Monday, April 1, 2013

Puerto Rico: El Yunque Rainforest

I had been sitting on the hostel's balcony when one of my dormmates approached me. He asked if I had plans for the next day as he was intending to rent a car and drive up to El Yunque. Did I want to go along? Uhm, yeah! El Yunque is the sole tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest System. And my oh my is it beautiful.

We set out early in the morning from Old San Juan. He was behind the wheel and I was behind the map, navigating our route to the park. After only one missed turn, we were up the winding path towards the park. Half way up the narrow, one wrong turn and you're plunging down the cliff, road we came upon this.

La Coca Falls. A beautiful waterfall cascading over a sheet of rock. There was a rail, sure, to keep cars from careening into the rocks. But people were crawling among the boulders, searching for the best spot to get a picture, dipping their hands among the falls.

We continued on.

 We parked, grabbed some sketchy maps, checked them against a graffitied sign and set off along El Bano Oro trail. We figured it'd be concrete or gravel, fairly smooth, though maybe muddy with the rain we had the night before. We were wrong. The first ten minutes or so were paved, And then it gave way to muddy, rutted paths barely marked by mossy lumber.

We had anticipated a 45 minute to an hour hike, depending on how often we stopped to take pictures.

Ruined hacienda.
We might have reached Roca el Yunque (the peak) in that amount of time if we'd been able to fly along the path. But there were rocks to scramble over and a waterfall that ran across the path and branching routes with no signs to direct us along our chosen path. I was astounded we were on a trail at all.

Clouds in every direction
Despite being exhausted when we finally emerged into the clouds (and on and off rain) any breath I still had was taken away.

Picture this.

The trees are thinning, you see only white clouds through the gaps, but the cool air tells you you're almost there. The path winds outward and suddenly goes out onto a big jut of rock. There are no guardrails, no warning signs, nothing from preventing you simply leaning too far and falling a hundred feet before even reaching the tops of the trees below. You look back the 30 feet to where the trail is back on legitimate ground. As you turn to look out over the wide whiteness, suddenly it all clears. Sun beats down on you, somehow closer than the last time you saw it. One, no two peaks let their cloudy wreath fall and you are parallel with these kings of the land. A sea of green treetops stretches out before and beneath you. You are on top of the world.

And then the wind picks up. Clouds swallow it all up again. Leaving you with only memories, just a small glimpse into the true beauty, true vastness, true meaning of what it is to be alive.

I have been ziplining, hiked bluffs and peaks, kayaked small rivers and bioluminescent lagoons, soaked in volcano warmed springs, met more incredible people I can count. And yet everyday there is something new that amazes me.