Viejo San Juan - beautiful view from el Morro fortress, yummy mofongo, vibrant street colors
Culebra - snorkeling for first time! Best swimming in open waters experience, camera does not do any justice for this beach beauty
El Yunque - first time driving in such winding mountain and rainforest roads, la Mina falls!
Luquillo beach - coconut trees :) breathtaking sea horizon
Bio bay - first time kayaking and did not tip boat over! I call that a success. The bay was gorgeous, worth all the 20 mosquito bites I endured paddling through the mangroves

Kayaking in the  Bio Bay in Puerto Rico. I was told by several people that I wouldn’t have been able to capture the light of the lake due to the limited light scenario. I was also cautious not to keep my camera wet too. The light would only illuminate when it was in motion by hand or an oar moving the water.

It was surprising how busy and congested the narrow river leading to the bay was with several tour groups to see it.

If I were to go again, I would have a chest or head harness for my camera to keep it above water, particularly when the oars bring up the water. I would also use a wide aperture lens. I took some pictures while some people turned on flashlights, but the light blew out the blue light of the lake.

Puerto Rico Road Trip Day Three

Ben and I rose early in our precious hotel in Ponce and set out to explore the city. We walked across town to the Art Museum only to find out that it was closed that day. It was so sad! So, instead we headed to the Museum of Ponce History and had a tour around there. Unfortunately, I found myself once again learning about my country invading another and slaughtering its people. Many people were killed in Ponce by the invading Americans. Culture genocide was attempted but thankfully, the Puerto Ricans held out and have still preserved a lot of their original culture. For a lighter experience, we went to the city’s center square and had more coconut icecream from a shop that is supposed to be the best on the island. Unfortunately, I have not tried every icecream shop (still working on that one) but damn if it wasn’t amazing. 

Then we decided to head west towards the Guanica Desert Forest. Many people picture all of Puerto Rico as a wet, tropical island paradise, though on the southwest corner there is a desert area complete with catus and everything. We did a short hike and explored.

The area is known to be a haven for birds and we saw quite a few amazing little green ones with a red spot on their chest. They were so cute and followed us around! The photo is blurry but you get the idea and can see the little guy at the top of the photo.

We left the forest and headed west once again to San German, home of one of the oldest churches in the Western Hemisphere, Porta Coeli (pictured below). The town looks like something from the movies and is quiet and quaint. 

I loved the way these buildings looked in the square.

We asked the church's security guard to take our photo and got to chatting with him about the rest of our plans, which were nonexistent. He mentioned that we should drive to La Parguera, a fishing village about 30 minutes south. It is known for having one of the three bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico. 

We arrived as the sun was setting and started asking around for people who knew about going to the bay. We found a funny little company called “Johnny’s Boats” with a little Puerto Rican man running it. For $7, we loaded into a small boat in the dark and set off into open ocean. The air smelled like salt and the wind was warm. We entered mangrove coves and after a few turns the boat stopped and we were allowed to jump off into the black ocean water. Ben and I dove in and were instantly in awe. As we swam, every motion or bodies made caused the water to glow the most beautiful blue. Our motions looked like something from a dream and as we swam around and giggled we glowed like aliens in the water. The closer we looked at the water while sloshing our hands around, we could see tiny little glowing specks, like stars, all around our bodies. Little galaxies followed us around and lit up the water. 

It was breathtaking and yet another one of those moments where words cannot describe the magic of this planet we are so lucky to be floating around on.

The Bioluminescent Bay of Vieques, Puerto Rico. For some the highlight is the magical glow of the water and its sea creatures under a blanket of stars.

For me and Abby, it was the heroic actions of our tour guide rescuing flip flops from a four-feet deep mud pit.

The rest of the group packed into a van and left the spot.

We stayed behind with Orlando and David, who drove us in an old Jeep Cherokee.

After our excursion, Abby and I changed into dry clothes in the brush. As I popped a squat in the dark, I looked ahead, helpless, as I heard Abby cry out, and then with a headlamp’s shine on her, saw her emerge thigh deep caked in mud sans flip flop.

Apparently, it “happens every day.” This was David’s brave attempt to recover her shoes.

