BIOLUMENESCENT BAY: Fajardo, PR
We booked a few days at the El Conquistador (basically because we wanted to go to the Bioluminescent Bay for that experience, plus check out this side of Puerto Rico).
After flying into PR, we were tired, but there was no time for rest. The bio bay was the first thing on our list to do and we were doing it THAT NIGHT!
Now here's a funny story. One of my nursing classes we had an assignment that had to be a "descriptive" essay. We had to describe something we had done before and make it as if the reader felt as if they were there with you and could picture it. Well, although I hadn't done it (but knew I would some day), I decided to do an essay on bioluminescent bay. I did so much research and learned everything about it. Now it was time to experience it...in person. Would this trip live up to my expectations? Would I feel as though I was reliving something I had already done before? Only a few hours stood between me and finding out.
After settling in, it was time to head out for our long awaited trip.
There are not many vendors that offer a trip by boat due to having to have a boat that is equipped with an electric engine. It is illegal to run a gas engine within the bay. So, I did my research and booked with "Bio Island Puerto Rico"
I put the "address", which really wasn't an address to me, into my phone and it said we were only about 6 minutes away from the place. Sweet...that meant more like 20 minutes for someone like us who can't follow a GPS well because ...well have you ever seen the names of these roads???? YIKES! They are so long and of course in Spanish and the GPS pronounces them differently and backwards. For instance our hotel was located on El Conquistador Avenue. The GPS would say Avenida El Conquistador. Now of course this don't seem to bad you say? Well that was easy because it was the same name as where we were staying. BUT, once you put in a Spanish "twang" to it...or changed the name of the streets, well...it got a little confusing.
We followed the GPS and I was shocked that we actually made it in about 10 minutes...but where did we make it to? It just kinda took us down toward the water and stopped. We weren't the only vehicles looking for it and thank goodness we were not the leader of the pack so couldn't be held reliable for the wrong ways we turned that included a few U-turns.
We headed down a road close to the water and didn't see any place with the name of the company we had booked with. However, once you start seeing a bunch of kayaks, you know you have to be in the right place. We drove along the road and the minute I seen a parking spot, I pulled in. It was a really tight squeeze but I managed with my small race car.
It was right in front of a playground. Of course Sakari was excited about this, but I assured her there was no time for playing and we were doing something more exciting.
We walked across the grass and playground area and found that there was also parking on the other side of this...plenty of parking, which was closer to where we needed to be. But that's ok. I needed to work off some of the cruise weight I would be gaining the following week.
The following is a picture of the baños located at this park. Pink and Blue...no Spanish needed to know which building was yours. You have to pay .50¢ per person to use it. Say what??? You have to pay to use the restroom? That's crazy. I should have just left my wet clothes on and played it off and saved my .50¢. (Just kidding of course) Especially at a local park. I decided we would "hold it" and go right before we took our tour.
We walked along the street and seen that this was all a little foreign to us. We are use to going somewhere and there being a building or booth or something with the vendor. However here, the vendors just pull up and park along the side and pop up a tent. We looked until we found the name of the company. I didn't realize just how many vendors offer these tours (mostly kayaks and only 2 companies are authorized to do the boat tours).
Now...my essay was renting kayaks. Why? Because it made for a funny descriptive story of not being able to control the kayaks in the pitch dark and running into mangroves. I believe because of my essay, I decided I didn't want to make a fool of myself as I did in the story and we booked biobay by motor boat.
About the tour:
We booked with Bioisland Puerto Rico. The price was $52 per adult and $38 per child and the tour was supposed to be around 1 hour and 15 minutes long from start to finish. We had several times to pick from (according to the site 6pm, 7:15pm, and 8:30pm) and we booked for 7:15pm, but when we received our confirmation it said 7-8:15pm. Our directions also stated to arrive 40 minutes early...which we did (it was more like 1 hour early).
