Sunday, April 28, 2013

Razor Grass, Rain, and Other Adventures




It looks like harmless grass, doesn’t it?  And it looks like they’re enjoying themselves, doesn’t it? 
Well it isn’t.  And they…well, they were, but no thanks to the grass!!

This weekend, Josh and Amanda and I went camping in El Yunque.  We wanted to hike the Tradewinds/Rio Sabana trails, essentially hiking from the North to South end of the national rainforest (and back again).  Since round trip it should have taken about 8 hours of hiking, and the two of them have 2 tents and 3 backpacks down here, they suggested camping in the forest.  And how could I pass up an offer like that? 

With the help of our favorite trip-planning website, we planned our route for the day.  We figured that, according to the information on puertoricodaytrips.com, we should have about 2 ½ hours of hiking to reach a potential campsite, where we’d drop our packs, then maybe another hour and a half to go to the end of the trail and come back to camp.  Easy day. 

Start of day.  We're such rebels.

Since the article was written on prdaytrips, though, the trail has been “closed,” and because of that, the trail has not been maintained.  I’m pretty sure this slowed us down. 

We did take this into account.  The article said we’d come to our turn-off from Tradewinds Trail onto the Rio Sabana Trail after about an hour and a half of hiking.  Yet after nearly 3 hours of hiking, we decided we’d probably missed it and gone too far.  We turned around and hiked about 20 minutes before deciding to stop for lunch.  There, just to be SURE, Josh dropped his pack and ran back and farther than we’d gone to see if we hadn’t gone far enough.  40 minutes later he came back, and said nope.

We continued back up the trail.  About 25 minutes later, we did find the trail we’d missed.  But we could understand why we’d missed it the first time.

Here’s the picture from puertoricodaytrips, and what we were looking for:

photo from puertoricodaytrips.com

Here’s what we actually saw:



(see the remnants of the ribbons?) 



Once on the right trail, we started keeping our eyes out for a good camping site.

But not before we went through the worst patch of razor grass yet. 
What is “razor grass,” you ask? 

Well, it’s grass.  Looks harmless enough, right?



WRONG!

This grass wants to make friends.  So when you walk by, it grabs onto you and refuses to let go.


 If you brush by, it digs in and cuts.  Like a razor. 
Obviously the grass doesn’t understand how to make friends.

Its not fun to walk through if you don’t have long pants and long sleeves, therefore. 

Thankfully, I was wearing pants, but Amanda had capris, and her shins got really scraped up.  Josh’s did too, but for some reason his didn’t bother him like Amanda’s did (or at least that’s what he claims). 
Josh had a pair of pants, so Amanda put them on…and tied them with not one, but several knots to make sure they wouldn’t fall down! 



So anyway, we were dealing with that. 
Did I also mention it was raining off and on all day long?  Well, it was.  Enough to keep us nice and cool, and also enough (we discovered later) to pretty much soak the outer layers in our packs.

The entire Rio Sabana trail was only supposed to be 1 ¾ hours long, so we expected to come to the “potential camping spot” noted on our map after 30-45 minutes.  Yet an hour into the trail, all we’d seen were steep drop-offs, foliage-covered slopes, and patches of razor grass.  Not a good camping site in sight, and I for one was beginning to consider the possibility that we’d have to finish the hike and camp in the picnic area at the end of the trail (even though that’s technically not a camping area according to El Yunque rules).  And then, finally, Josh spotted a patch of calm water from the trail, and when he scampered down the bank to go check it out, discovered an idyllic sandbar where we decided to make camp for the night. 



We left our packs there, and equipped only with a bottle of water and our cameras, we set off to finish the Rio Sabana trail.  It was almost 4pm by this point, but we figured we couldn’t have more than 30-40 minutes left until the end of the trail. 

Without packs on, we all felt light, agile, and energetic.  We picked up our pace considerably.

…It still somehow took us 52 minutes to emerge at the picnic area.  Whoever decided this trail should take 1.5 hours start to finish should revisit that thought. 

We took some time to sit at a picnic table, celebrate the completion of our goal, and enjoy the waterfalls near the pavilions.  Then, we booked it back up the trail.  It was 5pm by this time, and we wanted to make sure we had time to set up the tents and cook in daylight.  Josh set a ground-eating pace, and we made it to our campsite in 40 minutes. 

Amanda and I set up our tents on the sandbar, while Josh got to work on the food using our makeshift campstove (a cooking pot with charcoal in the bottom and the grill-rack from Josh and Amanda’s grill laid over the top).  The sun went down, and we saw a few fireflies (the first Amanda and Josh had ever seen in real life!  Can you believe it?)  After a tasty dinner of chili dogs, we bathed in the river, then sat around the dying embers of the coals, underneath a palm frond that sheltered us from the rain.  (It was raining again, did I mention?) 

our dinner spot

Our campsite fulfilled for me every childhood dream I’d had of discovering the perfect forest oasis in which to set up camp.  Ever since reading The Boxcar Children when I was young, I wished I, too, could find such a perfect river-fed pond…calm and deep enough to bathe, clean enough to gain water to cook.  I wanted to use my resources like the kids in the story did.  When Josh tied his water bottles to a log, then threw them into the cool water to let them chill overnight, I felt like we were doing just that.  We had everything we needed at that campsite.  I wish we’d had more daylight (and maybe a touch less rain) to enjoy it and play in the water. 

Sidenote: I really didn’t mind the constant rain.  The only thing that bothered me was the thought of having to put on my sodden, sand-encrusted shoes again the next morning and squelch my way down the trail.  …And the worry that my things and I would be too wet for me to feel warm as I slept. 

Sleeping that night was filled with sounds.  The coquis sang in a hundred-part chorus, the stream rushed by at the feet of our tents, and rain pattered overhead.  It was loud, definitely, but quite relaxing.  And surely not something everyone gets to experience. 

It rained most of the night, but thankfully the river level only rose about 6 inches.  (Much more and we would have been in the water in our tents!)  Our cooking pot did seemingly get swept away in the night, though.  Well, that, or a team of rabid mongooses (mongeese?) stole it away under cover of darkness. 

camping RIGHT on the water. only advisable because
the river was so calm and slow-moving at this point.

In the morning, we packed up our wet tents and were on the trail by 8:10.  This time, with slightly lighter packs, confidence in where we were headed, and motivated by the thought of the dry change of clothes waiting in the car, we made the entire trip from campsite to car in just under 3 hours.  (Pretty big improvement from nearly 5 hours to get there the day before!) 

I think all 3 of us would agree on several things after this trip.
1) It was worth it.
2) We are glad we hiked the trails, but we probably wouldn’t do them again after doing them once.
3) Razor grass is evil!!!  

It's blurry, but this is what my arm looks
like after the trip.

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