The Night the Sea Was Lit

by Emma Fiala

Have you ever seen water sparkle like a million mini disco balls and glow with every movement?

Our group visited Mosquito Bay in Vieques for a nighttime kayaking tour in order to witness the bay’s naturally occurring bioluminescence. This phenomenon is an interesting reaction where light is produced by an organism, and common examples include fireflies, glow worms, fungi, squid, bacteria, protists and more.

How does it work?

For Mosquito Bay, the bioluminescence is due to the millions of dinoflagellates with luminescent properties. This type of dinoflagellate is called Pyrodinium bahamense. They are single-celled protists that contain dinoflagellate luciferase, an enzyme that allows for the light emitting reaction to occur. For the fellow science aficionados, I will explain the proposed mechanism below (National Science Foundation, 2011).

  1. Dinoflagellates are moved by external forces (e.g. kicking the water)

  2. Mechanoreceptors detect movement and change the voltage of the membrane

  3. Depolarized membranes cause voltage-sensitive proton channels on vacuoles to open

  4. Protons diffuse out of the vacuole into a special part of the cell with dinoflagellate luciferase

  5. The decreasing pH causes the pH-dependent reaction to occur and light to be generated

If that was a bit too technical, these bioluminescent organisms are sensitive to movement, and when moved, will go through a series of steps that, in the end, produce light.

These little organisms seem a bit delicate, what about Maria’s impact?

Pyrodinium bahamense is found mostly in the Atlantic and thrives in salty, warm environments. The tour guide reported that the bay is significantly more salty than the ocean, which provides a better environment for the dinoflagellates. In times of rain, the bay is illuminated due to the mechanical stress of raindrops disturbing the protists, but as rainwater does not have the same level of salinity, the protists float closer to the bottom of the bay and the bay is less luminescent.

Hurricane Maria was devastating to the ecosystem of Mosquito Bay for many reasons: the high winds pushed the dinoflagellates into the ocean. The rainwater diluted the bay. The hurricane damaged the mangroves that provide essential vitamins to the dinoflagellates (NPR, 2017). It wasn’t until many months later that this beautiful ecosystem started to return. Even 17 months post-Maria, the guides say it has still not fully recovered.

Ok, so what was it like for real?

Our group packed into a white van and journeyed in the dark down a dirt road until we reached a secluded area with mangroves, driftwood, and a small entrance between the trees to the bay. We split into six kayaks with 2-3 people per kayak and entered the water, paddling to the center. The bioluminescence was subtle at first and was not easily distinguishable between moonlight and luminescence. Perhaps it was our adjusting eyes to the dark, or perhaps the relative density of dinoflagellates increased towards the center, but we suddenly noticed the glow once we stopped.

For me, the bay did not illuminate as brightly and intensely as you see in stock photos on Google, but it did have a moderate, transient glow when disturbed by movement that transformed into a subtle, but magical sparkle. Each paddle disturbed the protists and we all enjoyed experimenting with water movement. I personally enjoyed picking the water up and throwing it on the surface. This produced more of an instantaneous sparkle. I also enjoyed putting my feet in the water and slowly kicking, watching blueness spiral around my ankles and sparkles rise to the surface. We were given some free time to explore, so my kayak shared ocean-related “dad” jokes and sped around the bay playing tag. We also relaxed and laid out in the kayaks to stare at the stars. The moon was about half full, but the cloud cover was sufficient to see the bay and a variety of constellations (even if we could only identify two).

On a more humorous note, we had no idea that we would be seeing any fish. While admittedly there were only two fish that I saw, one of them leaped out of the water, like a black dagger, and slapped our professor, Gabe, in the side before falling back into the bay and disappearing in a trail of blue.