We checked in, they marked our name off the list, they told us that we had an hour before the tour and that we were welcome to hang out with us (they sat out chairs), had snacks and water, or we could wonder around the area and return. I really didn't want to just hang, so we decided to allow Sakari go play at the playground for awhile and off we went. (I'm still not sure why we had to be there so early if they were just going to tell us to hang out for an hour)
After a lot of Pirate play for Sakari, it was time to head to the baño's prior to our trip. All I can say is mucho gracias the hubby brought some cash. I had totally walked out of the room and forgot my "spending" money (the excitement of the excursion) and so we managed to get in some "relief" prior to heading back.
The restrooms were super clean and there are attendants that sit out in front of them to collect the money and after each person went in to use the restroom (there were 2 stalls in each building) they attendant would go in and clean...and by clean I mean even mop the floor clean. Ok, I guess someone has to pay them to keep the restrooms clean and the .50¢ makes it worth it.
We went back over and re-checked in. They told us to have a seat and we started talking to the tour guide. He was in nursing school for his BSN. How exciting, I can relate. I ask if he was a practicing nurse and where he worked but he said that he wasn't because he was still in school and is due to graduate next summer. I guess he's doing the entire program and graduating with his BSN (which I wish I would have done instead of the associates to BSN). His story was moving to me. He worked at the biobay in order to have money to pay for his car so that he could get to clinicals for his nursing.
We talked for awhile and he was very interesting. Then all of a sudden he jumps up and says "Would you look at that sunset? You guys are missing it! Don't you want to take pictures?" LOL So pictures we did.
A lecture on biobay that I did during my research for my paper:
So what is Bioluminescent Bay? This is an amazing light show, within the waters, that can only be experienced at night. There are only five bays in the world where you can find this illumination in the water, and Puerto Rico has three of them. Every time this brackish water is physically disturbed, the water lights up a bluish-green glow. The water in this area contains millions of one-celled micro-organisms, which are half-animal and half-plant, called dinoflagellates. Dinoflagellates are basically self-illuminating plankton. When they are disturbed, they convert chemical energy, which is the same thing fireflies use, in to light energy. However, they will only emit illumination during a disturbance, which excites them, and only under certain surrounding conditions. Very specific nutrients must be available in the water, red mangroves must surround the bay and provide a habitat that produces a bacterium with vitamin B12 in large quantities, and the temperature must stay warm and constant. It also must be contained within an area that is very calm with a lot of sunlight. The calm water allows the salt to sink to the bottom and then be carried back out to the ocean by undercurrents. These organisms cannot survive in salty water. All of these combined circumstances provide us with a wonderful light show within the ocean waters.
With all this in mind, I felt as though the tour guide tested me on a few things (I told him the funny story about my essay). For the most part I got it right. However, my research said that once a single dinoflagellate was disturbed and lit up, it was done for the night until the next night. He said the "type" of dinoflagellates that were located in their bay can light more than once.
We all piled in the boat and I made sure to get a seat toward the back. I have seen many pictures and read that the best seat in the house is in the back if you are in a motorboat. The engine will stir up the critters and you'll see a trail of blue in the water.
Pictures from the internet showing this....
Other pictures on the internet made me so excited:
Now I know (as someone who has messed around with photography for several years, that in order to catch a picture of something glowing or lights in the dark, you need a long exposure. I also know that it's impossible to have a good picture of the people (such as above) in the picture unless you have a flash. So, in order to produce pictures, like above, you have to take 2 pictures and combine them together to get that "perfect" picture. This requires a SLR camera, which I have, but no longer take on vacations with me. It's just too much equipment to haul around. So, I wasn't very hopeful in catching really any shots during this experience.
This is the very first picture I had ever ran across when I discovered what a bioluminescent bay was...way before I knew Puerto Rico had one or what it even was (we are talking years ago). It had always intrigued me and I never thought I would ever get to actually go to a place that had one.
If you look on the vendors website, they do have a picture gallery of the bay and pictures that have been taken. I'm honestly not sure how they got the pictures, but I assume it would definitely have to be a long exposure and stabilized with a tripod (of course on a moving boat, that's a little tricky).
