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One of hundreds of Mona Island caves • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

Galápagos in Puerto Rico, Part Eight

Ups and downs

Note: This is one of a series of photo-memoirs about a 1964 expedition to Isla de Mona, an uninhabited island in the Caribbean. All photos were copied from contact sheets as the negatives and prints were lost.

Thursday, June 9, 1964, Sardinera

We checked in at the police station first thing in the morning. This was to be the last day of our week-long expedition, but the police launch was reported to be still delayed — there would be no news until 5 p.m.

Not the yellow brick road • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

We followed our original plan to spend the day examining the four-mile stretch between Playa de Pájaros and Playa de Uveros. Sergeant Pérez gave us a lift to Uveros in the police jeep. (He was better at driving than rowing!)

At Uveros, we were surprised to see parrot fish busily feeding off the coral reef. Mike explained that their scraping of algae helps keep the coral healthy. Their beak-like teeth and brilliant colors were clearly visible in the transparent water.

Door to the underworld, with doorman • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

We arrived at Pájaros midday. There we saw yellow-billed tropicbirds fighting against the wind to return to their nests. At the entrance to Cueva del Pájaro — in addition to a menacing crab — we found kerosene torches made from beer bottles and carried one along with our flashlights into the caverns. The caves appeared less extensive but more beautiful than the German caves.

There were sections of guano cart rails, some cart fragments, and a wooden ship’s mast serving as a ladder to a higher level. A tremendous amount of work had been done to build bridges and pathways out of rock. Several trails ended abruptly at cave-ins.

Rust and ruins at Playa de Pajaros • Photos: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

Back on the beach, I photographed vats and other remains of guano extraction beds. About 125 yards to the west we found a six-foot wide roadway overgrown with cactus and brush that continued for about a mile. It must have been used for moving guano to the beach.

Brown Boobies • Photos: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

The beach gave out to rocks near Punta los Ingleses where we climbed into an immense natural amphitheater. Mike climbed to the upper corner to view a nest of brown boobies complete with male, female and cotton white chicks. I scrambled up to photograph them: they posed beautifully.

We continued through the cave until it became impassable. We backtracked until we could climb through a sinkhole in the rocks toward the cliffs. Near the top, I followed a goat path into a small cavern where I found the remains of a ram. I awarded its well-preserved skull and horns to Mike. We emerged and continued through cactus and scrub to the edge of the cliffs.

Booby in silhouette (it has a white breast and bright yellow legs) • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle, 1964

The view was incredible. The sea lay vastly before us, below us the boobies nested on the rocks, ospreys flew in front of us and sandpipers danced along the beach. The low sun cast a warm dramatic light onto a herd of goats standing on the rim.

Mona Island iguana (photographed in Mayagüez ) • Photo: R.C. Flores-Gunkle

Iguanas darted about as we continued on to Caigo or No Caigo. At Caigo we passed a small cave with a decaying handcart in it. We hastened our pace to beat the sunset to the beach. Precisely at sundown, we climbed down a goat path and walked along a golden sea to Overos. After resting there, we hiked on the road in the dark back to camp.

We found we definitely would not be leaving soon. The police launch was history — at least as far as returning us to Puerto Rico tonight. I had instructed my wife to call the Coast Guard for information if we did not return by tonight, Jan. 9. She would know we have been delayed. We ate dinner, attended our nocturnal duties and planned for our extra time on the island.

In case you missed any of my Galápagos in Puerto Rico stories,
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