By Zachary Moses
After our early morning ferry ride from Vieques to the mainland Puerto Rico port of Fajardo, we drove into the El Yunque Rainforest. Our hotel sits at the entrance to the national park. The hotel is simple, letting the stunning view do the talking. When you are on your balcony, you are literally within the park. From each room you can see two giant waterfalls pouring off the mountains into the river below. We hiked down the cliff side all the way to the river, where I used ropes and adrenaline to cross the raging river.
In El Yunque there are no roads connecting the southern end of the park with the northern end. We had this great idea to have our group cross the park via trails, but none were marked on the maps as crossing the park. We decided that I should try to cross the park from south to north using unmarked forest service trails to see if it was possible. Doug left to drop Mike off at the airport while I took off on my journey.
I didn’t pack much with me, since this was meant to only take 3 or 4 hours. The rainforest is located on a mountain, so there was quite the drop-off over the edge of the trail. The park was amazing, and there seemed to be no one else here. I had this entire gem of a place to myself. I sang and whistled as I walked along. This was a great opportunity to talk to myself, without people thinking me eccentric or drunk. On my way to the top, I came across a couple of stray dogs that scared the crap out of me. They weren’t vicious or anything; I just hadn’t expected them. They were actually really afraid of me. I was blocking the path for them too. I decided to just continue on right between them, and they retreated up the path. It took about forty minutes of me making the dogs uncomfortable before they finally found a way to stop retreating and go around me.
Unfortunately, when I reached the top of the hill, my trail ended abruptly; the bridge was washed out where the river was swollen with rain. I was pretty bummed out when I realized I would have to turn back. If I had knew to expect this I would have brought a saw to make a bridge out of a tree, but this hike had been sort of spur of the moment, and I will admit I am no McGyver. I just had to turn back.
Rats! I was really tired and hungry, so I tried eating the sandwich that I had picked up before leaving on the journey, but it was possibly the most disgusting sandwich I had ever eaten. When I say “no mayo,” I mean it. Bleh… I think they put extra mayo on it. There was so much mayo on this sandwich that the dogs refused to eat it when I passed by them again.
Once back at the hotel I called Doug, who was also disappointed at my failure, because it meant he had to loop all the way back to the starting point to pick me up. I sat and visited with the owner of the hotel while I waited. The hotel owner pointed out the fruit trees that dotted the property. There are lychees, mangoes, papayas, guavas, avocados, jackfruit and more. Hopefully some of these are in season when we bring our group here in November!
When Doug arrived, we saw more of the national park as we drove back toward Old San Juan following along a beach and a forest bike path that we were considering adding to the tour.
Our Old San Juan hotel tonight is the Gallery Inn, which is super cool, with spectacular views of San Juan Harbor. We met with some potential tour partners on the roof of the hotel, and then went out to a great restaurant in the town square. Later that evening after Doug had gone to bed, I explored around the hotel in the dark and peeked into several of the unlocked empty rooms to get a better idea of what the entire hotel is like. The Gallery Inn is a complex made up of 5 or 6 historic San Juan buildings. Its an absolute maze and I got lost several times. Each of the buildings has a unique character and its own courtyard.
In the morning we had breakfast in the garden. The lizards and birds kept fighting over the scraps of food I was tossing to the floor. Below the garden is an amazing swimming pool with ruins in the center of it. The pool wraps around and through the ruins.
We strolled around town, and went into La Perla (sometimes called the worlds most beautiful slum … true on both counts). Historically, La Perla was the home of all the undesirable industries of San Juan. The neighborhood is located just outside the city walls. This is where all the butchers lived and worked. The blood from the butcheries would run out into the ocean, so two hundred years ago, you would not have wanted to sit in a cabana on that side of Old San Juan and sip a rum runner.
In the afternoon we went on a Segway tour of Old San Juan. It didn’t take me long to get the hang of it. The machine is more like riding a horse then a bicycle. Several of the other guests had a harder time getting used to it than I did. The guys running the Segway operation got very upset if you drove it in reverse. I kept doing it anyway, and at one point I slowly backed myself into a corner, which I thought was hilarious. Get it? Backed into a corner! Ha ha, LOL! No one else found this as funny as I did, so you don’t need to laugh either…..
We ended our Segway tour with no time to spare. We rushed to the airport with our hair on fire … but of course when I arrived at the airport I discovered my flight was delayed. I’m sure someone in the office made a few calls and arranged the delay for me. (Well, actually they made the unplanned hotel reservation in Miami for me and took me and my family to breakfast upon arrival home on an early morning flight.) I love working in travel!