Nothing was planned and it bothered me. On top of that there was miscommunication between me and my travel buddy and so my day started with an argument. I was not feeling like spending a day together. The one big thing left to do in Baracoa was to climb El Yunque, the iconic 575m high iconic mountain that looks like a table mountain, but really isn’t. The guidebook describes it as a rite of passage and it is one of the most popular things to do in the area. We ended up rushing out of the casa, drinking our breakfast juice on the way out while I was trying to apologize to the lovely girl who was serving us breakfast. We did make it to the mountain, but it was a bizarre day.
I sort of just sat on a bench in the square, wondering what was going to happen. We’d talked to some taxi drivers the day before and they still recognized us. They said there was one more guy going to the national park, so we could share a taxi there for 5 CUC each return. It turned out to be an Australian that had been on our tour the previous day as well. As usual our taxi was well used. All the lining was gone, windows were gone, the windscreen wipers were barely hanging on and only one of the backdoors still opened. From the outside that was. So once the door was opened for us after a bumpy ride on a dirt road, we found out that there was only one guide available to take us to El Yunque. The Australian had already done it and wanted to visit the waterfall, so we all ended up paying for both.
It was great to have another person on the walk. My travel buddy could hang out with him while I just enjoyed the walk at my own pace. The guide stuck with me in the back. I think he looked at me hesitantly at first, knowing it was a tough walk, but I proved him wrong. The first step was crossing a big river to get to the trail head. There were no bridges, so I took my shoes off and put my backpack as high as I could and waded through the waist high water. Our guide was a gentlemen and came to give me his hand as I slipped over the rocks. On the other side of the river we started walking into the forest. The path was still relatively flat but I was already sweating like a pig. It was hot and the humidity was 80%. Welcome to the tropics.
The real hike started a bit later. The guide kept talking to me, asking me questions in Spanish that I occasionally understood. My breathing was heavy though and I needed to focus on where to put my feet. The track was muddy since there had been some rain in the past days. It was super slippery, but in some places they had built a rail to hold on to. I was thankful that the guide stopped at times to show us something or to let us taste some cocoa plants. After a little hut the track got really steep. The sweat was dripping down all over my body, the salt stinging in my eyes. Was this really worth it? But the guide called me a champion so I had to go on.
I stepped onto muddy steps not caring how dirty I got. According to the Australian is was muddier and warmer than two days ago, when he had also done it. On our way we saw a snake, hidden under some leaves and countless yellow and black millipedes. The forest looked like a jungle but I was mostly looking at my feet. Then the guide suddenly said we would take a few minutes before going up a really steep bit. “You need to be careful where you put your feet here. Only five more minutes.” Ok, I could do five minutes before another break. The break turned out to be the end though. It was totally unexpected, but such a nice surprise.
There was the tiniest open space. I had expected a huge flat area, but it would really only fit 5 people That, and the statue of Maceo, who always accompanies the hikers. We were shown were Baracoa was and the rivers. On the other side was nothing but jungle as far as we could see. Going back our guide seemed to hop down at super speed. The three of us were slipping and sliding down the mud. “Control. Control.” the guide would say. How do you control yourself when you are going so fast you don’t always have your feet on the ground? Back at the river our guide looked at this shoes. They were shining black dress shoes. He wiped off the smallest bit of mud. He green pants were spotless. I looked at myself, covered in mud up to my knees.
One hike down, one to go. This one was mostly flat though and only a half hour walk. We followed a road and at the end took a little trail towards the river. We had to leave our things at the shore and swim across the river again. The water was just amazing! At the other side were a bunch of rocks for us to climb. At the top was a waterfall that thundered into a pool. There was nobody else. It was the perfect way to end an already wet hike. After some chilling and cleaning our muddy boots we made our way back to the park office. Our taxi came a bit later. Me and my travel buddy may have shared 6 sentences that day, which was fine by me. Climbing the mountain was a great experience anyway.