Parque de las Ciencas aka Space Rocket Plaza

It’s been a few weeks since I posted, partly because of a vacation spent in Puerto Rico. I have a few posts in the works, but before I get to those, I hope you can indulge me in a bit of travelogue.

It started with a quest. On our way to Arecibo we had seen this strange structure off in the distance, and been unable to identify what it might be. Even when we got up close, it was unclear what was going on. The possibly-associated giant stone cross only increased our curiosity.

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Looking at it in Google maps we were able to identify it as part of Space Rocket Plaza, which turns out to be part of Parque de las Ciencias. Some kind of science museum in suburban San Juan? That sounds like a good combination of local culture and nerd tourism, just right for Aletta and I. And maybe there will be baby oriented things for Patrick.

When we got there, the entire facility was bizarrely deserted. We arrived 45 minutes after the park opened, and as far as we could tell we were the only guests. The parking lot was empty and there was no one around. The first three facilities we went to (planetarium, railroads, and something else) were closed for repairs. The only people we saw were involved in cleaning and maintenance of the park, mostly powerwash. As we walked further and further in we became more convinced that the park was closed or somehow shut down.

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The zoo didn’t seem to be entirely empty, but was kind of strange. I don’t know what kind of zoo puts deer, peacock, and chickens in the same cage. The selection of animals was at best strange. Little did we know that it was only getting started.

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The first indoor museum that was actually open turned out to be the collection of some local big game hunter. Like the zoo, there was little to no information about what we were looking at.

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The most bizarre part of the park was what initially appeared to be a model town. However, it was really unclear what it was trying to model. To make the puzzle more challenging, many of the buildings had evidently had their artifacts removed.

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Others contained the most bizarre displays:

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Eventually we realized this “town” was a kind of museum of classic Puerto Rican television comedy. Coming in with no cultural awareness, it was definitely quite weird. I would have been interested to learn more, but of course there was no signage in English or Spanish.

The pinnacle of our Parque de las Ciencias experience was the Museo del Telefono

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This museum seems to be the result of a compulsive collector who was forced to clear out his garage after some kind of family intervention. There are piles of telephone equipment, from every vintage and at every level of repair.

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None of it carries any information. For example, here is a lovely pile of mobile phones. The only sign? “No Tocar” (do not touch).

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Imagine the thrill of finding the first descriptive sign in English in the whole park, here in the telephone museum!

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Unfortunately the sign was sitting on top of this machine, which I can only hope is so much more than a touch tone phone:

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Really, that was the telephone museum. And the whole park went like this. The transportation museum, which was a barn full of old cars (and one steam engine and one lunar lander). The archeological museum, which was a random assortment of mostly undocumented bones and bits of pottery. The aero/astro museum, which was a collection of posters from space and telescope magazine, an assortment of NASA paraphernalia, and a collection of model spaceships, some real, some fictional. There are photos, but you get the idea. Actually, there is one I have to share, from a sizable anex to the air and space museum:

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Yes, completing the experience of a whole series of museums that could have been eclectic personal collections, here we have the section of the air and space museum dedicated to stamp collecting.

One bright spot was the art museum. The signage and interpretation was still nonexistant, but the museum contained some quality art by mostly Puerto Rican artists, and it was nicely put together. Of course, no comparison to Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, which we visited later in the trip.

As for Space Rocket Plaza, well, they did have some legitimate space rockets. Looks like leftovers from early NASA. Of course, in keeping with the rest of the facility, no signs or details to let me know the history of these pieces. But hey, they are rockets.

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Of course the flight simulator is out of service, as it apparently has been for quite a while according to internet reviews. And the observation deck that originally attracted us to the park? Well, the road up to it from inside the park was closed. That left the elevator, on the other side of the parking lot. On our way towards its base we encountered a motley crew of park employees. None of the uniformed ticket takers or guides would admit to understanding our question about access, but one of the workmen with them offered to interpret. The question and it’s reponse was more challenging than I would have expected. Eventually we got “It’s closed” … “It’s closed, like for a wedding.” Alright, I suppose. Though 10am on a Wednesday seemed somewhat unlikely. Will it be open tomorrow, we asked. This lead to another spate of discussion, where our interpreter seemed as confused as we. “No, it is not open to public, permanently,” he eventually related.

1 Comment »

 
  1. Carl Alexander says:

    “… a barn full of old cars (and one steam engine and one lunar lander)”

    Makes perfectly good sense, in light of the earlier deer, chickens, and peacocks….

    The rockets had me going for a while, mostly because I thought they were side-by-side (and thus the same height) and partly because the tail fins on the one on the right are not quite as I remember them from the models I made when I was nine or ten. The one on the right is a Mercury capsule on a Redstone rocket; the configuration that was used in the first two American manned space flights: basically a cone with a guy in it, on top of an ICBM. (The rest of the Mercury missions used the Atlas rocket and were orbital.) The one on the left is a Gemini capsule on a Titan II; they gave us the first space walk and the first docking.