Travelogue, Puerto Rico, Day 2 (El Yunque and Mofongo)

What a day!
We are staying at a hotel that isn’t on the beaten path so we had to get up extra early to walk to La Concha hotel to be picked up by the excellent Ramón, our guide. We, along with nine other people boarded a van, and we took off for El Yunque Rainforest. 

Ocean and sky in Puerto Rico On the way to El Yunque, this is the sort of vista that greets you

Situated in the northeast part of the the main island, it is the only tropical rainforest administered by the US National Park Service. It’s a small but gorgeous forest. Hundreds of species of plants thrive here, but the wildlife species aren’t as numerous. Puerto Rico is an oceanic island (part of an archipelago) and so has never been attached to a continent. That means that many of the species you might find in another rainforest (monkeys, big cats,  etc.,) never made it here. So, there are only a few species you might find. The Koki frog and the Puerto Rican parrot (or Iguaca) are two of the more famous species. We heard the Koki Frog (the sound is described in the name pretty well) but we never saw the parrot which is notoriously shy. The visitor’s center at the rainforest has a ton of information on the species of plants and animals that thrive there.

After we left the center, we headed to our first stop, the hike. We did a short hike (.7 miles in and .7 out) to a waterfalls. Word to the wise: it’s totally worth it, but make sure you have good knees and good treads on your shoes. The way isn’t too steep, but it is slippery. When they set up the trails, several stretches have rocks in the middle of the concrete. The concrete is fine. The rocks have worn away and are super slippery. I have also gotten to the age where going down paths is harder on my knees than heading up and those who have knee problems might want a cane or a staff to ease the way.

Word to the wise, wear a swimsuit. Your reward for making the hike is to get in the basin and swim in the perfect water. Ramón recommended we head under the water and get a massage. We did, and it was magnificent. I don’t have picture of that, but one of our new friends brought her camera wrapped in a ziplock and at least you can see us in the water.

Waterfalls and Rich and Izolda In the basin of the waterfalls

After the waterfalls, we headed back to the van to go to the Yokahu observational tower. The Tower is pretty tall and provides an excellent view. On good visibility days, you can see Culebra island and on really good days you can get to as far as St. Thomas. 

Tower in the rainforest Yokahu Tower, El Yunque Rainforest

I didn’t make the climb up, but sticking around the bottom provided the view below, complete with rainbow. It was super fun for me since I had just said that I hoped we would get to see one since we had been getting rained on periodically the entire time in the forest. Word to the wise, it’s a rainforest, you’ll get rained on. If you don’t want to get wet, bring rain gear. You can buy a poncho in the visitor’s center, but bringing your own works just as well. Regardless, it was an “ask and you shall receive,” because wow, did we get a treat!

Rainforest and rainbow I am willing to beg for rainbows. I did, and the rainforest provided. (El Yunque Rainforest, Puerto Rico)

After this stop, we headed to one more waterfalls and then lunch!

We headed to Fajardo and had lunch at one of the many small restaurants along a strip of water. The water was behind us and the restaurant (#22, sorry I don’t have a name for you) was fantastic. So far, everyone has been more than happy to accommodate my dietary needs. This place was no exception. We ate mofongo, a traditional food made out of the green plantain. Unlike the ripe version, green plantains are not sweet so they make for wonderful, savory dish additions. A mofongo is made when they cook the plantain, mash it and then fry it. Everyone else got some sort of meat on theirs. Rich and I asked for vegetables, and they came up with an amazing treat. Tons of fresh veggies, including cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, peas, beans, and corn in a garlic sauce that was just delicious.

Mofongo with vegetables Vegetarian mofongo, (the mofongo is usually made with meat but we asked for the vegan version, and they provided a fantastic one)

A quick suggestion, take every opportunity to wander around if you are out and about in Puerto Rico. Behind the restaurant, I met a new friend (this egret was rummaging for scraps but provided a lovely photo or two).

Egret (white bird) Egret taking a break from rummaging for scraps

And this is the view in what is essentially the alley behind the restaurants. I’m telling you, I haven’t seen a non-stunning part of this island yet.

Ocean, trees, and sand The view from the alley behind the restaurants
Rich, in the ocean Rich, in the ocean by the restaurant

After we left the restaurant, we headed to our last stop for the day, the kayaking trip to the bioluminescent algae bay. I can’t say this was disappointing because, hey, we got to kayak into a super cool bay under a moonlit sky. But with the exception of a tiny bit of sparkling, the luminescence was nowhere to be found. It was still cool, though. We got in two-person kayaks and paddled our way through a mangrove forest and into the bay (one of three places you can see bioluminescence in Puerto Rico, this one is on the northeast side of the island). Word to the wise: have good bug spray. There weren’t any mosquitoes, but there were these little biting bugs called mimes (pronounced meemehs). They are tiny but when they bite you, you know it.

Rich and Izolda in a kayak Kayaking with my honey

Please don’t get me wrong. The trip was gorgeous. However, we saw pretty much no bioluminescence. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the moon was up and almost full. And second the algae are going through a growing process and will be coming back at some point. Word to the wise: if you are going to go, go at a time when the moon isn’t up. You’ll see more stars, and you’ll see more algae. I know that for next time because there will definitely be a next time. 🙂

All in all, a perfect day. Today brings a trip to the south coast of the island. We are headed down to Cabo Roja and then around to Rincón to perhaps see a sunset.

More later!

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