Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Puerto Rico Rocks!

Well, it wouldn't be much of an adventure blog if I didn't include our most perilous adventure, even if it did take place two years ago. Paul and I went to Puerto Rico in April 2006 and signed up for a canyoning tour of El Yunque rainforest with a company called Aventuras. The activities sounded challenging, but we love challenges and were ready to face this one.

Yeah, right! This all-day excursion turned out to be insane. It's certainly not for the faint of heart, because Paul and I usually love this kind of stuff and for a while there we were seriously sorry about signing up! First, we got a crash course on how to hook and unhook our two carabiners--the only things preventing us from plummeting into the canyon. Next thing we knew, we were being prodded off a ledge and walking across a tightrope that stretched across the canyon, holding onto another rope above our heads for balance.

That was only the beginning. Next, we were told to rappel down the canyon, and suddenly we were dangling off the edge of a cliff, overlooking the rainforest and a rushing river hundreds of feet below. I tried to rappel down the canyon face calmly and nimbly, bouncing off the wall the way I've seen Navy SEALs do it in the movies. But unfortunately, I'm actually neither calm nor nimble, and ended up splatting into the face of the wall on one of the bounces. Ouch. I scraped my nose doing that unplanned stunt.

Then we had to traverse horizontally across the canyon face by walking on these tiny pegs stuck into the wall. The pegs were, disconcertingly, half the size of my sneaker!

After that, we ziplined into the river below. You had two options: zipline directly into the river, or zipline out over the river, then unhook yourself and fall into it. I chose route A; Paul chose B.

Once in the river, the goal was to swim to and under a waterfall.

I almost didn't make it. I was doing the strokes, but not moving forward; the current was going against me. Finally, Paul swam over to tow me to my destination.

Then came a break for lunch, which we ate on some big rocks by the river. After lunch, Rossano, our wonderful (if overly peppy) guide, announced that we were to climb onto a small cliff and jump off of it, into the water. The cliff turned out to be about three stories high. I really didn't want to jump, but was finally peer pressured into it. We were traveling with a group of mostly young people, including some guys who had conveniently just gotten out of the Marines. They were acting like this was a walk in the park. In the end, I didn't feel that I could be the only who didn't jump. It was literally a case of "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?", with the answer being, sadly, yes.

The river gave me quite the spanking. Paul did the same jump, then got goaded into doing a higher jump off another ledge by the Marine boys, who were all doing it. He didn't propel himself very far forward while making the jump, and came inches from falling onto the craggy base of the cliff. That's when it hit me that we really could die from this excursion.

But there was no turning back at that point! Next, we scrambled up some rocks.

Paul got a huge gash on his arm during this activity.

Then we crossed another line, this time pulling ourselves across it while dangling upside-down. That was so much more tiring than I thought it would be.

Then, just when I thought I wouldn't be able to go on, we were told we had to climb up a rock wall. At that point, I was operating on pure adrenaline. I can't even remember what it was like to climb it; I just kind of blacked out until I reached the top.

Finally, after a mile-long hike that seemed to go on forever, we were at the end of the most difficult excursion we've ever participated in. I'm not sure I would do it again, since I prefer my adventures to be quick and thrilling rather than long and death-defying, but I was proud that I'd made it to the end in one piece, minus a small sliver of my nose. Aventuras offers another all-day adventure through the Rio Cumay cave system of Puerto Rico; that excursion sounds dirtier but less excruciating. I think I'd do that if I ever return to Puerto Rico. The caving excursion even got written up in the New York Times recently. I was happy to glean from the story that Rossano is still alive and well, and as perky as ever.

But the whole trip to Puerto Rico wasn't spent fearing for our lives. We also visited Old San Juan and toured a couple of old forts, El Moro and San Cristobal. They were ... well, fortlike.

And we took a high-speed ferry (it is no longer operating) to the island of Vieques, where we swam in the bioluminescent bay in the moonlight. That was the most awesome thing I've ever experienced, bar none. Basically these little organisms in the water glow a bright blue when you touch them, so every stroke you make casts a blue trail in the water. When you cup your hands, you can see them sparkling in the water you've scooped up, like pixie dust. The only word to describe the experience is magical.

None of my pictures came out because I didn't have the right sort of camera, but here's a shot of what it looks like to be in the water at night:

There was also a cool, interactive aquarium on the island.

On our last day in Vieques, we rented a scooter and drove around the island. That was pretty fun. At one time we may have considered weaving unsteadily through disorganized traffic a dangerous activity, but coming off our canyoning adventure in El Yunque, it was child's play!