El Yunque
Home Up St Lucia

Virgin Islands 2011 Who Went? Mara's Triumph: A five-chapter saga Next Chapter: St. Lucia
Pre-Cruise Party Rick's Scrapbook Guest Scrapbook About the Caribbean 1 About the Caribbean 2 Information

El 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.  The forest 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 part.

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 jungle-like setting.

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.  

These 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.


Here Louie 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 El Yunque.

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 Mina Waterfall. 

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 open. Wow!

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 fun!

Soon enough we began the hike.  The well-kept trail followed along a small river that would eventually lead us right to the waterfall.


The 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.

Another waterfall.  The anticipation for the main waterfall was building.


Up ahead we could hear a rushing sound!

When I saw these rapids, I knew we had to be close.



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.

My wildest 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

I understand there might be some confusion about why
I keep calling Rick "Zorro". So let me help you out. 

Yes, that's Rick at the 2009 SSQQ Halloween Party.  Great costumes!


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 person?

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 as well.

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 forest canopy.

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 well.


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 her crown.

The girls were very good sports.

Mara seemed to have the most fun. 

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 match.

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 way back. 

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 picture.

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 Flamenco. 

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 this meant.

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 bioluminescence.

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 green.

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 safe. 

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 apart.

  Our bus dropped
  us off at a beach
  near a town
  known as
  Las Croabas.

  Our job was to
  row a kayak from
  Point 1 to Point 2
  across the lake.

  At Point 2, we
  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 trip's conclusion.

  No pictures that I know
  of exist to illustrate our
  journey through the
  mangrove swamp.

  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
  single file.

  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 accident. 

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 lake.

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 pretty cool.  

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 great experience. 

  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
our kayaks.

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 "
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 avail.

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 my breath.

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!!"


Chapter Four of Mara's Triumph: Saint Lucia

Virgin Islands 2011 Who Went? Mara's Triumph: A five-chapter saga Next Chapter: St. Lucia
Pre-Cruise Party Rick's Scrapbook Guest Scrapbook About the Caribbean 1 About the Caribbean 2 Information
SSQQ Front Page Parties/Calendar Jokes
SSQQ Information Schedule of Classes Writeups
SSQQ Archive Newsletter History of SSQQ