Being seasoned hikers, who conquered the wet and muddy nature preserve for 45 minutes, we decide it is time to tackle the rain forest in El Yunque National Park. This is the only tropical rain forest on United States soil. Emphasis on the soil. (I know! I can hear some of you complaining, “Alaska has a rain forest,” but it’s not exactly tropical up there, so my statement is correct.) We are prepared with rain jackets and sturdy boots – nothing can stop us now. Judi thoroughly researched the terrain and hiking maps so we are prepared for anything.
First problem: of the six main hiking trails, five are closed due to hurricane damage. I can’t complain. I’m inconvenienced by not being able to hike a promising trail, while those living here had their houses ripped to shreds and had no electricity for many months. The only trail open, Mt. Britton, is the last one up the mountain before the road is washed away.
Our drive up is delightful as Judi dons her ranger hat and points out all the trails we cannot hike as well as the names of the waterfalls. We climb a little tower to “oooh” and “aaah” at the views and take some pictures that no one wants to see…ever. We lament leaving the binoculars in the car because they would make the shore 15 miles away look only 7 miles away. I guess we’ll have to settle for the 200-yard view we get on our back porch.
A lengthy discussion ensues on the merits of braving an outhouse versus living in bladder pain. The outhouse wins, but it is not a problem for me. I wisely peed at the last scenic overlook, a proud moment that Judi captured on film. The resultant picture will not be posted here.
Second problem: the road narrows significantly as we continue upward. We start seeing signs that say “One-lane road next 500 feet.” We can only see 40 feet before the next hair-pin turn! How is this supposed to work? When one of the only signs in English informs you that you may die in the next 30 seconds, it puts you on edge. This is my current excuse for what happens next.
Third problem: the idiot driver (i.e., me). We find the signs for the hike, but can’t find the trailhead. We ask a few people, but no one knows the location. Cars are parked on both sides of the road, which is easy because the road is so narrow. Judi, who has spent hours pouring over maps, reviews, articles and websites suggests we park on the side of the road and walk till we find the start. I, having researched nothing, but have a gut feeling, proclaim, “there must be a parking lot up here somewhere – I’ll keep driving.” I know you can see the problem here, or should I say problems? 1. I am acting out of ignorance. Admittedly not a first for me, but never a good idea. 2. I don’t want to pull over because I don’t want to walk too far before I hike up the side of a mountain. 3. I’m not listening to my wife. Thirty-seven years; you would think I’ve learned by now. Clearly, I haven’t. There is no parking lot. I drive all the way around the loop to find us back at the beginning. The car crackles with tension and I pull into the first spot she suggests. The trail head to Mt. Britton is right there.