My last night in New York, before leaving for a ten day vacation with Ena in Puerto Rico, would also be my last night as Asst. House Manager at the 92nd Street Y (where Ena and I met). During my two years at the 92/Y, I've had the opportunity to hear, stand beside, and even meet various influential, inspiring and unsavory politicians, writers, and entertainers. On this last night, the 92/Y was hosting it's annual fundraising "gala" for the "pissed-off and privileged" backers of this reputable Upper East Side Hebrew organization. After the catered dinner, the patrons sauntered into the Concert Hall to hear the irritating and unnecessary musical stylings of Barry Manilow.
Once Manilow's set of tacky tunes concluded, I hugged our house manager, and friend, Nancy Kito farewell, shook hands with co-workers, and stole a bottle of Manilow's wine before marching-out the door. Later, while packing at home for our trip, I drank Manilow's awful wine and in a sick way, savored it's bitter-sweet taste, knowing this would be my last perk from the job.
The next day, Rigo graciously drove Ena and I to JFK. Where we check-in at the American Airlines counter and are charged $25 for my luggage. I'll never understand how a company (that already charges so much for it's airline tickets) can feel justified in financially raping it's customers - twice. Of course, there was also the usual mechanical search and savagery from the TSA thugs. As I stood in line, I watched a family of Iranians with two young children make their way through the gauntlet of security and wondered what these children must have thought? They looked scared. What would children in the future think of this system? After all, things weren't always like this. I suppose, things change.
The two toddlers clung tightly to their mother's legs, screaming and crying through the whole sad and ridiculous ordeal. Somebody keep an eye on that three year-old girl! She might have a bomb in her stroller!
I laced-up my sneakers, buckled my belt, and we made our way to the gate.
* * *
Four hours later, we're in Puerto Rico. As always, the first thing that hits is the humidity. We take a cab to The Beach House hotel, which is conveniently located in Isla Verde. Despite the Beach House's "chic" external facade, the room is nothing to get excited about. In fact, The Beach Hotel feels less "boutique" than it does "tacky." Despite the garish room, a girl at the front desk gives us free drink passes for the bar, which is right on the beach. We sip a couple Rum and Cokes under the palms and then take a stroll along the surf. Eventually, we grab food at el Alambique Bar and Grill. After dinner, Ena and I have some more drinks and lose some cash in the stupid slots at el San Juan Hotel and Casino.
The next morning, we eat desayuno at a small cafe'. Frustratingly, there's no orange juice; however, the strong coffee con leche makes-up for this loss. Since we have some time to kill before our Air Flemenco flight to Culebra (a small island 17 miles east off the Puerto Rican mainland), we decide to nap on the beach so as to better shake-off our New York anxiety and comedown to that relaxed no sense-of-urgency-attitude of the locals.
After our nap, we catch a cab to the airfield, and have a few rounds before our flight in the small airport bar called "el Coqui". The aircraft is also small and only fits 10 passengers. The flight itself is amazing! We watch the city of San Juan and Isla Verde pass by below. After that, it's a straight-shot along the northern coast and then nothing but ocean. At one point, someone in the plane notices a whale in the water below. As we approach Culebra, the plane makes it's descent over Flemenco Beach; below, we see clear tropical water and coral reefs. The plane races between two hills to finally land on the small airstrip of Culebra's airport.
We gather our bags and then make our way to the Carlos Jeep Rental counter; unfortunately, Carlos gives me some hassle since my credit card cannot cover the $500 "security hold" for the rental; fortunately, Ena has her card and the rental place allows us to put the "security hold" under her name instead. Nevertheless, it's annoying to have these additional costs thrown at you while on vacation. But no surprise; I suppose, like everyone, I'm just annoyed I'm not wealthier. Whatever, we're not going to let my weak bank account prevent us from having a proper vacation!
After we get the jeep, we drive about a mile to Dewey -the small village center of Culebra- to get supplies and have lunch at Mamacita's, which is a great restaurant, bar, and lodging house located right beside a small salt water canal. Local fisherman and boaters often float-up to the dock to disembark and have a drink. In the trees and along the dock lounge large green iguanas, sun-bathing while watching the tourists eat.