Tanama River Excursion

by Emma Fiala, Sami Kinnunen, and Garrett Burnham

The decommissioned  Nuclear power plant in rincón

We had a free day in Rincón and had scheduled a scuba diving trip to Desecheo Island. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the dive shop, the owner told us that the trip was canceled due to poor weather conditions and dangerous waters. Initially, we were doubtful that the waves were really that big, but upon approaching the marina, we saw three foot swells in an area that typically has none. We also saw dolphins swimming in tandem, their dorsal fins emerging cyclically despite the choppy water. We walked back to the dive shop to re-plan our day. Eduardo, another staff member mentioned that he was taking a group to go cave spelunking in the Tanama river in Utuado and invited us to join. We did not have transportation to Utuado, but thankfully Eduardo graciously offered to drive us. As we had some time before our adventure, we decided to quickly visit the decommissioned nuclear plant and the lighthouse nearby.

A passerby told us that the nuclear plant has been re-purposed as a “museum” and has all its waste buried deep in concrete. However, while the site is called a museum, no locals have ever been inside. On a related note, epidemiological studies have shown that Rincón has a higher than normal prevalence of cancer. After checking the nuclear plant out, from afar, we walked to the lighthouse overlook and saw surfers riding the 10 foot swells precariously close to coral covered rocks. We watched for a while before heading back to the dive shop.

Prepped and ready to go start the tour

Prepped and ready to go start the tour

Eduardo picked us up and we started talking right away. He is an interesting person—he started his career as a software specialist at Microsoft. After working there for several years and feeling miserable, he decided to leave Microsoft, take his severance package, build his own home, and be with his family. He spoke to us about how much he loves the caves, rivers, and terrain of his home and he wouldn’t trade it for the world. While it may sound irresponsible to leave a stable job to open his own cave/river tour, we were able to see how much life it brought him and couldn’t help but feel a sense of respect. We spoke about perceptions that people from the mainland US and Puerto Ricans have about work and happiness, with the US culture more focused on money and possessions, while Puerto Ricans are more family and community oriented. We also spoke in depth about other aspects of Puerto Rican life and culture. He shared with us his feelings about the US and Puerto Rican relationship, his dreams for Puerto Rico and his perceptions of us as mainland citizens. At the end of our discussions, he told us that he felt very honored to have met us and believed that we can be good allies in helping bridge the cultural gap.

We drove through the rolling mountain roads to get to the entrance of our adventure. We loaded our wetsuits and helmets and started our trudge through the humid rain forest. Along the road, we saw a Ceiba tree, used by the indigenous Taino people to craft ocean-navigating canoes. We climbed down the muddy slope to the point at which the river met the cave mouth, descending via a weathered rope. When we reached the bottom, Eduardo told us to put on our wetsuits and life jackets. As hardened Minnesotans, we initially scoffed at the idea of using wetsuits, but a few minutes later while floating down the river we greatly appreciated his advice.

Eduardo with the spelunking geaR

Eduardo with the spelunking geaR

The first cave we went through was a dark limestone cavern with ceilings 15 feet high and the water level fluctuating between a few inches to a few feet. The only hint of an exit was a sliver of light on the other side that disappeared depending on what angle you looked. Inside the cave, we were surprised to see whole trees, stripped bare of their bark, wedged into the ceiling. Eduardo told us that during the summer rainy season the water level fills the entire cavern, pressurizing the exit so that the water comes out as a jet on the downstream side. We were lucky we came when we did to experience this natural geologic playground.

Once we finished drifting through the cave we climbed out of the water and up a slippery rock face, right up to the precipice of an overhanging cliff. We jumped down into the water, avoiding the rocks to either side and continued our journey down the river. The journey consisted of alternatively floating down the river and walking over rock beds and finally ending up at a stunning natural spring waterfall. Eduardo told us that the water was safe to drink and that we should fill up our water bottles while we had the chance. Throughout the day we learned to trust our guide and greedily lapped up some water and stored more for the rest of our journey. Our trip ended inside a well-lit cave strewn with cairns from the river beds to the high shelves on either side. Looking up, the cave was over 75 feet high with gigantic stalactites hanging down across the entire roof. Without us realizing, the sun was already starting to dip below the horizon and we started making our way back to the car.

