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Madeira

The Island of Puerto Rico sits a thousand miles south-east of Miami, where the Caribbean meets the Atlantic. It has palm lined beaches, a primitive rain forest, and a bustling city.

 

As the local bus trundled through the narrow streets the driver told us that the massive walls of the city, San Juan, had been built by the Spanish to protect the inhabitants from a variety of pirate ships and the English, Dutch and French.

 

We eventually turned into a square where we found a statue of Ponce de León that had been cast from the cannon of a British ship captured after an unsuccessful attack in 1797.

 

Leaving the air-conditioned bus we stepped out into the strong sunshine. It was an October day but in the Plaza de San Jose it was touching the nineties. A bit of sight-seeing in the cool of the church was welcome and later as we stood in the shade of the trees we looked down at the blue cobble stones, they seemed familiar.  The stone 'cassies' had come out from Europe in the 16th century as ballast in the holds of the ships,. Quite an exchange for the returning cargos  that included gold!

Music drifted out from a small building behind us and the sound of the cello drew us into the museum of Pablo Casals where we found his manuscripts and instruments on display. Had there been time we could have chosen from video recordings of over a hundred concerts.

The mellow haunting sound of the cello followed us as we drifted across to sample cool beer in a nearby bar. Above us great fans swished around. It seemed like 'Rick's Place' in Casablanca, only Humphry Bogart was missing.

 

The town was very Spanish but with overtones of Florida, Americon cars were everywhere and the lady traffic wardens didn't look like the kind I'd like to tangle with. They were gun tote'n gals with big hats, knee length pants and a riot stick dangling from the belt. When you leave San Juan, you go, as they say, 'out on the island.' Within twenty minutes of you can be in the mountains with a climate difference of about 10 degrees.

 

Twenty-five miles to the east of the city you can visit the tropical rain forest. It's 3,500 feet up and there, tree ferns tower above your head and the volume of twittering leaves you in no doubt that the entire forest is a bird sanctuary.

 

Something like a hundred billion gallons of rain falls on the forest each year, (having spent my youth in Scotland in Argyll I felt quite at home!) The showers are spectacular, but fortunately, usually brief and there is plenty of shelter.

 

Everything grows and you get the feeling that if you were to leave a walking stick still it would sprout leaves. It was like wandering through a massive and expensive florist shop. There were orchids amid the many flowers and shrubs, with even fragrant white ginger and coffee beans for the picking.

 

Another remarkable sight is one that has to wait for a moon-less night. It's the phosphorescent bay on the south-west coast where tiny marine animals cause every ripple of a boats wake to be stitched with light. You can take a trip out on the water from a nearby fishing village.

 

In the sounds of the night, amid the orchestra of insects, the dominant noise is of a frog that is native only to Puerto Rico, a persistent little fellow who sings a high pitched  Ko-Kée , Ko-Kée, Ko-Kée, non stop until dawn.

 

It was 'the morning after the night before' and one young lady who joined us for breakfast on the hotel terrace complained rather loudly that she had been kept awake by those "bloody frogs"  We understood, and as we sipped our alka seltser, sympathised, but the remark did not go down well with the French guests at the next table.

 

On a boat close to the Caribe Hilton a web-footed be-snorkeled American who had just come up from the sea enthused about the fish below. I had to confess that it all looked marginally more inviting than the winter waters back home.  

 

I'd seen the film called 'Jaws' so I was relieved when the local diving instructor assured us that in seven years of diving she hadn't seen a single shark inside the reef.

There were, however, several barracuda including a four and a half foot one that went by the name of 'Sam' but she assured me that it being a smaller fish than me, it would swim away. The larger fish generally stayed out on the deep sea side of the reef. It a wonderful experience, basically like swimming in your own sea water aquarium. With over fifty or sixty varieties of fish and marine life.

 

Some of the fish will eat right out of your hand and you can go on an underwater guided tour and be personally introduced to them. My favourites were the parrot fish which had startling brilliant markings that ranged from dark blue and purple to black and yellow stripes.

A friend found the diving particularly memorable, as he was trying to get the snorkel in his mouth he happened to loose something.

 

If you are out there and you meet a snapper fish with a magnificent set of teeth,  they belong to him!

 

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PUERTO RICO.

WE TAKE TO THE SPANISH MAIN

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Report by Allan Rogers