Saturday, February 03, 2007

Friday 2nd January

Puerto Rico

17 57.6 N
66 17.6 W

Early in the morning we took the dink ashore and then took the hire car on a voyage of discovery. Dale and Lorie had told us to visit the Arecibo Observatory if we had the chance and this was going to be the day to do it. We had also had advice from Jim to travel along the mountain ridge for the views. We took off in the direction of the mountain ridge, heading towards the west. Jim was right, the views were spectacular, the road was very windy, lots of very sharp blind bends and the state of road repair left a lot to be desired. We had a white knuckle trip – this had a lot to do with the state of the hire car which we feel sure should have been re named “hire a wreck”, it had dents and scratches on every single panel, one of the tires was a bit low on tread and all of the tires needed more air putting in them, then the brakes appeared to be a bit soft – it made for a nervous drive on a road which was only just wide enough for 2 cars with very steep drop offs on either side. As I said the views were fantastic, from the ridge we could see both the north and the south side of the island as far as the sea in places. At one point there was a scenic lookout point where you could park and take pictures but it was all closed off and locked up so you couldn’t stop, a great shame as it was definitely the best view. At no place along the ridge could you pull off the road – it was just too narrow and the risk of being hit by another car was too great. We were amazed by the difference in vegetation on either side of the divide, the north side was quite green and lush whilst the south side was dry and brown with bush fires raging in places. As we traveled along the ridge the vegetation reminded us of traveling through the Atherton table lands and also through parts of Tasmania. The plants were the same – ferns, bananas, hibiscus, impatiens, and then the rain forest type trees, the difference was the addition of coffee plantations on the sides of some of the mountains. The road had a few detours which we followed but I have to say that the road was badly sign posted and the signs didn’t correspond with the map we had been given. Eventually we came off of the mountain ridge road and onto the highway 10 heading north, this was very good for a while and then suddenly the road just ran out and we were back on a narrow road with hairpin bends every few yards. This went on for a few miles and then suddenly the highway reappeared – the story is that the road was started from either side of the island and hasn’t quite got to the joining up point yet – it’s a work in progress! The whole trip we kept second guessing ourselves and wondering if we were on the right track, eventually we found sign posts for the Aricebo Observatory and followed them – it was still a long way off and the road was back to a mountain goat track! At long last the Observatory entrance came into sight and we found our way into the car park. The attendant directed us towards the steps and told us to go right to the top, we began climbing and climbed and climbed and climbed – 500 steps and a couple of steep slopes to the entry point. Out of breath, light headed and with aching legs we bought entry tickets and went on to view the observatory. First stop was the information areas with exhibits, hands on models and activities. then there was a short presentation showing a day in the life of the observatory and then we were ushered out to the viewing platform where we could stare in awe at the immense radio telescope – it is truly an awesome sight. Apparently it is the largest radio telescope in the world, built in the early ‘60s at a cost of $9.3 million with a couple of up grades since totaling $34 million, the big dish is 1,000 feet across with a surface area of 18 acres. Suspended above the dish is the secondary and tertiary reflectors, within a moveable receiver – supported by 3 extremely large towers and some very heavy duty concrete blocks. The entire apparatus is situated over a limestone sinkhole, the site chosen because the Sun, moon and planets pass almost directly overhead of it. The telescope is used to examine phenomena occurring in the Earth’s atmosphere and as far away as 10 billion light years (at the very edge of the discernible universe). The whole visit was incredible and one I’m glad we took time for. The trip back was a little less traumatic than the one going, after getting past the highway 10 “almost finished road”, we drove towards Ponce and then took the highway 52 to Salinas. It was much quicker going back but maybe not so picturesque. After a recovery period on the boat we again headed into the marina bar where we joined some new friends for drinks and the bar b que meal, it as made even better by the chocolate birthday cake one of the men produced for his wife’s birthday – we sang to her and helped her to demolish the cake then it was time to head back to the boat for the night.



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