Saturday, 21 March 2015

On the benefit of having not worn the red shirt

If I had the advantage of the insight into Puerto Rico that I have now at the beginning of this trip I would have spent two nights in Arecibo instead of the nights in Hatillo and Manati. This would have allowed me to leave a significant amount of weight behind on the trip into Karst Country as it is known. If I recall correctly, and doubtless Father will correct if I am wrong, karst rock formations are limestone upon which time and water have had time to play. Depending on the region, they can take on pretty spectacular forms. In Puerto Rico, this means sinkholes and related structures.

As my skin was at the bubble stage of sunburn, I wore my long-sleeved jersey to protect my forearms. Otherwise, it would have been the turn of the red Star Trek jersey I wore in the Mango Cycling interview.

I set off up hill along relatively gently rising farm roads before joining a slightly bigger road which had the advantage of more carefully thought out hills and a wonderfully wide paved shoulder. This brought me to the Cavernas de Rio Camuy. At the gate there was a list of vehicle fees which only got as small as motorcycles. When I rolled up, the man jokingly inspected Leonardo as if searching for stowaways. There was no charge but he handed me a numbered ticket the significance of which I wasn't altogether clear on.

The Cavernas de Rio Camuy is run by a profit-oriented company which is a pity as it could be done so much better. After buying my entry ticket, I found out that the numbered ticket was they order in which I would get on the trolley to go to the actual site. At the time I arrived, this involved an hour's restless waiting, thankfully in the shade. Had the company been more enlightened, it would have some panels explaining the geology of what we were about to see.
My turn came and I got on the trolley (two trailers of seats pulled by an airport luggage tractor). My unasked question of why don't they have a walking path was answered by the sheer depth of the sinkhole we went down surrounded by lush vegetation with mostly unseen birds crying out in the background.
 We got off and entered the damp and cool cavern. I had brought my rain jacket with me and was glad of it. The entry tunnel was relatively low, only slightly higher than me but it soon opened up into easily the largest cave I have ever been in. Moreover, it was a cave of stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone. It also had a population of bats, crickets, spiders and crabs. It was lit by artfully located lights, though I wished I had brought my headlamp in order to inspect some the details. Our route led to another sinkhole, deeper and with much steeper walls than the first. There were tremendously long roots hanging down from the trees above. At a guess I would say at least 400 feet.
Our guide was enthusiastic, but to me he was undereducated in the subject matter. For one thing, he said cavern was about twenty million years old. My impression as a geologist's son is that such caverns are ephemeral in geologic terms, a notion reinforced by a very large rock that had fallen from the ceiling in relatively recent times. The guide said it was before his time which meant little as the cavern was only fully explored in 1958. For all we really know, there could a crushed conquistador under that rock.
A trolley ride later, I was back on Leonardo and heading of to the Radiotelescope. It clearly isn't as popular as the roads weren't as well laid out. It was cattle country. (Hatillo has a sign giving the population as thirty-eight odd thousand and thirty odd thousand "vacas"!) I came around and down a bend to see a large bull with some very large horns. The horns were thick and went up rather than sideways like a Texas longhorn. I stop to take some pictures of the nearly motionless beast. As I watched it chew its cud, I had the silly thought: "It's a good thing I didn't wear the red shirt today as I would've it to charge me!"
The road that led to the observatory was tough with steep up hills and downhills. I had to push Leonardo several times. On one such incline, my phone rang. It was a call from the place I was to spend the night in Hatillo. The timing was unfortunate as I was out of breath, tired and being barked at by dogs. Consequently, I didn't get as much information from the people as I should have leading the trouble finding the place later on.
The observatory was very impressive. One more surprising uses they have put it to is to radar image asteroids! The short film they showed us made me suspect that new uses for it will be found in the years to come.

My trip back to Route 2 led me onto quite a small road that apparently doubled as a dump for the locals. I could hear a car behind me as a big truck appeared in front of me. I decided the best course of action was to get off the road and into the concert gutter as there was barely enough space for the two of them! The truck and car sorted themselves out. As he drove past, the young man in the car gave me an appreciative thumbs up in thanks.

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