What’s missing: after he finds one he almost gives up, at which point Abby stand behind him and tells, “Come on! You got one! You can find the other!” (A 180 turn from her earlier coo, “I feel so baaaaad.”)

Fish Don't Go to Heaven (and other advice from Fajardo)

Fish Don’t Go to Heaven (and other advice from Fajardo)

“Sometimes certain things happen…” Denise trailed off before pausing, shrugging her shoulders and raising her hands to the sky. She works in the mornings at the front desk of the hotel where we are staying. “Everything happens for a reason, you know? That’s what I believe.”

My girlfriend and I got up early to purchase tickets for the ferry to Culebra, an island said to have one of the best…

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Vieques was a delightful island.  Within two days, I felt comfortable getting around in my jeep.  There are about 5 main roads and a bunch of dirt ones.  Wild animals, particularly horses but chickens, dogs, and cows are free to roam as they please.  

I was lucky enough to fly in from San Juan and got some overhead views.  I was slightly worried because the weather was rather stormy when I arrived.  Once I finally got my Jeep and got settled (which partially means acclimating to Island Time an example of which: my car rental company made me wait and hour while a sign hung in the office that says “No hurries, No worries, Island Time” - okay I get it!) I hit the beaches.

The beaches there are the nicest I’ve ever seen.  The water is so clear when you’re close and so turquoise when you’re away.  The sand is soft and white.  The temperature is cool enough to refresh and warm enough to be able to jump right in. 

I had some excellent food in my two days on Vieques.   Sol Food is traditional Caribbean food, updated. The chef is not Puerto Rican but she has been there for years perfecting her various recipes like the Bob Marley (Habanero Jerk Chicken with pineapple salsa on brioche).

El Resuelve is where I got my empanadas. Simple but very tasty!

Tin Box is a hip farm to table joint that has a garden growing down the hill.  I got the watermelon juice and their own cured bacon salad.  It felt like it was really in the rain forest.

Bili was great for dinner.  It’s located on the main drag (if you could say that) of Esperanza.  I had an incredible salad and pulled pork on croquettes - another current take on classic Caribbean food.

I stayed at Hix Island House  which is a green retreat.  Meaning, it was powered entirely with natural resources and built in such a way that everything was open.  I slept with essentially only two walls along the sides and the trade winds blowing through to cool and aerate the place while the sounds of coquis (native frogs) and crickets serenaded me.  The shower has a modesty wall but was open to the outside.  It was the best combo of luxury and nature I’ve experienced.

I made a point to get to the Bio Bay.  I didn’t bring a camera so let me paint the picture: it’s very dark and you are in a kayak near a bunch of other people being led by a friendly tour guide.  Every time your row hits the water it lights up.  At first, it seems like maybe a reflection but then you realize you are at a rave on the water and stuff is glowing everywhere.  The bioluminescent organisms only illuminate during stress, which is sensed by pressure.  So splashing water makes a great show.  We kicked our hands and feet, rocked our kayaks, and use oars to make it glitter.  I found by waiting quietly, I’d see fish zig zag through the water making Z patterns.  Great experience with Abe’s Snorkeling Tours.

But the beaches!  This place was all about the beaches for me. 

Sun Bay, La Plata, Caracas, Media Luna were the ones I enjoyed.  More, please.

I was enchanted with small island life and wouldn’t have minded staying longer.  Once I realized all I wanted to do in PR was enjoy these postcard beaches, it became difficult to leave the island.   


5/14 Bio Bay

My bf and I went on a Bio Bay tour today. Basically kayaking through the mangroves and experiencing the glowing water at night. The tour was amazing. Definitely the highlight of the trip! The site also offered yummy chicken kebabs and pina colada (which became my favorite drink of all time thanks to PR). Anyway, last day in PR tomorrow. Souvenir shopping and final meal at Punto de Vista, for sure.

Day 26: Bio Bay Infinity and the Astronomers

Wilfredo picked me up on my way to Esperanza. He had a cup full of rum in his right hand and drove with his left. Wilfredo was swerving all over the road. I buckled up.

At one point, the car in front of us stopped to let horses pass and Wilfredo kept accelerating.

“Woah! Woah! Cuidado!” I yelled.

Wilfredo slammed the brakes and pointed his finger at my nose.

