My family’s spring break vacation didn’t last nearly as long as it’s taking me to tell you about it in these columns. If it had, our cruise would be going into its fifth week. That would be, I don’t know, like sailing with Christopher Columbus in 1492. Imagine the weight his crews put on at their shipboard buffets; no wonder those boats traveled slow!
Incidentally, Columbus has a part to play in this week’s column, as I share our adventures in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was our last port of call on our vacation.
If you’ve faithfully read the last few columns (and no, there is no way to get that precious time back), then you know that my kids developed a cruise-going habit of “wasting” as little as possible of the hours of darkness. They much preferred to sleep away the daylight hours. So once again, when we reached San Juan, my wife and I dragged three barely conscious teens off the ship at the ungodly hour of 8 a.m. to experience a zip-lining tour through the canopy of a forest near San Juan.
No. 5 son, age 12, who, the day before, had given in to his uncertainties and trepidations about a snorkeling adventure, and instead stayed aboard the catamaran flirting with a college-age cutie crew member, had no such luck worming out of the zip-lining, about which he was even more uncertain and, uh, trepidatious.
Our cause was aided, however, by our family being second to last in the line to glide through the trees. And a family with the 12-year-old girl, whose uncertainty and trepidatious-ness were at least 2.3x that of No. 5, was behind us. Thus, the cultural imperative for a boy to try to act “cool” in front of a girl triumphed over the “u” and “t” words. No. 5 buried his anxieties, flew down the first zip line, and was hooked, and I’m not just talking about his safety harness being properly attached to the zip line. He loved it, and his exuberance reduced the grumpiness I felt about him wasting a big wad of that snorkeling excursion fee by at least 2.3x.
As we rode the zip-line tour bus back to the port, we got an impromptu tour of Old San Juan. Our driver, you see, gave every indication of being a native Puerto Rican, but clearly was faking it; he was obviously Scottish. Here’s the evidence: he spent the drive back from the forest explaining five or six ways to have a great time in Old San Juan WITHOUT spending a lot of money. It was “pinch a penny here, pinch a penny there.” Including making an unscheduled stop in Old San Juan to drop off people who wanted to check the town out, thus helping them avoid taking any “too expensive” cab rides. It was the very essence of a tightwad Scotsman, a stereotype I have no uncertainty and trepidatious-ness about mocking because I am one of those myself!
My wife and I decided we would get back on-board our ship to freshen up and eat a little after zip-lining, then debark again to stroll the charming streets of Old San Juan. While busing back to the dock, I described the historic sights we would see to the kids, and how certain I was that they would really enjoy them; their eyes immediately glazed over and they got some precious nap-time in.
When we took to the cobblestoned avenues of Old San Juan (without kids, if that needs mentioning) we discovered that it was really hot, a draining kind of heat. We’d gone from zipping to zapped.
We found some shady refuge from the heat, and, more importantly, a dose of history and culture, in the walls of the Castillo de San Cristobal, a fort built by the Spaniards in 1521. Among the items of interest there was a large model of the Santa Maria, the ship Columbus sailed on in 1492. And I learned from a placard next to the model that the ship sank on Christmas day of that year, off the coast of Haiti. Apparently, it was being piloted at the time by a cabin boy! The rest of the crew was (this is true) sleeping off drunkenness. Caused by celebrating Christmas with 2.3x of the grog that Columbus said they could have.