Camuy Caves and Areciba Observatory
06 May 2010
We got up, ate breakfast, and hit the road westward, bound for the Camuy Caverns Park. It's about 40 miles from San Juan. The caverns and caves were formed long ago by the Camuy River, part of which flows underground through the limestone rock. The caverns were spectacular, with huge stalactites, stalagmites, and very unusual rock formations everywhere.
There is one part of the cavern where a large bat colony lives, over 100,000 bats according to Carlos, our guide. This part of the cavern was noticeably warmer than the others, just from the body heat of the bats. The air was pretty thick with the smell of guano. Of course, bats are nocturnal but we did see a few flying around.
Near the bat cave, there is a deep opening where the river flows below, over 400 feet below the main cavern, and 600 feet below the surface. It was amazing to lean over the railing and see this river rushing below you.
The whole experience was really cool, and we are glad we got to see it. After we got back up to the car park, we figured we had enough time to see the radio-observatory of Arecibo, so we set off over the windy back roads in that direction.
The telescope looks like a huge satellite dish set down in this bowl of earth left by a big sinkhole, with he receiver located on a 900-ton platform which is suspended 500 ft in the air above the dish by 18 cables running from three reinforced concrete towers, one of which is 365 ft high and the other two of which are 265 ft high (the tops of the three towers are at the same elevation). The radio telescope is the largest built in the world; the dish is over 1000 feet wide.
The observatory has been featured in several movies and shows, most notably Contact, the sci-fi movie with Jodi Foster and Matthew McConaughey. They had a very good visitors center, with exhibits that explained the science behind what they look for with the telescope, a lot of information about the universe and it's origins, and the many discoveries that the observatory has been used to figure out.. I think we understood maybe half of it. The movie that we waited around for wasn't worth the wait; it was sort of a 'day in the life' of the observatory. Very disjointed and not very enlightening. It did give you an appreciation for how much work it takes to keep the place running, though.
Since we were a little late starting back to San Juan, we were worried about the legendary traffic, but it wasn't too bad and we made it back before 5pm. We took a walk on the beach and had beers at the hotel bar for happy hour. Armando, the bartender, suggested a few good places to eat nearby, and we ended up having pizza; ham, pepperoni, and Gorgonzola cheese - it was very tasty.
After the long day and a good meal, we crashed after watching a little TV; the first American cable we had seen in a while.