Roll #13 (Part II): Piraguas, Palomas, & a Dancing Señora

Updated: May 8

Before heading to Puerto Rico in 2018, I was told there are Iguanas everywhere. Unless Maria completely wiped out the indigenous iguana populations, I quickly found this to be untrue. It wasn't until the 4th day of my stay that I encountered an iguana slowly dragging its corpulent body across the hot sand at Playa das Tunas in Arecibo. I was almost more intrigued by the appearance of this portly, cold-blooded friend than I was by the breathtakingly majestic Cueva del Indio just a short walk to the North. I had finally found an iguana. Unfortunately, I didn't see another iguana until the last day of the trip as it fell from the heavens and scurried right under the back wheel of my rental car. To my horror, the crumpled body of the suicidal iguana tumble behind the car. After a few seconds of rag-dolling, the iguana came to a skidding halt and I watched in the rear-view mirror as spirit separated from body and rose into the cloudy skies of San Juan. After 7 days in paradise, my trip ended with a fatality. Holding back tears, I whispered "lo siento, amigo," sniffled a bit, and promised myself I would donate a few dollars to the World Wildlife Fund as penance for my grievous sin.


Now that I've confessed, we can continue with Roll #13.


We awoke to a beautifully sunny day in San Juan. A breeze blew northward, up Calle San Jose, almost pushing us in the direction of Castillo San Felipe del Morro. We had other plans however. After a breakfast of toasted pan sobao, caressed with cabo rojo butter and topped with a fried egg, we hit the streets. Like a kite, we caught the northerly winds to Calle Norzagaray, then headed eastward towards our finish line: Castillo de San Cristobal. To our left we could see the colorful homes of La Perla, notorious for drug trafficking and international superhit, Despactio (see still above but for the love of all that is good and holy, do not CLICK ON THE PICTURE). Among the homes and Coca-Cola propaganda, you will find a shrine to Puerto Rican (NY born to Puerto Rican Parents) basketball legend Carmelo Anthony. While the court could use a good sweeping and TLC, you'll be hard-pressed, maybe full-court pressed, to find a court with a better view.

Cancha Anthony

As we navigated our way up the VERY steep ramp up to the gate, we obtained an interesting vantage point of the city, allowing us to see the capitol building and other prominent San Juan structures. Passing through the fort's maze of corridors, we were often presented with views of the ocean, however, I found one of the city views to be the most awe-inspiring. Past the oil-stained base and peeling edges of the window, the viewer can take in the essence of Old San San Juan: buildings in decay, renovations in progress, new construction, no parking, workers taking their lunch on the sidewalk. A microcosm of the old city.

Old San Juan Through Archway, Castillo de San Cristobal

While I eventually gave in an captured the breathtaking ocean views, I tried my hand at taking some less-conventional fort pictures. As you'll see below, this included using the bright light coming in through a slatted window to create a unique colored silhouette and a picture of a lamp. The latter of the two images probably sounds boring to most but the captivating nature of this lamp at the end of a dark, damp tunnel was a sight to behold.

Sunhats and Silhouettes

The Light Deserving of a Shakespearean Sonnet

Eventually the tunnel ended and we popped out the backside of the fort which appeared more putting green than tropical. To the left was staircase constructed like a Tetris piece. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, we were greeted by a chubby, sunbathing iguana (aka. Javier). Moving past Javier, we approached another set of stairs. Upon reaching the summit, we were presented with more of the beautiful putting green grass and an amazing 360 degree view. It was all very magical but after a few minutes of being beaten on by the hot Puerto Rican sun, we decided to grab some food and take a siesta.

Lookout Towers

The second half of the day was much less structured and involved aimlessly wandering around Old San Juan. During this wandering, there were a few magical moments that struck me as particularly beautiful, the first being a piraguero strategically placed on the corner of Calles San Juan and Clara Lair, just before the San Juan Gate exit. I don't know if it was the lighting or the heat exhaustion but I was captivated by the colors, simplicity, and mobility of the piraguero and his piragua (shaved ice drowned in syrup) stand.

The Piraguero

The next moment occurred on Calle del Cristo as we made our way towards Senor Paletas to get *spoiler alert*...paletas. Among a flock of candida-carrying pigeons, sitting on a curb flanking the feces covered cobblestone, were a group of very happy individuals. One of these individuals was a woman, dressed in green capris and a red shirt, who made her living by selling pigeon food to tourists. The smile on her face made it clear there was no other place she would rather be, no other occupation that she would rather have. She enjoyed watching people interact with the pigeons and while she sold the pigeon food in $1 bags to passerby, she gave freely of this corn-laced manna to her feathery friends. To you it may seem mundane, but to me, it was extraordinary. Let me have my moment.

The Paloma Lady

The last moment, which rounded out the San Juan experience, occurred at night as I quietly watched my son eat a bright blue algodón de azúcar. Every Saturday night at Darsenas Square, a local band plays music for the local crowd. As we waited for the band to play, we found a seat next to an older woman, who explained the struggle of the Puerto Rican. While I listened to her, I couldn't help but notice the twinkling lights of cruise ships entering and exiting the port. Every five minutes she would look at her watch and make some comment about how the band should have started already. Eventually, the music began to play and her face lit up with excitement. About ten minutes into the show, half the audience was on their feet dancing to the tropical music. It was one individual however, that made the moment. Among the crowd, I was able to make out a young man as he slowly salsa'd his way towards an elderly woman who was sitting on her walker. After a moment, he took her hand. In that instant, her youth came back to her. She quickly stood up and began to dance, moving her body in ways which defied the laws of physics. She was happy, the young man was happy, everyone was happy. There isn't a picture in the world that could do the moment justice.

Camera: Canon EOS Kiss III

Film: Kodak Gold 200

When: March 2019

Where: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

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©2019 by Taylor Mackay