Puerto Rico: Day 2, Part 1 “Free-Falling”

Puerto Rico: Day 2, Part 1 “Free-Falling”

I rose around 6:30am and did a little meditation. 

My next priority was to get some food. I told myself I was going to cook some meals, but that never actually happened. The tour tips suggested eating a hearty breakfast, as we would be hiking. Ony, the tour host, told me he’d pick me up at 9am, so I started browsing breakfast spots. I scrolled to a listing for a place called Don Ruiz, and it was only about 500 feet away. I remembered my Airbnb host telling me there was some of the best coffee across the street from the apartment. I hadn’t noticed, but that must be it! It opened at 7:30. I got dressed, packed my bag for the day (a change of pants, towel, water and a little cash), and headed out around 7:26.

I was greeted by the dozen or so cats that roamed the little park/plaza just outside the apartment’s entryway. I played with them for a while before continuing to follow my phone’s GPS to the café. “Arrived,” it said as I stared at the side of a building (with no doorways). I turned it off and decided to just wander around the block until I found something – this place has to exist. I turned a corner and was facing the ocean; I kept walking. Soon enough, I saw a sidewalk sign for Don Ruiz. I walked into the massive interior courtyard. The building was about 3 stories high, verandas on every level. Artwork hung on some of the walls. I spotted another sign pointing me in the direction of the café. The door was cracked open so I stepped inside. I was the only person in there – also perfect, haha. 

I walked up to the man behind the counter. “Good morning!” He welcomed me. “Are you open?” “Not yet –,” “I can come back in about 20 minutes…?” “No, no. Give me two minutes. Make yourself comfortable.” 15 minutes later, he came into the main dining area to let me know he was ready. We ended up getting into a little conversation. The coffee was from his family’s farm in Puerto Rico. “It was started by my great-grandfather,” he explained to me. The store had its own roaster facility, and Mr. Ruiz pointed out the machinery and little “museum” of small-scale machines the family had used over the generations at their hacienda. I ordered “The Fort” Toast – French toast with fruits, and a latte – he had recommended one of his favorites, the Vanilla Rose brew. The wait was a little longer than I hoped but the food and coffee was excellent. Plus, Mr. Ruiz and one other person were the only ones manning the shop. The café quickly filled up, and I left about 20 minutes before my tour pick-up. On the way out I checked out the coffee trees Mr. Ruiz told me were outside. It’s harvesting season (August to January), so I could see all of the coffee cherries hanging from the stems. In a way, I still got my authentic coffee tour, just not in the way that I originally planned, so I was still grateful for the experience. I spent about $15 on this breakfast.

I later found out that the large building that housed Don Ruiz was Ballaja, a structure that was built between 1854 and 1864 to house Spanish troops. Within its walls is also Museo de las Americas, which is supposed to be one of the most comprehensive museums to feature the history and culture of the Americas from pre-Columbian to present day eras. Also surrounding the park by my apartment, was Casa Blanca museum – built in 1521 as the first fortification and later as a residence for Juan Ponce de Leon, the first governor; and Museo del Indio. These were also on my to-do list, time permitting. It did not.

I waited in the park until a car pulled up a little after 9 – the driver inside waved at me. I walked over and he said my name. “Yep.” It was Ony. He was upbeat and lively. He told me there’d be two other people with us that day – a couple. We picked them up from a hotel about 5 minutes away. He was a basketball player and his wife, a teacher. Conversation was easy and free-flowing. Our host explained that he could take us to El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S National Forest System – but it might be pretty crowded, especially on a Saturday; or, we could go to another forest that was “off the beaten path” and more of a local spot. At the second location, Carite Forest, we’d have a little more of a “true” outdoor hiking experience. We all agreed to take the more challenging course. Ony was stoked! Either way, we would’ve driven about 40 minutes from San Juan Antiguo. 

“I’ve always wanted to be on the show Survivor; this will be my training,” I joked. “Funny, because we’re going to Survivor Falls – Cascada SobreViviente!” the guide let me know. We passed the popular El Charco Azul, which already had cars packed on the side of the road. We continued on down the narrow, ever-winding roads. As we drove into the mountains, we noticed abandoned homes littered throughout the hills. “People own those – they just don’t live there. It’s property that’s been in the family for generations so folks just don’t give up the land,” he explained. We pulled onto a little dirt side-street. Three homes made up this section of the neighborhood. “I know this woman,” Ony said as we parked in front of a house. He grabbed a backpack and put water, juice, fruit and yogurts in it for the group, and off we went! Our guide cleared all the spiderwebs from the path as we ducked and weaved past branches, trying to stay on the narrow path. We walked for a short time before coming to the first natural pool. We continued up the river, climbing and hopping on semi-wet stones.

