If there’s one thing I remember to do religiously, it’s to WEAR SUNSCREEN. Even here in Seattle where it’s gray and gloomy more often than not, I apply at least 15 SPF via my everyday face lotion. So when it’s actually sunny here or in one of the locales of our travels, I indeed slather the good stuff (usually SPF 30) all over my exposed parts to protect my white, freckly Irish fair skin.
Recently though on one of our carefree (kidless) days in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I made a silly mistake. No, I didn’t forget to apply. In fact, I made quite a production out of getting every square inch of skin covered. I forgot to think ahead. For some reason it didn’t occur to me at the time that Puerto Rico is hot and muggy, oh, and sunny, and we’d be doing a ton of walking. What does that equation amount to? Sweat. No matter how much you try to avoid it. There goes that layer of protection.
Viewing the first of two main forts in San Juan, we were okay having been fresh from our morning application. It’s a big space though with so many nooks and crannies to explore, our tour took longer than expected. Plus, I think I lingered more than usual because I was basking in the glory of being on my own (along with my husband Slaed, of course). No one needed me to carry them (or chase them), provide them with snacks, or answer question after question.
Castillo San Cristobal, the larger of the two main forts, and our first stop was built over the course of 150 years beginning in 1634. It was actually built in order to protect the other main fort, Castillo San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro”), which we would visit later in the day.
The two forts are fairly close together, with the a 30-minute walk between them. A trolley is also available to transport people between the two, but we opted to do more exploring along the streets of Old San Juan in between our visits. We were also ready for a hearty lunch, and a couple of ice cold piña coladas.
It wasn’t until after lunch when we were strolling along the what-seemed-like mile long stretch of walkway leading up to El Morro, our 2nd fort viewing of the day, that we realized—oops. We didn’t bother to bring along any sunscreen to reapply. Slaed looked down at his keen sandal wearing feet, and they were painfully covered in bright red blotches. My shoulders were beginning to burn, and I began to fear the worst as we we tried to high step it to some shade at as fast a pace as our exhausted, hot, sweaty selves could muster up.
Did I bother to bring that bottle of sunscreen along with me in my bag? Of course not. So instead of taking the time to view this most spectacular structure built hundreds of years ago to protect San Juan from attack, we found a cool(er) shady spot, and did our best to scope out a motherly figure. That was our plan. Look for someone who looks kind (and is without a dark tan) and has a few kids hanging around her. She’s bound to have some sort of skin protection, and most likely lots of it.
After several minutes looking like (what we thought) a couple of staring weirdos, we finally spotted our helper. Kids running around her, a nice big bag full of stuff, and a sweet & friendly disposition. Slaed went in for the kill, and sure enough she was more than willing to share her enormous bottle of baby sunscreen. After dousing ourselves, we could finally relax. We were forever grateful wishing we could somehow pay her back for her generosity, and for saving our butts, but she wanted nothing of that, just happy to help a couple of foolish travelers.
Though it was not as long as our adventure at the first fort, we were able to continue on breathing a sigh of relief that we were not going to be permanently damaging ourselves and ruining the rest of our time in Puerto Rico with painful burns. That is aside from Slaed’s poor blotchy feet of course. Needless to say, some soothing aloe was purchased immediately following our exit of the fort.
So friends, if you take anything away from our sad story, remember this:
1. Wear Sunscreen, lots of it, and please bring the bottle along to reapply.
2. The Spanish forts of San Juan, Puerto Rico are quite impressive and worth all the time you have for exploration. Interesting history and artifacts along with amazing views of the surrounding landscape.
Have you traveled to Puerto Rico? What were your highlights? We’d love to hear about your experience!
For all the information you need on the San Juan National Historical Sites in Puerto Rico (run by the U.S. National Park Service) you can visit the park service website linked here.
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