The Amazing Puerto Rico (part 1 of 2)

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I am not sure how to begin describing how much our family loved Puerto Rico. Over the last 4 years we have visited many wonderful places. However, none of them have checked so many boxes on our list of things we love about a place. I purposely took my time in writing about Puerto Rico to be sure that the specials feels we had persisted after we had been away for some time. And sure enough as I sit here and write this with my family, all our faces are lighting up as we recount our exploits on this amazing island.

We arrived in Puerto Rico after a few months of less than pleasant passage making and more than a few unprotected anchorages. Don’t get me wrong, Belize, Florida, the Bahamas and T/C were all great but all are places with shallow water and not much to do on land other than restaurants and bars. There were a few places to hike around but nothing too exciting or challenging. The places mentioned above are all low lying islands with very few trees and all are very dry environments onshore. Most of the marinas that we found were only accessible to paying customers and if you were not a paying customer you were not welcome. Puerto Rico was the opposite of all of that. PR has large mountains covered in lush rainforests. PR has many trails all throughout the island, many well marked and maintained (and some not so much). PR had many different activities where ever you looked. The anchorage was super calm despite the windy conditions. The marina near which we anchored was welcoming to all that visited. Everyone that we encountered was friendly and welcoming.

On our first day were all took our dinghy to the marina in Puerto Real. We inquired about paying a weekly fee to use their dinghy dock and how much does it cost to by water. In the Bahamas and T/C it is nearly $0.50 per gallon of water. The manager of the marina looked at me confused and said there is no fee to use their dock and that we are welcome to just use any of the hoses on the dock to fill our water tanks. “No charge,” he said, “Just enjoy our island.” That is not what I was expecting as nearly everywhere else we have been this last season I needed to pull out my wallet for everything. The marina was small but nice and that entire staff were friendly and always willing to help and point us in the right direction. Puerto Rico is a big island so we rented a car for the first week. At first we were worried about where we would park the car. I inquired with the marina as to where we should park and they told me to use any of the available parking spots. Now, again, we are not guests of the marina. We are anchored out in the bay spending no money at their business. Not to mention they have only about 10-14 parking spots. That did not matter to them. They just wanted us to enjoy their island. Day one, hour two, we love this place already.

Our first day of exploring led us to the mountains and a hike to a waterfall. All four of us were really looking forward to big, green trees and walking on brown moist dirt (NOT SAND!!) The thought of hearing and seeing a freshwater creek with a small waterfall sounded even more delightful. The mountains were a short drive from the marina and the trailhead was easy to find.  It was a Thursday late morning and there were at least three or four other cars in the parking lot. As soon as we opened the car doors all four of us basked in the cooler, damp and shaded air. We all immediately fondly recognized the scent of a forest. Each of us knew that we missed the sounds, scents and feel of a forest but none of us realized just how much until we were back amongst the trees. The Alltrails app that we used to find the trail described this trail as challenging. The four of us were so happy to be in a forest that we did not even notice the challenging terrain or steepness of the trail. After about an hour and a half of hiking we found the creek. And the creek was magnificent! It is really hard to put into words how wonderful it was to see flowing fresh natural water. After four months of dry, sandy wind, swept islands, this small mountain creek was a true treasure to behold. We followed the creek up another ½ mile or so to a large outcropping of rocks and the beautiful waterfall. Our family is from the PNW and waterfalls can easily be visited, so as far as waterfalls go, on a scale of 1-10 this one would rate about a 4. However, in that moment as we all four stared up at the fresh cool water falling into the wonderful pool below, there was not a more beautiful waterfall on the planet.

At the pool below the falls was a small group of people. The pool was surrounded by large rocks and there was room for as many as twenty people to swim.  The pool was about ten feet deep and there was a cliff from which to jump. Swimming it the cool fresh water was invigorating to say the least. The day was hot and the hike was less than easy so it felt fantastic to swim in crystal clear, cool, fresh water in the shade of the rainforest. The water was probably 75 degrees and felt perfect. We have not been in that cool of water in years!

There was a group of 5 young men at the pool when we arrived. Their backpacks were camouflage with US Army badges on them. I assumed they were members of the National Guard in Puerto Rico. Two of these men were swimming in the pool and calling up to the other three as they very hesitantly climbed the cliff face up to a small ledge about 15 feet up. Victoria, Alexander, and I all jumped into the pool and swam around while looking up at the men above us. Their friends below were trying to get them to jump but were not succeeding. Alexander asked if he could climb up and try it. I told him that if he climbed up he would have to jump because the climb was a tough one and it would be nearly impossible to climb down. He looked over his shoulder at me with that big, cocky smile as he was already on his way up the cliff side. It took the men about 5 minutes and lots of egging on from below to make the climb with their shoes on. When Alexander started climbing the men all told him it was dangerous and slippery and very high and that he should wear his shoes.  Anyone who know Alex, know that the first thing he did was take off is shoes.  They were all very nice to him but giving their buddies a hard time for refusing to jump. One was evening trying to find a way to climb back down. And then Alex climbed the rock like a monkey chasing a banana up a tree. He was to the ledge where the three men were standing in less than a minute. He asked if he could go first and they all stepped aside as he carefully approached the edge, looked over at me with that cocky grin, looked back at the men with an even cockier grin and jumped! The men below were a little worried at first but when Alex burst out of the water with a huge smile and immediately began climbing the cliff again they all relaxed and let their buddies have it! Alex got to the top again as the other three now found a little more courage if not motivation to jump. Two of them did but one still hesitated. Alexander calmly told him it was not so bad and not as high as it looks. Alex then jumped again as the four men and the rest of the hikers down below all cheered on the last man. He finally jumped and they all cheered for him. All five of the young men came up to Alexander and high fived him and thanked him for showing them the way. Our interaction with the young men was only a sample of how everyone there was so friendly and interactive. There were probably 3 or 4 different groups of hikers at the pool and everyone was chatting with everyone. Hiking would not exactly be considered an overly social activity in most places. In Puerto Rico, a small pool below a beautiful waterfall in the middle of a lush rainforest is just another place to meet and get to know new people.  

Sighting Puerto Rico after a tough 48 hours at sea!
It has been a long time since we have been in this calm of an anchorage!
Welcome to the rainforest!
A freshwater swimming hole in the middle of a rainforest. An absolute delight for our senses!
Perfect setting, perfect temperature, perfect sounds, wonderous feelings!
The three of us could have stayed the month at this swimming hole!
The hike was fantastic but you had to keep an eye on the trail because the rainforest is constantly trying to swallow up the trail.
We found this cave as we explored the creek
It led to a tiny trickle of a falls and a nice swimming spot but a little too shallow for our tastes.
We did enjoy the sounds of the water falling and the coolness of the water and shade.
Many spots on the trail required ropes to get up the steep and slippery slopes.
Alexander showing how its done!
Another hike on another day. Puerto Rico is full of little gems like these.
Another creek another day another amazing example of Puerto Rico!
We did some hiking to summits. This is the second highest peak in Puerto Rico!

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