Friday, July 07, 2017

NorthAmeriCon ’17 - Friday

Today was the first full day of programming here at NorthAmericon '17! Neither my wife nor I were very interested in any of today's scheduled events.

We did check out the Art Show and the Dealer's Room. Both were very small — within five minutes, you could see the whole thing. Talking with the artists and vendors, the big problem was the cost of getting their wares to the convention. Since there is no ferry service between Florida and Puerto Rico, all of their stuff had to be shipped by air – and that is expensive. As a result, very few artists sent anything for the Art Show and only three vendors were in the Dealer's Room.

Today, using a borrowed van, we went to Wal*Mart and Sam's Club and bought supplies for the Con Suite. We are restricted to "finger food" and pre-wrapped snacks, along with soda and other soft drinks. We managed to "con" the hotel into supplying us with an ice cart that will hold 400 pounds of ice. During the day, we emptied it and had to refill in. We are also using it to refrigerate food that needs to be kept cold, such as yogurt and cheeses.

When running a convention, it is important to establish good contacts within the hotel staff. The Committee works with management of the Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino through their catering office – the name varies from hotel to hotel. Those of us further down the "food chain" also need contacts to get the little things done, such as getting large quantities of ice. Below is Veronica from the Sheraton's front desk. She took it upon herself to act as our low-level liaison and went the extra mile to ensure we had almost anything we asked for.

Thank you, Veronica!!

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Thursday, July 06, 2017

NorthAmeriCon ’17 - The Setup

We moved into the convention hotel today. NorthAmeriCon ’17 is being held at The Sheraton Puerto Rico Hotel and Casino here in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It is a beautiful hotel, but also an expensive one. Like many of the larger hotels, it appears to cater mainly to tourists from the mainland.

We will be running the Con Suite. This is one of the social centers of the convention, where conversation and snacks are the order of the day. The hotel, to support its own eateries, limits what we can give away to non-alcoholic drinks and pre-packaged "finger food." You know, cookies and chips and such.

Almost all of the convention's activities will take place on the second floor. Here is a floor plan (copied from the hotel's website):

. We will be using Laguna 1 and 2, Bahia 1 and 2, San Felipe, San Cristobal and San Geronimo. The art show and dealer's room will be in San Felipe. Gaming will be in San Geronimo. Panel discussions and various other events will be held in Laguna 1 and 2, Bahia 1 and San Cristobal.

The Con Suite will be located in Bahia 2. The hotel staff has set up two rows of large (6') tables, with a few rectangular tables (6' x 2') along the front, back and right side of the room. The tables are all covered with heavy dark green table cloths. An iced water dispenser and a supply of disposable cups is located at the front of the room. The food has not arrived, yet. Someone is going to Wal*Mart to procure supplies and they will call us when they get to the loading dock. Once they get there, we will go down, unload the truck onto some carts, haul it up to the second floor and stow it in the right-hand corner at the rear of the room. Don't worry! — We are wearing our steel-toed shoes (Yeah, those were fun at airport baggage inspection...) We will open the Con Suite as soon as the food arrives and we get it stowed!

The festivities begin at 4PM with some panel discussions, but the real activities do not start until later. Due to recent events in the news, the Committee inserted a serious discussion at 6PM: Social Justice and SFF: It's Been There From the Beginning. The descriptive blurb reads:

Social Justice Warriors are destroying SFF with these new-fangled ideas! Um, no. SFF has always been used as a tool to examine social and political issues. Come discuss how works like 1984, Brave New World, Animal Farm, and the Handmaid's Tale explore oppressive regimes, and what, if any, hope SFF can give us.

At 6PM, another serious "current events" issue is covered. Working toward Social Equity in Speculative Fiction will look at the problem of getting voices from the minority community and from non-mainstream viewpoints heard and published. Well-known authors and content providers have little difficulty getting their latest works in front of the public. But publishing houses, movie distributors and such are very reluctant to take on the task for lesser known voices, including non-white creators, women and those with controversial social or political views. Money, of course, is the big issue — they fear that they will invest money in a project that the public will not buy.

The main events for this evening start at 8PM with Opening Ceremonies and the Meet the GoHs Ice Cream Social. For non-fans, GoHs stands for "Guests of Honor." Committee Chairman Pablo Vazquez will officially kick off the convention and introduce the Guests of Honor. An Ice Cream Social will follow. A big thank you to the DC in 2021 WorldCon Bid Committee for financial support towards the Ice Cream Social!