The drive home was smooth as we were all exhausted from the day’s activities. We shared music back and forth with Eduardo and wished him good tidings when he dropped us off at one of his favorite eateries in Rincón. This was an amazing journey to immerse ourselves in both the natural beauty of the central mountain range and learn about the culture of the indigenous people of Puerto Rico. In particular, the importance of the central geography of the island was highlighted again and again. From the hidden valley said to be the refuge of Taino tribes running from Spanish invaders to the river that provided vital water to the outlying municipalities, this land is clearly invaluable to the culture and history of Puerto Rico. It is no wonder that the people who call it home do not wish to leave. All in all, it was a breathtaking experience that I would recommend to everyone who doesn't mind getting a little wet.

Group Picture outside natural spring waterfall

Group Picture outside natural spring waterfall

The Living Hacienda - Buena Vista, Ponce

by Jane O’Malley & Rajeev Atha

The Buena Vista coffee hacienda is a historical site managed by the Puerto Rican Conservation Trust located just outside of Ponce. Established in the mid-19th century by Salvador de Vives, operations at the hacienda were originally centered on fruit production to feed slaves forced to work within sugar cane plantations. Fruit production was later supplemented by corn growing and processing it. The primary commodity of the hacienda later shifted to coffee as the demand for coffee exploded in Europe during the 1880’s and 90’s. The operation was family owned for three generations until a sharp decline in the agriculture industry led the family to abandon the business. Walking through the buildings and landscapes helped us better understand a 19th century Puerto Rico then under the colonial influence of the Spanish Empire.

Buena Vista Coffee Hacienda, Ponce. Top Left: Main House, Top Right: Grounds of the Hacienda, Bottom Left: Porch/Entrance, Bottom Right: Dining Room

Buena Vista Coffee Hacienda, Ponce. Top Left: Main House, Top Right: Grounds of the Hacienda, Bottom Left: Porch/Entrance, Bottom Right: Dining Room

A composite brick and heavy timber composed the main house of Salvadore de Vives. Lime mortar was used as a substitute to cement mortar which wasn’t invented yet. Use of heavy timber posts were adopted to increase the floor span and the expanse of space under it. The original interlocking members, connected  with wood dowels, were recently renovated and show character and craft of the original construction. A typical Spanish housing layout was adopted with a small courtyard in the center of the house to facilitate various domestic interactions between the family and its servants. A gallery attached the long end of the house faces the property grounds and serves as a shading device to the house to reduce the ambient heat incident on the  facade. The strategic use of materials, orientation of the building, and the composition of spaces are some of the 19th century architectural strategies deployed to deal with the Caribbean climate at that time. Some it of the passive strategies used this house could be rethought to provide more resilient buildings today.

We were astonished to see the house with minimal structural damage by Hurricane Maria. A small opening in the hallways which was called “Ojos de Luna” roughly translating to “Moon Eye”, released the pressure in the structure during the hurricane and left the house undamaged structurally.

Ojos de Luna, “Moon Eye”

Ojos de Luna, “Moon Eye”

Living Room

Living Room

While exploring the old house where the owners used to reside on weekends followed by a short hike to see the rest of the grounds, we got a wholesome experience on how the hacienda operated during that time period. Harvested coffee is processed in several stages: deshelling of beans, roasting, deshelling beans again, and then sieving for the final product. These processing steps were originally operated under a manual process, provided by slave labor which the then Spanish colony did not abolish until 1873. Manual processing was soon replaced by mechanical systems which operated using a water wheel. Late the waterwheel systems was supplemented by a  state-of-the-art—the Barker hydraulic turbine that was used to deshell and sieve the beans earned a patent in 1854. The building that housing this piece of equipment is now a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. The water powering the waterwheel and turbine is diverted from a waterfall on the Canas River, a short hike up the hill.

