Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Travel: Day 6 - Puerto Rico - In the footsteps of James Bond

One of the advantages of teaching at a small liberal arts institution is the freedom to design and offer courses that are close to your heart. In January 2011, I was fortunate enough to lead a group of 6 students through the world of Tropical Ecology. Apart from not being in the right ecosystem, Nebraska in the winter is definitely not the place to have field trips about Tropical Ecology. Consequently, one portion of the course involved a 10-day trip to Puerto Rico where we got to see for ourselves all the things we talked about in the classroom.

This is a travelogue of our adventures together, the sights we saw, the things we did, and the lessons we learned. (You can see all the previous posts in this thread here).

After 4 fantastic days at Guánica, it was with a heavy heart that we bid adieu to our temporary home. MB and LP let us know in no uncertain terms what they felt about heading back to San Juan.

(Miranda Beran 2011)

So, one final photoshoot later we left Mary Lee's By the Sea. (If you are ever in Puerto Rico and are looking for a place to stay, you have all the information you need!)

(Andrew Jacobsen 2011)

Having driven south and then west to reach Guánica, it only made sense to take the longer route back to San Juan. We headed further west and north towards Mayagüez, skirted the western side of the island, and then headed east past Hatillo.

(Google Maps)

There was an ulterior motive to taking this route. We wanted to visit the site of the largest radiotelescope in the world - Arecibo Observatory.

(Andrew Jacobsen 2011)

The Observatory is essentially serviced by a huge dish, which is 1000 feet in diameter (305m), 167 feet deep, and covers an area of about 20 acres. The dish is located in what used to be a natural sinkhole in the karst topography that characterizes the north-west part of Puerto Rico.

(Sami Wysocki 2011)

Suspended 450 feet above the reflector is the 900 ton platform.

(Andrew Jacobsen 2011)

Similar in design to a bridge, it hangs in midair on eighteen cables, which are strung from three reinforced concrete towers. One is 365 feet high, and the other two are 265 feet high. All three tops are at the same elevation. The combined volume of reinforced concrete in all three towers is 9,100 cubic yards. Each tower is back-guyed to ground anchors with seven 3.25 inch diameter steel bridge cables (Source: Click here for more).

(Sami Wysocki 2011)

(Lorissa Panowicz 2011)

To us neophytes, the size of the telescope was astounding. While we were awed by the size and complexity of it, one could not but think of how Hollywood sensationally exploited it in Goldeneye. I am happy to report that the telescope was not really destroyed by James Bond.

But Goldeneye was not the only prominent movie to feature Arecibo. A few years earlier, Robert Zemeckis directed an outstanding star cast in Contact, including Jodie Foster, that used the Observatory for some pivotal scenes.

Segue: The movie starts with a virtuoso opening sequence that is almost worth the price of the ticket.

There's another scene in the movie that I was reminded of as I walked up the spiraling road to the Observatory.

While it was not exactly the same place, I felt it was necessary to at least follow in Dr. Arroway's footsteps (much to the amusement of my students!).

(Andrew Jacobsen 2011)

Having completed the pilgrimage, it was time to head back to the biggest city in Puerto Rico.

(C.S. Manish 2011)

As you approach the city, urban trappings take over and the roads are hardly distinguishable from any other city in the US except, of course, for the primary language that the signs are in.

(Andrew Jacobsen 2011)

We made our way back to the same hotel that we had stayed in. It would be our home base for the rest of the trip. Located in the suburb of Carolina, it gave us easy access to the various places we still had to visit on the eastern and central side of the island.

(Andrew Jacobsen 2011)

But before that, it was time for everyone to seek comfort in some familiar food and sights.

(C.S. Manish 2011)

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