Our drive to the Culebra Beach Villas is beautiful. There are no houses along the winding road once you pass the airfield, only trees. The island is designated a national wildlife refuge, so it's the perfect place to "get away from it all". It's also an ideal environment for Leatherback sea turtles to lay their eggs along the beach and for sea birds to nest in the trees. We take a bumpy and muddy dirt road along the Flemenco Lagoon to get to the villas where we'll be spend the next four days, soaking (burning) in the sun, swimming, snorkeling, and relaxing. The first thing we do after checking-in, is to change into our swimsuits and take a swim in the beautiful warm ocean.
On our last of four nights in Culebra, we eat dinner at a small restaurant called "Barbara Rosa's", which is owned by an older woman (whom I assume is Barbara Rosa). Barbara runs the place from out of her own kitchen and living room. There are no waiters and no kitchen staff. We walk in to Barbara's living room (which has a TV playing CNN footage of the spewing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico - reality comes crashing in) and step-up to a small window where Barbara takes our dinner orders. There are no booze, because Barbara "doesn't drink"; however, she says "you can BYOB if you want." We don't. After placing our order at the window, we take a seat on her front porch, and wait to be called. "Nick! …Your dinner is ready!" The food is good, a true "home-cooked meal" (please ignore the wilted lettuce), but the experience itself is another great reminder of just how small Culebra is.
After dinner, we drive to Mamacita's for drinks. But before this, we visit the studio of Culebra artist and musician, Jorge Acevedo. His studio is a small brightly painted shack full of paintings, t-shirts, and bongos (one has a little green gecko dancing on top of it). I purchase one of Jorge's silkscreen t-shirts and have a conversation with him about his "fish" symbol (which I'd noticed earlier painted on the side of a rusted-out tank on the edge of Flemenco beach. This tank is a leftover remnant from U.S. military training operations that happened here from 1903 - 1975.) Jorge tells me that the "the dancing fish is a symbol which represents the synthesis between the bones of the fish and the dancing human figure." He explains, "It's all a matter of perspective. For instance, the old-timer fishermen see the island as a place to fish; whereas, many of the younger generation see it as a place to celebrate and dance." Jorge tells us he'll be playing with his band at Mamacita's later, we tell him "We'll see you there."
We have some pina coladas at the bar with some of the local Culebrenses. One islander, an old man named Juan, hobbles onto the dock, sits down beside us, and takes out a small laminated card from his wallet, which reads, in Spanish, "My name is Juan, I was born here in Culebra, in 1934. I am 73 years old." Juan had scribbled and erased-out his age a few times, indicating he'd carried this card in his pocket for at least a few years. This card was obviously Juan's "free drink ticket" and best way to start-up a conversation with tourists. I indulge and decide to buy Juan a shot of Malibu rum. The old man could not speak very well, he mostly used gestures to communicate and small incomprehensible grunts. Juan is friendly; however, "talking" with him was like playing a game of charades.
Eventually, Jorge's band set-up their equipment and began an energetic set of great Caribbean music with lots of percussion. Most everyone in the place couldn't help but dance and clap along with the rhythm. Above us -as if nature herself wanted to join-in on the dance- the palm trees began dripping-down heavy sheets of warm rain, which didn't dampen the audience's enthusiasm; instead, the water was a welcome refreshment as it cooled our warm bodies.
Much later, while walking back to the beach villa, we're stopped by our neighbors who invite us to have some drinks and to dance with them. Our villa neighbors are a large, noisy, group of islanders (most speak English) who stay-up late into the night drinking and dancing. Ena and I join them for some rum and weed. I accidentally break a glass on the deck, which is always a super party faux pas, especially when everyone is dancing barefoot! Nevertheless, we laugh-off the accident and start back-in dancing and sweating some more. Eventually, someone suggests going for a midnight swim; accordingly, we all change and jump into the warm ocean under a beautiful moon and star-filled sky.
