It probably surprises some people that someone as heat-adverse as me would venture to Puerto Rico in summer. Or any time, really. I understand. It surprises me, too. But one of the mitigating factors is that my favorite place in Puerto Rico is El Yunque, the rainforest in the northeastern part of the island. For years now, we've been staying at Casa Cubuy (see Chris & Denise below) , an ecolodge on the edge of the rainforest, located at the very top of the mountain on the non-touristy side. (It's the opposite side from the National Park entrance.) It's generally quite a bit cooler up there than down among mere mortals, even in summer.
People have asked me in the past what there is to do on "our" side of the mountain. The answer is a very calculated "nothing." There are no TVs or phones in the rooms and, until recently, no internet access. (Although on this last trip, service was spotty enough to dissuade us from using it too much.) The reason I go is to plant myself in a chair on the balcony of an upstairs room and stare out at El Yunque, listening to the roar of the waterfall below and the chorus of the coqui frogs, and watching the rain clouds approach and burst open in front of me. Some books get read, a little hiking gets done, especially the easy hike down to the waterfall and swimming hole in Casa Cubuy's backyard.
If you'll forgive the foray into cheesiness, the truth is that I tend to feel at peace and calm in the rainforest. In a way I don't anywhere else. Casa Cubuy is not a luxury resort and, as much as I hate to admit it, has probably seen better days -- although it deserves mention that it's difficult to keep any place rust- and mold-free in that climate. The furniture is simple and mismatched. The sheets and bedding are nothing to write home about. But if you go there knowing that the place is merely a backdrop for the rainforest, then you probably won't mind a bit.
Puerto Rico's native Indians, the Tainos, believed that the peak of El Yunque was where their god of creation, Yuquiyu, dwelled and even today it's not hard to see why. When you watch the rain clouds approach, traveling without rhyme or reason across thousands of acres of rainforest, and open up and release a thunderous burst of rain, it's pretty apparent that something bigger than me is going on. Maybe not Yuquiyu, but something that keeps me feeling right-sized and humbled in the best of ways.
We spent four nights in El Yunque this time around, doing a little hiking, a lot of reading (see if you can spot Denise, reading in a hammock by the waterfall in the photo above), a fair amount of napping. We headed down to Fajardo one evening and took a kayaking trip into the bioluminescent bay. When Chris and I took our trip with the same tour operator a few years ago, it was just us in a two-person kayak and our guideÂ leading us through a narrow path of mangrove trees to the bay. This time, we were a large group, trying to wind our way in to the bay in an orderly fashion, along with a number of other groups. It was still magnificent when it got dark and our oars starting making bright green trails in the water. Just a little less peaceful and a little more hectic logistically. You should have seen us trying to find our way back out in the pitch dark as new groups were making their way in. Chaos!
It's also relatively easy to get to the beach from where we were perched in El Yunque, and we did spend one afternoon at Luquillo Beach, one of the better public beaches on that side of the island. (Although it doesn't hold a candle to the beaches on the islands of Vieques and, Denise now tells me, Culebra.) Still, we had fun, dipping in the ocean, which was the perfect temperature, hanging with the natives. It takes about 40 minutes from Casa Cubuy to the beach, but much of that is spent winding your way down off the mountain on the narrow pathway you share with chickens, dogs and fearless locals barreling up and down the mountain in their junkers.
And that was that. Five days, four nights, gone in a snap. Too little, too fast. But I think the important thing was a reminder that this is something that's been important to Chris and me over the years. For some reason, it's a place that allows us to reset ourselves and we just haven't been making that a priority. Suffice to say we're already eyeing fares for a return trip in January. By winter they'll be up to about $500 - $700 per person and right now they're hovering at an enticing book-now-or-miss-it $220 from Detroit. I'm just sayin'.