Yunque and Bio Bay
Written by Rick Archer
Last Update: December 2012
Our trips to El Yunque
and Bio Bay were both unique gifts organized by Mara Rivas-Hanka.
We will start
with El Yunque. This is an
amazing expanse of dense tropical rainforest located 15
miles southeast of San Juan.
is located in the northeast corner of Puerto Rico.
Considering how close
this park is to the city, I was surprised a 15-mile bus trip took
an hour. However the narrow roads and heavy traffic played a
I didn't care
about the slow ride because El Yunque turned out
to be just as beautiful and magnificent as the pre-trip pictures had promised.
Louie was friendly,
knowledgeable, and humorous. He did a great job. This
visit was a real highlight on the trip.
El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the United States
National Forest System. The Park
encompasses 28,000 acres. El Toro, the highest mountain peak,
rises 3,494 feet above sea level.
The forest region was initially set aside in 1876 by the King
Alfonso XII of Spain. It represents one of the oldest reserves in
the Western Hemisphere. It was established as a U.S. National Forest
Reserve in 1906. It is home to over 200 species of trees and plants,
23 of which are found nowhere else. Ample rainfall creates a
Because Puerto Rico is south of the Tropic of Cancer, it has a
tropical climate. There is no distinct wet or dry season in El Yunque; it rains year round (200 inches a
year in some areas). The temperature and length of daylight remain
fairly constant throughout the year.
factors combine to provide a
perfect year-round growing season.
Lush foliage, waterfalls and many streams are a prevalent
sight. The forest has a number of trails from which the jungle-like
territory's flora and fauna can be fully appreciated.
explains the different plants and flowers.
Kurt, Louie, Mara,
George, Patty, Marla, Bruce, Jean, Joe, Tiffany,
Joan, and Rick E aka Zorro
Mara had scanned the Internet
to locate Louie, a much-acclaimed local guide, to personally escort us to
Louie was indeed quite the expert on the flora and
fauna of the rain forest. He explained in great detail the
names of the different plants and listed their properties and uses.
I listened politely. However, for me, the
most awaited moment of the day would be our hike to the stunning La
Not only did I look
forward to a two mile hike deep into the lush rainforest, I had seen
pictures of the waterfall on the Internet that made my mouth drop
As far as I was
concerned, let's skip the botany lesson and head straight for the
good stuff. I could not wait to visit.
Louie told us the water
was warm enough to wade in. I wore my bathing suit in
anticipation of taking a swim. This was going to be
Soon enough we began the
hike. The well-kept trail followed along a small river that
would eventually lead us right to the waterfall.
round trip was slightly less than two miles. The trail was excellent.
We were completely alone for this part of the walk.
The trail followed
alongside a lovely forest stream.
Here is a pretty
waterfall we saw along the way.
It looks big in the picture, but it was actually very small.
This is a
different waterfall. You could not ask for a more lovely trail.
We need to get some waterfalls like this for Houston's Arboretum trail.
Thanks to the
previous waterfall, the stream picked up in intensity.
The anticipation for the main waterfall was building.
I turned the corner...
and then I saw it!! There before me was the beautiful La Mina Waterfall in all its glory!!
... plus a thousand
million teenagers pushing and shoving and screaming their heads off. I think
every kid in Puerto Rico must have been here today.
I don't think I can even
begin to explain the degree of my let-down, but I assure you it was
a PROFOUND disappointment.
fantasies of a swim in my very own secluded tropical pond had not
included all these children. The thrill was gone.
Back when I was a child,
my mother used to say children should be seen and not heard. My
mother's words kept running through my mind. I stayed as far from the
kids as I possibly could.
I think I should add
that their noise level was deafening.
So much for my trip to
the peaceful Garden of Eden.
Judging from those
expressions, I wasn't the only one with
second thoughts about wading in.
Only Mara had the
courage. Such a brave girl!
Now it was time to head back.
Our next stop was
at La Coca Falls
Zorro and Joe in
their moment of triumph
When I saw this picture
of George, I laughed. Here we are in the
middle of a stunning rain forest and here's goofy George trying to follow
the NFL football draft on his cell phone.
What could be sillier?