The waves crash and recede back. I breathe with the movement of the waves. I'm at peace. I kiss Ena, "I love you." This is definitely one of those too-few and amazing moments that really make life worth living.
The next morning, we check out of the beach villa, say farewell to our neighbors, and take one last look at Flemenco Beach. I make a promise to myself (as I did last time) that I will return here again. We then drive into Dewey to return the snorkeling gear and grab breakfast at one of the few spots in town with working WiFi.
After returning the jeep and checking-in our luggage at the Culebra airport, we walk along the side of the airfield toward the Happy Landing Bar, where Ena beats me at billiards, we listen to reggeaton, drink Medallas, and watch as local teenagers sell drugs in the parking lot. I think of buying some weed off them, but know we'll be back in San Juan soon enough; besides, it's always easy to score in la Perla.
Eventually, it's time for our flight. As the small plane's engine roars to life and we begin to take-off, I feel a little choked-up watching as the little island passes by below. Part of me really loves Culebra, it's just such a simple and peaceful place; so different from the intensity, aggression, and stress of New York. Of course, I may entertain romantic thoughts of returning here to "retire" (as if retirement will ever be an option for my generation), but I also know too much of me would be unable to live in such a peaceful place as this. Likely, I'd go mad. I suppose I'm too addicted to the activity and intensity of New York. I'm of the breed that needs stress and challenge. Sure, Culebra is a beautiful place to visit for relaxation, but it's best to remain untouched and untainted by the influence of aggressive city folk like myself.
When we return to San Juan, we pick-up a rental car and drive to the Acacia Seaside Inn, which is an excellent place to stay. Our room is clean, well-lit, has an awesome shower, plasma TV, and deck that walks out onto a large jacuzzi pool. Whenever I return to San Juan, I'll make sure I stay here.
After freshening-up at the hotel, we take a drive to viejo San Juan, to take photos of the cobblestoned streets, Spanish influenced architecture, and score some weed in la Perla. We have dinner at an excellent restaurant called el Asador. After a brief stroll through the old part of the city, we drive back to the Acacia Seaside Inn to smoke and relax in the jacuzzi outside our room.
* * *
After eating desayuno at the same cafe we ate every morning in San Juan (not because the food was really great, but because it seemed to be the only place not owned by a large fast-food chain), we do some laundry. Unfortunately, I stupidly put a cheap red towel in with the load and, subsequently, turn all our whites pink. Damn! However, we don't get too sore about the ruined laundry - "What are ya gonna do?" Besides, it was time for us to leave San Juan and drive east to Rio Grande, where we'll stay at the el Yunque Rainforest Inn for the next three days to read, write, and -most importantly- explore the rainforest.
That night, while relaxing in our cozy room, we hear, outside the room's many large windows, a symphony of coqui singing their hypnotic mating song through the night. The small frogs' rhythmic noise make for the perfect natural lullaby.
The next morning, we have breakfast downstairs on the veranda with Bill and Laurie, the Rain Forest Inn's two owners. Bill and Laurie have owned the Inn since 2003. Over the past seven years, they have (with help from friends/family and dedicated volunteers) renovated the entire property. The Rainforest Inn is a gem, a secluded compound along the western edge of el Yunque Rainforest. Apparently, when Bill and Laurie first bought the place there was no running water, nor electricity. Before they arrived, the property itself had been abandoned for years because of damage from hurricanes. Originally, the buildings and property were owned by Bill's uncle, David Humphrey -an eccentric inventor and designer- who came to Puerto Rico sixty-five years ago.
Over an amazing breakfast, Bill, Laurie, Ena and I have an interesting discussion on human evolution, "how people who live in the city are more prepared for the future than those living isolated in the country", and emerging technologies. Bill and Laurie are an interesting and hospitable couple. Bill is obviously a very intelligent man who is also very knowledgeable about the natural environment.
