Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Adventure in Puerto Rico: Day 3

On Friday we drove west to Arecibo.

(See the yellow star on the map)

After our Thursday evening kayak tour, we spread our wet things out to dry on the terrace.  I admired the stars, then went downstairs to read a bit.  Soon I heard something other than the chirping of the frogs.  Looking out, I saw rain pouring down.  I rescued the now really wet things and popped them in the dryer, then went to bed concerned.  What would the weather be like in the morning?

It was about the same.  Clouds, pouring rain, clearing, repeat.  Rain interfered with one of our plans, but the other worked out all right.  The GPS, with its terrible Spanish pronunciation, led us up some windy roads to the largest operational single-dish radio telescope in the world. (I see that it is about to be superseded by a similar structure in China, but Arecibo's dish was the largest when we visited.)  You may have seen it in a movie or two. 
Taking advantage of Puerto Rico's natural karst topography, the dish sits in a sinkhole.  It is 1,000 feet in diameter, and consists of perforated aluminum panels.  So the whole idea of disguising the dish as a lake in GoldenEye really wouldn't work.

James Bond was definitely not wearing the special shoes the staff uses when they must go out on the dish.  But I'm sure the observatory was well compensated for the inconvenience of resetting the delicately balanced plates, and cleaning them up in the first place.
The moss doesn't actually interfere with the signals, so they let it alone most of the time. 
This is the receiver, suspended above the dish with really strong cables.  While the dish cannot move to focus on a specific area, the receiver can.  When maintenance must be done, technicians bravely walk along that catwalk to reach the receiver.  We saw some doing so.  Certain members of the family decidedly crossed that off their lists of dream jobs.
Well, maybe not too far off.  In case any of our Dear Readers were unaware, I'll mention that Dandelionslayer studied radio astronomy at another videogenic observatory for his master's degree.  So we had a pretty good handle on how things work at Arecibo.  We were surprised to learn about their broadcasting capability, though.  The dish also performs active radar observations to study the ionosphere, asteroids, and other planets.  We were impressed.
When our family picture was taken, a light mist cooled us off and helped us feel right at home.  Moments later, though, the rain came pouring down again.  We ducked inside to purchase a souvenir umbrella, enjoy the interior exhibits, and wait out the rain.  That didn't work, though, so we put the umbrella to good use.  But I can tell the frequent rains are good for the observatory's gardens.
 I think this is an African tulip tree.  They were everywhere.
There was a nice collection of orchids along the walkway.
I don't know what these are, but don't they have interesting leaves?
I was excited to point out this tree.  Last summer, D2 acquired an air plant, nestled on a geode fragment.  It is a nice addition to the kitchen windowsill.  This summer, Dandelionslayer added a couple more epiphytes to the collection.  So when I looked into this tree and saw familiar-looking leaves that contrasted with the other leaves on the tree, I knew I was onto something.  D2 was thrilled to see the huge air plants in their native environment, and wanted to bring one home.  We had fun spotting them around the observatory, not knowing how many we would see in the near future . . .
Times are hard in Puerto Rico.  Their economy has been in the news even here.  We saw plenty of empty buildings (and closed museums), and lots of people standing on the side of the road.  But not one of those people stood there miserably, holding a cardboard sign.  Every one had something to sell.  Fruit, mostly.  Something that looked like very large grapes seemed to be in season.  We stopped on the way back to the highway to buy some tiny bananas from a man by the road.  They were absolutely delicious.  This man had an awning and several fruits on display, not just a bunch in each hand like many vendors did.

I expect, though, that very small business is usual in Puerto Rico.  They have big box stores and supermarkets and fast food joints and pharmacy chains, many with familiar names.  But there were also a lot of fresh-air eateries under simple roofs by the side of the road.  We saw car washes consisting of a couple of awnings and some barrels (they weren't open on Friday with all that rain blowing around).  Hand-painted signs advertised all sorts of services.  A guy showed up at the beach every day with a truck full of kayaks, though he didn't stay long on Friday, either.  I don't know if recent hard times send more people out to sell fruit.  But in a land where such fruit grows all over the place, it seems like a good step toward self-reliance.
We also noticed that it was time for a new school year to begin in Puerto Rico.  Uniforms were on sale in "Regresa a clases" sales (which just means "back to class" but looks a lot like regressing to me), and billboards everywhere announced registration for everything from pre-school to universities.  I'd read in a guide book that police cars in Puerto Rico routinely drive around with flashing lights.  I don't know if that is completely true, but the school buses sure flash a lot as they drive down the highways.  It looks like an exciting way to travel.

For more of the adventure, see:
Day 1
Day 2

Day 4
Day 5
Day 6

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