Floating in a kayak on the Caribbean Sea, it was hard to believe that I would soon be back in Michigan shoveling snow. The afternoon was hot and sunny, and the turquoise water below me lapped against the boat, a warm invitation to jump in and explore below the surface. There would be plenty of time to snorkel soon, but for now, I had to keep paddling. I dug my paddle into a wave in time with Vince, who was seated behind me.
We were rowing along the coast of Culebra, a small island 17 miles east of Puerto Rico. Our guides from Kayaking Puerto Rico led us against the wind toward a spot where we would be able to jump off of our boats and swim. My arms had already gotten quite a workout the past few days between rock climbing and kayaking, and I struggled to keep pace with Vince as we fought against the wind and current. Eventually we pulled up to where the guides had stopped, and they started to form a raft out of everyone’s kayak. There were nine people from our Percussive Tours group along with at least ten others, so this turned into quite the caravan as more people arrived.
When everyone was accounted for, we were given the go-ahead to jump into the water with our snorkel gear. I was excited. I love kayaking, but for me it is nothing compared to swimming, and any day that I can spend on a coral reef is a good one. I pulled my mask over my eyes and peered into the clear water. The reef was about 30 ft below the surface. I took a deep breath and dove downward, clearing my ears as I neared some soft corals swaying rhythmically with the ocean current.
Soon, my lungs were begging for fresh air, so I kicked upward until I reached the surface. After a quick inhale, I dove again, this time finding some purple sea fans.
There wasn’t a lot of time to spend at this spot, and our guides were motioning for us to swim back to the kayaks before long. As we were heading back, one of the guides spotted something on the sandy bottom. He lifted his head from the water to tell us he could see a sting ray, and he would dive down and point it out for us. He swam downward with powerful kicks and sure enough, the ray stirred, kicking up sand as it swam away.
Back at the kayaks, the guides handed us each a piece of fruit as we settled in for the next leg of paddling. Everyone’s excitement was rising now because sea turtles were known to frequent the next stop. After kayaking about halfway back to Playa Tamarindo, it was once again time to stop and dive into the water.
We swam along behind the guides over a grassy-bottomed sea bed. This would be a perfect spot for green turtle, who eat a lot of sea grass. Within minutes, we saw a turtle grazing on the ocean floor.
Everyone gathered around to catch a glimpse of the turtle and watch as it came to the surface for air. Another turtle appeared shortly after the first, and we had plenty of time to watch the beautiful animals before having to turn around and head for the kayaks.
As I swam back, I found myself separated from the rest of the group except for one of the guides. Just then, one of the turtles swam up to the surface alongside us and continued swimming in our direction. I was only a few feet from it, and I was able to swim right beside it for about thirty seconds before it started to head in the opposite direction of the kayaks. It moved with a quiet, effortless grace that only animals meant for the water possess. I could see the intricate patterns of its shell, and every wrinkle of its neck as it glided through the ocean in a manner more akin to flying than swimming. This was the closest I’ve ever been to a sea turtle, and the calmest I’ve ever seen one around a snorkeler. As I watched it glide away and disappear into the blue, I felt completely awestruck.
The feeling of joy over my amazing turtle encounter carried me all the way back to the beach, then stayed with me as we journeyed by bus to our last stop of the day: Flamenco Beach.
Flamenco is a stunning white sand beach lined with picture perfect palm trees, and it was a great place to relax after a day of early morning travel from Fajardo, and then kayaking and snorkeling.
I grabbed some food from one of the beach vendors, and ate it on the sand as I watched waves crash against the beach. Then I opted for a nap in the sun. Total relaxation is not something I normally achieve on vacation, so I was happy to take a couple hours to just lounge on the sand with friends. I spared a few moments to reflect on the fact that there was only one day left of our trip as I dozed off. It was hard to give that too much thought though, since the warm, tropical sunshine was much more immediate than our immanent return to winter.