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El Morro and Old San Juan

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Today was tourism day, before the game; I'm leaving just after I finish this post.

After a tough morning of sitting by the pool reading the paper (yeah, I know, tough life), we took a taxi into Old San Juan (and more about Taxi Follies later). The taxi driver dropped us at El Morro, which is the ruins of an old Spanish fortress, the oldest such fortress in the Americas. It's located at the northwestern tip of the city of Old San Juan (the old walled city, and you can still see much of the old city wall throughout). It's amazing to think of how many times, by how many countries, this fort was besieged over the centuries. From British to French to Dutch to, finally, the U.S. Army in 1898, during the Spanish-American War, which led to the ceding of Puerto Rico itself to the U.S. Today, the views of the city and ocean are spectacular, and you can only imagine the 18th-Century soldiers lugging up 200-pound cannonballs, up a ramp which must have been 200 feet high.

We also learned that when this island was first "discovered" by Columbus, the island was named "San Juan" and the city "Puerto Rico", but over the centuries, the meanings changed to what they are today.

After that we walked into the Old City to find a place for lunch. The streets are narrow and quaint and the architecture and colors are really nice, tropical, with pastels everywhere. The stores are a mix of interesting art stores, to the usual tacky T-shirt shops, and also several of the big USA chains, Burger King, McDonald's, Pizza Hut.

Finally, we found a place called Maria's Bar, which looked like a hole in the wall, but the food (which was, oddly enough, Mexican) was pretty decent, and only on leaving did we see all the autographed photos of famous people who had been there, ranging from Ted Kennedy to Leslie Nielsen to Antonio Banderas. Cool place!

In the old city we also saw ruins of the old city wall, and a park absolutely filled wall-to-wall with pigeons.

OK, now the taxi follies. At first we couldn't find a taxi, so we figured (from the map) that it wouldn't be such a long walk back... we kept looking for a taxi, but never found one that didn't already have passengers, so we wound up walking back the entire way to the hotel, which turned out to be nearly two miles, a 50-minute walk. Well, I did need the exercise.

Now it's off to Estadio Hiram Bithorn, the home of the Expos for the 22 games they're playing here. Oddly enough, Bithorn, who is legendary here in Puerto Rico for being the first native Puertorriqueno to play in the majors, played most of his career with the Cubs, having his best year in 1943 when he went 18-12 with a 2.60 ERA.

We stand tied with Houston with 20 games remaining for each. Hope is nervous, but excited tonight.