At some point, Bill asks, "What kind of a hike are you interested in having today? …Aggressive? …Easy?" I know he senses we're up for a bit of an adventure, so he suggests hiking the La Coca trail, which crosses three streams, takes about 3.5 hours to complete, and concludes at a secret waterfall and swimming hole in the middle of the rainforest.
After coffee, we change into appropriate clothes for the hike, grab some fruit, granola bars, water, towels for a swim, and toss this all into a backpack. Before leaving, I ask Bill one last time for the directions to the waterfall so that I can write them down. "What's the matter?" Bill asks, "Too much pot in high school?" I chuckle, but wonder if he smelt the blunt I smoked on the balcony last night? Likely he did; however, I'm sure I'm not the first guest of his bed and breakfast who partook of nature's finest weed.
Ena and I take the quick drive to the entrance of el Yunque Rainforest and make our way deeper and deeper into the wilderness. As we drive, our ears begin to pop from the rising elevation. We pass la Coca Falls and then keep our eyes open for la Coca trail head, which -according to Bill's directions- should be a bit up the road on the left.
Once we spot the trail, we park the rental car and commence on our journey into the rainforest. For most of the first half of the trail, we're walking downhill. Ena gripes a bit about the mud on her shoes, which I warned her about before the hike; nevertheless, the breathtaking scenery is worth getting dirty over and so we make our way deeper into the jungle.
All around us, gigantic trees reach into the sky as thick vines snake-down from bird-filled tree tops above. Various flowers and plants, that one would need years of study to ever properly describe, dot the sides of the trail. We press-on until we finally get to the first stream. I'm a little nervous Ena may fall into the cascades, or that one of us might hurt ourselves on the slippery rocks. Since I cannot find an easy spot to cross, we decide to take-off our shoes and wade through the rapids. On the other side, we put our shoes back on and continue our trek.
We hike and hike, until we reach the second stream, then the third. It's here, after passing the third stream, that we begin to hear the sound of stronger rapids ahead. We must be close to the spot where Bill told us we'd find a "very steep, muddy, and overgrown hill". We follow the sound of the rapids and are soon right above them. I look down a steep and overgrown hill and tell Ena "The best way for us to get down there is to slide down on our ass." So, we make our way down slow and steady until we reach the large damp rocks beside the water below.
Throughout the hike, Ena and I kept joking "We hoped all of this walking is worth it." Of course, once we made it down the steep incline and looked-up at a huge (five-story tall) rock face, plush canopy of jungle foliage, and roaring waterfall, we knew all this hiking was definitely worth it.
We sat for some time in awe - amazed and humbled by the sheer power and majesty of the breathtaking sight before us. From the rocks along the shore, we could feel a faint mist from the waterfall as it cascaded down through a deep crevice in the rock face. It did not take long for us to strip-off our clothes and dive-in to the cool water. We swam right below the pounding waterfall and then pulled ourselves up onto a large rock in the center of the natural pool. We sat on this rock for a long time to feel the cool mist pelt against our healing sunburns.
The most amazing thing about the towering waterfall was to imagine the centuries it must have took for this one, constant, cascading stream of water, to cut-through and erode-away parts of this massive rock. The scene before us was older than our parents, grandparents, countries…history itself. One cannot help but feel very small and insignificant when standing before the results of an eon of erosion.
After our swim, we ate some fruit and granola, took some photos of the waterfall, and made our way back up the steep hill. Once we reached the top, I say to Ena, "Well, at least that's the worst of it! We know the rest of the hike back is not nearly as tough as this!" Unfortunately, my cockiness would get the better of me. Little did we know at the time, the worst of our hike lay ahead.
On the return hike, we became tired and hungry. Although, I felt at ease and comfortable walking at a steady pace, we'd need to keep moving if we wanted to get out of the forest before sundown. I kept telling Ena, "We're almost there. Ganbatte! Once we get back, we can shower, change, and drive to Don Pepe's for some great Puerto Rican food and cold tropical drinks!"
