Tuesday, April 3, 2012

BioBay Kayaking Adventure: Fajardo

There was one activity in Puerto Rico that I knew I wanted to do long before I knew when I would go to the island - kayaking on a bio-luminescent lagoon.  One of my friends went on such an adventure four years ago when she was visiting family in PR.  After hearing about her experience I decided that whenever I made it to Puerto Rico, I was going to go on one of these trips.  Laguna Grande in Fajardo is one of three bioluminescent areas in Puerto Rico.  It's a little over an hour from San Juan and if there's six or more people leaving from your area you can arrange for a shuttle to pick you up (for an additional fee).  After some research and price scouting, we booked a tour with transport with Kayaking Puerto Rico.  Our shuttle was scheduled to pick us up shortly after 4pm which meant we had the whole day to do things before we had to be at our pickup point.

Just to recap, that's 6 college girls with dozens of shops and a beach who need to show up at the same time and a specific spot. 

I was a little concerned.

Somehow we managed to get everyone there, early and with a good meal in them. At 4:30pm on the dot we were on our way from San Juan to Fajardo to check out the BioBay.  Who says things don't happen on time when you're on Latin Time?  The 90 minute drive was fairly uneventful save one crazy motorcyclist.  The shuttle drove past the outskirts of El Yunque, a cloud forest with amazing waterfalls.  Unfortunately, you really need at least half a day to do the forest any kind of justice and we didn't have time to fit it in this trip.  One last stop at McDonald's for a last chance at a clean bathroom before reaching the lagoon.

About to get in the kayaks
The tours start from a small harbor so the first half of the kayaking trip was across the harbor and through a channel in the mangroves.  They forgot to mention that the harbor is littered with sandbars.  Everybody ran aground right before entering the mangrove channel.  I think they planned it that way so they could do a head count before heading into the darkness.

Do not want to kayak into the mangrove roots, brings new meaning to the term 'treehugger'
 If you want to simulate moving through a mangrove forest after dark, activate a green glowstick and try to navigate through a dark garage filled with piles of stuff.  Except the floor is flooded with three feet of water and you're in a tandem kayak with a chance of a startled iguana landing in your boat.  Tandem kayaking takes a special kind of team work.  As one of the guides quipped, "if you can survive kayaking with your partner, you add five years to your relationship."  Every once in a while there was a break in the branched canopy revealing a pocket of bright stars.  Paddling out to the lagoon, we thought that debris from the mangroves was causing the water to be very foamy as the paddle-blades disturbed the water.  A few minutes out from the lagoon we realized the "foam" was was angry Pyrodinium Bahamense, the bioluminescent plankton we were in search of.

Improbable Image - http://kayakingpuertorico.com/images/excursions/bio_bay/foto-con-brillo.jpg
The channel opened into Laguna Grande, where we listened to a quick biology lesson and learned such valuable lessons as 'if you have an irrational fear of fish, you shouldn't go on a kayaking trip that warns you that krill will jump in your boat,' and the part of the tax on Puerto Rican rum goes to conservation leading to the phrase "drink rum, save a tree."  After some free time to paddle around and try unsuccessfully to capture photos or videos of the luminescent display before heading back through the mangrove channel.  To be honest, I liked the going through the mangroves better than the actual lagoon.  We took the earlier tour so it wasn't totally dark by the time we reached the lagoon causing some light pollution.  The mangroves were pitch-dark, especially on the way back, so the luminescence was bright blue in the channel compared to a dull glow in the lagoon.

On the way back we learned another valuable lesson, 'when you get stuck on a sandbar and your kayaking partner gets out to push, do not paddle away and leave them on the sandbar because everyone will laugh.'  That happened to one boat on our tour and we all giggled as the runaway got towed back to her partner by one of the guides.

We survived!
If you have the chance I definitely recommend taking one a biobay tour.  Kayaking Puerto Rico staff was friendly and professional with a great sense of humor.  They had the best price and reviews I could find.  I was worried about taking tour transport but our driver stayed with the vehicle during the tour and the bonus of not having to drive back in the dark on unfamiliar roads was well worth the extra $20 to me.

Tips for Surviving BioBay kayaking:
  • Eat a good meal before you leave, two hours of kayaking on an empty stomach is not fun
  • Pick your partner carefully 
  • Wear dark, quick-drying clothes over your swimsuit (the dark colors reveal any sparkling plankton that get splashed on you)
  • Beware of on-coming kayakers, they can be more dangerous than the mangroves (we were rammed multiple times)
  • Unless you have Jedi powers, you will not get awesome pictures of glowing plankton

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