Ony had cautioned to not hesitate when rock-hopping; see where you want to go and go, stay light on your feet. I traversed the trail with gleeful ease until we reached the top pool. It was breathtaking! Gentle, mineral blue water filled the space between rocky walls. Where the sun hit, you could see clear down to the bottom! I threw off my clothes and hopped in. I swam around, continued exploring up the river a little more, and eventually took the first leap off of a rock ledge into the water. “It’s not super deep, so bend your legs as soon as you hit the water,” we were told. I didn’t have much fear with this one – I’d jumped off ledges into the ocean before. Here, I could see where I was going, and the water was completely still. 

{SIDE STORY: Haha, yes, the other woman was correct when she said, “(laughing ) She held onto her breasts.” Developing self-love has also included a complete love of my body. This was actually the first time I’d purchased and worn a triangle bikini top, and I was a tad bit nervous because it was a rather new experience… and I didn’t want to pop out and “expose myself.” I’m fine with nudity, but I didn’t know anyone else there, and we were going to spend the next 6 hours in each other’s company. My top shifted a bit at first and I had a little nip-slip. The other woman said to me, “It’s not like any of us haven’t seen one before,” as I blushed. That was so nice and helpful because it created a safer space for me to just be free, exist and enjoy these moments we happened to be sharing together; without foolishly worrying about being judged for silly things. This day, we all just encouraged and celebrated one another – creating and sending nothing but positive energy.}

Next, we were encouraged to take on Survivor. Ony climbed out to the ledge of a single rock in the middle of the river and jumped off. “Don’t jump straight down, there are rocks. You see where the water is bubbling under the falls – that’s where you want to jump. Forward,” he demonstrated. 

Maaaan, what am I doing

(Plays “Fly Like An Eagle” by Seal)

The other guy jumped before me and also encouraged me to try it. From the bank, I had to make a little hop to land on the rock I’d leap from. It wasn’t a flat rock, and it was already extra slippery from having the two men jump off before me. I climbed up and started second-guessing my life decisions. Yet, I wasn’t going to go back. I made it this far on my journey already. This was an experience I wanted to have. I came to Puerto Rico by myself, I’m out here in the middle of this serene forest, immersing myself in my most favorite element – water. I knew how powerful my intentional thinking can be, so I wasn’t going to spook myself. There was nothing to fear – not death, not injury, not drowning. I concentrated to make sure I had my balance on the rock – there was nothing I could hold onto or fall back on if something went wrong. I stood up and realized I was too far from the edge to jump – I’d only make the task harder on myself. I carefully took two steps towards the edge, and on the third my body realized it had to jump (if I tried to stop myself, I for sure would’ve hurt myself), and so I just leapt. I didn’t think about it. One second I’m on the rock, the next I’m literally flying in the air. Now, I’ve been ziplining, but this – I mean, this was incomparable. No wires, no nets – just me, nature, and the rushing water beneath. Everything around me was unmoving and quiet… 

Nothing else, at all, mattered for that moment. I honestly felt like I was just levitating in the air; my only view – the endless line of trees and mountains in front of me. 

I didn’t scream when I took my leap, but I screamed halfway through when I opened my eyes and it was a mix of “Wow, this is beautiful; I’m flying,” and “Why the f*ck am I just chillin’ in the air like this?!” Ya girl had a little hang-time! It felt surreal, somewhat “unnatural”… but not. I hit the water and everything went black. It was briefly disorienting.

