Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Trip - St. Augustine

We're in Florida. I'd never been to Florida before, but now I have.

They have cows here, something I didn't expect. When I think of Florida, I think of retired people from New York (who call it, "Flahrida"), aligators, and swamps. Oh, and Walt Disney World and Cape Canaveral. Not cows. But cows live in Florida too.

We got to our RV Park in St. Augustine (oldest city in America) late enough in the afternoon that we couldn't get to the historic district in time for sightseeing. So we saved that for this morning and got up at the crack of dawn, in order to have time to see things and still leave by check-out time of 11:00am.

St. Augustine's historic structure is the Castillo de San Marcos, a fortress on the coast, and we got there in fog.

The upper permiter is guarded by cannons.

It was built by the Spanish in the 1500's.

That much I knew, so I asked the dressed-up ranger about the history, and he had plenty to say (besides the fact that he wasn't fully dressed, and people of his time period would have been shocked to see him outside like that).

He said Spain didn't build the Castillo to defend Florida. They had nothing in Florida worth defending. All their expeditions had turned up nothing, just aligators, swamps, and mosquitoes. No gold, and no treasure--those were to the south.

But what Ponce de Leon managed to discover, and what isn't mentioned much because historians like to focus on his failed quest for the fountain of youth, is the Gulf Stream. Spain found it, and nobody else knew about it, and it ran up the Florida coast. The Spaniards would load Inca or Aztec gold on their ships, catch the Gulf Stream northward, until they came to the Trade Winds that blew them right over to Spain. They owned the superhighway of the seas when all the other countries were sailing on the donkey trails.

There was a problem, however, in all this nautical beauty. Just up the coast was a colony of French Huguenots, and the Spanish did not like them. First, they were French and encroaching on Spanish territory. Second, they were Protestants, not Catholics. Those were bad enough, but third, the Huguenots made a living as "seafaring entrepeneurs," otherwise known as pirates, and they preyed on Spanish ships.

So Spain built the fortress to defend their Gulf-Stream-sailing ships from pirates, whether Huguenot, or British, or anybody else. And they built it from the materials on hand: sea shells and sand, primarily.

And all the moisture-loving plants feel right at home.

In one of the rooms, another dressed-up ranger sat behind a table spread with medical instruments of the day, including some bullets with teeth marks in them, and this enema set, which he says is one of the more popular items he has. He said the doctors often used poke water (the water a blacksmith used to cool down the heated metal), which cleaned things out beautifully, and then they followed it with an opium chaser for its anti-spasmodic properties. Delightful!

On the perimeter of the upper level, a work crew was restoring some of the crumbling stone.

I talked to one of them about the new stone, which is very yellow, while the old stone is black. He showed me a piece of old stone, which had been cut open to reveal what it's made of. The new, yellow stone is an exact match to the original. He said the blackening is from vehicle traffic, and the new stone should start looking like the old in about ten to fifteen years.

We left the Castillo, which was never taken in battle, but was given by treaty to the British, back to the Spanish, then to the Americans. It's still ready for its defense.

Just a couple blocks from the Castillo is the historic district, with narrow roads and quaint shops in old homes. We wandered down some of them, but not too many so we wouldn't get lost, when there was a limited time on our parking meter.

One of the shops, called Bath Junkie, had a huge array of rubber duckies in the window, and you can personalize them to suit you or your loved one. This one had "glam" written all over her.

In that gray area where the shops and the Castillo remnants merge, one grassy area had rusting old cannons lying on the grass or thrust upright into the soft ground.

Some days I feel as old and decrepit as the cannon.

But not today.


Christina said...

Love the enema display. Now those are the things they just don't teach you in American history. Pity...I bet few people would forget that!

Delta said...

LOVE your pic of the "glamorous ducky!"

Sounds like you are having lots of fun!

Malott said...

You take terrific pictures...

A career unrealized...