We are!! OK OK...I know it's early, but we're off for the road trip to El Yunque - The US Caribbean National Forest (Hiking trails map shown at right.)
Have rental car with unlimited mileage, will drive it!
We hopped on route 2 and swung around the southern part of PR.
Then up up up through Ponce, stopping for gas... I had to think about it a bit when I saw the price in liters! Across the street was a beautiful cemetery, all of those white
Toni's Uncle Charlie told me these blocks house the caskets rather than burying them directly touching the soil. - wonder if it's because it's so humid/wet here?
If you look closely you can see PONCE spelled in reverse in giant letters. It greeted us as we left Ponce on the highway.
We continued up to San Juan and east towards El Yunque. Almost 4 hours in the getting there. Four hours of reminiscing and beautiful scenery.
Veronica slept for much of it in the back seat. She told me later that watching her Mom and I from the back seat, we looked to her like two middle school girls with all of our chatting and giggling.
As we drove into the Caribbean National Forest, the car was filled with excitement. We first visited the El Portal visitors/information center.
Boy did they put a LOT of work into this place! It has a beautiful gift shop too!! Many books on plants, some fun (not cheapo) stuffed animals and a number of fun children's books in both English and Spanish. Turn right onto route #191 and voila -- you're in the forest!! I couldn't help taking a photo of this clump of bamboo -- it was so pretty!! The photograph would be better, but I'm driving and the road is SUPER winding! You have to be on constant alert in case a car is coming the other way. Especially the TOUR BUSES! They could (and I'm sure have) run someone off the road into the ditch.
The first Falls - La Coca Falls (shown left)!! Just beautiful!! You're able to park and walk over to the falls, snap some shots before moving along. It's not a hike -- so you folks who shudder at the thought of a hike - you can still see some trickling water. (You should try the simple hike to La Mina listed below for a more spectacular waterfall though.)
Second we visited the Yokahú Observation Tower, climbed the 96 stairs and enjoyed the panoramic view from the mountains out to the ocean. Beautiful. It was raining lightly when we arrived at the Tower. Upon coming out on top we were sort of in a cloud but it moves swiftly past and voila...that beautiful aquamarine blue in the distance is indeed the ocean. It blended in seamlessly with the sky. Turn around 180 degrees and we saw this mountain view! Everything is so lush. Definitely the most lush and green part of the island we've seen so far. They have been experiencing a drought as of late (although it has rained the past few nights.)
After our long mornings journey, we were ready for some lunch!!!
Thankfully there was a small luncheon spot serving PR treats along with snacks. We got some pork chops and a chicken pincho (grilled meat skewer). Most importantly, we got two Papa de Relleno (see right)! Softball sized balls of mashed potato that are stuffed with spiced meat and then fried. So so tasty! Yum!
Refreshed and ready to walk off the fried food, we parked the car and hiked in the half mile to see La Mina. The trail was unlike any I'd ever seen... It was completely cemented (shown left) into place with stones places in the cement for traction. The ENTIRE length of the trail is like this. It made us wonder who lugged in the cement etc to make this trail. WOW! I'm sure it hold up better in the heavy rain storms -- no erosion. They also built beautiful picnic huts (shown at right) complete with water faucet and barbecue stands. Looked like the perfect San Juan weekend picnic get away!
La Mina is the most commonly photographed waterfall in the forest. If you've seen a photo of a waterfall from this forest, it's likely this one! (It's the one that Miss America shot photos of the candidates at the base of a few years ago.) After reaching La Mina and dipping a finger in to test the temperature of the water, we decided to change into our bathing suits...behind a towel.
The water was... cold compared to the temperature of the ocean we'd been swimming in, but not as cold as the rivers in New Hampshire in June/July. Toni was the most brave going completely under. I wimped out on the total dunk when my toes started cramping up. Figured it wouldn't be good if I couldn't drive the 4 hours back home. It was a refreshing dip though!!
When we reached the car it was time to start heading back to Rincon. Toni's Mom had arrived and she (and we) were looking forward to seeing her. I hadn't seen her in YEARS!!! It was a long and winding road home. We chose to take the "more direct" route (according to the map) home. This brought us through San Juan and into the usual traffic that comes from this city. It took nearly as long to get back as it did to get to the forest in the first place. We had a great ride back too. Halfway home Toni received a call from her brother to wish her good luck the next day. In the end he couldn't hold the surprise and told her that he was in Puerto Rico and would be awaiting her arrival home. This sent her into tears of happiness! Yeah to Uncle Charlie for flying him in!
Upon arrival back at Grandma's house, we had a bite... Alan (Toni's Dad) had made some AWESOME chili, and Toni gave her Mom the hankie she'd had embroidered with a lovely message for her Mom to bring to the wedding. She was definitely touched! Boy was this a LONG but fun day with Toni and Veronica!!!
Bed calls my name -- the wedding is tomorrow!!!
By the way - The photos above from the forest are quite large -- if you right click and "open in new window" you can load them in larger if you want to see detail. There were just too many of them to load in so large! Cheers!
Tuesday, February 27, 2007