Gozalandia Waterfall…If You Can Find It, You’ll Love it!

Road trips are often an adventure. You can discover great places, and have interesting experiences along the way to your intended destination. This is our road trip to Gozalandia waterfall in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico.

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Gozalandia Waterfall

We leave San Juan bright and early, the whole family packed into the car like sardines. Happy ones, though. We have food and music and a sense of adventure. Our nephew and his girlfriend are in the car in front of us, leading the way. Somehow things go awry west of Arecibo. We should be heading inland towards San Sebastian, but we seem to be going somewhere else. We follow along until we realize that we are definitely lost. But where we are lost is amazing. We have somehow ended up in Bosque Estatal De Guajataca, a beautiful forest with a tiny winding road leading through the trees. We even find a tower to climb to further enjoy the view. Our poor young tour guides are getting stressed, but they shouldn’t be. This was worth getting lost for!IMG_0442

We eventually find ourselves on a familiar road and make it to San Sebastian and Gozalandia Waterfall. There is a parking lot where we pay $5 to park. We grab our towels and cooler full of beer and snacks and make our way down the decidedly treacherous trail to the bottom of the falls. It is muddy, steep and slippery, but manageable. It’s worth all the effort. The waterfall is beautiful, maybe 50 to 60 feet high, and cascades down over the rocks, creating hidden caves. It doesn’t take us long to drop our gear and jump into the cool water. We scramble up the rocks on the left of the waterfall and creep behind the pounding water. It’s very thrilling. From there, we watch as the bravest people jump from high up on the wall into the pool. Exploring the area, we find a small cave to the right of the falls that we can swim into. It’s small, only big enough for a few people at a time. I can’t convince some of our group to try; it just looks too scary. It isn’t a long swim to the air pocket inside, though. I’m able to grab my daughter’s hand and pull her into me. It’s a day of fun swimming, jumping and exploring.

We find out later that there is actually another waterfall farther upstream, but by then everyone is too tired to explore. Apparently there is a rope you can use to swing out into the deep pool. Next time!

Helpful info:

Obviously, I cannot give great directions here! I have researched online and found these GPS coordinates, which everyone seems to use. Try them and see –  18.358268,-66.986489

There are a lot of hiking trails and caves to explore in Bosque Estatal de Guajataca. That is next on my list when we visit again. If you are going out to Gozalandia, though, you may want to do a little research and make a day of it.

Bring snacks and drinks, as there is nothing at the falls. I don’t go anywhere without my Olympus Stylus Tough Camera, as it is water proof and shock proof. That makes it perfect for these kinds of adventures.

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Jumping off the cliff

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Behind the Falls

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The view from behind the falls

 

 

 

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Peeing in the Extremes

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A night critter

The night is so dark, hot and humid. Huge trees overhead block out the light from the millions of stars I saw earlier. I stare up at the roof of the little tent I am supposed to actually be sleeping in and listen to things drop on it and scurry around. I shudder to think what is all out there in the rain forest. That would be the Amazon rain forest, and from a night hike the day we arrived, I know it is teeming with critters like spiders, insects and bats. Not the easiest environment to tent in, but we are determined to experience it all! “Mom,” I hear from the dark. “I have to go to the bathroom.” What?! This has got to be a joke. I don’t want to go out there!Where’s Rafael when I need him? We had earlier laughed when the crew set up two little tents in the small clearing. One of them was clearly a honeymoon suite with hearts and flowers in it. Did they really think I could leave my 10-year-old daughter to sleep in a tent alone in the Amazon? Obviously, they don’t have kids. I’m not laughing now. I should have made her father sleep with her, but who knew? She never, ever gets up in the night at home! I try pleading. “Are you sure? You don’t think you can wait until it gets light?””No Mom. I need to go now!”

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Our home for the night

Shit. Okay. I’m a grown woman. I can handle this. I turn on my headlamp and look around. At least we are both fully dressed. I unzip the tent and peer out, cringing as I hear something fall on the roof. Luckily Rachel doesn’t hear anything, or things could really go south. Our high jungle boots are outside the door. I pick them up, turn them over and give them a good shake. We’ve been warned about things crawling in. I have to wonder why we weren’t allowed to take them in with us. I guess our guides didn’t pack a vacuum to clean up the mess in the tent. Amateurs.

Off we go, into the night. Our “bathroom” is a hole in the ground with a portable toilet seat on a stand above it. “Don’t sit down, Rachel. I can’t see what might be under that seat.” She does her thing with no complaints while I look out into the trees. Wow, it is so amazing here. It’s warm and a little breezy and so alive. Camping is a total pain, but it is so worth it right now. This is a sight not many people get to see, and we are here!