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Walking in Old San Juan

Since NASFIC starts tomorrow, we decided that we would walk in Old San Juan, again. After we left the hotel, we drove into Old San Juan and tried to find parking. After considerable searching, we found a (believe it, or not) non-handicapped space on one of the side streets, many blocks from the forts.

We spent hours wandering from shop to shop, up this street and down that. We stopped at a tourist information office and got a few recommendations for lunch and dinner. Nothing much worth photographing. Other than for lunch and dinner, we did not spend any money. It was a very quiet day.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

A Rain Forest??

Today, we decided to celebrate the Fourth of July by doing a little hiking. So we set up our "trusty" GPS system with our target — El Yunque National Forest on the island's eastern highlands. El Yunque, like all of our National Forests, is owned, operated and maintained by the Forest Service which is under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Our trip to the forest was uneventful, although the GPS system took us via the "scenic" route. A key connecting road was not shown on the GPS map; Google did not have it either. Once we found one of the signs erected by the Forest Service, we had no trouble finding the visitor center.

The gateway to the forest is the visitor center, which they call El Portal Rain Forest Center. It is a beautiful, airy building – somewhat like a science fiction cathedral – that contains exhibits and a short movie that introduce and explain the rain forest.

From the visitor center there is a road that climbs almost to the top of El Yunque Peak. From the end of the road, a trail climbs to the top. As shown in the Forest Service map below, there are many other hiking trails available.

We chose two spots to explore: La Coca Falls and La Mina Falls.

La Coca Falls is on the right side of the road as you drive up. It seems like everyone stops there, making it very corwded.

La Mina Falls, located on the left side of the road, is a distance from the road and is accessible by two trails. It is a much bigger falls, with a large basin at the bottom. When we were there, the basin was full of people. We hiked in from the lower trail and when we left, we hiked the upper trail.

I am sure I have more photographs from the hikes. I just have to find which camera I used!

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Monday, July 03, 2017

Bacardi and Our First Venture Into Old San Juan

Today was a busy day. The hotel helped us rent a car from one of the local agencies. With that, we gained mobility to see the island. Assuming that we could rent a car, we brought our Garmin GPS Navigation system.

Bacardi Distillery

A little to the west of San Juan is the Bacardi Distillery. Believe it or not, Bacardi is a relative newcomer to distilling rum. They are only 150 years old. The making of rum has a 450 year heritage here in Puerto Rico.

The tour begins and ends here with the visitors center. When you buy a tour ticket, you also get a token for a free rum-based drink - using Bacardi rum, of course. Under the white roof, the ticket counter is the little corner on the left and the bar is the whole right half. They yellow building is a restaurant that is supposed to serve excellent food, with the outrageous prices to match.

Note the emblem on the restaurant. This bat is the trademark of Bacardi and it appears, in red, on every bottle they fill.

This building is part distillery and part museum and gift ship.

One of the main agricultural products of Puerto Rico is sugar cane. The year-round warm weather and plentiful rain fall provide perfect growing conditions for sugar cane. In bygone years, the sugar canes were harvested and shipped by rail to the distilleries and sugar packagers. Some was shipped as raw canes on flat cars, while others were processed into "liquid sugar" and shipped in tank cars like the train in this picture.

At the end of the tour, there is another chance at the bar. Here is our tour guide acting as barkeeper.

The tour exit leaves you &— Can you guess? — The gift shop, of course!

Old San Juan

Driving in Puerto Rico is a challenge. First, the GPS maps are out-of-date, even though we downloaded an update this morning. To confuse matters more, half the street signs are missing – all you see are the empty pole. One-way signs seem to be particularly missing. The side streets were built before the era of the automobile: they are narrow and hemmed in by buildings. This causes horrendous traffic problems.

We decided to visit the Castillo San Felipe del Morro in the National Park Service's San Juan National Historic Site. The seaward side of Old San Juan is guarded by two forts: Castillo San Felipe del Morro on the western end and Castillo San Cristóbal on the eastern end. Between them is a high wall.

First of all, we had to fight our way through traffic to get near the fort. Second, we had to find parking. There is no Park Service parking lots for visitors. You have to hunt for parking along the narrow streets of old San Juan. We had an advantage — we had the foresight to bring my wife's blue handicap parking placard. Handicapped parking is enforced, allowing us a much easier time finding a spot.

