Catching a Ride from La Mina Falls (Day 3 in Puerto Rico)

It was the tarp that saved us.  Never leave without a tarp.  Inside the tent we stayed dry, but there wasn’t enough room in the two-man tent for us and our packs.  And it was a rain forest.  There would be rain.  So we placed our tent under a large tree and tied the tarp from the edge of our tent to the bottom of the tree, lean-to style.  Our packs fit snuggly underneath and placed under the center of the tarp, they created a perfect peak that allowed the rain to run off both sides.

That morning, it was the sound of rain drops on my tent that woke me: the gentle plucking against taut canvas.  A sharp pain in my back made its presence known and reminded me to never sleep on an unpadded ground again.  Tom was still asleep, curled up like a child on his side, seemingly completely comfortable.  Of course.

We’d set up camp just off a closed service road that runs through the southside backcountry of the park.  For the first of many times we broke down, shook out and packed up a wet tent.  A miles walk up the service road brought us back to the top of Route 191 where Peter and James dropped us off the day before.

Tom and I agreed that once we left the park, we’d continue east across the island, with hopes of making it to Fajardo.  We knew there was a ferry in Fajardo that sailed each day to the smaller islands of Culebra and Vieques.  Culebra has one of the Travel Channel’s top 10 beaches and Vieques has Puerto Rico’s best bioluminescent bay.  On our walk along the paved road through pockets of cool fog and dense mountain vegetation, getting to the northeast corner of the island seemed as unlikely as walking twenty paces without hearing the loud cry of a Coqui frog as he shouted his name.

La Mina Falls is a frequented tourist stop along Route 191 through the park.  It’s marked on every map and the Palo Colorado Visitor Center sits just above the paved, half mile trail to the waterfall.  Tour buses and vans unload people of all ages at both the north and south parking lots.  Each lot offers a short, though relatively steep and extremely damp walking trail where men and children walk single file to the popular swimming hole.  From the top of Route 191, the Palo Colorado Visitor Center was a 2 km walk and as we continued our trek to the trailhead, our conversation boasted with optimism and high hopes.  At the very least, we needed a ride down the mountain to the bottom of the park.  If we were lucky, we could catch a ride to the interstate, Route 3, where surely we’d find a publico.  But our dream was to find someone heading east.

Unfortunately, La Mina Falls was somewhat of a letdown.  We’d hoped to make it to the Falls early enough to enjoy it to ourselves, but the rain had kept us in our tent too long and by now the trail was full of elderly day travelers who noted our packs and asked us about our travels.  The Falls was rather unimpressive and the swimming hole at the bottom was full of children and tattooed dads.  Back upstream, we found a spot to take a swim in the chilly water and wash the sweat from our hair.

Back at the Falls, the atmosphere wasn’t quite conducive to us asking anyone for a ride.  We decided to hike out up the south trail and try our luck in the parking lot.  Little did we know the blessing that awaited us.

Again, the trail was steep and the weight of our packs kept our heads bent down in exertion.  It was still early, no later than ten and the humid air dampened our necks and backs.  We passed several couples and families of tourists on their way down to the Falls, but under the sweaty strain of our uphill hike, neither Tom nor I tried conversation.

As we rounded a switchback and glanced up the path before us, we met the smiling gazes of two young travelers—a guy and a girl—appearing to be in their low 20s.  We exchanged friendly greetings, but they stopped to inquire about our packs.  She wore an oversized soccer jersey and a black spiral gauge in her ear.  “Where are you guys coming from?” she said.

“We camped high in the park last night, between Mt. Toro and El Yunque,” we offered.

“Cool, are you staying in the forest again tonight?” she asked.

“No, trying to head east,” Tom said.  “We’re actually looking for a ride to Fajardo.”

“Are you going to Culebra?” she blurted.

“Actually we’re trying to get there tomorrow,” we said.

“Oh you guys should come with us,” said her male companion.  He spoke in English, but with a funny South American accent and a red bandana draped over his neck.

“Yeah, we want to go, too,” she said.

“Really?”

“We’re staying with my cousin in Luquillo and I don’t think she’d mind you guys pitching your tent in her back yard,” she said.

“Where’s Luquillo?” Tom asked.

“It’s about halfway between here and Fajardo,” she said.  “Oh and we’re roasting a pig tonight.”

I’m not sure what our faces looked like at that moment, but if I had to guess I’d say it was an expression somewhat like a child on Christmas morning.  We introduced ourselves and agreed to meet them at the parking lot in about an hour.  They were Marck and Jen.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tom C on April 28, 2010 at 1:16 am

    Few comments to make. I love Marc and Jen (and the whole family package that came along). Don’t forget about the hot hippy girl that we saw before camping. That tarp was so crucial. Also, rain forest= not the best place to make fire as we failed, despite using pieces of that rundown shack haha

  2. Posted by bjh7y@yahoo.com on April 28, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Tom,

    How could I forget about her? I figured not every detail of our travels together could be divulged. Some of those have to stay between us, brother. The fire was a failure, I think I’m going to write a small piece on how to do better than we did at making a fire. Any suggestions? Keep adventuring.
    Sent from my U.S. Cellular BlackBerry® smartphone

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