This past weekend I convinced my husband Gerry to go for what we call a “Camera Walk.” He won’t walk for any other reason, so a “camera walk” gets him out and about. Ever the statistics taker, this walk I am going to describe was all of 1.3 miles (Yes, we walked on a loose, sandy beach, and yes, we went up and down a lot of stairs, so yes, we did get some exercise!) A camera walk is just a walk with our cameras, designed to let us stop often and snap photos.
This weekend was the perfect weekend for a camera walk in Old San Juan. Everyone was at the beach! (At least until noon, when it got dark and started to rain. And yes, it does rain in “paradise.”)
We didn’t actually get to Old San Juan proper. We stopped and parked (Paseo Covadonga) just below the Capitolio, or the Capital building of Puerto Rico. What a lot of changes! I was really impressed!
We began our walk near the new (to me!) monument to the Police of Puerto Rico. I can’t comment on the choice of an obelisk for this monument – Do the police have an obelisk on the patch that appears on their uniforms? Anyway, an obelisk of this type (typical Egyptian) doesn’t have any cultural reference in Puerto Rico, so I found it a bit uninspiring.
Next as you walk along the Paseo Covandonga, you will come to the yet-to-be-inaugurated Plaza de los Leones. It is supposedly a “restoration” so I should go look for picture of the original. I always associate lions with Ponce (as well as a certain house in Beaver Dam, WI). I thought this was a lovely excuse for a little plaza, but couldn’t find a cultural reference for it either (albeit, my cultural references are limited to the past 27 years). The plaza is pretty – and having seen it at this stage, I will watch for a notice of its inauguration.
Keep walking eastward and you arrive at the Holocaust Memorial. I had heard about the memorial from friends, but I was happy to actually get to examine it without being able to remember what my friends told me about it (that’s one great memory for you!). Anyway. I liked the memorial. The tie to Puerto Rico is tenuous, but there. Nonetheless, I don’t think we can be reminded too often about the atrocities that we human beings are capable of committing. My hope is that we will never repeat them. The Memorial has an excellent exhibit of photographs from the Second World War and Hitler’s Germany, with commentary in both English and Spanish, that is almost a mini-museum.
The Walk of the Righteous is inspiring, and there are names even the uninformed will recognize, like Otto Schindler, of Schindler’s List. To the left of the monument, looking at it from the Ponce de Leon Avenue side, is a connection to Puerto Rico: Puerto Ricans killed in a terrorist attack at Lod, in Israel. I left wanting to know more about the Jews in Puerto Rico during the Hitler years.
Before you cross the street to the capitol building, you’ll happen on another curiosity of San Juan … a display of bronze statues of some of the US presidents. I’ve been told they are the ones who have visited Puerto Rico. Seems reasonable since they are certainly not in strict chronological order and some are missing. The sculptor must have changed during the creation of the walk because the later presidents are considerably taller than the earlier ones. I don’t think John F. Kennedy was a short as he appears in the statues, but I could be wrong…
From there, we crossed the street to the Capitolio – the Capital building! It was resplendent in its white stone, with flags of Puerto Rico and the United States displayed equally prominently in front. (Is that because the current governor is a statehood proponent? Or is it always like that?) Despite the construction work on the cupola, the building is a worthy capitol for any state/country (Neither of which we technically are…).
An about face from the capitol building and you’re looking at the admonishing statue of John the Baptist, for whom the city is named. Here, some of the best changes have been made. I do remember this area being closed off for construction and I am happy to report that the result is wonderful. My first favorite thing was the display of the coats of arms of all the municipalities in Puerto Rico that decorate the semi-circular walls radiating from either side of the statue. You can also walk along various levels (wheelchair accessible) to look at the ocean from different vantage points.
My second favorite thing is, that for the mildly intrepid, there are stairs all the way down to the beach! And the beach is lovely! Almost deserted (despite the ubiquitous trash – Does it really all wash up from the cruise ships?) and really worth exploring. Shells and beach glass abound, and I fell in love with the “seal rocks”, these gorgeous wave-sculpted rocks that reminded me of seals on the beach. There are also ruins. (At least they looked like ruins to my imagination). They look like the ruins of the walls that once surrounded San Juan, having tumbled down the cliff and come to rest on the sand, where now an old wooden ladder gives you access to the top, for a view of the ocean and San Juan that you can’t find anywhere else.
By now the morning was HOT, and steamy (it is late May in Puerto Rico after all) so we decided to head back to the car. On the way, we walked around the other side of the Capitol, and happened upon the School of Tropical Medicine Building, currently being restored. That’s what I like best! Restoring the old buildings of PR.
With all these changes I get the impression, as I am sure many tourists do, that San Juan is truly a capitol city (whether of a state, a territory or a country).
Here are some images of the beach from above and below: