It’s hot and wet at the same time.
It sounds exotic.
And it’s green.
Not!!! You people with over active imaginations! Wipe that silly grin off your face. Tsk.. tsk.. I am not talking about that. I’m talking about Puerto Rico’s El Yunque rainforest, what else!
El Yunque National Forest is the only tropical rain forest in the US national forest system. Call me ignorant but I never expected Puerto Rico to have a rain forest. How cool is that in a nerd and geeky kinda way?! I thought Puerto Rico was all about beaches, sexy salsa dancing, the delicious food and Menudo.
Wait, what, who? Menudo. Have you heard of them? In the 80s, there was this group of five young men who sang and danced their way into our hearts. They were there before Boyz II Men, NKOTB or the Backstreet Boys became famous. I’m sure you’ve heard of Ricky Martin. He was a young 12 year old member of Menudo then and I have had this huge crush on him for the longest time! Fast forward to the hot sexy man he is now, I don’t care if he is gay, he is still hot and sexy. Okay, I’ve digressed too much here…
So, yes, the rain forest. When I learned that San Juan was going to be one of our port destinations, I researched for things to do and there was El Yunque. I have never been to a rain forest before so naturally, this was on top of our list. This was Day three of our 7-day Holland America cruise.
As usual, we took our chances and got a local tour once we were off the ship. Because we were made to wait for several long minutes, we thought about renting a car and driving ourselves to El Yunque. But.. then again, we were already comfortably seated in an air-conditioned van half full with people, what more can it hurt to wait for a few more?
Our driver was the owner and he was originally from the mainland and yet he spoke what sounded like perfect Spanish to me. As we drove, he gave us commentaries and information about the history, culture and current events in Puerto Rico. The drive to El Yunque took an hour and a half.
After driving on flat roads for over an hour, we turned and made our way up the mountains until the trees got taller and the vegetation got denser. From sunny skies, it suddenly turned dark and cloudy. We were entering the rain forest.
There was a visitor center where you could learn more about the rain forest and its inhabitants, the plant and animal life coexisting and its importance to the environment. There was also a gift shop and a small place to buy some snacks. After watching a short documentary, we got back to the van and went up further the mountains. The road had only two lanes, narrow and winding and yet the drivers were speeding like crazy!
We first stopped at the Yokahu Tower which served as one of two observation towers where you can climb up to the top and get a good view of the rain forest. It is a great cardio work out climbing up those steps but not recommended for those with limited mobility or those who are not physically fit. Once you get to the top, you get a 360 degree view of the mountains, the city and the ocean from a distance.
Being the “youngest” in our tour group, we sorta rushed up the tower so we could take photos without all the others in the way but alas, there were already a few people there (not from our group) so we had to improvise and share the view.
And did I tell you that because this was a rain forest, it rained every 5 minutes? Okay, I may be exaggerating here but it did really rain every so often. From the moment we stepped into the visitor center it rained briefly then stopped while we were on the road and then drizzled as we reached the tower and then stopped as we were headed to the top. You can see the rain clouds in most of my photos and from our vantage point, it was amazing to see that somewhere in the rain forest, you can see a portion drenched in rain and socked in clouds.
After the tower, we proceeded up the road, went past a waterfall (our guide said we will stop by on our way back) and dropped us off somewhere to go on a hike. By this time it was pouring. We were glad we brought our rain jackets along because that surely helped keep us dry. The rest who didn’t have any rain protection stayed behind the van or else got soaked.
I didn’t bring my big cam along for this stop because I didn’t want it to get wet and I didn’t know what the hiking will be like so I wanted my hands free and unencumbered in case we had to crawl on muddy terrain. I wished I did though because there were so many beautiful photo opportunities there. We had to make do with our phones instead. Or rather just my hubby’s phone because mine died.
The trail was paved (*que horror!) all the way so it was pretty much a walk in the park for us despite the occasional inclines or dips in the terrain. It was also slippery due to the rain so some of the older folks decided not to proceed. Hubby and I stayed at the very end of the line so we could take our time enjoying the walk.
I found out that I loved rain forests!!! The trees, the lush green plants, the vines and all that thick vegetation despite the wetness of the environment (maybe because we were dry and comfy in our rain jackets) seemed so magical and enchanting to me. To top it off, you can hear the coqui frogs, native only to Puerto Rico, croaking “ko-kee” musically everywhere, like a surround sound speaker. It was so pleasing to the ears!
It was also good to know that there are no poisonous snakes in this rain forest, only tarantulas. Eek!
The trail, I found out much later led to a waterfall, La Mina Falls but because we didn’t have enough time, we circled our way back upon reaching this huge old tabonuco tree after taking photos and hugging this “mother Avatar tree”. It was almost a spiritual experience, this one.
While we were hiking, I lost count as to how many times the rain has come and gone with the sun playing hide and seek at the same time. By the time we drove back to that first waterfall we saw, it was raining hard again. The van stopped and our guide asked if we wanted to take pictures. Only a handful of folks got out with us as we made our way quickly and snapped a few photos. The waterfalls can be viewed from the road so it didn’t take us too long.
After finally having semi-satisfied our outdoorsy cravings, we went back to the van and we started to head back to town. This older couple behind us remarked, “that was so smart of you to bring your rain jackets.”
To which I replied back “well, this IS a rain forest!”