Unfortunately, after passing the second stream, a strong pelting rain began falling onto the forest canopy (of course, as is to be expected in a rainforest). The thick rain began making it more and more difficult to navigate the terrain. It's difficult to pin-point exactly where I lost the trail, but I did. As we began pushing through the thick terrain, we tried our best to locate any trail markings, but this was to no avail. The rain continued and soon we were lost.
We remained calm; nevertheless, I started yelling "HELP! …HELLOOO?! …HELP!" very loudly, in hopes other hikers (of which I knew there were none, since we were on one of the more difficult and less-traveled trails) might hear us. Thankfully, the rain stopped, but there was still rumbling storm clouds and lightning in the distance, indicating another approaching storm. At this point, I really wished I'd brought a map and compass to at least try to navigate our way out of this situation. Of course, I was expecting this to be a simple afternoon hike along a clearly-marked trail; but, it had turned-out to be an endurance test of absolute survival. Subsequently, I tell myself that for any future hike, I will ensure to bring the appropriate tools and navigation equipment (and to learn how to use them). Of course, retrospect is of no use to anyone when caught in the dangerous situation at hand. We would need to find our way out of this wilderness on our own.
My first instinct was to move up hill (which I later learned to be incorrect) to get a better look at the terrain. As we climbed our way up the steep incline, I began hearing the sound of cascades on the other side of the hill. I decide we should move toward this sound, thinking it must be connected to one of the three streams we passed on our way into the forest; however, once we reach the top of the hill, it quickly became clear, this was not one of the streams we passed! A wide torrent of rushing thundering water raced by below. On the other side of this ominous water, lay another mountain and valley. We were nowhere near the road or trailhead.
Looking-out over the wild landscape while feeling the growl in my stomach and ache in my tired legs, I become consumed by a strong sense of utter defeat. I don't know what direction we came from, nor which way to go to escape this uncomfortable situation.
We made our way along the hill, yelling "HEELLLLP!" over and over, with the empty hope someone might hear us below. No one does.
The terrain was steep and precarious. Large holes under thick roots sparked my imagination to wonder what sort of ominous creatures might live in these burrows? Could any of these animals soon become a threat to us once the sun sets? Of course, more threatening than the wildlife (of which I later learn was a non-issue, since there are no dangerous animals in Puerto Rico) is the surprisingly steep drop-offs and cliffs we continue to discover at every turn.
The sky grew darker and darkest. I continue telling Ena, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." as if I had intentionally led us astray in this wilderness. Of course, I suppose, in some way, I had; after all, there are other tourists content to stay in their cars and view the rainforest from the side of the road. But I suppose, we're made of a different metal and because we are, we're also the one's lost in the thick of it while the more sedate travelers were likely now having drinks by a pool.
We stop for the night. I push back thick branches and palm leaves to make a small clearing on the side of the steep hill we were now trapped on. There was a thin stump ahead of us, which we used to both toss a brightly-colored towel over (in the lame hope a passing plane might spot it from the sky) and to use as support so that we would not fall down either of the steep chasms below both sides of us. There was no way to tell how far the ledge dropped below the thick tree canopy. Obviously, the threat of plunging through these tree tops to a steep cliff below did not make for a comfortable night's sleep.
Throughout the night, we leaned against the side of the hill, supported by the thin stump, and listened to the many sounds of the rainforest. We talked and rambled about the possibility of being found by helicopter. I tried to imagine what it'd be like to be pulled-up from out of the jungle and to look back down at the steep cliff ahead of us from a rescue basket. We wondered if Bill and Laurie had yet called the park rangers, or if any ranger had reported our abandoned rental car still waiting for us at the trail head? Ena hoped we'd be back in time for ginger pancakes the next morning.
Of course, even if we had been reported missing, no one would be looking for us until the next morning. So, we told stories, sang songs, loudly, and tried to stay positive. Eventually, we became quiet and just listened to the coquis throughout the brush and watched bats dive and circle over the tree-line ahead. Ena fell asleep for a little while, but the spot was very uncomfortable, so we constantly had to move and adjust ourselves to prevent our muscles from cramping-up. While Ena dozed-off, I watched the moon make its way across the changing sky. Occasionally, I'd feel myself slipping-off to sleep, but a coqui would inevitably hop onto me to startle me awake.
