Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Amazing Tanamá ~ Other People's Vacation Pics

There's been this one thing that I've wanted to do... but been too afraid. With June here for moral support, I got this wild hair... And she said YES!!! So, bright and early the next morning, June and I left Bruce at home (in case we needed an emergency contact), and drove two hours across the island to do some extreme exploring!

I somehow stumbled across this small business that runs adventure tours in the Island's interior, and for the price of $45 per person... you get the undivided attention of a highly trained, private guide and nature expert... and the experience of a lifetime! Aventureo PR is small, but they only run small groups, and the emphasis is on safety and a personal experience that is second to none.  We signed up for Route 2, but I think they lumped us together with the others who had chosen Route 1, but we didn't care.  It was A. MA. ZING!

Me, the "Chelseas" and June just starting out!
Our Group was only four women today, and I have to say that I was more than a little worried that I might not be able to measure up.  I was the oldest one of the group, and these young women would probably leave me in the bushes if I couldn't go on... but that only made me try harder!

We met our Fearless Leader outside the entrance to the Arecibo Observatory, and were given the final opportunity to chicken out.  José didn't beat around the bush in his description of what was about to happen to us we were about to experience.

For the next six hours we would be trekking through the forest, on trails that are muddy, slippery, rocky and VERY steep! We would be expected to carry our gear, including food and water, and would be completely soaked to the skin before it was over. We would be floating and hiking through a river, and there would be no way of getting help should something happen to us.  A rescue would take hours!  GULP!  I was almost shaken, and if any of the other people in the group had shown fear... I would have bailed.  But everyone committed to pressing on... and so did I!

 José STRONGLY advised that we leave our cell phones in the car, because he assured us that everything we bring will be WET, and possibly crushed! I was convinced.  For this reason... ALL OF THE PHOTOS IN THIS POST WERE TAKEN BY OUR GUIDE, JOSÉ!

The trail began innocently enough.  We walked along the upper rim of the Arecibo dish... but were not allowed to stop or take photos.  It was advised that we be quiet as we stared down into one of the world's largest radiotelegraph facilities.  Once we passed this area, things got a little more relaxed and we began to really enjoy the sights and smells of nature.

Feeling pretty good at this point...
I must have been carrying a little more anxiety about this than I realized, because it was at this point that I began to experience the tell-tale whiteout vision that heralds the arrival of a migraine.  I stopped and said nothing to the group, but fumbled to find an energy bar, hoping that our light breakfast could be the cause.  I knew that if I said anything, it would cause a disruption as I would have to be taken back to the car.  I wasn't going to be that OLD LADY who couldn't hack it!!!  So, I sucked it up, and ignored the headache that would soon come.  Maybe it was the chocolate that gave me a caffeine shot, maybe the headache just knew that I had no choice meant business... but the white blindness soon passed, and the ensuing headache was blessedly mild.

The trail down into the gorge was an elevation change of nearly 1,000 feet, and in no way a straight line.  We had to use every muscle in our bodies to wrench ourselves up vertical inclines using the saplings and trees growing in our path, and scoot on our (muddy) bottoms to keep from tumbling down the ravine to certain death.  Only the dense trees kept us from being able to see the abyss as we trekked along, single file.  José kept up a constant stream of instructions and warnings as we went.  He knows where every slippery spot on this trail is, and he knows exactly how to place your feet and your body to get through the treacherous spots.  All the while, he regaled us with his endless and uplifting stories.

Almost to the bottom of the gorge, and a HUGE cave!
I told you.  Our faces were beet red!
Funny thing about José... he COULD NOT remember our names.  There were only FOUR of us! And two of them shared the same name!!! How hard could it be? He could, however, remember where we were from... so I was Arroyo, June was Canada and the other two Chelseas were Colorado girls.  Super funny and infinitely endearing!!!

After almost an hour and a half of trekking downward, with thighs screaming and the rest of our muscles trembling... we reached the bottom of the ravine.

Looking upward, we could now see why any rescue would take hours.  There was hardly any way for someone to reach us, besides the same way we got here.  If a helicopter could get down here, there would be no place for it to land.

But these walls that isolated us from the rest of the world, also seemed to hold us and make us feel a part of the very flesh that is this beautiful island.  The more I see of Puerto Rico, the more one with her I become.  And today, I have sweated and given all I have to feel a growing and familiar kinship with her.  I know June even left a few drops of blood!  But after all of that pain and sweat, we were about to experience the GOOD part!

We have reached the Tanamá River!  As we made our way down the last embankment, our eyes were drawn to a huge cave!  We would not go inside that one today, as it is part of the more extreme (really???) trail.  This was the upstream point of our journey today.  And it began with a jump of about 10 ft into the river!!!  At this point, I had to be that OLD LADY.  The surgery I had on my nose some 12 years ago has left me without the ability to keep water out, and I can't even hold my nose because it feels so strange.  So, I watched the young women leap, one by one, into the river and come up laughing!  I went around the land trail, which took me to the other side of a really long, low cave.

Here we are floating at the exit to that cave.
The others got to float through it, but I did get to go inside from the downstream end, and float back, so I missed nothing really.