Why can't he appreciate the wonder surrounding us like a normal
Then I saw this picture
of me taken by Marla at El Morro Castle. So what am I doing?
I am playing computer
chess on "Friend", my long-time companion on every cruise
trip. For years, Marla has
teased me about playing chess for the millionth time when I should be enjoying nature and
viewing the beauty of the different places we visit.
I guess George and I
aren't so different. We are both flawed human beings with limited attention spans.
Why our women keep us around is a mystery to us... and to our women
I have an anecdote to
share. I was curious to know who the Texans had drafted with
their first-round pick. George replied, "JJ Watt".
I replied, "I have never
heard of the guy. Have you?" George shook his head no.
We both agreed the Texans really blew it with this pick.
As you may know, JJ Watt
will likely be named Defensive Player of the Year for the 2012
season. Shows you how smart George and I are.
After La Coca Falls, our next stop took us to Yokahu Observation Tower.
We climbed 1,575
feet for the chance to see a stunning panoramic view high above the rain
Once we caught our
breath, it was quite a treat
indeed. The entire world had a vast green carpet covering it.
It is a humbling
experience to view the vastness of nature. We were so high we
were practically in the clouds.
I felt very fortunate to be
given this opportunity. Thank you, Mara.
And thank you, Marla, as
From the Yokahu
Tower we could see all the way to San Juan and the Atlantic Ocean 15 miles away
One of the fun treats of
the day was watching our guide Louie turn our girls into
Rainforest Leaf Models.
The ground was covered
with a type of large leaf that had funny shapes.
Louie picked up a leaf
and let each girl take turns posing for the camera with the leaf as
The girls were very good
Mara seemed to have the
For the rest of the day,
I called her "Mara Tiara".
Mara wasn't our only
superstar. I think Tiffany, the lady in black, was born to model.
Tiffany has the smile and the pose down pat... plus a great figure to
As for the men, yeah, we
had to pose too.
The girls laughed their
heads off at us. Apparently they weren't impressed.
Mara told me I should
turn over a new leaf.
As for me, I am still
bitter trying to figure out how Bruce and Zorro avoided the ordeal.
After we finished with
El Yunque, Louie was nice enough to find us a place to eat on the
Marla avoided the
mofongo like the plague.
After we finished
eating, we went to take a look at the pretty beach.
Here's a nice group
What a wonderful day.
Our day wasn't over after El Yunque.
That evening, Mara
arranged for us to have dinner and watch the dancers perform
I loved the show, but
unfortunately we were sitting at the back. This meant I wasn't
able to get very good pictures.
Finally I got the idea
to sneak up closer to the stage and get some better shots.
As you can see, the girl
in blue pretty much stole the show.
When Marla told me Mara
had organized a kayak trip at night to Bio Bay, I had to ask what
Marla said it was some
sort of lagoon that glowed in the dark. I raised any eyebrow.
My first thought was what has Mara gotten us into this time.
As it turned out, Bio
Bay was indeed a strange lagoon where the water glows in the dark if
you touch it with your hand or your kayak paddle.
"Bio" is short for the
word "bioluminescent". A Bio Bay is a natural wonder that is
also very rare.
The best-known bioluminescent creature on land is the firefly.
However, they exist in water as well. In fact, it is estimated
that up to 90% of deep-sea creatures produce some form of
A bio bay is a body of
water that contains millions of micro-organisms, called “dinoflagellates”,
that glow in the dark for a second when agitated. The complex
quickly goes from its excited state to a lower energy state,
emitting the difference in energy as visible light with a greenish
glow. Because the red end of the visible light spectrum is absorbed
before reaching the deep sea, most of the light emitted is blue and
This effect is best seen
on a dark night, so try to go when it is moonless or close to it.
It is also best to go on a warm night. But even on a less than ideal
night, the bioluminescence will be visible. It is a fragile
environment, that can be destroyed by excessive abuse from motor
oil, sunscreen and bug repellent. Consequently motor boats
have been banned. Fortunately, however, kayaks are considered
Three of the best known
bioluminescent bays in the world exist in Puerto Rico. One, La
Parguera, in the southwest, is rumored to have been damaged by too
much use of large commercial boats. The second is the famed
Mosquito Bay on the nearby island of Vieques. The third is
Fajardo, La Laguna Grande. La Laguna Grande in Fajardo is one we
would visit. It is very bright and it is convenient to get to
from San Juan.
