Last Sunday Alika and I sallied forth on an adventurous expedition to Cerro de Punta, highest peak of Puerto Rico. The proud king of the Cordillera Central wears a crown of rusty antennas, adornded with gems of razor wire and mighty signs that read “danger, high voltage, keep out”. As a mountain Cerro de Punta is not to be underestimated, since the road that leads to the top is very technical and full of Alpinistic challenges. Sitting in a rented car we had to dodge potholes, drunk lorry drivers, and SUVs trembling with overamplified salsa and bachata tunes. The many sheetmetal beer stands on the road are just as dangerous – they may lure you in, fill you up with Medalla cans and deep-fried plantains, and leave you more desorientated than a spell of fog on top of Ben Nevis.
And actually, the islands of Puerto Rico and Britain have much in common. Both are topped with a majestic 1,300-metre-plus peak whose significance is shamefully ignored by foreign mountaineers (and in the case of Puerto Rico even by the locals). And both are blessed with wet and stormy weather, although that in Puerto Rico is slightly warmer (about 30 degrees day and night), and the proportion between rain and not rain is about 1:12 and not 12:1.
Between Puerto Rico and Scotland there are countless similarities. The shores look just the same, if one looks at Harris beach as depicted in the Glasgow subway. There are chronically friendly people that almost surpass the Glasgwegians with their degree of helpfulness towards strangers like us. There is deep-fried food (plantains instead of mars bars), an affection for spirited drinks (from sugar cane instead of barley), and an unsuccessful independence movement. And had Rabbie Burns managed to emigrate to the West Indies as he had planned as a young man, I am sure that we would have a whole range of banana-planter’s poetry (“the best-thought schemes of chinchillas and men gang aft aglay…”), and salsa and regatón-celebrations on 25th of January.
But I’m going aglay as well, since I was to report on the conquest of Cerro Punta. Above the highest beer stand (at about 1000 metres), the road gets really lonesome. The Cordillera Central is a State Park, but what on earth should one do there? Drinking is banned in the forest, and there’s not even a word for hiking in Spanish. Legend has it that the owners of a resort hotel to the north of Cerro Punta built a hiking trail to the top, and this ever since has haunted the tourist guidebooks, because even the guidebook authors have not managed to find it. But the side road that leads to the peak from the north is there, albeit in a similar state as the antennas on the top.
We decided to leave our car on the main road and walked the last 30 minutes up. And this road, mind you, is really beautiful. One is surrounded by the kind of plants that one usually finds in botanical gardens, bananas, bromelias, ficus, and vines. And everywhere there’s the gentle chirring of the national frog coquí – yes, that’s what he does all night and much of the day – koki, koki, koki. There are millions of them, in villages and towns, and they only exist in Puerto Rico. The locals say that it’s the sound of the coquí what emigrees to the US end up missing most about their island.
Amidst flowers, fog, and coquí sounds we eventually stood at the top and would have enjoyed a view over the entire island if it hadn’t been for the fog. But we did enjoy a temperature that finally fell below 25 degrees (but only slightly).
Now back to San Jan, back to the coast, back to the sunshine (and the torrential rain showers), back to 30 degrees. Let’s see which mountaineering challenge will be next. There’s also climbing in Bayamón…