Since I am both a mother and over 40, there is no way I can pass up a chance to pee, so I take my turn and we head on back to camp. That wasn’t so bad!

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Fast forward 8 months. It is bitterly cold and we are sleeping in a block of ice. Literally. We are at the Ice Hotel in Quebec. The place is beautiful, amazing, another adventure! It is also very hard to sleep in. The very thin mattress sits on a block of ice. The air is so cold that it actually hurts to breath in through your nose. If you pull your neck warmer up to over your nose, it quickly becomes wet and you feel even worse.

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At check-in, we are given a class on how to prepare for bed. We take all our toasty clothes to a locker room, where we change into bathing suits. The terry cloth bathrobe is a flimsy shelter from the cold as we make our way to the outdoor hot tub. We gingerly settle into the water, shockingly hot on our frigid toes. Our mission? Get as overheated as we can stand. Once we are suitably boiled, we race back into the locker room and put on our layers. Lots of wool to hold in the heat. We make our way directly to our room and zip into our sub-zero sleeping bags. I’ve never slept in a ski hat before and spend all kinds of time trying to make it comfortable to lie on. Whatever. I anticipate a difficult night anyway. A few hours go by and I’m drifting, on that edge of sleep where you’re relaxed but still aware. “Mom, I have to go to the bathroom.” Oh no! What is up with this? Does she do it on purpose to torture me? If I leave my cocoon, I’ll never get warm again. I don’t want to go back in the hot tub! “Are you sure you can’t wait until morning?” “No, Mom, I have to go now!” I am defeated. Well, it’s not like my bladder hasn’t been complaining for the last hour. After a trip to the bathroom, we stick it out for another half hour, too cold now to even pretend to sleep. Luckily, part of the Ice Hotel package is a real hotel room. With heat. “That’s it guys,” I say. “We are heading to the hotel.” I get no arguments, and we gather our stuff and trudge out to the van.

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That is not a thick mattress!

I wonder where our next peeing adventure will be? We love to rock climb, and Rafael and I watch all these amazing climbers who go up a mountain partway and have to attach a tent to the side of the mountain to sleep. Maybe we should try that. I don’t even know how they pee, as they don’t seem to highlight that in their films. Spoilsports. I’m sure Rachel will love it!

 

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Frontier Towns

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Aguas Calientes

The evening streets are chaotic. Filled with people, there is not a car in sight. Music blasts out of the open doors and windows of bars. Incredibly aggressive restaurant hosts push menus at your face as you walk by. Everyone wears rugged, hiking and trekking clothes. Many are seriously not clean. This is Aguas Calientes, Peru, the gateway to Machu Picchu.

Inaccessible except by train, which isn’t all that reliable, or by foot via the Inca Trail, Aguas Calientes is a true frontier town. Myself, I’m a mall kind of girl. I live fifteen minutes from anything I could ever need. Convenience is the name of the game. For some reason, though, I love frontier towns. They’re just so different; vibrant, exciting, colorful and unique. The difficulty of getting to them is part of the adventure. Aguas Calientes, Peru; Ushuaia, Argentina; Talkeetna, Alaska; Myvatn, Iceland and other places like them, are some of my favorite stops in our travels.

Aguas Calientes stands out because of how remote it is, how hard it is to get to, and the kind of people who frequent it. The atmosphere is one of relief to have arrived and anticipation of what is to come. Machu Picchu sits high above the town, visible from the window of our little Inn. The imposing mountains are part of the town, closing it in, making it seem even smaller than it actually is. The trekkers who have just arrived from the Inca Trail seem to make their way directly to a bar to celebrate. We ride the train, as our daughter, Rachel, is a bit young for a three-day hike. The train may be easier, but it sure isn’t seamless! The tracks are covered in debris from a recent rock slide so they pack the train passengers into vans to drive beyond the slide. Only, there are no roads. We bump through fields, along streams and even on the tracks. It takes forever and is nausea-inducing. It feels like paradise when Rafael, Rachel and I finally board the train.

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Machu Picchu

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The thing about frontier towns is that they’re there for a reason. Something amazing is nearby. Machu Picchu is an experience of a lifetime. The beauty, the history and the way the sun hits the ruins, makes it almost otherworldly. In Ushuaia, you have the southernmost city in the world, “El Fin del Mundo,” an amazing National Park, and the last port before Antarctica. Talkeetna, a picturesque, fun town, is the staging area for those who are climbing Denali, and a great place to float down the river.  Myvatn has natural hot spas, set in a stark volcanic landscape, far from the crowds of the Blue Lagoon in the south. These towns attract people who are looking for something amazing. And they find it.

