Mara's Triumph
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Mara's Triumph

Written by Rick Archer
Last Update: December 2012

Our 2011 cruise to the Virgin Islands featured a marvelous series of adventures created by Mara Rivas.

It might seem odd to be writing about this trip a year and a half later, but I was terribly distracted by a serious problem upon my return from the VI trip. I am pleased to say the problem went away, but at the time the last thing on my mind was writing cruise stories.

I was so pre-occupied with worry, I completely forgot about this trip. By the time my problem was resolved a month later, this trip was in the rearview mirror.  Unfortunately, once you let the trail grow cold, it is hard to pick up the scent again.  Oh well, better late than never. Now that I have some free time, let's revisit these great adventures

Joe, Patty, Marla, Rick, Joan, Mara, Bruce, Kurt, Tiffany, Jean


A Brief History of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has been described countless times as the "Key to the Caribbean".  Although this nickname made a lot more sense back in Age of Imperial Expansion, in recent times Puerto Rico has magically regained its status as a key player in the fortunes of the Caribbean Sea.  We get to that aspect shortly.

So where exactly is Puerto Rico? 

As opposed to Cuba which is about 100 miles from Key West, Puerto Rico is 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. 

If you study the map, you will see Puerto Rico seems to be part of an ancient land bridge that perhaps once connected what we now call Florida to the northeast coast of South America. 

Another ancient land bridge using Cuba seems to link Puerto Rico to the Yucatan Peninsula.  In the middle of the circle rests the Caribbean Sea and its bitter past under Spanish domination.

In Spanish, Puerto Rico means "the Door to Riches".  All the European powers during the Age of Imperial Expansion knew that Puerto Rico guarded the door to the valuable Caribbean.  A tremendous amount of wealth flowed through Puerto Rico as the last stop before heading back to Europe.

Although Columbus first landed in the Bahamas back in 1492, he could have just as easily landed in Puerto Rico.  As sailing ships relied on wind propulsion back in those days, the winds and the waters directed all ships to either the Bahamas or Puerto Rico.  Since any ship headed to the Americas from Europe was automatically guided to the shores of Puerto Rico, it was nearly impossible for any ship coming from Europe to avoid detection.  San Juan was the doorway to the Caribbean.

The Spanish understood that whoever controlled this strategically located island was in a strong position to monitor all ships coming and going in the New World.  Therefore Spain jealously guarded its control of Puerto Rico for over 400 years.

Due to the island's prominence in the Caribbean, a network of fortifications was built to protect the transports of gold and silver from the New World to Europe.  Because of the rich cargoes, San Juan became a frequent target of the foreign powers of the time. 

Over the centuries, Spain built a virtually impregnable fortress known as Morro Castle.  This huge stone structure overlooked the harbor at San Juan, Puerto Rico's major city.  Its powerful guns made sure no ship could enter the harbor unharmed. 

One glance at the castle makes it hard to believe, but some ships tried to attack anyway. It was no use. Despite several attacks by the French, Dutch, and British, Spain never once lost control of its valuable possession.

That changed in 1898.  As a result of its defeat in the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States.

However, at the time, Puerto Rico was an afterthought.  The real prize to the US was the chance to increase its influence in Cuba.  Although Cuba gained formal independence from the US soon after the war in 1902, Cuba remained a virtual satellite state of the USA until 1959.

The US wasted no time getting its fingers into the island. Under Cuba's new constitution, the US retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs and to supervise its finances and foreign relations. 

No issue has been more aggravating to the Cubans than Guantanamo Bay. Under the Platt Amendment, the U.S. leased the Guantánamo Bay naval base from Cuba under the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty.  Cuba granted the United States a perpetual lease of the area.  The current government of Cuba regards the U.S. presence in Guantánamo Bay as illegal and insists the Cuban-American Treaty was obtained by threat of force in violation of international law. 

The U.S. relationship with Cuba was not always so acrimonious.  At the turn of the Twentieth Century, America was Cuba's hero.  After all, the USA had liberated Cuba from the hated Spanish.  In addition, the US was a major consumer of Cuban crops.  It was an excellent partnership.

Cuba was not only an agricultural paradise, its close proximity to Florida made tourism effortless.  Huge amounts of US tourism money flowed into Cuba.   Havana, Cuba, became the Las Vegas of the Fifties.  It was the place to be. In addition, many U.S. companies invested heavily in Cuba.

