As many of you who speak to me may know and many of you who don’t speak to me may not, since the start of the year I’ve been whiling away my days in the tropical love-zone of Rincon, Puerto Rico. Since I still have another week here, I’m going to wait just a bit longer to do a full summation of my experiences on this lovely slab of sand. But this in particular is about a day I spent in water. Thus, the aptly named title. Seriously guys, like duh.
The above photo is an arial view of La Parguera. Since I don’t own an airplane, nor do I have a set of wings (butterfly or otherwise) I ‘borrowed’ this photo from the internets (which is why I left the information on the bottom of the photo. I may steal hearts, but I don’t steal free internet pictures). La Parguera is on the south-western corner of the island of Puerto Rico, approximately 90 minutes or exactly 60.2 kilometers from Barrio Puntas where my apartment is. La Parguera is known for two very wonderful and marvelous natural occurrences. The first are the multitudes of mangrove islands and reefs that make up the southern part of the city. These are mostly protected nature preserves and are uninhabited. They are perfect places to snorkel and paddle, or even run into impromptu floating parties. So in order to do this, we needed a few kayaks. We got the number of a local that had a couple he rented to us quite cheap and meandered our way down the coast of the island to pick up our boats.
I’ll go over the second natural occurrence a bit later. Patience my friends.
As we pushed the kayaks out into the warm, blue waters, the first thing I paddled across were some of the most colorful (what I can only refer to as) water houses, I have ever seen. If you have ever been to martha’s vineyard and seen some of the outlandish coloring of the gingerbread houses, the houses here on the water made them look conservative. Most of these are connected to the main island and built into the shallows, though the water here isn’t terribly deep in the first place. A handful of these guys lined the waterway on either side, the were so fun to look at and imagine living in, but I wasn’t here to see Crayola’s favorite paint jobs. So I dipped my paddle into the turquoise water and paddled out for the open water that separated me and the really far out mangroves.
On the way out to the remote islands, one could see the change in the water underneath the kayaks: it became a little clearer, the floor was covered in seagrass, and the houses had all disappeared behind. One of the first mangrove islands we came across is a protected iguana sanctuary. It is fenced off and there is a guard near the dock, but I have never seen so many iguanas in my life, and they did not give one single shit about us or our boats. They walked right up to us, like the freaky, baby dinosaurs they are and started stretching their jaws. Have you ever seen an iguana run? They make Clark Kent look like Clark Griswold. A very awkward, tinysaurus rex, belly dragging, Clark Griswold. Needless to say, I got close enough to snap a passable GoPro photo and pushed back out to the bay. As I paddled over the open water to the further mangroves, I came across a neighborhood of starfish (red ones, if you need the scientific terminology). So naturally I had to touch it.
I got peed on by a starfish, people. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Well, let me tell you, it is. Karma and all that jazz, I pulled it out of the water and it probably was mad at me. It was an effective method of defense really. I put it back and didn’t mess with any more. Kids, if you have bully problems at school, just wee on them. They won’t mess with you again unless they like it. And at that point the ammo is in your court.
Paddling out of the starfish neighborhood, with a lap full of fresh starfish wee, It was time to find a spot to get out and splash around and snorkel some reefs. Little did we know, we were paddling out to an island where the water is bright turquoise, about 4 feet deep and the locals like to have floating parties. Across another bay, there was a mangrove island with a small waterway cutting through the middle; a perfect place to snorkel some reefs. But on the outside of the island, there were about 4 boats tied up and people splashing around in the blue bathwater of the Caribbean. We paddled up as a large passing raincloud was coming up behind us. We found a little cove to tie up our kayaks to the mangrove and swam out to chat with the other splashers.
Naturally, we brought some sangria with us. And as we swam out, who was it but the guy who rented us his kayaks. With a wide smile we opened his arms, “My friends! It is good to see you! You found one of the locals’ favorite islands.” Apparently we had paddled out to an island that most of the tour boats don’t go to. As I was told, “we like to keep this part of the mangroves for the people and friends of Puerto Rico”. It was beautiful, the water was almost as warm as the smiles on everyone’s faces. But that rain cloud was right behind us and shortly thereafter it started raining. It started as a slight drizzle and grew in intensity. But only about 4 people moved. We were on a boat, out in the bay of La Parguera. All of our valuables were back in the car. Nothing was going to get ruined by getting wet, and we were already in the water anyway. A towel was thrown over a bluetooth speaker on one of the powerboats and the party continued on.
