written by Lisa Fox
I had a hard time taking him seriously. Dan, my fantasy sports addicted husband whose idea of roughing it was not having WiFi access, wanted to go traipsing through the El Yunque Rainforest.
“It’ll be fun,” he’d said. “Something different. You could use different.”
He was right. I needed a change of scenery. Not so much a getaway, but a true escape. I had lost my beloved godmother only months before and somehow needed to find a way to get out of my own head. Soft sand, ocean breezes, and margaritas in the heart of Puerto Rico were just the elixir I thought I needed. And he wanted to be Indiana Jones.
We boarded the bus with all the other tourists. They were clad in cover-ups and bathing suits; I wore yoga pants, an athletic T-shirt, and my most comfortable walking shoes.
“Don’t you want to go under the waterfall?” he’d asked. “They say it’s amazing.”
No thank you. Freshwater plus warm climate meant only one thing to me – brain-eating amoeba.
Backpack in hand, I’d brought enough sunscreen and bug spray to last us an entire week, just a bit longer than the half-day tour that had been planned. And for our protection against those nasty, sudden downpours the website predicted, I’d brought rain parkas, neatly folded in their own little pouches for easy access.
I looked at my watch, counting the minutes until I could come back for some sun and sand.
It was a bumpy hour-long ride from our hotel to the heart of the island, but I did learn some fun facts on the way to El Yunque. Those cute little coqui frogs whose song echoed their name were expert mosquito catchers, so the industrial-sized can of bug spray was probably unnecessary. And the mountains surrounding the rainforest – the whole island, actually – served as a natural wall against the force of hurricanes. (As we’d learn years later, nature’s barricade, unfortunately, wasn’t strong enough to thwart the impact of Hurricane Maria).
We checked in at an educational center, fully equipped with gift shop and refreshments. We purchased souvenir T-s, refrigerator magnets, and a couple bottles of water, and were ready to begin our great adventure.
With the Indiana Jones theme stuck in my head, we approached the entrance to the rainforest with our tour guides. They pointed out the usual disclaimers: stay with the group, watch your footing. But there was one warning that hadn’t been mentioned anywhere on the website.
“Beware of the small Indian Mongoose.”
Apparently, this little rodent had been spotted with some frequency within the rainforest proper. Enough for them to put up a big yellow sign with his likeness – and warnings in both Spanish and English. Nasty little buggers, they were, and often rabid.
I looked at Dan. “Do you think it’s safe?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Who cares? Let’s go.”
He took me by the hand and led me to the group. Single file we began our journey through nature, leaving behind our footprints on the well-trod path. The foliage on the trees obscured the sky, the greenery around us a cloud that wrapped us in a tropical cocoon. The babbling brook at our side called us to walk forward, deeper into the heart of something living, breathing, bigger than ourselves.
I was lulled, certainly, by the beauty of the flowers that burst in red, yellow, and orange plumes between the dewy leaves, by the Monarch butterfly that flitted about, an accidental tour guide that seemed to take pleasure in a hapless flight amid our crowd.
Still, I looked over my shoulder. Past the flowers, through the trees, expecting to see the glowing yellow eyes of the mongoose staring back at me, licking its chops, ready to pounce.
As we walked, the slow whispering trickle of the babbling brook became a murmur, then a low roar, as the stream led us to the LaMina waterfall, the conversation of the rainforest converging at this oasis hidden beneath a canopy of leaves. Tufts of clouds poked through the greenery, perhaps reminding us of the many layers that hovered above.
The tour paused, then, as we were given time to wade in the warm water. Abandoning shoes, shirts, and coverups, everyone stripped down to their bathing suits and ventured into the pool.
Everyone except me.
“Bet you wish you brought your suit!” my husband said. He proceeded into the water, called by the cascade’s rumbling song. I wondered how many years (decades? centuries?) the water had spilled over those rocks, a perpetual faucet, and how many people had bathed under its deluge.
Some sat in the pool, admiring the waterfall from afar. Others pressed forward across the slippery rocks, determined to feel the power of the rushing water on their heads. Still others tottered in, just close enough to feel the kiss of the cool mist as it settled over their skin; not quite ready to allow the full impact of LaMina to wash over them.
I waited on the rocks, socks and sneakers intact.
Dan settled in next to the falls and motioned for me to come in.
I looked around at the old and the young, men and women immersing themselves in this moment; stopping their ordinary lives to touch and feel and breathe something extraordinary. And hated myself for my own inability to let go. The weight of my godmother’s death, the fear of those threats we cannot see, like brain-eating amoeba and wild mongoose, kept me rooted, limited.
LaMina is forever, and my time there was just a brief tick in the second hand on my clock.
I bent down, untied my sneakers, pulled off my socks, and hiked my yoga pants up over my knees.
My husband applauded.
I stepped into the water. It enveloped my foot like a silk stocking, cool and soft; the rocks beneath my soles cold, hard, slippery. Wobbling, with hands out to balance me, I made it in just above my knees, in water just high enough to touch the tops of my rolled-up pants.
Dan left his position, sloshing through the water to meet me. He wrapped me in the damp embrace of LaMina that I was too afraid to pursue myself.
And after just a few moments in the water, my time at LaMina was over.
The tour guides called us out to continue our journey through the woods and we marched down the steep trail.
“Glad you did it?” my husband asked. I nodded, happy I took the plunge – shallow as it was.
And then, the rains came. A few fat drops fell through the foliage canopy, like errant tears escaping despite one’s best efforts to hold them back. I looked up, and it was as if my gesture had invited the sky to let go. A torrent pushed through the leaves, the sound of the storm rivaling LaMina’s thunder. The water cascaded down my cheeks and before I realized what was happening, I was crying along with the sky – or perhaps it was crying with me; I couldn’t tell where my own tears began or ended.
The rain gear remained safely packed away, untouched.
By the time we reached the entrance of El Yunque, my skin was slick, my hair drenched, clothes soggy.
Dan pulled me close.
Our day in El Yunque was more than just a change of scenery, or some grand adventure. For me, the rainforest gave me the type of gift that you don’t always realize you’ve been given unless you’re willing to see beyond the wrapping.
Hope. Serenity. The power of letting go. The strength derived from simply being in the moment, whatever that moment brings.
And that, I will always treasure.