Unfortunately, Cuba's leaders lined their pockets with American dollars.  Consequently the gap between the wealthy and the poor created tremendous social unrest. 

This climate of unrest gave rise to the communist politics of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.

In a dramatic 1959 New Year's Eve upheaval, Castro entered Havana and overthrew the pro-USA government of Bautista. 

America had once been the good guys.  However, half a century of exploitation had changed all that.  In the days to come, Castro embraced the Cold War friendship of the Soviet Union.  Suddenly the Cold War had come to the footsteps of American soil.

One island's loss is another island's gain.  Now that Cuba was lost to the USA, over the next 50 years Puerto Rico began a steady climb to the prominence it enjoys today. 

Puerto Rico Makes a Comeback

During the first half of the Twentieth Century, the cruise industry catered primarily to the rich. Then in 1958 it all came to a crashing halt.  Just like the dinosaurs, overnight the cruise industry faced extinction.  Can you guess what happened?  I will tell you in a moment.

The origin of the cruise liner can be traced back to the 19th century. Commercial ships were built to ferry mail, cargo, and wealthy passengers across the sea.  A major part of their business was transporting immigrants to the United States.  Unfortunately, the immigrants were treated about as well as the cargo was. They were placed at the bottom of the ship in “steerage” class. In steerage, passengers were responsible for providing their own food.  They slept in whatever space was available in the hold.

When the mass migration of immigrants to the U.S. slowed in the early part of the Twentieth Century, the emphasis switched to building massive and ornate floating hotels. The design of these liners attempted to minimize the discomfort of ocean travel, masking the fact of being at sea and the extremes in weather as much as possible through elegant accommodations and planned activities.

The years between 1920 and 1940 were considered the most glamorous years for transatlantic passenger ships. Cruise liners were used primarily to shuttle wealthy Americans and Europeans across the Atlantic.  These were the days when the rich and famous were seen enjoying luxurious settings on numerous newsreels viewed by the general public. 

And then suddenly it all nearly ended.

The first non-stop airplane flight to Europe in 1958 marked the end of transatlantic business for ocean liners. Practically overnight the cruise customers discarded the luxurious ocean liners for cheaper fares and faster trips across the sea.  This was an absolute disaster for the cruise industry.  Passenger ships were sold and lines went bankrupt from the lack of business.

Fortunately the cruise industry found a new niche.  The 1960s witnessed the rise of the modern cruise industry.  They made changes to attract "middle class" passengers who would have never had the money or the nerve to mix elbows with the elite on the expensive super liners of the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Now the emphasis switched from trans-Atlantic trips to round trips.  Why not take people to a beautiful island for a couple days, then bring them back home?  To the relief of the industry, this switch worked like a charm.  Cruise ship companies began to concentrate on economical vacation trips in the Caribbean.  They created a relaxed ambience aboard ship as opposed to the snooty approach. 

The Caribbean Sea basically saved the day.  Did you know the Caribbean is the most popular destination in the world for cruise ships?

With stunning tropical islands such as St. Thomas, this makes a lot of sense.

Cruise ships concentrated on creating a more casual environment.  They added extensive on-board entertainment.

Now that the role of ships to transport people to a particular destination had diminished, the emphasis had shifted to the voyage itself.  

A day at sea became just as valuable as a day at port.  Gambling was added and each ship became a floating Las Vegas.

The new cruise line image was solidified with the popularity of the TV series The Love Boat which ran 1977 to 1986.

Puerto Rico became a key player in this grand new experiment. The cruise industry played a major role in Puerto Rico's return to prominence.

Puerto Rico was a practical choice.

While Miami was only 100 miles from the former playground of Havana, Miami was 1,000 miles away from the many islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

Why depart from Miami when a plane flight to San Juan would bypass a 1,000 miles?  Any tourist on the eastern seaboard would just as soon skip Miami and hop a plane to San Juan instead.

A look at the map shows that Puerto Rico is conveniently situated at the doorway to a vast array of islands to the south.

Best of all, San Juan was situated on American soil.  Any investment in Puerto Rico was unlikely to suffer the same devastation that occurred in Havana.

And that is how San Juan became the second largest cruise port in the Western Hemisphere (Miami is #1).  Today San Juan welcomes over a million cruise ship passengers every year.

