The first day I got off the ship in San Juan, a friendly bartender gave me a list of things to do. I’ve slowly checked off a few items on the list. The best thus far was a visit to El Yunque National Forest.
According to the always reliable Wikipedia, El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest System. It is comprised of 28,000 acres of land in the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains. Over 200 inches a year of rainfall creates a lush environment with trees, rivers, and waterfalls.
I had mentioned to some musician friends that I was interested in going, and together we rented a van from Charlie Cars and found driving directions to the forest. We got off the ship early, grabbed coffee and food to go, and hit the road! The group included three musicians, a youth staff, a sound tech, a singer, and me. It was an interesting mix of people, and we had plenty of amusing conversation during the 45-minute drive to the forest.
One of our first stops was at a small observation tower. We climbed out of the car, hopped up the steps, and had our first glimpse of what was waiting ahead. We piled back into the car, drove a few minutes further, and unloaded at the base of a 30-minute trail leading to a waterfall. The trail wound around and around but was not too difficult. Upon reaching the waterfall, we were a bit deterred by the crowd. One of the boys climbed down, away from the other tourists, and found a smaller waterfall and pond that we were able to have to ourselves! We spent a long time splashing around, diving under the fall, and taking photos.
After returning to the car, we drove onward, stopping at the base of a longer trail. This one was more challenging, with higher hills, less even terrain, and smaller pathways. At the top, there was another observation tower, and the views from there made the journey completely worth it. You could see out in all directions. Unobstructed views of mountains and trees were beneath us, and rolling clouds, building with rain, were all that lie above. I felt calm at giddy at the same time. I wish I could always hold onto the feeling of freedom I felt up there!
At the recommendation of a park guide, we went to a river before leaving the forest. There was a large rope attached to one of the tree branches, so we were able to swing into the water. Although I was tired and hungry, the rope was fun, and the river was beautiful, so I was glad we stopped. Climbing back up to the car, we had a few races, laughing most of the way.
Rain began to fall shortly after we started driving back to the car rental. We made it just in time, as traffic had us backed up quite a bit. We had to grab sandwiches from the café next door and take them in a cab so no one was late for work! It was hard to go back to the ship after such a wonderful outing, but the memories of that day will stick with me for a long time!