Futilely, I tried to make a call with my soaked cell phone. Of course, even if it wasn't drenched, it wouldn't have worked here anyway. However, I felt a strong need to do something, anything, to get us out of this situation. But I was helpless and being powerless was the most frustrating thing about this predicament. Whether we liked it or not, we'd have to just sit and wait patiently until the sun rose. So, I'd wait and then wait some more.
Occasionally, I'd check the watch in my bag (at least that was still working) to see how much time had past. Remarkably, the evening went by faster than I thought it would. I wondered what my friends and family were doing while Ena and I sat trapped on the side of this mountain? I tried to imagine some of them in this situation and wondered how would they handle this dilemma? I was definitely relieved that Ena kept her cool. She did not panic at any point of our adventure. She is definitely 'a keeper'.
Eventually, the sky became very dark, reminding me of that line from "the Dark Knight", when Harvey Dent says, "The night is darkest just before the dawn." How true this statement seems at 5am lost in the jungle far from home. Within the hour, the sky became lighter. Birds began singing their morning songs and, eventually, the sun came up. At this point, we were both tired and frustrated. Ena explained how she wanted to "Stay here and wait until a helicopter came to save us."
Understandably, she was concerned that moving around more along the side of this hill and thick jungle could result in one of us eventually becoming hurt. Nevertheless, I convinced her that "There'll be no helicopter for weeks. Our best bet and only hope of getting out of here alive is to backtrack the way we came and try to find the trail again. So, let's roll!"
With that, we were on the move. I looked back for a moment at the small matted spot of brush and jungle we'd spent the past ten hours perched, and felt no need to ever return to this place again. As we moved back alongside the mountain, I made sure we kept a slow, steady, and careful pace across the dangerous terrain. Eventually, we made it back down to the bottom; however, not without many bumps, scrapes, and lacerations from the forests' many thorny vines and spiny trees. At the bottom of the hill, we decided to follow a stream, again, in hopes it would at some point cross the trail we were hiking along yesterday.
The banks of the stream bed were steep, full of holes (that are the habitat of large fresh water crabs), and thick with thorny branches; so we decided to just walk up the stream instead of along the difficult banks. At this point of our journey, we were no longer concerned with getting our sweaty clothes "dirty" nor our sneakers "wet" - they were both far beyond that now. We pushed through the rapids and climbed over wet rocks. As I pressed forward, I swung a stick ahead of me so as to clear the large spiderwebs hanging over the stream.
Unfortunately, the stream soon became narrow and turned into mud. I sighed and again felt hopeless. But, we tried another route and pushed-on over another hill. Unfortunately, as we reached the top, the brush became too thick and impassable. We walked back down and came to another stream, which we also followed in hopes it would eventually lead us to the trail, or, to one of the many paved roads throughout el Yunque. Again, we decided to walk through the stream since we were too exhausted to fight our way through the thick brush along the sides.
Finally, while walking through the second stream, I found an old rusted can of Coca Cola in the water; then, I saw a tire. Yes! Never have I been more pleased to see trash or pollution in the rainforest. I look back and tell Ena "We need to follow this stream. Likely, it will eventually lead to a road." So we kept following the stream until we got to a fork in the waterway. I scanned our two options ahead, one side was flat, but there was no indication of garbage, and the other, was really steep. But, on the steep side, I saw another tire. The difficult way was the direction we must go.
I began scaling the steep wet rocks. As I made my way up each ledge, I look back to ensure Ena was progressing along okay. The incline was steep, if one of us fell, we'd be seriously injured; nevertheless, there was only one way to go - up! Unfortunately, the shrinking stream became steeper and steeper; however, I saw more tires and discarded cans, so I knew we were getting close.