It doesn't hurt that "Old San Juan" just happens to be a pretty special place to visit in its own right.  Within walking distance from cruise pier, the old walled city is a treat. If you have a day between stops or a day before heading home, this is where you want to be.

Today San Juan's status as the gateway to the lovely Eastern Caribbean islands brings countless tourists from around the globe to its shores.  

Puerto Rico has now been a territory of the United States for over 100 years.  Thanks to the USA, the island enjoys one of the highest standards of living of the Caribbean Islands. 

The relationship with the US has been good for Puerto Rico. Its citizens know it.  The people constantly evaluate their future.  The three options are to remain a protectorate, become an independent nation or to become the 51st State.

In a non-binding referendum held on Election Day, Nov 6, 2012, 65% voted for statehood if the offer is ever made.  Based on what I have seen, this would be a win-win for both sides.

A list of the five islands we visited on our 2011 Virgin Islands Cruise Trip

A list of the five new islands we visited on our 2012 Dominica Cruise Trip

There are still plenty more islands to visit - Saba, St. Barts, Anguilla, Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Martinique,  Guadalupe, and Trinidad & Tobago,

San Juan, Puerto Rico

There are three physical features about San Juan that made it the perfect citadel for the Spanish Empire in the New World.

First, it is conveniently located on the northeast corner of the island.  Any sentry would have no trouble spotting a ship heading towards Puerto Rico from Europe. 

Second, San Juan is divided into two parts.  "Old San Juan" is actually situated on an island.  The near point of the island to land is separated by 150 yards of water.   This prevented an army from landing safely somewhere else in Puerto Rico and attacking by land... although several armies did use this trick to lay siege to the island.  However the siege tactic didn't work because guerillas from the other part of the island would sneak up at night and sabotage the siege armies from behind.

Third, Morro Castle on the northwest tip of the island could easily control the narrow half-mile bottleneck that separated San Juan's vast harbor from the Atlantic Ocean.  No ship could possibly brave those guns and sail into the harbor unscathed.

El Morro Castle and Old San Juan held a formidable position indeed.  Here is a caption I read when I visited El Morro.  The caption reads:

"By the end of the 16th century, Spain controlled the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and a large portion of South America.

The Spaniards proceeded to extract the enormous wealth of the New World.

Every year, Spain sent two armed ship convoys to pick up portable treasures and deliver them safely back to Spain.

To safeguard territories and treasure fleet, Spain built a network of fortifications in key harbors throughout the Caribbean.

El Morro, one of the forts, was built to protect the city and harbor of San Juan."

Considering how impressive El Morro Castle is even today, when I finally got a chance to visit, I was very curious to learn how the United States managed to defeat this "undefeated" location in 1898.  The high elevation, thick stone walls, and massive long cannons made me wonder how any ship could beat ever it.

I was reminded of the The Guns of Navarone.  This was a fictional movie of how a British team crossed occupied Greek territory during WW II in order to destroy the massive German gun emplacement that commands a key sea channel.

When I saw El Morro castle and its guns with my own eyes, I wondered how in the absence of air power this position could ever fall.  I found it very odd that although the 1898 U.S. attack was described in great detail, no description existed of how the Morro Castle fortification actually fell.  I left feeling frustrated.

It wasn't until I began to write this story that I figured it out. The Castle was damaged in 1898, but it was never beaten.

After the Spanish surrendered in Cuba, they gave Puerto Rico to the U.S. in return for money and peace.  As far as I can tell, El Morro Castle is still undefeated to this day.

Preservation of Old San Juan

Rick's Note: There is so much to see in Old San Juan.  With an understanding of its historical value and its interest to tourists, the officials have made a real effort to preserve Old San Juan as much as possible. Here is a reprint of a very good article about the town. 

Guarding the Glories of San Juan

By Eric Wills | From Preservation | January/February 2009

Today preservationists are saving sites in and around San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital city.  But it is not easy at all.

Wander into the Plaza de Armas, a main square in Old San Juan, and you'll find a million pigeons and no shortage of American food chains—Starbucks, Howard Johnson, Burger King.

In response, independent and trendy restaurants such as Dragonfly (Latin-Asian fusion) have sprouted on South Fortaleza Street, dubbed Sofo.

