San Cristobal Canyon slices through the Cordillera Central Mountains, and runs between the towns of Aibonito and Barranquitas. It is deep and wide, with the Usabon River cascading down the Aibonito side in several breathtaking drops, punctuated by crystal clear mountain pools. There are many groups in Puerto Rico that run tours, and most of them are geared toward the more extreme hiker. Today, we joined our friends at Para La Naturaleza for a more sedate tour that provided us a glimpse of the majestic canyon, and gave us a little more knowledge about the flora and fauna of our new island home
We drove to the Barranquitas side of the canyon and entered the beautifully kept grounds of the Para La Naturaleza property. The volunteers and paid staff have carved out a tastefully manicured haven in the jungle on the side of the canyon.
Being that we're on a tropical island where it's never winter, I was surprised to find a lush poinsettia bush growing right alongside the more tropical plants! All were wearing the droplets from a recent passing rain shower.
We had some time to wander around and drink in the freshness of the mountain air. It's much cooler here than the coastal planes where we live. But even in November, it's still relatively warm in the Caribbean. I took the opportunity to take some photos while we waited for the rest of our group to arrive.
You can just make out the beginning of the river near the top left of this photo
Once everyone was gathered, we started our walk, following behind our very knowledgeable guide, Yina (Gina). This property all belongs to the nature reserve, and while we took a guided tour today, it is perfectly allowable for people to come on their own. Just check in at the headquarters and follow the pathway.
We will put this on our list of places to take our visitors in the future! It's an easy walk and the views are very nice.
Yina stopped many times along the way to tell us about this and that.
It's very prickly so walking through it would be painful
Of course I can't tell you all of the things we learned, but I'll post some of them. It was fascinating to see this simple Yuca plant growing in a patch. Yina explained to us that the Maya people used to plant this endemic plant in patches along the perimeter of the fields in which they kept their animals. It provided a natural deterrent for the livestock leaving the areas where they were pastured. It also deterred thieves, so it was used along property lines.
We continued on past fields with freshly planted trees in various stages of growth. The organization is practicing habitat restoration and they need volunteers! As we walked by, we were given the names and characteristics of each of the trees. Along the way, we were shown which trees were not native to the island. This African Tulip tree is growing everywhere on this island, and others we have visited throughout the Caribbean. It's amazing just how invasive a thing like a tree can be!
Some spots were interesting, in that Yina carried a book of historical photos. She would stop in the same position from which the photo was taken, and we got to see a "then and now" comparison.
The red and green lichen attest to the air purity and plentiful rainfall!
She told us about things large and small. The trees here in this area are covered with multi-colored lichen. Now it might seem that this is a bad thing, but Yina told us that the amount of lichen growing on these trees, can tell the health of the environment. They grow more in wetter times, AND the presence of these types of lichen can signify higher air purity. Looking around us, we can see that there has been plenty of rain, and the fresh mountain air we're drinking in is super pure!
The next awesome thing we learned was that this tree, with its little white "apples" has earned the nickname "autograph" tree, by means of having been used as a sort of "paper" by indigenous tribes.
You can actually take a stick and write your name in the leaves. The pressure turns the leaf white! This will remain there long after the leaf turns brown.
Cool, right? Oh, but don't eat the apples... during at least a portion of their lives, they are poisonous!
At the next stop, we sat for a while in a shady spot across the clearing from the ruins of an old stone building. This crumbling structure taught us that people once built their homes on top of their water storage structure. This kept the water cool and if it ever sprung a leak, it wouldn't run down into the home.
Our last stop was the best! There's a small overlook that provides a breathtaking view of the canyon. You can see where the river begins across the canyon on the Aibonito side. The first falls is near the top, and there are several making their way down the side of the canyon. Today, the river was running red with sediment and moving fast. Much of the time it is said to be crystal clear with inviting pools below each of the falls. Chances are that we will never see those, as it is a little above our skill level as far as extreme hiking goes.
Here again, Yina had a photo from long ago. She told us that over to the right, there was a cliff that was used as a trash dump for decades. People would just back up the trash trucks and dump everything into the ravine! Pretty short-sighted if you ask me! But eventually, people wised up and they've even cleaned up much of it. It's pretty much jungle down there anyway!
This was an old pic of the trash dump area!
There's a face in the rock cliff. Can you see it? I think I can!
We left the overlook and tracked back toward the main house. There are greenhouses where endemic plants are being cultivated for planting. We ended up buying one of the little Tintillo Trees. These were used by Puerto Ricans since the early 1900s as Arboles de Navidad... or Christmas trees! I'm going to use mine for that!
Another shot at one of the falls across the canyon!
A fallen Maga flower, the national symbol of Puerto Rico!
The thorns of a young Ceiba Tree
My little Arbol de Navidad!
What a wonderful time we had wandering the garden paths and learning new things. The fact that it's not cold here in the middle of November, is a reminder of what we love about living in the Caribbean! We said our goodbyes and drove off in search of FOOD! We found a little food truck that was still serving a late lunch, and put in our order for Tripletas!
