Nothing prepares you for the sight of your first, in-the-wild iguana. And that was certainly the case for the American woman taking in the view from the Castillo San Felipe del Morro in the Old Town in San Juan. I’m sure you would have heard her screams from five blocks away. I guess the surprise was because, at one of the Old Town’s biggest tourism attractions, you’re not really in the wild! And I admit, I also took a few steps back and suppressed a yell. I’ve seen plenty of little geckos scurrying up hotel walls in the past, but this chap was something else – a fat mini-dinosaur happily sticking out his tongue for the tourists.
San Juan has plenty of interest for animal and wildlife lovers. Iguanas are everywhere and apparently they’re becoming such a pest, it has been suggested that they could be put on the menu at restaurants. Iguana meat is eaten in Mexico. But I hope that doesn’t happen to this rather tame fella posing for pictures.
There are dozens of pelicans in the trees along the Paseo del Morro. That’s the walkway along the coast passing from the Governor’s residence to the Fort. And they dive vertically into the water in pursuit of fish. It’s an incredible sight – I was told it’s quite unusual to see pelicans plunge into the water in that way.
This is what the pelican’s are trying to catch – fish! A fisherman proudly showed me his catch. There’s a short jetty stretching out into the water near La Puerta de San Juan, the only city wall gate that remains. You’ll usually see people fishing there. And they are being watched! The pelicans look on from their vantage point in the tall trees, which grow alongside the ancient city wall.
As I stood and watched a pair of parrots flew overhead. One of the things you’ll notice about San Juan is the huge numbers of pigeons. They even have their own ‘Pigeon’s Park’ or Parque de las Palomas. You can buy a bag of pigeon food but be warned, as soon as they see those breadcrumbs, the sky will turn grey and white with feathers and you’ll be surrounded by hungry birds. Make sure that there’s nobody nearby when you open the bag.
You would think that the easiest way to scare off the pigeons would be to tell the cats! There are dozens of feral moggies all over the Old City. They were once brought in to deal with rats and some people say they were introduced on ships sailing from Spain, but they’ve now gone wild. They live in a number of colonies around the town and one of the biggest is at Paseo del Morro. Now a charity called Save a Gato organises a trap, neuter, and release programme. Gato means cat in Spanish. When I was in Pigeon Park, the birds weren’t bothered by the cats and pecked for food around the moggies, who just lay across the warm cobblestones, soaking up the sun. There are better meal options for cats in this foodie city.