Perhaps one of the most interesting and gratifying reactions to the novel has been the desire, by several of its readers, to find out what is real and what isn't. Many people have approached me to ask, "Do the tunnels you write about actually exist under Old San Juan?" "Are the Macheteros a real, covert organization?" "Do the El Abanico defenses, and the secret room mentioned in the book, really exist?" "Are the hidden passages that you describe in La Fortaleza real?" "Is the history to which you refer true?"
So in order to clear up the doubts--and maybe create new ones--during the next few weeks we will visit the sites where the book's action takes place, and try to determine what is and isn't real, taking into consideration that sometimes the lines between reality and fantasy may not be that sharp or easy to determine.
But first, a disclaimer: I began to scout the locations for the novel about five years ago, during my periodic visits to San Juan to see my family. Much changed between each visit, and much more has changed during that five-year span. I could not vary the story to reflect those ongoing changes, because then I would never be able to finish the book, so I decided to keep things as they were when I started to reconnoiter the places where the action took place.
Also, I would like to apologize ahead of time to those people--sanjuaneros mostly--who have a lot of more knowledge about the places I write about, and to whom some of what I point out may be obvious, and some may seem wrong. I tried to keep it as accurate and real as I could, but sometimes I took the license--literary license, they call it--to twist the facts a little--sometimes more than a little--in order to develop the plot.
All that being said, let's examine the stage on which the story is played.
The Bridges connecting San Juan to Miramar and the rest of Puerto Rico
The Dos Hermanos (or "Two Brothers") Bridge, that connects the island of San Juan to the El Condado peninsula, is a perfect example of a location that changed during the time that I wrote the novel.
Originally, as can be seen from the photo above, the bridge was under partial reconstruction, supported by a temporary, metallic structure. This made it, by the way, a lot easier to destroy than in its present condition. I decided to keep it that way, even though the bridge now has been fully restored. (See photo below.) As can be observed, the bridge bisects the Condado Lagoon. The two photos were taken from the San Juan side. The upper one shows the buildings in the Condado area, the latter one shows part of Miramar.
The other three bridges, connecting Miramar to San Juan, exist as they are described in the book. (See photo below.)
The photo above shows: (1) The two main bridges, connecting Miramar (in the background) with the island of San Juan. The bridge furthest to the right heads, one-way, towards Miramar, the one furthest to the left goes, one way, towards San Juan. (2) Barely visible, between the other two bridges and closest to the right hand bridge, is the old abandoned bridge that is no longer in use.
The San Juan Yacht Club mentioned in the novel does not exist. However, it would be situated to the right of the bridge that heads towards Miramar, where the photo shows several moored boats. That is the actual location of El Club Nautico, San Juan's foremost yacht club and a long standing local institution.
The photo below is a side view of the bridge that connects the traffic coming from San Juan to Miramar. The photo also gives us a peek of a portion of the Club Nautico, and marks the beginning of the San Antonio Channel. This is the area where Daniel, Czecka, and three pontoon boatloads of terrorists waited for the tide to drop.
The next photograph shows the older, unused bridge between the islands of San Juan and Puerto Rico. A fascinating fact, noted in the book by the FEPI's Secretary General, Felipe Lebron, is that originally the island of San Juan was named "Puerto Rico", and the island of Puerto Rico named "San Juan", their names interchanged in the course of time.
These are the four bridges that the terrorists must destroy in order to isolate Old San Juan. In the words of Angel San Miguel, "...The success of this entire operation depends on knocking out those bridges. We cannot afford to fail, or to do a half-assed job that allows our enemies to get to San Juan. God knows that we will have our hands full keeping them out of San Juan, even when the bridges are down. Our crew will need a lot of time and effort to do a thorough job. Whatever happens, we need to make certain that they have the best opportunity to do everything that they have to do."