And boutique hotels have started to multiply. But renovating historic buildings for new uses is not always easy in Old San Juan.

For example, Hotelier Raul Emilio Fournier says it took him eight years to buy a building for one of his recent projects. Almost 40 people had partial ownership, thanks to a convoluted chain of inheritance dating back generations.

However, Fournier was determined to see his project through. He traveled as far as to Spain and to the Dominican Republic in search of signatures.  He even managed to track down an Argentinian cab driver in Buenos Aires. 

In the end, he secured rights to the building.  and opened the eight-room Casa Herencia hotel.

My name is Eric Wills. I've come to San Juan Cathedral on a rainy September morning with Anibal Sepulveda, a professor of planning at the University of Puerto Rico.

The first thing I notice, after my eyes adjust to the half-light filtering through the stained-glass windows, is the ornate marble tomb.  Beneath the marble lies Ponce De León, the Spanish conquistador who colonized Puerto Rico in 1508 (five years before he discovered Florida, Sepulveda tells me with a smile).

Sepulveda whisks me down the aisle to a stone spiral staircase in the oldest surviving part of the 16th-century cathedral. "This helix, it's like the DNA of the city," he says, as we ascend the dark passageway before emerging onto the roof.

Here I find my breathtaking introduction to Old San Juan: The city, the historic heart of Puerto Rico's capital, spreads out before us in a dramatic and colorful panorama. High above the narrow streets, with the roaring Atlantic Ocean in the distance, I see houses in all shades of muted pastels, huddled behind massive walls built by the Spaniards to defend their Caribbean colony.

All of this architecture, I realize, arose nearly a century before the first English colonists landed in Jamestown and Plymouth, and it remains remarkably intact today. Its appearance Spanish, its soul Puerto Rican, Old San Juan draws hordes of tourists who arrive each week by cruise ships that dock in the city's harbor.

I've come here to find out how this historic city survived once-vocal calls for demolition, and to venture beyond its formidable walls. Although the struggle to save Old San Juan has largely been won, I quickly learn that elsewhere on this fiercely proud island, some battles are just beginning.

Old San Juan sits on a tiny spit of land resembling a whale's tail on Puerto Rico's northern coast, separated from the newer part of the city (and the rest of the island) by a small channel.

Old San Juan is a city made for walking.  It stretches about 2 1/2 miles at its longest point. The entire perimeter is just slightly longer than six miles. I can get practically anywhere I want in 30 minutes or less.  And its a good thing that walking is so much fun because the traffic is horrible.  The streets in many places are so narrow than even a bicycle can barely fit throught.  I honestly believe I can get to most places faster by walking.

Today I spend a good part of my stay wandering the narrow streets.  I see the blue sheen of the street cobblestones constantly changing, depending on the angle and intensity of the light. The beauty here largely derives from the city's intimate scale. Wherever I go two-story houses and some three-story houses predominate

The rhythm occasionally interrupted by larger showpieces such as the cathedral or nearby El Convento, a convent-turned-hotel built in 1646. El Convento is a Historic Hotel of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Conveniently, the San Juan Cathedral is right across the street.

I love to visit the massive walls that line the coastline cradle the city and heighten its intimacy. At strategic points along the walls the Spanish built two forts, El Morro and San Cristóbal, to stand guard against invading navies launching attacks from the Atlantic. The forts remain today.  They stand as magnificent, weathered testaments to the city's once great importance in Spain's Caribbean empire.

English forces tried three times to capture San Juan without success. The Dutch set fire to the city in 1625 but couldn't take El Morro either.

Not until the Spanish-American War in 1898 did the United States, with Puerto Rican support, finally wrest control of San Juan—and the island—from the Spanish.

In 1947, after decades of U.S. military rule, Puerto Rico began electing its own governor.

It was then that the Americans helped launch Operation Bootstrap, an ambitious plan to transform the island—long dependent on sugar and tobacco production—into an industrial powerhouse.

Unfortunately, at this time the historic old city faced imminent destruction.

Ricardo Alegría is the man credited with saving old San Juan during the mid Sixties. 

"San Juan was a slum area," recalls Alegría, the first director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.

"Cristo Street was a haven for prostitution.  Property values were down. I was told that San Juan should be a little New York. That was the cry. Let's destroy everything and rebuild."

Today Alegria lives in a faded pink house on San José Street. He is 87 years old, with a white mustache and an easy smile.