“I was a taxi driver in New York City for forty years. Don’t give me no advice on how to drive,” he said with his eyes crossed.

I got out of the car in Esperanza and waited for a van that would take me (and a bunch of other tourists) to kayak in Vieques’ infamous bioluminescent bay.  The bay gets its luminescence from micro-organisms that glow neon green when the water is disturbed. Baiscally, they look like underwater fireflies … a lot of underwater fireflies.

Early Spanish explorers claimed the glowing water was the work of the devil. They were afraid of the bay and never built anything near it, helping preserve the unique ecosystem. Today, Vieques is blessed with the largest and brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.

I was drinking a beer at a bar called Bananas when the tour van pulled up. I climbed in. The other people on the tour were mainly lovey-dovey couples. I was the only person that would be kayaking alone. Better for me I thought.

We drove though the dark jungle until we reached the bay. I heard the kayaks flapping in the water, but couldn’t see them. Everything was pitch black. It was a New Moon that night and the stars were so bright I could see the Milky Way.

I sat in my kayak and paddled out to the middle of the bay with the rest of the group. Little specs of light sparked up each time I dipped my paddle in the water. At first I thought it was the reflection of the stars, but then I realized I had never seen stars reflected in water.

Once we reached the middle of the bay, the tour guide gave us a briefing, tied our kayaks together and told us to jump in the water.

It was warm and salty. So salty I barely had to swim.

I got away from the group and floated peacefully on my back for a while. Every time I moved the small creatures lit up like fluorescent confetti around my body. There, in the bay, with the star-dotted sky above, I felt like I was floating in space, buoyant in a cloud of stardust … literally … a full-strength acid trip without the drugs.

The whole thing made me laugh. I swam back to the group and kept watching the glowing water. All of the sudden, a soft female voice came out of the darkness.

“How do you like it?” she asked.

“It’s great. I … I didn’t know things like this existed,” I said without knowing which direction to talk.

“Is this your first time here?” she said.

“Yeah, I’ve been in Vieques for almost a month and now I wish I came here earlier.”

“A month? Are you on vacation?”

“Kind of. I’m house sitting, but I’m also getting a lot of work done.”

I swam around and talked for a bit with the mystery voice. All I could see was the water glowing around her. Whoever she was, she seemed nice.

We got back in the kayaks and paddled to shore. I quickly dried off and peed in a bush. When I turned around I heard the mystery voice again and followed it to a Puerto Rican girl who was standing by a pick-up truck. She was with a girlfriend and an Asian guy. Her name was Federica and her friends were Jesenia and Chien.

I learned the girls were University of Puerto Rico students and they met Chien at the hotel they were staying at.

The three of them said they were going stargazing after the event and invited me to come along. I agreed and mentioned the house I was staying at had a good view of the sky. Jesenia had telescope in the trunk of their car. She seemed excited, but a little creeped out by my invitation. Federica talked her out of the paranoia and the four us headed towards the house.

When we arrived, I gave them the grand tour, swings and solar panels included. They were the second visitors I had in a month. I offered them rum, but they refused. They didn’t seem like drinkers.

Jesenia started assembling the telescope and we all chatted. We had the standard get-to-know-you conversations full of small, polite questions that greased up the pan for the meat and potatoes. 

But then, something went wrong. Jesenia was scrambling all over for a missing screw. She checked the floor, her bag and the car. She couldn’t find it.

“Can we build the telescope without the screw?” Federica asked.

“No, it’s the main one. It holds everything together. I can’t believe I don’t have it,” Jesenia said.

At that same moment, a blanket of clouds rolled over the house and the stars were no longer visible.

“No telescope and no stars,” Jesenia said. “I guess this isn’t happening tonight.”

The three of them looked tired and seemed like they wanted to leave.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” I said.

“It’s alright,” Federica said. “At least we got to see the house.”

“You like it?”

“Yeah, this place is really nice.”

“Well, maybe you can come back sometime,” I said.

“What are you doing tomorrow?”

“If it’s nice, I was planning on going to Navio beach,” I said.

“We were going to go to the beach too. Maybe we’ll see you there,” Federica said.

“Sounds good to me.”

They packed up the telescope and drove down the mountain. It was quiet again. I took a swig of rum and went to bed.

© Diego Cupolo 2011