Puerto Rico Day 3: El Yunque National Forest

After we checked out of our room, we headed up the windy mountain trail to Bosque Nacional El Yunque, the only rainforest in the US National Park system. I was totally waiting for a Puerto Rican Parrot to cross our path, but unfortunately the weather was decidedly too rainy for the rare birds to cross our paths. I’m sure that if it had been sunny, we would totally have had that one-in-a-billion chance of seeing them. And they’d probably be eating, too.

The first thing we noticed on the drive was how precariously balanced the tour buses are on the road heading to the visitor’s center. It seems like at any moment, despite the pristine asphalt, they may slide to the side and into one of the small drainage ditches on either side. We made the executive decision to pass by the line of cruise tour buses waiting to get into El Portal Visitor’s Center, instead attempting to find a lesser-used trail into the forest and passing La Coca Falls along the way.

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After staring numbly at the rushing water, we decided we had to see La Mina Falls, which is bigger, faster, and more popular than La Coca. We continued up the road until we found the trailhead for Big Tree Trail, parked next to a group of concessioneers who were just setting up to meet the cruise tours, and decided to walk the trail while we could have it to ourselves.

After all, who gets up at sunrise to go to the rainforest? (Answer: Us. Duh!)

The trail was very hilly, following the curve of the mountainside as it meandered toward the falls. We only passed three pairs of people on our way, making for a quiet journey broken only by the rain falling from palm leaves and the distant calls of strange birds.

Of course, some birds weren’t so far away. Scaly-naped pigeons flew back and forth over us, and bananaquits followed us with their buzzing cries.

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I’m about 99% convinced that none of the bugs we heard were actually insects. I’m pretty sure it was the same 3 bananaquits following us around the island and impersonating them.

Anyway, a few fallen trees and some amazing scenery later, Puerto Rico decided to rain on us. Giggling, we stowed the camera and took cover under a picnic shelter while we got our bearings. Or at least, the Other Half got his bearings and I got blindsided by a Tody.

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Todies are tiny, squat birds whose red throats glisten like jewels in the dark shadows around the trail. And, like hummingbirds, they really like whacking me across the face on their way by. I got literally hit in the face by not one, but two todies and a hummingbird while we were touring the forest.

By the time we got to La Mina, the rains from the past few days and that morning had caught up to it, and it was roaring. We could hear it all the way from the trailhead, but it wasn’t until we saw it that we realized how swollen the creek had become.

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On the walk back to the car, we passed the first of the large tour groups wandering down the trail. And what was their tour guide telling them about? Chupacabras.

Now, let me tell you about chupacabras. They’re found anywhere the itchy, skin-burrowing mites called Sarcoptes scabiei, or sarcoptic mange, are found. They’re actually dogs (or coyotes or foxes) who have severe systemic infestation with these mites. The parasites cause their skin to thicken and wrinkle and make their hair fall out. They are not furry things that come out on moonless nights to eat the souls of children. Those are wendigos, unlike what the tour guide seemed to think.

Anyway, we headed back down the mountain to the visitor’s center, which has a really nice little trail loaded with wildlife and lizard-cuckoos.

Yes, I totally planned our entire trip around my ability to see a bird called a lizard-cuckoo. Judge me all you want.

Added bonus: El Portal is totally covered in Anoles and Ameivas. But my favorite one was this little tiny lizard sitting on a solar light. He wagged his tail back and forth like a saucy cat while he eyeballed some of the other sunning anoles.

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And, of course, I took way too many pictures should you prefer to see them. Ha!

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