Water is an important source of power in Puerto Rico--the island’s electric utility was originally named for its water resources and has built over 20 hydroelectric generating units since the 19th century. Despite the country’s history and geographic favorability for hydropower, today, hydropower only provides less than 0.1 percent of the island’s power. While generating systems are installed at high capacities, a buildup of silt and debris in delivery lines have rendered several of the engines inoperable. The government has expressed interest to resolve some of these issues through the use of public-private partnerships and improved maintenance. Hydropower has great potential for the island as a renewable energy resource moving forward. Generating systems can be built at large capacities, have long operational lifetimes, and help stabilize production of more intermittent renewable resources such as wind and solar. Like the Buena Vista Hacienda, technology and social systems must mature with time to make room for large-scale grid integration.

Coffee Processing Building , interior

Coffee Processing Building, interior

Coffee Processing Building  , Exterior

Coffee Processing Building , Exterior

Bosque Escuela La Olimpia

by Rajeev Atha

Entrance to Bosque Escuela La Olimpia

Entrance to Bosque Escuela La Olimpia

Casa Pueblo, a community in the town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico acquired 150 acres of land which established “Bosque Escuela La Olimpia” (La Olimpia Forest School). With an initiative to preserve the sanctity of the forest and Río Grande de Arecibo, a river originating in the forest of Olimpia. This stream of water is essential to the citizens of Adjuntas, Arecibo and other metropolitan areas of San Juan as their primary source of potable water.

As an extension for this preservation, Casa Pueblo’s Ariel Massol Deyá and Julián Chiví had an inspiration and vision to create a forest school in this forest. An education system of classrooms without walls, forest grounds as the floor and the infinity of the sky was established in the cradle of nature. Ricardo, a student and active community member of Casa Pueblo, provided us with the school philosophy, inspiration and curriculum. Contrary to an orthodox school, Bosque Escuela La Olimpia is an experiential based program. Students learn about temperature, water and air quality, respecting and valuing the forests by observation of the elements in nature such as fungi, endangered species, water flow and more.

After learning about the methods and curriculum of the institute, Ricardo provided us with an opportunity to experience what it’s like to be a student studying in this environment. We walked from class to class, crossing rivers, ducking under the shade of trees and hiking mountains to reach ‘classrooms’ set in different natural contexts. On this course we stumbled upon a cabin in the woods, which was the solar energy class that was powered with resilient solar panels to produce energy.

A structure in Bosque Escuela la olimpia

A structure in Bosque Escuela la olimpia

 
UMN Students learning about Water Run-off, From Left to Right: Garrett Burnham, Rajeev Atha, Carlie Derouin

UMN Students learning about Water Run-off, From Left to Right: Garrett Burnham, Rajeev Atha, Carlie Derouin

Visiting Bosque Escuela La Olimpia, getting the gist of the education with Ricardo as our instructor was quite revealing for the students who’ve been through an orthodox education systems. Throughout the trip in Puerto Rico, we have been talking about focusing on the big picture but weren’t able to experience it. But Ricardo took us on a hike to the second highest peak on the main island and on reaching the top, there it was “the big picture,” the context in which we were working for. Overlooking the city of Adjuntas, made us realise the magnitude of the strategies we were formulating for the betterment of the island.

scenes from Bosque Escuela la olimpia

scenes from Bosque Escuela la olimpia

From the peak in Bosque Escuela la olimpia

From the peak in Bosque Escuela la olimpia

Resources

Bosque Escuela La Olimpia. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://casapueblo.org/index.php/proyectos/bosque-escuela-la-olimpia/

Dinner at Marla and Cecilio’s house

by Carlie Derouin

Our first full day in Mayagüez fell on a holiday: Día de Los Reyes (Three Kings Day), a holiday celebrated by many countries in Latin America. We learned the holiday is an important part of the holiday season here in Puerto Rico to be spent with family.  The evening before, children gather grass to put into boxes under their beds for the three camels that will bring the three magi (kings) overnight with gifts. Being here for the holiday served an early opportunity for us to experience the unique culture of Puerto Rico that is born out of a complex blend of different cultural influences and colonization. Our group had the opportunity to spend much of the holiday with INESI leaders, Marla Pérez Lugo and Cecilio Ortiz Garcia, and a few of their family members.

