Happy Tide—Climbing, Puerto Rican Style
Member Jim Aikman—writer, photographer, filmmaker—writes about his experiences in Puerto Rico, climbing and otherwise…
I woke up in the sand as the sun broke over the palm trees. It was the first day of 2012, and I was suddenly aware of my world-class hangover on Flamenco Beach in Culebra, Puerto Rico. In the last three days I had slept about six hours, been on more airplanes than I care to remember—and the Puerto Rican moonshine wasn’t helping. I stood up, stumbled a mere ten paces to the water, took off my clothes, and jumped in—the first swim of 2012; first ablution; first chance to wash away the successes and failures of 2011. I’ve never felt so clean in my life. I went for a jog on the wet sand that bent for a half mile around the azure bay. A beautiful woman walked by, strolling by herself. By the time I got back to camp, I was feeling pretty damn good about 2012. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I came to Puerto Rico to sport climb, knowing well that I could easily do that in more developed and accessible locations than the Caribbean, such as my hometown in Boulder, Colorado where we’ve had quite a climbable winter thus far. Clearly I had other reasons for coming to Puerto Rico: exploration, adventure, sunshine, escape, “buy the ticket, take the ride,” and new exotic flavors of limestone.
I first went to Puerto Rico in the winter of 2010, where my dad lives after his mid-life-move-to-the-Caribbean-crisis. Naturally, I investigated any climbing opportunities there might be down there, and found very few resources on the climbing community. My curiosity was piqued. I introduced myself to Rosanno Boscarino, the local godfather of route development, and was fortunate enough to be shown around his favorite climbs in the San Juan area. I knew I’d be back.
I dug around for members of the climbing scene on the island (which turned out to be about twelve people), and was offered a campsite at the farm of Luis Benet, a Puerto Rican climber who was beyond psyched to show us around. We talked on the phone and emailed about the rock and what I should expect from my trip. I kept getting hints that there would be some insane potential and only a fraction of it was seeing development. I heard some mumbled talk about access issues and private property too, but was assured that it was all-good. Super bueno.
So I prepared for another go-around in the beginning of 2012. Joined by my climbing partner, Simeon, we flew down just in time for the New Year’s Eve party on the island of Culebra. On the bus ride to our campground, a guy next to us overheard our spraying and interrupted, “You guys climbers?” He turned out to be Bryant Huffman, who was the perfect person to bump into on day two of our climbing trip. Bryant is the administrator of the ClimbingPR Blogspot and is determined to put rock climbing in Puerto Rico on the map. We camped on the beach with his friends and danced the merengue as the ball dropped.
I immediately began to appreciate the Puerto Rican spirit and zest for life. The island has its problems and plenty of beef with America’s bastardization of its culture and appropriation of its homeland, but everyone I met and bonded with on my trip was super generous, happy and fun. The climbers are one big family down there and they love their rock. I found myself trusting people I had just met, making leaps of faith, like leaving the bulk of my belongings with a senile old man, and handing off $10,000 in camera equipment to a friend of a friend of a friend in a garbage bag on a sailboat somewhere in the middle of a bay full of sailboats. But it all worked out.
After New Years, we finally packed up the rental car and drove west to the village of Rosario, where Luis was hosting us on his farm. Many streets in Puerto Rico don’t have names so navigation can be tricky, but we arrived at his home a little after dark to find a hot pot of stew, fresh picked fruit from the land surrounding us, and a neatly rolled spliff. Luis’s family owns a coffee and fruit farm nestled in the enchanting jungle hills of southwestern Puerto Rico. PR has very high import tariffs, which encourages the islanders to grow their own crops and they take great pride in producing and enjoying their own coffee beans.
The next morning we were finally climbing (readers rejoice!). We made it to the cliff, starting at The Gym and moving over to Vertical Jamming Wall. We were blown away by the steepness and esoteric quality of the rock…