Underwater Galaxy

On our fifth day in Puerto Rico, we left the town of Dorado behind, and drove east toward the coastal city of Fajardo, stopping for food and shopping along the way.  We arrived at the Fajardo Inn in the late afternoon, and were immediately impressed with our new resort.  We stepped into an open-air lobby with a view of distant mountains meeting the coast, and were immediately greeted by Nuki, an African Grey parrot.

 

After checking in, and dropping our bags in our large rooms, we spent some time exploring the grounds and pools.  The Fajardo Inn has a small, hill-top pool with a stunning view of the mountains, and a large pool next to a tennis court and mini golf course.

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The small pool at the Fajardo Inn

All ten of us ended up at the big pool for a swim, and we really enjoyed relaxing and sliding down the pool’s small waterslide.  There was also a large bird enclosure next the pool that housed a variety of parrots, all making different noises.

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The big pool at the Fajardo Inn

Eventually dinner time rolled around and Jared and I ordered some pizzas and picked up some snacks and drinks from a nearby grocery store.  We brought them back and the group had a fun picnic on one of the hotel’s patios.  It was really nice to just relax and hang out with everyone to wrap up the day.

The next morning was more scheduled free time, and Vince and I had booked a SCUBA dive with Sea Ventures Dive Center.  We arrived at the marina early and were happy to find out that there were only two other divers on our boat.  This meant that we ended up having the reefs all to ourselves, which made for relaxing dives.

The boat ride out to our first dive site was a little nauseating, but apparently the water was calm compared to the previous day.  Nonetheless I was relieved when we finally geared up and jumped into the warm Caribbean waters.  Our first dive site was named “Sand Slide” because the dive starts by following a sloping sand bank down to depth.  Another notable thing about this site was that it was a filming location for Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  There used to be a small island nearby that was used for the last scene of the movie, but the island sunk during Hurricane Maria.

We saw our first green sea turtle within minutes of starting our dive.  We also saw a barracuda, a lionfish, a puffer fish, and a massive lobster.  Towards the end of the dive, we passed through a coral garden, a series of structures that have been installed to propagate new corals.

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Coral garden

We resurfaced with plenty of oxygen left, and found out that one of the other divers had been experiencing sea sickness while we were underwater.  He opted to stay on the boat after our surface interval so we were down to three divers and one divemaster.  This time we were able to stay down for longer on our second dive, which ended up being more eventful.

This site was named “Cayo Diablo,” and we again saw a turtle almost immediately before approaching a much larger reef.  There were a lot of soft corals here, and they swayed hypnotically along with the current, which alternated between fighting against us, and gently pushing us forward.

I had my weights perfectly balanced on this dive, so I was quite comfortable, and used the opportunity to practice my breathing so I can get closer to the reef without damaging anything.  This helped me to notice smaller things like a small but bright anemone, a multitude of Christmas tree worms, and a couple of flamingo tongue snails.

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Flamingo Tongue Snails on a coral

We also ran across a spotted moray eel, a first for me, and a stingray before we circled around to a sandy bottomed area.

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Spotted Moray Eel

This is where the dive got really cool, because we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by green turtles.  I counted around eight all within a span of five minutes.  They were feeding on grass, and calming swimming around, unbothered by our intrusion.  I’ve never seen so many turtles in one place before, and as we resurfaced, I couldn’t help but feel giddy about the dive.

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Green Sea Turtle

The happy feeling that I get from diving stuck with me all the way back to the marina, and then the hotel where we gathered the group to depart for our evening excursion.  That evening we would be kayaking out to Fajardo’s famous bioluminescent bay, but first we made a stop at a nearby tourist market to give everyone some time to shop for dinner and souvenirs.  I managed to find gifts for my family, and get a seriously impressive smoothie.

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Smoothie dinner

With our shopping done, we drove back to the coast where we met up with our tour guides at Eco Adventures.  They outfitted us with life jackets and kayaks, then led us down a mile-long mangrove trail as evening turned to night.

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Paddling down the mangrove trail to the bio bay

By the time we reached our destination, Laguna Grande, it was completely dark outside which meant we could see what we had come for: bioluminescent dinoflagellates.  More pronounceably put, we were floating in a lake of sparkling single-celled algae that shone whenever we agitated the water around us.  I am a total sucker for bioluminescence.  Even fireflies get me excited although I see them in my own yard every summer evening.  I’ve been to one other bio bay in Colombia, and the glow worm caves of Te Anau in New Zealand, but the Fajardo bio bay was still unique and absolutely magical.

I tried to take some photos of the glowing bay, but quickly gave up in favor of simply enjoying the experience.  We paddled back down the mangrove trail in pitch darkness, and took it much more slowly this time, dunking our arms in the water to watch it sparkle.  The dark water seemed like a swirling, living galaxy full of billions of stars.  Every time I witness bioluminescence, I feel a sharp disconnect with what I normally consider reality.  The logical side of me understands the science behind this phenomenon, but it is tantalizingly easy to slip into daydreams of magic and intrigue, and I am quick to indulge the fairy tales that form inside my head.  For the hour it took to float back to the beach, I was in another world.

Between sea turtles and bioluminescence, I had spent most of the day with a silly grin plastered to my face.  Wildlife sightings always resonate strongly with me, and this was probably my favorite day of the trip.  Everyone else in the group loved the bio bay too.  It was a highlight for all of us, and I highly recommend taking this tour if you are ever in Puerto Rico.

After our tour, we turned in early because we had a morning excursion booked for the next day.  We would be visiting the island of Culebra to kayak and snorkel.

 

 

 

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