02 April 2016
Under the heading of “Smell the Roses”, we rented a car today and ventured into the interior of the beautiful island of Puerto Rico to explore the only tropical rain forest in the US Nation Forest inventory, El Yunque. The Rain Forest covers an area equal to 28,000 acres in the northeast corner of the island, and we learned from several sources that it is not a sight that should be missed while visiting the island.
Continuing our pattern for surviving rental cars over the last several years, Carrie drove while I navigated; attempting to make sense of the limited maps we had at our disposal in finding the right route to our destination. There have been times when we have worked with only drawings and verbal directions, but today we had some real maps, although not all of the roads we encountered were actually on the map. Road signs are not always available either, so passing a critical turn became just another part of the adventure. When we found ourselves looking at the northern coastline once again after travelling for some time inland, I knew it was time to make a U-turn and work back to the last familiar marker.
Along the way this morning we passed through several rain showers, and off in the distance I could see the mountains appearing and disappearing through the clouds. It made me think that rain was also falling in the mountains we were heading for, giving them a good shower before the day’s heat finally settled in.
Finally we saw the familiar logo for the US Nation Forest system that announced our arrival at the visitor’s center for the Rain Forest. We parked the car and walked along an elevated walkway that took us through the upper canopy of the forest to a beautifully designed open-air visitor’s center. There we viewed the exhibits and watched an excellent video with breathtaking scenes of the rain forest and the mountains, translating as many words from Spanish as we could and making up the rest. Then we ventured out on our own to do a little walking along a nearby forest trail.
Fortunately for us we had the trail to ourselves for almost the entire walk. Our 1-mile loop trail into the forest didn’t take us very far from the visitor’s center, but even though we could hear some noises off in the distance, the silence was extremely enjoyable. I was also reminded me of an often overlooked side benefit of hiking, to just stop and stand still for a while. When I hike I am notoriously guilty of pushing to put miles under my boots to get to the summit of the trail, boasting later about how far I was able to travel during my outing. But when we tromp along a trail, talking and puffing and making our human noises in the woods, the natural residents along the way often pull back and watch us from a safe distance.
Today, however, as I stopped and just listened for a while, I noticed some sights and sounds that I otherwise would have missed; the large snails slowly crawling up the tree trunks, a beautiful tropical bird coming down to one of the lower branches to look around and hunt for food, the rain water slowly dripping through the moss and vines that surround the trees. Nowhere else on any trail that day were we able to enjoy the local inhabitants of the rain forest because the trails were completely overwhelmed with people trying to find exactly what was now right in front of us.
After our little walk we returned to the car and drove the rest of the way up the mountain, stopping once or twice to walk out along the trails and view the waters from an earlier rain storm cascading down the mountainside. The earlier rain clouds moved on to the west and the sun shone through to make it a beautiful morning. In certain places we could look out and actually see the Atlantic Ocean to the north, a reminder that we were never that far away from the waters that surrounds Puerto Rico, highlighting the diversity of the island and an enjoyable trip to the El Yunque Rain Forest.