Friday, March 15, 2019

El Yunque Rainforest - Battered But Not Beaten

Click on this map to see ALL of the photos form this day!
During our stay here in 2016, we visited portions of the El Yunque Rainforest by way of the southern entrance on 191.  The gates were closed so we entered the park on foot, and the small part of the park we experienced left us in awe and wanting more.

The first of what we hope will be a long line of visitors have arrived. My daughter and her husband were eager to see more of the rainforest beginning at the north entrance.

The website provides all of the information needed to make our visit easy.  There are vast portions of the park that remain closed after hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island in 2017, but the park services have worked tirelessly, along with Mother Nature, to get some trails and attractions open and ready for visitors.

The park advises that visitors come early to avoid congestion at the popular attractions.  We arrived at about 10am and found the crowds to be manageable, but beginning to build.  We had several items to see on our list and after finding parking areas full, we decided to try starting at the top and working our way down.  This worked out well!  First stop: Mt. Britton Tower!

The trail was well planned and beautifully maintained!  Kudos to the park rangers for what must be backbreaking work.   Narrow rock and cement walkways wind through the mountainside to take you almost painlessly to the top where the viewing tower stands.

Along the way we took many rest breaks Photo Stops as we drank in the beauty of both the panoramic views, the tall trees and the tiny signs of new life that will bring the forest back to her full glory in the years to come.

An actual break area!  Several are provided along the way!
Bees are hard at work doing their part!

New life unfolds.

Near the top, you can still witness the devastation from Maria

There was a brief moment in which we considered stopping short of the top... But we're almost there! A couple of young girls told us it was just another "two minutes"... Well, maybe if you're 20 years old!!!  But they spurred us on and we were so glad we made the last effort to arrive at the beautiful Britton Tower to claim our reward!

So much of what is unique about this rainforest has been destroyed by hurricane Maria... But these landmarks made it through and remain stalwart for us to enjoy.

Looking up at the next level of spiral stairs

The thickness of the walls have kept the tower standing
Damp and dark, perfect for mossy growth inside
And suddenly you break out into the sun and open air!

Bruce waiting patiently with the bags on the doorstep below
I was a little wobbly on these shallow, damp steps, but I didn't fall!

After our climb, we were ready for a lunch break.  We sat on the shady stoop and enjoyed our sandwiches while congratulating ourselves for our decision to continue on to the top!

Then back down we go!  Much easier and quicker than the hike up!

The whole way, I've been amazed at the huge rocks in these mountains.  I LOVE rocks!  A favorite mantra is "If you loved me, you would get me that rock!"... My son-in-law was listening!

The hike to the top was a challenge, but it was well worth the effort.  We made some great memories and had many laughs along the way.

From further down, we looked back up at the tower and it seems so far away!
We passed several tiny babbling brooks on our trek!
We loaded back into the car and finished the loop to make our way back down the mountain in hopes of finding parking at the Yokahu Tower.  All thoughts of hiking to the waterfall were vetoed by our shaking leg muscles.  We had one more climb left in us and we were saving it for this!

This tower was larger and more easy to climb.

I'm afraid to look down from these heights but the camera is not!

The views from the top were equally stunning.  We had a lovely clear day and it seemed that we could see for ever!  It would be nice to hike to a waterfall and take a dip, but we have to save some sights for the next visit! After all... we do LIVE HERE!

Don't have to mow that spot!
The lunch we had just a short hike ago was already a distant memory.  We were suddenly ravenous and it's a good thing... I recently found this website called Ofertones, that sells discount deals - similar to Groupon in the States - and there was a family meal waiting for us in a little town called Juncos.

Casajú was high up on the ridge of another mountain and the drive to it was an event unto itself!  So many rocks on this mountain and the homes are just built in around them! Upon arrival the place looked very unassuming, but as we made our way down the stairs to the dining area, the panoramic view opened up and we knew we were in for a treat!

It was about 3:30 in the afternoon, so not crowded, but the parking areas led us to believe that this place could get really packed!  We were seated right on the balcony overlooking the valley and the mountain range beyond.  The breeze was cool and the atmosphere relaxing.  Once again I wondered what I ever did to deserve this lucky streak!

The looks on their faces are priceless!
My fears that this meal-for-four would not really be enough food proved to be ridiculous.  Silly me!  The portions were huge and even after eating as much as we dared... we ended up taking enough home for another dinner!  Feeling magnanimous after receiving this amazing deal... we decided to splurge and order a couple of desserts.  How could we really pass up FRIED CHEESECAKE anyway???

I was not prepared for this!  The dessert tasted even better than it looked... What a complete surprise!  That's a cup of whip cream covered ice-cream with Churros to go along with that fried cheesecake!  If we had known about this, we would have ordered dessert first!  I think I've died and gone to heaven!  We will be back!

So we finally made it to El Yunque Rainforest Park.  Seeing it in the condition it's in after Maria really makes me wish I had made the effort to visit these spots before... But seeing it rise from ruin and begin to flourish again gives me a feeling that we are a part of this new beginning for Puerto Rico and we are excited about that.  I know that the Island of Enchantment is going to come back better than before and we can't wait to see it all!

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