Thursday, November 29, 2018

Puerto Rico Adventure - Day 3 - 3 Miles of Muddy Slip & Slide

[Composed 11/22/2018]

Today's adventure: hiking in El Yunque National Forest. Research into the park warned that many, if not all, trails were closed due to Hurricane Maria. Yesterday, we stopped by the visitor center and were informed that a handful of trails had re-opened. However, I had my eye set on something a bit more obscure than the main park trails: the El Toro and Trade Winds trails. These are the most remote trails in El Yunque and would take us to the highest peak in the park.

The two trails string together to form a 6 mile or so, point-to-point hike. In my mind's eye, I figured we could yo-yo the trail, making for a 12 mile day. Long, but not impossible.

We had no problem finding and parking at the El Toro trail head. We started up the trail and it quickly transitioned from uphill, to uphill and muddy. And then it became uphill, muddy and slippery. Our pace slowed, and so did my plans of a 12 mile hiking day. It wasn't long before I realized I was going to get that day of hiking I wanted, I just wasn't going to get the planned mileage.

The trail, other than being muddy and slippery, was in fine shape. I was a bit worried that the hot and sunny weather would make the hiking unbearable, but this wasn't the case. There was enough shade and breeze, that even in long pants we didn't cook too badly. The views from the trail were good, and by the time we reached the summit of El Toro, they were downright gorgeous.

Speaking of long pants, I took the warning that you should wear them seriously and I'm glad I did. At times, the trail narrowed and you couldn't help but be attacked by the brush along the trail. At night, as we enjoyed dinner, Shira noticed her right arm was covered in a series of raised slash-like rashes. Apparently she was allergic to some plant along the trail. Had we been in shorts, I can't imagine what our legs would have looked like. I'm also glad I brought dedicated trail runners for the hike. They, along with my pants, were mud-soaked. Had I tried to get by with one pair of shoes for this trip, I would have been hurting.

We didn't see a ton of wildlife: mostly interesting butterflies and other creepy crawlies. One new animal for me was the tree snail, which is a pretty hefty fella at 3 inches or so in diameter. The first one I found was at the summit of El Toro, and I was confused to be finding marine life at the peak. True to their name, on the way down from the summit we found a whole family snails hanging out in a tree. I saw a couple of hummingbirds too, but I wasn't quick enough to snap pics of them.

Two gals passed us on the trail and we caught up to them on the summit. They worked for El Yunque and told us a bit about the area. One had a long walking staff which was little more than a section of PVC piping. I asked her about it and she explained that it's an instrument she uses to measure tree growth. She had it with her, however, to bat away spider webs. Shira spent a good bit of time doing this with her trekking poles, so I could see why she had brought it along.

After a nice lunch on the summit, we turned around and headed back the way we came. The descent wasn't as bad as we had anticipated and before we knew it we were back at the car, back to town and feasting on a falafel burger and fish tacos near our hotel.

I still think it would be an epic adventure to do both the El Toro and Tradewinds trails in one day. But I was more than satisfied with our shorter hike; what it lacked miles, it made up for in views, butterflies and raw challenge.

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