Monday, March 19, 2012

Once more back in San Juan—this time for a 70.3

The flags of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the US of A
This post should have been written a day or two ago (but I didn't find the time), and certainly not tonight from Puerto Rico when I was supposed to be back home in Lubbock. But the organizers bungled my flight back home, royally, and so I had to spend another day here in San Juan. I made the best of it and enjoyed some fine sightseeing.
View of San Juan from Castillo San Felipe del Morro

This week's race was an Ironman 70.3 triathlon, the second edition of the event that I had officiated last year as well. A year can make a big difference, in the way that some things are handled (travel comes to mind) and in how some stuff is communicated (or not). Let's put it this way: It was another successful event, albeit with fewer participants than during the inaugural year, and I worked with a nice crew. There are still a few issues with one or two unhappy racers that need to be mopped up, but otherwise things are in balance.
My local crew of draft marshal volunteers
So, let's concentrate on the other aspects of my time down here in Puerto Rico, the second trip in as many weeks. When I tell friends at home about flying down here twice, the obvious question is: Why don't you just stay down there instead of flying back home in between? Well, UCI and WTC are two totally different organizations, and trying to work something out in regard to airfare and hotels for the time in between would have been similar to trying to broker Mid-East peace. So, forget it. My flight back down this time was one of the least pleasant flight experiences I have had in the past two decades. The organizers had worked out a sponsorship deal with Delta, and instead of being able to fly directly (and in style) from DFW to San Juan I had to rub shoulders with the Kettles while flying to Memphis, then onward to Atlanta, and then finally to San Juan—with layovers I traveled 13 hours, not counting the time needed to get to the LBB airport to leave at 6:00 a.m. last Thursday. Or having to get up tomorrow at 4:45 a.m. to make it to the SJU airport. Oh well. It was the perfect preparation for the "pleasant" experience of  finding a roommate for the next five nights in my room when I finally arrived in the hotel.
First Class on the Delta flight—NOT!
Since I was not provided with ground transportation here in San Juan I was not able to have a look at the course on Friday with my two USAT cohorts, Marty and Steve, who worked the event with me just like in 2011. But that didn't keep us from having dinner in San Juan's Old Town on Friday, accompanied by Marty's wife, Lauren, who was racing the event. We ended up at Old Harbor Brewing Company, the island's first and only microbrewery. The "beer bong" that held three liters of mediocre Pale Ale was quite a sight to behold. It was a fun evening.
The Head Ref with Click and Clack and the beer bong
On Friday afternoon I had enough time for a long walk through the part of San Juan east of the Hilton Caribe, where race headquarters was located. It was interesting to explore the non-tourist side of the city, and here are some visual impressions. They are quite diverse, truly reflecting this complex city.
Academia Sagrado Corazon, one of many church-affiliated learning centers

Inside the waiting room of the state-run Departamento de la Familia
Happy Easter messages are everywhere
A banana tree in the middle of the city
Not necessarily the cleanest city ...
The art-deco Puerto Rican Telephone and Telegram headquarters
The most fun I had on Saturday night, when Eduardo (who had helped with the UCI race in Florida) and his brother-in-law, Felix Miguel, picked me up for a family luau in the nearby town of Dorado. Well, it wasn't in the town; rather we went to the family compound out in the country. We had been in touch on Friday and Saturday, and Eduardo had told me there'd be a roasted pig and much rum. Well, he wasn't kidding: There was indeed a dead, perfectly barbecued oinker, and Felix Miguel had brought along a small selection (only four!) of something like 40 home-made rums that were flavored with tamarindo, pistachio/coconut, coffee, and tropical fruit. Holy Moses, one was better than the other!
Felix Miguel (l) and Eduardo free part of the pig from the custom-made fire pit
A scene from Lord of the Flies
Only the bottles are Bacardi—this is true moonshine, and it's good!
Additionally, there was a sheer endless supply of rum daiquiris that was based on the same home-made rum. Overseeing the whole spectacle was el patron, Jorge. Half a dozen children were playing basketball, and the women (wives and daughters whose names I never caught) were sitting at the other end of the table. Old man Jorge has built up a multi-million dollar heavy-equipment business, and Felix Miguel has to take on more and more of the leadership role since Jorge's wife is not doing very well. Jorge and I talked almost the entire evening, and I felt included and like a longtime family friend. As a matter of fact, Felix Miguel later told me that his father only very rarely takes to strangers and even less often invites them to his family retreat, and I feel quite honored. More than once I was admonished to make sure to come back, and that I could stay as long as I wanted. And you know what? I believe these fine people were dead serious, and I hope I will be back soon. Before they took me back to my hotel in San Juan at midnight (giving me ample sleep before I had to get up at 4 a.m.) Felix Miguel took me to his house, in the same sprawling compound, to show me "my future room." Thank you, amigos, for an unforgettable evening.
Surrounded by new friends and a menacing can of Coors Light
And that brings us to today's extra day down here in San Juan. After a bit of beach time right after breakfast I walked all the way to the western end of the peninsula that the Puerto Rican capital occupies. On my list of places to see were the two forts of San Cristobal and El Morro, two World Heritage Sites that are simply spectacular. After Columbus had discovered the Americas, the Spanish were rather quick to develop shipping routes that would facilitate plundering the New World. Going west, from Europe, they'd hug the coast of West Africa and then make the hop across the Atlantic, aided by favorable trade winds and a western current. Puerto Rico was the first point with a perfect landing spot (at San Juan) and ample fresh water and sullies, and thus it quickly started to take on an important role. Going back, the sailors would veer north and catch the Gulf stream and easterly winds. Perfect! Other ports were added, and the empire held for almost 400 years. The English and Dutch were the main adversaries, but it was not until the Spanish-American war in the 1890s that San Juan fell. 
The Spanish ruled the Caribbean
And then, suddenly, it all came together for me: My trip to Peru and my reading about the Spanish exploiting (and exterminating the Inca) and all this maritime stuff. Having not all that long ago traveled in New Mexico and seeing the Spanish influence there. And of course having visited that monastery near Madrid just six weeks ago. The world is simply amazing.

Here a re a few more pics from today's long walk. After posting them I will have to hit the rack because it is late and the unrelenting alarm clock will howl in just a few hours, once again.
Looking from San Cristobal west toward El Morro
The US military built these observation bunkers into the forts
The old city's cemetery outside of El Morro
Cannon at El Morro guarding the entry into the San Juan harbor
The entry into the San Juan harbor—nobody could sneak by the Spanish
El Morro
If you find yourself in San Juan and can spare the $5 to visit these two forts, do so. I have seldom spent that kind of money more wisely.

Thanks for reading,


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