Above, I saw a car race by. "HEH!!! ...HELP!!!" The last one-hundred feet was super steep, slippery and muddy; fortunately, there was also a lot of weeds that had managed to take root along the now trickling stream. I grabbed bunches of these weeds to use like a rope as well as buried my fingers deep into the dirt for more support. After pulling and struggling my way up the incline, I eventually pulled myself -with what little strength I had left in my trembling arms- to the road above. Once at the top, I screamed out "YES!!!" And began jumping up and down; however, Ena was still trying to make her way up the difficult pass. She was twenty feet from the top, this was the steepest section. I tried to point-out the best way for her to go from above; fortunately, along the side of the stream, there were piles of dead bamboo, which Ena used to push her way closer to the top.
Fortunately, before Ena reached the pavement, a Park Ranger's truck came racing around the corner. I waved the truck down and the ranger stepped-out after turning on his flashing lights. He spoke "very little English", but could see Ena still struggling her way up the side of the cliff below. He reached into his truck for a retractable hook. I held his hand to make a chain as he extended the hook down to where Ena was for her to grasp onto. We pulled her up to the pavement.
"We did it!" We're so happy to see another human being and to be standing back on concrete! I give Ena a big hug and almost feel like I could cry.
The park Ranger drives us back to our rental car, which was still up the road about a mile and a half. He showed me a piece of paper with both our names on it, indicating Bill and Laurie had reported us missing several hours ago. We waited at the rental car for the ranger's chief, who spoke English. While we waited, he gave us granola bars and water, which we greedily consumed. Beside our car, was an old truck, which belonged to Bill's nephew. Bill had also sent his nephew into the rainforest to look for us. Eventually, the Chief arrived and made me sign some paperwork (apparently, so that I'd not sue the National Park Service) and gave us a bag of mangos. We then took a photo with the ranger who saved us and finally drove out of the rainforest - alive and well.
Before reaching the Rainforest Inn, I stopped at a small variety store to get some orange juice and more water. I realized while standing in line, that I must have smelt really bad and looked terrible since I had mud and dirt caked all over my sweaty scratched-up body. After paying for the liquids, I rushed out to the car and drank it all in one gulp. We were so relieved to be back to civilization. What a humbling and empowering experience to have!
When we got back to the Rainforest Inn, Bill and Laurie greeted us with relief. "We're so glad to see you guys!" Laurie said while hugging Ena, "I'm going to make you a big breakfast for after you get washed up."
We hobbled our way up to the room, pealed-off our soiled clothes and both took long painful showers. After we changed, we limped downstairs, where Laurie had prepared a delicious breakfast of eggs, vegetarian sausage, and the ginger pancakes Ena was concerned she'd miss. We wolfed all of this down, while I explained to Bill what had happened. He then went back into his office to get some maps of the rainforest that he rolled-out onto the table for us to get a better idea of where we got lost. Although our bodies hurt and we needed rest, it was clear, this would be an experience that would ultimately make us both stronger.
As Bill would so eloquently later write, "Heh, life is what it is and so is adventure travel!"
After breakfast, we went upstairs, dressed our wounds and took a much-needed nap.
* * *
After waking from a long nap, we read and I wrote a lengthy email to my closest friends and family explaining what had happened. We changed, and then drove to Don Pepe's for the dinner we had planned to have after our hike yesterday. The waitress sat us by the window, where across the street, we could see the large foreboding mountains and dark wilderness of el Yunque Rainforest. This time last night, we'd be settling-in for a long night. But tonight, "Itadakimasu!"
Needless to say, my Medalla, pork chops, and rice and beans never tasted so good! After dinner, we returned to the Rainforest Inn, to read and sleep some more. Outside our window, the sounds of the rainforest went on and on through the night. It's comforting to know the forest was still there outside while we slept heavily, inside
Nature is a strong and formidable force that should not be taken lightly. No one should ever arrogantly assume nature is something we can or will ever conquer. Make no mistake, nature always wins, we can only hope she will graciously allow us weak humans to survive on this planet for another day.