Ony told us that the current moves to the left, towards the rocks, but to swim to the right to the bank. I kicked and kicked and kicked as hard as I could until I emerged from beneath the surface. I gasped for a breath of air as I tried to reorient myself – I could’ve emerged downstream for all I knew, haha – and swam to the right. I could hear everyone cheering and whooping with excitement. The adrenaline was something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before. It was intensely amazing. For the most part, I had felt absolute serenity as I soared through the air. I’m still in awe with myself! Just, wow! I will continue to search for ways to express what I felt jumping from that fall – it was a transcendental, spiritual experience. I’m grateful that I could capture that one little second where everything just seemed to pause, and bottle up that bliss and sense of freedom; away from the nonsense and at one with the natural environment – jeeze, it was such a beautiful, worthwhile experience. I truly think that solidified a turning point in my life and how I feel about and trust myself, and what I am capable of. Throughout the day, Ony congratulated me as “the highlight of the day.” He said that after all the years he’s done this tour, at an average of 3 per week, I was the first woman on his excursion to jump from that particular waterfall. “Me and (the guy participant) were betting that you weren’t going to do it, and then you jumped!” “I told y’all I was going to jump!” 

Still settling down from the adrenaline rush, we headed out for our next stop. After the most strenuous part of the hike, we got to a relatively flat and straight portion of the path. As I’m walking, my hair got caught on a tree branch. I remember half turning around to free myself; I haphazardly fussed with my hair, thought I got loose and continued full speed ahead. That branch had other plans. It flung me back a bit, I tripped over a rock, and things went black. I don’t remember falling, just landing straight on my back. I hadn’t tried to catch myself or anything. My whole upper body felt the resounding thud as my body hit the ground with full force. I heard a shrill scream behind me. I just laid there for a cool minute trying to figure out if I could move and what the heck just happened. The couple and guide rushed over to me. “You almost hit your head on that rock!” A medium-sized jagged rock stuck out of the ground a few inches from my head. They helped me up, and in horror asked if I was okay. “Oh I’m good y’all. I’m fine.” And I kept on. (Y’all, I think my body was in shock, haha). As soon as we got back to the car, we noticed blood on the back of my leg. Five minutes later, the pain kicked in and I also noticed a nasty scratch across the back of my right arm. “Oh. I think I need some Neosporin, now.”  I had been hyper-mindful to stay safe on the rocks, and the second I became mindless I wrecked myself, haha. Really shaking my head…

Our next stop was Los Siete Chorros in San Lorenzo. We pulled off on the side of the road and went into a diner-looking spot. Our guide said there was good, home-style cooked food. There was a TV on that was showing music videos. “Suavemente” by Elvis Crespo was playing. The guide pointed out his wife as one of the dancers. It was only right that we recorded a video dancing to the song, showering her with compliments, and sent it to her, haha. We ordered lunch and headed out back, past a house (apparently los chorros are on private property), and right in their backyard was a beautiful set of waterfalls. The rock bed was hot and the water, warm.  The funny part was, based on pictures, this was the “secret waterfall” I was supposed to go to on the originally-planned coffee and waterfall tour! 

Once again, my little tour group were the only people at the falls. Ony showed us how to jump from these as well. Rocks closely enclosed the space, and barely three feet beyond where the water bubbled, it was extremely shallow. You had to jump straight down and directly beneath the fall. When it was my turn to jump, I got onto the impeccably tiny rock and I almost had a panic attack. There was very little margin for error so it was intimidating in its own way – not to mention several feet higher than the first waterfall. I almost backed down from this one but Ony offered to jump again and then I could follow him. I agreed. He came up, jumped in, turned around and waited for me. I followed his lead and hopped in. I was kind of happy to get that one over with. I’m glad I tried it but I tapped out after that one. Instead, I chose to close my eyes and meditate, letting the water lap against my body.

Now, the food. Once again, I have never had meat (chicken this time) so juicy! (The cilantro sauce was also served here, too). I had a side of the breadfruit tostones and a mango colada. The amount of chicken definitely lasted me two meals. Our guide climbed a tree and picked some star fruit (also called Carambola) for me to try, and the owner gave us all a shot of this fruit-infused tequila (on the house!). As we drove back to San Juan, we could see rain clouds hovering over El Yunque. Our day, on the other hand, was sunny, not too hot, and clear. I’d say this adventure was a win. The tour was $65 and I spent about $15 on food. 

I was dropped off last – we took a little scenic route through OSJ and my guide pointed out some great historical and food spots. I’m observant, so I started becoming familiar with the streets. I noticed El Morro Fort was just a block away from me. Ony said to hit him up if I needed any other recommendations or whatnot during my stay, and we parted ways…

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