|Urena Lobata, commonly known as Ceasarweed|
So... what was our actual plan for today?
We set out in the morning to find the trailhead for Monte Guilarte. Our AventureoPR guide listed this on his local recommendations. It's about a 45 minute hike, each way, to what is reportedly one of the best views on the island! Doing a little online research beforehand, I found that there is actually a small State Forest Facility up here in the cool mountains, that has a very easy trail and a nice lookout over a vast canyon. We set our Google Map on that, and set out happily unaware of just how amazing our day would be.
|Doesn't look like much... yet!|
|First Glimpse of the falls|
|Calm above the falls|
|The first little fall|
|The top of the largest fall, leading down to the lower pools|
After checking out the falls, we continued on the short distance to the place we actually came here to see! Turns out, it's a nice little state park that has been mostly repaired after hurricane Maria. We didn't find any park rangers around, but the gate was unlocked, so in we went!
|June took off down the path while we fiddled with our gear!|
|Shady spot to sit beside a babbling stream.|
There is no place to swim here, but there are a couple of really neat spots to drink from the mountain, so bring your empty containers!
|See the white pipe coming down with the trickle of water?|
|I love that this is a part of my life!|
With the going being so easy, I was able to turn my attention to more pleasant pursuits... Taking photos of the beauty around us. I followed this butterfly around for quite some time before he gave up and posed for me.
|Bruce getting some mountain water from the "tap"!|
|The path turns sharply toward the canyon and we find the lookout point.|
When we arrived at the lookout point, we found a family that we had spoken to previously, and they were happy to share some of the many hidden spots to be found in this area.
June listened to the driving instructions, while I tried desperately to get these new treasures marked on my Google Map! What a nice guy!
|West Indian Tree Fern|
|The Princess Flower ~ Tibouchina Urvilleana|
|Rose-Leaf Bramble ~ Rubus Rosifolius|
We even found one - yes... just ONE - growing along the trail later on in the day, and we ATE IT! Very nice, slightly sweet, tangy and fresh.
We even found some Watercress growing naturally in a boggy spot! The Puerto Ricans call it Berró!
|This is the trailhead to Mount Guilarte.|
This was the moment our day changed. This was the moment that our path went from regularly planned awesomeness... to completely-unforeseeable-in-our-wildest-dreams awesomeness! "Sure we'll follow you!"
We flew through the winding and narrow roads, happy to have someone to run interference for us! But there were few other vehicles on this road anyway. We began a turn, then Leo stopped and got out to consult. He said that there was one place he hadn't mentioned, that was just about 10 minutes the other way. "YES PLEASE!"
Turned out to be "Puerto Rican 10 minutes", but who cares!
|We drove past a field of budding coffee plants! So. Many. Little white flowers!|
It wasn't far before we stopped once again in a spot where we could just barely see a blue-green glow from the bottom of a ravine. I swear it was glowing!!! What a magical place this is, tucked in amongst the tall trees in the cool mountain air.
Just WOW! Turns out, this was actually on my Google Maps, but I'm SO glad to have had someone to follow in the first time. I might have been lost when we left the road... on the way to Charco el Mango! Leo told us that the pool is named after the Mango trees that grow here, but due to the altitude, do not produce fruit. Leo and J were as agile as mountain goats as they lithely bounded down the rocky, muddy trail. Once again, we were on the steep side of the interior mountains... the same type that my abused thighs previously vetoed... But for whatever reason, my body seemed to get over itself and kick back into exploration mode! June seemed unfazed!
|We marveled while Leo took a swim and jumped off the rocks on the far side.|
|I found this snail hiding in the rocks.|
|The view from the top of the Cascada El Mango|
|Cool, quiet, Paradise!|
|Miralindas, or the common Impatien!|
|The Black-eyed Susan of my childhood grows here as well!|
|SO. MANY Random types of lichen grow in these forrests!|
|Bamboo grows to soaring heights!|
|One more look at those flowering coffee plants on the way out...|
|Our SECOND sip!|
|After this, we were all declared "FAMILY"!|
|The view from the patio|
|All of this was just for the three of us. Of course there were leftovers!|
|The plain boiled and the marinated.|
|Frank trying to talk June into...something...|
|Bruce worried about getting out!|
The sign had me thinking that the fun was over... but only momentarily, as Leo explained that this area has been a much-visited favorite of many of the local residents, and the only reason the sign is there is so that the owner of the property can deny responsibility if something happens to someone on this land. (This sheds light on many things we've questioned here in Puerto Rico) But what could possibly happen? Right?
