenty of parking.

Remember Puerto Rico is a US Territory and all Puerto Ricans are US citizens.  Commercially the Island is a lot like the US, you will see all the major box stores and fast food restaurants.  They are easy to avoid, but it is nice to see them if you need to drop in to get batteries for a camera for example. 

Like most of the United States it has a poor public transportation system.  To get around the Island a rental car is recommended.   Although the roads and traffic signs are much like the US the diving habits of people seemed to be much more erratic.   This is nothing to be afraid of just drive defensively and things will be fine.  Traffic on the major thoroughfares seem to be much slower between 55 and 60 MPH. 

While driving on the Island you can use Google and Bing to navigate, along with the directions that I provided for each one of the individual snorkeling destinations.    You should have no problems, but expected to get mildly lost on occasion, but this the great fun of travelling.  Remember you are on an adventure.   I have seen some fascinating things after becoming lost or what I like to call getting turned around. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Stones River, The Boro, and a Buddhist Temple

Well after having a week of snow and ice the skies open up with great southern sunshine.   We had a string of good days that made short work of the snow and ice.   I have a bad case of cabin fever. 

On the phone, I had talked to Thomas our younger son about doing a motorcycle ride.  He said that it was time to start riding his motorcycle to school.   He is on spring break from his Public History Master’s Program at Middle Tennessee State University, he still had to go down to campus in Murphysboro to work on an Archival Project.  So I said it’s a date.   He is so busy lately that we don’t see him much.  So a 70-mile motorcycle ride together to the Boro was in order. 

Jumping on Interstate 24 a mile near my house at 9:30 in the morning was invigorating with the dew in the air and the temperature yet to break 50 degrees.    I wanted to get to Thomas house at 5 points in East Nashville as quickly as possible.   The 103 cubic inches of my Electra Glide Classic ate the road in less than 40 minutes.

Thomas was getting ready to go when I arrived.  His dog Addie went crazy with excitement upon my arrival. You have to understand, Addie and I have a history.  A history of her staying with us for 9 months while Thomas was in Afghanistan; her getting loose, then being chased around our neighborhood will leave us bonded until the end of eternity. 

After Thomas 919 Honda Sports Bike came to life with the hum of the well-oiled machine, we were off.  We decided to ride the old Dixie Nashville Highway to the Stones River Civil War Battlefield in Murphysboro.   To get to the Highway we had to go by the Airport on Interstate 40 by way of Briley Parkway.   The road was uneventful but fun to follow Thomas as he easily glided his bike from turn to turn.  This is the same road taken by union troops during their assault on Murphysboro.

Right before we arrived at the battlefield we pasted the Lao Buddhist Temple; to me it was an eerie feeling having a place of peace so close to a place of so much death and destruction.   Once at the Battlefield it was a short tour of the visitor center, then Thomas was off to his archival work.

Stones River, 76,000 engaged in battle from 31 December 1862 until 2 January 1863. One-third of those engaged, over 24,000 were casualties.  3,000 were killed in those 3 days; with engagements called the ‘Slaughter Pen” and "Hell’s Half-Acre" it ensured the union's control of middle Tennessee for the remainder of the war.

After the battlefield, I decided to take TN-96 west to Franklin, then north to Whites Bluff skirting the southern and western outskirts of Nashville.   The ride through this countryside evolved coming across a series of large country farms and ranches, one after the other;  my imagination raced to think of what country star lived in that house or the next.    Spring has yet to arrive the trees are still bare and the grass has yet to green, but there is a feeling in the air that it isn't far off. 

In Whites Bluff, we stopped at a nondescript Mexican Restaurant with worn menus.  I eat Pork Chili Verde outside in the warm winter air.   The rest of the ride is familiar territory, TN-47 then TN-250 to Ashland City across the Cumberland River.  The last road to Clarksville is Highway 12 along the Cumberland.  The curves of these roads are now second nature to me.   Like scars of old wounds, these roads roll beneath my feet.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

An Island History

Puerto Rico is saddled with a European colonial past, being claimed by the western world in 1493, during Columbus second voyage to the new world.    Its first 400 years were spent as a Spanish colony.  Although the original indigenous population called Taino people were virtually wiped out by a smallpox outbreak in 1518-1519; though scientific research it has been determined that 60% of Puerto Rican’s today have Taino Indian ancestry.   Most early settlers of the Island were men who took Taino wives.

Puerto Rico became an American colony as a result of the Spanish-American War in 1898.   In 1917 through the Jones act all Puerto Ricans were made US citizens for the primary purpose of making men eligible for the World War I draft.   In 1947 the United States granted Puerto Rico Commonwealth Status enabling the Island to elect its own governor. 

Today Puerto Rico enjoys being a self-governing United States Territory, although many aspects of Puerto Rican everyday life are decided by the US government where Puerto Rico has non-voting delegates.    Early in its history Puerto Rico was prominent in the Sugar Cane industry.  Today they have a large Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Industry.    

To learn more about the history and culture of Puerto Rico it is recommended that you visit the Caguas Botanical and Cultural Gardens.  Located in the small city of Caguas 30 minutes south of San Juan it sits on an old Sugar Cane Plantation.   There are many exhibits dedicated to the original Taino people and early colonial history of Puerto Rico.   The Gardens also provide an excellent chance to view and understand the flora and fauna of this magical Island. 

Introduction: A Guide to Snorkeling and the Beaches of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a familiar Tropical Island that has the best public beach system in the Caribbean.   These public beaches all though not tourist destinations have some world class snorkeling not generally known to the rest of the world.   Puerto Rican beaches not frequently visited by other than Puerto Rican locals can provide a very rich, one of a kind local experience to any adventurous traveler.   They also provide a great chance to interact with the local population, get some sun, on top of getting in some great snorkeling.

Publicly designated park beaches in Puerto Rico are safe and well policed.  Saturday and Sunday are the most crowded beach days.   Sunday is family day; in Puerto Rico this usually means a trip to the beach and barbeque.    A trip during the week could mean that you have a beach almost to yourself.   Almost all the beaches have local food kiosks which will be inexpensive and will give you a great taste of Puerto Rico.  

Puerto Rico Spanish for “Rich Port” is a large Island, about the size and shape of Connecticut.  With over 280 officially recognized beaches and with a land mass 3,515 square miles there is a lot to explore.   Beware this is not an all-inclusive guide.  It is only designed to give you a little taste of this tropical paradise.