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Myvatn hot springs

When we travel, we try to experience as much of a place as we can; its food and drink, music and dance, wildlife and scenery. There are new experiences to be had everywhere, from big cities like Buenos Aires to small islands like Santa Cruz, Galapagos. For us, it’s all about finding out what is unique about a place and then experiencing it. Frontier towns are a great way to do this. They offer up a unique and interesting view of a people and place. Go the extra mile (or hundred) and see for yourselves!

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Myvatn

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Myvatn

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Ushuaia

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The southernmost post office in the world!

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penguins live outside Ushuaia

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overlooking town

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hiking in the National Park

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climbing the glacier above town

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Talkeetna. Ready to float.

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the view on the river

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level: 2 Most of these towns are easy enough to get to if you’re willing to drive. Aguas Calientes is the only one you will need to have a bit of fortitude to reach. Anyone can do it, though!

Fitness Level: 2 Again, only Aguas Calientes will make you work a bit. The rest you just need to be willing to drive!

More info?

When we flew into Lima, Peru, we stayed overnight at the airport hotel and then flew out the next morning to Cusco. From there, we were picked up at the airport by a driver from El Albergue Inn, located in a Sacred Valley town called Ollantaytambo. We spent a couple nights there, acclimating to the altitude and enjoying this amazing Incan town. The Inn was just perfect – wonderful people, beautiful room and grounds and delicious food. We walked everywhere we wanted to go. Here is the link: http://www.elalbergue.com/en/

In Aguas Calientes we stayed at the Rupa Wasi Eco Lodge. We loved it there. It is set on a hill, away from the craziness of town, but close enough to walk to everything. It’s rustic, but everything there is! They have a high quality restaurant, with some tasty passion fruit offerings. http://rupawasi.net/ingles/index.html

In Iceland, you will find that once you leave Reykjavik, there are not a lot of choices in where to stay. As you get as far northeast as Myvatn, the options are down to one or two. We chose Skutustadir Farm. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the views are spectacular and breakfast is tasty. http://skutustadir.is/en/

Talkeetna, Alaska had more options for lodging. We stayed at the Denali Fireside Cabins, which was perfect for us. We had room to spread out and relax and the location was great. We even got takeout and ate in the cabin as it was so nice! http://www.denalifireside.com/

Ushuaia, Argentina also has a lot of options for lodging, many with a high price tag, as it is the jumping off point for travel to Antarctica. We chose something that was family friendly and affordable for the five nights we were there. The Tango Bed and Breakfast was great. The room was small, but ensuite. The breakfasts were good and, best of all, there was a tango night! The owner plays the accordion and teaches guests who stay for more than three nights how to tango. There is also plentiful wine! http://www.tangobyb.com.ar/index.php

 

Beneath the Volcano

After a summer off, I am finally back to writing. I dedicate this story to our friend Virginia Maxwell, who was taken from us far too soon. We love her and miss her.virginia

 

We walk along the jungle path, the greenery closing in around us. Birds call and insects buzz. Reaching a large, dark hole in the ground, we begin our descent into the longest and deepest lava tube in the world. The air is immediately cooler, dropping about 20 degrees to the low 60’s (Fahrenheit,) which makes me glad I have on a sweatshirt. As we slowly move away from the cave opening, the sunlight disappears. Only flashlights and headlamps penetrate the inky blackness. This is the Kazamura lava tube on the Big Island of Hawaii, and it is unlike any cave we have ever seen.

misc 112Over the years, we have toured a lot of different kinds of caves.  From Iceland to Tennessee, Puerto Rico to Texas, we have explored caves. We even went deep into a coal mine in Nova Scotia, which is basically a man-made cave. The Kazamura cave is different from them all. The stalactites and stalagmites were made from flowing lava, not water. That changes everything!misc 116

The cave rests beneath Kilauea Iki, which is still a very active volcano. An eruption 700 years ago started the slow process of creating the cave system. We see amazing sights as we walk through with our guide. There are “lava roses,” which are rare. They are formed when lava from a tube below fills up and then oozes through a small opening in the floor. As it bubbles up it creates a rose-like shape. There are also lava straws that hang from the ceiling; lava ripples along the floor, where a rock fell into a pool of lava; and lavafalls along the walls. Many of the formations are chocolate brown in color and look almost shiny, which is caused by minerals and the way the lava cools. It’s all really beautiful and different.misc 117

Our guide tells us that two creatures live here in the deep: an albino spider and an albino cricket. They feed on the minerals in the water. Of course, just after hearing about the bugs that could be surrounding us, our guide has us turn out our lights so that we can experience true darkness. That is always an amazing experience, leaving  you a little breathless and profoundly glad that there are always back-up flashlights! Rachel, age 8, is beyond happy to have the lights back on.misc 063

We end our tour back where we started; in the jungle. The air is warm and the sun is shining. It’s time to explore the volcano from the outside. We are heading off to hike the Kilauea Iki trail into the big crater. Can’t wait!

