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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Spiders, Sharks and a Revelation; an adventure in the Peruvian Amazon

The tarantulas are as big as my hand and creep along the trunk of the tree we are standing beside. Our guide Paul helpfully shines a flashlight on the creatures a couple of feet from my head. It’s our first night at Explorer’s Inn, a research station and guest lodge in the Peruvian Amazon. This is what I’d been dreading since I planned and booked this trip. I love adventure, exploring new places, learning about different cultures. I do not like spiders. At all. Even as a kid, I would make my younger sister come into my room to kill any spider who dared to take up residence. Being in the Amazon, surrounded by the creatures? I was not in my happy place.

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My husband Rafael, our 10-year-old daughter Rachel, and I had arrived in Puerto Maldonado that afternoon from Cuzco. We already hiked around Machu Picchu and attended the Inti Raymi festival so were riding the high of those experiences. We met our guide Paul and drove to Infierno (which means Hell – a not so auspicious start) and then took a motorized canoe for a three-hour trip up the Tambopata River. It was a beautiful ride; exotic and unique. Oropendula birds’ nests hang from trees. Caimans line the banks of the murky river. Turtles rest in the sun with butterflies sipping their tears. Beautiful birds fly overhead.

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The main lodge at Explorer’s Inn

When we arrive at Explorer’s Inn, it’s what I expect from my research, rustic but comfortable enough. There is no electricity in the cabins but there is running water. Yay, showers and toilets! Other lodges I looked at had one wall opened to the outside so that you could be one with nature. Yeah, that’s too much for me. I like screens if they can help keep the spiders out! We settle in, eat dinner at the main lodge and get ready for the night hike.

118_5874 We cover as much skin as possible; long pants, long sleeves, hats and rubber boots that go up to our knees. We also have mosquito netting for our hats. We’re dressed like this whenever we hike in the jungle, no matter how hot it gets. The creepy crawlies here mean business. There is an ant they call the bullet ant because if it bites you it feels like you’ve been shot. In the beginning of our hike my daughter and I are tense and trying to see every direction at once. We’re convinced a spider or something is going to drop down for a bite. Eventually, though, we relax and just start to enjoy how amazing and beautiful the jungle is at night. There are all kinds of chirping, fluttering, croaking and flapping sounds around us. At one point a howler monkey starts roaring and it’s scary. Chills run down my spine (supposedly they used howler monkey calls as the dinosaur sounds in the Jurassic Park movies to give you an idea how scary they are!)

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A Capybara family by the river bank.

The next day we go another few hours up river in the canoe and camp in a tent. We are right in the thick of the jungle. Our guide uses a machete to hack a trail for us to hike. The critters are everywhere, from the wild hogs who scare even our guide to the ants marching up the trees. Spiders, snakes and more insects than I can count surround us. Birds fly overhead and monkeys swing in the trees. Many spiders come out at night so, of course, Rachel, who never does this at home, needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. We unzip the tent, bang our boots to make sure nothing is in them and head to the “bathroom” (read that to be a hole in the ground with a sheet around it!) 118_5962On the way back is when I have my revelation. I realize I am actually enjoying myself. The world I am in at that moment is so foreign to me, so amazing and full of life. The sounds, the smells, even the air just feel so alive. I cannot help feeling the same way. This is exactly why we travel and bring Rachel. At that moment there is nowhere else on earth I would rather be. I realize that maybe I’m not as afraid of spiders as I thought. I let it go and open myself up to the wonder around me and it is incredibly liberating. It’s a great lesson for me and Rachel. We are never too old to challenge ourselves and overcome what scares us most. That means I have only one more fear left to conquer. It is something that has been holding Rafael back from doing what he wants to do!118_5976

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Watch out for the Piranha!

