I arrived in San Juan on Friday afternoon after a punctual and wonderfully uneventful JetBlue flight, and spent some quality time with my ailing grandmother (yay grandma, boo senility and old age. Work faster, Aubrey DeGrey!).
On Saturday morning, my best friend Mariel and her boyfriend, Jaime, picked me up and we headed off to Bayamón, a section of the San Juan metropolitan area (although if you ask locals, they will insist that it is its own city. Given the state of urban sprawl, and the way San Juan has grown to gobble up its neighbors, I don’t really think this is the case any longer, other than on government maps. Certainly not in a practical sense. But I digress.). There is a patch of forest in Bayamón that has been preserved, and the local rock-climbing community has mapped out a few choice climbs on one of the many ‘mogotes’, (large, wooded, hill-like rocks limestone formations which dot the landscape of the island and feature sheer cliffs which are perfect for climbing.). The face we were working on featured a nice progression of climbs, from easy to ‘damn-how-the-hell-did-he-get-up-there’ routes. I mostly stayed on the beginner side, as I haven’t climbed in more than five months, and the feeble attempts I made to get on the rock resulted in blown-out forearms and a bruised ass. Nonetheless, I got to meet a cool group of hard-core climbers from the very thriving rock-climbing community here on the island. Good peoples, good times.
At around 3PM, we set out westward, towards the city of Arecibo town of Utuado. We veered off of the highway and into the roads surrounding the Camuy River Cave System Park (which, sadly, is closed due to an accident last year–the first in twelve years), and proceeded to negotiate the hairpin-curved, one-ish laned switchback roads that hug the hills on our approach further up into the mountains. At around 6PM we reached our destination: the Tanamá river valley. The Tanamá runs from its origins in the mountains out into the larger Río Grande de Arecibo. On its way it winds through lush karst forest valleys, light rapids, and cave tunnels. It’s a very popular river for eco-tourism, as there’s a little bit of everything for everyone: some climbing, some rafting, caving, hiking, and beautiful sightseeing. We parked our cars off the side of the road, and walked down a dirt road into the valley. We joked a bit about how much of a pain in the ass the hike back up would be after we were all tired from a weekend of camping, but reached the riverside campsite at the bottom of the valley quickly enough. We set up camp, and took a nighttime dip in the river, before having some dinner at the campsite and heading off to bed.
As it turns out, Jaime is a tour guide for Acampa, an outfit which runs an excellent outdoor sports store, as well as guided tours to various points of interest throughout the island. With Jaime–also a geologist–on board, I got what amounted to a scientific and social tour of the region, complete with backstories about the locals, stops at friends’ houses, peeks into organic and hydroponic farms (the traditional income for the area is agriculture, although the old-school farmers are mostly welcoming to the influx of eco-tourists who venture into the valley on a regular basis–just don’t go picking fruits off trees without permission!), and small expeditions into little-known corners of the river system.
On Sunday morning we set out on some inner tubes up the river (very light current in this area), making our way towards one of the large vaults through which the river flows. As we entered the large cave, we could see bats hanging from the ceiling, and hear the water dripping into the river proper. Making our way into the darkness, there was a moment where I thought we’d have to turn back, as there was no light and we hadn’t brought flashlights, but Jaime just said: “Keep going, you’ll see”. Lo and behold, after a bend in the river, you could start to make out a little bit of light at the far end of the vault. In all, we paddled up a mile and a half of underground river, and came out into a medium-sized pool surrounded on all sides by forested cliffs, where some small rapids fed into a relatively calm area. We hung out there for a bit, lounging on rocks and making fun of the dogs we’d brought along as they struggled to negotiate the slippery, lime-covered rocks. After a while we hopped back onto the inner tubes and let the current take us back the way we’d come, through the cave and out to where we’d left our supplies. We had some lunch and then hiked back towards camp.
After we made it back to camp, we rested for a bit and then started the long-ish, uphill hike to a friend of Jaime’s farm, where he grows bamboo for lumber, as well as assorted crops. He wasn’t there, but he’d told Jaime that we could help ourselves to the facilities, if we needed to. The house is a two-story affair, made of wood and built over the course of two years, while the owner lived in a tent on the property. It was homey, with creaky, wooden house sounds, Bob Marley posters, books on politics and agriculture, hammocks hanging from the beams, friendly cats, and an area for his children to play and learn in. It’s also clearly the first draft, as he’s building a concrete-framed structure next door, to house people who routinely come up to the farm for seminars on bread-baking (using a clay oven) and organic farming. The hillside next to the farmhouse is the origin point for one of Acampa’s zip-line trails, so we grabbed some pulleys, gloves and helmets from a storage area inside the house, and started down the valley via zip-line. Four zip-lines in total, each affording a unique view of the valley, from panoramic views of the river way down below, to overviews of arable land in the valley and up the side of hills. The last zip-line dropped us off at the far end of a one-person bridge which led almost directly back to our campsite.
By the time we got back to the campsite, it as nearly time to go, so we packed everything up and loaded our backpacks for the uphill trek back to where we’d left our cars. By this time it was around 6PM, and after a quick rinsing off with a garden hose generously offered by one of the people who live around where we parked our cars, we were off, back to San Juan.
Why no pictures, you ask? Well, because I’m an idiot. In my haste on Saturday morning, I forgot to pack the camera (and a towel. And flip flops. And dry clothes). Really, I know. Silly me. Fortunately, Jaime had his camera, and snapped off some shots, so I’ll ask him if I can post some of his here later on in the week.
I’ve spent most of today catching up on the internets (which I haven’t been able to do, really, since before the apartment move last week), running some errands, spending some more time with my grandma (at least until she had to go off for her thrice-weekly dialysis treatment), and making plans with friends for some city fun this week.
More to come, stay tuned.