Monday, September 6, 2021

Labor Day Hike to Salto Santa Clara

I have SO many little bubbles on my Google map that it will take me a lifetime to visit them all... so there's no time to waste!  When the Facebook hiking group suggested a hike to Salto Santa Clara (which is one of my to-do bubbles...) I was quick to agree!  Who cares if the drive is potentially 3 hours each way???  A drive in the mountains up PR10 is always a pleasure in itself.  

But wait!  Bruce has had some recent issues with overheating and he was a bit hesitant to jump off into the unknown like this.  Sunday afternoon he told me that he didn't want to go.  It's hard getting old and not knowing your own limitations.  Fear of having problems on a remote trail makes one very nervous.  I toyed with the idea of driving to meet the group alone, but in the end, we prepared well with lots of cool water, energy snacks, cool clothing, and sports drink electrolyte powders packed away in our lunch kit.  

We were both a little nervous, but we agreed that we would take the trail at our own pace, with plenty of rest stops.  Besides, every time I see a flower, I have to stop for a photo shoot. So that provides Bruce with plenty of rest time! We set out in the morning with a good attitude, just happy to be out enjoying our island ~ at whatever pace we can!

After leaving 10, we started winding our way along the narrow and steep mountain roads that I have grown to love.  When we first moved here, I have to admit that they scared me a little.  Since then I'm much more brave!  Still... when we're on an unknown road, sometimes I get worried.  My rationalization is that if we are still seeing homes and small cars, we should be relatively safe!  We certainly tested that theory today!  

So, we're zipping along (at 20mph) and suddenly there is this valley off to the left with a colorful suspension bridge!  Full stop!  This is one of the bubbles on my Google Map! We parked in the very small parking area, and got out to take a look at Puente Colgante Guzmán and Casa Bandera!

Hmmm.  That bridge is a lot longer than it looks in the photo!  You're supposed to walk down the road to these homes, and pay the $1 per person to cross back to your car via the bridge.  Thankfully, we are in a hurry and don't have time to do this today... maybe on the drive back! Yes, I'm a little bit afraid of heights and suspension bridges! 

So, we load back up and speed off... until we come around another curve and see this burst of purple in the lush green mountain forest.  In rapid time as we drive around the curve, this tree lines up with a mural on the side of a school building.  I'm stopped in my tracks with wonder at the cleverness of these amazing Puerto Rican artists!

As my mind connected the dots, I was blown away by the cleverness of this!
Soon after this, the road became iffy.  We were just about to chicken out and turn back, when we passed a young woman and stopped to make sure that this super-narrow road was passable... We ended up talking to her for 10 minutes!  Sweet girl... She had no idea that there was a waterfall literally 15 minutes away from her house!!!  But she did say the road was passable, so we waved goodbye and continued intrepidly on!  

Tibouchina grandiflora/Large leaf Princess Flower/Purple Glory
If it hadn't been for the fact that we were meeting people at this place, we really might have been tempted to backtrack and abandon this folly... Just as the road was really taking us into the sticks, we met another vehicle head on.  Turns out, it was Anton, coming back up the road to see if we were wandering around out here!!  I'm not sure how far he would have gone... he left his wife at the trail head...  But he turned around as we continued on and eventually we popped out onto an open area at the trail head, where we could park and wait for Nancy, the only other person coming to this little event. This is exactly the problem they mentioned at our last hike.  Out here in these mountains, there is little, if any cell service. So finding one another is questionable.  We waited for a while, and then went ahead on the hike, figuring that she would catch up.

The trail began well... easily distinguishable and wide open. 

Crossing #1 very easy!  Didn't even get our feet wet.

Crossing #2, still easy.  Big rocks to hop across.  Ashley points out the trail on the other side.

You can barely see the trail as it leads off to the left. 

But we found it and continued on! (looking back)

Lots of these flitting about!

We continued along with Anton and Ashley leading the way, until we reached the first falls.  Honestly, if this was all we would see today we would have been happy.  While we were figuring out the next move, Nancy caught up with us!  There had been some issue with the meeting place, but it's all good now!  

This does not do justice to the flowers and colored rock across the river!

I almost missed this!  

Everyone is here now, so we consulted the Google map to see which way to go.  The trail continued up and off to the right, away from the river.  From this point, the trail became more "interesting".  I would not call it difficult, but it was just enough of a challenge to get your attention!  There were muddy spots, rocks to be scrambled over, fallen logs to traverse, and this long incline to be managed.  The cable that stretches along the length of this segment made it a breeze!!  Thank you trail people!!

Bruce brings up the rear!
This is the point where the others pulled away from us.  All along the route I periodically asked Bruce how he was feeling.  Watchful for any sign of overheating, he told me every time that he was feeling fine! This is a huge relief for me!  The temperatures here in the mountain forest are very cool compared to what we're getting down at coast level.  The shade of the canopy and the occasional gusty breeze make conditions here just perfect!  I'm encouraged!!
So peaceful and serene...

Sadly, a lot of these trees still show the damage from Hurricane Maria three years ago.

We see you!  Do you see us???
The sounds of the forest were punctuated by the excited voices of our fellow hikers as they reached our destination.  We rounded a curve in the trail, and suddenly we could see them far below. Almost there!!

A huge fallen Yagrumo leaf!  I wanted to take it but needed both hands for the trail!

