I live on ‘The Enchanted Island,’ Puerto Rico, but I still have to make money. I had been sitting in front of the computer for almost 6 hours. My eyes were tired and my back hurt. I can see the blue-green waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the kitchen table, and I can hear the white caped waves crashing on the beach. A storm is coming. I get up to shut the windows. To nap or not nap…that was the question. My phone dings, the text reads, ‘Let’s go’. My mood isn’t what it should be especially for someone who lives in this paradise, and for someone who’s office has million dollar views. I pull up my big girl panties, put on my sandals, and walk out the door. As the door closes a voice in my head whispers, ‘get your camera.’ Seriously…this happened.
We are in the car headed to into Rio Grande a town between San Juan and Luquillo. PR-3, the main highway is jammed with traffic. You never know how long it will take to go 5 miles on an island, and never trust google. It could be 10 minutes or 30, such is island life. My friend who is driving arrived in town just a few days ago, she moved back to Atlanta a few months ago with hopes of coming back to Puerto Rico one day. I haven’t noticed, but she is impressed with the amount of new business that have opened up since she left; she has only been gone a few months. A year after Hurricane Maria people are still rebuilding their lives.
We make a left at El Verde aka machete chicken. A local restaurant that would make Anthony Bourdain (may he RIP) antsy with anticipation. You can buy a whole roasted chicken that is cute up with a machete, hence machete chicken, or get ribs that fall off the bone, and melt in you mouth. The sides are local vegetables that put southern cooking to shame. I may have to go there for lunch after writing this.
So yeah, it’s a left from Luquillo, past El Verde up into the rainforest. The roads become more narrow, drivers dodge pot holes that look like black holes; if you hit one you may disappear without a trace. Sharing the road is just a thought; a concept lost on many drivers here. On coming cars whip around the turns like it is their own race track. At this point I still have no clue where we are going. All I know is we are going to see my friend’s friend, whom she refers to as the bushman but his real name is Fire. We make a left and a right; we are climbing higher and higher into the jungles of El Yunque Rainforest. I asked my friend how the hell she found this place she said, “Girl, with step by step instructions”
Out of nowhere the land opens up and we are there. I notice the sign it reads ‘Yunquiyu’ which is the native Taino’s God of light and life; which is totally understandable after seeing this place. We park and walk down a grand palm tree lined path. A sweet German Shepard mix follows us, he is the care takers dog, the man we are coming to see.
At the bottom of the hill there is a wooden cabin. It’s tucked away, almost hidden by the palm trees. The view is stunning. Mountains rise behind the tiny building, there is green foliage at every turn. Lemon grass taller than me lines trails down to the river. Flowering plants and trees cover the ground all the way down to the bottom of the mountain. There is also a garden spread throughout: banana trees, passion fruit, avocado, just to name a few. This scene is overwhelmingly beautiful. I can’t believe a place like this even exist.
A man walks up, his white shirt is covered in soil, his work boots in wet grass. His dreadlocks wrapped tightly in a black scarf. He is quite but has smile could melt the heart of an Ice Queen. For 10 years he has been helping build this landscape, and taking care of the cabins. We are introduced, without saying much he starts to lead us around the property. We stop for a second and he pull a frown off of a plant. He crushes it between his fingers, hands it to me and says, “Lemongrass”.
This is not the Lemongrass you find in the botanical section at your local Walmart. This plant is about 5 feet high with a massive circumference, its everywhere. There are plants that I have never seen before. Tiny green flowers with white in the center; they look as if someone took a paint brush to the center and just swept it across. There are large red plants with thick leaves that line the base of the palm trees; these plants will eventually climb the tree like a vine. The Elephant Ear plants here look pre-historic, something out of Jurassic Park.
Fire takes us to each cabin. The cabins are one room with a full bed, stone floors, and a mini kitchen; they smell of freshly cut wood. The back walls are double doors that open up to a small porch with a table and chairs and a breathtaking view of the rainforest. You can hear the river below, birds in the distance, and the native frogs singing their songs. The bathrooms are connected by a waist high bridge opposite the main room. The shower comes from the ceiling with more views of the rainforest from the window which are half the wall and open up to the outside. There are no screens in these windows, making it feel like you are showering under a cascading waterfall.
Fire leads us down the carefully laid path, under fern trees, past colorful flowers such as Birds of Paradise and Hibiscus to the deck that sits on the bank of the river. At the bottom a massive deck with tables and chairs is low to the ground. A stone path leads you to the river where the water rushes over massive boulders then slows down to form a small pool, where I am sure you can float for hours uninterrupted. High above the river you can see the cabins dotting the landscape above.
Surrounded by the river, trees, and mountains it is easy to forget that we are only 25 minutes to the ocean and “city” life; the best of both worlds. I can easily see myself living here (Puerto Rico) the rest of my life; creating an oasis of my own, just like Yunquiyu. The tour isn’t over; the three of us head back up the path; winding back through the palms, and low hanging leaves, passing the tropical flowers; stepping carefully on the strategically places stones. Fire shows us the newest cabin. It has high ceilings, granite counter tops, and will eventually have two porches that will lead you down to the trail and the new restaurant, which is set to open sometime in December 2019. The menu will have vegetarian options, locally sourced food from the surrounding area, and a garden on site.
I am grateful to have learned of the existence of Yunquiyu and I am thankful for having the opportunity to meet Fire and gain some of his insight on the local flora and fauna. Call Yunquiyu what you will, paradise, or an oasis. To me it is magic; a place in Puerto Rico that calls to you to stay, rest, and relax. I am looking forward to my next visit and I hope that you will be able to experience Yunquiyu very soon. You never know what will happen when you leave the house