Speaking with Cecilio over dinner

Speaking with Cecilio over dinner

The evening passed quickly with a great deal of conversation (along with excellent food and some ‘Just Dance’ competition). From discussions about the holiday, to stories about damage from Hurricane Maria, to conversations about the tension that can arise between local culture and national conservation policies (in the context of El Yunque National Forest), our group got a taste of both the complexity of the problems Puerto Rico is facing post Hurricane Maria, and the learning and knowledge exchange that can occur in informal spaces as our group continues to engage with leaders in Puerto Rico.

Playa Sucia

by Kristy Dellwo

Directly translated to English, Playa Sucia means “dirty beach”, which does not really sound like the type of place you would want to spend your afternoon. However, coming from a Minnesotan’s perspective who does not get to hang out by the ocean often, I was not phased by the bits of seaweed that lined the shoreline and deemed the beach “dirty” (although I did later hear that the beach was named to keep tourists away). Playa Sucia sits in Cabo Rojo on the Southwest corner of the island. It is nicely tucked in a cove surrounded by scenic bluffs and a lighthouse accessible by a short hike with panoramic views of the water. In addition to the beautiful scenery, this beach also seemed to be a common spot for families to spend time with each other. One big family in particular had brought a speaker to play music and everyone was doing choreographed dances together. The family’s dancing brought a strong cultural presence to the beach, as dancing is a big part of many Puerto Rican family cultures on the island. Everyone was friendly and relaxed, allowing me to forget my responsibilities for a moment and fully appreciate the experience.

The beach at Playa Sucia

The beach at Playa Sucia

The Cabo Rojo lighthouse at Playa Sucia

The Cabo Rojo lighthouse at Playa Sucia

Salinas de Cabo Rojo

by Kimberly Colgan

We spent Three Kings Day at Salinas de Cabo Rojo in the southwest of the island. In English, Cabo Rojo means “Red Cape”. It gets this name because of the brine shrimp and halobacteria in the flats make the water look red, but the exact color of the flats depends on the weather, season, and organism profile, and is different every day. The Cabo Rojo Salt Flats Unit is one of the five US National Wildlife Refuges in Puerto Rico, and is home to numerous types of ecosystems including: hypersaline lagoons, salt marshes, subtropical dry forest, seagrass, marine lagoons, mangroves, and coral reefs. The hypersaline lagoons have a high concentration of salt, and have been used for salt mining since the Taíno people extracted salt in 700 AD.  

Hypersaline Lagoons, Salinas de Cabo Rojo

Hypersaline Lagoons, Salinas de Cabo Rojo

To harvest the salt, ocean water is moved into a pond through a series of canals, where the water is left to evaporate for months. More water is added, and then left again to evaporate. This process repeats until the salt crystals are plentiful enough to be harvested. The salt is used in some locally produced soaps, but the majority is exported, and then used for de-icing sidewalks, water softening, and as a supplement in livestock feed. These salt flats provide a habitat for local flora and fauna, while also creating an industry, to provide both economic and ecological services for the island.