We followed our trusted leader on a long, downward sloping road that was well-travelled, but unpaved and muddy. There was one washed out spot, but otherwise, it was easy going. We met several other small groups along the way, which dispelled the "clandestine" feel of the expedition for me.
|One little washout!|
|The water was low, but this is actually part of Largo Garzas!|
|There we go again... disobeying the rules!|
As you can see, we did cross the bridge. It is in a terrible state of disrepair, with missing floor pieces, and structural wires gone, or replaced in some substandard way... After watching Bruce and June go, and several other people not in our group, my confidence was enough that, as long as I got to cross alone, I could do it! I walked cautiously, placing each foot slowly and checking for stability before shifting my weight. Each hand-hold placed purposefully with a forward glance as I planned for what would happen should the whole thing collapse around me. My fear of heights was dwarfed by my fear of falling in a mangled heap of steel!
|Looking back after facing my fears!|
|One of the branches of Lago Garzas|
|Our next destination!|
|I even went FIRST!|
|SEE how awful the structural cables are!?|
|A little WONKY!!!|
|Not a great photo, but this is the spillway dam as we crossed it.|
The trail leads immediately down, down and DOWN! Looking out across the lush, forested canyon, I felt a wash of dread come over me. After all of the recent, physically demanding treks we've taken, I wasn't sure my legs would continue to support me if we had to go all the way down to the bottom of this giant ravine!
|Going down is much harder than up!|
|This was my turning point!|
But when I told Leo we would hang back, he assured me that we were almost there! It was just around this bend in the trail! Buoyed with the knowledge that we would NOT be required to go all the way to the valley floor... we continued on with renewed vigor!
|Stair steps were a little "rustic" but doable!|
|Seriously... almost there!|
|There it is! We made it!|
I scrambled the rest of the way down to the end of the trail and just stared at this huge tunnel and the deep crevasse that stretched out far below. The opposite wall of the canyon was a sheer rock wall and the thought that falling down from here would be the end, was clamoring to the forefront of my mind. But the thrill of it all was keeping me going! The feeling of accomplishment was a high, every bit as good as arrival to a new anchorage. I need this! It's what keeps me going! Leo kept apologizing for the level of difficulty, but we are forever in his debt for showing us this amazing place!!!
|Take a look at the "path" between where I am and the tunnel mouth! How we going to get over there???|
The last bit of the scramble into the tunnel was the worst. There is a very steep distance of about ten feet that has absolutely no hand holds and very loose gravelly rock. I'm still not sure how I made it across... maybe lifted by angels? Somehow I got my body to move magically from here to there, and the wonders just kept on coming!
The tunnel was dark, but you could see the light at the end. A steady trickle of seeping water emptied out at the mouth, so we walked on a bit of an incline. It wasn't really slippery, but it could be! Bruce decided to hang back for a little break while the rest of our group entered the tunnel. I was OK with that, as I'm sure he needed some rest. He is 76 years old, and has been hanging with this group far better than I could have anticipated! Go BRUCE! Besides, if we never return, he can be the one to tell my children what happened to me!
|Go toward the light...|
|See that FACE???|
|Back to the relative safety of the tunnel mouth.|
We exited the tunnel, and made the scramble back to Bruce. Leo went first and then placed himself in position to help us if we should need assistance making the treacherous last few steps... I made it across, and just as I reached the end of the worst part, I heard June slip behind me. I couldn't even turn around to see if she was alright because there was nothing to hang onto.
Leo caught her, and kept her from tumbling to certain death, but as I struggled to find a hand hold so that I could turn and offer my arm, June calmly asked to be left alone. She was able to flatten herself against the mountainside and regain her balance and footing, and then bring herself back to solid ground. WOW, what a moment of panic that was!
Once we were all safely back to the trail, we sat and rested while Leo took his drone out for a spin. This was the purpose of his visit here today! What a lot of work for a bit of footage! But then, I guess that could be said of me as well!
The hike back up to the road was MUCH more easy than the hike down. On the way up, if you slip, you fall forward onto the mountainside, which is much closer to your face than if you were to fall going down! I gave up and just scrambled on all fours in quite a few spots. Now that we're almost done, is NOT the time to take unnecessary chances! (haha)
Back at the road, it was beginning to rain. The skies had held back all day so that we could experience this amazing adventure. We thanked Leo and his family again for their extraordinary kindness and generosity! Hopefully we can reciprocate, in some small way, for the experience they have given us today. We would NEVER have been able to do these things without their guidance!
Driving back home, we marveled at how differently our day actually unfolded, from our initial plan. The luck of a moment changed our day from fun, to over-the-top! This has to be the highlight of June's vacation with us... The bar is set! I can't even take credit for the awesomeness as it was Leo who orchestrated all of it, and there was no way I could have made this happen! What a boost for June, to have been named the only Canadian to have ever visited this place! Wonder what we'll get up to in her remaining days!
I end this wonderful day with Leo's Drone Video!