Puerto Rico is known as the Enchanted Isle for a reason as my family discovered when we took a vacation trip there in 2008. We stayed in San Juan and rented a car. From there we explored the island from end to end.
The trip had an inauspicious beginning. The gate agent at the airport didn't want to board us on the plane since we didn't have passports. Passports aren't needed to go to Puerto Rico; it's part of the US. We got on the plane. Our hotel reservation was not in the system at the hotel. They found a room for us after a long wait in the lobby. We declined insurance on the rental car and then thought to double check with our insurance agent. Our agent said we were probably covered, but it would be a hassle. Maybe we should get the insurance. That turned into a hassle as we had to go back to the airport turn in our car and set up a new rental agreement with the insurance. Finally, we could climb back into the same car and drive away to start our vacation.
From there it turned into a fantastic trip. We visited beaches, a rain forest, a cave, a mansion, an old fortress and other sights. But one day stood out from all the others.
We drove east from San Juan where we stayed to Fajardo. Once there we took a snorkeling cruise. The boat we were on went out to an island where we snorkeled on the beach and learned to use the gear. I never did learn to use the flippers on my feet very well. After that we went back to the boat and they took us to another place to snorkel where there were lots of fish. Andrew and I were swimming together and became entranced with a school of fish just below us. When we looked up the boat was getting farther away; we had drifted with the current. So we had to swim back against the current to get back to the boat.
Unfortunately, Debbie had become seasick and had to just sit in the boat at this point. I felt sorry for her. The one thing she needed was to get off the boat and onto land, but we still had to get back to shore. When we were back and off the boat Debbie slowly began to feel better. That was good because we had plans for later that evening.
We found a semi-fast food restaurant. Alicia and I went in to get food. Alicia ordered for us all and was very proud of herself to have used only Spanish with no English.
After dinner, we had planned to go on a tour to the Bio Bay. We would kayak into a lagoon where there were bioluminescent micro-organisms. We got to the launch area where we would be going off with a group and some guides. We were waiting when it started to rain. The guides thought they might have to cancel for the night, but decided to wait a while to see what the weather did. We were hoping the rain would stop because we weren't sure if we would be able to schedule another evening to come back before the end of our trip.
We stood around waiting. Suddenly Andrew started hopping, swatting at his foot and saying, "Ow. Ow! OW!" He had been leaning against a tree and was standing on an anthill. The ants had swarmed over his flip flops and were biting him around the ankle stinging him. I took him to the rest room and ran cold water over his ankle.
Eventually the guides decided that we could go. We were given some basic instruction on how to operate our kayaks. Among the group there were two Puerto Rican women who, very vocally made it obvious that they had never kayaked before. They asked plenty of questions. Then we were off. We went in two-person kayaks - Alicia and Debbie in one, Andrew with me sitting in the back in the other.
There are several different companies that guide people into the Bio Bay; we were the first ones to leave. We had to paddle across a bay to the mouth of a channel among the mangrove trees. We would follow that channel to the lagoon. As we neared the channel suddenly there was screaming off to our right. We all looked to the sound to see the two vocal women as their kayak plunged into the mangrove trees - with both of them still furiously paddling.
The channel was like a small stream we easily paddled enjoying the evening. At one point, there was a sharp bend in the channel. One of the guides stood in the waist deep water to direct us. Shortly after that we entered the lagoon.
You can't see the micro-organisms that cause the bioluminescence. What you see is a blue glow when your paddle enters the water. The organisms don't glow unless they are stirred up; so, any disturbance in the water causes a blue light to appear until the water settled back.
You watch the paddle and your kayak and the glow around them. Suddenly a fish swims by below you leaving a blue trail in the water. You experiment and dip your hand into the water to see the light it causes. Playfully you scoop up and handful of water and raise your arm up entranced as the glowing water cascades off your arm. After all too brief of a time the guides call for your return and you depart with fantastical memories.
On the way out as we entered the channel we found out why it was such an easy paddle to get into the lagoon. We were now going against the current. It wasn't an overpowering current, but enough so that you had to work a bit harder to move.
By now the other tour groups were making their way in as well, so there was two-way traffic. At the bend, there was a guide standing in the water directing the traffic. Alicia and Debbie made it past the turn. Andrew and I had been right behind them, but another kayak cut between us. Another tour group approached coming in and the traffic cop gave them priority, holding up outgoing traffic. More kayaks came up from behind us, enclosing us an all sides while we had to keep paddling just to hold position in the current. A guide's kayak came by towing the two women who couldn't control their own boat. Some of kayaks on the outside of our scrum were able to break away and continue out. Andrew and I were pushed up against the bank. We tried to make our way to the outside of the jostling mass. We would see openings and paddle for them only to see them close. Finally, we saw another opening. We paddled, but it was starting to close. And now, here comes the part where my kayak etiquette failed. I stopped paddling and put my hand on the bow of the kayak that was by our side and little behind us and pushed off. We went forward and the other kayak went…, um, well I didn't look back. We were clear. We came out in the bay about a half hour after Debbie and Alicia.
We drove back to San Juan in the dark, but we were illuminated by the light of an enchanted isle.
Tim Kane's memories, musings and updates.