Trip Reports: February 2011 - Caribbean

In February I escaped the bitter cold spell the Rockies had been experiencing all month. I headed south to the paradise of the Caribbean. I fit a lot of different types of photography into my 12 day trip. From the historic fortresses of Old San Juan in Puerto Rico, to the El Yunque Rainforest  in search of a bird I've always wanted to photograph and then on to  the British Virgin Islands, where I shot mostly waterscapes and landscapes. Of course I also got my fair share of relaxation in as well, not that taking photographs in paradise is all that stressful! Enjoy!
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I snapped this photo with my cell phone on the way to the airport. At that time it was over 80 degrees in Puerto Rico, meaning I would be experiencing a temperature change of over 100 degrees this day. A most welcome, and motivating thought as I drove to the airport at 2am, with a long travel day ahead of me. 

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On our descent into Atlanta I witnessed an optical phenomenon known as a "brocken spectre" which is essentially a seemingly gigantic shadow cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds when an object passes between the sun and the clouds. This phenomenon is most often seen by climbers on high mountain ridges or from airplanes. Also, there is a very visible ring of color around the shadow known as a "glory"  which is another optical phenomenon cause by backscattered light, which I don't fully understand, and won't attempt to describe here. Luckily I had my trusty cell phone with me to capture this cool little treat on an otherwise boring flight.

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A thick layer of low clouds Somewhere between Atlanta and San Juan.

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Finally the clouds broke as we cleared the mainland of the U.S. Looking down on the warm waters of the Atlantic made me antsy to get on the ground and into some warmer weather. 

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Looking down on San Juan, Puerto Rico as we began our descent. The mountains you can just make out in the distance is the El Yunque Rainforest, where I would be headed in just  a few days. 

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About to land as we pass over the "Bridge of Flags" in San Juan. 

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For the first stint of our trip we stayed in San Juan, which was really fun for me because last time I was here we spent all of our time on the southern part of the Island. There are many amazing things to see in San Juan and I was disappointed to not be able to photograph them last time. This shot is a double rainbow that appeared late in the evening from the beach where we were staying. 

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An amazing sunset over San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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The streets of Old San Juan, the historical colonial section of San Juan, Puerto Rico are famous for their narrow, blue cobblestone streets and colorful buildings that date back to the 16th and 17th century when San Juan was under Spanish Rule. The oldest parts of the town are still surrounded the fortress walls that have protected this city for hundreds of years. 

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The uneven streets of Old San Juan are narrow and laid with blue cobblestone, which have been polished and cracked from use over the years.

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I could have spent a week in Old San Juan photographing all the beautiful doors around the city. I didn't have that kind of time, but I did stop and make a few images of doors that didn't have cars parked in front of them. 

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As we walked the streets of Old San Juan I was constantly pointing my camera at the  beautiful architecture and colors that make up this historic city.

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A detail shot of one of the many accent pieces that adorn these buildings.

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I visited the city during mid-day when it was especially crowded, so parked cars on the narrow streets made photography difficult, but there were a few areas that weren't obstructed.

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I saw this piece of art on the side of a building in an alley and it caught my eye. 

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The Museo de Pablo Casals is dedicated to musician Pablo Casals, and houses the memorabilia left to the people of Puerto rico by the famous maestro. In Puerto Rico, the annual Casals festival draws international interest and performing artists from all over the world. 

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Three green doors.

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A bench and a tree next to the Museo de Pablo Casals.

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Like the colorful buildings and cobblestone streets, the gas lamps that light the streets of Old San Juan add to the charm of this beautiful city. 

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This is the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista. The Cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in San Juan, and the second oldest cathedral in the western hemisphere. Construction of the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista began in 1521. The cathedral holds the tomb of the spanish explorer and settlement founder, Ponce de Leon, who, as legend has it, died searching for the fountain of youth in Florida.

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The forts of Old San Juan are what I really was looking forward to photographing this day. The first one we visited was the Castillo de San Cristobal. Pictured here is one of the iconic "garitas" that have become a symbol for the entire island of Puerto Rico. 

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A  panorama looking out from the main battery. The city of San Juan can be seen in the distance. 

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Just a piece of stonework I found really interesting.

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"La Garita del Diablo" This sentry box is one of the oldest parts of the fort. Legend has it that the devil himself would snatch away soldiers from this lonely outpost at the edge of the sea, which is why it now has the ominous name of "The Devils Garita"

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A local inhabitant sunning himself on the fort walls.

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A look at another garita that still stands over the ocean as it did hundreds of years ago.

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One of the neatest parts of the fort were the tunnel systems. This particular tunnel is the largest of six hidden tunnels that ran through the structure. These tunnels, or "galleries" were important for strategical reasons, as they protected soldiers from enemy fire and allowed for commanders to move large amounts of troops unseen.

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The tunnels were very dark, and not a place for someone with claustrophobia. A long exposure with my camera allows more light to be seen that what can be picked up by the naked eye. This tunnel leads to the main plaza of Castillo San Cristobal

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This is the entrance to the dungeon, about halfway through the tunnel. 

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The inside of the Dungeon. This is not somewhere I would have liked to have been kept. It was hot, humid and downright miserable inside. It was one of my favorite parts of the fort though. I spent probably 20 minutes inside taking photos. By the time I came out I was drenched in sweat. 

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The reason I loved the dungeon so much was because of these fascinating drawing of Spanish Galleons on the dungeon walls. They are most likely the work of a Spanish captain being held here, awaiting execution for mutiny. 

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Another galleon on the dungeon walls. There were a few different ones, but the two I included in this trip report were my favorite. 

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This is a view from the top level of Castillo San Cristobal, looking past the slum neighborhood of La Perla and toward the second of the two large forts of Old San Juan, Fort San Felipe del Morro.

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During world war II the United States Army built an artillery observation point to the fort. Adding a modern concrete feature to the ancient defenses of Castillo San Cristobal, which at the time, was still an active military base. This is a view looking through one of the small slit windows of the observation tower. 

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This is the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery, which is located just outside the north walls of Fort San Felipe del Morro. This cemetery is the final resting place of Puerto Rico's most prominent residents. 

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Another view of the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery.

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The fortress walls of El Morro extend right up to the cemetery. 

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A pair of monk parakeets were feeding on the grasses growing on the top of the fortress walls. 

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Monk Parakeet.

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The entrance to Fort San Felipe del Morro.

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Looking into the main plaza of Fort San Felipe del Morro.

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El Morro's Chapel Doors.

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A religious shrine inside the main plaza of the fort. 

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Facade above the Chapel Door.

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Another Garita looking out over the Atlantic.