In order to understand
our trip, let's use the picture above and the Google Earth map for
reference. Our destination was #4, Laguna Grande. Laguna
Grande is the "Bio Bay".
A lagoon is like a lake,
except that is usually situated close to a much larger body of
water. In this, at its narrowest point, the lagoon was
separated from the Atlantic by a spit of land less than 100 yards
us off at a beach
near a town
Our job was to
At Point 2, we
row a kayak from
Point 1 to Point 2
across the lake.
would begin to
kayak through a
narrow channel in
a thick mangrove
forest till we
reached Point 4.
Our journey would
be a 2 mile round
Considering few of us
had ever used a kayak and considering we would be doing this in the
dark, we all understood this was going to be a bit of a challenge.
What we did not know is that before the night was through,
everyone's friendship would be strongly tested to its very core.
In fact, several of us would require marital counseling at the
No pictures that I know
of exist to illustrate our
journey through the
Few of us owned
cameras that were both
waterproof and strong
enough to take pictures
in the dark.
Furthermore we were
all far too busy paddling
to take the time to
snap some pictures.
Fortunately I found
pictures on the Internet
of someone's day trip
through the same
channel. This should
give an idea of our task.
I must say that the
chance to paddle
through this narrow
stream at night was
fun. I loved the mystery
and the darkness.
We were forced to
follow the flashlight of
our guide up ahead in a
If a swamp monster or
crocodile wanted to eat
us for dinner, we would
have never seen him
I believe the narrow
channel through the mangrove forest was man-made. It
functioned just like a train tunnel would through a mountain or a
walking trail through an impenetrable forest.
Someone must have cut
and dug this canal for the purpose of connecting to the lagoon.
I can't imagine such a convenient little waterway existing by
We finally made it
through the eerie, creepy mangrove canal to emerge into a large
lake. It was so dark we could not even see the sides of the
Bio Bay is a strange
lagoon where the water glows in the dark if you touch it.
The phenomenon of the mysterious
blue-green light is created by micro-organisms.
Whenever we hit the water with our hands or our paddles, the
agitated microbes would indeed light up and sparkle. It was
The tourist book said a
trip into the bay on a balmy night is a magical experience.
I would have to agree. I would have to say this trip was a
||However, as I
have hinted, there was also a dark side to this experience.
The problem came from trying
to coordinate the paddling of the kayaks.
Most of us were really
really bad at controlling
The brochure suggested that
kayaking is fun and relatively easy.
They said that even
if we had
never done it before, or we were out of shape,
or if we were "older" –
we would still be able to manage these boats.
The brochure promised
the kayak operators would give us a brief
“lesson” on how to kayak. Plus we would all get
a mandatory life jacket to wear.
Presto, we would magically
be prepared to thrive and survive.
How about the "truth"?
Marla and I spent the entire
night running into the embankment of the mangrove canal.
Every single time it
happened, Marla would blame me. And I would defend myself to no
I cannot even begin to explain at how bad we were. We must have
hit the side a dozen times.
Marla said it was my fault
because I was the engine.
I said it was her fault because she was guiding the boat.
Don't let our smiles fool
you. We argued back and forth all night long.
The worst time came when we
got stuck in some nasty branches.
Mind you, Marla and I
were stuck in total darkness. We were completely blind. We had
no idea how the branches were trapping us nor did we have any idea
how to extricate ourselves.
I tried going forward.
That didn't work. I tried going backwards. That didn't
work. I was getting really frustrated. Meanwhile Marla
kept up a running commentary of suggestions. She wanted to get
free and she wanted it NOW.
It felt like every thing
I did was being criticized. I said some very bad things under
Thank goodness no one
could see how badly I struggled with that cursed mangrove tree. I
have never been more grateful for darkness in my life.
As it turned out, later
on everyone confessed they had similar problems.
For example, in the
middle of the lake we heard agitated chatter from someone. We
didn't know who it was, but we knew they were in trouble.
Then we heard the splash
as two people hit the drink. I have no idea who those people
were, but I did hear someone curse at the top of her lungs,
"Damn it, Joe!!"