We geared up and was ready to head out..
We headed across the water and toward the mangroves. Once we entered the mangroves it was pretty neat. It was dark in there, but there were areas that opened up and the dark blue sky did show itself. I believe the mangroves are backed up to peoples homes and you could hear chickens in the background. We couldn't help but laugh about it.
The mangroves are over a mile long...yes, this would make for a long kayaking trip and at this point, I was happy that I decided to go by boat instead. We were super tired from being up since 2am and I'm not sure I would have had it in me to "row". We did catch a couple of people holding on to the boat and being pulled along (I assume they were maybe tour guides or something because our guys seem to know them and chatted with them along the way).
I will admit, this night I took probably the crappiest pictures I have ever taken in my life. We were told that we could not use flash unless the front of the boat had its light on. If it didn't have the light on, we could not use our flash. Mine went off once and I was scolded (not directly but "just a friendly reminder to everyone not to use the flash in these areas unless the boat had the light on" type of thing...which I knew was directed toward me since I was the only one that flashed by mistake.)
Also, when you put the camera on night mode and turn the flash off, it still wanted to flash a light real quick (to try to focus on something/anything before taking the actual picture without the flash. This created a problem of me having to aim the camera down and cover the flash with my hand, continuing to hold down the shutter button so it didn't go off again, then aiming and shooting. Sigh. I was so not prepared for this.
I'll admit, my sleep deprived delirious brain was getting the best of me and I honestly have no idea what setting I had my camera on. I believe, from the looks of the pictures, I forgot to put it on "sport" because we were moving. Most of the pictures ended up a blur, but I'm going to share a few of the "good" (#seriouslyrollingonthefloorlaughingatthisstatement) ones so that you get the idea of what it was like.
They did have a flash light that they would shine along the way to show us "critters of the night". There were A LOT of iguanas hanging out in the trees. Each one of them had been named by the staff...including Lady Gaga, which happened to be a boy. LOL We ask how they knew it was the same iguana on any certain branch along the way and they told us that iguanas are territorial and return to the same spot each night.
There were tons of the tree frogs, birds (cranes and others) and tarpon fish in the water.They would shine their light in the water and show us various very colorful coral. It was pretty and some of them were a decent size.
We followed right along with the kayaks in front of us and behind us.
I had a few "mistakes" where I used my flash and was scolded. Oops. I was trying to capture pictures of the coral they pointed out in the water...but with the flash, it still didn't work. I give up!
We made it out to the lagoon and it was a HUGE area. There were tons of kayaks already there and they each had their little "space" picked out. You could tell the groups apart by the color of their light on the kayak. Here's the "red" group.
Now I was really grateful for the cloudy day/evening and hoped that this would help. It was covering the moon, but the problem was that the city lights all over was making the lagoon very lit up. The guide told us that they have petitioned to get the lights (maybe at the closest city or lighthouse or someplace close by) to be off due to it disturbing the tours.
I was starring at the back of the boat...I was not seeing anything glow in the water from the engine. They told us not to worry because they had tarps that they would use in order to make it dark and we would see it. I noticed the kayaks were lined up together and their group threw a tarp over top of them.
We tried several places and the tarps were attached to the side of the boat (rolled up along the way there). Once we got to an area away from the kayaks, they unrolled the tarps and let the end flow into the water. We turned around on our seats, belly down, and put our hands in the water and swished it around. Since Sakari was so small (and short) they gave her a long stick/handle/wand to use to move the water around. I wasn't seeing anything. I thought I might have seen something, but then thought it was my eyes playing tricks on me. I just wasn't sure. I was sure that this is NOT what I had expected.
Here's the problem...the tarps they put into the water would end up drifting under the boat. It would be a battle between us pushing the tarp out and pulling it out from under the boat, swishing our hands around while trying to keep the tarp out. The tour guide kept asking me if I seen it...I told him not really.
