Conquest of Paradise
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
If you’re wondering if you should splurge for a balcony stateroom on your next cruise, consider the morning I had aboard MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina as she slipped silently into the harbour in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The globetrotting Christopher Columbus discovered San Juan on what was literally his “Conquest of Paradise” in 1492-93, but it wasn’t until 1509 that the town was officially settled, and even longer – 1521 – before it was given its official name of San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico.
Positioned as a prime stopover point for ships carrying gold and silver to and from the New World, San Juan entered a 300-year period of repeated sackings, pillaging, battles and outright siege. The city’s famous fortresses and castle walls were built to protect the city, but that didn’t stop San Juan from becoming a veritable bloodbath. Battles were so common the townspeople could practically set their watches – if they had any – to them.
Today, San Juan is part of the United States of America, but only very peripherally. An unincorporated territory, they use the U.S. Dollar here along with the propensity for heavily-armed police officers dressed head-to-toe in black guarding ports, monuments and Starbucks Coffee but other than that, San Juan still retains much of its Spanish colonial charm. In fact, you could argue that Havana, Cuba would appear a lot like modern-day San Juan had Fidel Castro not decided to go to bed with Nikita Khrushchev and a bunch of long-range ballistic missiles back in the 1960’s.
Having been here just over one year ago, I opted to create my own shore excursion today by walking to Fort San Cristobal, then over to the equally-historic Fort San Filipe del Morro, before making a giant loop back to the ship by strolling through the main shopping district in Old San Juan.