The Passions of Puerto Rico
The night was electric. Blanketed by a brilliant cosmos, we stood at the ocean's edge as the gentle surf lapped at our toes. The clock had just struck midnight, although time here is normally irrelevant. Silently and reverently, we clasped hands and stepped backward into the sea. In unison, our linked chain fell into the cool, cleansing waters not once, but three times. Emerging from the ocean dripping wet, I exchanged embraces with Sport Diver Editor Ty Sawyer and renowned photographer Amos Nachoum, our Sport Diver on Assignment mentors. Not expressions of affection, although we were here on Mona Island to experience "passion," but life-affirming hugs of camaraderie between divers, who only days ago were strangers. It was June 24, and we had just washed away our sins by celebrating La Noche de San Juan Bautista, a local annual ritual. Inside my tent, soaked and exhausted, sleep came easily that night as the coquí frogs serenaded. It was peaceful knowing that with the morning's light a fresh year would begin, and I could sin anew.
Three days earlier, my heart raced as I entered the Fort Lauderdale Airport to meet up with a group of total strangers who would be 24/7 companions for the next 10 days. I wondered, as I spied on the congregation from the sidelines, if the atmosphere would be congenial or competitive? After all, we were "on assignment" to capture the essence of Puerto Rico, with the best of our stories and photos chosen for publication in Sport Diver. During our adventure, both Ty and Amos would attempt to impart to each of us a lifetime of knowledge and expertise as we explored "The Passions of Puerto Rico" together. A colorful cast of characters had answered the call. We were all as different as the geographical distances that separated us from Canada to Costa Rica, connecting the dots in between. We all have our own stories, but as divers we share a common love of the sport and hefty appetites for exploration.
Day one in Puerto Rico was a wet and wild adventure, and we weren't even diving yet! Our driver Noel Sanchez traversed road passages so narrow that we were only a horn's warning blow away from meeting locals head-on and tumbling down a ravine of green. But every swerve was worth it to reach the interior and sacred area of the Utuado mountains and the Tanamá River. Tanamá means "butterfly" in the native indigenous language of the Taíno Indians. Raymond Sepulveda and Jorge Perez led us as we hiked the karst (limestone) region in the heart of the island, through royal palms and towering tropical ferns with lobes of green radiating like fingers reaching upward to compete for the sun. The rainforest rewarded us with many beautiful flowering and fragrant bromeliads as we hiked up and through the craggy arches of the Tanamá Cave.
The rain held off just in time for arrival at the home of Jorge and his wife, Denisse, where we were warmly welcomed with a homegrown and home-cooked organic feast. We savored lentil and beet soup, rice and beans, and a plantain dish, all served buffet-style in their self-sustained jungle home. Our dessert of fresh plantation bananas helped fuel us for zip lining through the rainforest of El Batey del Cemí. We dangled from strapped-on harnesses hanging from dual-pulleys a life-support system that kept us from dropping like blind bats to the forest below. Zipping through the canopy of trees and landing on a platform with mattress-lined trunks to "break" your zip (rarely necessary, thanks to Jorge and crew) was a rush of pure excitement.
Click HERE to go back to the main story.