Hypersaline Lagoons and a Salt Mound, Salinas de Cabo Rojo

Hypersaline Lagoons and a Salt Mound, Salinas de Cabo Rojo

A Tree Branch over a Hypersaline Lagoon, Salinas de Cabo Rojo

A Tree Branch over a Hypersaline Lagoon, Salinas de Cabo Rojo

La Cena del Grupo

by Rajeev Atha

January 5, 2019, a long day of a scenic drive with the explorations of El Yunque, ended with our arrival in the university town of Mayagüez. In Mayagüez, the University of Minnesota group and INESI team were reunited at Marla and Cecilio’s house, which would be our base camp for the next couple of weeks. After being welcomed with a warm smile and an open heart, hunger grew upon us. Thinking about a hearty meal, masterchefs from the group came to a collaborative decision of one dish in particular - LINGUINE PASTA!!!! Garrett took charge of the al dente spaghetti, and Jane prepared a lip smacking sauce while the others became sous chefs contributing to what the chefs in charge were making. This would be the first collaborative efforts of intercultural and interdisciplinary effort over the best thing in the world; food! Wait, I almost forgot to mention salsa, and tortilla chips with guacamole!

After all the excitement of the drive and the rush of El Yunque, a rejuvenating dinner with newly formed friends became a family on a journey to search for more questions and grow together as individuals.

Photo Credits: Emma Fiala, Rajeev Atha

Photo Credits: Emma Fiala, Rajeev Atha

Photo Credits: Emma Fiala, Rajeev Atha

Photo Credits: Emma Fiala, Rajeev Atha

El Yunque

by Garrett Burnham and Sami Kinnunen

Mountain summit in El Yunque

Mountain summit in El Yunque

Before heading to our host family’s home, we took a quick trip to the nearby rain forest, El Yunque just southeast of San Juan. The park is situated on a mountain and the surrounding foothills and is accessed by a public road that leads to the top. As we drove up the mountain, there were dozens of overlooks and trail heads to stop at along the way. However, most of these were closed due to trail damage sustained by hurricane Maria over a year ago. Other amenities like shelters, information pavilions, and cafes were also closed and appeared unused for some time. Despite the closures, the park was stunning, boasting natural water slides, waterfalls, and vistas overlooking both the forest and the sea. We spent our morning scrambling over the dense rocks below the falls experiencing the area’s beauty up close, as you can see in the photo below. Sadly, we ran out of time before getting to explore all the area had to offer.

 
classmates sitting under waterfall

classmates sitting under waterfall

 

We can’t wait for the Puerto Rican Forestry Service to open more trails as we are sure to come back.

La Placita

by Emma Fiala

What Happened:

Prior to class starting, I was staying at a nearby hostel and had gone to La Placita, an open public square, with friends. During the day, La Placita is a quiet space for a local farmer’s market, but at night, it transforms into a vibrant community, and every time I went, it was a different place compared to the previous night. One night was an older crowd, and the next night was mainly students. I was excited to take my new classmates to La Placita and discover yet another flavor of it.

The night we went was the night of a huge, free salsa concert. The artists featured were La Tribu de Abrante, Plena Libre and El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico. The event began at 5pm, but continued until midnight. When we arrived at the plaza, there were more people than I had ever seen there. Thousands filled the streets— dancing to salsa, watching street performers juggle fire, and enjoying a carefree Friday night out with friends.

After the concert, we visited a small, but popular salsa and karaoke bar called Taberna Los Vazquez. Some of us knew basic salsa, but others had never danced it before. A local couple offered to teach us salsa and we all learned some new steps. My own experience with salsa was from Zumba classes with my mom at our local YMCA, so learning from a very experienced local dancer was perfect. Some things my classmates said about their own experience was that they liked how open the streets were and how social connection was not defined by entering a door into a four-walled room. Others mentioned how dancing and salsa were good ways to break typical social barriers. One commented that he learned salsa essentially without words, but through motions, gestures and body language. Just in the few short days I had spent in San Juan, I loved it, so sharing part of what I love about San Juan with my classmates was rewarding. Needless to say, we all left exhausted.

