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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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dallas Drivers are C R A Z Y ! ! !

We just got back from a trip to the Dallas and Fort Worth area of Texas. Drivers there are crazy! Totally bonkers! Insane!

We rented a hotel room in Dallas, just off of Interstate 635. They had great amenities and also (most importantly) the best price. We had tickets for two events at Billy Bob's Texas - located a reasonable distance away in the Fort Worth Stockyards. To get to the hotel and between the hotel and Billy Bob's, we had to use the freeways and the Metroplex has a whole herd of them. Looking at a map, the freeways look like a rattlesnake nest!

Every time we were on the road, no matter what time of day, we either passed an accident or were detoured because of one! The minute traffic was even a little congested - not even enough to cause most drivers to slow down below 65 miles per hour - some drivers started aggressively changing lanes, cutting each other off and even running up the inside shoulder! These morons made Los Angeles drivers seem relatively sane!

I am glad we decided to take one of the ranch trucks, rather than the car. The shear size of the truck had an intimidator effect on the idiot in their sedans and convertables.

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Montgomery Gentry at Billy Bob's Texas

Today, we headed back to Billy Bob's. Tonight, Montgomery Gentry will take the stage.

Yesterday, I tried to describe Billy Bob's. Here are a couple of photographs I took...

This first one shows the window to their famed pizza kitchen, along with several of the seemingly hundreds of neon signs. The one at the left says "Showroom" with an arrow to the right below.

This shows a view from one corner of the main room. Immediately in front is a bar. To the left of the bar is a passage leading to a dance floor. In the background on the left is another bar, clear across the room. Behind the bar is another dance floor and behind that dance floor is the bar in the middle of the room.

Beyond what you can see in this picture are the pool tables, two additional kitchens, tables, their retail store, and much more! The place is huge!!

Promptly, at 9:30 PM, Montgomery Gentry took the stage in the Showroom. They covered many old favorites, including:

  • My Town
  • Something to be Proud of
  • Gone
  • Hell, Yeah!
  • Long Line of Loosers
  • She Couldn't Change Me
  • Where I Come From

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Friday, May 19, 2017

The Bellamy Brothers at Billy Bob's Texas

Tonight, I took my family honky-tonking. The Bellamy Brothers were performing at Billy Bob's Texas. This is a famous western-style bar, with a large dance floor and stage located in the Fort Worth Stockyards area.

We arrived in the Dallas/Fort Worth "metroplex" early to give us time to check into our hotel. We live a fair distance away and since we planned to attend the Bellamy Brother's show tonight and a different show tomorrow night, we sprang for a hotel room. We reserved at a Wyndham Gardens Hotel in Dallas. The place caters to business travelers during the week with rates to match, but on weekends the rates drop to something very reasonable. It is a beautiful hotel with an excellent, though expensive, restaurant.

After checking in, we headed over to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. It has changed since the last time we were there about fifteen years ago. It always was a tourist destination, but it has become much more of a tourist trap. For example, free parking has become difficult to find. They have added some "street shows," including a gunfight. Here is the touristy welcome sign...

The "station" has a number of shops and restaurants under one roof. For dinner, we decided to go with Mexican cuisine and selected the Habanero's Grill and Cantina. The food was very good, the portions were ample and the prices reasonable.

Billy Bob's has lots of pool tables, about half a dozen bars, their own retail store, bull riding, a pizza kitchen, a steakhouse kitchen and two stages. One with a large dance floor and small tables. The other, the main stage faces a large group of long tables with reserved seating for concerts.

The Bellamy Brothers took to the main stage at 9:30 PM and played 'till eleven, covering many of their greatest hits, including Let Your Love Flow, For All the Wrong Reasons, Kids of the Baby Boom, and one of my personal favorites (mostly because I AM one, complete with long hair and a full beard) – Old Hippie.

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