El Yunque National Forest

pina colada

Mona enjoying the national drink of Puerto Rico – the pina colada

Two things: First, we visited a rain forest. Second, I am feeling very old. Let’s talk about the rain forest first. Why? Because it is fun and I have lots of pretty pictures to show you. I’ll get to the feeling old part in a minute.

Mona had on her bucket list that she wanted to visit a rainforest. As it happens there is one on Puerto Rico. She earned a check-mark for her list. The rainforest was also on our list of places we wanted to see whilst here. The El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rainforest in the national parks system. When I read this my first thought was, hey wait a minute. What about the rainforests in Hawaii? When we were on Maui, we hiked in a rainforest. As luck would have it, it was raining so we got the true rainforest experience. It is always raining somewhere on Maui. We saw more rainbows there in two weeks than I have seen in my entire life. The forests were full of lush vegetation and tropical flowering plants. We swam in waterfalls in the Maui rainforest. So what about these forests? How can Puerto Rico claim to have the only tropical rainforest in the national parks system? It is because the Hawaiian rainforest are state parks.

El Yunque is breathtakingly beautiful. There is a narrow road starting at the base of a mountain. This is the entrance to the forest. As the road winds up the mountain it twists and turns. The hair-pin turns snake up in elevation and before you know it the 3,000 foot mark is reached. Because of the height and location of this mountain being on the windward side of the island, it rains. It rains a lot.

Along the road are marked hiking trails. There are areas to park and then the trails disappear into the trees. It would be impossible to hike off trail without a machete. The foliage is extremely dense. Some of the trails were marked as “difficult”. Not wanting to find out exactly how difficult, we took one of the easier trails to the falls.

El Yunque National Forest

Welcome to El Yunque National Forest

Rain on the mountain top

El Yunque National Forest Map

El Yunque National Forest Map

Yokahú Tower

Yokahú Tower

Yokahú Tower

View from Yokahú Tower

It was hot, humid, raining (it’s a rainforest) and humid. Yes, I know. I wrote humid twice. It was really humid. Did I mention it was hot? At the visitor’s center, the guide said 30 minutes in and 30 minutes out for the La Mina falls trail. Piece of cake I thought. What the guide didn’t say was it was 30 minutes up and down steep hills on narrow wet paths. By the time I reached the waterfall at the turnaround point, I was soaked in sweat. I looked like I had been swimming.  It was humid.

La Mina Falls

Organic whirlpool tub (can you see the people?)

La Mina Falls

Swimming at La Mina Falls

The falls are popular swim spots for locals and tourists, alike. When we reached the end of the trail, I seriously wished I had packed my swimwear. The water looked awfully refreshing. Some people climbed down the falls and lazed in what can only be described as a natural whirlpool tub. The place was packed with young people taking turns doing selfies in front of the falls. Some stood in awkward poses on the wet rocks. This made me wonder about how many pictures are posted with the caption “this is me falling in the falls”. Or perhaps, “I had to buy a new phone. I found out my old one wasn’t waterproof”. I noticed a lot of people with scraped knees and was content not to have my swimwear after all. You just know I would have been the person to fall off the wet rocks and airlifted out of the park. No. this is not the part about feeling old. The next part is.

la Coca Falls

La Coca Falls

El Yunque

Too thick to wander off the trail

El Yunque

A mini zen along the trail

El Yunque

El Yunque Forest Location


Image source: Sir Francis Chichester Trust

Somewhere on this blog, I remember writing about how as a young child my first exposure to sailing was seeing on the television Sir Francis Chichester return to England after being the first person sailing solo around the world on his boat Gypsy Moth IV west to east via the great capes. If I close my eyes, I can still remember the black and white grainy picture on television. I recall this being the first time an event made me hunt for more information. After seeing the story on the television, I searched the newspaper the next day for pictures and wanted to know more about this sailor who had just popped into my life and had become a British hero. I even remember talking to my school teacher about his accomplishment. This was a big deal for the British people. I don’t remember consciously committing to myself that one day I would be just like Sir Francis. However, I have no doubt this event encouraged me at a later age to tryout and eventually join the school sailing team when the opportunity arose.  Here is the real feeling old part. A couple of days ago it was the 50th anniversary of this event. Holy Cow! Fifty years! I can remember something that happened 50 years ago? Granted, I was about 7 years old. But this is the first time as a grown up where age has sneaked up and hit me. No wonder all the people swimming in the waterfalls at El Yunque National Forest looked so young.

Sir Francis continues to inspire me but now for a completely different reason. I went back and re-read about him. One particular fact stood out to me. He was 66 when he completed his famous 9 month circumnavigation. Wow! Sixty six. Perhaps I still have a few good years left.

Sir Francis had a sense of humor. When loading his boat with gin prior to the circumnavigation he was questioned by a reported as to why so much gin. Chichester was credited with the quote, “Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk.”

Sir Francis, you continue to inspire. Cheers!

Categories: Puerto Rico, Sailing Blog, Side Trips

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