Kayaking In a Glittering Light: Exploring the bioluminescent bay of Laguna, near San Juan – Puerto Rico
Night is quickly approaching as we paddle our kayaks across Las Croabas Bay, maneuvering around the anchored sail boats whose halyards are snapping in the light wind. To our right is the vast Atlantic Ocean, but we paddle instead for the narrow mangrove canal leading way Laguna Grande, one of only five bodies of water in the world where bioluminescent creatures, often known as the “burning of the sea,” live year round.
It is dark and the moon is hidden behind a bank of clouds and so the only lights we have to follow are the glow sticks on the life jacket and back of the kayak ahead of us.
“This is just the way it should be,” says my friend Jody, who has taken this trip several times before. “If the moon were out, we wouldn’t be able to see them.”
By them she means the tiny phosphorescent creatures that live, 450,000 to the gallon, in Laguna Grande de Fajardo, accessible only through the mangrove canal and only by kayak as motorboats are prohibited.
A little light might be nice, I think, as we navigate among the mangroves whose roots, which twist up above the waters along the narrow channel in a latticework pattern, collecting debris from the falling leaves and palm tree fonds.
We are lucky on the way into the lagoon, as the current tugs us along. And because my 12 year old daughter Nia and I frequently kayak, we’re able to maneuver around the turns and bends better than some of the others in the long line of kayaks behind us.
We had started earlier this evening, just after a heavy rainstorm, in the hip and lively Condida neighborhood of San Juan where we’re staying at Marriott there. 90 minutes later we arrived in Parque Las Croabas where several tour companies offer trips to the lagoon. Our group numbers about 45, some of whom had never kayaked before. No worries, Juan Ruiz, our lead guide at EcoAdventure PR, tells us as we clamber aboard, no one has fallen in yet. Reassuring, given that the waters are murky and dark.
The journey through the mangroves seems a long way from the sophisticated hotel, restaurants and shops that make up that area and my daughter is wondering why we didn’t stay by the pool overlooking the ocean. It is, she tells me more than once, hot and humid in the channel and the paddle so far, about 30 minutes, a little long. She is, unfortunately, entering those teenage years where such adventures somehow pale in comparison to going to the mall.
Bugs are not a problem as we slathered on organic bug lotion before we left. We’d also bought along some freshly made empanadas stuffed with cheese and chicken. We are prepared and after a sharp turn to the left, the mangrove roots start to spread out and within minutes we enter the lagoon.
Almost at the same moment as the waters open up, Nia gives a little cry. I look back and see that her oar, as it lifts out of the water, drips iridescent white froth and as it re-enters the water, the dazzling Champagne-like bubbles encircle the flat surface of the paddle. I dip my hand into the water, letting it trail along as my kayak glides forward. It is the same-glittery confetti lighting up the black lagoon–and though I know, from listening to Jody, this would happen, the experience is more more astounding than I expected. Mesmerized, I could endlessly watch the glow of stardust-like creatures slipping through my fingers into the water below. Nia’s shout of astonishment echoes as more paddlers enter the lagoon and their movements create swaths of glow stick-like paths.
These are, we have been told, bioluminescent organisms, living creatures that emit light– think tiny underwater lightening bugs and you get an idea of what they’re like.
It isn’t totally understood says Ruiz, why bioluminscents live in only a few bays. But all are similar–small, shallow (none are more than 14 feet deep), ringed by mangroves and connected to the ocean only by a narrow channel. Heading back, we battle the strong current running against us until finally entering Las Croabas Bay. Here the wind is even stronger and there is an uneasy chop to the inky waters. Then for a few minutes the clouds drift off and in the moonlight we see El Faro (the Fajardo Light House) and houses lining the hills. My daughter isn’t complaining anymore. She’d be willing come back soon even if it means leaving the hotel pool.
For more information: ecoadventurespr.com/