Monday, December 28, 2009

Hiking/Floating the Tanama River

This past Saturday we were lucky enough to have been invited by Dallas (you may remember a post about him and his kayaking cat) to go on an excursion of sorts to the Tanama River. We have gone down one section of the river just above the dam a couple times with the SEPRI group but this section was to have "caves" that you pass through. Mention the word "cave"and we are there. It was another early morning. We have been having a lot of those lately. We left the house at 6am and met at the Arecibo Observatory at 8. Other participants dribbled in and by 8:30 we were all there, suited up, and ready to begin a long day of fun. First we had to pile into a couple cars to drive to the take in. The Observatory is where we would come out. If you have never been to these places (and even if you have) you may not find them. We drove for probably 40 minutes on windy roads down and then up and finally parked alongside the road. We then headed into the jungle for 40 minutes or so to reach the river. Maybe it was 40 minutes, maybe it was more, you just kind of walk...taking in the scenery...smelling the smells...chatting with people you have just met and people you already know.

Then we arrive at the river bank, scramble down and plop into the water. This hike/excursion was wet 3/4 of the time. We had life vests since the water was over our heads in places. Some people wore helmets and a few had headlamps. It is always a challenge to keep things like extra shirts and lunches dry when you are submerged most of the time. I sported my new "Guano Gear Personal Pack" which is a really nice, easy to drag around...push around...carry on your back pack with a huge drain hole so you don't cart around heavy water. Elvin tried the double-garbage-bag method of putting things in zip locks inside a hefty garbage bag inside another hefty and filled with air so his camera and stuff would float effortlessly (and hopefully water-free) down the river with him. I think he had some success- but it looked uncomfortable to haul on the dry parts. The first thing we encountered was this "cave" section. This was really a cavern since it wasn't full of water and you could see a slit of light at the end. Very cool to enter a tunnel like this - a near death experience (you know, "go to the light" and all that). It was nice to just drift into the dark and out again.

The water level was low since it hasn't been raining which is good - There were lots of things embedded in the ceilings of these caverns and it looks like they fill up regularly with water. See the tiny human in the light on the left? That gives you an idea of the scale of things. This river is really in a canyon.

We encountered interesting geology like these fallen-off sections of large rock.

Do you recognize this character? From Survivor Man perhaps? Tom had the strategy of taking off the dry shirt, braving the very cold water and putting the shirt back on for the shallower sections of our journey. He is clutching his survival pack of who knows what or maybe the pack doubles as flotation? (he looks cold at any rate)

Some more neat geology.

At some parts we opted to climb out of the water and into the sun and scrambled over rocks for awhile.

There were many beautiful waterfalls...

Lots of hanging vines and some nice caverns with small holes to explore...

Most openings were really wide and you imagine how much water passes through them.

To the left in the upper part here are some caves. Unfortunately on this trip you have to keep moving or you won't make it out by dark. Jeff popped up there for a quick look-see but you have to get to those caves from above.

On the left Diana floats by this beautiful waterfall. The sun was out and peeked into the canyon in many spots really making the jungle and geology look even neater. I really like to climb and get muddy - Jeff and the others were floating down below while a couple of us did some quick exploring on a ledge above. Jeff guided us to what he thought was a carving in the rock and when we got there it was...a carving. There isn't any way for us to know if it is Taino or recent (I'm always thinking recent) - it would be an odd place for the Taino to carve something (there are many carvings in the river beds of Puerto Rico though) but it would be odder for a recent human to carry rock chipping tools to this spot and chip away to fake out explorers like us. Who knows?

Anyway, the carving was pretty neat.

Now we are at the end and have to climb climb climb (and did I say climb?) out of the gorge. We had some pretty steep spots on what started out to be a trail...then we were following the fence line of the observatory on a trail of sorts - this looks like a trail right? We went for at least and hour before emerging into a farmers field. We could see the Observatory and knew we had to go up and around it, but the last time any one had been on this "trail" was a few years ago. I know how fast things grow in my yard, so I was amazed when after 20 minutes or so a trail was found! In the states you have trails that animals keep open - deer, raccoon, possums, there aren't any mammals other than feral dogs to do that. So what keeps the trails "open"? On other excursions we were told the trails had been used by Tainos and local people for foraging...maybe that is the case here too. So now we had the really steep part of the trail. When going somewhere for the first time you just don't know what to expect and how long to expect it for. This is both good and bad. The bad thing is that is seems that you won't get out and it will never end. The good thing is that you don't know how long you have been hiking or how much further things are so you keep going at a good clip since it is getting dark, your feet are soggy, there are still rocks in your boots, the hunger pangs start and mainly it is getting dark! We locate the trail and some very old flagging. (I really need to bring a roll of flagging tape with me at all times to re-mark some of these spots.) We follow the trail out and ta da are close to the end.

Finally we emerge at around 6pm on the other side of the viewing area of the Observatory. We trudge down one last part with a Yee- Hahh and clean up a little, shuttle back to the cars, go off to the Mofongo place and have some dinner. By the time we get home it is 10:30 at night. Iraida and Bro had maybe even a little longer trip back and everyone else lives near us or San Juan. This was a little longer than we thought it would be, more interesting than you can imagine or see from the photos, and the group was a group of really nice people. We hear there is another section that has 6 caves to pass through. We also hear that it is an even longer trip. Guess we have to wait until we get an extra hour or so of daylight to do that one! So thanks Dallas for arranging everything, a thanks to Tom for leading the way, and everyone else for another great adventure! Who does this kind of stuff? The next morning we were back up in Aquadilla for some diving. The waves were kind of big, the current was really weird, and the visibility was around 20 (bad for here) with milky white water from all the suspended sediment. As soon as we got close to Aquadilla we saw surf boards everywhere and knew it wasn't going to be great, but diving is relaxing for your joints and mind (unless there is trouble) so we popped in for an hour or so. We came out into even bigger waves and figure diving is going to suck for a while. That's ok though - we got a bit of exercise Saturday and frankly, I need a rest!

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