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The crow of the rooster wakes me up — just like the old days on the farm. I stumble out of the bedroom weaving blindly towards the coffee Rosanna promised. To my surprise, a whole feast was waiting for me. A small good morning note also accompanied my surprise. This started to feel like visiting a relative, relaxing and comfortable.
Unfortunately, I had to leave my new-found, extended family to continue exploring the depths of Puerto Rico. Off I meandered towards La Soplaera, a beautiful waterfall nestled in the mountains.
Up a windy and pothole-infested road I drove for about twenty minutes. Any longer, and I would’ve turned back, but a bright yellow bridge and sign beckoned me towards the falls. I didn’t expect the majestic sight I was about to see. Bright, rickety, yellow handrails outlined the rocky path. The footprints of other adventurers before me helped me know which stones to trust and which to avoid.
Over the uneven boulders and rocks I climbed, until I caught a glimpse of the water cascading through the jungle vines. The bubbling water called my name. I shimmied across makeshift concrete balance beams and over the final boulders until I was able to see the waterfalls in all its glory. A pool so clear it could be home to mermaids sat calm and ripple-less. There was no one for miles.
I dipped my growing muscular legs into the water and was bit by the ice cold prickles. My feet begged me to relieve them of such pain. The blistering sun beat down on my shoulders, encouraged me to push onward.
Overhead, birds played tag in the tangled palm groves and chirped in delight. The warm slowly numbed my legs and them my thoughts. I didn’t worry about deadlines or life back home. Fully immersed in the jungle experience, I embraced my Jungle Jane alter ego with a frizzy, curly bob and listened to the wild. For once in my life, I felt a different kind of wild and relentlessness.
I admired the water, which seemed to be part of a fictional tale, for most of the morning, before sauntering my way towards the car to dive into a completely different cultural experience.
Before setting off, I changed out of my damp suit into clothes more suitable for the occasion — a dress donned with seashell prints. I felt like Tarzan with my towel wrapped around my waist, breasts momentarily exposed, as I changed my dry clothes in the center of the clearing. The banana trees and ferns made a makeshift dressing room around me, yet I didn’t care who could see. I was too busy drinking in the jungle humidity.
Ponce is rumored to have some of the most beautiful, historic Spanish architecture in Puerto Rico. Also, hailed as a haven for museums, I ventured to the southern metropolitan to see the history of the people whose hands helped shape this island.
The brightly colored Spanish museums and businesses made up the city’s central square. As the city branches out, the influence remained, but the buildings became less impressive and vibrant. Plagued with poverty and wear of time, it was evident that Ponce, as a whole, was struggling. The outskirts only have hint of color in now faded white, which suggested a once vibrant past. The only blossoming district was downtown where the sights remained intact and vibrant.
Unsurprisingly, meandering downtown didn’t quench my curious thirst. I pounced on a spontaneous urge and trekked back into the mountains to visit a State Park — Bosque Estatal De Toro Negro.
What I didn’t know was that a white knuckle griping adventure lied ahead.
Bosque Estatal De Toro Negro
Retelling the events makes my stomach tighten into knots and a mild wave of nausea, similar to car or motion sickness, hits me as I write this.
My plan was to scout out a ranger station to see what trails and pull offs would have the best views from the mountain tops. I envisioned of possibly embarking on a short hike. After driving 15 minutes with no signs for the park or a ranger station in sight, I grew impatient and desperately wanted to stretch my legs.
I expected to see a ranger center loom overhead, after every curve I made on the mountain road. The view, as I weaved closer and closer to the heavens, was holy. Rain occasionally showered my car and made the pothole infested muddy roads slick. The clouds inched closer to the mountains edges. Hugging them.
The locals whizzed around the mountain’s treacherous edges like experienced NASCAR drivers. I let out a scream of terror as a large semi clamored towards me. I was not as trained as the locals and was petrified that they navigated, what I classify as a one-lane road, with such ease. Each corner they whipped around with confidence, as if they didn’t care if death stared them in the face on the other side.
I clenched my steering wheel and road my break for hours as I drove the maze of mountain roads. The only wildlife I saw was livestock that stalled in the center of the road and the chickens that appeared from the jungle brush.
I never did see a ranger center, nor did I see a gas station, which was much needed. The KIA Rio scraped into the station on fumes with me at my wits end.
Once, I dared to pull over to admire the beautiful view and the colorful abodes that speckled the lush greenery. That didn’t end well. Immediately, the Rio sank into the soft earth. It took minutes of shimmying back and forth to free my wheels from the mud’s clutches.
I prayed a lot that day. I prayed for safety and guidance. Most importantly, to remain sane.
After escaping the mountains, I retreated north towards the beaches and expressway. I stayed in Hatillo in Angel’s home where lilac and pink walls lulled me to sleep.