I’m from the Jaws generation. I remember seeing that movie and being afraid to swim over the deep end of the pool in swim team practice. Never mind the ocean! My husband has been after me for years to get our scuba diving certification, but I was too afraid to go in the deep ocean. After we return home from Peru, we sign up and get certified. Now, sharks are one of my favorite dive sightings. From Bora Bora to Galapagos, we have been thrilled to watch them glide effortlessly through the water. When I was riding in that canoe in the Peruvian Amazon, I never would have believed it would lead me to the incredible world of scuba diving. Life is such an interesting journey.

Can I do this trip?

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most challenging:

Courage Level: 3 – As we saw, there really wasn’t anything to be afraid of, except for the unknown. However, you need the courage to get there and figure that out!

Fitness Level: 2-3 – You don’t need to be truly athletic to do this trip, but you do need to be able to hike for fairly long periods in high heat. We left for our hikes very early in the morning to beat the worst of the heat, and would walk for 4-5 hours. Luckily, there were not a lot of elevation changes. Afternoons would include rest times.118_5849

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Do I need special gear?

You want light clothes in the jungle, but you need to be covered. I wore a long sleeve shirt from Exofficio that had SPF in it with a bikini top under it – mostly because I could wash the bathing suit out at night and it would dry by morning or at least not feel awful damp. My husband wore a long sleeve shirt with wicking fabric. For pants we used thin, long pants that had bug repellent built in. Use the same clothes every day for hiking. Bring something else to change into when you are done and showered – shorts and workout tops worked for us. They give you high boots to use, but bring sandals for hanging around or to walk to dinner on the boardwalk. You don’t need any nice clothes here.

We always bring our cheap $5 Wal-Mart rain ponchos – we can fit 3 in one day pack easily with all our other stuff.118_5810

We use the Olympus Stylus Tough Camera. This is not the camera for photographers, but it is great for adventurers. It takes great pictures and causes you no worries. You can drop it, get it wet and bang it into trees and rocks. Nothing we have done to it has hurt it yet. It’s perfect for memory photos. Make sure you have enough memory cards because you won’t have your laptop here to upload pictures. They do have a generator for you to charge your camera.

Bring a hat and mosquito net for your head.

Get a small headlamp that will light your way at night. There is no electricity in the cabins. Bring a book for relaxing and a journal for recording your experiences.

A small pocket notebook is helpful on your hikes because your guide is full of information about plants. The Amazon has so many medicinal plants and he will be naming them left and right. You will never remember them all if you don’t write them down!

You will need sunscreen and insect repellent with Deet.

Bring a sense of adventure because you are going to love it!!

Any more useful info? (Always!)118_5779

Here is a link to a blog that has a photo and recording of the call of the Oropendula, a beautiful bird and an amazing nest builder!

http://oropendolaproductions.com/listen/

Here is a link so you can see some of the spiders in the Peruvian Amazon. Luckily, none of these were crawling on us (that we know of!) http://thinkjungle.com/amazon-rainforest-life/amazon-rainforest-spiders/

We stayed at the Explorer’s Inn, where we did a 5 day/ 4 night package. One night was three hours farther down river in a tent near a clay lick that macaws visit in the morning. We highly recommend this as we saw a lot of animals while so far out in the jungle. It was just my husband, daughter and I, and our guide, the cook and porters.  http://www.explorersinn.com/#

I mention Inti Raymi in my article. Inti Raymi is the Incan festival to the Sun God that is held in Cusco on June 24, the Summer Solstice. It is a huge event and well worth attending in Cusco, which was the Capital of the Incan Empire. The party goes on for days, culminating on the 24th with a ceremony at Saqsayhuaman, a Sun Temple about 2 km walk from the Old Town. Here is a link to learn about it:

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Inti Raymi

http://www.amautaspanish.com/destinations/learn-spanish-in-peru/peru-overview/festivals/inti-raymi-149.html

In Cusco, where we were prior to our trip into the jungle, we stayed at Second Home B&B, which we highly recommend. It is in the old section of the city, in walking distance to everything.  The prices were extremely reasonable, the rooms were very comfortable, they had WIFI, and breakfast was included. You can read about them on TripAdvisor.  http://www.secondhomecusco.com/en/bed-breakfast-cusco

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Second Home B&B

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