Monday, August 29, 2016

Adventure in Puerto Rico: Day 5

We (and our feet) were quite ready for a day of rest on Sunday.

(Zoom in to find the blue symbols for Sunday)

Another advantage of the apartment we chose was the LDS chapel within walking distance.  I fully intended to take advantage of its nearness and walk to the 9:00 am meeting.  But it is hard to wake up on vacation . . .

This apartment is equipped with very good shutters.  On Thursday morning, our first there, I woke up to see light streaming in under the door.  I stumbled my way to the boys' room, where Scoot was sitting up and reading.  "Turn off the light!" I said.  "People are trying to sleep."

"Mom, it's eight o'clock," he said in his calm way.  Then I noticed that the bright light was coming from the window, not the fixture.  It was still dark in my room, but one of the shutters in their room had gotten stuck open after we arrived.  The other boys could still sleep with all that light, but not Scoot, our morning person.  And I noticed it eventually, too. 

We knew we'd need to get up earlier on Sunday, though.  So the boys all set the alarms on their watches.  But with jet lag and staying up to watch the Olympics and whatnot, the alarms didn't wake us. 

I got up Sunday morning, saw Scoot sitting in his room, fully dressed, and went to check the clock in the kitchen.

"Ack!" I shouted.  "It's 8:59!"

We did not walk to church that morning.  But we did arrive by car, sixteen minutes later, just in time for the missionary who was passing the sacrament to open the chapel door and look for stragglers.  And we were grateful.

The Luquillo Branch has its own small building.  The screenless windows were open and the fans were spinning.  About fifteen members were present, but there was clearly room for more to attend.  Once the sacrament was over and we found seats, the branch president's counselor welcomed our family from the pulpit.  In fast and testimony meeting in a small branch, I think the members must feel some duty to speak at length, and they did, mostly about how life is hard, but faith in Jesus Christ gets us through.  After listening to a couple of testimonies, the Caterpillar shared his own.  He spoke in Spanish, and despite small grammar mistakes, was quite comprehensible.  It was wonderful to hear. 

The family in the branch that includes children and the Primary president was out of town.  There weren't any other youth present, either.  A visiting high counsel member offered to teach our boys a lesson in English, so Scoot, Rollo, and D2 went to a classroom with him and discussed the Title of Liberty.  The Caterpillar came to the adult Sunday School class with us.  By the third hour, attendance had petered out and everyone who was left fit into the Sunday School room.  Then the high counselor discussed efforts to perfect the saints and strengthen the branch.  It was interesting.

After church we flopped at the apartment, enjoying our rest.  Here are a few views from the terrace.  This is looking east, from the front of the apartment.  Most of the buildings in the neighborhood seem to be vacation rentals.  The residential part of the town is across the highway, by the church.  I wanted to take pictures, but forgot my camera in the morning rush.  The houses over there are low, with decorative bars on the windows, and painted in bright colors like you can see here.
 This is a north view, toward the gate from our complex to the beach.
Looking southeast to the cloudy peaks of El Yunque.
 After dinner we took a sunset walk along the beach.  This time we headed west around the point, toward the balneario.  While, according to the guidebook, nearly all beaches in Puerto Rico are public, the balnearios are equipped with parking lots, changing rooms, and lifeguards.  This one has a pretty big parking lot, but many people seemed to prefer parking along the narrow road to our apartments, and swimming on the east side.  It was a bit late for lifeguards when we went out, but it was a perfect time to stroll along the sand.
 We saw a few birds and some little crabs, but not many people.
Paradise.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Adventure in Puerto Rico: Day 4

On Saturday we visited El Yunque National Forest.


(See the green symbols for Saturday)

El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest system.  Note the word "tropical"--we live next to a temperate rainforest here.  And we stayed close to the tropical rainforest in Puerto Rico, too.
Prepare for lots of pictures.  I can't identify most of these plants, but it was amazing to see them just growing there. 

Instead of the fir trees and ferns in our temperate rainforest, El Yunque has tree ferns.  See that fiddlehead in the middle?
 
We began at the El Portal visitors' center, where we entered for free with D2's fourth-grade national park pass.  There we learned about the different layers of the forest.  There are four distinct zones as you go up the mountain, each with its own flora and fauna.
 
We also spoke with a helpful man who sat at a round desk, surrounded by plant samples.  He showed us how to cut up sugarcane, and let us suck on some pieces.  He also showed the boys how to tickle mimosa leaves to make them fold up, and he showed us a map of the trails.

We drove to the top of the road.
 On the way we saw thickets of bamboo,
 vines that looked swingable,
big leaves,
dew-covered berries,
tree snails,
cascading rivers,
and more big leaves.

 Parking along the loop at the top, we sat in the car, eating our sandwiches, hoping to wait out the rain that met us there.  Again, that didn't work.  So we got out our jackets and the new umbrella, and headed up the trail.  It was a rainforest, after all.  Rain was not a surprise.
We hiked along a river.  Sometimes small tributaries crossed our path.  Dandelionslayer and I splashed through happily, wearing our water shoes.
 We ascended between the palms,
with their weird roots,
 and we found more, and bigger, epiphytes everywhere.
 We didn't see many birds, but we found plenty of snails
and a few lizards.  The stars of El Yunque are the coquí frogs.  We never saw one, but we heard them chirping all through the forest.
Sheltered by the canopy, I wasn't sure when the rain stopped. But soon we closed the umbrella and removed our jackets.
 This reminds me of juniper,
 and this looks like parsley growing on a tree.
Some of the air plants were blooming.
 Eventually we moved out of the palm forest

and into the cloud forest.
 Here we found a new set of flora,
 still beautiful
 and intriguing.
 We spotted some butterflies,
 and their flowers.
 Finally we reached the top of El Yunque Peak,
 where stands an observation tower at 3,543 feet,
apparently built by the Spanish.
 On a clear day, I'm sure you can see forever,
but we arrived at a more typically cloudy time.
 Down we went again,

spotting more flowers on the way.
 The sun came out again.
 And we found a little lizard,
that liked the Caterpillar's sock.
 Then we drove down the mountain to another trail
 that took us to La Mina Falls.
Rollo elected to stay nominally dry,
but the rest of us took the plunge.  The water was not too cold.  The basin was full of slippery rocks, and the water pounded down.
There wasn't really any room behind the falling water, but Dandelionslayer found a way to get under the right side.
I wore the new rash guard and board shorts I'd made--perfect for such occasions.
The river left a weird taste in my mouth.  But it sure was a thrill to get in it!  It was a beautiful day in the rain forest.