This is where I really WISH I had my camera to share all of this with you.  I will have to suffice with the image in my mind's eye to remind me of the very long, low-ceilinged cave that we swam through.

The water is cold, and the only light is coming from the entrance far ahead, and the exit through which I had just come.  Inside the cave, the sounds of water smacking against some tunnel hidden by the current depths, but it told of many more branches and rooms just out of sight.  We went into one hole in the wall, and I could almost feel the darkness.  The ceiling was lumpy with stalactites, and water seeping through from above made constant little drips that thumped me on the head and I passed beneath them.  It was eerie and magical at the same time.  José told me that this entire ravine was completely drowned during the rainy season, so this was the only time of year this trip is possible.  Thank goodness for an early start!  We would be out of the ravine before the afternoon rains popped up!

We stopped to have some lunch at this point, and enjoyed the cool water for a bit before moving on downstream.

We followed the river as it wound through the deep gorge, with the walls towering above us.  Bird sounds and the water were the only things that competed with our voices as we slogged through water to our knees, scrambled over dry, rocky spots, felt for each foot-hold to keep from falling on our asses, and flung ourselves into the current to get a free ride in the deeper parts. AND we floated through MORE caves!  Thankfully I saw no bats!  But they were there...

It was invigorating!  It was freeing!  It was LIVING!  Ahh, this is what my soul needs!

Do I look like I'm loving life right now?  
Happy faces!
This is the EASY part!
We drank from these natural springs and the water was the BEST!

Our handsome and charismatic leader, José
Free ride!

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and the altitude we had previously given up, must be somehow regained.  But first... we've got to get out of this river!  When José announced that we had reached the end of the river portion, we kind of all looked around for a place to crawl out.  There was none.  The walls around us were all vertical.  Only one spot was maybe 10 ft of rock face, with an overhang near the top, and a narrow ledge.

We all stared up at the ledge incredulously and I know what was in everyone's mind. "No"

But José headed us off at the pass with a pep talk, well, really more of a Come-to-Jesus moment.  There would be no negativity.  There would be no refusal.  There would be no way out of this river without first scaling that rock wall.  And, he would show us how to make it easy.  More than a little doubtful, but afraid to open my mouth to contradict him at this point... I watched as he made quick work of it.

That ledge behind us is where we exited the river.
OK.  That didn't look too bad.  And he's a BIG GUY!  Surely we could do it.  One by one, we each followed his explicit instructions:  Right foot here, hands here and here, left foot here.  Lift, then put your hands here and here.  Then pull yourself up onto the ledge and crouch.  Turn around, put your right foot in this spot, then cross your left leg over and place your left foot onto this impossibly tiny foothold on the outer wall... then give him your left arm and lunge toward him as he pulls you over onto the next ledge.  Stand up, switch places, then put your right foot there, right hand here, left hand on his shoulder, then lunge upward and put your left foot where his hand is to keep it from sliding off... then grab that rock and pull yourself on up.  There!  Nothing to it!  And you know what?  We did it!  I can't believe it!

The forest seemed to close up behind us.
Then, after a brief congratulatory break, (and a minute to let the water drain out of our 50lb backpacks)... we began the ascent.  It looked daunting, but you know what?  Going up was actually easier than going down. Sure, our legs were once again screaming, but at least when we lost a foothold or slipped on the muddy spots, we could fall forward, and not tumble down the hill!

Slowly, foot by foot, we listened to José's stories and absorbed the knowledge about the trees and flowers we passed along the way.  It took our minds off of our trials and made the time fly by.  Suddenly, we began to recognize the trail as being the very beginning from this morning!  Hooray!  We made it!  With huge smiles, and a little more spring in our steps, those last few meters melted away.  And with them, all of the pain and fear (yes, fear) I had been feeling. I just kept thinking how irritated my children would be if I failed to return...  But now, all that was left was that enormous feeling of jubilation at the accomplishment we had just achieved.  WE DID IT!  We survived!  And we were hungry!

We cleaned ourselves up enough to get into the car, and drove to (at José's recommendation) Lechonera Rancho T for lunch.  Pork and rice never tasted so good as we stuffed our faces sitting in the rain.  Yes, the afternoon rains have begun!

It was mid afternoon by this time, and it didn't take me long to figure out where our next stop must be... The Hot Mineral Baths at Coamo!  Our tired bodies would benefit greatly from a relaxing soak in the mineral springs with soothing music and quiet conversation as the setting sun lit up the sky. No photos of that either folks.  I'm not sure I could have lifted my arms to snap the shot.  At this point, we were just enjoying the moment and our achievement.  Maybe June didn't consider this as much of a big deal as I do, but honestly, it was almost the brink of my endurance, and I never would have tried it without her.  She just trekked on ahead as if it were nothing while I felt like I was barely hanging on many times over.  Six Hours.  But what an amazing day it was.

Last quick stop!  Hector PR Bandera #65 in Santa Isabel!
I have to say, that if you're not in reasonably good condition, this is not something you should try, but if you're more in shape than a 56 year old lady who has spent some years lying around on a sailboat... GO FOR IT!  You'll be glad you did!

No comments:

Post a Comment