They decided to move to a different area. We tried again. I seen a little bit, but Sakari was having issues since she was just so small and couldn't reach over the edge with momma beside her freaking out.
We moved to a different area, they were a little brighter. I took picture after picture hoping for some miracle. The further we moved away from the crowd and to the other side of the lagoon (over by some trees, which I think helped because it was darker over there) the brighter it became. They called it "Pixie Dust" and that's what it reminded you of. We also discovered that they were a "little deeper than they were the night before" proclaiming that they were about 6"-12" down, so you had to really stick your hand/arm in (which was difficult when you are on a boat sitting up high). But, we borrowed Sakari's stick and that helped out somewhat...well, I ended up having the hubby at some point hold the stick toward the tarp to keep it out and away from the boat so that I'm actually touching the water and not the tarp.
The tour guide kept saying "Do you see it Kim? Is it working for you? Do you need some help? What can I do to make this more enjoyable? I want you to be happy? I want you to have a good experience" He was so kind and caring, but it wouldn't make them glow the way I had expected them to. It was nothing like the pictures. It was nothing like I had thought it would be. Did we see them? Yes! It got better the more we moved and discovered they were deeper down that normal. It was a very cool experience. One that I will never forget. It seemed like a freak of nature type of thing. But nothing at all like I thought.
Out of all the black pictures I ended up with, this picture had a spot on it. Whether it's actually one of the brighter ones lighting up, I'll never know. But I'm going to go with it is, even though it appeared on my screen as white instead of the blue color.
We stayed out at the lagoon long enough for everyone to be satisfied that we had seen all we were going to see. The tarp was rolled back up and we headed back toward the mangrove for more of the tour commentary on the way back.
I have to tell you that we came across the cucubano beetle and it was one of the highlights of the tour for me (pun intended). These beetles are like fireflies and they fly around in the mangrove and light up. You would see them zipping back and forth for long distances and it was pretty cool.
The cucubano, Pyrophorus luminosus, is a species of click beetle native to the island of Puerto Rico. It is often confused with a firefly because both species emit light from their rear segments. Unlike fireflies, however, the Cucubano can also emit light from its middle segment, thereby giving it the appearance of two "headlights" and one "backlight", which it can turn off independently.
Because light pollution interferes with their reproduction, they prefer rural areas without much development.A Puerto Rican firefly is called a cucullo which is a true firefly, also native to Puerto Rico. Cucullos average half an inch in length. The color of both of these insects' lights is bright green.
We did come across an area where they said a snake must have hung out in the mangrove trees above because one day they discovered a huge snake skin left behind in the tree and flashed the light up there.
After we came out of the mangroves, we gently glided across the water back to where we started. The city lights had everything lit up.
We made it back to shore and I wasn't really sure how I felt...other than I was really sure I had to use the restroom again and that was the place we headed to next. This time they did not charge me for Sakari. I'm not sure why.
We got in the car and out we went, still unsure about how I felt about the experience tonight.
This was one of my most anticipated excursions I think I have ever wanted to do. So much so that I even did a report on it prior to going. I just knew I had to go!
After the experience that we had, I was so disappointed in what we saw (or actually didn't see). It was NOTHING like the pictures...not even close. You could barely see anything, even under the tarp to make it dark.
We were there on a cloudy night, so even though there was a bit of a moon, it was still covered by clouds from rain that day. The guides did say that the lights from the city in the distance has started to hinder being able to see the water the way they use to. I have also read reviews saying that a hurricane came and destroyed a lot of it and it has taken years to build back up.
I don't believe I would waste my money going back here...at least for several years and until better reviews start to come in that it has gotten better. It's just not worth the money to me.
It has been reported that the bay over at Vieques is a lot brighter and better. But, you must take a ferry to get over to the island and there seems to be only a certain amount of ferries that run and at limited times.
All in all, I would not personally recommend this trip...AT THIS TIME. The guides were wonderful and it did make for a great night and fun...just not what we went for.