As much fun as it was to swap stories with everyone about our travels and different cultures we have seen and experienced (there was even a little chat about President Drumpf, and how I hope that when he gets impeached, it will be on the set of “The Apprentice” and the entirety of America gets to say, “You’re Fired!”) but it was time to put on my mask and snorkel and get out and explore the reefs.
The reef was awe inspiring, magical, astounding, energizing, and saddening. I have kept a fish tank at several different times in my life. I have always been fascinated by them. This was like jumping right into those fish tanks. Colorful reef fish were everywhere, and they weren’t afraid of me at all. No more than a foot in front of my face, they swam, just checking me out as much as I was checking out them. This was a pretty healthy reef…or as healthy as reefs can be expected to be in 2017.
Sadly, let me tell you one thing. I’ve read articles on the white wash of the coral reefs. The articles were disturbing enough. But, to put on your dive mask and go into the reefs to see it first hand. It is saddening. If you do not think that humans are having an adverse effect on this planet. You are terribly wrong. Global warming is real and it has to do with the amount of carbon dioxide that we are spewing into the atmosphere. An amount that the planet hasn’t seen for millions of years. But this one is on us. It is time for us to harness energy in new ways.
As the sun was beginning to set, it was time to paddle back to the dock, get some dinner and then go out to explore one of natures more beautiful phenomena.
For this last part of my entry, I have no photos. I left my camera in the car so I wouldn’t try to experience this last wonder through a viewfinder.
There are approximately seven known dinoflagellate bioluminescent bays in the world. Three of which are in Puerto Rico. A dinoflagellate is a type of plankton. It is an invertebrate and not a bacteria. Bioluminescence is a reaction in a living creature that creates light. If you have ever seen a lightening bug on a warm, summer night over a field in rural Indiana, you have seen bioluminescence. But these dinoflagellates are a different world all together.
Our guide, Mikey (the same chap that rented us the kayaks) took us out on his boat to a secluded bio bay in the town he lives in. There wasn’t a huge crowd, or any crowd. Only the three of us and Mikey. After we left the dock and entered the mangroves (in a direction opposite that which we were kayaking) Mikey turned off the lights of the boat. Venus was glowing overhead, the moon was behind the horizon and the stars littered the sky like glitter after a Disney princess party. Eventually looking down revealed a glowing wake made by the boat, but before I could reach down to touch it Mikey quickly said, “don’t put your hand down there! The barracuda could mistake it for fish moving in the water”. I don’t know about you, but being bit by a barracuda is not on my bucket list. But not more than 3-4 minutes later, the boat was stopped. We were told to jump in.
Everything was black. The mangroves. The water. The sky. Wasn’t I just warned about barracuda? Now you want me to jump in? Are you crazy? But no, he was serious. My two friends jumped in first. I’m a little more anxious about not seeing where things are coming from. But I reasoned with myself. “If I don’t do this now, I’ll hate myself later.” I jumped in. Immediately everything around me was glowing. Every little movement I made, or kick of the feet to keep my head about water, sent these little creatures glowing. The trail from my swimming was the glowing stream of a comet. It was invigorating. The little things even got caught in my chest hair. As I crawled out of the water, they were still glowing all over me. I was made of stars!
Before we went back to the dock, Mikey thought he had gone just a little too far, but to the right was an extremely tight, mangrove channel. “Do you think we can fit the boat through there?” he asked. “Look down the the sides to make sure I don’t hit the root systems.” Little did we know, he had taken us for a ride. When I looked down, I couldn’t tell if I was looking down into the water, or it I was on top of Mt. Evans staring up at the galaxy. The concentration of the tiny invertebrates was so great, the water didn’t even have to be agitated for them to glow. They sparkled in the blackness. “This is where they are born.” It was like I was watching the creation of the universe. The stars had come down to play and this time, they were looking up at me.
Travel more, my friends. The more we learn about our planet, the better we can serve it. This world is not here to care for us. We are here to care for our world.