We sit one evening in his open courtyard.  I listen intently as Alegria explains how he dismissed calls for demolition and helped the government establish tax credits for individuals who restored buildings.

To set an example, he purchased and restored this house, instead of building a new one as he had originally planned.

Alegría recounts one of his many battles, fought in the late 1960s over the landmark building that now houses the General Archives of Puerto Rico.

José Bosch, head of the Bacardi rum family, purchased the building (designed initially in the 1890s as a hospital) and wanted to tear it down to build a high-rise.

But then Alegría declared his opposition to the plan. This prompted Bosch to storm into his office, livid. So Alegría floated an alternative proposal: What if the institute bought the building? Bosch asked how much.

"I was not prepared," recalls Alegría. "The first thing that came to mind was $500,000."

Bosch threw a chair and yelled, "You are worse than that damned Fidel!!" Bosch was as perturbed by the low price as by the government's constant intrusion into his private affairs.

"I'm not doing this for me," Alegría told him. "I'm doing this for my country." In the end, Bosch agreed to sell the building for $500,000.  This was a good start.

Before I go, Alegría gives me a tour of his house, the walls decorated with paintings by the acclaimed Puerto Rican artist José Campeche, as well as a tile collection dating to the 16th century.

Alegría says he has started donating his papers, books, and artifacts to museums and libraries, to ensure their preservation, and I ask how he wants to be remembered. He doesn't hesitate: "As the man who defended Puerto Rican heritage."

In the midst of the kind of standoff Alegria had with rum baron Bosch, one lesson looms large. On a small island such as Puerto Rico, it's especially important for new construction to blend with historic buildings in a thoughtful way. "Everybody says that planning has been a disaster for decades," says José Luís Vega, the executive director of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture. "Everybody agrees on that much."

The funny thing is, the Spanish did a pretty good job of planning in the first place. I'm sitting one evening with Javier Bonnin Orozco in his apartment in Ponce, about 75 miles from San Juan on the island's southern coast. Over rum-and-cokes, Bonnin, an architect, tells me that the Spanish built towns with main squares surrounded by churches, banks, markets. "The centers connect everybody. They're the identity of the towns," he says.

In the mid-20th century, Puerto Ricans embraced the American obsession with the automobile, abandoning squares and city centers in favor of sprawling suburbs and gated communities. But in recent years, the Puerto Rican government has tried to inspire the revitalization of city centers, using a variety of tax credits and other incentives.

It took time, but eventually an entire new generation of Puerto Ricans began to embrace the past.  These structures were their roots, their history.  Their ancestors died here.  Why not preserve the Old Town and let it become a living memory?

Today no building can be taken down without permission.  All buildings are expected to be painted and renovated to a certain standard.  A person is not allowed to let his house deteriorate without penalty.  To own a building in Old Town San Juan requires a sense of civic pride. 

As the cruise industry lures countless visitors to the city, everyone has seen the value of tourism to the community.  There can be no doubt that the restoration effort has paid off in ways both financial and intangible. 

The visitors themselves have helped.  There is a real sense of pride that comes from the compliments of the visitors as they walk the streets and smile at what they see.

Now a sort of snobbery has set in.  Keep your home beautiful or get out.  If an owner can't respect the attitude, better to simply sell and relocate to a house in the suburbs.  Everyone who stays is expected to pitch in. 

Wherever I look, I see the architecture reflects the city's bohemian personality.  I love the porches and verandas that front the streets.  They convey a spirit of openness and relaxation.  However my favorite pastime is to find an open door or an open gate which lets me peer in and see the beautiful courtyard gardens hidden within.

At the end of my trip, I'm drawn back to Old San Juan. I wake up early on my final morning for a walk around El Morro Castle.

The cruise ships haven't docked yet this morning, so I find myself alone, but for the runners circling a large grassy field in front of the fort. The sky is a clear blue; the Atlantic Ocean gleams in the distance.

I can easily conjure images of Ponce de León first landing on Puerto Rico, or of workers building the aqueduct that permitted San Juan's expansion and led to a protracted period of sprawl and modernization.

So many layers of Puerto Rico's history survive, the medieval and the modern residing in such proximity, that it is no surprise that shaping the island's architectural future inspires controversy.