 

Why it Matters:

Music and dance seem to be particularly important to Puerto Ricans as it expresses certain aspects of heritage and culture. Puerto Rico has a very interesting music/dance history. It was originally inhabited by the Taíno Indians who performed Areíto, a dance with music to honor their ancestors and their gods. These performances oftentimes took place in a central plaza, or public space, and observers were members of the community and neighboring communities. After European conquistadors came to the Caribbean, Puerto Rico’s music and dance changed to incorporate influences from Spain, Africa and other European nations.

From speaking with local Puerto Ricans, dance/music/social outings are a large part of the culture. Many children grow up learning how to dance from their family, so dancing well is a way to honor those that taught you. From an outsider’s perspective, when I am salsa dancing, whether dancing with a local or struggling to dance with another new-learner, I find myself totally in the present feeling alive and enjoying the ambiance.

On a more serious note, one person spoke with me about the significance of “going out.” He defined “going out” as a form of escape from THIS to the real Puerto Rico. After asking for more clarification, he said that THIS represents everyday problems-- crippling economic debt, politiquería (political corruption), and the uncertainty of living under President Trump among other things. The real Puerto Rico, when it was thriving was described as a place that is self-sufficient, hard-working and lively. Essentially, escaping Puerto Rico as a colony living as a dependent at the mercy of other governing authorities. In addition, it’s important to note that Puerto Rican culture has placed importance on hospitality and social connection, so regardless of what economic or political environment Puerto Ricans are in, “going out” is not something that can ever be taken away.
Overall, my classmates and I had a great time at La Placita. At face value, the entirety of La Placita escaped, but from what?

The Old San Juan Experience

by Rajeev Atha and Jane O’Malley

Friday evening brought us on a walking tour of the old streets of San Juan. The tour was led by professor Jorge Lizardi, a trained historian currently based in the School of Architecture at UPR San Juan. The peninsular city is a microcosm of many things, strongly influenced by the Spanish conquistadors who first arrived to the city in the early 16th century. Initially, the Spanish empire classified Puerto Rico from a military standpoint with retired officials resorting at this elevated island. Later with the decline of the Spanish empire, San Juan became a strategic location for fortification and protection for the island asset of the empire. These military influences are still highly prevalent, felt most notably while walking on the esplanade at El Morro or looking toward the Ballajá barracks from the center plaza. The city has since repurposed these places into community and social institutions. Progressing towards the sea, the esplanade revealed itself as a recreation space, extending itself to the sky with kites. The barracks have been converted to a multipurpose cultural space and several other military buildings which previously acted as places of asylum now serve as educational institutions.

Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico, Old San Juan.

Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico, Old San Juan.

Following Jorge into a time portal to the past, we moved into the inner streets and alleyways of the old city. These were defined by an endless facade of houses divided by characteristic elements of each family. Behind the facade, an unimaginable introvert courtyard lies shared between the neighboring houses. Environmental sensitivity was achieved passively through high ceilings and ventilators over the doors. We passed Casa Blanca, a home which was intended to serve as the governor’s residence but now acts as a museum of developmental history of San Juan. Recent restorations revealed the stages of construction of the building for visitors to see. However, the conflict between federal and state government jurisdiction over the old city has restricted historians to record and trace the events of the past for this process of restoration. The old city serves as a reminder of the country’s colonial roots yet a testament to how the Puerto Rican people have shaped their own heritage and culture. A cemetery adjacent to El Morro is representative of the people’s honor of those who have largely contributed to it.

In present times, the Old San Juan area has presented the citizens of San Juan with a space for rejuvenation and recreation from their busy lives. Ending the day with a high of San Juan history, sipping on ice cold Medalla at an historic institutionalized bar, glancing onto the various aspects of research trip lying ahead of us. Shifting our lenses from the modernist San Juan city, a historic portal is generated by old San Juan which portrays a strong sense of community, charity and pride of their heritage. A historic existence of the city since the last 5 centuries will continue to live on and preserve itself by the city and its citizens.

Alleyways of Old San Juan.

Alleyways of Old San Juan.

Alleyways of Old San Juan.

Alleyways of Old San Juan.