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level: 2 The only issue is if you are seriously afraid of the dark or claustrophobic. If you are, caving may not be for you!

Fitness Level: 1 This is an easy, one-hour tour. The guide will go at your speed.misc 055

More info?

There were only the three of us on our tour, which was great. Tours are run by Kilauea Caverns of Fire http://www.kilaueacavernsoffire.com/  You have to call and make an appointment. We did the one hour tour, which is perfect for anyone with kids.

We stayed at the Kahi Malu Guest Cottage in Volcano Village while we were exploring Volcano National Park. With two bedrooms, it’s great for a family. There is also a kitchen so you can save on dining if you want.  https://www.volcanogallery.com/lodging/KahiMalu.htm

 

 

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Feel the Rush; a River Slide Adventure in Puerto Rico

“I climb up the slippery rocks with my sister-in-law. We eye the torrent of water that is flowing to our right and try to figure out where we should get in. I slowly climb into the middle of the river slide, holding on to the rocks at the side while I get my bearings…and my courage! I let go and race down the smooth river rock. I twist and turn as I pick up speed. With a splash I hit the pool at the bottom. What fun! I just took a ride on the natural water slide called Las Pailas (or Paylas) in Luquillo, Puerto Rico….”

Please go to Clapway to read the rest of my article. I’m doing a whole series on Puerto Rico, a place very close to my heart. There will be stories of adventures, day-trips and the inside scoop that only a local can give you.

http://clapway.com/2015/01/13/puerto-rico-day-trips-adventures-and-the-inside-scoop123/

Enjoy!

 

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The Tidal Bore is no bore!

We sit on the edge of the Zodiac raft, clutching the nylon straps, faces turned into the breeze. The sun is shining down on Rafael, Rachel and I as we watch the foot high wall of water rush towards the raft. The excitement builds as the tidal bore rushes past us with a little bump under our feet. tidal bore 4Our raft picks up speed; we do a quick turn and race back to where the bumps have turned into Class V rapids. Stomachs drop and roll as we ride up and down the tight sets of waves. The sun-warmed water splashes in our faces as we laugh and hold on tight. When we get to the end of the waves, our driver races back around to the beginning and starts over again. We are on the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia, experiencing the thrill of tidal bore rafting. It is a unique and wild ride!tidal bore 2

The Bay of Fundy, which has the largest tidal range in the world at more than 47 feet (14+ meters,) is what provides us the big waves. When the tide comes in, it changes the flow of the river, with the Bay water rushing in over the River water flowing out. Don’t miss Hall’s Harbour, a very tiny, picturesque fishing village on the coast of the Bay of Fundy. Come at low tide when boats in the harbor literally sit on the sandy bottom. Come back at high tide to see them floating in 47 feet of water!

But I digress…

Back on our Zodiac, we ride the waves until everyone has had enough. tidal bore 3We then cruise over to a part of the river that has muddy banks. Here the more adventurous can jump out of the raft, climb the bank and slide down in the mud. Rachel loves it! The mud itself is warmed by the sun and is very fine and smooth. Go ahead and slide down, head first, feet first, or just roll down into the water. By the end, we look like we were dipped in chocolate. We take a swim to clean up a bit and jump back in the boat. On the way back to our starting point, we see Bald Eagles flying overhead, which make for a perfect ending to a wonderful adventure!

Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage level: 2 – Unlike traditional white water rafting, you do not have to hold a paddle and maneuver your boat around rocks. You can just hold on to the straps. This makes it much safer and easier. Even if you fell out of the boat, there are no rocks beneath these waves.

Fitness level: 2 – All you really need to be able to handle is the physical stress of being thrust up and down on the boat. If you have a bad back or neck, or are pregnant, this is not the activity for you. I actually have all kinds of work-out related injuries, but none of them bothered me here!

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Do I need special gear?

The Shubenacadie River’s water is full of mud during this adventure (maybe it always is, I don’t know!) You need to wear clothes you are willing to throw away. I’m not kidding, everything will have to go. There is a thrift store called Louis’ in Truro that you can get some cheap clothes if you don’t bring any. We didn’t know this ahead of time, so we went there and got clothes for the three of us for $16. Rachel and I did wear our own underwear, which we then had to toss because you cannot get that dirt out! I even took mine home to try and wash it with good detergent and no luck. So don’t wear a bathing suit or anything decent!