As I head for my car and drive toward the cranes that rise over San Juan, I realize that this is a city embarked on a sometimes tumultuous journey into the future. One thing seems certain, though: This is one place determined to never let go of its past.

Plaza de Armas

Casa Herencia

San Juan Cathedral

The narrow streets of Old San Juan

The magnificent El Convento Hotel

These massive walls stretch 3 miles.  They surround  Old San Juan

Pastel buildings, parks, and cobblestone streets add to the charm

Not all of San Juan's beauty belongs to the past

What lies behind those walls?  Beautiful courtyards!


Hurricane Mara Hits San Juan

For our 2011 cruise trip, Mara did an extensive amount of planning.  More so than any other person on the trip other than Marla, Mara had studied San Juan and the various islands we would visit extensively. 

The first thing Mara did was take us all out to dinner.  It was time to experience the local cuisine.

Marla loves spicy food.  She loves Asian food.  The hotter, the better.

However, here at Puerto Rico, Marla met her match.  Marla asked what the local dish was.  The waiter told her that mofongo is is the most popular dish on the island.  He explained that mofongo is a fried plantain-based dish that originated in Puerto Rico.  Marla shrugged.  Why not?  She took the waiter's suggestion and ordered the mofongo. 

I could barely control my smile when the mofongo was delivered.  My goodness, there was a veritable mountain of the stuff!  I wish I had taken a picture.  It was stacked so high it looked like you could climb to the top and ski down the stuff.  I have never seen so much food in my life. 

Personally, I wouldn't have touched the stuff with anything other than a ski pole, but to her credit Marla didn't back down.

Marla fought the mofongo and the mofongo won. 

Marla was never the same for the rest of the trip.  I will spare you the details.

After dinner, Mara lined up a lady to give us a tour of Old San Juan.  I will let the pictures tell the next part of the story.

Mara leads the way

Kurt, Tiffany, Jean and Ryan

The tour guide and I did not get along.

In order to take pictures, I often lagged behind or wandered around

If forced to guess, I think she thought I was being disrespectful
by taking pictures while she was talking

I don't think she understood that if I don't take pictures,
I can't tell a story after the trip.  Oh well


My downfall with the tour guide came when we arrived at this statue.

In the dark, I swear it looked just like a giant cigar.  It didn't seem very imaginative.  Nor did I have a clue what its significance was supposed to be. 

I think she heard me call it a cigar as I took the picture.  I know she was mad at me because I saw a huge frown on her face. 

I took the time to come back and look at it again in the daylight.  At least this time I noticed some interesting markings.  But I still had no idea what the point is.

For this story, I attempted to learn about the statue.  The Internet identifies it as Totem Telurico. It is a contemporary sculpture in the Plaza del Quibto Centenario, built in 1992 to commemorate the 5th centenary of Columbus' discovery of America in 1492.

Ballajá Barracks is a military barracks located in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
It was built from 1854 to 1864 for the Spanish troops
stationed on the island and their families.

As we walked past the Ballajá Barracks, I heard music.  Curious, I went to investigate.  I discovered DanzActiva, a dance studio founded by a famous
Puerto Rican ballerina named Paulette Beauchamp.

Apparently in 1976 the Government of Puerto Rico acquired the Ballaja building from the Government of the United States with the commitment of restoring it and using it for cultural, educative, and touristic purposes. 

In 1986, a reform plan for the San Juan Historic Zone was sketched and the building was restored from 1990 to 1993.  Today, the Ballajá Barracks houses several educational and cultural organizations, namely the Museo de Las Américas, on the second floor of the building since 1992. On the first floor, there are music and dance schools and a library among other things.

As I peered through the door, I could see dancing. 

So I quietly moved closer.

The mystery was solved.  It was a Flamenco dance class.
The women were concentrating so hard I don't think they ever realized I not only admiring their dancing, but taking a picture as well.

From what I gather, Flamenco is extremely popular in Puerto Rico.  On the following night, Mara took us to see a Flamenco show.  Who knows? 
Maybe these three performers were once students at Danz Activa.

On the way back, I heard more music.  However this sounded much different. Nosy as always, I peeked in.  There was a beautiful courtyard. 

I saw dancing, but I didn't get close enough to catch a picture.
 If I hadn't been so tired, I would have liked to come back and participate.


Chapter Two of Mara's Triumph: El Convento

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