Went for a wee walk this morning … it was just so warm and sticky out again. Oh, let’s not mince words – it was a jungle out there!! How do people ever adapt to this hot and steamy weather? Well, the good news/bad news scenario is that it was 102 degrees a year ago today which kind of makes our 94 degrees today pale in comparison. I liken our weather this week to the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico where I visited during a stay with family friends, Werner and Alfonsa, in 1973. Our senior class trip locale was the Bahamas and I’d been on a cruise to the Islands with my parents the year before so my adventure was a ten-day trip to Puerto Rico. You really have to like hot weather if you visit Puerto Rico; it is an island, after all. Forget about island breezes – it is just downright hot there, breeze or not. The apartment where my friends lived was landscaped with huge cacti which was home to lizards, whose favorite pastime was sunning themselves on the concrete around the cacti during the heat of the day. When you walked past, there would be a flurry of leapin’ lizards activity as they ran for cover. It horrified me at first, and I would take great pains to go around the cacti, but what really done me in was going to the Condado, a Vegas-like strip of casinos, large hotels and similar neon and bright lights along the beach in Old San Juan. We visited a renowned hotel for dinner and a little slot machine action then left to go home near midnight. While Werner went to the parking garage to retrieve the car, Alfonsa and I waited in front of the hotel. Just as he pulled up, we watched a huge tarantula drop down from a tall palm tree onto the roof of the car. We watched in horror as it righted itself and on eight hairy legs climbed inside through the open window. We started screeching like banshees and refused to get into the car. Werner drove over to a brightly lit lot and looked everywhere for the huge spider which was nowhere to be found. Declaring we would not ride in the car until we saw a corpse, Alfonsa and I hailed a cab and left Werner to get home on his own, which was, after all, the manly thing for him to do. He returned home in one piece, shut the windows up tight and the next time we went out in the car, he proudly produced the creature’s carcass. (We hoped the darn thing had been asphyxiated in the hot car, and Werner had not just paid someone to find another tarantula, and killed it, just to lure us into the back into the car.)
As to hot and steamy attractions in Puerto Rico, one of the many sights we visited was El Yunque, the only tropical rain forest in the United States, where the over-200 inches of rainfall a year yielded the tallest trees I’ve ever seen. Standing amidst the flora and fauna in this paradise made you feel very small and insignificant … there was such magnificent beauty that you really could not drink it all in at one time. There were thousands of species of tropical flowers and plants, all which were simply gargantuan, probably because it rains at least once a day or more there. We visited twice and each occasion was extraordinary, plus rain-filled. The rain lasts just a few minutes, but it is a quite a soaker and there’s nowhere to dash for cover. Soon it is over, you’re drenched and post-showers, El Yunque is all the steamier. There were many jungle dwellers who just leapt out at you at every turn through the dense forest. Birds of every species serenade you with songs and calls that could never be imitated by our local warblers. The birds, with their brilliant and most-unusual plumage, greet you at every turn of the footpath that you follow. The birds’ coloring is seemingly duplicated by the multi-colored chameleons and cute little geckos that dash to and fro. Hopefully you conquered the phobia from the lizards in the cacti, because here were dozens of swift little critters running amok by your feet and across your path, as you continue your promenade through this amazing mountainous paradise. All through El Yunque, you see tiny frogs everywhere; they hop down from trees to inspect you, then just as quickly hop and bop away and are lost in the dense foliage in search of other more-palatable food than you. These cute little tree frogs, or “Coqui”, are considered lucky, and you simply cannot leave the Rain Forest or Puerto Rico, for that matter, without buying a Coqui good luck charm or trinket. The flora and fauna that exist in El Yunque thrive in that venue as do the many “keepers of the rainforest” who strive to keep this gem as pristine as possible. I guess those folks are accustomed to the hot and steamy clime. My heart goes out to people who must earn their living working in this heat; likewise, the seniors or disadvantaged who must exist without fans or air conditioning in their homes. Hopefully, Mother Nature will allow this heat wave to abate and restore our normal weather soon … perhaps this weather is just our “new normal”. Sadly, I believe Al Gore might really be correct.