THE KAERU KID: Nature’s Light Show

I was invited to visit the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico by friends who were volunteering at the Nature Conservancy there. They knew exactly how to pique my interest by telling me about “BioBay.” I had previously visited the main Puerto Rico island in the distant past, and having already seen Condado Beach and its casinos, El Morro and San Cristobal (old forts), El Yunque rainforest, and then seeing the high prices for accommodations now, I was not enticed to stay on the main island during this visit.

ISLAND LIVING… AND PRICES — The island of Vieques offers expensive beachfront properties with great views for ex-pats and tourists. photo by Kaeru Kid

“BioBay” or Bioluminescent Bay (real name Mosquito Bahia and can you guess why) sounded fascinating. Many of us living on the Pacific have observed the wake of boats being lit up at night by billions of plankton. I’ve seen the glowworm cave at Waitomo, New Zealand, fireflies in many areas, and even a glowing salmon appetizer at a completely dark “blind” restaurant in Zurich. I guess I am attracted like a moth to light so this went to the top of my bucket list.

The island of Vieques is a small island about a half hour plane ride or an hour and a half ferry ride from the main island. Take Vieques Air Link from the secondary airport at San Juan isla Grande airport because the fare ($126 round trip) is almost half of what the other airlines are charging. The ferry is cheaper but by the time one adds in the cost of the taxi to get to the dock, it is almost the same price and the flight eliminates the hassle, extra travel time, and the chance of seasickness.

The island in the past had a U.S. Navy base and the Navy used parts of the island for bombing practice starting in 1941. They removed many islanders and this caused great resentment among Puerto Ricans since the sugar cane industry was removed and environmental damage was being done to a great natural resource.

GOOD TIMES — Al’s Mar Azul bar offers something for the patrons to look at while they drink. photo by Kaeru Kid

When a native resident was killed in a bombing accident in 1999, it was the last straw and the resultant furor convinced the Navy to relinquish control and to start a “clean-up” of the island in 2003. There are still many areas off limits because of possible unexploded ordinances.

There are essentially two main towns, Isabel Segunda (Isabel II, the capital) and Esperanza. Vieques, located eight miles from the main island, measures 21 by 4 miles and derives its name from a Spanish spelling of an indigenous word that means small island. The nickname is Isla Nena, which means little sister to the main island.

The ferry dock, the old fort, and administrative offices are located in Isabel II. Al’s Mar Azul bar on the beach is a popular ex-pat gathering spot in Isabel, but the majority of gringos stay around Esperanza where there are many restaurants and bars. Al’s ceiling is festooned with customers’ bras. A luxury resort, the W, is located far from the towns in an isolated location. Prices for food and lodging here were expensive. Locals bad-mouthed the W management as being insensitive to the other island inhabitants. Waterfront homes and properties were in the million-dollar range and not worth it, in my not so humble opinion.

There are guesthouses rentals for reasonable rates. Christmas to New Year’s is the busiest season and has the highest rates. The high season is from January to April. My friend’s sister stayed at the Hix Island House where the rates cost $175 to more than $300, and she raved about her experience.

The ex-pat crowd seemed to be a mix of full-time retirees, snowbirds from the East Coast, and a “hippie” contingent. There are many art galleries with New York City prices. One of the fun activities on weekends is attending artists’ opening exhibitions where ex-pats gather for free food and drinks.

I had a fun time eating pizza at Lazy Jack’s Pub, and also dined at El Quenepo, which my friends said was the best restaurant on the island. It served a delicious but expensive meal.

The preceding were the sidelights of Vieques. The highlight (with the emphasis on light) of my visit follows. I made a reservation to Bahia Mosquito the first day to ensure space on a kayak tour since there are a limited number of seats. There is only one type of insect repellent allowed which is not harmful to the marine life, so check for that brand when making reservations.

We drove to the Bay over a very rough road with potholes filled with water. I was like a kid who couldn’t wait for Christmas morning as we glided out on the Bay. As our oars dipped into the water, it appeared that there was a diluted milky color at the end of the paddle. What?!? I came out all the way here to see this?

The guide said that for optimum viewing, one must come during a new moon when it is the darkest and when there is no recent rain, since fresh water entering the lagoon causes the bioluminescent creatures to disperse into deeper water. Rain had poured earlier in the day and it was a half-moon night.

The guide urged patience and we went to the middle of the lagoon where a catamaran was docked. Permission was granted to dive under its canopy. Oh my gosh! As my arm dipped in and lifted out of the water, it appeared to be covered with sparklers. Others swimming close by produced the same phenomenon. The guide said when conditions were optimal one could see the fish swimming motion activating the plankton bioluminescence, creating an incredible light show. Attempts to photograph this were unsuccessful. Using the camera in video mode might be the best way, but there’s no guarantee. This YouTube video clip offers a partial idea of the phenomenon, but it is no substitute for an actual experience.

By the way, Puerto Rico was a natural for the Kaeru Kid since the coqui frog is their national animal. It is named for the sound the male frog makes. Coqui frogs were illegally brought to Hawai‘i where they are considered pests. Some visitors think the frog sound is a din but Puerto Ricans who have moved away miss its unique song and even buy records so they can hear what is music to their ears. You can hear a sample here and decide for yourself.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com.

 

Las Vegas Tidbits:

It is always advantageous to know a casino host. They can provide qualified players with comps and other perks. Not all hosts, however, are as pleasant as Tad Nakano of the Las Vegas Hilton. Tad was raised in Boise, Idaho. If you are at the Hilton, be sure to say hello to him.

 

Comments

  1. This link was in the original article but somehow missing when posted on-line:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=foWeRavzuEs&feature=related

    Can see bioluminescence phenomenon.

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