Somehow hiking in a rainforest didn’t communicate mud, muck, and mire to my brain. I mean no one said let’s voluntarily slog through sucky mud with ankle spraining rocks on trails barely a foot wide while climbing up the steep side of a mountain in the rain. Serves me right for saying sure to a couple of younger guys who wanted a spot of hiking on a lovely Wednesday morning. I’m thinking carved walking sticks, mile markers, maybe even lederhosen and with a cold beer and mountain view as a reward at the end.
George, a fellow Manta guy, had a car and knew how to get to the El Yunque National Rainforest Park two hours north of Ponce. About a kilometer shy of the park, the road was blocked with traffic barriers and our decidedly limited Spanish wasn’t much help deciphering its warning. John on Bad Bunny said he thought it said something about an avalanche up ahead. Yep, part of the nicely paved park road had caved in under the edge of the pavement. We’ll walk if it’s all the same.
As we sauntered toward the entrance of the park we could hear water thundering out of sight down in the valley hidden by the crazy profusion of giant ferns flowers, and all manner of trees.
Stopping at nicely terraced pavilions with picnic tables we gobbled our sandwiches and were confronted with more warning signs. When asked, John said the sign had something about a challenging trail, as he fine tuned his carbon fiber hiking stick. Yes but…I trailed off as he bounded up the steep slippery entrance to the trail.
By the time Marce and I summited the twenty foot high mud slide, only a down payment, it began to rain again, the boys were gone. Never mind, it felt like we had entered an alternate universe where the rules of horticulture had gone remarkably mad and no longer applied to a new and wonderful world, dripping with water, moss, massive rocks and decaying organic material like a thick steaming matt hiding ice slick mud rocks and other stuff that I’d like not to think about. I mean do they have quicksand here? Anyone? Let’s see, is it, don’t panic, don’t struggle, someone might throw you a rope? Hey Marce do you have a rope?
Really, we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore. This place has a decidedly beautiful Primordial vibe to it, as if the competition to survive would cause things…maybe unseen things…to begin to move towards you if you paused a little too long on the trail. I had to concentrate so closely on my footing that I could only look around occasionally or risk losing my balance and the drop off was a serious concern. It felt like at any moment a rock could turn or mud might squish out from under your foot or you could just plain lose you balance and simply disappear.
The boys waited for us at what we surmised was the summit. We have to guess because of the massive organic growth blocks any hope of a view. I asked George, “where’s my view?” He looked disappointed. It happens.
You’d think going back down would be easier and it was but it brought its own challenges like you really don’t want to build up any momentum what with the rocks, steamy mud and possible quicksand…I’m just saying, but any resistance to the buildup of speed instantly sent your mud caked feet squishing out from under you which soon saw us hurtling out of control down the mountain with a good head of steam up, looking for all the world, as Bill Bryson says, like George Maharis in West Side Story.
We unintentionally arrived back at the beginning of the trail before the guys did. They’d found a mountain stream and had a swim which would have been nice but we felt it was better to get down off the mountain with the same number of limbs we were born with.
We walked right into the stream beside the pavilions which by this point was more like a river and tried to scrub the mud off our shoes. That may take some time.
The walk back to the car was punctuated by the sound of eight squishing feet. I assure you dear escapees that the back seat of the little KIA rental never felt so good. We’ll all sleep well tonight…as a matter if fact, I just might get in a little practice right now.