If you have a shock or waterproof camera, you could bring that. We did not have our Olympus Stylus Tough yet for this trip. It would have been fun for the mud sliding, but we were holding on too much for the rafting part! The rafting photos shown here are not my own.

Any more info?

There are a number of companies offering rafting trips. We went with Tidal Bore Rafting Park http://www.raftingcanada.ca/rafting.php and we liked them a lot. Our guide was friendly, everything seemed well maintained, and safety was an obvious priority.

We stayed in Truro at the Tulips and Thistle Bed and Breakfast. http://www.tulipsandthistlebedandbreakfast.com/  We loved it. The room was very comfortable and the breakfast was so good! It’s also in a good location for a number of other attractions.100_3972

Nova Scotia is a great family destination. There is so much to do and see. There are a lot of outdoor activities, like rafting, hiking, whale watching and rock collecting. There is also an incredible amount of history, museums, culture, great food and music, and in July, they have the Highland Games in Antigonish. That is a treat for anyone to see!

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Hall’s Harbour at low tide

 

Halls Harbour High Tide

Hall’s Harbour at high tide

 

Sharks! A diving adventure in Bora Bora

I peer through the clear, salty water to see my husband descending alone to the sandy bottom 18 meters below. I reach out to grab him, but he slips away too fast. I try to catch his attention but have no way to make noise (I really need to work on that problem!) I put my regulator in my mouth, go down a couple meters and yell. Of course, that doesn’t work. He keeps going. I can clearly see the three huge lemon sharks gliding through the water below him. Can’t he? The Dive Master said anyone who was feeling queasy in the swells could drop down out of them. Rafael should know he didn’t mean to go all the way to the bottom alone!

The rest of us start our descent. It’s a perfect day for a dive; clear, 85 degrees, light wind. The water is 80 degrees, so Rafael and I don’t wear wet suits. The water is clear for at least 18 meters, so I can easily keep an eye on Rafael. He now hovers on the clear, sandy bottom. It’s nice and flat, with no flora around. The two sharks are circling him. He is turning like a wheel, watching them as well. The only sound I hear is my breath through the regulator. It’s very calming, unlike what I’m watching. In. Out. In. Out. When the sound starts to fade away, I pinch my nose with my fingertips and blow hard. Crackle. Pop. My ears clear and I can hear again. I continue my descent and perform an ungainly pirouette, feet first, to see what’s behind me. I see other divers, some small fish and clear water reaching out forever.

In less than a minute, I make it to the bottom. Rafael joins me. I try to give him a wifely disgusted face, but it’s hard in a mask and regulator under water, so I give up and enjoy the view. Sharks! They circle us all now. The lemon sharks are wonderfully ferocious looking, with a blunt head and round eyes, and the much-expected mouth full of teeth. These are big, maybe 3 meters, and have a second dorsal fin. An entourage of small fish stay so close, they look to be attached. The sharks watch us closely but make no aggressive moves. We continue our dive, checking out other interesting flora and fauna. A moray eel sighting is cool, but nothing comes close to the excitement of the sharks. We are at dive site Tapu in Bora Bora, it is the first time we have seen sharks, and it is thrilling!

4 Seasons Dock

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Can I do this adventure?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most difficult.

Courage Level: 2 – If you scuba dive, this is a great place to do it. The water is clear, warm and full of amazing things!

Fitness Level: 2 – This is no different from any other dive. All diving requires some basic level of fitness, but nothing crazy.

Do I need special gear?

A few bathing suits and lots of sunscreen!

We also brought our snorkel and mask but we dd not need them because they had them in the rooms. Although we didn’t have a camera for our dive, we did bring our Olympus Tough camera to take lots of other underwater pictures. It was great for snorkeling and when we fed the sharks and rays.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA stingray and suckerfish

More info?

We use Top Dive, a PADI 5 Star dive shop. We do a two tank dive, our first to Tapu and our second dive to Toopua. Tapu takes you out of the reef that surrounds Bora Bora so you see bigger sharks, but the sea can get rougher. The other is a beautiful coral garden.  http://www.topdive.com/bora-bora-diving.html#dive-sites

This is not our typical adventure trip. It is the only trip we have taken without our daughter since she was born and it is very luxurious. We still have some great adventures, but it is not exactly budget -friendly as a whole! On that note, we stay at the Four Seasons, which is out of this world. The bungalows over the water, the treatment by staff, the views, the ocean, it is all amazing. For us, probably a once in a lifetime trip!  http://www.fourseasons.com/borabora/

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