23-Sep-2009 -- As I was in Puerto Rico for a gathering of 550 educators at the National Conference on Geography Education, a confluence visit seemed like the perfect complement. I had a tradition of visiting a confluence during every NCGE annual conference since 2002, including walking onto a golf course in New Jersey, boating across Lake Tahoe, wading into the Great Salt Lake, hiking the prairies of Oklahoma, and walking to a levee in New Orleans, among other places. This year, the conference was held in San Juan, Puerto Rico. This was my first time in Puerto Rico and while I would like very much to return, one never knows. The problem was, when could I slip away to the confluence? At the conference, I was either teaching or co-teaching several GIS workshops, giving a paper and 3 posters, co-hosting an exhibit for ESRI, and participating in NCGE board meetings, leaving little time to get off site. However, on Wednesday morning, while awaiting the arrival of the computers and the opening of the room that we would use for our GIS workshops, I had my chance.
I rented a car when the rental agency opened and was quickly on my way to the closest confluence point. I was a little nervous to drive out of the congested hotel and beach area, but was up for an adventure. They gave me a little white Toyota Yaris which seemed like the perfect vehicle for an out of the way excursion onto backroads. Puerto Rico contains two confluences, and while I harbored a desire to visit both in one day, I suspected that time would not permit me to do so. I needed to get back to set up the lab when the computers arrived. I was correct--it takes much time to drive short distances in Puerto Rico due to the hilly terrain.
San Juan is a congested place, and it took me awhile to cross the laguna on highway PR-17, drive westward to Highway PR-18, and then south out of the city on PR-52. Secondly, Puerto Rico is a hilly island, with its basaltic mountains and karst terrain, and once I had exited the highway at PR-184, it was slow going--about 20 miles per hour, on average. But the scenery was spectacular. The population density was lower than I expected here, with occasional houses but more frequent stands of trees and expanses of fields. And the terrain was truly amazing, causing the road to twist and turn with every 50 meters, it seemed. I climbed southeast along 184 to the Ruta Panoramica, and as the name implies, it hugs the top of the ridge with magnificent views before dropping into a valley to the east. I drove to PR-181, although in retrospect, I could have continued to Providencia without the Ruta Panoramica. I then twisted south along 181, passing Lago Patillas, dropping down towards sea level, passing scenic churches, laundry hanging out to dry, and past stunning vistas. I saw a very interesting sight--a heron standing on the back of a horse, but alas, was not able to get the camera out in time. Rain showers occurred intermittently and I was glad I had my raincoat with me. As a geographer, it is particularly exciting to become lost, since it happens so rarely. However, at the town of Patillas, there were no signs indicating which street contained the highway route. I found myself departing toward the southwest, doubled back, re-entered town, and soon found Highway PR-3 heading south-southeast. Interestingly, a Google map at this time lists it as "Interstate PR-3." How can an island have an interstate highway? These are the questions that geographers ponder.
Just before the turn east along PR-757, one road bump made the GPS fall of the dashboard and turn off. I then experienced 5 minutes of tense moments when the GPS would not come back on. I had no backup because I was trying to pack light for Puerto Rico. Finally, the GPS came back on and I turned up the road. In a much shorter time than I anticipated, I reached the 66th meridian but did not wish to park in the driveway of the two homes there. I parked up the hill, hiked back in, and rang the doorbell.
Calling and hearing nobody, I walked to the home on the left (east), but nobody seemed home there either. I then gingerly stepped a ways down the driveway. Three dogs were present, but fortunately the unleashed one was the most mellow. I spoke to it and walked a bit further down the driveway. The GPS indicated that the confluence point was in the backyard. I was within 100 meters already but I wished to go a bit further if it were possible. When I neared the backyard, the homeowner of the house on the right (west) came out to her back deck. She was a bit older than I, and very amiable. She could speak some English but I always insist on practicing my Spanish, and through my broken efforts, understood that she had previously worked in a local church. She gave me permission to find the point, and remembered the previous visitors. I did the confluence dance for the first time for an audience, as she was watching me from the second floor deck. While doing so, I explained what I was doing, but tried to keep things as brief as possible, as I did not wish to wear out my welcome.
I discovered that the point is actually on the plant that is straight in the back of the driveway, on the line between the two properties. As in many other points that I had visited over the past 7 years, when one considers where this point could be, in some very densely vegetated steep terrain in Puerto Rico, it is amazing how easy this point is to reach. The temperature was about 85 F (29 C) and the skies were at the moment, as sunny as they had been all day. This was my first time to stand on 18 North and the first on 66 West. I pondered that if one moves north from this point, I would encounter land at New Brunswick, Canada, south, at Venezuela, and west, at Belize.
I am slowly closing in on my 200th confluence point. I had met some very nice people along the way, including this current homeowner. As I did not wish to damage the foliage, I contented myself with not zeroing out the GPS receiver. The two leashed dogs barked at me the entire time. The confluence therefore lies on level ground, just before the backyard drops away to rocks and a clearing before the dense vegetation begins. I did the confluence dance and took photographs and a video for about 10 minutes, then backing out the way I came in, saying adios to the kindly homeowner. I was up near the front door when she came out and asked me if I needed to come in and cool off. I thanked her for her kindness but left the way I had come in, walking east to the vehicle. I took a few photographs of the vista to the south, which was much better at the vehicle. I was parked in front of a very nice home, but the ones at the confluence were quite nice as well.
I then drove back east along the road, and wanting a different, and perhaps a quicker, way back to San Juan, I drove south a bit to the Caribbean coast. This was my first time to view the Caribbean Sea, and the entire shoreline drive to the east was quite beautiful. At the town of Maunabo, I again became lost when the route markers were nowhere to be seen. However, it was Puerto Rico--how lost could one be on an island? My meanderings around town allowed me to photograph a horse and a cemetery. I finally made it out of town and onto highway PR-53. I followed this road all the way around the east coast of Puerto Rico, where I encountered heavy traffic at Luquillo. This was my only time on the Puerto Rico landscape, but I treasured these few hours. I was able to get back to San Juan by the time I met with my colleague, Dr. Tom Baker, on the ESRI education team. Joined by our other colleagues, we then set up the GIS lab until 9:00 pm. The next several days were filled with analyzing population, watersheds, natural hazards, ecoregions, and more from Puerto Rico to North America and to the globe. The other events at the NCGE conference went well and the entire event was a wonderful experience. How could it not be when one is with hundreds of geography professors and teachers?