On the landward side, there is a large grassy field between Old San Juan and the fort. Many people were flying kites, playing catch, picnicking and what not on this lawn. As you approach the fort, you walk up to a causeway over a "dry moat" which was designed to make the walls appear higher and more difficult to breach. As with most National Parks and Historic Sites, there is an entrance fee. I pulled out my Senior Citizen National Park Pass and – voilà – we were in for free.

The following photograph, found on the National Park Service web site, shows the dry moat. On the right, you can see the causeway to the main entrance. At the top of the left end, there is a guard post where soldiers could look out over the grounds and, more importantly, San Juan harbor.

The fort has five main levels. The main entrance is on level 3. We walked up the ramps to level 5 at the top of the fort. Below is a photograph I took of the same guard post, looking at it from within the fort.

By the time we finished wandering around on level five, the rangers had closed off the lower levels. We hope to come back later in the week and explore this place more and also visit Castillo San Cristóbal.

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Sunday, July 02, 2017

Off to Puerto Rico

The North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFIC) is in San Juan, Puerto Rico and we are going! We will be part of the crew running the "Con Suite." The Con Suite is a hospitality room for convention goers, where they can sit, snack and chat for hours on end while they wait for the next panel discussion, movie, lecture or event they want to attend.

We left from Austin-Bergstrom airport, changed airplanes at Fort Lauderdale and headed for San Juan. We got to San Juan late in the evening and there were no rental cars available at the airport! Taxis are inexpensive, however. We took a taxi to our hotel.

There was nothing worth photographing today. An airport is an airport is an airport. The food prices at the airports are outrageous! They expect you to pay $10 for a prepackaged sandwich that you can buy at 7-11 for much less. Subway Sandwich Shops make a much better sandwich - their foot-long is only $5-$9!

The convention does not start for a few days, yet. 'Til then, we will do the tourist thing.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Little Texas at the Fredericksburg Crayfish Festival

Fredericksburg, Texas is a medium sized town located along US Highway 290 in the Texas Hill Country. Although it is the county seat for Gillespie County, it is best known as a tourist destination. Its German heritage is on display, with a number of German and Austrian restaurants, along with a store where it is Christmas all year long! Its Western heritage is also on display with several western clothing stores, the ironworks store and several stores with large John Wayne decorated items for sale. Fredericksburg is also the heart of the Texas Hill Country's wine industry, with several tasting rooms in town and another dozen or so within a few miles of town.

It is also the home of one of the largest World War II museums in Texas (and Texas has several). Admiral Chester W. Nimitz grew up in Fredericksburg. The hotel that his parents owned is now a part of the National Museum of the Pacific War, located right in the center of town. The museum takes up an entire block, and these are not small "city blocks." If you plan to visit, it will take several hours to quickly explore the museum. It is filled with photographs and artifacts from the War in the Pacific.

Today, we went to Fredericksburg for the annual Crayfish Festival. It is a charity event, sponsored by the Jaycees, and running from May 26 through May 28 in the center of town, just across the street from the Gillespie County Court House. This year, one of the bands that will perform is Little Texas. Pay for admission to the festival, and the music is free.

When we got there, we had the perennial problem of finding parking. Most of the parking is street parking and its usually filled up, even the handicap spaces. We wandered down Main Street (US 290), doing a little window shopping. When we got to the festival, they had to look us up and issue us our attendance wrist bands.

We wandered through the booths. There was crayfish and shrimp any way you want them cooked. There was various German cuisines. There were handcrafts and assorted other "festival vendors." We found a familiar vendor and bought ourselves bratwursts for dinner. Once we got our food and beers, we headed to the music tent. We had already missed the first band of the day — the Bush Holloway Band.

After a short break, the Bayou Roux band took the stage. They were from Louisiana and their style was Cajun. They also had "Marti Gras" beads – lots of them &ndash: which they handed out liberally.

A solo performer took the stage while they change the stage. I did not catch his name.

Next, and for us, the main event:

They were pushing their new album, playing a number of songs from it.

They also played a number of their older songs, including:

  • Amy's Back in Austin
  • Kick a Little
  • What Might Have Been
  • God Blessed Texas

We had a great time!

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