My first time to the El Yunque Rain forest was not typical. As the only tropical rain forest in the US National Forest Service, it is a force of nature that is breathtakingly beautiful, but also developed to accommodate many visitors. 600,000 people visit this place every year. There are a couple of main roads to take you up the mountain to a network of developed sites and trails. That is only on the north side of the mountain, facing the North Atlantic Ocean. The mountain is vast. At 28,000 acres, the parts that are developed and accessible to most of those people is just a small fraction of the entire area.
This is a true tropical paradise, by any standards. It has rich shades of green, more than you knew existed. All types of beautiful and exotic plants are there, some enormous. Tropical flowers abound and it is not uncommon to see wild orchids peppering the landscape. The multitude of freshwater streams that spring forth from the mountain are pristine. So pure and clear, never touched by the hand of man. With an abundance of waterfalls and deep pools, this virtual Garden of Eden is a place to cleanse and refresh.
It is no less beautiful and exotic than the fictional planet of Pandora in the movie Avatar. The only difference is that there are no large or dangerous animals here. It is a gentle giant with many magnificent secrets and a life force energy that is off the charts. For over a thousand years, the indigenous Tainos considered El Yunque to be a sacred area, “Home to the Gods” .
On one visit there, I spoke to a tour guide who told me that there are many ancient trails through the mountains, that somehow have been determined to be 3-4 thousand years old, used long before the Taino ever arrived on the island. Puerto Rico is said to be on the western edge of the Empire of Atlantis. Could that be where the trails originated? There are many legends that have existed for centuries here about strange being seen on (& above) the mountain. Some not from this world. It is common to hear about interdimensional gateways or portals here, and also about the many people who have been lost here and never found.
I had been coming to the island for several years before I made it to El Yunque. Of course, I had heard about it, and everyone here raves about it’s magnificent beauty. But sometimes I have an aversion to tourist areas. Sometimes, however, they are tourist areas for a reason: the power & beauty are so great, it cannot be overlooked.
In February of 2010 a friend told me of a guided tour sponsored by the Sierra Cub of Puerto Rico on the south side of the mountain, away from the tourist hot spots, to a place called Las Tinajas. We met at 7am just off the highway and caravanned up into the mountain on narrow winding roads, heading deeper into the rainforest. We drove straight up into the mountain until the road ended. From there we hiked for hours up the mountain into the heart of El Yunque. Sometimes on a trail beside the river and sometimes through the river itself. After 2-3 hours of hiking, we found a stunning spot to stop for lunch and a swim, before we hiked back down. Even a 20 ft cliff to jump off of!
It was a wonderful time, but with 15-20 people there, and our busy schedule of hiking & eating, I didn’t feel like I really got to connect very deeply with the nature or spirit of El Yunque. As I was hiking down, a crazy idea began to formulate in my mind: I could spend the night there on the mountain! I had all of my camping gear in the car, and we had passed by an old abandoned Hacienda on the way up that would make a perfect camping spot (see part one). After speaking with my guide and the adjacent landowners, permission was granted and I found myself racing the sun to get camp set up before dark.
The rainforest comes alive at night. So much energy, sound and activity from all of the jungle creatures: crickets & other insects, Coqui tree frogs, Owls and other exotic night birds all performed a symphony expressing the great circle of life in full manifestation. Alone, I was able to tune into the frequency of El Yunque and and finally connect intimately with this special place.
That night I had one of the most profound spiritual experiences of my life, as I was guided down to a sacred ceremonial spot on the river that we had not visited that day. Spirit Guides (or Guardian Angels) led me into the water, to a cave behind the waterfall that I never knew even existed. In the dark of night, at an unknown place, I had to let go of my fears and open my heart to trust the spiritual messages I was receiving. When I did that, I was led to a place so magnificent, beyond what I could have imagined. I had achieved an impossible task, and it felt to me that I had been through an initiation of sorts, with beings that I could not see, but could definitely sense.
When I returned the next day, I found a place of great beauty, yes, of course. But I also found a large, ancient altar with a Taino pictograph. That told me this very site has been used for ceremony & initiation for thousands of years. In my meditation there the following morning more was revealed regarding my spiritual mission on the island and in the world. I was also instructed to gather people together and bring them to this site, those who are ready, for their own initiation and energy activation.
Since then, I have been back many times. I have brought friends, loved ones and about half a dozen groups for sacred medicine wheel ceremonies, Vision Quests and initiations. Each time has it’s own magic and wonder, lessons and gifts. But the last time was certainly one of the most powerful and significant times, as I spent two nights in the jungle without a tent. I began to tell that tale in part one, and still have not finished it. That will have to wait for part three.
To be continued…