A nice drive home, and this wonderful day of exploration is at an end. And I've got my little Christmas tree to show for it. I had been fretting about what sort of tree we would have for this first Christmas in our new home. Funny how things just work out.
Canyon San Cristobal is a natural treasure here on the island. Maybe some day I'll figure out a way to get us down there without having to work too hard. But for now, A glimpse will have to do!
Yup! I finally talked Bruce into taking a trail ride! The Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park put out a discount certificate for Puerto Rican residents and I was quick to take advantage of our newfound resident status!
We drove an hour and a half to get to the property in Luquillo, PR. and found quite a slick operation. They have about 200 horses here, and they run groups throughout the day.
We arrived early and got to stroll around the property, looking at the other adventures offered such as ATV and go-cart rides, and of course the gift shop! We actually purchased a couple of the face sun protection scarves because this is the first place we've found them for a reasonable price! Then we had a little fun, paying no mind to the fact that the face holes were placed at a level for children! Hey, I'm trying to keep us BOTH young!
The staff called our group promptly at 1pm and started handing out helmets... with hairnets to keep the funk from getting us. Yeah, right. Bruce and I came prepared with closed toed shoes, sun hats, sun protective shirts and jeans! I actually had to go and purchase a pair of jeans for this! I haven't owned a pair since 2013 when we moved onto the boat!!! I think we were the only couple dressed appropriately for this, but hey, it's only an hour!
Would have preferred our broad-brimmed hats... but SAFETY FIRST!
Getting a well-deserved drink!
As we were mounting up one by one, the staff very deliberately matched the person to the horse. They had shorter horses with child saddles for the kids. These came with seat belts! While we waited, another group returned and as the riders dismounted, the horses hustled over to the water station for a drink. They knew the drill! When a group of horses gathered at the drink station, the staff would make a particular sound and the horses dutifully left the water and went into the stall! Pretty neat.
It was kind of funny though, when the staff weren't paying attention, horses would sneak back out to the water trough! Then the guys would make that sound again, and the horses skedaddled back into the holding pen!
Bruce hopping up onto Junior!
And here comes a horse for ME!
Adjusting my stirrups!
Eventually we were called up to claim our horses. The cowboys helped us to mount, then painstakingly adjusted our stirrups to the appropriate length. They made sure that we were each comfortable in the saddle and inquired about our riding experience. If needed, instructions were given as well as special attributes for each horse. Bruce's horse was Junior, and mine was Sandy. I was told that Sandy was sensitive so I shouldn't be too hard on his bit. Good to know!
When everyone was mounted up, we were introduced to our guides and reminded to keep our heels down and shown the proper way to hold the reins, then we headed out onto the trail!
While Bruce was taking a photo of me...
I was taking a photo of HIM!
We rode along a well worn pathway, often times muddy and sometimes just a big puddle. I tried to rein my horse around the puddles, but like most trail rides, the horse knows the drill. At least I could keep his nose out of the butt of the horse in front so that we didn't get kicked! Bruce and I rode together most of the way, with the horses mixing and matching at other times. While this is nothing like riding out in the wild, it is a whole lot easier and we got to see some countryside in the foothills of El Yunque rainforest.
Hey, it's difficult to get a good photo while trying to ride a horse!
The trail took us up a few hills, down a few hills, and alongside a few cow pastures. We wove our way through the property of some other stable owners and our horses talked to those in the stalls. I guess they're used to seeing us pass through their homes!
Bruce did a good job of having a good time, although sometimes he is difficult to impress! Through all of the islands we've visited that offered trail riding, this is the first time he has agreed to go!
The Carabali property is really nice. They have a lot to offer the tourist, even those who live here!
We did the one hour trail ride, and for people who don't ride horses often, that was just about the perfect length. The temperatures here in the rainforest foothills were mild, even for a mid-day ride. But sun protective clothing went a long way toward making us comfortable.
So after a delightful hour spent communing with nature and laughing with the other riders, we found ourselves back at the staging area. We were assisted with dismounting, and the horses knew the drill! As soon as they were riderless, they went over to get a sip of water, then returned dutifully to the corral!
After we dismounted and our horses left us, we asked the cowboy if we could get Sandy and Junior back for a photo.
Cowboy: Ummm we don't have a horse named Sandy. (thinking a bit) Could it be DUSTY? Me: Oh yeah, that's it! No wonder he didn't pay attention to me when I spoke to him!
We were given the opportunity to say goodbye to our new friends DUSTY and Junior.
I can't see this photo without giggling! Looks like I'm slurping the horse through a straw, and Bruce is sticking his tongue into the horse's ear. Horse is having none of it!
After our ride, we definitely felt a little wobbly! Add to that, hot and hungry and we were glad that we had also purchased the discount certificate for a nice late lunch at the Carabali Restaurant! The service was perfect, the sangrias delicious and the food superb!
Sirloin tips in mushroom sauce!
Bruce can never pass up a rib opportunity!
It was a fun day getting back to my Texas roots, communing with nature and doing something fun and out of the ordinary! It is my goal to keep the fun alive and never stop exploring our beautiful island home! Thank you to the fine folks at Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park for another happy day in Paradise!