Little bit of a scramble getting down the last part!

Finally the trail opened up and became easy again!

Some kind person made stairsteps in the muddy bank!

We made it!!
Smile Forest Princesses!

Colorful rock and water streaking the walls of the canyon looked amazing. See Bruce over there?

Of course Bruce was in the water and swimming across before I even took off my backpack!  The water was cold, but not TOO cold.  That's the beauty of doing these mountain hikes in the heat of summertime.  The water is just too cold for swimming during the winter.

Everyone got into the water, some went across to the other side... I did get in, but just as far as the big rock near the falls.  Sitting on that boulder, just watching the falls cascade down the sheer cliff was amazing.  I don't know why, but waterfalls just always seem so unreal!  The air was still, with the occasional gusty breeze.  The roar of the falls made the voices of our friends seem far away. The sunlight sparkling in the falls lit up the mist drifting from the top to dissipate into nothingness.  So beautiful.  Speechless.  

Bruce after his swim.

How lucky are we???

Just trying to live our best life!

We got out of the water and found a spot on another huge boulder to have our little picnic.  We had chicken salad and crackers.  Simple, but perfect.  

The warmth of the sun dried out our clothes, and warmed our chilled bodies.  We enjoyed conversation with another couple.  The young man shared some of his other favorite places to hike... more bubbles on the Google map!! Eventually the skies began to cloud up and we even got a little bit of Liquid Sunshine!  Our local friend told us that here in Puerto Rico, when it rains while the sun shines, they say that a witch is getting married.  One of many sayings throughout the islands. 

We still had a long hike back up the canyon and a drive home!  So all good things must come to an end, and we packed up and began to retrace our steps back up the trail. For me, going up is easier than doing down.  When you're going down, the trail falls away from you and looks so much more steep.  Going back up, the trail is practically in your face and it's easy to sort of crawl up the steep parts.  

Our group left us, traveling much more quickly. Not because we are old and tired, but more because I can't pass by any little forest treasure without launching a full-on photo shoot!! We agreed that we would text them when we got back in cell range, but that they would not wait for us. This gave Bruce and I the leisure to really enjoy the magnificent beauty of this place truly alone. We appreciate these magical moments of discovery with just the two of us very much.

Bitter Melon Flower.  Didn't see any bitter melons...

Browallia Americana, Catalina, Margarita Morada, Pensamiento de Pobre, Teresita

Hippobroma Longiflora Tibey, Tibey Blanco, Cipril

We reached the first falls again, and sat down to take a break and to more thoroughly enjoy the moment. We considered swimming here, but time was moving on and we still had a three hour drive.  Getting home before dark is our preference, so we just sat and drank some electrolyte water. 

This berry comes after this white flower.

Rubus Rosifolius Frambuesa Común, Rosa de Novia, Zarza

The trail seemed so much easier with experience.

Tiny little lichen?

Near the end of the trail, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks.  I had found, and collected a couple of air plants that I spotted on the way in.  Here I found a treasure!  

It looked like some type of Dancing Lady Orchid.  Tiny and sweet and just growing on a rotted branch.  I had to have it. I'm no good at keeping plants alive, but I have to try! I picked up the branch and placed it gently in Bruce's backpack for transport. 
I think it is a Tolumnia Variegata

Macroptilium Lathyroides, Habichuela Parada, Látiros de Pasto

I was almost sad as we got back to the start of the trail.  What an absolutely amazing time we have had here.  And we are BOTH feeling somewhat relieved that Bruce made it through it with no issues.  Now we know that as long as we can stay relatively cool, he can still do these trails!!

Partridge Pea

Snow Squarestem, Melanthera Nivea, Asteraceae

My motto:  Never miss an opportunity to SWING!
Feeling absolutely energized... we changed shoes and got started on the drive back home.  I was a little bit nervous because we now had no way of using Google Maps to get us out, and had to rely on luck and our memories (lots of luck) because without cell service, we're screwed!!  But luck was on our side, and it wasn't long before we got just a little sliver of cell service that populated my Google Map, and so I was once again armed and happily in control of the situation. This allowed for more sudden, frivolous stops along the way to see the awesomeness of it all!

Super cool, if somewhat iffy old bridge! Cross on a wing and a prayer!

Zoom-zoom.. wait, WHAT?  Are those coffee plants?  YES!

Fabulously healthy and nearly in season for picking!

I feel a coffee tour coming on...

So many stunning vistas with no place to stop.  This will have to do.

Impatiens Balsamina just growing randomly
We passed the suspension bridge and because there were serval cars parked, we gave it a pass for today  Soon we found ourselves once again in civilization on PR10 and careening (at 45 mph) toward home.  Later, after quick stop at a fruit stand (for island-grown pineapples) about an hour from home, everything returns to normal. 

What a way to keep our minds fresh and eager to continue exploring our beautiful island.  

Once we were back home, we didn't even feel tired.  I'm sure our bodies will be sore in a day or two, because we had to use every known muscle today... but I think that just the fact that Bruce (and me too) is now more sure that his hiking days are NOT over, has us both feeling very happy right now. 

What did YOU do with your Labor Day this year?  Come to Puerto Rico!!

Oh, and my little orchid?  Her name is Clara, and she seems happy on our patio! Wish her luck!

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