Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Finding the Aventuras crew was a bit tricky! It was so early it felt like it was in the middle of the night, being completely dark and calm. No cars were out, and this helped me avoid an accident as I both drove through the maze of Puerto Rican freeways and looked at my roadmaps. I had no idea what I was in for until I met Pablo, the lead guide. His optimism was infectious. We had a crew of about 10 people, and the photo-painted van had a DVD player and comfortable chairs. It also had a PA system, which Pablo made good use of. It became apparent this was no ordinary tour, as Pablo began a one man show that was nothing short of completely entertaining! It was both comedic and informational. You could tell Aventuraspr.com was team building and motivational activities as much as Adventure Guiding. The drive to the caves was about 1.5 hours and half of that time was being entertained by Pablo. Aventuraspr has a facility outside of Arecibo for Team Building, including a ropes course, tribal music on a ghetto blaster and mini ampitheatre set in the rainforest. Its no wonder MTV's "road rules" and "Real World" came here to film, the operation is top notch and totally enjoyable every step of the way. After putting on our gear, we began the abseiling into the giant gorge encrusted with rainforest. Huge snails with shells like a nautilus cling to the trunks of the branches, the afternoon thunderstorm clouds start to build and you start to sweat from the combination of wetsuit and harness. Once inside the cave and the river, a feeling of being in a netherworld paradise sets in. The river is cool, I find myself dipping in it as often as possible. The formations are both intricate and grandiose, the chambers large enough to fit a small skyscraper. Some Sections of the caves were narrow slot canyons where we slowly float down the cold river past huge blades of rock. Other sections entail scrambling over 20 feet tall formations slick with muddy water trickling in from above. The trip runs through a giant 2 mile loop, it didn't take long before all of us were completely disoriented and in complete submission to our guides. They point out features of the caves that are unique, like the fossilized oysters complete with fossilized pearls. The mountains of Puerto Rico used to be the seabed, a revelation that never looses its impact for me. How special it is to experience this place. We stopped for lunch in the caves center. As we keep going and going through the cave, the guides point out that we have just made a giant loop and are in the same spot we had been previously. The difference is the water level, having already risen 4 feet since we entered! Now we all understand why it was necessary to leave so early in the morning, the daily(yes, everyday) thunderstorms are unpredictable- leaving late in the day with drastically changing water levels would be dangerous. We returned to San Juan at around 3pm glowing from the experience, although a bit tired. For me, there was more adventure ahead, as I was to drive back west to the surfing mecca of Rincon for more diving the following day. Such adventures also help me practice my Spanish, after taking some Spanish immersion classes.
I followed the coastline towards Areceibo, and what a beautiful coastline it was. I was finally away from the sprawl of San Juan. I passed through a small town where school was just let out, and it confirmed my belief that the best way to see what the people of a far off place is like is to see the children! When I got to Areceibo I headed south, into the flat topped limestone mountains and valleys. This limestone landscape known as karst is home to the caves I just visited, and near Areceibo it's also home to the famous radio telescope featured in the movie "Contact". Once I got to Dos Bocas Reservior, I was in awe of the landscapes that kept unfolding. Huge limestone cliffs covered in forest gave way to milky brown rivers. I saw few people, rare for an island of 5 million with one of the highest population densities on Earth. Following the Cordillera Central, I drove west towards Rincon. By this time my body was aching and my mind was craving sleep! I arrived in Rincon an hour before sunset, secured accomodations and had dinner. The west facing coast was perfect for sunset pictures, so I grabbed my camera and headed to Steps Beach. Christopher Columbus landed not 5 miles from here! As the sun set and the flashes from distant thunderstorms competed with the colors of the setting sun, I couldn't help but feel the timelessness of this special island.